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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It is all about the tools

It has been some time since I mentioned the progress I and many others, are making on the Building Blocks Quilt Along, a project hosted by free-motion quilting instructor and free-motion quilting extraordinaire, Leah Day.

Black and white and pink all over quilt
A random sampling of quilt blocks ready to be sewn together into a quilt
The blocks for this quilt which I'm calling "Black and white and pink all over," for obvious reasons, are stacking up nicely, with new blocks being completed regularly. The quilt should be completed by Thanksgiving.

Pressing seams open  

One thing has really confounded me about this project. Leah has instructed us to press our seams open. While I get the concept, actually doing it requires a change in habit and in thinking. It is a little more time-consuming to press the seams open, but it does help the quality of the free-motion quilting stitches when there aren't huge bumps to guide the needle over.

Since I've been heavily engaged in quilting, I have come to realize that the pressing is nearly as important as the cutting and piecing. If pieces aren't pressed well, things just don't go together as well.

But pressing seams open; I was having trouble with the discipline. I had learned to press seams to one side, and have always done it that way, as do most quilters. Pressing to one side makes nesting opposite seams fit together, which is essential in matching seams, angles, and points. I've found though, that when pinning two adjacent seams together, is is even easier to match. I hated maneuvering my iron over the sometimes multiple seams. And, working with a hot iron was pretty uncomfortable for my fingers.

Being the problem-solver that I am, I thought I'd try a mini iron. Up until this point, I thought they were just silly gizmos that only people with lots of money bought. I am a frugal quilter, so I rarely entertain the idea of buying gadgets. Then one day, I realized this might be the solution to my dreaded open seams problem.

I wrote mini iron on the shopping list. My husband John, who hates being cooped up in the house, likes to run errands. I am a home body with a capital H, so I prefer to stay home. It works well for us. John is always good about sticking to my list. He asked me what a mini iron was, so I explained it to him. He brought home a Dritz Petite Press mini iron.

Once I tried it out, my life was changed forever. Not only is it easy to use this tiny iron to press seams open, but it has done wonders for my applique abilities as well. I've been able to put away my iron, which saves space in my small sewing area. And I haven't burnt my fingers once. This has been a great solution. I don't know what I ever did without it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Love it when projects are completed

I feel as though I've been gone a long time from this blog. It occurs to me that it is very difficult to write about quilting when you are so busy quilting. 

Sailing QuiltI just completed another project though, which leaves me a little free time. I made a wall hanging for my daughter, Jenny, who will turn 35 this week. She and her husband have recently relocated to the Boston area, so I made her a quilt I thought might be appropriate.  

I had a great time working on this, although I didn't give myself much time. I started it on the 13th of August and just finished it yesterday, the 24th. Her birthday is in a couple days. I am grateful to Debbie Mumm for the design and pattern, as it is just what I was looking for. I searched the Internet, knowing I wanted something with a lighthouse. This was perfect. 

Completing this quilt gives me the courage and inspiration to do more like it. 

Discovering applique

I have always been a little shy about applique. The sea shells, ship's wheel and anchor are all appliqued, while the ship and lighthouse are paper pieced. The rest is just pieced. 

Quilted seashells
I've never really been good at needle-turn applique, so when I saw the curves on those shells, I wondered what I was letting myself in for. But, I took it one step at a time, watched lots of You Tube videos, and finally jumped in with both feet. The shells are now my favorite part of this quilt. The ship's wheel really gave me pause too, until I figured out I could do it in two phases, the pegs first, then the wheel appliqued on top of it. I'm really pleased at how all the pieces turned out. 

Then I thought I would quilt it sparingly, until I got started. I was like a drunk who just took his first swig of whiskey. Once I started, I couldn't stop. The sashing is really densely quilted. But, that's OK, because it toned down the brown fabric. The white thread on top of the brown was just what it needed to blend the color a bit. 

The only fabric I didn't have in my stash was the border fabric. I actually went to the quilt store to pic out something. What I wanted was a nautical-themed neutral color. No such thing existed, however, so I settled on this mottled gold color. I think it further helped the dark brown blend as well as tying in the color of that one golden sail and the anchor. 

One more thing, cats just love quilting, as shown. Thanks JR for helping hold this quilt for the picture!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gotta have something quilted

sun porch
No room makeover is complete without something quilted.

Over the last couple weeks my husband and I put down second-hand (aren't we lucky) laminate flooring, and painted the walls and doors in our sun porch. For the past ten years, this room has been pink--based on a pink flamingo theme. We both just love the little plastic critters. Besides, I love all things pink. (Note the quilt I made a few years ago on the back of the rocking chair.).

Once the walls were painted this color, I remembered that I had made an over-sized square in the same pattern I was planning to use in a quilt in progress. (Stars on Point--see previous posts). When I looked at it, I thought it was perfect as a table topper for this room. So, I set out to free-motion quilt it. 

turquoise table topperBecause it was the same pieced pattern as the blocks I'm using in the quilt, I already had a diagram for the free-motion quilting. Because it was so much larger than the initial 12.5-inch block in the quilt, I improvised a little by using a filler inside two of the triple heart shapes and stippling throughout the background. 

I'm pleased with how it turned out, except that the non-quilted hearts look a little puffy. I may add more quilting in those areas if it doesn't begin to lie flat. 

I really love these totally non-pressure projects. This was pure fun.


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. 
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, 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!