Block by Block: an inquiry project

This semester I took a course called The Politics & Creativity of Being & Becoming (CI 5368) with Dr. Susan Waite at Texas State University. One key component of this course was to complete an inquiry project.

This semester I took a course called The Politics & Creativity of Being & Becoming (CI 5368) with Dr. Susan Waite at Texas State University. One key component of this course was to complete an inquiry project.

We read about this project in the syllabus, and I had a few ideas about what I could do. A few weeks in, however, Dr. Waite gave the class more information before we submitted our proposals. She wanted us to know that we could do anything.

definition of inquiry from
from (n.d.)

Choosing a Project

Anything? That could be a dangerous word for someone who is a bit ADHD with more ideas zooming by before any of them have a chance to land. Yet, anything (as long as we could tie back our learning from class) would be considered. At that point, we had a few weeks under our belt with so much more to learn, so I jotted down those zooming ideas before I forgot them.

  • create an album
  • research gamification
  • update how I use gamification
  • make something I can use for STAAR prep
  • make a quilt

Back in July 2021, I made my first-ever baby quilt when my cousin (Coral) was expecting her first child in August. Coral chose the colors, the fabric, and said a simple design was fine if that’s what I wanted. I had so much fun making that quilt even though some of the fabric she chose was near-impossible to work with.

This baby quilt is soooo soft!

Since that first quilt went so well, I decided I wanted to make another one for my former college roommate (Rebekah), who was also expecting her first child in October. I bought the main fabric (no pictures of before I cut it), and I cut 4.5″x4.5″ squares of each of the five different types of animals on it. (Rebekah’s nursery theme was forest/woodland creatures.) Those squares, however, were as far as I got.

About a year and a half later, and those squares were still sitting in a WIP (Work-In-Progress) pile with a few other abandoned projects. This project was my chance to finally mark it as complete and gift Rebekah with a beautiful quilt for her adorable kiddo, Aliz. So… I took a chance and submitted a proposal to “finally make the quilt I’ve wanted to make for quite some time” (as I said in my proposal on February, 28).

In short, my proposal included snippets of my above reasoning for this project, but it also included the inquiry color-coordinating and modifying patterns to meet my needs. I did not have to wait long for my proposal to be approved! Now it was time to start answering my series of questions…

Inquiry While Creating

Step 1: Which pattern should I use?

Have you ever looked at something and seen something different? I do that all the time with yarn (as an avid crocheter), and I was doing that again with those animal squares. Even though Ojeda-Sagué (2023) was talking about poetry, I think the concept is the same for other forms of art. Without seeing a final product, a pile of fabric is simply that: a pile of fabric, nothing important. Just as “looking at a poem can be as versatile, challenging, and three-dimensional an act as reading it” (Ojeda-Sagué, 2023), so can looking at fabric. Knowing what you want to do is sometimes half the battle.

All I knew is that I wanted the animals to be the focus, especially since I had already cut them all out. However, I was still quite inexperienced when it came to different block types. I had only ever done one kind: a four-square block where someone else had chosen the fabric, but that wouldn’t work here. I did take one quilting class at Joann several years ago, so I learned a bit about making a “Kisses and Hugs” quilt block. Unfortunately, I have yet to take that learning anywhere. Fortunately, I learned the basics of creating quilt blocks, which has helped me even now.

I took this class back in October 2017.

I digress. Modrak (2022) mentioned that advertising used to be “intimate” between the two parties involved instead of the “monologue to the millions” it has become. Choosing a quilt block could be as easy as pulling up a bunch of designs online created by various businesses for various purposes. This quilt was neither for millions of people nor an advertisement. It is simply something done out of love for someone who became my best friend in college and even semi-introduced me to the man I’d marry. This project would be intimate, but since I am still learning, I also needed guidance on a pattern.

From there, I took out my quilt block book by Voegtlin (2020), flipped through the ideas that would fit my animals, and hoped I would find something easy. I found two options that would work. On page 66, “Nine Patch Variation” offered the best option, but the dimensions did not work for my already cut animal squares. On page 68, “Puss in the Corner” had the right dimensions, but added an extra step with triangles that I did not want to undertake. Therefore, I combined both ideas to make it personal to what I needed.

This book has so many amazing ideas!

Step 2: Does this block pattern work?

To see if all of my measurements worked, I completed a test block using fabric I had laying around. I cut out a square of sea horses to signify the center animal. I remembered someone at Joann telling me about choosing a color from the key fabric to coordinate, so I tested out a few different colors. I don’t know why I was supposed to do that or if the combination I chose really worked, but I tried it anyway.

Regardless, of the colors I chose, the test block pattern was a success!

Step 3: Wait… What?

After measuring the test block, I graphed a draft of my idea. Don’t mind all the numbers on the page because I’m sure you don’t want all the details of the math portion. After all, “art is not about understanding… or mastery… it’s about doing and experience” (Saltz, 2020). Sometimes the fun part is simply breezing past the arithmetic and making an idea in your head come to life. To be honest, I had to redo the math several times before this to make sure it would work (as I do with any creative project), and each time I learn more and more that the process it takes is nothing compared to the experience I get from diving in.

Unfortunately, after I had a basic idea, I noticed something odd about the animals. Some of them faced right and some faced left. This experience had halted. The first thing I tried to do was get more of that fabric so all the animals could face the same direction. (I know that seems extreme, but there are some things I do that I cannot help.) Even though I had taken the last of that bolt when I was in Joann before, I went back to see if there was more. There was not.

It was time for a new draft that could incorporate the animals facing different directions. This meant that I also had to have exactly the right number of each one to work. Because of this, I had to combine two halves of a bear so I had one more facing left. Luckily, I only had to do this for one animal square. I tried out a few different ideas, landing on one final one. (I added the color to the final one later on.)

Step 4: What do I really know about color theory?

Choosing colors to coordinate with the animals was probably the most difficult non-sewing task. Amari (2011) mentioned settling for precut bundles to avoid this process. However, I already had my main animal fabric, so I couldn’t settle. If someone else chose my palette, I would lose that part of the experience.

Luckily, I already knew the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. However, when words like monochromatic, analogous, and triadic started popping up, I was lost. Art was never my strength (math all the way for me, which is strange since I’m an English teacher now), so I really had to read and understand what it was talking about.

The colors (or hues) you pick for a quilt showcase your personality – they’re what make your quilt unique!

Amari, 2011

I won’t bore you with the details of those findings. I will let you know that I decided to stick with a monochromatic color palette for each block. In non-art terms, I decided to use the color of the animal on that square and choose a color from the same hue, “with varying values and saturation levels” (Amari, 2011). I used white for the corners of each block since it is a neutral color.

For the backing and the binding, I chose a fabric that had as many of those hues as possible. Once all of that was decided with measurements taken, it was time to buy the fabric! I don’t know about you, but buying fabric or yarn or anything needed for a project is one of my favorite parts! Even though I was looking for something that coordinate, I still enjoyed looking at everything. Dreaming of future projects is definitely part of the experience.

Finally getting somewhere…

Step 5: Why did I make these pieces so small?

I think I counted more times than I wanted to while I was cutting out squares and rectangles. I was starting to reconsider my plan, including the project itself (since there was a deadline). Even folding over the fabric to cut multiple pieces at once didn’t break through the tedium, but I finally got all the pieces cut.

I kept the smaller pieces in bags until I needed them. I definitely didn’t want to lose them and start over.

Next, I had to create all the blocks. Again, I was wondering why I had to have so many pieces. I loved making these blocks, but I had so many complaints, too (many of which included my back hurting). As Saltz (2020) said, “Even if we’re in agony while working, it’s still some kind of love that drives us on against the current.” Well… love and a grade on this project were both helping to push me forward. When I had that part complete, I took a little break from hunching over my sewing machine for a bit.

When it was time to sew the blocks together, I had to add the color to the draft because I kept getting lost in what went where. I almost messed up the pattern a few times, so I was glad when I had the entire quilt top done.

My youngest son asked me if I could just leave it like this… How I wish this was the end.

Step 6: How can this be?

I took the top, the batting, and the backing to my room. After I vacuumed the floor to free it from dog hair, I laid it out and put the three sections together. I would have taken a photo at this point, but I had a big problem. The fabric I chose for the backing didn’t fully cover the back of the quilt. How could I have gotten that measurement wrong? I thought I had measured based on the batting that goes inside the quilt, but I had not.

I had a problem to solve. I decided to make strips of the fabric I wanted first. Then, I made strips of the white I had left over. I didn’t have as much white, so those strips were smaller and had to be sewn together for length. After I sewed all the strips together, I finally had a backing that would work.

If you haven’t tried imgflip to create memes, then you should!

Step 7: Is it really over?

Now it was time for the actual quilting, or sewing the three layers together. After I did that, I trimmed the edges so I could figure out how I wanted to do the binding. In the past, I folded up the backing to create the binding, but I didn’t have a large enough backing this time. Therefore, I created one long binding strip of the last strip of the original backing fabric and the remnants of it. After sewing on the binding, I was finally done.

Art, experience, for the people, for one person, decisions, problems, creating, agonizing… All of it is worth the end result. That is for sure.

Now, I just need to send it to Rebekah for Aliz.


Amari. (2011, July 28).  Color theory for quilters. Cottoneer Fabrics. 

“Art is not about” excerpt, from Saltz, J. (2020).  How to be an artist. Riverhead Books. (n.d.). Inquiry.  In dictionary.  Retrieved April 3, 2023, from 

Modrak, R. (2022). Can this be a community when you’re trying to sell me a luxury watch?  In X. Burrough & J. Walgren (Eds.),  Art as social practice: Technologies for change (pp. 291 – 306). Routledge. 

Ojeda-Sagué, G. (2023).  Unreadability (Part I). Poetry Foundation.

Voegtlin, S. (2020).  Quilt block genius, Expanded second edition. Landauer Publishing.

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