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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lone quilter

People often ask me if I belong to a guild or quilting group. Sometimes they look at me funny when I tell them, no, I’m a lone quilter.

While I’m not averse to the social aspects of quilting in a crowd, lone quilting is more than an activity to me; it is a philosophy. I think of quilting as a form of meditation. It is an activity that allows for deep personal thought. It is therapy. I find I am very busy these days and juggle lots of responsibility. There is seldom enough time in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done, so often times, I don’t even try. I am not the kind of person that frets over a sink full of dirty dishes. I figure they will wait for me. I always get around to the chores that need doing, but I get around to them on my time.

Quilting is one activity I want to make time for. It is a kind of precious gift I give to myself, not unlike baking myself a birthday cake. I relish the alone time, feeling free, as my mind wanders wherever it wants to go.

I am a self-taught quilter who enjoys learning new things, especially something creative that inspires me. And though I’ve been quilting for nearly 20 years, I still consider myself a newbie. There is so much to learn, to try, and to practice. This type of learning requires deep concentration, where all my faculties can engage with little distraction.

But just because I don’t physically go elsewhere to work on a quilt, that doesn’t mean I don’t belong to quilting groups. In fact, I do belong to several on the computer. Modern quilting allows the best of both worlds--lone quilting and social interaction. Internet quilting groups are great for advice, counsel, and camaraderie. Online sources also offer nearly endless learning potential.

Ironically, one of the most inspirational aspects of quilting for me, is its rich history. The quilting bee was a huge part of the history of quilting; its root remains relevant today in various guilds and church groups. I have always been drawn to stories about brave American pioneer families who traveled west to seek a better life. Quiltmaking was a huge part of the American story in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Quilting was a social activity for women of the day, but moreso, handmade quilts were a necessity for survival during long, cold winter months. Women’s use of fabric from worn out clothing and livestock feed sacks was necessary for their survival.

Socialization with other women, as well as the need to finish sewing together the pieces of cloth that would warm their families, was probably as psychologically necessary to pioneer women as lone quilting is to me today.

Quiltmaking has gone through such evolution. No longer strictly functional, the modern quilt story is much more complex. Traditional function remains one of its amenities, but quilts today represent everything from a way to earn a living to the creation of fine art. Quilts come in various sizes, from huge bed quilts to table runners, wall hangings, and candle pads. They use design and color in new ways as well. Modern quilts range from the traditional log cabin, bear paw, and churn dash quilt blocks to the complex computer-drawn star points. There are also new uses of a variety of fabric and thread. The creations are limited only by their creator's imagination and skill.

There is no end to the inspiration, which is largely what intrigues me the most. I want to make a rag quilt, a one-block wonder, bargello, art quilts, and so much more. I want to improve my paper-piecing techniques, and learn new free-motion quilting designs, as well as hone my skills on those I’ve already done. I want to return to hand-quilting, and further experiment with color.

I finished my first quilt in 2003. I have made many more since. I knew then that I loved quiltmaking and I would be a quilter for the rest of my life. My quilting journey has shown me there is no end to this creative process. Every new idea brings about an endless stream of new ideas, limited only by our own imagination.

While I will likely never go to a quilting group, I do belong to several virtual groups. The computer is another tool that has enhanced the quilting experience. I have learned so much because of the ability to watch other quilters on videos. I owe each of them a debt.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I'm happy now


I like how this quilt is going to turn out. It should be named for Goldilocks, as it will end up being ‘just the right size.’

There is still another border I want to put on it, just to finish it off. I am thinking a darker border; my husband thinks a lighter one. Then again, I may just leave it as is. I like it, so I will just have to audition a few fabrics to determine if I like it better with another border, or not. There are no time constraints on this project, so I will have to simply ponder my options.

Pondering my options is, for me, the most challenging part of quilt making. It is also my favorite. I am definitely a pro-choice quilter.

I’m already so glad I decided to fix this quilt top. It would have been too small, at only four squares wide and four long.

I defy anyone to pick out which row I just added to this quilt top, which has been sitting around unfinished since 2015.
While it was only one row, it turned out to be a bit more than I bargained for.

I had to do a little unsewing. There were some decisions I had made early on that I no longer recalled, like making the center circle of the Dresden an alternate color. I had to review how to applique a perfect circle, since I forgot how to do it.

I initially made the sashing and sewed it on without the cornerstones. I had to rip it out. Then I made the cornerstones, five in all, wrong. I reversed the colors, so I had to rip those out too. Fortunately, much of the fabric from my blunders was reusable. It was just a matter of getting it right.

Once I make the decision on the final border or no border, I will add backing and batting and it will be time to quilt.

Finishing this will probably take at least a year, if I decide to quilt it by hand. I’m starting to rethink that decision, at least partially. There are lots of seams in this quilt, which makes hand-quilting a challenge. Not only that, but I haven’t quilted in years. It will take some time to get regulate my stitches and be comfortable with the tiny needle that I’m no longer used to. The light lavender in the sashing and cornerstones has a silver fleck to it, making it heavier than the other fabrics. That might make for some tricky quilting by hand as well. The solution may be to combine both hand and machine quilting. The time frame will likely remain unchanged because I want to hand-quilt. There is nothing more satisfying than a cold winter’s day with a quilt hoop draped on my lap, a cat or two, or more hanging around, as I work my needle back and forth through the layers of a quilt. It doesn’t hurt that I like this quilt and will enjoy working on it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Organization and efficiency combine to get things done

Being organized is great on its own. Not only does it add to efficiency, but I’ve found recently that it also will allow me to finish what I’ve started.
CHQuilts: purple Dresden Plate quilt

I began this quilt a couple years ago—a purple Dresden Plate quilt.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. I had toyed with the idea of hand-quilting it rather than quilting it on the machine. Since it is a traditional design, I thought traditional quilting would be fitting.

Not long ago, I unfolded it and was a bit surprised that it was a square, rather than a rectangle. I was bothered by that. I have no idea why I did that.

For a few weeks, I have been thinking about this, wondering if there was enough fabric to finish one more row. I know I had all the material in a plastic container that had been used for this quilt. I hadn’t done anything with it when I was organizing my stash recently.

Without actually really looking in the box, I figured there probably wasn’t enough fabric to add another row. I reasoned that since I had planned to add a border around it in a darker color anyway, I could simply add two borders on the top and bottom with one along the sides. That wasn’t an ideal solution, but it would make the quilt rectangular.

Since I had recently finished my baby quilt, and had a “clean” quilting space, I finally decided to open the box. I was surprised to see enough leftover fabric to finish four more blocks. Not only were there large pieces of fabric, but there were also several of the 4” fan blades or wedges, already cut. One “plate” consists of 20 wedges, which means I needed 80 of them. There may have been that many, although there were only quantities of about 15 different fabrics. I wanted no duplicates, so cut a few more to make up the difference.

In the box, there were also several squares of the background prints--alternating white-on-white and white-on-cream paisley prints—already cut.

The only thing left was to check out the sashing fabrics.

This is where the organization comes in. Since I had just “filed” my fabric by color, into cube shelves, it was simple to take a quick peek. I pulled out just what I needed in minutes.

I have been busy the last couple days, sewing the Dresdens together and hand-stitching them onto the background fabric. The four new blocks are almost completed. Hand quilting this quilt will be a marvelous project this winter.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is anything better than finishing a quilt?

CHQuilts: Jeff's baby quilt
For the first time since 2015, I can proudly say I finished a quilt. It feels good!

Oh, I have done a couple of small projects since then, some seasonal table runners and pillows, but my last actual finished quilt was my pink flamingo quilt in July 2015. I loved that quilt. And now I love this baby quilt, lovingly created for our nephew and his wife’s first baby.

This was so much more than a gift for a new baby. It was a gift to me as well, a breakthrough, a therapeutic sense of freedom. I needed to get back into the activity I loved—quilting.

When my husband had a stroke a couple of years ago, our lives changed forever. I became a care giver. Between that and daily chores—both his and mine—as well as seemingly continuous doctor and therapy visits, there wasn’t much time for leisure activities. But, we’ve settled into a bit of a routine now. I found myself longing to return to the activity I loved. I still have so much to learn. I have barely scratched the surface in the past 20 years of my quilt making. Besides, I am the kind of person for whom it is just no big deal to leave a sink full of dirty dishes if there is quilting to be done. I know those dishes will wait for me. Same holds true with the vacuuming, laundry, scooping kitty litter, taking out the garbage, cutting the grass, and all the other things that need to be done. I consider life to be a constant re-evaluation of ever-changing priorities. And for me, quilting is toward the top of the list. There are times when other things take precedence, but that is the beauty of flexibility. Basically, my philosophy is to do whatever moves me at the time. There are of courses exceptions, but hopefully, those have subsided for a while.

I enjoyed making this Lemoyne Star quilt. From what I can see, all the white on white fabric is right side up, any seams are in-tact, although I did have to repair a couple that didn’t quite catch the fabric in the flange area, the points haven’t been chopped off, and the quilting looks pretty decent overall. I’m happy with it and will be proud to give it away.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Quilting is not like riding a bike

Lemoyne star
My 8-pointed Lemoyne Star

When I decided to get back to quilting, I figured I’d dust off my sewing machine and with little effort could commence to creating my next masterpiece. I soon found out it wasn’t that simple. I realized that quilting requires not just experience, but practice. It isn’t as easy as it looks, or as easy as it used to be. Taking a hiatus left me (seamingly) skill-less.

My first project would be a baby quilt, using six Lemoyne Star blocks, some sashing, perhaps cornerstones, and borders.

Normally I like all the aspects of quiltmaking, from fabric selection to precision cutting to piecing, to quilting, and finally binding.

With rotary cutter in hand, I started cutting out all the pieces of fabric I’d need. That went pretty well. Then I set out to sew them together. Wow, why did I start with an 8-point star? What would have been wrong with a nice simple design that didn’t include y-seams and points to match, and triangles on the bias. Yikes! What did I get myself into?

I set out to watch some You Tube videos on making the star. Alex Anderson of thequiltshow.com one of my personal heroes, had a great on-line tutorial. I watched it, but when I got ready to make the blocks, I couldn’t find it again. Edyta Sitar had a great tutorial, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV-LPJpl0JU and so did Jaye Lapachet from her blog at Artquiltmaker.com.

Looked easy enough. When I set out to make my blocks, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I had made Y-seams before with little trouble, but coming back from a two-year hiatus, quilting was like a new activity. My experience meant nothing. It wasn’t like riding a bike, where you just get back on and the balance, the peddling, and the steering all works again. I was taken aback at how difficult it was to manipulate the fabric so as to not have puckers and to get the blocks to lay flat. The best advice I can give when making these blocks with a Y-seam is do not sew into the seam allowance.

Lemoyne star baby quilt blocks
Lemoyne Star baby quilt blocks
The first day I made two blocks. Yes, there was some seam ripping, and some interesting language emanating from my quilting space, but I managed to get them done. The second day I made two more. Then the third day, I made the final two. It got easier as it went. The points match pretty well. The blocks lay flat, with the help of some spray starch and a very hot iron.

I probably used all the methods in the aforementioned tutorials when creating the blocks, so on the back of the piece, my seams don’t all go in the same direction. I may have some problem with that when I go to quilt the piece, but I will try to remember that. Once I get to the quilting, I'm sure that is a brand new skill to learn as well. 

All in all, I think the blocks look pretty good. I predict this will be a fine baby quilt. At least I hope so.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I’m back; Once again, I can call myself a quilter

This pile of fabric will soon become a baby quilt

Once I finally made up my mind that no matter what, I was going to return to my beloved quilting, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. It had been a couple years since I did any serious quilting. But when my husband got sick and I became his full time caretaker, there was no longer time for quilting. I was pretty busy running to doctors, physical therapists, and doing my chores and those he used to do. But, I needed to quilt. I had to make time for my favorite thing. Besides, quilting is good therapy.

I wasn’t sure what my first project would be. I have a couple of things started—a Dresden Plate quilt top that is finished—maybe—and just needs to be quilted. I have to decide if I want to leave it as is—square, or if I want to make another row of Dresdens to make it rectangular. That is my preferred option, but I’m not sure I have enough fabric for the sashing and borders. I have a 12-block Block of the Month calendar quilt top, but it is so busy with so many colors and patterns that I really never decided how I wanted to finish it. Just adding backing and batting would create a really small quilt. That may be alright, but I haven’t decided what to do as yet. I also have my Ginny Beyer hand-sewn quilt kit that I had been working on, but I'm not in the mood for that. To me, hand sewing is best for sitting in front of the television. But therapy is what I’m after; I want to retreat to a place in the far reaches of my brain and completely lose myself there. I probably could have started my return to quilting sooner, but the uncertainty of these projects caused me some anxiety. That was definitely not what I was after, so,...

Then I learned that a family member was going to have a baby. Perfect. I would start a new project—a baby quilt. I could complete a new baby quilt in a much shorter time than a full sized quilt. And I love finishing projects. My psyche is happier already.

I looked online for a pattern I liked, but nothing really spoke to me. So, I decided to check out my Electric Quilt software program. Of course, it no longer worked since my computer upgraded to Windows 10. Have I mentioned that I hate Windows 10? The support folks at Electric Quilt were wonderful and solved my problem by sending me a new, upgrade. It works like a champ now. Good support people are the best!

Finally, I decided I'd piece a quilt using quilt blocks. I like the traditional look of a simple quilt. I chose the Lemoyne Star, a 4-color 8-pointed star. I’d make 12” blocks; two across and three down, with sashing and borders. I chose some fabric from my newly-organized stash, picking out a pretty yellow, green, lavender, and pink. I even found a small flower print that had all those colors in it. Perfect. I can't wait to get started.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Taking my first steps back to quilting


fabric stash 

My quilting has definitely been on hiatus of late. When my husband became ill two years ago, I just didn’t have the time for leisurely activities or creative expression, both of which I consider quilting to be.

Between trips to doctors, supervising his exercises, along with the his, mine, and ours chores, not to mention the exhaustion factor, I just couldn’t find the time or concentration to quilt.

Either things are settling down or I’m becoming really efficient at my routine, but quilting is regaining a focus in my life. I still don’t have much spare time to actually sit down at my sewing machine, but my love of quilting is at least working its way back into my thoughts. That is a start. I have begun catching up on the latest quilting videos, and started organizing my fabric and my quilting space.

I recently purchased a couple of cube shelves for my bedroom. I don’t quilt there, but that is where I have some room to store my fabric. I also bought some comic book boards. One day I dragged out my ironing board, turned on some music and began pressing and winding the fabric around the boards. They stacked so neatly. I placed them into the cubes, assorted by color. My fabric now looks so neat and organized. I can see what I have, determine what colors I have or need to purchase for a project. This is an ideal solution for me.

I saw this done online somewhere. I wish I remembered where, or by whom because I would love to thank them for the idea. This is a fantastic organizational method for storing fabric. It works great. I used to keep my stash in a couple of deep tubs in my closet. I could never find what I was looking for, so I moved it to under-the-bed storage containers. That wasn’t ideal either. The containers were bulging and the lids no longer fit.

I have such a variety of sizes, but this method still works. When I started collecting fabric, I generally just bought fat quarters. It didn’t take long before I realized that wasn’t enough for most projects, so I moved up to half yard pieces and then to a yard or two.

Quilters often ask others how much fabric they buy for their stash. The answers are as varied as quilts themselves. I remain very frugal, so I generally buy a yard just of what I like. If it is something I really love, I will buy two yards. If I am gaga over it, I’ll even buy more.

I recently redecorated my room. On one small wall, between the master bath and a closet, I decided to place my fabric cubes. Above them, I hung what used to be a pot rack turned quilt rack. I hung one of my favorite quilts from it. I added a few other quilty things. This tiny area of my room looks like a quilting studio. Ah, something to dream about.

All this is a sign of my strong desire to find my way back to my sewing machine and my next quilting project. For now, I’ll just have to ponder what that next project will be. I can't wait to find out...