Thursday, August 13, 2015

Riley Blake Challenge Adventures

Before I went to Europe this summer, I signed up for several challenges.  Don’t ask me what I was thinking because I can’t tell you.  It’s not as though I had any time to work on art before I left, so what the heck made me think I would have time when I got back?  
Oh well. 
Following is the tale of the Riley Blake challenge  It is not for the faint of heart; but I tell the tale in order that you may learn from my mistakes, grasshoppers. (For the young ones who didn’t get it, that was a reference to the 70’s show Kung Fu, btw.) Also, be warned, there is some explicit language, as there often is, in this entry.  I can only say it is necessary to the telling of this tale.
This quilt was a challenge from the get go.  So many times I thought "I should just quit, dammit," but I felt totally compelled to see it through - every time I walked away, I came back.  I can't really know what it was for certain, but I've decided that there was just something I was supposed to learn from it.  Hope I did...
         I got home on July 3rd from being gone basically all of June.  This meant I had a few weeks to make this thing.  Since I knew I would need more than the fat eighths and some other fabrics too, the first thing I had to do was find and order fabric.  This was not as easy a task as I thought it would be - both the assigned fabrics AND their matching counterparts had to be ordered from several different places.  So I lost a week waiting for fabric to arrive. Some of the coordinating fabrics weren't exactly as coordinating as I thought they would be, but no matter, I had no time or money to order more, they would have to do.  So now I had  less than three weeks to design, make and quilt.  Normally, this would be plenty of time, but right now my life is anything but normal.  I’ve got so many irons in the fire I have trouble remembering what day it is.  On the other hand, I really wanted to participate in this challenge, because I had an inkling of an idea, and well -  I had committed and been sent the free fabric, so I felt I needed to at least try to do it.  
Before I left I had made a few sketches, but after seeing all the amazing art on my trip, when I got back I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate some of the tiles from the amazing tiled floors I had seen in the Medici house in Florence.  And since the challenge was to do something I’d never done before, I was going to attempt to do hand turned appliqué and paper piecing.  So far, so good.  But for some reason I just couldn’t get the layout of the piece to flow.  Everything I did looked boring.
Ugh I can barely stand to look at this - what a mess!

 I could only steal a couple of hours here and there to work on it, so all the interruptions didn’t help I’m sure.  I decided to just work on one square at a time and deal with the layout later.  Again, sounds doable, right? Well, huh!
       I was pretty pleased with the first square, which I pieced - until I tried to add some hand-turned appliqué ovals.  I had watched several different Youtube videos and it looked pretty easy.  Well, it was not in fact easy at all.  I was so disappointed in the results, I re-did them three times and I still hated them.  

Let's face it, people, these ovals suck! Look closely at the finished piece for how they look now...
       I left them on, though and went to the next square, which I was paper piecing with reverse appliqué.  Everything went pretty well on this one at first, but when I went to take the paper off, somehow the purple marker I had used bled all over the white!  And no water or alcohol was used during the making of this square, I promise.  Couldn’t deal with it as time was of the essence,  so I just continued on with the square trying not to see the bleed marks ALL OVER the edges as I attempted to hand appliqué a skinny pink ring around the center.  No go. After three attempts I admitted defeat and did raw edge appliqué.  I liked the square design, but it was a damn mess. If I had time at the end,  I thought, maybe I could remake the square, or at least get the marks out somehow…but I had to move on.
I was two weeks away from the deadline.  The next square I did do the turned under hand appliqué - this time took me only three tries to get a just somewhat passable result.  Whatever - at this point,  done was good enough. 

This was the best I could do?!

        I kept stealing whatever time I could the next week to work on the last tile square, on which I completely wimped out and did all raw edge appliqué.  This square, naturally, looked really good.  Now I had to nail down the layout, which I did, mostly.  I decided to use the side shapes in my original sketch, but no way in hell was I going to attempt to do hand-turned appliqué on them - I went straight to raw edge.
In the meantime, I began experiencing problems with my new, fancy, expensive 750 Bernina sewing machine whom I had lovingly named Audrey for her grace and beauty.   First it wasn’t so bad - I was unable to thread the thing using the threader - it kept giving me a message to bring the threader down and restart the machine over and over, so I just threaded it by hand.  Annoying, but not a big prob. One day, however, I walked in to sew and turned Audrey on and nothing happened.  I mean, she wouldn’t turn on.  I checked the plug, checked the connection, etc. and turned her off and on a few times and finally she came on.  Over the next days she changed from “Ahh - Good morning, lovely Audrey,” to “Turn on, bitch!”  I could get her on by flipping the switch about twenty times and then walking away for ten or so minutes, but it sucked., and every time I turned her off I felt a twinge of anxiety that this might be the time she went off for good.  I didn’t have time to take her to the shop to get fixed (remember I live in small-town Texas, so I would have to drive a couple of hours to Austin for repairs and I didn’t know how long it would take…) So by the last week before the deadline, I just left her on permanently  - except for the time when I accidentally switched her off and it took me about 45 minutes to get her back on… it wasn’t pretty, but I was trying to finish. this. quilt. dammit. 
Busier than ever in my life, I was really quite put out with the whole deal  It was not at all fun and worse, I was not at all zen.   It was and had been from square one (pun intended) a major exercise in frustration.  There were so many flaws - from the purple marker disaster to the crappily done hand appliqué, that I  seriously thought about cutting (more likely ripping) the thing up and throwing off of the roof of my house.
      At this point, I decided that maybe the universe was telling me it was time to cry uncle.  I mean, it wasn’t imperative that I participate in the Riley Blake Challenge 2015 - the MQG police weren’t going to arrest for me for accepting fat eighths and then not completing the challenge…were they? And maybe I just wasn’t supposed to spend any more time on this piece - maybe I needed to give up, it was okay, it’s not as though it was a commissioned piece or anything.  It wasn’t all that important, I got it.  So - I left the thing for two days - didn’t even look at it.  
On the third day, which was about five days away from the deadline, I came back to try one more time.  I had decided that while I did not have to finish, I had come so far that I did want to try.  But only if I could do it properly.  So I repeated out loud to myself 
several times “I will try to finish this but I will enjoy it and be pleasant or I will stop.”  I meant it, I really did.  And for the next two sewing sessions (and in the spirit of being completely honest, I will admit that both sessions were late evening with a glass of wine nearby) everything went down quite well.  I got it all put together - I finished the top - hallelujah!  
No matter that I was only three days away from the deadline and still had to 1) come up with an idea for the back 2)sandwich and 3)quilt the thing - I was certain I could do it.  I would use the somehow not really matching solids for the back with what little floral I had left, and certain sandwiching is not fun, but it’s easy.  And although I hadn’t the slightest inkling of how I was going to quilt it, so what?  I told my husband I needed the next two days off to finish this sumbitch, (This is code for "Don’t ask me for one teeny tiny little thing  - not even a kiss or any attention at all!" Luckily for him by now he knows my code pretty well)  Suddenly I was feeling pretty optimistic.
Got the back done, was oddly pleased - check! On to sandwiching. This piece is a little larger than my usual art pieces, but not as big as a lap quilt so I decided to sandwich it on the dining room table in order to save my aching knees  from doing it on the floor.  Then, for some truly inexplicable reason, I made the (nearly fatal to me and the quilt) decision to use the clamps I had inherited from my mother but hadn’t used in years intead of tape, and to only pin baste, not use any sticky spray or real basting - after all, the quilt only hung off about eight inches on one side and not at all on the bottom, so it would be fine.  
It was a disaster.  The clamps worked not at all (thus reminding me why I hadn’t used them in many years) and the back was a buckled mess.  I tried to fix it, but after much (sadly) more un-zen behavior I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  So I huffed it upstairs and tried to do it on the floor of my studio using the usual duct tape, but the thing was having none of that either.  It simply would not stay stuck to the floor, no matter how much tape I put on it.   So I tried clear packing tape.  Nope, would not stick!  By this time I was worse than un-zenlike - I was a towering fury, and my mouth ranneth over.  My husband had come home, and he got really (justifiably) mad at me.  He told me that it was quite unpleasant to listen to me, and if I was made so unhappy by doing it, maybe I should simple stop quilting altogether.  It was as if he had poured a bucket of cold water over me - he was totally, completely correct.  There is no excuse for a grown woman to mishandle frustration that way.  Chastised, I walked away and I apologized to my husband and the universe for my un-adult-like behavior.  I resolved to give up on finishing the piece once again.
     That night I could not sleep, I felt so small.  Was I really not meant to quilt anymore?  No, that couldn’t be it.  But I needed to learn from my mistakes.  Never again was I going to put so much importance on something that I would completely lose my cool.  Nothing is that important.  And to prove it, I was going to calmly finish. that. quilt. 
The next morning, two days before the deadline, I thought “Okay.  It doesn’t matter in the least whether I finish this thing, but for some reason, I really, really want to try.  The only rule is - not ONCE am I allowed to sigh, curse, or otherwise be impatient.  If I do, I am done.  
       Okay, okay -  I was unable to COMPLETELY follow the rule, but I did follow the spirit of the rule.  No cursing, no anger, but I did catch myself sighing a few times.   I had no earthly idea how I was going to quilt the thing, so some precious hours of the next day were spent figuring it out.  I went back to the pictures of the Medici floor and decided to quilt it only using shapes from the outlined areas of the tiles.  THAT part went somewhat better than I expected, based on well - EVERYTHING that had happened so far - my expectations were pretty low, and then having an unreliable machine as well as just kind of quilting blind, as they say.  Once the squares were quilted to my satisfaction, I worked on the floral elements.  This too proved way better than my non-expectations - I could do it and it really, really actually looked GOOD! Hooray!  But now I had these huge open white spaces on the sides - what the heck was I going to do with them?  Once again, I went to the tiles, and came up with an idea of sorts.  But I was scared to free motion it - it needed to be precise so I decided to make a template and use my handy water soluble marker to mark the quilt.  This was fine, too, but I really used that marker - I mean, I made lines all over that white and it turned out that the water soluble marker wasn’t so water soluble after all!  It didn’t come off with just a sprinkle of water - it needed a dousing!  And even with that, there were still marks on the first side when I finally went to bed that night, July 30, miraculously I had the thing about 60 percent quilted.  Tomorrow was the deadline, but I went to bed thinking I still might make it…

To end my tale, I will say nothing more, because a picture says a thousand words, right?