Archive for the ‘colors and color theory’ Category

I’ll continue my travel narrative here…and keep reading to find a patchwork connection!

Nothing can quite prepare you for Paris’s Sainte Chapelle. Many have referred to it as a “jewel” – quite apt, as you’ll see if you keep reading. You will find it nestled among the city’s halls of justice on an island in the middle of the Seine River, just a stone’s throw away from the much more popular Notre Dame Cathedral. Amazingly, the chapel is perfectly preserved in the heart of this bureaucratic complex.

When you first enter Sainte Chapelle, you step into the “lower chapel,” a dark space with a handful of stained glass windows and numerous columns covered with peeling paint. A statue of St. Louis (minus hands) presides over it all. The mood is mystical, a bit magical. I stood for a while taking photos of the paint, the stone, and the windows, getting a sense for the place.


(I should note that the elaborate painting was done in the 19th century during a restoration. Not sure how well it represents what medieval people saw, but it lends a great aura to this sacred space.)

DSCF3066Then it was time to ascend the spiral staircase.

I confess to feeling claustrophobia in small windowless spaces, and a very narrow spiral staircase is one thing I truly dread. I rushed my daughters forward to climb as fast as I could out of there. I was rewarded at the top with a jaw-dropping sight: dozens of immense stained glass windows, nearly floor to ceiling blue and red… light pouring through the colored glaze and right onto my amazed face. I could see why this was the king’s chapel, his holy place, and why it has been venerated ever since the 12th century. I stared and I turned around to keep staring and I just did not want to leave.


DSCF3104DSCF3133Tour groups came and went, using headsets with tour guides leading in Japanese, Spanish. I still kept turning my head, craning to see individual panes depicting biblical scenes. My husband and kids found folding chairs and had a seat while I gaped and snapped away with my camera.

It is an often-heard cliche to call the chapel a “gem” or a “jewel” – though still very apt. The glass really does look like a series of rubies and sapphires.

After a few more minutes, just when we thought of leaving, the sun came out outside and truly illuminated the glass, just like one of those brilliant medieval manuscript paintings minus the gold leaf. Stunning. In the clouds, however, the panes looked just as good and perhaps even more mysterious, more blue.

DSCF3085 All these gorgeous colors make me think about some patchwork I recently completed that corresponds to its brilliant blue and rich red. Though it could never actually hold a candle to this chapel, here it is:


IMG_4309Batiks are sometimes used for “stained glass” quilts, I believe, because they convey that look of mottled sun and shadow passing through a pane of glass. Much more than a solid color, they offer the depth of different degrees of saturation.

IMG_4312My contemporary pattern mimics the “window” effect also, with small squares of lighter red-orange in each block. The blocks go together very quickly, making it an easy weekend project.

To keep things simple, this patchwork table runner is not quilted. It’s backed with plaid flannels that I had in my stash, which should help it stay put on the table. I am planning to use it this fall to brighten the darkening days. And it will offer me a glimmer of a memory of my trip to Sainte Chapelle, too.



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Project planning is in full swing for my next quilt. I have begun to piece spinning stars made of light blue (and blue-grey and blue-green) and dark blue batiks. I love picking colors but it isn’t easy–I quickly become a perfectionist about color choice and placement with a scrappy project like this!

I don’t have a design wall yet, but I do have a new bulletin board. Nestled in among the lovely fabrics is an old abstract watercolor by my older daughter (she is now 8, did this piece at 5 or 6) and a fun recent drawing by my younger (6-year-old) daughter. Speaking of whom, I will share the Hawaiian-themed quilt I’m working on with my 6-year-old in my next post. (The kid can sew pretty convincing quarter-inch seams!) Until then, here are a few more photos of my delicious oceanic batiks:





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I have been busy! Very, very busy, and although most of my busy-ness hasn’t been focused on crafting, I have had a few inspirations and I’d like to share those with you. My theme? Vintage modern patchwork.

I’ve become obsessed with the book Sunday Morning Quilts, which is such a fun, joyful approach to patchwork and quilt-making for those of us who’d like to use modern techniques to make arty, pretty quilts. The authors focus on improvising with scraps, first by dividing them into colors, and then by turning them into “slabs” – blocks of make-your-own patchwork fabric that sort of resemble log cabin block. Really, they could be any sort of rectangle/square creation you could dream up. If you have strips or scraps on hand, and love putting color on top of color, it can be addictive.

Sunday Morning Quilts

I’m now making “slabs” in red and yellow. I am still drawn to 1930s/40s reproduction fabrics and modern fabrics that have a similar feel: tiny prints, polka dots, little florals that are mostly one color, all in very vibrant hues. My local quilt store provides me with both, luckily. For me, it’s a kick to combine old-school fabrics that are just so bright and cheery with modern-style patchwork. This is an example of what I did with strips of bright red.

Jan 2013 Canon Rebel 022 (800x767).

And then I made more:

Jan 2013 Canon Rebel 023 (800x703)

Jan 2013 Canon Rebel 024 (610x800)

Jan 2013 Canon Rebel 026 (800x514)

Next: I will trim these and stay-stitch them around the edges. Then: Orange slabs, and then slabs that are off-white with tiny little prints. I have a plan, believe me, for what to do with these… More on that soon. And stay tuned: in an upcoming post, I’ll show you my progress on the little holiday quilt featuring the tiny “mini” prints from my previous post.

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Color is a passion for Christine Barnes, a seasoned Sunset Books editor who has devoted herself to fabric art. Last week I went to see her speak at a quilt guild meeting and was astonished by her art.

She first displayed a color wheel made purely of fabrics. Nice idea, since the colors are much more vibrant here than in a typical book about art theory:


She shared numerous quilts she has made, and here’s a small sampling. Before you look, see if you can spot some “magic colors” (her term) that seem to jump off the screen. The first one’s called Black Opals & Ribbon Candy–a fun name, isn’t it?

I can picture making the quilt below. You create square blocks and then chop them up and resew. The stripes are subtle but really do add a depth here:

The third quilt, above, conveys a great sense of dimension (apologies for the wavy image; this quilt was displayed on stairs). It’s inspiring, since I’ve been wondering about making 3-D illusion quilts.

This last one showed a good use of ombre fabric. I’ve seen those for sale and generally avoided their graded colors, because I just didn’t know what to do with them. But you can see here how much dimension they, too, can add:

Christine teaches classes and seminars, and I’d like to take one sometime to learn about how exactly she tracks down and auditions these colors. Very precisely, I think!


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I’m making this quilt for a very special couple, one of whom just may be reading this. (This is a test, only a test… Comment if you’re there!) I couldn’t wait to share it, but it will be a wedding gift for her so I hope she’ll still act surprised and happy to receive it when it’s all done. Right now it’s a fresh, 31-square-inch quilt top hanging on my door, which I seem to use as a lightbox. I call this “Woven Together” and I used some really pretty, rich batik charm squares and a straightforward, modern pattern from Gail Abeloe of Back Porch Fabrics, my favorite place in Pacific Grove (well, that and Lovers’ Point – where the view of Monterey Bay just can’t be topped).

This palate makes me think of rain pouring over the “golden” hills of Northern California–rain we desperately need. I just heard that San Jose has had only a quarter of its expected rain by this time in the season. Perhaps this can serve as my personal rain dance.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I absolutely love log cabin quilts. The way the strips of fabric go together keeps my interest. In the same way that I like to use variegated yarn while knitting, I like to use multiple colors throughout in a block, choosing what goes where as I go along. That way, each block is an adventure.

I’ve made three “traditional” log cabin quilts: one in batiks, one in 1930s prints, and one in reproduction prints. While none of them are very large, they were all labors of love.

Now, I’m embarking on a new path: a Liberated Log Cabin, inspired by Gwen Marston’s book, Liberated Quiltmaking II. Gwen’s book opens up new vistas of quilting that use rulers only as a straight edge – a chance to freely piece shapes, colors, and wedges into modern art masterpieces. I really enjoy looking at these types of Bohemian quilts, and this book offers a ton of eye candy.

My daughters thought so too. They encouraged me to try making a quilt similar to the Liberated Log Cabin for Amber, a vibrantly-colored piece that Gwen made for her sister. She started with colorful four patches, framed them in solid red, and then used really bright brights and black-and-white fabrics to round out her log cabin blocks. Although Gwen doesn’t specify the block size, I’m thinking each one is around 12 inches square, so that’s what I am aiming for.

Here’s a closer look at what I have made over the past week. I am enjoying these wonky blocks, and my kids just go ga-ga for them! Later on I’ll square up each to be the same size and put them together:

One problem: this project is literally a pain in the neck. Unfortunately, last winter, I had a terribly flare up of neck and upper shoulder pain, and had to limit my activity, as well as go to physical therapy. Only recently has my neck been improving after a year of pain and a lot of ergonomic alterations to my daily life. But last night, after completing another block, I felt that familiar pain shoot through my neck once again. If you think about it, it makes sense: the motions of ironing and clipping and then trimming and squaring each successive piece of fabric in each block can be really aggravating the muscles and tendons. I remember that this happened last winter, when I was making that log cabin for my friend M.N.

SO: beware the siren call of log cabin blocks. They can hurt! I’m going to slow this project down to a snail’s pace – one block every few days to make sure I don’t injure myself.

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I re-watched the 1971 stalker classic “Play Misty for Me” the other day and was struck by something.

Sure, most of the movie’s focus is on the psycho fan/girlfriend and Clint Eastwood’s reaction to her. But in several scenes, the eye is just as surely drawn to Clint’s bright gold pants.

Yes, gold pants.

Gold was all the rage in the early ’70s. Interestingly, 1971 was the year that the gold standard was demolished by President Nixon in the U.S. But in the fashion and design world, the color gold had reached a zenith. In many ’70s homes, appliances were gold (or else “avocado” green, yuck) and bathroom fixtures were gold. When I was a youngster, my parents installed gold carpet in our house. So why not pants, even on a macho guy like Clint?

I used to disdain gold. I remember ripping out that old carpet with some glee. But now, I’ve seen a gold revival emerging in the design world, and inspired by its long-forgotten virtues, I’ve decided to “go for the gold” in my quilt projects.

Here is my new favorite shade in a “modern” quilt block.

This block is part of my new quilt project, a simple but awesome pattern from City Quilts. I am in love with this book and the colors that quilt artist Cherri House chose for her pieces! She focuses on bright solids. The book’s been my bedtime reading lately, and the beauty of it positively keeps me up at night.

Here are a few more of the solid colors involved in this project. The gold really makes the pinks, purples and reds pop, don’t you think?

I also have another quilt in the works (my house top blocks) that combines yellow, gold, pink, red and purple, so I must be an analogous-color kind of girl these days. Come to think of it, I’m using the whole range of colors on the “warm” side of the spectrum.

Since this is another gift quilt, I’m keeping the rest under wraps for now. More to come!

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