The Denim (And Other Old Stuff) Challenge

One of the good (and bad) aspects of art quilt groups is their love of challenges. It’s good to have a starting point for a piece, but I find it can distract me from more long term work. If I have a choice between analyzing and fixing what went wrong on an existing piece and plunging into a new piece, guess which I pick.

At first I wasn’t going to join a recent challenge to use denim and/or old shirts in a piece. I had already used my husband’s shirts (with his permission) to make Shirtsleeves, and I didn’t have any all cotton old jeans.

Then, my husband asked if I could use a pair of his old jeans and a shirt. It was kismet, so I began my challenge piece under the influence of Rayna Gillman’s latest book, Create Your Own Improv Quilts.

I saw that I didn’t have enough denim, but did have damask tablecloths and napkins I had dyed shades of blue.  More kismet. I decided on 6 inch squares as my background, and fused lightweight interfacing to the damask before I cut it. If you don’t stabilize it, the damask will stretch out of shape.

I loved how the denim look changed depending on which side I put up.

Next, I began to slash the squares diagonally and sew strips onto the larger piece. At this point I decided to finish each square with the smaller piece I had cut off. I liked how it made the center small diamonds see-through.

Rayna’s version fills the centers with color, but I thought more color might be too distracting for mine as the background was already different colors. I think my version looks quite different, which shows how versatile some loose guidelines can be for improv work.

The top is done, named (Damask and Denim,) and just needs quilting inspiration.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Inspiration, Modern Quilting

13 responses to “The Denim (And Other Old Stuff) Challenge

  1. “At this point I decided to finish each square with the smaller piece I had cut off. I liked how it made the center small diamonds see-through.” THIS was brilliant. It would have been a very different project if you’d continued into the corners with “color” instead of the glassy damasks and denims. I know of these decisions really are just happy accidents, but regardless of whether you had a vision for it, or auditioned and liked what you came up with, or simply stumbled into it, it sure worked well.

    • I think it was a light bulb moment, after I had sewn the first strips in place. I was concerned that more colors would get confusing, given the variation I already had in the background squares. It’s nice when a hunch pays off.

  2. I didn’t see much hope for this project, as you started to describe it, but I think it turned out great! I agree with what Gwen (TextileRanger) said about the image of prisms and, of course, I do love the way you managed to repurpose old damask tablecloths!

  3. I really like your “Damask and Denim” and “Shirtsleeves” with it small bits of yellow/gold (?). It always amazes me how fabrics can so change the appearance of a similar design or patchwork technique. I look forward to seeing how you quilt and finish the denim piece.

    • Thanks. Shirtsleeves is my interpretation of an old Kaffe Fassett pattern that uses men’s shirting fabrics. The bits of yellow and other fabrics are his idea. I had made it as a baby quilt, but the baby turned out to be a girl and the parents were traditional enough not to enjoy wrapping their daughter in blue. I think I’ll do a zigzag quilting pattern on the denim piece, roughly following the outside of the diamonds, then fill in the diamonds with FMQ. I was just looking at some old Mary Ellen Hopkins books, and she made the same point about how fabric choices can utterly alter a design.

  4. I love it! I love the way it does look transparent, like you said, and also, because you consistently put the light stripe inside the dark stripe, it looks like bevel-cut glass, like a string of prisms.
    You were talking about going off into a short-term project instead of staying with something long-term, but to me your overarching theme/talent is always adding in a few extra layers of interest to something that could have been taken in a very basic or predictable direction. So I see all of your work as long-term. And very inspirational!

    • Wow, thanks! My goals for long-term work center around serious compositions that would fit into a national exhibit. I’ve made a few of those, but found they consume a lot of time, and still others’ work is better. It’s hard to reconcile myself to the fact that I may just not be able to elevate my work to such a high level. But then, it’s good for me to struggle with art. As wiser folks have said, you learn the most from failures.

      • Chris Wheeler

        Wow, I’m surely not you, pretty sure I don’t have anywhere near your talent…so in some ways I suppose life is easier for me; but from reading your blog and learning how you approach each project, I have great confidence your work is going to reach those high levels! For this project, I love how these have motion, they look like spinning gems to me.

  5. Barbara

    I like this quilt very much, it looks sky-ey. I find creating something new and different alluring in a way that is lacking in projects that are done sufficiently that the urgency of discovery and surprise has dissipated,

    • “The urgency of discovery and surprise” sums up the allure of improv work. I sometimes feel it’s not worth actually sewing a quilt if I already know what it will look like.

      • Barbara

        Exactly, I don’t do other people’s patterns, although I do design them (I have a design in the current issue of “Easy Quilts”) because it is absolutely no fun for me to know what it is going to look like before I start. I would never (never, say never) use computer programs like Q8 (?) because once you can see it, what’s the point?

      • One caveat I’ll add is that I do at least some planning in advance at times – usually a sketch, but sometimes a graphed pattern. I view it as a road map, but I have to take the drive to see all the scenery.

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