Friday, August 19, 2016

Woodland Quilt-Along- A Finish

We are now reaching the point in the Woodland Quilt-Along that more and more finished items are beginning to arrive on the woodlandqa hashtag. It is great to see the creative way that you are using all the patterns.

I have managed to finish my first project. I'm really pleased with the result. I stepped out of my colour comfort zone and used a combination which I would not normally use. I am really pleased with how well it came together. The fabrics are all Cloud9 Cirrus Solids and they are beautifully soft to sew with.
I am having severe camera woes today. Sorry for the terrible photo. I will do my best to get a better photo before next week.

I hope to find the time to make something with the extra 4 inch blocks that I made up using the Lecien Modern L Charm packs, but time is marching on, my trip to Scotland is coming ever closer and my to-do list seems to me growing at an exponential rate!

Weekly Paper Piecing Tip

This week's tip has to do with fabric choices.

Choosing the right fabrics for your block can be vital for giving your animals texture and life. If you use the wrong fabrics, details of the design can disappear or the fabric design can overpower the block and your animal can become camouflaged.

I tend to think that in general it is important to match the scale of the fabric to the scale of the pattern.

For small scale patterns (4 or 5 inch) -, you want small scale prints or solid fabrics.

For medium scale patterns, use solids, small or medium size designs. If you use medium designs, consider whether the fabric is being used in the foreground or the background and whether the fabric design is represented in forgiving tone on tone shades or bold and dramatic colours which may detract from the block.

The fun thing about largescale blocks, is that you can use large scale, medium scale or small scale prints. You can also use solids to give a dramatic effect. I would suggest that large scale prints should be used with care though, think about the placement of these fabrics and the effect that you want to achieve.

See the raccoons and zebra fabrics that I used on this big bear (30 inch block)? I would not have used these on a smaller pattern as they would have overwhelmed the design.

Remember that entries for the quilt-along close on Sunday 28th August at 6:00pm NZT (remember that we are ahead of the rest of the world so please don't get caught out!

For more details about the quilt-along, pop over to this page.
For more details about the prizes hop over to this page.
For a summary of all the Woodland Quilt-along prizes, hop over to this page.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Interpretting Patterns

My older brother studied music at university and composition at Music College. He went on to work as a classical music composer for a time and worked on some major commissions.

After attending a performance of one of his pieces, I remember having a discussion with him about the creative process. I asked him how he felt about handing his music over to other people to perform. Whether it upset him if they interpreted it in a way that was different to what he had put down on paper.

His answer stuck with me. I can't remember the exact words that he used, but he said that once the music was written down on paper, his work was done. If he had done his work well, then people would interpret his work in the way that he wanted. Basically he said that he wrote the music down and then set it free in the world.
My version of the mini seahorse on the left, Amazing Seascape mini quilt by Lydia Cheney (@mamabeelydia on instagram)

When it comes to my patterns, I often think back on that conversation. My job is not only to draw a pattern, but to give instructions which will help others to interpret it as well as they can.

That said, if people interpret the pattern differently to me, it's generally not wrong, often it is better and blows my mind! The photos in this post include a few examples where people have taken my patterns and run with them. They have put their own spin on the designs and given them a more personal meaning. I think that the finished results are all the better for it!

My first patterns were sort of thrown together, but as I have written more, I have adapted the information that is given and how it is presented. I do my best to give guidance but not orders as to how you work with my patterns. That is why I include several different diagrams. Not everyone's brain works the same way and I think it is important to give options.

It is deliberate that my patterns aren't shaded. It is not because I am being lazy. It's because I don't want to limit your interpretation of them.

Once upon a time, I sewed a lamb pattern that someone else had designed. The pattern was designed as a black sheep, but I wanted to sew a white sheep. The coloured paper templates did nothing but confuse me. They limited my creativity and encouraged me to interpret the pattern in exactly the way that the designer had.
Boxer on the left, my original boxer mini quilt as seen in issue 37 of Love Patchwork and Quilting. Boxer on the right altered to reflect Amanda Castor's (@Materialgirlquilts on instagram) beloved dog.

I don't want people to sew exactly what I sew. I WANT them to give the patterns their own spin. Honestly, there is no greater compliment that you can pay me!

These days I will sometimes add colour placement advice to my patterns where I am confident that it is necessary, but I will do it with letters not with shading. This way, it is less distracting and you can easily choose to ignore it. For example, the zebra patterns are a lot of work. Marking the colours to be used in the black and white stripes seemed like a logical thing to do. I did not however give guidance on how to shade the colourful background. Use all your scraps, have fun with colours! I don't want to limit you to specific number of fabrics. Have fun, go wild, do what works best for you!
On the left is my original Singing in the Rain mini quilt. I didn't release the eiffel tower pattern, only the figures. On the right is a beautiful mini created my Debbie Grozzkopf (@mumziepooh on instagram)

To me the greatest compliment is when someone takes my pattern and interprets it in their own way. I think that I mentioned about the creative chain in my last post. I am not the last link in that chain. The person who sews the pattern is the last link and it is not fair for me to steal all credit from them. That said, their finished item is not possible without the earlier links on the chain. It's a symbiotic relationship which needs cherishing not shaming.

The people who sew my patterns build on the foundation that I gave them. They choose the colours and the fabrics. They decide which fussy cuts to include, they work neatly or not. I may be the one who writes the patterns, but I am not necessarily the best at interpreting them.

I am more than happy for people to enter their interpretation of my patterns in shows. They don't need to ask my permission (although if they do ask, I will happily say yes and cheer them on from the sidelines!). The only thing that I ask is that they credit me as the designer, not because I want to steal their thunder but because that way other people can find the pattern and have a go at it if they wish. We all benefit by being open and honest about our sources and inspirations.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Copyright/ Copywrong

I've been thinking about design, copying, and originality a lot recently (with a side sprinkling of copyright law to complicate the matter). I have been specifically interested in where the borders between "inspirated by" and "copied from" lie.

I will admit that this blog post has languished, half written, in my computer for a wee while as I have wrestled with the question of whether or not to post it. It makes me feel kind of vulnerable to write, but in general I think it is no bad thing to be honest and to share my successes and failures on this blog.

Seeing the Modern Quilt Guild's post on Derivative quilts, and Gnome Angel's post on imitation in the latest Love Patchwork and Quilting, I thought that my personal views and experiences were topical and perhaps relevant.

You see, it's all very well for quilters, artists and crafters to get up on their high horses and scold people that "copying is bad- don't do it!" I think we would all agree with that sentiment, but sometimes the borders between copying and being inspired by things can be very fine. We are part of a community which grows and breathes through taking old ideas and reinventing them. The trick is to do that in an honest and respectful way.

I think that the Modern Quilt Guild tried to approach this subject, but I am not at all convinced that they initially got it right. I am very glad to see that a resulting discussion is flourishing and I definitely look forward to seeing how that discussion progresses.

I am worried that the current Modern Quilt Guild's heavy handed approach will scare people away from sharing their inspirations and put them off the idea of entering quilt show. To me, the term "derivative" pours scorn on an age old tradition of building on the works of others before us.

Depending on the angle that you approach the issue from, your perspectives can be very different. It's also likely that the exact legal interpretation of terms such as copyright  will vary depending on the country that you live in. We live in a complicated international marketplace where a myriad of different laws are at play and as such each time that I think that I wrap my head around these issues, another perspective or angle pops up.

The majority of what has been written specifically about copyright and quilting refers to US law, but I live in New Zealand- so does it apply to me? Is US law a good framework for me to work around? I'm in New Zealand, so surely New Zealand law applies to be, but what if I send my quilt to a show in the States, which laws apply then?... AAAARGH! STOP IT!! My head hurts!!!

Every design has to start somewhere, there are very few people who can pluck a completely original idea out of their head every single time that they sit down to create. It is natural for us to be influenced by the colours and images that we see around us in every day life, but the degree that we are influenced and the form that this inspiration takes in our work are crucial.

The animals that I sew are not necessarily native on New Zealand, so I am forced to make do with finding inspiration from images rather than seeing and experiencing the animals and birds in real life. I am not that super talented person who can sit down and draw a perfect representation of a wild animal off the top of my head and as such, my designs are often based on photographs. I need a framework to build my design on. I love the detail that using wildlife photography allows. In the majority of cases, the final design looks nothing like the original photo, especially when the design is interpreted in beautiful multi-coloured fabrics.

I am pretty confident that nobody would ever be able to tell which photograph the original zebra design is based on. I changed the dimensions of the face, altered the number and dimensions of the stripes, I added some details and took other details away. I made the face look a lot more symmetrical than it is in real life. In short, I made the design work in fabric.

Was I inspired by the image? Definitely!

Was I copying- no. The zebra face may have been based upon a wildlife photograph, but the resulting zebra, the background riot of colour and the resulting quilt were far removed from that original photo.

Is this a derivative quilt because I used a wildlife photo to give me the bare bones of the zebra design? - I would say no!

Other times the interpretation of the photo in my design is more exact.  When I compared the barn owl element in my latest quilt- Hunted, with the photograph that it was inspired by, I felt a pang of guilt. The interpretation seemed too literal and I felt that anybody who used the correct search in google images would find the image straight away. I had purchased a copy of the photograph, not just downloaded it from the internet, but still it didn't feel right.

Granted, the barn owl was not the sole subject of the quilt, but it dominated the composition to such a degree that I felt I needed to ask permission of the photographer.

I listened to my gut and contacted Graham Jones, the photographer. I explained that his photo had inspired a quilt and asked if he had any objections. Luckily his mother and sister-in-law are both avid quilters and he was really excited by the idea. He has been nothing but supportive.

Was I inspired by the image- definitely

Was I copying- I don't know, you tell me. I guess that strictly speaking I was.

Is this a derivative quilt- perhaps, I don't know, maybe!?

Did I need to contact the photographer? Some people around me have said that it was overkill and unnecessary. I feel happy with my decision to play it safe (although I must admit that I would almost certainly have felt differently if he had given me a different answer.)

Would I be upset if I paid to enter this quilt in an international quilt exhibition only to be told that it is a derivative and that it is not eligible for either judging or prizes?
You bet!
A lot of time, thought and energy went into creating this quilt and just because the major element is based on a photograph does not take away from the skills involved in turning it into a quilt pattern.
Or the construction.
Or the fabric choices.
Or the quilting.
Or any of the other skills involved in creating it.

The last scenario is one that I am not proud of.

When I was designing my recent series of three dog mini quilts for Love Patchwork and Quilting, I REALLY wanted one of the dogs to be a Scottie dog. I wanted to offer an alternative to the traditional scottie dog quilts that you find.

I searched the internet for hours but couldn't find a suitable photo to base the design on. Nothing showed the amount of detail that I needed or a clear enough silhouette. Finally, I saw a random bad quality clipart. It was uncredited and I don't know why, but the usual filters in my brain which stop me from using other people's artwork were bypassed. I am generally very careful to avoid paintings, drawings and original artwork of any kind.

I didn't think to do a simple search to find the artist who created the clipart, I just went ahead and used the image telling myself that nobody would know.

I created the quilt design, sewed it, sent it to the magazine and didn't think about it.

The day after the magazine was released, I received a totally unrelated email from somebody wanting to use a very close replica of one of my other designs in their new business logo. I'm not going to lie, I didn't really like the idea of my design being used to sell her business. That said, since that quilt design was loosely based on a photo, I wasn't sure that I had a right to complain. It felt like I was a link in a creative chain and it didn't feel as if I had the right to object. I discussed the matter with various people around me and most were very indignant on my behalf. I felt conflicted and didn't know what to do.

It got me thinking about copying and permissions and that whole rabbit warren of issues.
While doing that, I suddenly realised that without thinking, I had stolen someone else's artwork (the Scottie dog) and passed it off as my own.

A brick grew at the bottom of my stomach and I felt bad.
I felt really bad.

After stressing all day, I decided to take responsibility for my actions. I did an internet search and discovered that the bad quality image that I had used was a copy of the work of Ann Kallal of Maggie Ross Dogs.

I will admit that I was more than a little bit intimidated to email her, as her website had a very prominent copyright message which preached respect. I sent her an apologetic email and offered to make amends. I was quaking in my boots that I might have inadvertently dragged a magazine (to which I was a first time contributer) into a legal battle- yikes!

I was blown away by the long and generous reply that I received from Ann. She explained about the issues that she has with big Chinese companies stealing her images and selling goods. She was flattered that I had used her image and more than happy for me to keep using it as long as I credit her for the original design in future mentions. Her only request was that instead of sending the Scottie dog mini quilt to her as I had offered, that I donate it to an animal welfare auction. I am more than happy to carry out this request (if anyone knows of a suitable auction please let me know!).

I wish that I had remembered to ask permission earlier or that I had used a different image, but it was a good learning experience for me.

I still don't know exactly where the line lies and suspect that everyone that I ask will give me a different answer. I am kind of proud to say that once I realised my error, I tried to act with integrity, I just wish that I hadn't got myself in that situation in the first place. For me at this time it is a moral issue. Treat others as I wished to be treated.

Was I copying- yes
Is this a derivative quilt- yes
Will I do this again- no.

Going forward I will always do my best to use copyright free images or possibly to combine a few images to make a completely unique view. Where these things are not possible, I will continue to credit the photographers when I feel that it is relevant.

I guess that some of you will wonder how I dealt with the logo question. Well with the whole Scottie Dog mess fresh in my mind, I felt that I was in no place to take the moral high ground and object to the logo. I contacted the lady and gave her my blessing to use it.

I feel as if there is a lot more that can be written on this issue, but I am not a lawyer and I do not have all the answers.

For me personally, the key is to act with discretion and grace. I want to treat artists, quilters and fellow creatives in a way that I would want them to treat me. As a general rule of thumb, I will listen to my gut and do what it tells me, follow my own moral code.

We do not create in a vacuum so lets give credit where it's due and get on with creating beauty!
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Do I Make Modern Quilts?

I must admit that this is a question of which I have been a bit dismissive of in the past.

I would think:

"What does it matter?"
"Why are people getting so upset about quilting genres and their definitions?"
"If I make what I like, what does it matter if my quilts fall into the modern category or not."

Recently however, I have begun to get a better insight into the importance of this issue.

I absolutely adore my latest quilt design. I've called it Hunted.The Owl element is inspired by this amazing photo by Graham Jones.

I am really super proud of my own version of the quilt and I wanted to enter it into an exhibition- but the question was which exhibition should I enter it into and into which category does it fall into?

Understandably, quilting exhibitions want to compare like with like, so they like to place quilts in nice neat boxes.

But what if the quilts don't fit in those boxes. Take Hunted for example.

It's not traditional
It's not modern traditional
It's not improv
It's not an art quilt
It's not a contemporary quilt
and I'm pretty sure that it's not a modern quilt either!

As a quilter, I identify with modern quilters. I generally use bright, colourful modern fabrics, I don't like being restricted by a grid layout, I often use a solid background (but not always). My style while erring on the realistic side, is often quite graphic. All of these things would push me towards the modern category.

Another reason that I identify with modern quilters is that I learnt my craft from the internet. I followed blogs, used online tutorials and adapted techniques so that they suited me and my personality. Again, these are things which put me squarely in the modern camp.

But how I learnt my craft is not something that can be judged when my work is hanging in an exhibition. It is not something that can be seen just by looking at my work and as such it is not relevant when entering works in an exhibition.

This quilt is a wildlife quilt. The colours are realistic, as is the unstylised depiction of the animals. The subjects are depicted in a variety of low volume fabrics in addition to shades of tan and brown. I regard the background as negative space, but you might not agree with me as I have used a blender fabric, not a solid.

While I stressed about this question, I noticed that the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham has a "Pictorial Quilts" category. Perfect I thought! Then I saw someone state that it is widely regarded that pictorial quilts are almost always applique- hmmmm- really? I know of an awful lot of foundation paper pieced quilts that fall squarely into the Pictorial Quilts Category. We'll see if the judges agree with me!

If you are going along to the Festival of Quilts, keep an eye out for my Hunted Quilt. I hope you like it as much as I do!

As for me, I'll keep pondering whether my quilts are modern or not. I guess the answer is that some of them are, others aren't. Just to be clear, it doesn't bother me one way or the other, I'm just curious what others around me think. Sometimes it is super hard to be subjective about your own work.

For those who are wondering, the wee hunted mousie was the original inspiration for the woodland quiltalong. Sorry that I forgot to take close up photos of the complete mouse after it was quilted, this photo is the best that I have for the moment...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Woodland Quilt-Along- The Squirrel

Woah! We're at the final block of the Woodland Quilt-Along already!

This week's block is the squirrel. I just love his bushy tail!

The fun thing about squirrels are that they come in such a variety of colours. My original 4 inch squirrel was a red squirrel, but I had lots of fun using Cloud9 cirrus solids to create this grey squirrel.

I always love it when the courier van pulls up outside our house, because nine times out of ten they are bringing parcels for me and most of the time those parcels contain fabric. The majority of the time, I have a fair idea what will be in each parcel, so I was surprised when the courier pulled up yesterday.

I wasn't expecting anything was I? I wracked my brain and couldn't wait for the courier to come to the door.

It turned out that the box did hold fabric, and if I'd thought about it I could probably have guessed what it was. The lovely people at Lecien have sent me a whole pile of L's modern basics charm packs. They are perfect for making 4 inch blocks.

Of course, I couldn't wait to start playing so this morning I sewed up a squirrel and a bunny rabbit. I haven't quite decided what I'm going to do with them but I have two vague ideas. One would be to place them on the toes of a pair of sleepytime slippers for my daughter. Wouldn't that just be the best pair of slippers ever!?!
 Unfortunately, I suspect that I won't have time to do that so I suspect that they will be used to sew a new pencil case for my daughter as she has been nagging me for one for months!

Weekly Paper Piecing Tip

This week's tip has to do with the bottle that features in the photo above (although you can use any kind of starch or starch substitute that you like). I think that this is one of my favourite tips for creating a professionally finished block.

This tip is especially important for small scale piecing where seams can become bulky and pressing of seams can lead to ugly bumps and tortured looking shiny fabric. Personally, unless the piecing of a pattern is totally insane, I tend to keep the seam allowances 1/4 inch in size no matter what, This can lead to quite a build up of fabric at the back, but this tip helps to minimise the problems that the bulky extra fabric cause.

Once the block is complete, remove all the papers.

Initially, I place the block face down on the ironing board and give it a quick press to ensure that all the seams are pressed in the direction that I want them to be.

I then take a few layers of batting and place them on the ironing board.

 I take my block and lay it face up on top of the batting.

Spray the block with spray starch. I have tried a few different supermarket brands which I didn't like. One left a residue on top of the block. One turned the block yellow. These days I like to use Flatter by Soak which has the added bonus that it smells yummy!

Now press down hard on the block with your iron until the block is completely dry.

You will now see that the surface of the block is beautifully flat and the seams have not only been pressed into the batting, but they have also lost a lot of their bulk.

The good news for you guys is that not all of the fabric is for me! I have a couple of charm packs to giveaway at the end of the quilt-along, so make sure to join in and finish your woodland items.

If you are late getting started, it's not a problem. Each of these blocks only took me about and hour and a half to make (I wasn't rushing).

The patterns are available in a bundle and can be purchased from my Etsy, Payhip and Craftsy stores. For the duration of the quilt-along, the bundle will be available for the bargain price of US$7.50 (or as close to this as possible taking exchange rates into account!).

You can find a round-up of all the woodland quiltalong blog posts here.

P.S. No affiliate links here, just telling you what I use and why.


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