Guatemalan Reflections Quilt
Priscilla Bianchi shares her tips and instructions on combining both Guatemalan and traditional fabrics into a quilt that is sure to inspire.
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Priscilla Bianchi finds art quilt inspiration in traditional Guatemalan costume garments then uses Guatemalan fabrics to create her designs. Being a native Guatemalan, it was natural for Priscilla to create her art quilts mainly with Guatemalan fabric, but she doesn't stop there.
Priscilla loves to mix-and-match lots of other ethnic fabrics that share the same rustic, primitive, handmade qualities. She incorporates Indonesian batiks, African and Indian fabrics, hand-dyed and hand-painted cottons—and they all work together harmoniously. For added variety, Priscilla combines and coordinates all these fabrics with commercial cottons. Stripes, plaids, tone-on-tones and geometrics are among her favorite go-alongs.
"I use mainly Guatemalan textiles in my art quilts," explains Priscilla. "They're easy to sew, 'fudge-able' and stable. They have character and look fabulous. To facilitate the many seams involved in piecing, I only use top-quality, lighter weight hand-woven textiles that a co-operative of weavers produce especially for me. When working with my native Guatemalan textiles, I try to combine fabrics that share the same 'handmade' quality, that go together because of their style."
Please take the time to read the lower sections on Guatemalan Textile FAQs, and Characteristics and Care Instructions. If your local quilt shop does carry Guatemalan fabrics, ask them to order for you or find these fabrics from online shops (see Resources below).
Quilt Size: 49" x 60"
Technique: String and traditional piecing
Level: Confident beginner to advanced
This stunningly simple and fun design is easy to make—non-perfect cuts and seams are not only expected but desirable. The eye-catching quality comes from a careful choice of fabrics and the strategic placement of colors and values. No two diamonds are exactly the same, which gives the design a mysterious quality and makes it a great pattern for scraps. Every time you see the quilt, you'll discover something that you haven't seen before.
Note: These instructions are for the scrap version of the design. The pattern listed under resources below also provides directions for a non-scrap quilt with enough variety in the fabrics and fabric placement to produce an equally vibrant result.
Materials and Tools:
Reflections quilt pattern
Fabric: use fabric from your stash, buy new or use a combination. In any case try some Guatemalan textiles, African and Australian fabrics, Indonesian batiks, hand-dyed, and marbled fabrics. Also incorporate commercial cottons—especially desirable are tone-on-tones, plaids, stripes, and geometrics. Including spectacular ethnic fabrics will provide interest and pizzazz. You may need to purchase a few spectacular 'starring' fabrics but you may be able to combine these with 'supporting cast' fabrics from your stash. Be daring with your fabric choices, you'll be so glad you did.
Fabric requirements for a scrap quilt:
Triangle A - Approximately two to three yards of scraps in warm yellows, golds and yellow-oranges
Triangle B - 1-1/2 to two yards of scraps in turquoises and blue-greens
Triangles C and D (total) - Approximately 3/4 to one yard of scraps in magentas and purple-reds
Border - 1/2 yard
Binding - 1/2 yard
Backing - three yards of all the same fabric
- Use variety. Here's your chance to do some mixin'-and-matchin.' Cut strips from different types of fabric — prints, scale, colors and values. The more variety the better.
Avoid bulky seams. When using Guatemalan or other ethnic fabrics that are thicker than commercial cottons, try not to sew two thick fabrics together. Instead, alternate the thicker fabrics with commercial cottons or thin batiks. This will keep the bulkiness of seams manageable.
Cut scraps into strips that vary in height from 1 inch to 2-1/4 inches by the length you choose to use. The strips will be sewn together in sets from which you will cut the triangles. Each set must be 7-1/2 inches tall after any necessary trimming. The length of the strip sets can vary. Using shorter lengths for the strip sets will produce more variety in the quilt. We can't tell you how many strips to cut but cut lots—you will need from six to nine strips of fabric per strip set. As an example, if you cut your strips 14 inches long and sew them into strip sets that are 7-1/2" x 14", you will be able to cut three triangles, two with the wide end of the triangle down and one with the wide end up. Cutting this way renders two different variations from the same strip set.
It's difficult to press the first two strips of fabric because there's no place to hold. Instead, sew the whole set of strips and press until the end, when the set has reached its final 7-1/2 to 7-3/4 inch height. Press seams open and towards the lighter weight fabric wherever needed. Press on the right side with a soft, sweeping motion. Press from the outer edges to the center of the set of strips, one seam at a time.
1. To cut triangles A, B, C, D and D-Reverse, line up the wide end of the plastic template (provided in pattern) at the bottom and the blunted tip end at the top edge of the fabric strip set. If your strip is too tall, trim it to 7-1/2 inches. If it is too short, go back and sew on another strip, press and re-trim.
2. After the template is properly aligned, either draw a cutting line or overlay a rotary cutter ruler and cut the triangle.
3. Rotate the template so the pointed end is down, and draw the next cutting line; or just cut until you have the desired number of triangles from that strip set. Note: Pattern provides instructions to cut triangles using Marti Michell's Large Kaleido-Ruler. Make enough sets so that you can cut the following:
64 A triangles in yellows
42 B triangles in turquoises
14 C triangles in magentas
8 each of D and D-Reverse in magentas
It's important to use a design wall from this step forward. You need to assemble, make design decisions and give the final touches to your art quilt from the same point of view it will have afterward. A design wall doesn't need to be sophisticated—it can be as simple as a two yard length of neutral flannel taped to a wall. What's important is the perspective it gives you to assess your work along the way. You will need to step back, look at the overall design and make any necessary changes. Working on a design wall can be enthralling, there comes a time when you have to stop playing and start sewing.
1. Position triangles A, B, C, D and D-Reverse on the design wall in their respective places. Play around with them to achieve a pleasing balance, ample variety and visual harmony. Add more variety to the mix if necessary. The triangles are ready to be sewn together once you are happy with the arrangement.
1. Lay out the quilt in eight rows. Rows 1 and 8 start and end with a D (and D-Reverse) triangle and then alternate between A and C. Rows 2 through 7 start and end with a D (and DR) and alternate between A and B triangles.
2. Sew triangles together in pairs until you reach the end of the row.
3. Sew pairs together and then sew quads (set of four together) until all triangles are sewn in a row. Press seams to the right on even rows and to the left on odd rows.
4. Sew rows together in pairs. Sew row 1 to row 2, row 3 to row 4 and so on until you finish with row 7 to row 8. Press seams down.
5. Sew pairs of rows together into two sets of four rows.
6. Sew two sets of four rows together to complete the center of the quilt top.
7. Sew a 2-1/2-inch border all around the edges of the quilt top.
8. Prepare the quilt sandwich with the backing on the bottom (right side facing out), batting in the middle and quilt top on top. Baste and quilt using your favorite method. An overall free-motion pattern suits this design well.
9. For a finishing touch, prepare a hanging sleeve and label first. Pin them along the raw edges of the quilt then catch them with two rows of stitching as you sew on the binding.
Priscilla Bianchi's Bonus Section
Working with stripes
As I started to work with Guatemalan fabrics, I felt how the fabric "took me by the hand" and guided me. The fabric told me what to do with it. Since most of the Mayan hand-woven patterns are linear, I had to develop ways of working with stripes. I love the strong visual element the stripes provide to the designs.
"Easy To Make Art Quilts" patterns
My new line of quilt patterns are intended to inspire, motivate and unleash quilters' creative spirits. They'll guide you along the artistic way. These patterns may be just what you need to stretch yourself a bit further, to dare to experiment. You'll acquire self-confidence in your artistic abilities, so you'll stretch your boundaries and be able to create your own, unique designs! My patterns are filled with relevant information, practical tips and personal insight.
Many of my designs are relatively simple, fun and easy to make. They look stunning due to the careful choice of ethnic fabrics, and the strategic placement of colors and values. I let the fabrics show-off and be the main attraction. Many of the textiles I use have so much going on already in terms of texture, color, pattern and symbolism that they need simple design to tie them together, to feel and look as if they belong together.
"Stretching" the color scheme
"S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g" the color scheme means that in order to make a richer, more interesting design you'll use a range of colors instead of only one color in its pure form. Say you're using blue, blue is not a single color. If you see a color wheel, blue s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s all the way from the blue/purples to the blue/greens. In order to enrich your quilt, you have to add to the mix a wider range of hues. Your design will instantly become more exciting and artistic.
Guatemalan Textile FAQs and Characteristics and Care Instructions
Use and Care Instructions
Width: Fabric is 34 to 35 inches wide. This is a rarity seen mostly in fabrics made before the 1930s when the industry's standard began to change to the 44 inches wide we are so familiar with today.
Shrinkage: Due to its handmade nature, the fabric does shrink an average of five to eight percent, after being washed. Please, take this into account when calculating yardage.
Prewashing: This is a must. To avoid shrinkage always prewash all Guatemalan textiles before sewing them into your quilts or garments. Here's how:
1. Zigzag or serge edges, to prevent excessive fraying.
2. Separate fabric by color: darks and lights. You should be particularly careful with reds, as they tend to bleed the most.
3. Put them in the washing machine, gentle cycle, water temperature hot/warm (wash/rinse).
4. Add one teaspoon of Retayne for every yard of fabric. This is a fixative that will ensure the colors stay bright and don't run.
5. Don't worry if the water in the machine is tinted dark, this is the excess dye coming out, and will not stain your fabrics.
6. Remove promptly, fabrics left damp and crumpled could stain.
7. Put the fabrics in the dryer, using coolest temperature, for half-an-hour or so. Take them out of the dryer and hang to complete the drying process.
8. Ironing at this point is optional, not necessary.
Ironing: Since the fabrics are 100% cotton, they are very stable and hold their shape wonderfully when ironed. I recommend the use of steam to make this process even easier. It makes the fabrics lie flat as a pancake.
Fading: Guatemalan textiles may fade over time just as any other 100-percent cotton fabric so it's best to keep them away from direct sunlight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When/how did you decide to incorporate Guatemalan hand-woven textiles in your art quilts?
A: It evolved as a very natural, comfortable thing to do. Being Guatemalan and proud of my heritage, I wanted to imprint my cultural identity into my work. The fact that I do not have a quilting background (which at first I thought was a great disadvantage) helped me in using the "G's" because I've always had the freedom to experiment and try out new things, without being limited by the rules. For me, this has been a wonderful way to represent my country and my people in a positive, beautiful light.
Q: What are the qualities you like most about the "G's"?
A: The fabric has character. It adds a lot of personality to my designs. The slight irregularities which may appear in the textiles are inherent to the natural cotton fibers and the ancestral hand-dyed and hand-woven techniques used in its making. These irregularities only enhance its one-of-a-kind beauty, add character and make its quality unique in the world. 2. I like its unique beauty, its handmade, rustic quality, its rich texture, its feel, its strong colors and all those stripes and Ikats. 3. When working with it, I like its body, its stability and how it holds its shape when ironed. On the other hand, the looser weave makes it very fudge-able. When sewn together with lighter weight fabric (which I do all the time), seams should be ironed toward the lighter weight fabric. When sewing two "G's" together press seams open to avoid bulkiness. I recommend the use of steam. 4. The fabric is reversible. This is a wonderful feature when working with symmetry, or when you made a mistake and forgot to turn over your template for cutting reverse pieces.
Q: Are these ethnic textiles, each one used by one ethnic group only, or does the weaver just create whatever looks good to him?
A: All the textiles are typically and exclusively Guatemalan. There are 26 different Mayan ethnic groups in the country. Traditionally, each community within these groups does have a distinctive use of patterns, designs and colors, so much so, that you can recognize where a specific fabric came from. This still holds true with the clothes the indiginous people wear daily. In modern times, there is a lot more flexibility and creativity, and the weaver does have the artistic license to create whatever design he pleases. This has given us the widest array of textiles possible.
Q: What style should my quilt be, in order to use these textiles successfully?
A: The "G's" are so versatile they fit into many different styles. You'll find lots of stripes and Ikats, plaids and solids in many color-ways: brights, subdued, darks. Some are more cosmopolitan, others typically Guatemalan (bolder colors, Mayan designs, multicolor schemes.) There are many patterns to suit every taste. Depending on how you incorporate them into your design and composition, they can become contemporary, African, ethnic, naif, Mayan, even traditional. Take risks using more daring fabric choices — you'll be so glad you did. I can assure you that your quilts will never be the same.
Q: How do they work when sewn together with a more tightly woven, lighter weight fabric?
A: They work wonderfully when sewn together with lighter weight fabric; in fact, that's exactly how I create my Art Quilts. They sew easily and quickly, and look fabulous! They have a lot of personality to them. Your only concern should be avoiding bulky seams. To achieve this, iron seams toward the lighter weight fabric, and press open seams whenever needed.
You don't need to make a perfect quilt. Follow these instructions on how to make a playful quilt.