Wednesday, May 27, 2015

a little bit of heart and a book review

 a few weeks ago i got a copy of jen kingwell's new book, quilt lovely, and instantly fell in love with 99% of the patterns. in love, as in "i absolutely must stop all other plans and spend all my quilty time for the next few years making these designs." they really are spectacular. as you may know, i've had my qualms with ms. kingwell's pattern writing for gypsy wife so i was a bit leery of a whole book of her patterns, but the absolute gorgeousness of the designs makes up for any weaknesses in pattern clarity. i am in need of several new quilts for our new mountain cabin and i think these will be absolutely perfect for the place.

doesn't this one say "cabin" to you?
the day after my book arrived, i was feeling less than inclined to work on my several wips laying around and picked up quilt lovely to see if there was something i could dabble in. i find taking a break from what i'm working on often helps me clear my head and refreshes my interest in the project which has gone stale. many of the patterns in the new book require templates or other involved processes, so i settled on making just one courthouse steps heart block from one of the pillow patterns, "she loves you." i figured i could make just one and work it into gypsy wife somehow if i didn't want to make any more.

the pieces for this block are so tiny! 1" high each. most quilters will throw something that small away. it reaffirmed to me that i'm not completely crazy for holding onto such small scraps, something i have a propensity to do. i started out by cutting pieces to the sizes needed and lining them up in rows according to size. there is a pile of color and a pile of neutral for each length.

first block - not very heart-ish
 the blocks, made up of four smaller component blocks, finish at 6" square. i love the combination of all the colored scraps in the hearts against the neutrals. i had fun digging through my tiniest scraps to come up with bits for the blocks. i completed one block after a friday morning sewing social with my friend, becky, and another evening session with fellow blogging quilt friend, kate, from quarter mile quilts. (kate and i met through blogging and instagram, and finally got together in person for some sewing, chatting, and chocolate. sew fun!) yes, it took me a whole day to complete one block.

putting together that first block taught me a few things about fabric choices, as well as how to put the blocks together. kate said she was surprised i could talk and work on such an intricate block at the same time. well, really, i couldn't. not very well.

 i made not one but three of the smaller component blocks incorrectly! almost enough for a whole heart. ugh! oh well. they're not wasted, i'll work them into something somewhere. and they are pretty cute all on their own. i might just make one more and put them all together into one jumbled courthouse steps/log cabin block.

anyway, after getting my first block finished, i had learned a few things and wanted to test my ideas out, so i made another block. also, i didn't feel like it looked much like a heart at all. i hoped that by making more than one, side by side they would start looking heart-ish.

 it does help to have more than one to give the effect of a heart. i'm thinking about making a row of them for a quilt, maybe a whole quilt out of the intricate blocks from the pillow patterns in the book. those patterns were written as pillows so you wouldn't have to commit to making a whole quilt out of them. they would be amazing that way but the work involved would be quite extensive. anyway, maybe a row of each kind would make a nice quilt altogether.

so here's what i found while working on these blocks:

1. absolute neutrals or nearly-neutrals were best for the white space parts of the block, the not-heart parts. originally i thought just low-volume was going to be good enough but i could tell immediately that i didn't want any low-volumes with color in them and weeded them out. but even low-volume prints that had an obvious pattern, like the floral or comma print i used (see above) were a little too loud, competed with the eye against seeing the heart shape formed by the colored strips. i had very few nearly-neutral low-volumes as it was so i had to invest in a few more tone-on-tone prints and solid colored neutrals for future blocks. upon closer inspection, the ones used in the book mostly seemed to be various colors of white, cream, ecru, etc. i like the effect of having different colors but the low-volume prints i used were a bit too attention getting.

good options
2. low-contrast, high-volume prints were best for the colored sections. by that i mean it was better if the print didn't have a super busy design or a lot of white/light colors in them, if there was little contrast within the strip's design itself. bold colors were best for if the prints were too light, they didn't show up well against the neutral strips. they sort of got lost and the shape of the heart did, too. if a light colored or high/contrast-busy strip was included, it was better to have it closer to the interior of the heart, not on the outer edges.

not-so-good options
these are all prints i like and prints i even used, but the ones with a lot of contrast between the colors within the print itself, especially with a lot of white, didn't define the shape of the heart very well at all. i tried to make sure that if i did use them, the white sections were facing inward, touching another color rather than turned out against a neutral strip. what really helps the most is to have a lot of contrast between the color strips and the neutral strips, however you do that.

here's a case of where i had a colored print with white in it and when all the seam allowances were hidden, i ended up with mostly white showing! i didn't expect that tiny tip of the heart to come out looking like this. it would have been better if i had used a solid or tone-on-tone print here. that white half of the top pink strip, coupled with the yellow part of the next strip distorts the shape of the heart because they basically disappear.

 in the book, ms. kingwell suggests considering the backside of fabrics as well as the front, for their effect. this worked nicely with some of the neutrals i was using. you can see above, that if you turn them around so the wrong side is showing, you get an even subtler effect of the print.

so now i have two nice little hearts hanging out on my design wall while i get back to work on my other projects. i do find that stepping back from them and viewing them from a distance really helps them look heart-ish. and some day when i have a whole row of them, they will probably look pretty lovely and heart-like together.

daisy do - the cover quilt - which i will eventually need to make. by hand.
there are several things i really like about the book other than the gorgeous patterns. there is some introductory writing about each of the designs. every quilt has a story and i like when the designer shares that story or at least some thoughts about it's inception. also, each quilt is photographed in use as well as fully laid out flat with a complete view of the top. seeing a quilt from different angles gives you different perspectives on it. there are no pictures of the backs, but ms. kingwell does not piece her backings, preferring as few seams on the back as possible, so they aren't relevant here. there are clear, colored assembly diagrams for the blocks as well as the whole quilt for each project. quilting ideas are also included, with basic sketches for some of the projects. in addition, i enjoyed reading ms. kingwell's thoughts in the appendix sections. all quilters have their own techniques, preferences, and reasonings, which can vary widely, so i appreciate hearing her ideas and rationales.

spinning around - composed of three different pinwheel blocks - is the other top contender for my favorite
as for what i think of the pattern writing this time around, i'd say it's improved. the pattern that i followed for this block was pretty good, it had nice color illustrations that helped with assembly. however, it wasn't labeled with where the different sizes of strips went, even though they were numbered in order of placement. with the help of the illustration i could accurately guess which was which and still got the block assembled. a beginner might have more confusion over the process. browsing some of the other patterns i'm interested in i could tell that some of the other instructions were not super detailed, like how to sew the template pieces together. it's just the nature of her writing style and of these types of quilts, meant for more experienced quilters, that there are levels of assumed knowledge. i know and accept that now. if i can't figure out something from written instructions that are rather general and don't include diagrams, i'm sure there are tutorials and videos online that will help. overall, it's a splendid book full of really, really lovely quilt patterns. especially if you love scrappy quilts with dozens of prints per quilt and want challenging projects that will push your skills. which i do.

this book has been read and browsed nearly every day since it got here. even if i only ever just looked at it, it was a worthwhile purchase for all the viewing pleasure it gives!

if you've seen the book, which pattern is your favorite?

linking up with lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced


  1. I so enjoyed reading this post! I too have made the GW quilt, and I too have the new book! Being a lover of scrappy quilts I found many gorgeous quilts, and my favourite? Flea Market Dash! You are right of course, fabric choices do need to be considered,and I've learnt over the years, that 'scrappy' and 'random' are not synonymous(thanx Claire!). It's not tricky, just a bit of time, thoughtfulness, grouping your fabrics, a bit of structure.
    Look forward to seeing what you do with those hearts!

  2. I ordered this book last week and am waiting for it arrive!
    It looks as if it isn't going to disappoint so thanks so much for this review!
    Im a hoarder of scraps so I may well find a use for some here!

  3. I wasn't sure about this book. Your heart blocks look great. Seems now you have all the tricks and tips worked out.

  4. Hello. I came over from Beth's (Cooking Up Quilts) and was delighted to read your review of this book. It's on my wishlist! I haven't seen the book in person, so enjoyed your review. I think I really have to get the book now! You have a delightful blog, and I'll be back!

  5. It is a small world you know. I have known Jen Kingwell for a long time now, as she first opened up her quilt shop in a nearby suburb to where I live here in Melbourne. So I have known her before she designed fabric and wrote patterns!! Her taste in design was always something I admired, so her quilt shop was a lovely place to be. Now she has down scaled the shop and gone into design and it has been lovely to watch her progress. I understand what you mean by written instructions though, there are some great designers who are not talented in the written side, I have not attempted Gypsy Wife so I don't understand that pattern and its problems but I have had issues with other designers.....I just try and follow the pictures, and it does help if you do have some quilting knowledge for some patterns out there.
    Great to read an honest review of patterns and books, and the things you have learned regarding fabric and colour.


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