Thursday, November 3, 2016

Choose Your Own (Quilty) Adventure

Read about quilting this project here.

I’m amazed with how my quilt projects evolve. I rarely follow patterns, and when I do, it’s loosely—I always add my own tweaks. It’s even unusual for me to cut fabric for a project up front and then start piecing. I’ll cut some fabric and make some blocks, cut some more fabric and make some more blocks. I see projects as an organic process, as a series of decisions that lead me to the final product I can’t envision until it’s almost complete.

This phenomenon reminds me of those Choose Your Own Adventure Books that were popular when I was a kid. The difference with quilting—ack!—is rethinking a decision isn’t as simple as turning back a few pages. As a quilter, taking another path often entails ripping out stitches, if not editing blocks out of a layout or scrapping a project entirely!

I decided earlier this year to make a quilt for Chelsea, of Patch the Giraffe. She’s my quilty partner in crime. We’ve served as co-VPs for the past year in our guild, and our shenanigans include gambling for fabric, holding fabric hostage, and talking smack about each other’s productivity. I knew she didn’t have a quilt that featured her favorite jungle inhabitant and thought I’d remedy that.

I didn’t have a full vision for this quilt; I just jumped right in. This is what I created ...

Chelsea’s Giraffe Quilt

And this is how I got there, Choose Your Own Adventure style ...

You find multiple giraffe patterns. Which do you choose?

When I think of animal quilts, three quilt designers come to mind: Sew Fresh Quilts, Violet Craft, and Tartan Kiwi. All of them have giraffe patterns. Sew Fresh Quilts, in fact, has two giraffe patterns—Giraffe Love and Giraffe Family—but I wanted something that was less “new baby” and more “thirty-something with an inexplicable predilection for giraffes.”

Violet Craft’s giraffe, part of her Jungle Abstractions collection, is gorgeous. I had to rule that one out, too, though. I couldn’t imagine creating it in anything but solids, like the original, and I didn’t think I could infuse the project with enough of my personality, or Chelsea’s.

The Tartan Kiwi’s paper-pieced giraffe was another story. I could envision that pattern in a variety of colorways, and the pieced background had the potential for a scrappy approach that Chels would like. My decision was made.

It’s time to start piecing the quilt. Do you go with the slam-dunk palette or take a risk?

I know Chelsea’s preferred quilt style, colors, and fabrics pretty well. I decided to use a Zen Chic dot for the giraffe and incorporate teals and aquas—some of her go-to colors—to frame the animal. It was a slam dunk.

Some of the original fabric pull

Then, as I was about to prepare the fabrics for paper piecing, I came across a yellow floral from Basic Grey’s Mon Ami line in my stash. The Zen Chic dot was nice and it would serve its purpose mimicking the spots of a giraffe hide. The Basic Grey option, however, had personality. It was a focal fabric that could affect the direction of the rest of the quilt.

A focal floral from Basic Grey’s Mon Ami line

At the 11th hour, I ditched the sure-fire dots, along with the aquas and teals, and took a chance on the yellow floral.

The quilt is too small. How do you enlarge it?

Once the giraffe was pieced, I loved it. I used different navies from my stash for the background and was pleased with the contrast they created against the giraffe’s yellow hide. But at this point, the quilt was just 24 inches by 27 inches. Because I prefer to gift throw quilts instead of wall hangings, I needed to make it bigger.

I decided to add borders that would complement the giraffe without overwhelming it. At the time, I had 2-inch blocks from this quilt on my mind and soon started sewing 2-inch blocks together for this project, too.

A look at the border of 2-inch squares

I needed 456 squares for this endeavor—a number I didn’t calculate until I had pieced half of it, and by then there was no going back!

The giraffe needs something to frame it. What fabric do you use?

So the quilt was really coming together by now. I planned on laying out the different elements like this (from the center out): the giraffe, a Kona Snow border, the 2-inch blocks border, and another Kona Snow border. As I played with these parts on my “design floor,” however, the transition from the giraffe to Kona Snow seemed lackluster. That lovely animal needed something to set it off.

The natural choice to make the giraffe and its dark background pop was red (even though Chelsea hates red!). I would have loved to use something more orange-red, but the border of 2-inch blocks used a true red-red. I bought four different potential fabrics to use around the giraffe and ultimately settled on Kona Tomato ...

The giraffe framed in Kona Tomato


Phew! I’m glad this project is wrapped up and that we both made it to the end of this long blog post. I have more to say about this quilt—I want to talk about the quilting—but I’ll save that for another day. (Update: I have since posted about the quilting here.)

The quilt back

In the meantime, do you have a comparable experience to share with us? Have you plunged headfirst into a project and ended up in a place—and with a quilt—you couldn’t have imagined in the beginning? Tell us about it in the comments!

Read about quilting this project here.

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  1. The giraffe is gorgeous and the pieced border looks amazing. Your creative process really worked for this, I love the color scheme and the end result is fantastic. Lucky Chelsea!

  2. Love this post - very creative approach to telling a quilt's story! I especially like how you detailed which pattern you chose and why. I bet she was absolutely thrilled! I don't know if I've ever made a quilt without an end design in mind before, but I love the idea of the process.

  3. He's awesome!! Thanks for sharing your process. But I am a pattern girl at the way. But I'd love to be to create something on the fly.

  4. Your giraffe is so awesome. Love the movement. Standing still would be ok, but walking/running just knocks it out of the park.

  5. You nailed the process and the quilt is fantastic.

  6. Will you make one for me too? LOL. I love the fabric that you used for the giraffe -- a good giraffe color with a fun print. :)

  7. Love your giraffe - turned out beautifully - what a brilliant gift.

  8. Gorgeous! What a great gift for Chelsea :)

  9. I really enjoyed reading so much about the detail, inspiration, and process to create the quilt. The red pops so well, and I looo forward to reading more about the quilting, too.

  10. The quilt is lovely. Thank you for taking us through the process of making it, such an interesting blog post :-)

  11. Love your giraffe!! I too like all the pp designers you listed and have made patterns from all!! This giraffe is spectacular!! Congrats on the awesome finish!

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I've been on a paper-piecing kick this year. I hope to share another finish before 2017! : )

  12. I am sure that Chelsea loves it. The floral print seems very 'her'.
    Have I plunged headfirst into a project with a loose idea and ended up with something very different in the end? Yes! Several times.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your quilt adventure. I remember those choose your own adventure books so well. My process is similar in the cutting department. I rarely, if ever, cut everything out beforehand and it's gotten me in trouble more than once. My most recent finish with the cat panel was very similar to your experience with this giraffe project. I just ran with an idea and kept changing it until it morphed into the finished project. I'm sure Chelsea is going to love this quilt.

  14. Love your giraffe quilt!! So flippin' cute!

  15. I LOVE everything about this quilt! Even the red, it gives the giraffe a more mature look overall. Plus you cannot go wrong with some Basic Grey. Thanks a MILLION quilty crime partner!

  16. I especially like the patchwork border; it goes perfectly with the giraffe focal area. Each enhances the other beautifully. (I hadn't realized just how much I love giraffes until I recently watched a NOVA program on them. Watch it if you can.)


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