Friday, July 24, 2020

Color Quest Squirrel

My color quest for July has been squirreled. I'll get to that in a few minutes. Let's first look at what the July exercises were in the online workshop I've been doing this year with Rachel Hauser's book The Quilter's Field Guide to Color

I have to say, this month has been a lot of fun. We are beyond color theory now (not that I didn't like it, but I didn't always "get" it) and into inspirational things that are more like the emotions exercises we did earlier this year. Our first assignment this month was to use colors to tell a story based on an idea, feeling, experience, or something more tangible like a photo or a piece of fabric. I ended up doing three stories. As usual, I made my interpretations with Bear Paw blocks.

1. Riding the School Bus with my Lunchbox
The first one that popped into my head was related to my lunch box that I had as a kid. I don't know what got me started on that. Perhaps I saw a picture of my old Aladdin lunch box on a resale site. Anyway, that little tin lunch box was red and black plaid, and I loved it. Maybe that was a precursor to my love of fabric patterns? Thinking about the lunch box made me also think about riding the school bus. Our bus covered a lot of territory from the city, to the outlying areas and a little country town. I loved riding the bus. There was one little neighborhood with a dirt road. It was almost always bumpy with ridges and potholes, and I remember that everyone would try to sit behind the back wheels where it was bumpiest. If you were really lucky, you'd get to sit on the aisle end of the seat so that when the bus went over a big bump, you might accidentally/on purpose fall out of your seat into the aisle. Hilarious for kiddies just starting out their school career. Frowned on now, I'm sure. I chose colors to represent the lunch box (besides the red and black, there were little yellow and white lines) and the school bus (school bus yellow, of course--although now that I think of it, the actual color is more orange--and grayish green seats). 
Here are the possible fabrics:
Wouldn't it have been awesome to find a red and black plaid in there? I tried out lots of combinations but eventually settled on some sweet flower prints because they kind of suggested the vintage of my school days (late '50s/early '60s). No, those fabrics aren't that old, but some are pretty old.
Squeal...there's even that grayish green in the stems of the flowers.

2. House of Flavors in Ludington
The second story came to me quickly, too. I was thinking about the restaurant we like to eat at when we vacation (well, not this year) in Ludington, Michigan: House of Flavors--both a restaurant and an ice cream parlor that makes its own ice cream. It's in a beautiful area on the west coast of Michigan. There's a park with gigantic trees and a huge beach on Lake Michigan, a lighthouse, a short drive to the hiking trails in the State Park  (and another gorgeous lighthouse), a delightful downtown to stroll around and a sweet little Mom and Pop motel that we stay at that includes what used to be the lighthouse keeper's home. We usually go during shoulder season--either May or late September. The motel we stay at gives us a coupon for breakfast at the House of Flavors (within walking distance), which is a great start to a day of hiking. In the evening, we watch the sunset at the beach and then walk down to get ice cream at--you guessed it--House of Flavors. So I had to honor the place with a block. The floors of the restaurant are black and white alternating tiles, the bench seats are crisp white with turquoise trim and pink vinyl upholstery. From time to time, yellow makes an appearance in vinyl records or other decor hanging from the ceiling. The walls are covered with wallpaper murals of photos of the restaurant way back when it was a cafe. Such a cool place!
I didn't even make a collection of fabrics to choose from. I knew exactly what I wanted: solid color fabrics in those exact colors.I couldn't decide how to include them all in the block, so I made a pieced block for the paw of the Bear Paw, and used the black and white floor colors in the claws.

Doesn't this block just make you want to eat some ice cream?

3. Camping With Our Kids
When our kids were young, our vacations were tent-camping at Hoffmaster State Park in west Michigan. Our tent was khaki and dark green--a heavy canvas Hilary tent from Sears that blended in wonderfully with the wooded campsites. Sometimes my husband's parents and brother camped near us. Lots of fun memories living outside. The park has miles of hiking trails, two beaches and miles of shore along Lake Michigan. We spent our days hiking or playing in the waves (our daughter still has the Seahawk inflatable boat our kids played in more than 30 years ago) and always went to the beach in the evening to watch the sunset. 

At first I was going to make a block related to the tent, but then I wondered how to include other colors to represent memories of our times there. Here's what I came up with. 

It's easy to see the beach colors in the blues in the left column and the buff swatch and the campsite colors on the right. The other colors in the middle column as well as the pearl swatch represent what we found on our hikes depending on the time of year: trillium blooming in the spring; hoary puccoon, a yellow flower that grows in the dunes; hawkweed, an orange flower along a camp road to our favorite sunset view; black raspberries that our kids picked; and all the greenery everywhere. Here's my pull of potential fabrics:

I would love to make a quilt that has all of these colors in it. But for this exercise with my Bear Paw blocks, I divided the swatches into the three groups and made one block for each.
Pretty self-explanatory, I guess. It would be interesting to determine what proportions of all those colors would work to make a whole quilt that tells this personal story.

I really enjoyed this exercise. I tried a couple of other stories--the look of the misty fields at sunrise when I commuted to a rural school district during my career days, and the experience of a recent bike ride along algae covered ponds with their neon green. But I couldn't quite find a palette that worked for me. Maybe someday.

The other exercise for July was to start with an inspiration piece--a photo, a fabric or even something less tangible like a movie or a song--and build a palette from that. My inspiration piece was a photo I took of a coleus pot I planted in the spring.
I've grown fond of these plants in recent years. So much color in a shaded garden. And I knew I'd have a lot of fabric bits to interpret this photo. Many are very old burgundy leftovers, and then I have some newer limes that I bought for another project. I started with swatches. Kinda went crazy with them.
Then, the fabrics. Oh, yes, this will work. 

I was going to make just a few blocks. But then I kept thinking of other combinations.
And before I knew it, I had completely forgotten that these were Bear Paws, and I went straight into squirrel territory. Forget it that I have two quilt tops basted and waiting for quilting. This needed to be a quilt top. After I got these eight blocks done, I got the urge to make letters. Why not? Foundation paper letters! And I had lots of skinny strings from some old projects that would be just the right size.
I picked a three-inch square for each letter block that worked perfectly with a slanty font. And  lucky for me, these letters are similar in shape and proportion to each other. No weird Ws or M's to fit in somehow. It took me maybe 10 minutes tops to make a pattern. And this is what these turned into. So much fun!!
When I sewed the blocks together, I trimmed them down for more pleasing spacing.

Well, now I was far afield of Bear Paws. I knew how I wanted to place these letters, but one more thing was needed. As I said, I love coleus plants. But you know the flowers they sprout? Not so much. I would think such beautiful plants would have glowing flowers to match. But no. The flowers are thready, and their colors seem incongruous. They are even tough to focus on as you can see by this blurry photo I tried to take before I snipped all the flowers off, as I've heard that the plant gets all straggly if I leave them be.
But, now that I was in coleus mode, I set about drawing a bloom. Here is the pattern along with my blossom stalk

The blossom is kinda thready, a little hard to focus on. Just the way I see them.

So here's where this squirrel/Bear Paw/coleus is now.
I still have to plan some sashing and other minor elements. 

I think this exercise did what it was supposed to, yes? I did get inspired. And I'm still working with color--particularly colors I would not have usually chosen. And there are still Bear Paws. If you ask my husband, though, he will tell you that this whole quilt top thing is a form of procrastination because I'm really not sure how I want to quilt those two waiting quilts. He knows me so well. 

All in all, July was a success. It stretched my exploration of color and helped me see how I can make a quilt that tells my personal story instead of thinking in terms of what's trending or what fits my decor. We have one more month to go in this workshop with the book. I'm going to miss it when it's over, but I think that I now have a lot of seeds for future quilts. And I'm pretty sure that what I've learned about value, wheels and theory will kick in when it's needed--or not, and that's okay if I want to make a quilt that speaks for me. 

I hope this has been a good quilting month for you, and that you've found inspiration in unexpected places. 

(Just a reminder: I'm not affiliated with any company, so when I mention products, services, or stores I'm just documenting what I used or liked.) 


chrisknits said...

What a lovely experiment! Just the thing when you are trying to avoid decisions. LOL! I just might use that someday. My normal is to make Zipper Pouches from leftovers. Bwahahaha, you can probably imagine how many I've given away and still have.

LIttle Penguin Quilts said...

This was such a fun post to read, JanineMarie! I loved your stories with the color inspiration to go along, and you made me want to go explore Ludington, too. I've actually been there once - to get on the ferry across Lake Michigan, many years ago! The coleus project is really wonderful, and I love how it lead you down that squirrelly path with letters and additional blocks. Lots of fun!

R's Rue said...

Love it.

Tracie said...

I loved reading about your color theory and story exercises! I bought the book but haven't had the time to even open it yet. Your July blocks were very inspiring.

Sandra Walker said...

Well I have loved every moment of being with you in your quilting world in July! I totally felt like I was peeking over your shoulder while you worked. I loved the stories and the memories-oh boy could I relate to the camping one-and loved literally did a couple little oohs! as you showed the bear paw blocks! And then a squirrel with big bear laws ha! I love it! Lots of wisdom within this post too, not lost on me. Thank you for often DrEAMi-ing!

Linda said...

What a fun post! I love your stories, especially the lunchbox. It reminded me of what a goofball I was in grade school, always trying to make people laugh. The colors in all of your stories are so perfect, and I love the ice cream one. But the coleus colors and blocks are wonderful (I'm running out of superlatives), and love how you captured that thready bloom they put off. I can't wait to see how you finish it.

Bernie Kringel said...

Janine, This post was delightful. You have taken this project and really run with it. Each story was so thoughtful and reflective. I felt like I was at the diner with you. The way you used the colors of the diner were wonderful - that pieced block and the black and white tile floor - perfect.
The coleus project is fantastic. It will be so nice when all put together.
As always, I admire your use of color - Looking at all the fabric you pulled for these exercises shows how much you think and deliberate over your work. Inspiring. :-)

Louise said...

You know, squirrels have tiny little paws with tiny little claws, so it's completely A-OK that you made your coleus piece with squirrel claw blocks :)

The Joyful Quilter said...

Rachel is going to be SEW proud of you and your Squirrel Project!!

Jannette said...

Oh, the memories of Michigan that you brought up! Riding the school bus from "the country" to K'zoo; going to Muskegon and the sand dune rides when I SERVE'd there one summer... We haven't been to Luddington, but we would be in Harrison next weekend with a stop in Bay City - probably fairly similar to Luddington!
And the coleus project - WOW! You don't need the name to know what the plant is - I don't think that there's anything else with those colours!
I'm almost sad that next month is the end of the book...

QuiltGranma said...

It is always interesting to see where a squirrel will lead someone. What an interesting journey, and you may have found some nuts too along the way... folks like me tagging along and enjoying the squirrely journey!

Sylvia@Treadlestitches said...

What an interesting journey! Coleus has always been a favorite of mine, but I never knew what the blossoms looked like! Thanks for taking us along for the ride. I can't wait til this awful virus is over and we can go to Michigan again.

KaHolly said...

Oh, my goodness! What an awesome post! Keep up the fantabulous work! And, thanks so much for sharing your color adventure!

Jocelyn is Canadian Needle Nana said...

This was a fantastic post and I enjoyed reading it very much with my cup of tea this morning. Yes, I'd agree you did very well with your inspirational stories and colours and your execution in fabrics. I loved it all. I need coleus for the shaded area of my garden near my sewing room...I love that too.
Your mention of the black and red lunch can reminded me of a black and red tartan plastic picnic hamper we had for years...happy memories.

Preeti said...

I remember wanting to sit at the back of the bus because I enjoyed the bumpy ride. Of course mom hated it. So whenever we traveled with her, we'd be close to the front. The squirrel journeys that take us through a rabbit hole are so fulfilling. I loved all the blocks in all color combinations. Stay safe, Janine!!!