Ali Wilkinson

Hanging Out with a Gypsy Wife (part 2)

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Welcome to part 2 of my Gypsy Wife project report. Last time I talked about making the blocks and the tips I learned while doing so. Today I am going to cover off the assembly of the quilt.

As mentioned last time my most invaluable tool in the whole process was the spreadsheet which listed all the blocks in the quilt. I used that spreadsheet for keeping track of which blocks I had done and which remained to be completed, and also for ensuring colour balance. About halfway through the making of the blocks I changed method and sorted the spreadsheet by section. I then used the section list on the spreadsheet to compare with the section diagram in the pattern book to work out which size filler blocks I needed to make for that section. This was especially important for the square in square and courthouse steps blocks which came in different size versions. I used knowledge of the size of named blocks and strips to work out the sizes for these filler blocks, and I marked these sizes on the section diagrams. Here is an example:

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I have included a full set of photos of those marked up sections at the end of this post in case they are useful for anyone. Just a small disclaimer – although I am sure that I amended any errors and mistakes, using these charts is at your own risk!

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Bit by bit I completed each section and pinned the blocks on my design wall. On the photo above you can see the photocopy of the quilt I had pinned to the design wall where I was highlighting the blocks I had completed – I always do this with quilts and find it gives me a good sense of progress even though I have the actual blocks on the wall right next to it! Note that I didn’t add ribbons at this stage – all ribbon strip adding was done during the sewing assembly.

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And so the time had come to sew it all together. Of course, at this point in a regular quilt you are pretty much at the home straight and running for the line. But not with Gypsy Wife! Oh, no! Because there are soon very many blocks and all those ribbons and bits of ribbons, you are only now reaching the halfway line!

One of the key features of this quilt are the ribbons which run vertically and are only broken by the blocks they pass so they run from top to bottom. This effectively trains your eye to view the quilt as less fragmented and scrappy and they provide cohesion and a framework for the design. I quickly realised that the easiest way to tackle this aspect would be to work on multiple sections at a time and to work left to right or right to left. I chose to start at the left as there were two long and vertically thin sections adjacent to each other which sat above a single section on the lower part of the quilt. This lower section also had the advantage of having many long ribbon strips and not so many blocks in the way.

I used the colour photo on the inside cover of the booklet to refer to when I had any doubts as this photo allowed me to check if the same fabric actually did flow top to bottom where I thought it did. I marked this photo across the bottom with the alphabet – one letter for each ribbon. I then marked the same letters on the section layout diagrams, starting from the left.

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The ribbons are cut at 1.5″ wide, except for a few which are cut narrower and are shaded grey on the diagrams. It is important to note that ribbon K from my photos above is 1.5″ wide for most of its use, but does get used at 1″ at the right of the Old Maid Puzzle block. This difference in shading on the section diagram threw me at first and that was when referring to the inside cover photo was very helpful as I could follow the ribbon from bottom to top by checking the design.

I chose ribbon strips and cut the shorter sections from remaining fabric first rather than cutting into long strips. I worked in groups of ribbons of the same length and groups of ribbons which were sewn together in blocks, usually making the ribbon block then sewing it to adjacent pieced blocks. I always worked on both the upper and lower section at the same time, so that the quilt was completed from left to right.

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My sequence went:

  1. Section 9 and left of section 10
  2. Section 8 and right of section 10
  3. Sew 8 and 9 together
  4. Sew 8/9 combined section to section 10 – you now have the entire left of the quilt complete
  5. Section 5 and left of section 6
  6. Sections 3, 4 and middle of section 6
  7. Left of sections 1 and 2, right of section 4 and right of section 6
  8. Right of sections 1 and 2 and section 7
  9. Sew sections 1 and 2 together
  10. Sew 1/2 combined section to section 3
  11. Using unfinished seam sew section 4 to section 6, sewing from right side of the sections
  12. Sew 4/6 combined section to section 7
  13. Sew 1/2/3 combined section to 4/6/7 combined section
  14. Sew section 5 onto the mega section made in step 13
  15. Complete unfitted seam to join section 6 to sections 4/5 – you now have the entire right of the quilt complete
  16. Join right and left sides to complete!

Yep, I know, it was a mind bender and I think all up cutting and sewing the ribbons and assembling sections then the quilt took a good 3-4 solid days of work.

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Once I had my quilt top complete I went for a massage! Kidding, but I really could have done with one! Instead I chose my backing and used this last end of bolt remnant of an old Kaffe Fassett design, which fit the bill entirely as it is so gypsy like in colours and those bold roses remind me of canal narrowboats from my childhood in England. Unfortunately it really was the last I could find anywhere and so I had to surround it with a lilac shot cotton, but once I got it made up I realised how perfect it was to be framed like that.

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I had it edge to edge long-arm quilted by my friend Suzet Pont with a baroque rose type design, which I feel fits the bill perfectly.

These photos don’t show it with binding. I used an Art Gallery oval elements print in a grape colour that I had used throughout the quilt top. (I love oval elements, which I nickname the “fried egg print”, and have used it in many of my quilts.) I am so satisfied with this quilt. It was such a lot of work piecing and aiming for precision points throughout. The pattern did a great job of providing the basics but I have to admit I was disappointed that an awful lot was left to the quilter to either know already or work out for themselves. I would hate to have tried this as a beginner as I think it could be quite off-putting. However, I feel like not only have I triumphed in actually completing the quilt, but I have learned from the experience and found a dozen new quilt blogs and resources through my online search for assistance and inspiration in the early months. In fact, my aim of posting this post and the previous one is to assist anyone else who is embarking on (or in the middle and frustrated!) making their own Gypsy Wife.

If you have made the quilt, or make it in the future, I would love to hear from you and see links to your renditions of this design. And if you read these posts and find them useful (or more confusing!) I would very much like to hear your comments and feedback. Good luck, gypsy wives!


PS. Did anyone spot my own mistake? I was following the diagram for the star block without checking the corrected diagram in the errata and I ended up not with a star but with something a bit different. I quite liked it so decided to leave it. Can you spot it?

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Ali Wilkinson

Hanging Out with a Gypsy Wife (part 1)

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Gypsy Wife is one of Jen Kingwell’s best known designs, and judging by some of the chatter online it’s also one of her more controversial ones due to pattern errata and vague instructions. Of course, when I set eyes on the pattern and decided I had to make it, I didn’t know any of that.

AME1170 Gypsy Wife_210x270_FA_Page_01I bought the pattern online and set about planning the fabrics and getting my head around the pattern.  I really wanted to play with the Gypsy theme and have very rich, saturated colours that reminded me of jewels (emeralds, rubies, sapphires, aquamarines, garnets), and bold patterns that would only be seen in snippets due to the way the quilt is made up of lots and lots of piecing. A natural first choice was Kaffe Fassett (as I said, his fabric was the soundtrack of 2014 for me!) together with Art Gallery Fabrics and Tula Pink for good measure.

Choosing the fabrics took a while and during that time I was searching online for inspiration from other people who had posted pictures of their renditions of Gypsy Wife. It was during this process that I came across many blogs and flickr discussion threads talking about the issues with the pattern. Ultimately all this reading proved invaluable when it came to making my own.

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Michelle at Factotum of Arts ran a Gypsy Wife Quilt Along during 2014 and had published a stage by stage schedule of the different blocks which was really useful in the early stages, and her blog linked to a number of other blogs where people had posted useful hints and tips. This was especially useful until Jen Kingwell published her errata online.

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The Gypsy Wife flickr group had a number of really useful discussion threads, especially one where “Clumsy Kristel” posted her invaluable spreadsheet of all the blocks in the entire quilt. This spreadsheet was just what I needed and I used it for keeping track of the blocks I needed to make and checking which filler block was then built on to make a bigger filler block.needledown-nz_hanging_out_with_a_gypsy_wife_part_one_ 5                 needledown-nz_hanging_out_with_a_gypsy_wife_part_one_ 6

The spreadsheet also proved very useful in ensuring that the colours were balanced across the quilt. I achieved this by sorting the spreadsheet columns by section and then referring to the section layouts in the pattern booklet to place the blocks on my design wall. Keeping track of where the named blocks go is quite easy, as is ensuring colour balance for these blocks. It could get tricky with the sheer volume of filler blocks! Once I started using this method I found my progress speeded up substantially, largely because I spent much less time deliberating over fabric choices!

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I found making the filler blocks production line style to be quite effective. I drew with ruler and pen foundation piecing templates for the square in square blocks of the different sizes and then photocopied the number required for each. This made producing these very accurate and quick. I also found this blog post (from flickr user 627Handworks) which is a foundation piecing template for the Pershing block. I paper pieced this block, which is one of the most complex in the quilt, and was so glad I did!

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Here are my tips for making the blocks:

  • the very first thing to do is to cut 4 or so strips WOF of each fabric for the “ribbons”. The reason i did this was to ensure that I had enough strips at full WOF for the longer length ribbons in the pattern. How many you need is dependent on the number of prints you are using, but to create variety I worked on that number to start with and I think I had about 24 different fabrics in total. I did have to cut more later during assembly, but as many of the ribbon strips continue higher in the quilt there is a need for shorter lengths to fill gaps so even if only scraps of fabric remain at the time of assembly it’s all OK (this will become clear when I talk about assembly in a future post!)
  • use a scant 1/4″ seam but if your block ends up a smidgeon too small, steam press and stretch it a little!
  • the sizing is so tight on this whole quilt that it is very easy to end up with everything just a tad too small. Apart from the tips here, you should also use a fine thread and press very carefully so the seams are not chunky. (I use a fine 40 wt or 50 wt Aurifil thread which just melts into the fabric when pressed and results in a nice flat seam)
  • chain piece half square triangles slightly larger than are needed for use in the blocks, especially using the method where you make 4 or 8 at a time from larger squares (I used a Quilt in a Day ruler for this) – these can then be trimmed down to size and very accurate block components will be the result
  • I made excess HSTs from the bigger named blocks and then used them in the smaller filler blocks
  • the block size is finished, so in reality before the quilt is assembled the block has to be 1/2″ bigger
  • some of the filler blocks get used to make other larger filler blocks, so in order to have the larger block come out the right size remember not to trim the first filler block to the finished size and to leave seam allowances!
  • where possible cut pieces a little bit bigger than the pattern states (round up to the nearest 1/4″)  and trim throughout assembly. It was helpful for me to work out what size each part of a block should be so I could keep measuring and trimming throughout the block assembly. If you do this don’t forget to add seam allowances before trimming!
  • for the basic filler blocks it is quicker and more accurate to create foundation paper piecing templates and sew them that way.
  • make the named blocks first and place them on your design wall, then use the spreadsheet to make the filler blocks section by section, pinning onto the design wall as you go to ensure good colour balance

I’m going to leave this here as that’s a lot to digest for one sitting! Next time I will talk about the assembly process, which is almost as time consuming as making the blocks!

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Ali Wilkinson

Taking a Class with Kaffe

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Just under a year ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop run by Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mabley here in Christchurch. I have long been an admirer of Kaffe, probably since I was a knitter in my teens and his huge colourful sweaters were featured in Vogue. When I heard the workshop was happening I signed up without hesitation, but as it drew closer I started to get quite nervous mainly because of all the requirements I had to comply with – having lots of fabric choices but not knowing which I would end up using was the biggest issue for me.

I am not really a fabric hoarder. In fact, until the middle of 2014 I only bought fabric for specific projects and then tried to use every last bit in that project. Fabric in NZ is so very expensive, and Kaffe fabric even more so, and I was quite reluctant to buy stacks of fabric that I might never use. The premise of the workshop was to have lots of choice as Kaffe and Brandon’s primary input would be in assisting in selecting colours and fabrics that worked well together and so arriving with only the fabric I had selected myself would defeat the purpose really.

Add to that my wariness of being told what to do, and I was really starting to panic!

I was on the verge of pulling out when I went online and read some reviews on other blogs from people who had taken a workshop. These reviews talked of the author’s hesitation to let go but the positive results they got when they did. I also learned that there would be an onsite Kaffe fabric shop and so I didn’t need to have quite so much spare fabric. I decided to remain enrolled.

I am so glad that I did! I made a very conscious decision to be as open as possible to what was being suggested, and I determined that (within reason) I would buy whatever fabric it took to make the quilt the best it could be as I am likely to never get the opportunity of having Kaffe and Brandon make fabric and design suggestions to me personally ever again!

Space was tight in the school hall we used. Each of us had a table the size of a cutting mat and a partition on which to pin our design wall. I had bought a 2 yard length of Kaffe’s own design wall fabric, which is a taupe-grey colour with a grid on it, and I pinned that to the partition. Once Kaffe and Brandon had given us all a general talk and provided tips we were away trimming our fabrics and placing them on the design wall. I had selected this hot pink and orange Brassica print as my centre panel and wanted this to dictate the mood and choices of everything else.

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I cut the centre panel and then fussy cut some of the flowers for the snowballs. Initially I had a very pink palate and had selected a pink mirror dot fabric for the frame of the panel. Kaffe and Brandon were circulating the whole time providing input and getting us to look at alternate fabrics. Very early on Brandon came to me and suggested using the orange slices fabric for the border. I have to say I had reservations (which I kept to myself!) and had to work hard to go with his suggestion, but once I pinned it up I immediately saw how it draws out the orange tones of the centre panel and I knew the quilt would head in a different direction!

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Kaffe had talked of the importance of symmetry across both vertical and horizontal planes so I worked in batches cutting my fabrics in matching pairs and placing them on the floor in front of the design wall, then coming to the wall and assigning each pair/set of four their symmetrical positions on the wall.

Kaffe and Brandon continued to circulate and make suggestions on which patterns went well and how to allow the eye to move easily around the design. This input was invaluable and really amped the end result up no end! They used a reducing glass, which is like a magnifying glass but working in the opposite way, and this allowed me to step back a few yards from the wall and look through glass to see the whole quilt in a reduced format. I also worked out that taking a photo on my iPhone did the same thing. By having the quilt seen in such a small format I found I was able to see where colours or fabrics didn’t work or blended together too much or clashed. A great tip!

Choosing the cornerstone fabric was the hardest thing for me. As these are such small pieces I didn’t want a big pattern that would then mean the colour wasn’t uniform across the quilt. I auditioned dozens of fabrics (which made the onsite shop very useful and saved me heaps of time and money!), and finally decided on the pink on pink Folk Art (now discontinued and really hard to get).

Here is Kaffe providing critique and commentary on my quilt – at the end of the day he did this to all the design walls for each participant. We all got to listen to this feedback and I found this really useful as everyone’s fabric choices were so very, very different and the choices plus commentary really opened my mind to possibilities I probably would never have considered.

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Once home I continued the fussy cutting and placement on my design wall. By this time I had bought a further 2 yards of the design wall flannel and sewn it to my existing piece horizontally to make a king bed sized wall.

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Getting those last pieces was tough. Even though the shop which hosted the workshop (Stitch Playroom, which has since shut down) had a huge selection of fabrics, I still ended up having to buy more from  which is the biggest online stockist I am aware of for Kaffe Fassett Collective fabrics.

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Of course as soon as my daughter saw the quilt she decided she wanted it for her bed and I had to make it bigger by adding an extra column of snowballs on the left and right sides!

All that fussy cutting of flowers meant that I had a huge stack of spare fabric. Given my desire not to end up with a stash of unused fabric I was starting to get anxious, and then I decided to cut the spare fabric into large squares and rectangles and sew them together very randomly to make a pieced back. This made almost the same size as the top and I supplemented it with some Tula Pink spotty fabric which has little rabbits as spots in places. Very cute. Now the quilt is double sided!

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I sewed on the cornerstones chain-piecing style and spent an entire weekend piecing the backing (how come random piecing still takes so long?!). After all that work, and due to the enormous size of the quilt I decided to get it long-arm quilted professionally, and so I handed it over to the very talented Suzet Pont. Suzet quilted an all over design through the snowballs, each border was quilted individually and the centre panel got a “chickenwire” type pattern. In the centre panel borders she stitched “For Elise love from Mama”, which makes this very special.

Here are some close ups of the quilting before I finished the binding:

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I named the quilt Hothouse Flowers. It has a very tropical feel to it, and I feel that with brandon and Kaffe’s input I have really ended up with a quilt in the vision I went into the workshop with. I am not so sure I would have got such a good result had I done this entirely on my own, and I am grateful that I let go and allowed someone else to challenge my choices and tell me what to do!