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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Making progress; the end is in sight

It has been awhile since I posted anything about my ongoing project, Stars on Point a.k.a. yellow and aqua quilt. The thing is, this has been my go to project of late. 

I am finally getting comfortable with free-motion quilting, an endeavor I first began so long ago. The nearest I can figure, it was 2011 when I first got the bug to try my hand at machine quilting. My first blog post about it, here, was in December, just days before my 60th birthday. I can't believe it has been so long that I've been trying to master this skill. 

While I am far from mastering free-motion quilting, it is becoming more comfortable, thus more enjoyable. I've been sitting down to the machine more often now. It has become my happy place.

I'm still working on Stars on Point, the quilt I began as a block of the month project on January 2013. 

In this blog post, from Sept. 2003, I wrote about this quilt and some of my early perceptions about it. 

Back then, I was just putting these blocks together. Today, I'm writing about they're completion. 

I admit, I'm starting to get a little antsy now, wondering just what this quilt will look like when it is finally completed. 

I love starting the quilting on a new block. In fact, I can't wait to start the next one. I still have a couple more to design, but that is part of the fun as well. Letting the blocks talk to me, to indicate just the right design in my limited repertoire, is working. 

I've long said that I love every aspect of quilting. From picking a design, to choosing fabric, cutting the pieces, sewing them together, to the actual quilting, this is the greatest pastime. 

I am so hooked on these block of the month projects too, because each block is different and presents a new challenge. This quilt has presented numerous challenges for me, as I've previously mentioned.  

Those challenges may be the best part though, because each time I overcome one of them, it leaves me with a new understanding along with just a little more confidence to continue on. 

I admit, and there is much to do before it happens, but I am looking forward to that moment when all the blocks come together to create an entire quilt. It won't really be complete until I can throw this puppy into the washing machine, then the dryer, all the while holding my breath. The real moment of truth, when it really becomes a finished quilt, will not be until it is finished spinning. At that point I will take it out, all fluffy and puffy in just the right places. That day seems like a long way off, still, but I'm already beginning to anticipate it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Little things matter most

new ceiling fan
It took just one simple improvement to greatly enhance my sewing space. 

A new ceiling fan was such a simple fix for what was becoming an annoying situation.

While sewing doesn't actually work up a sweat, it does get uncomfortably warm when the pieces in a quilt need pressing and the sewing machine starts humming. 

And this is a tiny space. While there is an air conditioning vent beneath the table/counter, it sufficiently keeps my feet comfy, but it doesn't really circulate.  

I believe that in order to maintain good stitch control when free-motion quilting, there has to be comfort. I've changed chairs and now added temperature control. I'm really starting to enjoy my little sewing space.

It is such a small thing, but I'd say this is the best home improvement project ever. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More than meets the quilter's eye

sunflower quilt
While this may look like a sunflower quilt wall hanging, to me, it is so much more.

My thanks to Jenny Doan of the Missouri Star Quilt Co. for the pattern that is "so me," as observed by my good friend Nancy. I am all about yellow, and happen to love sunflowers. This pattern brought me back to my childlike sketches of flowers. And, like Jenny Doan has admitted, I too love Dresdens. In fact I have a purple Dresden Plate quilt in the making. (Hmm, need to get back to that.)

Not only is this the first time I have ever free-motion quilted a piece larger than a 12-inch block, but this quilt taught me more than I ever imagined. I consider it totally instructional. I can almost imagine free-motion quilting an entire quilt, though I recognize that is some distance into my future. The bottom line is that learning is doing and practice is invaluable.

The best thing about this little piece, which measures about 22" x 35" is that I was able to stipple over the entire background surface of a quilt for the first time. I've never done that before. I love stippling and found it to be comfortable and relaxing. I completely love the texture after washing the quilt. I think it is beautiful. 

I've previously mentioned that my quilting story began fifteen years ago. I was hooked on quilting when I first saw a stippled quilt. It was a small wall hanging, not unlike this one. I was completely dumbfounded about how much I loved the texture created by stippling. To me, a quilt isn't done until it is washed. Doing so creates absolute magic where the entire background puffs up in just the right places. 
McTavishing 
I tried my hand at McTavishing, the technique pioneered by award-winning quilter Karen McTavish, and now used by quilters the world over. I've never done it before either. I admit I need practice, but I will definitely be doing this again. I like how it looks. I like doing it. 

My weak areas continue to be stitching in the ditch, (SITD). More practice is needed because I'm just not good at that. I also need work on travel stitching. I suspect that I get so comfortable that I get careless. Need practice.

I'm thrilled with my new sewing machine, which I've discussed previously. I was careful to change my needle when I changed my bobbin. I believe that was twice during this project.
picket fence

I loved quilting the pickets in the fence, because I decided to try to make them look like wood, including a tiny knot hole here and there. I was comfortable enough to simply play with that whimsical touch. 

The other part shown in this picture, is the binding that I am totally unhappy with. I will be taking it out. I never sewed a binding on a quilt before and will likely never do it again. I was tired though, after working on this for the entire day. That is a poor excuse. I will rip out both the top seam and the one that affixed  the binding to the back of the quilt. I will sew it to the front and hand stitch it to the back, as I usually do. I need the practice hand-stitching anyway. 

The border--arg! That was a real bone of contention with me. I prefer not to mark quilting patterns if I can help it. I now realize the value of marking in borders and sashing. I initially had, as the pattern depicted, a 2.5" border made from varied brown 5" strips. It really looked nice initially. Then I attempted to quilt them in a braid-like pattern free hand. Not good! So, before squaring and binding, I shortened the length and width of this piece by about 2.5" all around because I simply cut off what turned into an ugly border. I will not do that again! From now on, I will mark the pattern. Borders are so prominent and when the quilting is ugly, well,...it just won't happen again.

The three flowers, all different, all fun to quilt. I already know I'm not good at making spirals, so I actually marked this one in the first center. I also marked the grid lines in the second circle, just to keep it uniform. Those are the only marked parts on the whole piece. The third center uses pebbling, one of my favorite overall textures.

The bad news is that I got pretty good at "unquilting," or ripping out seams. I always tend to make stupid mistakes. Taking out free-motion quilting stitches is far less enjoyable than putting them in. For the most part, the stitches are small and difficult to take out. It is very time-consuming, which is why I spent two entire days at this. 

I have one more tip. When unquilting, or ripping out a seam, I hold tiny threads with a pair of tweezers. That is so much easier on the fingers. Instead of a seam ripper, I like to use an old sewing machine needle. It is sharper generally, so it gets into tighter places. Because free motion stitches are much smaller than regular stitches, a tiny needle seems easier to maneuver than a standard seam ripper.

I have no idea what my next project will be, but I can't wait to begin.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Applique--need practice

applique 1

applique 2I need to practice my applique technique.

That was the lesson I gleaned while working on my latest project--Dresden Flower Pot, as previously mentioned.

I have a bit of a deficit when it comes to hand-sewing, since I've been all about practicing free-motion quilting at the sewing machine lately. I'm a bit rusty with my hand-work. I haven't even hand-quilted anything lately, which is a shame because I love hand-quilting. Perhaps I need to get some projects together anyway, to enhance my television viewing. There is no better way to watch TV, than to work on a lap full of fabric.

I now know I need to do a little more applique as well. I can probably count the number of applique projects I've done. As the pictures at right indicate, my pieces are not completely flat and the stitches are not uniform and too visible.

applique 3 
My skills will get by, but they are not where I want them to be. 

I find applique much easier when the edges of the pieces are finished, as opposed to raw edges. It is much easier to sew them than to turn raw edges under and then sew. I think one of the problems for me is I'm too impetuous to start sewing to take the time to properly prepare the pieces to be appliqued. I did these leaves by needle-turn applique, turning and sewing as I went, but I'm thinking I needed to prepare the edges better before I begin to sew. Even though it takes a little more time, I think it might serve me well to baste the pieces. Live and learn!

A good iron and some starch will do wonders for my problem, however. And, some quilting in the ditch will cover my sins as well.

I look forward to quilting this wall hanging. I've never free-motion quilted anything larger than a 12-inch block before. If this goes well, I may think about quilting an entire quilt. However, I make no predictions. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pre cut fabric is not for me

purple quilt blocks
Layer cakes, charm packs, jelly rolls, honey buns, ... With the exception of a fat quarter here or there, I have never used pre-cut fabrics. I probably never will.

While pre-cuts offer fabric designers to mix and match their lines of fabric, guaranteeing a great look to a finished quilt, I really don't care to make a 'designer' quilt. I make quilts out of fabric I like in colors that I want. When the designer fabric goes on sale, that is when I will buy it, but only if I like it. I really pay little attention to who designs what, although I am particularly fond of Michael Miller fabrics. I generally will look for them when they go on sale. So much of my taste is reflected in them.

Although I have never done the math, I can only assume the cost of buying pre-cut fabric has to be much higher than buying fabric by the yard. It would have to be more costly when someone else does the work for us. 

The work is one of the the most important parts; it is what draws me to quilting. The notion that someone else may pick out the fabric, match the colors and patterns, and cut it all into precisely cut squares or strips leaves me cold. I love those things. 

The first thrill in a quilting project is to determine the fabric to use. Colors and their value are so important; I want control of that decision. I continue to learn about colors and their relationships, as well as what values of color to use, and what pattern provides the look I want in the finished piece. I admit, I am often surprised, but I chalk that up to my relative inexperience. I love the learning process. 

It took me a long time to perfect my cutting ability. I don't want to give that up now that I've gotten pretty good at it. One of the most important parts of piecing a quilt is the precision. Just like the sewing a uniform 1/4-inch seam, the cutting is so important. Besides, I love the feel of fabric yardage. There is always a feeling of dread at cutting a new piece, but that is outweighed by the desire to create something new out of it. 

There is no better feeling that filling the cutting board with stacks of squares, triangles, strips, or whatever is needed, all cut and ready to sew into a new quilting project. 
 
I still consider myself a novice, but I'm trying, and always, still learning. I cannot imagine going for a shortcut on the cutting or the fabric selection for a new quilt. 

Along that same line, I cannot imagine shipping a quilt top off to a quilter to be completed by someone else. Granted, some of the professional long arm quilters do beautiful work, but I love the quilting process--whether it be by hand or machine--there is  no way I would give that up. How could I be a quilter and not do the quilting? 

I guess the bottom line for me is that I love every aspect of the quilting process, from the decision-making to all the 'work' that goes into a finished quilting project. Quilting is a total fit for my personality. I love a good challenge, and I can even be a little compulsive when it comes to matching points and seams or ripping out something that just isn't quite good enough for my standards.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Every delivery is special

Who doesn't like exhilaration, reminiscent of a child who looks forward to Christmas morning? 

It may sound silly, but even though I haven't been a kid in many years, I remember the feeling. And it is similar to the one I get when I know the mail carrier or UPS man is scheduled to deliver a box of fabric I've ordered. I know when it is coming, because technology now lets us track the shipment from warehouse to our house. I admit that when I order something, I check on it just about every day.

I admit, I buy lots--no most--of my fabric online. I rarely shop at the local quilt shop because I just can't afford the prices there. I do go when there is a big sale, or if there is something I just have to have right away, but that doesn't happen often. 

Our town doesn't have a Joanne Fabrics or any other specialty fabric outlet, so I'm limited to where I can go. Truth is, I have been buying online for so long, that I actually prefer it. I have never been disappointed. 

Even when buying online, I rarely pay full price. I must rely on sales. This is not our grandmother's day when it was cheaper to make clothes for the family than to buy them off the rack. Today's fabric prices are crazy. Fortunately, there are lots of sales.

I must give a shout out to Connecting Threads, which just had a marvelous sale. Today was my Christmas morning. The mail man was just here with my well-anticipated box of fabric.  

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Fabric.com, another of my favorite places to shop online. 

Adding to my stash  

adding to my stash
I didn't order much, but just enough for a project I have in mind. Rarely do I buy large quantities. Most of the time, I buy what I like or a certain color or value of fabric for which I'm running low in my stash. 

I've been hoarding fabric for some time now--just a little here and a little there. I once heard a discussion about how much fabric people buy at one time. The answer was at least two or three yards. Oh my, I have always bought in increments of 1/2 yard. I realize that isn't really enough, because if I really like something, that tiny bit doesn't go very far. I started out just buying fat quarters. That was rarely ever enough. 


I'm planning to use this for a recent project I saw on the Missouri Star Quilt Co's You Tube channel. Jenny Doan showcased her Dresden flower pot. I thought it would be a nice wall-hanging for the outside of my house. I wanted to use lots of different fabrics in just a few colors. I bought some in 1/2-yard quantities. It is almost like how a stack of dollar bills just feels like more than a single bill of a larger denomination. I'm all about fooling myself into thinking I have more than I actually do. 

Anyway, I love the scrappy look in my quilts, so 1/2-yard increments works well for that too. I find there are times I would rather have a large quantity of different fabrics than huge yardage of just a few. At times like that, I limit myself to one or more yards. I like having a nice mix of both. The point being, it is good to have on hand just what is needed.
Ryan in the box

Who knows when I will start or finish this project? 

Til that time, all is well at my house. Not only am I thrilled at my delivery, but when I opened the box, I put it on an open desk drawer. 

My cat, Ryan took it over. She is always thrilled when I get fabric in the mail because she, being the eldest of four, gets dibs on the box.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A tip: organizing in the sewing area

I don't have a basement; I don't have an extra room in my house dedicated to sewing. In fact, I have a very small area, a breakfast nook just off my kitchen where I do all my quilting. 

I've learned to make do with what I have. 

I like being frugal; I thrive on solving problems, so it is a challenge to learn to use things for purposes other than what they were intended. Necessity really is the mother of invention. 

I was tired of jostling various rulers, that were seemingly always in the way. There was no good way to store them and keep them accessible. I wasn't about to go out and buy a ruler caddy, so I devised a way to keep even my largest rulers neat, organized, safe from harm, and more-or-less out of my way. 

rulers holder

Two simple plastic plate holders side-by-side did the trick. They are adjustable. They can be placed far apart or close together, depending on what they are required to hold. Mine currently hold a 12.5" square ruler, a 22" x 6" ruler and several other smaller rulers. I even keep my Dresden ruler there.

I'm all about convenience and function. These plate holders fit the bill for me. Now, they are always handy, placed right at the edge of my cutting mat.