Sevens and fourteens

It's been a long time since I've talked on this site about Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, but if you follow me on social media (twitter, facebook, pinterest) it's become clear in the past couple of weeks that I've gotten to work.

This quilt has been paused for several years, while life interfered, but fabric coming available to finish the top for Pentatonic meant that this quilt was next in the Big Ambitious Projects pile that would see the light of day. If you've not seen a photo of the schematic, before, behold the craziness that is a tiling based on sevens and fourteens:

This feels right. I love the interplay of light and dark. I wonder if I am capable of actually rendering this in fabric, or if I am overreaching.

Blog entry: domesticat.net/quilts/seven-brides-seven-brothers cnaThe plan, I think.

I took a photo of the tiling, worked backwards (thanks, basic geometry!) to work out the angles, and built pieces based on the math. Because there was no simpler way to do it, I used Adobe Illustrator, which is my go-to tool of choice for turning tilings into quilts. I created pieces that had the correct angles, and then resized them so each piece was the same size. This tiling requires three pieces, which I lovingly refer to as "fat rhomb," "medium rhomb," and "skinny rhomb." (Original. I know.) The pieces can be any size, but all three have to be the same size.

Looking at the rhombs, it was clear from the outset that the skinniest rhomb was going to be the limiting factor; how small could it be before it was too unwieldy to work with? That skinny angle was 25.714° (because 14 of them meet at a point to form a circle, and that's 360° divided by 14) and that makes for a wicked, narrow, sharp point. Once upon a time, I was crazy and thought that I'd be able to successfully machine-piece this quilt, and I quickly discovered this idea was utter crap. Making seven-pointed stars was hard enough to get right, but a 14-pointed star is like Mordor. You don't go alone, and you go armed for bear and warlocks.

Using the skinny rhombs as a guide, I resized the pieces as small as I thought I could successfully wrangle, and laid out enough of the pattern in Adobe Illustrator to get what I wanted. I matched the colors to Kona solids to get as close of a color match to the schematic as possible. I toyed briefly with the idea of using a patterned fabric, and then I realized I wanted nothing but the piecing to show through. I settled on Kona's white, "Nightfall," "Regatta," and "Lake."

My first attempt at finding the right five colors for 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.'

From lightest to darkest:

pure white
lake (#194)
evening (#195)
regatta (#346)
nightfall (#140)

The three lights are perfect, as is the darkest fabric. Those are exactly as I envisioned here: www.flickr.com/photos/domesticat/4569611593 But that fourth color (regatta) bugs me. I think it's too light, too similar to color #3. I think it needs to be a shade or two darker. cnaColor samples for a future quilt

This is where I labored under the adorably mistaken assumption that I would be able to machine-piece this top. I got partway through -- maybe a quarter of the way through assembling units -- before admitting to myself this was utterly bonkers, required tons of ripping out, and wasn't giving me the razor-sharp accuracy I wanted. That's when I paused, and took up English paper piecing. I chose to work my way through Pentatonic (based on fives, and with much larger pieces) before tackling this more technically difficult composition.

I didn't anticipate running out of fabric on Pentatonic, nor of some of the life events that happened between 2010 and 2014, and so this quilt waited. In 2014, I lucked into fabric that allowed me to restart Pentatonic the way I wanted, and bring it to completion. (Okay. I lie. The top is 95% completed, as I have a few stars to swap out, but it's otherwise done.)

I will swap out a few stars on this quilt top, but not as many as I feared I would need to.

It's quite striking. I'm pleased. cnaPentatonic, before star substitution

By the end of Pentatonic, I considered English paper piecing no big deal. The weekend after finishing principal assembly on Pentatonic, I pulled out the pieces for Seven Brides and started tinkering with them. I was aware that I could pay someone to laser-cut paper pieces for me, but I've learned in the years since that custom patterns either require a one-time surcharge which I consider hefty, or I have to make the pattern available for sale. Since this tiling isn't mine (see http://quadibloc.com/ for the source) I don't have the right to sell it, and I was unwilling to pay a massive surcharge just to get paper pieces. I wanted to use Mylar, or some other bendy plastic, anyway. I wanted to avoid the holes inherent in sewing the 14-pointed stars by machine, as you can see here:

Fourteen pieces of fabric meet at a point. I think they'd rather meet in a bar. I think the trick is to be as exact as possible, make sure the seam allowances swirl correctly in the back, and have a drink after you're done sewing.

That one point is the most difficult join in the entire quilt. If it works, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a feasible project.

Blog entry: domesticat.net/quilts/seven-brides-seven-brothers

Photo of schematic: www.flickr.com/photos/domesticat/4569611593 cnaCan these ever be perfect?

I tried sewing a test, and even with English paper piecing, I was unhappy with the look. The white portions of the stars left seam allowances so big that the center of each star would have an unsightly bulge. (There's a reason people don't do this in fabric: it's batshit crazy and doesn't work.)

Unless.

Unless you change your materials.

I went digging in my stash and pulled out the swath of Tana Lawn, Liberty's magnificent lightweight lawn. It's light, soft, drapes beautifully, and made with exceptionally thin and strong thread that is tightly woven. It makes a fabric that's lighter in weight, by far, than standard quilting weight cotton. It frays less. It's obedient, lies flat, and takes English paper piecing beautifully as long as you use a thinner needle to get in between the tightly-woven threads. So I sewed another test using a combination of Kona solids, Liberty Tana Lawn for the white, and handmade plastic templates for piecing:

I tried machine sewing these pieces and was never thrilled with the results, so this project has to be English paper pieced. The white pieces will have 14 pieces meeting at a point. Regular quilt weight cotton is too bulky, so the white fabric is Liberty's light, fine Tana Lawn. It makes for manageable seam bulk.

Behold those wicked sharp corners. I'm aware that every quilter who ever looks at this quilt (once finished) will zero in on those wicked sharp points on those white pieces.

I intend to oblige them with a smile on my face. cnaTests begin

and immediately realized I had screwed it up AGAIN. I'd forgotten the first rule that woodworkers know: when you mark a template, or a finished piece, you don't cut your pieces and leave the tracing marks on them. That leaves your finished pieces ever so slightly too big. Normally in quilting it doesn't matter, but a single thickness of fabric isn't infinitely thin. Most piecework doesn't require this level of accuracy, but when you have 14 pieces of fabric meeting at a point, that's 28 thicknesses of fabric (one for each side of the point) that must be accounted for. My pieces didn't fit, and wouldn't fit, until I shaved them all down to remove the trace marks around their exteriors:

The first hand-sewing attempt was problematic because I forgot something every woodworker knows: you can't leave on the tracings around the edges of your templates.

Once I shaved the tracing lines off, the pieces fit together properly. cnaA lesson in tolerances

Once I did this, everything fit! I started sewing a test, and realized within a few nights that it wasn't just a test piece any more, it was the real deal. I had, somewhat accidentally, started the top for real this time. My first test was to ensure the rosettes would fit without cupping or bowing, and after a few nights, I knew this to be the case. You can see my test point in the left-hand side, and how I realized the seams were too big -- there's a section of medium blue that curves forward because the pieces are the wrong size. They'll be trimmed off in the finished quilt, so I chose not to re-sew them:

What began as a test to see if the homemade English paper piecing plastic templates for Seven Brides would work properly has turned into assembly for real. I expect that assembly will take some time; it's a big and complicated quilt pattern. 

I want to prove that it can be done. cnaBottom-left.

My next test was the seven-pointed star. Would the seven-pointed star lie flat? Would it fit into the pattern, thus guaranteeing I had my pieces correctly shaped this time? The answer: yes, thankfully, yes. The white pieces require about one millimeter of fudging to make sure the points hit correctly, but I'm willing to accept that:

My next test was to see how the seven-pointed star fit. Would it work right? It did. (Once I fixed the piece I sewed in sideways.) cnaNext stage complete!

As of today, I've completed a few stars, and started slotting in the borders for the first couple of stars. My goal is to make a landing place for the big, showy center rosette.

I'd used up most of the skinny templates for white pieces, and needed to reclaim some, so I've started filling in the interior of the 14 ringed stars. 

I'm going to be working on this ring of fourteen 7-pointed stars for a while. cnaProgress, late February 2015

Before I go much further, I want to ensure that I can create a 14-pointed star that's just as tightly constructed as the rest of the top. Every quilter who sees this quilt will zero in on the white pieces, so that's my technical focus. If I nail those, the rest of the quilt is easy.

I never settled on a recipient for this quilt. I suspect I will keep it, and put it on my bed. Every time I tried to imagine someone who would love this quilt, and understand it, I tried to imagine them using it and I just couldn't see them doing anything with it except putting it away in a closet because it was Too Unique To See Use. I loathe that. The ony person I know who would truly love and value it lives in a climate that doesn't need quilts, so I think I'll hang on to it.

My cats have no idea how good they have it!