Colors of Kuwait: A Quilt Series

It all started with a conversation about a baby quilt. My sweet young Kuwait friend is having a baby, and I asked her what she thought about a quilt in ‘the colors of Kuwait’. “What colors of Kuwait?” she responded. “When I think of Kuwait, I think of black and white.”

That got me started. I found Kuwait rich in color. I never knew the desert could be so flat, and that in the beige-y-ness, there could be so many variations. All the flat white-to-beige-to-grey and a thousand variations, and with such a neutral background, any color at all made a splash. I thought of how very green a palm tree looked against the flat beige hard-packed soil, how a turquoise dome stood out; I thought of the colors in the souks, and oh, the colors of the Arabian Gulf.

I knew exactly how I wanted to proceed for her baby, but I also thought of her, a reader, a Kuwaiti now living in a cold country. I thought she also needed a quilt, a quilt big enough to wrap her and her two little boys as they read stories on a cold winter’s day.

I decided to do another Wild Stars series, use the best Kuwait colored blocks for her new baby and use the leftover blocks for a children’s charity my small quilting group has identified for the coming year.

Note to self: No. No, you cannot cut through 25 layers of cloth. You were mistaken. You can cut through 13, but not 25. So, good! Learned a lesson right off the top!

This time, by piecing every square exactly the same way, they all came out around 15 1/2 inches. I had to add a thin strip to two squares, but out of 25, that’s not bad.

Loved the color combinations, how they came together, and loved them so much I used the same fabrics for my friend’s quilt, with a little of the Gulf thrown in. This is the quilt for my friend, a Kaleidoscope of Kuwait colors, which came out to be about 65″ x 65″:

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For her new son, Colors of Kuwait in wild stars:
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Squares made with leftover blocks:
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Last quilt, a rectangle, still 32″ x 46:
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The Road To Damascus

This is another of my playing around quilts. In order to do Annie’s quilt, I had to do a lot of squares. You really have be careful about gradations to make these quilts work, or at least work for me. I like things to shade from dark to light and from the purple reds to the lightest ash for desert quilts. As a result, I had a quilt’s worth of four patches left over, and a great idea for a Road to Damascus 🙂

 

As I worked on this quilt, I was listening to National Public Radio coverage of Syria, a place we have been blessed to visit often and thoroughly. While I cannot help but love Damascus the best, and visited it last in 2008, I have travelled Syria from the coastal city of Tartush to Palmyra and Tell Mari in the east, and all kinds of places in between with a Friends of Archaeology group I used to belong to out of Amman, Jordan. Syria was as close to biblical country as I have ever experienced. I learned so much. I met the nicest Syrians in the world.
 

So I finished the main part, and then as I showed it in my small group, the demo for the day was on curved piecing. I had seen demos on it before and it hadn’t interested me, but all of a sudden, Leni was demo’ing with two desert-y colors and the light went on – I could do a great curved border.

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Once I got started, the curved part was easy, like it took one half day. I had not accounted for how much more curves take out of the finished border, and I wanted more, like a purple dusk sky .  . . So I added that, too. Then I got bit by the nostalgia bug and I thought it would be fun to add some little villages, like we would pass along the roads. Well, impressions of those little villages; I am not a good person for portraying realism, but I like the charm of my little villages.

Note to self: curved borders are not such a good place to learn about curved piecing. Start with curved blocks, and give yourself extra fabric if you already have a set block size in mind. Because of the nature of curves, piecing curves results – at least for me – in sections that are off square. I love the piece of fabric I used as a final border, but it was driven less by art than by necessity – I had to have enough border and I needed to be able to trim so that the borders would be true. Curved pieces worked here, but I wouldn’t use them as a border again.

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This little piece is not from Damascus, or Syria, but is a quirky tower erected by the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam, in Doha. I never studied in this tower, but what Arabic I speak, I owe primarily to them and their patience with me as I struggled to speak, read and write in their language. As they taught me more about the Quran, and Islam, it illuminated our own Christian teachings. This was a never-ending wonder to me. These kind women did not proselytize, but they shared their lives with me, and through their eyes, I came to understand so much. This little tower is just a small homage to their patient teaching.

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Kuwait Map Quilt

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There is a new Kuwait baby quickly approaching his birth date, and a baby for which a very special quilt needed to be made. His parents were instrumental in our having had such a good time in Kuwait. We were introduced by one of my Qatari friends who had spent time in Kuwait, and she was right – we were meant to be friends.

The first night we met, we started talking and never stopped. We explored restaurants together, strolled through the souks, and heard all kinds of stories of old Kuwait. Our time with them was – and is – priceless.

I like for a baby quilt to have legs – useful as a crawl pad, useful as a cover to sleep under, washable, washable, washable and in the end, able to be hung on the wall of an otherwish anonymous college dorm room. This one will do the trick, plus having lots and lots of patterns to keep a baby fascinated as he learns how to focus his eyes 🙂

I’d forgotten how much work a map quilt can be in the preparation stages. This relatively small quilt (60in x 60 inches until I washed it and it shrank about 2 inches in both directions; I’ve never had that happen before! It was noticeable!) has 900 pieces, and those 900 pieces had to include sea pieces, Kuwait pieces and Saudi and Iraq desert pieces (pale, pale, pale) Of course, there had to be a lot of variety.

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Seeking, planning and cutting took longer than assembly. The land portions are quilted in the ditch, a grid, and the Arabian Gulf segments have waves quilted in thin silver strands, so they glint like the sunlight on the Arabian Sea.

There are many many blocks made from fabric finds from the Kuwait souks, also a few with Kuwait memories. In Arabic, there are “sun” words and “moon words” so I found a sun and a moon. A family nearby us had a private zoo where, from time to time, a large cat would escape and put my village in a panic until it was recovered . . . so there is a large cat. In the end, this was one of the most fun and rewarding quilts I have made.

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Happy Ending: Art Nouveau

Heidi Shelton taught Stack and Whack in Ramstein back in 1999, and I took her class, cut out these blocks, and stitched them together. She had advised us to use bright fabrics, but I just felt like this art nouveau fabric would make great blocks with graceful flowing patterns.

I love the blocks. I love the blue backgrounds. I could hardly wait to get it all together, which went very quickly.

But once I got the blocks together, and hung it up on the project wall, it was just . . . so . . . . BLAH. I was almost sick, I was so disappointed. I looked at it for about a week, at a total loss. I couldn’t think of how to fix it. I added a wide outer border with the original fabric – I like to do that with a Stack and Whack, because the inner blocks look so different from the original fabric. Then I looked at it for about a week, folded it up and put it away.

I pulled it out and looked at it every now and then, at a loss. It is rare that I am so stumped.

Maybe a couple years later I pulled it out. I knew it needed something red, so I put a narrow red band as an inner border, and added an outer border. I didn’t really add a lot of border because I didn’t want the quilt to get too big.

At least every time I moved I would pull it out and ponder what to do. I often pulled it out and asked my quilting friends what they would do. No one really had an idea. “Add an applique!” one friend suggested.

By 2009, back in Doha, I had some time. I had decided on an applique pattern; I designed it myself. Yes, it took me a while, but that is because I wanted it to be consistent with the Art Nouveau feel of the fabric. I love irises, and I had this great hand-dye fabric, not my favorite color, but a color which would brighten the somber mood of the quilt. I used freezer paper and hand appliqued the iris.

Once again, it didn’t do it for me. I love the irises. Somehow, to me, they are not what this quilt needs, but I don’t know what is. And 13 years is long enough, time, I figured, to just get on with my life. I need to get this quilt finished and OUT.

Here is the hilarious part. I ended up teaching Stack and Whack when we started the Qatar Quilt Guild in Doha. It was quick, it thrilled the beginners, and gave me a chance to teach a lot of skills (rotary cutting, the 1/4 inch seam, chain piecing, etc.) and technique while they produced a quick, usable quilt. Every time I taught it, I ended up with another stack and whack for myself, so I ended up with a lot of them – while the first one I ever learned, this one, languished, unfinished, on a shelf in many quilt rooms as I tried to figure out what to do to make it work.

Finally, I just decided to finish it, unsatisfactory as it may be. Even finishing it was a problem for me, tension problems in the quilting of the border, lots of “unstitching” and restitching to get it right . . . will this never end??

Now the good part. I had my daughter-in-law in my quilt room to show her Sheherazade, but she couldn’t keep her eyes off the stack n whack.

“I love it!” she exclaimed. “It’s Art Nouveau!”

I thought of explaining all the things that made this an unsatisfactory quilt – to me – but then I shut my mouth and thought – one look, and she got it. She got the fabric, she got the iris applique, she totally got it. Guess who gets the quilt, thirteen years after I started it? 🙂

Sheherazade: Magic Carpet

I don’t finish quilts as quickly as I once did, and I’ve been working for a while on this one, but oh, what fun. I loved choosing the fabrics, I loved designing it, and I loved figuring out the quilting motifs for all the borders.

I had a conversation with a quilter in our small group who quilts exquisitely, both by hand and machine. I told her I was giving up on machine quilting. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I found myself thinking that all I needed to do was to slow down and practice. I hated machine quilting when I started, but I got so it became acceptable. Taking it to another level is going to take some commitment. I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’m working on it, practicing, trying some new things, and there are elements that make me really happy.

This is the finished quilt:

Here are some close-ups. My favorite element is the paisley that turned into a minaret top in the purple hand-dye border.

I modified a technique my friend Paramjeet taught me. She encouraged us to go outside the lines, to try new things, anything we could think of. Nothing is out of bounds. The minaret tops have bands of zig-zag quilting, using a Coats and Clark metallic. I know there are people who say Coats and Clark is trash thread, but I have tried a lot of metallics, and the Coats and Clark metallics seem to break a lot less frequently than others.

For the yellow segment above, I made an iris template from some Indian design books I have. I really love it, and used it again in the fuchsia border, which is supposed to carry a carpet-border sort of feeling. I used a contrasting thread and went over designs more than once.

The quilt is designed for a baby girl coming who is very special to me; I want her to grow to be a strong and clever woman, so I made her a strong quilt.

Flesh Tones

I have a lot less time for quilting, these months, with my husband retired and ready to play. When he worked long hours, I filled those long hours with my work – quilting. It takes focus, for me. When a quilt comes to mind, it is like a sort of engineering problem, and I am usually trying a new skill. I have a pretty clear idea where I am going but I need to work out how I am going to get there.

I have a great quilt in mind, I’m really excited about it. I am using some fabrics I bought at one of the European International Quilt Exhibits while I was living in Germany and going to European quilt exhibits :-). Different nationalities see colors, techniques and even traditional patterns very differently, so those exhibitions were always stimulating, and often even astonishing.

But I wander. The fabrics I bought are reproductions of very very old Dutch fabrics by Den Haag und Wagonmakers B.V, one including a tree of life panel, in which the fruit of the tree of life – or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – is the pomegranate, which just happens to be one of my very favorite all time fruits.

I am working out the composition, but am a little bit stuck on flesh tones. I know the tone I want, but the flesh tones look different under different lights. Can you see the difference?

I may have to tea-dye one of the fabrics just a little darker, a tiny bit browner . . . I don’t know. I am stuck. I’ve been stuck before. It will work out, but I wish it would work out sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, I have been burning the midnight oil working on little bags. But that’s another post, for when I have a photo of some of the bags I’ve made, at least the ones I have not yet given away!

Jewel Box with Transitions

This is why I love quilting . . . for me, it is the challenge. I’ve always wanted to do a jewel box quilt, and I thought I was going to be making a scrap quilt. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that I wanted it to be a transition jewel box, with purple in one corner, red in another, yellow in another and green in the final corner. The borders will have transitions from corner to corner, and then the center will have cross-transitions.

It’s not so easy when you make rules. 😉 I had to dig through my stash to find just the right shades, it took me longer to find and cut than it takes to sew up the blocks. This is not going to be quick and easy, aarrgh. On the other hand, I am having a lot of fun with the progress.

This is the only row I have completed; I also completed the yellow block for the bottom right corner, but have not yet done the red-yellow transition:

It will be a while before I can get back to this, as I am traveling. It doesn’t keep me from thinking about where I will go next!

UPDATE

I was out of town for a week and lost a little time, but not momentum. 🙂 As soon as I got back, I started working on the Red to Yellow transition:

And the Yellow to Green transition:

Only six blocks left, all transitions! I have a busy week this week, don’t know if I will get it finished before Friday, but that is my goal. It’s not a hard quilt. It’s the color selection and cutting that takes the most time. I have to admit, there is something in me that loves this process; it’s not like just sewing the pieces together, you really have to think about it.

Final Update:

I love this quilt top. For one thing, it isn’t boring. I love watching the colors as they move across the quilt and change as they are influenced by other colors. It reminds me of my own life, all the different places I lived and how each place has had an impact on me, influenced how I perceived reality, grew in my spiritual life . . . It’s My Jewel Box Life.

I think I will quilt it by hand.