Saturday, January 3, 2015

Looking through the Attic Windows

As I was writing the last post, I was thinking how I wanted organize this blog.  My first thought was to start at the beginning then proceed forward in time.  But I kept thinking of themes or specific topics that span multiple quilts over time (my idea list currently has 6 or 7 topics).  So for now, at least until I run out of ideas, that's the direction I'm going.

My first theme is Attic Windows as suggested by my first quilt and  previous post.  The pattern is a very obvious choice for an I spy novelty quilt.  It provides a clear frame for each novelty fabric with the added benefit of an optical illusion, "Hey, I'm looking through a window and what do I see?"  I think I got the original idea while browsing around Linda's Quilt Shop in Denton Texas.  I don't know if they are still open but I do owe them a debt of gratitude.  They were very encouraging at the beginning of this journey and inspired me with many ideas via their samples.  I truly was a kid in a candy store and they were great enablers.

As mentioned in the last post, my preferred method of constructing the diagonal on the window ledge is a triangle sewn to one side of the ledge rather than a Y-seam.  You can also use a half square triangle, but that adds an extra unneeded seam.  I also like the added depth given when you include narrow sashing between each block, which would be the mullions between the windows (yes, I know that term, I used to be a draftsman).  It makes the optical illusion more accurate to my eye.  You also need some pretty good contrast between the two surfaces of the window ledge and either a solid or a tone on tone.  A busy fabric on a ledge can be distracting from the illusion.  A tone on tone helps camouflage that seam between the HST and the narrow strip so that it looks like one piece.  I've made several quilts that I would put in the category of attic window type quilts with some variations.  Here they are, with the comments about what I think did and didn't work. I left out the very first one since it was the topic of my last post.

This was my 2nd attic window quilt, made for one of my cousin's twin sons.  The mom requested the background colors, which as this goes along you will see aren't my typical choices.  I tend to use brighter colors, but I do like how this turned out.  I call this my postage stamp quilt.  When the center was done, it just felts so blocky I decided to add some triangles in the border.  It was good practice making lots of triangles (ooo, another topic for a future post). The mullions are fairly thick in this quilt and I decided to add the beige cornerstones.  It detracts a little bit from the optical illusion but not significantly.  The contrast between the two surfaces of the window frame works very well.

The following quilt was made several years latter for my dad.  A quilting friend had collected fabrics representing her father's life and commented she was sad she hadn't made it before he died.  That got me thinking, and collecting and this is the result.  (Thanks Jonna for the idea and for the contribution of the bank and desert fabrics and for encouraging me to "get it made").   I made a key as part of the label to explain the significance of each window (an ornament to represent how much he loved decorating for Christmas for example).  I made the quilt with puffy poly fabric thinking he'd use it as a lap quilt.  Nope.  My dad was so thrilled with what I had done, he nailed it (yes nailed) to the wall in his home office.  He also had me frame a copy of the label to hang with the quilt.  I understand he showed it to anyone one who came to visit.  The quilt now hangs in my son's room (not nailed) and still makes me smile.  It's a bit puffy for a wall quilt but that's ok.  I vacuum off the dog hair that settles on the "window sills" periodically. 

Regarding the design of my dad's quilt, I don't like the contrast between the two window fabrics as much in this one.  The "dark" fabric is so bright and the mullions are so dark it sort of gives an effect of looking out from a darkened room into a sunny yard.  The very narrow sashing was a challenge.  Any time you are sewing a very narrow strip, especially in a dark fabric, any little variation in your seam really shows.  Rather than focusing on the seam allowance while sewing, I lined up my presser foot on the adjacent sewn seam to keep the thickness of the mullion consistent.  I used large HST of scrappy blue triangles to add some interest in the border.  In retrospect I wish I had used duller fabrics on the window sills to detract less from the novelty fabrics.

 The following aren't technically attic window quilts but they use a similar construction technique.  Instead of 1 diagonal seam in the block, there are two in opposite corners.  The optical illusion of depth is very striking, especially in these small pictures.  There are no triangles in the light to light or dark to dark seams, but because the contrast is so stark in the adjacent block, you really get the impression that there is a diagonal there as well. Are the blocks recessed or do they pop out?  (Love optical illusions).  This quilt is one of a set I made for a co-workers twin grandsons.  The other uses a green narrow border.  I like how it works to frame the blocks.  You'll see that spotted black fabric re-appear frequently.  I keep buying it as it works so well with the novelties.  Some of the fabrics are identical between two quilts, others are the same subject but different fabrics (red zippers or purples zippers).  I figured the boys would have fun comparing the quilts when they are older.  I was very pleased with how this turned out.

This red & gray quilt is the same pattern, constructed at a retreat I attend in Phoenix each February.  I had already made the little half square triangles for the corners and pre-cut all the fabrics so it went together quickly.  Again the contrast between the red and gray really emphasizes the optical illusion of depth.  The tone on tone fabrics showcase the novelty windows well.  But I don't think the border fabric doesn't works all that well. I frequently struggle with appropriate border fabrics for novelty quilts.  It's difficult to find a fabric that doesn't either overwhelm or get overwhelmed by the novelty fabrics.  This one was alright but didn't really add much.  Perhaps a narrow contrasting inner border of dark blue would have improved it.

I include this last quilt as an example of what didn't work.  This was supposed to be a "spool" pattern but the pattern gets lost.  The black fabric should have been the ends of the spools, but the green doesn't fade into the background as I wanted.  Instead the whole thing does the optical illusion of popping forward and backward.   By the time I got to the border, I was at a loss what to chose.  The fabric I settled on shows pixie sticks candy which is cute up close but it just can't compete with the other colors.  A narrow inner border might have helped but even then the green and the black were just too saturated.   I know the little girl who received this quilt loves it all the same, but if I were doing this pattern over again I would have chosen softer colors than the black/green combination.  This is the first quilt where I tried adding a triangle to the end of one fabric rather than a separate half square triangle, primarily because I didn't want to break the swirl in the black fabric.  It worked so well, saving fabric and construction time, that I'll be using that method from now on. 

Wow, 5 quilts in 1 post.  Did I promise my posts wouldn't be wordy?  I think I said that somewhere.  Ah well, maybe the next one will be shorter, but I'm not making any promises.  Thanks for reading.


  1. Dee, I am enjoying reading about your growth as a novelty quilter and how you have learned from what you see as your mistakes and moved on. Of course, we know that the children who benefited from your quilting skills saw only lots of fun and loved the quilts to death.

    1. hanks Judy. I know the kids love them. Part of the reason I got started doing novelty quilts was to explore different patterns, colors, etc and to grow as a quilter. They are small so they don't take long and don't take much fabric, and when I'm done they are pretty easy to "re-home". Many of the quilts are experiments, a lot like experimenting with a new recipe. Sometimes they turn out great and become a favorite. Other times you go "eh" and move on, lesson learned