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Friday, March 2, 2018

Quilting is learning

Every quilting project is a learning experience. My latest one, an incomplete project, was no exception.

I actually wrote about this quilt –my calendar block of the month quilt--last month when I decided to finish it. I love doing block of the month (BOM) projects because they tend to keep me interested. Every month is a challenge. Because I started this in 2012, there were some real challenges for me because of some techniques I had never done before. I had never done paper piecing and hadn’t done too many appliques either. This had both.

This was the first BOM I ever did. I really enjoyed learning new techniques and practicing the skills I already knew. Piecing was difficult for me back then, as was matching seams and achieving perfect points. To be sure, I did neither in this project, but I did the best I could at the time. Thankfully, I have improved since then.

Although I loved making the individual blocks, I wasn’t so enamored with the quilt itself. It was smaller than I would have liked. It never occurred to me to add blocks or borders to increase its size. If I was to do another one like this, I would probably do both of those things. I thought this project had little cohesiveness. I was bothered that it all seemed so helter-skelter.

Now that I have finished it, I really like how it turned out. I am no longer “afraid” of all the colors in it. I’m pleased that it has a theme—months of the year-- which really is its cohesiveness. My thinking has evolved since I first looked at all these unrelated blocks. I’ve also grown in my color appreciation. I am no longer turned off by the many colors here.

Quilting the quilt

One of the hardest things to do for myself and many other quilters is to decide how to quilt the quilt. I’ve often heard it said, and I now agree, the quilt will tell you how to quilt it. I know how hokey this sounds, but it is true; the quilt will speak to you.

For example, I had no idea how I was going to quilt the February block.

I knew I wanted the cats to stand out. I was rather fond of this block because I happen to have four cats. So, I used a tiny stipple to make the background dense. I also densely quilted the hearts, so the cats themselves would come forward.

One of the cats had a seam that had come loose. So, I decided to quilt an outline around the heart shape, which in turn, would tame that seam. Worked out great. This remains one of my favorite blocks.

Another one that gave me fits was the July block. I decided to use a red, white, and blue variegated thread. Big mistake, but I didn’t learn until it was way too late.

The blue stars didn’t turn out quite like I wanted them too. The red and white portion of the thread shows up on the blue background, but the blue does not. The problem with the feathers was that the white portion of the thread just looked like an unquilted space. I decided to do what so many quilters tell you to do if you are unhappy with how something turns out. Just throw more thread at it. I did that and they look so much better without the blank spots. 

I had no idea what to do with those pesky bird houses depicting June. There were no holes for the birds to fly into, so that was the first thing I had to do. I wanted to quilt them all differently, so I looked at the fabric and let it tell me what to do. On the blue/yellow one, I quilted wonky lines, following the fabric grid. I did the same on the yellow roof. In order to add some cohesion to the block, I added diagonal lines for the background. So, all of them look like they belong together, but remain all different.

Another place I used the fabric print to guide the quilting was on the jar that is the September block. I’ve been asked what the significance of that is. I assumed the jar was chosen to depict jelly making or canning vegetables from the harvest. My quilt is mine though, so I chose my jar to be filled with bugs. It reminded me of catching lightening bugs when I was a little girl. The fabric has bugs on it. So, I simply drew circles around them, in a form of pebbling. I like how the texture turned out on this block.

And that was the approach I took to all of the blocks. I enjoyed thinking through some of these issues.

This was the biggest project I have made with free-motion quilting. Everyone says it can be done, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Normally, I do quilt-as-you-go project, where the quilting is done on each block and they are assembled afterward. This was done traditionally. Truthfully, I didn’t see any real problem with quilting the whole quilt. Oh, it did take a little more muscle to fit the bulk of the fabric in the tiny space, but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I’m no longer afraid of quilting a large quilt.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Quilting is always on my mind

Toaster Strudel
While free-motion quilting is serious business resulting in beautiful pieces of art, I like to remind myself that it is also an enjoyable pastime. 

I never want to take myself too seriously, so I try to keep it light sometimes, which is why I prepare my morning breakfast--Toaster Strudel--with all kinds of swirls, squiggles, and potential quilting designs.

While a hearty breakfast often consists of a more healthy fare, there are just times when my sweet tooth wakes up and demands one of my favorite go-tos. So, why not?

There isn't much skill included in my breakfast design which caters more to my sense of humor than to actual quilting practice, but, that's OK too. 

I plan to work on my latest quilting project later this afternoon, but for now, clearly, quilting is on my mind.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Pretty doesn't need perfection

My latest quilting project is actually six years old--a quilt top I finished in 2012--a calendar quilt--with the 12 blocks representing each month of the year. Blocks were chosen by members of the Quiltingboard, an online quilter’s group that I joined just before starting this project.

This was my first Block of the Month (BOM) project, one of many I have done since. I love BOMs. Having something to quilt every month keeps me at my sewing machine and always gives me something to look forward to.

I admit that I was not really crazy about this quilt which is why it sat around for six years unfinished. But I am bound and determined to turn it into a pretty quilt.

It took me all these years to decide what to do with it. I admit I never really liked it. It is too small to put on the bed. I was never crazy about all those colors. And I thought it was rather busy for my taste. Frankly, it is not my best work either. 

I now recognize that perfection isn’t what makes a quilt pretty. And there is nothing wrong with lots of color, since it is all tied together by the black sashing strips. After all, it does have a theme to it. So, I’ve decided to enjoy this project for what it is. Never mind the wonky sashing strips or the less-than-perfect points. I am happy with the knowledge that this was an early endeavor and I’ve honed my skills since then. This can still be a very pretty quilt, once it is completed. Quilt tops are hard to judge anyway, because the quilting is where the magic happens. 

How bad can this be? Bug, alias Junior, our little 3-legged cat seems to like it. Funny she picked the October block to sit on. I suppose that block was meant to represent canning food from the harvest, but I used fabric with tiny bugs on my jar. It reminded me of catching lightning bugs when I was a little girl.
The more I think about this project, the happier I am to be finishing it. After all, it represents a few firsts for me. It was my first BOM. That first block for January used English paper-piecing, a technique I had never tried before. And this will be the first quilt I will free-motion quilt on my sewing machine that is bigger than a baby quilt. All of the others I have done have used the quilt-as-you-go method, whereby the blocks are quilted first and then sewn together to form the quilt. Because I’ve never worked on a whole quilt, I’m glad this is a small one. It will be good practice. I have another project waiting in the wings, a medallion quilt designed by Lynette Jennings previously mentioned in CHQuilts that I finished piecing last November. It is a Queen size quilt that I plan to free-motion quilt on my machine. 
     As I was cleaning my sewing area, de-linting my machine, and putting in a 
     new needle, as I always do before starting a new project, it started to snow. 
    his is an event in the Ozarks. What better way to enjoy this snowy day than 
    to quilt?

Today was a perfect day to begin working on this quilt. It marked the first time I touched my machine in 2018. I spray-basted the quilt top with its batting and backing fabric last week, so I was ready to start. Another first--I used my walking foot to stitch-in-the-ditch around each block and sashing strip. The quilt is now stabilized. So the fun is about to begin. Right now I have no idea what designs I will use in each block. I think I will figure that out as I go. I’m thinking I will use lots of colorful thread. I’m not afraid of color anymore. I’m getting a little excited. I think that despite the imperfections in this quilt, it is going to be pretty when it’s done.

Monday, November 6, 2017

MY quarter-inch seam took a licking, but kept on ticking

I need to work on my perfect quarter-inch seam. In spite of the challenges, I finally finished my first medallion quilt—thanks to this beautiful quilt designed by Lynette Jensen for a Craftsy class from last year. I mentioned this project in an earlier blog post.

At left is the quilt Lynette Jensen designed. At right is the actual quilt top I completed. There are so many reasons I wanted to make this quilt, but the most important was that I knew it would be a challenge. It was!

I chose different colors, but I followed every direction exactly as written. She did a beautiful job of explaining details, by the way. But, I will admit, I struggled with this one. I’ve always had a problem with anything to do with triangles. Of course matching points is always tasking. My biggest issue was the border in the center—the purple border in my quilt—which was a bear for me. It included sewing lots of tiny little pieces, including lots of squares cut into tiny triangles. Speaking of which, I had a few issues with the hour-glass shapes in the very center, for that very reason. But, I got through that after a few tries.

The purple border would not have worked if my life had been dependent on perfect ¼” seams or else. I’m not sure where my hang-up was, the sewing, the pressing, the cutting, or perhaps a little of all three. I made it work and if you didn’t know I varied a few seams to make it work, you would never know. I definitely went from below scant quarter-inch to way beyond chunky quarter-inch seams.

Because I was so bothered by this, I decided to make a little table runner out using the same pattern. I wanted to diagnose where my problem was. This is the result, at left.

I concluded that I have a long way to go to be as proficient at quilting as Lynette Jensen, but that gives me something to strive for. This is just a matter of practice needed. The points are good. The seams are all in the right places. It is definitely not perfect, but I can live with this. So, I guess the old adage still applies, practice, practice, practice.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Don’t go to a therapist; quilt

Chain-piecing can look like such a mess!
This weekend, I had a gaggle of flying geese to sew. Well, they weren’t exactly flying geese, but a quilt border that was similar. Sometimes I enjoy this mindless, repetitive chain-piecing work while other times, I get impatient and just want it to be done so I can move onto the next step. I’m happy to say the former worked for me on Sunday. I turned on the radio, to listen and even sing along to some of my beloved oldies. The rest of the time, I just let my mind wander.

Perhaps it is because I’m in the autumn of my life or perhaps it was the music that brought me back, but I thought about when I was a little girl, how happy, carefree and different life was back then. It was really nice not to have a care in the world. So, as I pressed my foot pedal and guided my squares under the needle, reliving that childhood experience. Right then, I felt no stress, no anxiety, no worry, just the mechanics of sewing.

At other times, I let my mind wander toward mistakes I’ve made, people I’ve known, or places I’ve lived. I thought about regrets. In 65 years, there are plenty of opportunities where it might be advantageous to go back to travel a different path, to think about the what if’s or the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. But what is the point of that? The unknown along a different path could have led to far worse consequences than any I’ve actually experienced. So, I’ve ruled out regrets. There is just no purpose for them. I’d much rather go about solving whatever problems come up along the way. I think that is more akin to my philosophy. And, I think I’ve done that. Perhaps I didn’t choose wisely at the time, but who knows? It all seems to have turned out alright; here I am, without a care in the world, creating something that hopefully, will be beautiful. What could be better?

From time to time, I would snap back to the present, and wonder, “How many of
The pile really does get smaller, I think???
these suckers do I have left?” I was reminded of the kids in the back seat asking, “Are we there yet?”

That was so annoying, I reasoned, so I dismissed my own question with the conscious thought, “There is still a huge pile. Just keep sewing.”

It was a rainy Sunday, one of my favorite kind of day for sewing. I was able to glance out the window behind my sewing machine as the raindrops bounced off the leaves of my plants. as my mind bounced back into the past. I remembered sitting in school on a rainy day, my feet cold from socks wet from old leaky boots. Turning my head caused my wet hair to tickle the back of my neck, giving me a quick chill. 

I remembered how just after the rain, my friends and I would ride our bikes through the puddles left behind. We had to hurry before the water soaked into the ground. We had to get up to speed quickly so we could glide through the water, our legs spread and our feet far from the pedals to protect them from the muddy water. Sheer momentum kept the pedals turning. Seems to me our feet always got wet anyway. Ah, such great memories.

Half-way there!
While I didn’t utter a sound, there was plenty of talking to myself. And before you know it, my pile of squares was all sewn onto their rectangles. Then, it was time to turn the pile and sew squares onto the other side of the rectangle. Good, there was time to have another meaningful dialogue with myself and more good things to conjure up from my mind chock full of happy times.

This is just one more aspect of quilting that I find invaluable. There are times when extreme focus is required, and yet, this activity is just the opposite. I enjoy both of these extremes, and this is just another reason I love quilting.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Remembering Granny and her quilts

When I married my husband more than forty years ago, I married into a very talented family of stitchers. His mother crocheted and did a little quilting. But the star of the family was his grandmother, Mary. Everybody just called her Granny. I don’t think I will ever forget her.

Granny and Jenny
Granny with her Great-Granddaughter, Jenny
Granny was a quilter. Well into her 80’s, she would spend her time in the family’s dark, damp basement, lit by only a lone light bulb hanging from the rafters where her quilt frame was set up. It was just outside the fruit cellar and coal bin in the house her husband built. My husband tells me she would be down there for hours at a time. She did all her piecing by hand and turned out some beautiful quilts. As she aged and things became more difficult for her, she purchased quilt kits from places like Lee Wards Creative Crafts, which began in 1947. In the 70’s, it morphed into the modern and well-known Michaels.

Years ago though, I remember going to the Lee Wards in Elgin, IL. It was huge. To me it was like a kid’s first trip into Toys R Us. But this was not just a store; it was an immense warehouse, with aisle after aisle filled with every kind of art and craft imaginable. I wasn’t a quilter back then, but I did knit and crochet. Even today, I love yarn almost as much as I love fabric. Get me into a place like that now, I’d have to bring a sleeping bag.

Granny's quilt
Granny died in the early 80’s, but she lives on in our memory and of one of the quilts she gave us. Each of his siblings also has one. Ours was from a kit she liked to make. Once she cross-stitched the quilt top, she completed the quilt, hand stitching simple quilting designs.

I never actually saw her quilt; I only saw the result of her work. She eventually gave up quilting because she could no longer go down the steep stairs to the basement. She also complained about her failing eyesight.

Despite that, she never gave up working on her crewel embroidery. My mother-in-law, who was her caregiver, often bought kits for her. Often times she didn’t care what the finished piece was; she just enjoyed doing the work. The pieces often doubled as Christmas presents.

I had never seen anyone do such beautiful hand work. It is hard to believe that her eyesight was failing, given the beautiful stitches she could make. There was never any evidence of it in her work. It was flawless.

I recall how she used to sit on the edge of her bed, with her back straight as an arrow and her feet flat on the floor, as the sunlight streamed through her window and onto whatever project she had in her lap. She began sewing after the breakfast dishes were done and worked up until lunch. After the kitchen was clean, she took a nap, and sometimes sewed in the afternoon until the sun went down.

I can’t help but think that in the back of my mind, knowing her, planted the seeds of quilting into my own heart, only to sprout a little later in my life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quilting and cats just seem to go together

I have finally started hand quilting my Dresden Plate quilt, although there are
Quilting with Ryan
Quilting with Ryan

One of them, at right, is pretty obvious. Ryan just loves to be where the action is. She loves hanging out with me, for which I am oh-so-flattered. She is the greatest quilting supervisor, and she is always positive. I don’t think she has ever curled up on or under a quilt she didn’t like.

I can’t say that I mind either. I considered quilting to be an enjoyable activity, so a few cuddles from one of my favorite cats fits right in. Ryan is one of four and we have her mom too. For me, quilting is therapy and so is enjoying our pets.

Finishing this quilt will take months, so a few minutes here and there to bond with my girl won’t hurt a bit.