Thursday, February 14, 2019

180 Degrees

Each year for the past four, this has been the season for me to panic. Once again I have volunteered to create a 24x30 inch piece of art for my church's Stations of the Cross. This year my station is "Jesus takes up his cross."

I found a number of art works online, many chocked full of inspiration. I was especially intrigued by El Greco. Alas, I am not El Greco. Even if I had some of his talent, it's not my style. So I looked around for more inspiration. One Sunday I found it:

In particular, I was inspired by the three children in this picture. So I began to sketch.

I have become interested in abstraction and so I wondered how it would be to reduce this image to essential shapes, with only suggestions of the original photograph.

Several experiments later, I had this:

The final piece needs to be 24x30 inches. The above abstraction is much smaller. I know that it is possible to enlarge such pieces many ways - an overhead projector, Kinko's, and so on - but I wanted immediate results at home. So I folded the above cartoon into 16 pieces. Then I took a piece of 24x30 inch newsprint and folded it into 16 pieces. Using each of the 16 sections to maintain proportions, I was able to sketch this 24x30 version onto the newsprint. This will be the source of my pattern pieces.

But wait! Maybe I could use a new skill. This one is variously described as paper-piecing or (more correctly) foundation piecing. It is the best way to achieve sharp points in geometric shapes. A few Youtube video's later, I had a light grasp on this technique. Very light. I experimented and filled my trash bin with experiments. Now I feel like I understand the general idea.  

Executing foundation piecing begins with a geometric shape in the middle, as in shape 1 above. I drew a random shape in the center of tracing paper. My starting shape has 5 sides, but it works with any number. Shape 1 is sewn to shape 2 first. Neither piece of fabric needs to be an exact match to the pattern drawn on tracing paper. Rather, each needs to be large enough to cover the shape plus SAs. The extra fabric is trimmed later. Shape 1 is sewn to shape 2, right sides together. The stitching is done on the tracing paper following the drawn line, with the shapes below, right sides together. Flip to right side and press in place.

You can see in the drawing that I initially thought I could make shape 3, that smallish triangle. That wouldn't work. I had to extend shape 3 to include the previously sewn seam. Shape 3 became that 4 sided shape in the lower right hand corner. In other words, my next sewn line needed to be adjacent to and include the previously sewn line. If you look closely, you can see how shape 3 is sewn to shapes 1 and 2.

So I proceeded around shape 5 in a clockwise manner, each new seam enclosing the previous one. I also trimmed away excess fabric as I went.

Next I needed to learn how to design a foundation pieced pattern, as well as execute it. I started with this shape from my cartoon, abstracting it still farther to a hexagon and a rectangle.

I watched a couple of videos online in order to learn how to create a foundation piece design. My goal was to piece the combined shape of the hexagon and the rectangle using the foundation piecing technique. These videos described a design process as almost mystical. One person described it as intuitive.

You see, you can only apply the sew-and-flip process of foundation piecing for a while. Then you inevitably encounter a Y seam and must subdivide the piece into two units. Each unit is sewn separately using foundation piecing. Then the two units are attached.

This discovery process is not practical, IMO. I wanted to design my entire piece and then execute it.

So I kept playing until I learned something. Foundation piecing works as long as the angles involved are 180 degrees or less. That is, it is not possible to use this technique to piece the combination of the hexagon and the rectangle.

So now that I understand that, I think I can devise a plan for piecing my cartoon, probably starting with the figure on the far right. Maybe. Stay tuned.

In the meantime I have some nice placemats.


  1. Fascinating! This is gonna be cool, i am very much looking forward to the second instalment. I like your design.

  2. Blooming forward to seeing the end result, and based on the placemats it's going to be amazing!

  3. What a journey and how satisfying to work out the different parts of the puzzle. If you get stuck with the foundation piecing idea I recommend you look up Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry. Her method is more akin to paper piecing. Now she has stopped teaching lots of her tutorials are available free on her website Good luck and enjoy your journey.

  4. How educational - and entertaining - to move through your thought processes and their execution! Thanks so much for the lesson.