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Pattern and Process in the Pandemic

More than piecing, more than choosing fabric, definitely more than cutting, basting, and actually quilting, the part I enjoy most about making quilts is dreaming up designs. That's where I find my brain engaged by the creative process. However, sometimes I'm just not feeling the creative juices flowing ... and I still want to make quilts. I found this to be especially true during the shelter-in-place portions of the pandemic. You'd think that lots of extra time at home would have allowed for lots of extra quilting. And while I WAS happy to have an interest to keep me occupied, I wasn't feeling particularly creative.


I made masks, which kept me working with my machine and my fabric, but I didn't really enjoy it. It wasn't creative and it wasn't happy.


So, because masks weren't fun, and I wasn't feeling inspired, but I still wanted to create, I turned to outside sources for more direct inspiration. Like Laura wrote in her post, patterns can serve as platforms for inspiration in addition to being guides to create a specific design. Usually I want to make something more "my own" rather than follow a pattern. During the pandemic, I found that starting with a pattern or a simple traditional block and making minor alterations in setting, size, or selection ended up being a good way to allow myself to keep sewing. I could enjoy the meditative part of sewing and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a completed design without having to start from scratch.


Folllowing are three projects that kept me sewing through the uncertainty and anxiety of those challenging months. The first plays with different settings of a traditional block, the second stems from a pattern released by a favorite newsletter, and the third project was sparked by a class I took.


Playing with Settings

My first pandemic project was a set of log cabin blocks. I used some shirts and scraps leftover from earlier projects (I certainly couldn't go out shopping for fabric at that point). Sorting fabric, ironing, and cutting strips were all tasks I could mentally manage. Chain piecing small, straight line seams was right up my alley, too.


One of the benefits of log cabin blocks is their versatility: the same blocks can create a variety of different looks when you play with their arrangement. By the time I had made sixteen blocks, I had generated enough creative juices to enjoy playing with the setting. I took pictures of some different options, then decided I needed to make more blocks.


I played with more settings, then made more blocks, then played with settings again.

Finally I settled on a setting and sewed the blocks together.

Finishing a top felt good! While I haven't made it into a quilt yet, I've bought batting and fleece for the back, so it's definitely in the queue.


Switching up the Size

Another pandemic pattern project I tried was a "semi-mystery project" called Stay Tuned from Thimble Creek. Here is their finished quilt (image from the pattern for sale on their Etsy site):

Each week they included a free pattern for one of the star blocks in their newsletter, the Thimble Creek Gazette. I appreciated having a new pattern show up in my inbox each week. But because I am who I am, I didn't follow the instructions to the letter.


I started by making the star blocks as directed, practicing my precision and working with triangles. Eventually I decided that six inch blocks were too small and fussy for my taste, so I doubled the size. Here's a picture with some of my small blocks and one of my bigger ones.

After a false start or two with doubling and seam allowances and such, I was happier with the bigger blocks. I made a few of the different styles that came over the next few weeks, but not all of them. And I decided to use all light colored background fabric rather than alternate with a black background. And then I decided I was tired of precision and decided to make a few wonky stars of my own.


I was mentally done with the project before the pattern's setting was released, so I put the blocks together on my own. I like this top for what it is -- an exercise to help me continue to sew when I couldn't generate ideas on my own -- but I'm not sure I like it enough to finish it. We'll see.


Going with the Flow

One particular pandemic pattern project I followed through from start to finish was the Molehills Quilt from Latifah Saafir. I was lucky enough to take an online workshop with Latifah through East Bay Heritage Quilters. As I tried to decide what fabric to use/where to go with the design of the quilt, I was inspired by a rainbow ombre version by @sweetright I saw on Instagram.

While I have been using mostly found/gifted/upcycled fabric recently, I decided to splurge on a bundle of Jennifer Sampou's Sky fabrics in the Sunset colorway for this quilt. I was happy to play with pretty fabric, practice a new technique, and enjoy some virtual time with fellow quilters. All those good vibes fit together with stores eventually being open enough that I could go buy batting and backing. I quilted this one on my home machine, and it is now in use as a movie/tv watching cuddle quilt!


My Takeaways

Patterns can be instructions or suggestions or both; projects can be therapeutic or productive or both. Sometimes I follow a pattern all the way through, but more often I don't. Sometimes I make finished quilts, other times I try out techniques or just sew as meditation. Pandemic or not, I appreciate the inspiration I can gather from what other quilters have done before me.


Until next time,

Kirsten




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