Sunday, September 23, 2012

My second quilt ever: Japanese quilt, 1990

When I started quilting back in the fall of 1990, I immediately fell in love with Japanese quilts, thanks to Jill Liddell and Yuko Watanabe's beautiful book on the subject, as well as some RJR and Hoffman fabrics based on traditional Japanese patterns. Not long after I started quilting (and made my first quilt, a tied "Trip Around the World bed quilt), I happened to be visiting my sister in Seattle, and I made my way to In the Beginning Fabrics, then a great quilt shop (sadly closed, after the owners decided to concentrate on wholesale and fabric design).

At that time, the finished products from a Japanese quilting class taught by Lorraine Torrence happened to be hanging in the shop. The quilts used Japanese fabrics in half-square triangles arranged asymmetrically to create a send of flow and movement, and I immediately thought I could do the same on my own. When I got home, I immediately made my second quilt ever:

For the sake of variation, I used one square block, in addition to all of the half-square triangles. I planned all of the blocks in advance on graph paper with colored pencils.* In the end, I liked the result a lot, although I'm still a little ambivalent about what I think of as "the big black bat" in the lower right quadrant of the quilt.

When it came to quilting techniques, I knew absolutely nothing. I used stab stitches because I didn't understand how to make a running stitch, and since I had no concept of bindings, I finished the quilt by folding excess fabric from the front around to the back. I think I made at least four quilts before I learned how to make a binding. No mitered corners in the border either, which helped ensure that the borders stretched more than they ought to have.

Even so, I'm still fond of this quilt, flaws and all.

*For my third quilt (alas, no longer in my possession), I did another "Japanese-style" quilt with half-square triangles, but I tried for spontaneity and initially laid out all of the triangles completely randomly. The result was a complete mess--an important lesson in design and how improvisation and randomness aren't anywhere near the same thing. A coherent design with a simultaneous sense of movement and order required a lot of rearranging, planning, and experimentation.

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