Valid sizes for a functional quilt are Lap, I'm Watching TV, We're Watching TV, Bed, and XL Bed. You can make a quilt that's smaller than a lap quilt but if it's not big enough to keep you warm then it's just an art thing (which is fine), and if its really small then it's a pot holder (also fine).
The quilt I'm working on now is one that I've had for a long time and never really finished-- I made the top piece to cover part of the wall of my junk shop, and then when the shop closed down I sewed it into a proper quilt, with batting inside and a bottom piece made of green corduroy and some nylon pirate flags that Esther gave me. The problem was that I never quilted it together (I did panini not club) and the reason I never did that is because it's a minor pain in the ass and because I wasn't really happy with the pirate flags-- the nylon surface makes the quilt slide around the bed too much, and it feels cold against your skin in the winter. With a little more time on my hands nowadays and a desire to wrap up old projects, I took the quilt apart last week and made a new back piece. Bad timing because it got cold this week and my heat broke, but what are you gonna do? Just keep moving forward and try to stay focused. The heat got fixed FYI.
The new back piece is made up of old hooded sweatshirts that I couldn't bear to throw away, plus a piece of a shirt that I loved, and the green corduroy from before. I cut apart all the sweatshirts and sewed the pieces back together, trying to take this pile of curved things and turn them back into one big flat thing again. It's tough to make it totally flat, even if you're only sewing in straight lines, because the sweatshirt material is stretchy and it moves on you. I figured out a way to fix the lumps after the fact, a method which this margin is too small to contain, but it only works in concert with my primary method, which is that I don't really care if it's not perfectly flat, because the end game here is that it gets draped on me, and I'm lumpy.
After making the back piece I took the opportunity to wash it and the top piece, and dry them in the sun. One thing I couldn't decide about the quilt was which way the sweatshirt fabric should face on the back piece-- should I put the fuzzy side of the sweatshirt facing out, or the outside side of the sweatshirt? Or to put it another way, am I wearing the quilt (fuzzy side towards me)? or is the quilt wearing a sweatshirt (fuzzy side in)? Ultimately I decided to put the fuzzy part inside, because the outside parts of the sweatshirts have differing amounts of sun fading, and I wanted that to be on display. Also I felt like if the fuzzy part's on the outside than the seams should be too, and I couldn't let myself do that. But the real reason is that letting the quilt wear the clothes makes it less like an object and more like a spirited thing. Animism is more comfortable.
If you want to make a quilt I'd say just go for it. My mom is a quilter and her quilts are really precise and she displays a lot of skill, but that's not the only way to do it-- you can be pretty loose and still wind up with something nice. If you want to feel like you accomplished something in a way that's declared correct, and you're willing to risk the feeling of I Did It Wrong, then you might want to start with a simple pattern. And if you groove on being meticulous, by all means go forth and be meticulous, I respect that. But if you're good at or interested in just fucking around, or if you have a legacy of making projects overly complicated before you start and then not being able to finish them, then just start sewing stuff together, and if you encounter a problem, figure out a solution. That's the way I like to do it. Here are my simple guidelines:
- When you sew things together, leave at least a 1/4" seam allowance. That means leave AT LEAST 1/4" between the seam and the edge of the fabric. Wider is OK. 1/4" is a little bit more than the spine width of a single issue of OMNI Magazine.
- Leave space on the edge of the quilt that you expect will be cut off. As with cartooning, it seems like getting the design all the way out to the edge is what the pros do, but actually the pros design an extra bit that they expect will get cut off in the finishing stages of production.
- When your top and bottom pieces are done, and you have your filling selected (either an old blanket or some thick fabric or a piece of quilt batting), go ahead and stack them up like a sandwich. Sew them together in the club sandwich way, piercing through all the layers at regular intervals. Sew a loop through all the layers, tie it off, and do this every foot, or less. You can use a couple loops of colored yarn, if you want to make the loops part of the design, or you can use a couple loops of regular thread. This club sandwiching is the part of the process that's actually called "quilting". Making the top and bottom pieces is commonly called "piecing". You can quilt by hand or by machine but if you do it by machine it's easier to mess it up and harder to fix, like riding a fast horse for a long time in the wrong direction.
- The other way to do the quilting is to pin the whole thing together and then sew a long rambling line through both layers. But this takes a long time to do and it sucks. It looks better but it takes a long time to do and it sucks, so if you're someone that likes to take a long time doing something that sucks so it'll look a liiiiittle bit better than go for it. Obviously I'm on Team The Easy Way Also Looks Great. If you're not sure then do the simple way then later if you feel like you didn't do enough work you can go in and do the difficult way right on top.
- Once the sandwich is quilted together then sew the edges together (panini), which is the one thing I would recommend watching an instructional video on. Every other aspect of quilt instruction you might find, either online or in a book, is going to prioritize what to me is an unfun non-experimental top-down methodology. I strongly recommend the fucking around "loose plan" approach on nearly every aspect of this enterprise.
Tools You'll Need
- OK scissors - if you're using crappy scissors you're not going to have a good time doing this. Even though quilting is about sewing things together there's really a lot of cutting too. Committed fabric workers have "good scissors" that they won't allow anyone to use to cut other things with. For now just try and find the best scissors you have and use those.
- Sewing machine - I use a sewing machine as much as possible because I have one and I don't enjoy hand sewing. You might feel like hand sewing is the traditional way so you should do it like that, but the traditional way is to just do it however. Hand sewing everything is definitely the best way to make the process take a long time.
- A large table or clean area of the floor - You're gonna want to lay it out flat to look at it.
- materials - thread, old clothes, etc.. Thread can rot on the spool so don't get too whimsical using 50 year old thread you find in a drawer, it'll just jam in the machine over and over again and drive you crazy.
There's a lot I like about quilting. It has a practical purpose - to keep you warm. It's a way to reuse something you might otherwise throw away, or to make practical use of things you're hanging on to for strictly sentimental reasons. It's also something that's creative at a really nice level, what I would call rock garden creative- problem solving with limited tools. I guess some rock gardens are more legendary than others, and some quilts are real works of art, but those that are neither of these things are still totally acceptable. If you make a quilt and it holds its shape and keeps you warm, that's mission accomplished. If you made it with some manner of nice design or pleasing fabric, that's a bonus. The quilts I've made I wouldn't hang in a gallery or print in a book, but I'm happy to see them in a pile on my bed, or wrapped around me as I watch nature documentaries, or even just folded on a shelf in the summertime. I enjoy making them with the same amount of intention and dedication I might put into organizing small toys on a shelf.
Here's a few quilts I made in the past, sorry the pics are kinda bad.
🎃Here's the first quilt I made, a small one, TV watching size, probably 2005. This is 100% made of leftover pieces of fabric from my year of making a stuffed animal every day. I gave this quilt away to someone and then it was an ownerless couch quilt at a punk house for years, then a porch quilt / animal quilt. At some point someone in the house needed another blanket for warmth so they grabbed it off the porch and washed it, and it was in their room for years. When they moved out they put it in the free box, someone grabbed it, and then by pure chance I got it back last year for my gallery show of stuffed animals. I had to repair a few spots where the fabric got chewed away by dreamers who dreamed about eating. There's no middle layer, it's just a top piece and a back piece, which is a chunk of polar fleece I had laying around. Pieced willy-nilly and quilted by machine in a long serpentine line.
🎃I guess this is the second quilt I made, when I lived in the closet at Little Pancakes. I didn't know how to do the edge so I did it like I'd make a stuffed animal, by sewing it together outside in then turning it inside out, so the seams are on the inside. Then I club sandwiched it by machine. It's not much of a design, just "some stuff", almost like there was a gap in my room and you filled it with the photoshop "heal selection" tool. But it's nice and it's kept me warm for years. Most people use a single piece of fabric for the B-side but I like piecing it together the same way as the A side, because I don't want to go out and buy fabric. I think I like the B side better on this one, there's more of an idea at play. Lots of this fabric was just around, left over from other things, or hanging out in free boxes at punk houses.
🎃Here's a quilt I made with my Mom, she did the right side of the design, I did the left side. The eyeball fabric is this beautiful waxprint I got from an African clothes store down the street from the junk shop. You couldn't buy just a piece of the fabric, you had to buy it by the bolt. So I got some and me and my mom split it up to make a quilt. She picked out some other fabrics that'd work well, and gave me half the pile, then we met up and pieced the whole thing together. My mom did the quilting. Her side has a lot of glow in the dark skeleton fabric worked into it, because my mom loves it when things glow in the dark. That's a quality we share.
We had an art opening for this quilt at the junk shop, and also loaded up a capsule toy machine with extra pieces of this eyeball fabric, so people could sew a piece of it onto their own quilt or jacket or whatever. Every now and then I run into someone wearing one of these eyeballs sewn over a logo on a hat or something.
🎃Here's another collabo-- a quilt that me and Sakiko made for her parents' 40th anniversary. We divided up the work so that I'd do the reddish squares and she'd do the blueish squares. And we decided in advance to not be strict about the checkerboard- you'll see that some of the corners don't meet, that's an intentional undersight, for a loose flowing feeling. This is the first quilt where I did the edge in the traditional way, it came out great. Splitting the work between two people is fun way to jam, and working in squares like this is a good way to move fast-- any irregularities will easily get eaten up when you sew them all together, and the big "what goes where" decision comes at the very end, rather than dispersed through the entire act.
🎃This one's not really "a quilt" in the traditional sense but right after the 2016 election I started sewing all the patches that I never sewed onto clothing onto this airplane blanket someone stole and gave to me. I love patches but I don't really like wearing a lot of words so this is perfect. There's a good mix of vintage stuff, traditional screen printed band patches, some classic peace punk stuff, girl scouts, weird stuff, and patches from the circa 2015 embroidered patch wave. Got a few of my own patches on there too. I decided not to start in one place and move outwards but to sprinkle them around as I go, so it always looks like it's at a good stopping place. Otherwise I'd get to a point where it was like 25% packed in a corner and 75% empty and that'd drive me crazy. The real design challenge was dealing with all the patches I have from Mickey and all the ones I have from the Body-- I had to really think to not end up with two from the same hand right next to each other. I'm thinking about having some patches made so I can start to fill up the rest of the blank spots.
🎃Here's the new one, or anyway the new configuration. The top piece was made in 2006 I think. There's some of the yellow striping from the previous quilt on here, and some green stuff that I used to make a bunch of stuffed animal parakeets out of, and which is on the first quilt too. There's also a bit of a screenprint from Mike T. When me and Mike were living together I gave him some blank fabric and asked him to print a little bit of whatever he was working on for me, I think this was part of a flyer? I collaged it in with a Superman bedsheet I had. The design on this one I like more than the others-- it's closer to that rock garden feeling I like. At the same time it's just a blanket, almost not worth talking about.
I'm breaking a minor rule of mine by posting this without finishing it-- I was hoping to finish it today (the day I'm writing this) but I was writing this. So instead Im going to try and finish this today (the day I published this). If not I'll get to it sometime this week. I mean I want to get it done but there's no rush.
🎃Finally here's one I didn't make, my mom made this one. It's a pretty sick style! The stars/flowers are made by lining up the recurring parts of a patterned fabric and cutting them with a really sharp rotary cutter so all the triangles are identical, then sewing them together. Instant rotational symmetry! But what I really like about this is the quilting-- the lines that go over the design. This might not be evident but I get too hung up on the balance of elements, it's hard for me to just drop some other pattern on top of everything. She nailed it on this one though. This is something I could hang up on the wall but it's on my bed instead :)
links / misc
- Jeremy Harris aka Lazy Magnet has a blog where he's been writing up the details on every Lazy Magnet release. It's extremely fun to read, and you can listen to each record right after. Lazy Magnet is one of my favorite bands, and probably the main reason they never popped off like other bands that have been around making good work for so long is because there's never been a consistant genre. The music changes and grows constantly. This is bad from a sales perspective but a massive delight to the music fan, and it makes slowly going through an entire discography in order (and with annotations) a very enjoyable task! It's still amazing to me that there isn't like, a massive reissue project on Numero or something but c'est la vie, we got the tunes, and there's always more on the way. [link]
- Flan's blog is kind of low energy at the moment but if you haven't been reading it then it's all new to you. Flan's conceit is that she writes about movies about music. Some of the movies are good and some aren't, and like few others she's always able to spin out something good either way. [link]
- One of my favorite living synthesists, Keith Fullerton Whitman, drunkenly revealed a few nights ago that he's been drunkenly keeping a music gear review blog. I think it's a really fun read, although for each entry it takes me a while to figure out what he's talking about, because he doesn't say "Ibanex 7 string guitar" or whatever, he just says "S1027PBF", and there's no pictures. That's not a complaint tho! I like it. I don't want to buy any of this stuff, but it's fun to read Keith go on about it. [link]
- Tom redid his website recently and added a "dungeon", where you can check out his projects that aren't painting or directly relevant to his paintings. It's a nice list to browse, and there are some music mixes he posted to youtube that I've never heard but really enjoy. Also there's a really good little css trick with the div borders! Well done Tom. [link]