Sunday, October 23, 2011


Last Tuesday, the Garden State Quilters' Guild, to which I belong, sponsored a workshop with RaNae Merril on her Spiral Mandala quilts. These intricate and beautiful quilts are foundation-pieced, and based on twisted log cabin blocks. So, conceptually, they aren't terribly difficult for my engineer's brain to latch onto very quickly. The complexity arises in how you choose to color the patches in each block, and reverse (mirror) symmetry.

We spent the first half of the workshop choosing some basic blocks that RaNae had designed and then coming up with our own color schemes for our "pizza slice" - the workshop mandalas are built from 7 wedges: 4 and their mirror images.

The second half of the workshop was spent assembling the first block of one wedge, following her paper=piecing technique. Prior to this, I had seen some demonstrations of paper-piecing, and watched come video and read some tutorials, but there's really nothing like actually sitting down and doing it with a teacher, especially a teacher who's spent some time and thought on making the process more streamlined.

For example, none of the prior demos I have witnessed showed how to use the "add a quarter" ruler for trimming seam allowances, and I had never seen anyone use a wallpaper roller to "finger press" a seam before. 

Paper piecing is certainly a time-consuming process, and it does seem to have more "waste" than regular piecing, but it would be next to impossible for me to use such tiny wedges of fabric in a design any other way.  Ms Merrill also had us work with that EQ foundation-piecing product that is basically tear-away interfacing that you can run through your printer. One of my guild=mates mentioned to me before the workshop that once I tried it, I would never go back to regular paper for paper piecing again, and she was right. It's more expensive than using regular paper, but it's really forgiving, you can leave it in if you want, and it's translucent so you can see what you're doing on either side of the pattern.

RaNae is a great teacher, and I recommend both the book and her live class.

I've been working diligently on this quilt all week. I've finished 24 blocks out of 40. Here is the center block, arranged on my design wall:

I have 2 smaller blocks completed, and one of them is now sewn onto the center block. The other small block gets attached to a block that's not started yet. I have 2 more blocks to do, but they are, I think, the most complex of all the blocks in this quilt. So far, I have used 25 different fabrics and pieced 384 individual pieces.