Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spiralling to the Circus

As I continue to work on mundane tasks I thought I would tell you about my last spiral quilt.  I created this for the 2014 Hoffman Challenge and won Best Machine workmanship.  I think spirals are fascinating to do, and I love the designing as well as the sewing.  It was gone for a year and finally came home just before Christmas.

The central design is a twisted 8-pointed star, all paper pieced.  It uses color gradations of fabric in the same manner as the Log Cabin pattern, only with triangles instead of squares.  RaNae Merrill has published two books (available on Amazon) on spirals with excellent directions.  I learned how to do the intricate designs from her books using Adobe Illustrator for drawing my own patterns, but they can easily be done with paper and pencil.  The star is made up of eight wedges as shown below.  The flower motif was cut from the required Hoffman fabric and hand appliquéd onto black fabric before sewing it all together.  The black triangle is not cut to a point because the circular motif was cut with some of its own background fabric forming the point.
One wedge of the 8-point star (in pieces).
Once assembled I had to figure out how to quilt it.  Before starting the fun part I quilted every seam in the ditch with monofilament thread.  I decided to put a ring around behind the star and from there my design took on a life of its own as the circle reminded me of a circus ring.  I just kept getting more ideas as I went along, ending up with not only with the circus enclosure, but also with animals, and various other appropriate motifs.  Below is the schematic of the quilting design. The idea in the upper left morphed into something entirely different in the end, and the center circle became a simple spiral with gold-colored thread.
Quilting design
Unfortunately the seals don't show up very well on the front.  I couldn't find a color of thread that showed up well on both the dark and light fabrics of the star.  Oh well! The feathers and design in the borders I drew out on tracing paper.  Not only was it easier, but it created the muscle memory in my hands that made the free motion stitching easier.  I also added some clowns which can be seen from the back. They are entirely free motion with no marking and are kind of goofy looking (click to enlarge), but sadly are mostly invisible from the front.

TIP:  When doing circular motifs (mandalas) think about how you will fill the corners.  Check out my quilt "Galaxies" in the gallery of Spirals.  There is lots of quilting around that mandala, but it doesn't show and leaves the whole quilt a bit flat.
I didn't think ahead before taking this photo.  I should have done it before adding the sleeve and label, but I am not going to take it off for another photo and then have to sew it on again...unless there is a VERY good reason to do so.

I learned from another quilt that feathers don't show up well on black unless done with a light thread.  I used a light blue, but I still wasn't happy so I painted every feather with iridescent turquoise PaintStix using a small stencil brush.  Although I tried out the idea on scrap fabric ahead of time,  I started painting with trepidation because once the first stroke of paint went down, I was committed to do the whole thing.  In the end I was very pleased and feel that it really adds a lot to the quilt.  In the photo above of the back you can see the quilting with blue thread only. Scroll back to the first photo and you can see how it looks on the front with the PaintStix embellishment.

TIP:  Have fun!  Make every quilt a circus, enjoy the process, go with the flow, and try something new.

Sew a happy seam this week.


  1. That quilt is so inspiring! NO wonder it won. Congratulations on the win and for getting it back.

  2. Lovely! Wish I could have seen it up close and in person! lynnstck(at)yahoo.com

  3. Absolutely stunning work, congrats!

  4. I couldn't stop looking at your quilt. It's absolutely gorgeous. I'm in awe of the piecing, and blown away by the quilting. I can see why you won Best Machine Workmanship!

  5. Lovely, and congratulations. Claire aka knitnkwilt