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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quick tip -- how to fix minor mistakes when marking the quilt

pink block
Just a quick tip today...

I wanted to share a little something I do quite often at my sewing machine that other quilters might find helpful having to do with marking the quilt.

Since I've been free-motion quilting exclusively of late, and I hate marking, I always try to keep it minimal. But there are times I like to draw onto my fabric to guide my quilting. Often times, I make mistakes, thus this quick tip.

First of all, I usually use a blue marking pen, where lines disappear when wet.

Near my sewing machine, I keep a jar filled with pens, pencils, markers, and a paint brush. I also keep a spray bottle close at hand. When I finish a block, a quick spray erases the marking lines and reveals all that beautiful quilting. There are other uses too, such as moistening a paper towel to clean up lint or one of my favorite uses--to discipline a wayward kitty doing something she shouldn't. Fortunately, we're at the point now where just picking up the spray bottle is enough to make her stop the naughty business. Who says you can't train a cat?

HERE'S THE QUICK TIP} I use the spray bottle to make a tiny puddle on the surface of my cutting board or in my case, the counter top. I dip the paint brush into the puddle and 'erase' any lines I've marked in error.

It is so easy to make a mistake when 'drawing.' This makes it really easy to fix it without soaking the fabric and having to wait for it to dry. So little moisture is needed to erase the mark that it doesn't cause any delay in getting back to sewing at all. By using a paint brush, only the line is wet, so it is no problem to mark correctly since the spot where the marking should be remains dry.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Free-motion quilting requires practice, practice, practice

chquilts: pink flamingos

With my husband's illness--he had a stroke in January--both of us have had some re-adjusting to do. He spends his time trying to get back to the way he used to be. I spend my time trying to keep things running along smoothly in our lives. Both are challenging. I find myself doing things I never did before, and some of them are admittedly, not to my liking. But, I temper that with stealing away moments here and there to head back to my sewing machine. 

I have long recognize the 'all work and no play,...' scenario. Quilting is my play. 

I find myself squirreling away a few spare moments when I can just to get some work done on my latest project; the above pink flamingo quilt, which I modified a little from the butterfly quilt-along designed by Leah Day. I committed to it ages ago, but only just recently started working on it. 

As John gets more independent, and he is doing more things on his own these days, I'm slowly getting back to having a little more time for quilting. I'm taking it too, even if it means letting the dirty dishes sit for a little longer or starting supper a little later.

I need the time because a little stitch here and a little stitch there just doesn't cut it. One thing I have noticed is that without dedicating some good practice time, quality may suffer. Free-motion quilting isn't like riding a bike. It is not a once you learn it you know it proposition. Free-motion quilting requires practice, and lots of it. 

I can't wait to comply with my own edict--to spend more time quilting. After all, it is fun to quilt. 

Truthfully, I can't wait to see this one completed. A finished quilt is the best thing ever. And by finished I don't mean simply done and bound. I mean thrown into the washing machine where the big moment of truth occurs. Will the colors run; will the stitches hold? 

Even when a few seams need to be re-sewn after washing, it is worth it because the texture of the quilt gets what I call "quilty." The fabric shrinks ever so slightly, puffing up around the stitches. The result is like magic. I can't wait to see this quilt finished. But until that time, I'm going to keep squirreling away time to work on it. I've said it before and it bears repeating--I love every aspect of the process of quiltmaking. From the decisions on colors, patterns, down to the precision cutting, sewing, and finally the quilting, it is all great fun and great therapy. 

So far, so good. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring cleaning -- a plus for sewing nook

Now that it is springtime, I am always troubled about the many things I want to do. I have an instinctive urge to clean everything around me, but my aging self no longer has the ability or stamina to rip into things the way I once could. So, I must prioritize. Often times, it is the little things that matter. That was the case last week when I sat down to work on my pink flamingo quilt.

I was simply running out of room.

Small spaces are a double-edged sword. It is nice to have everything so convenient and within reach, but it is also easy to become too cluttered to work.

A few days later, while cleaning out the laundry room, which is adjacent to my sewing nook, I came across a perfect innovation that solved two problems at once.

My laundry room project not only meant finally putting away those old sheets I used to protect plants from the cold weather, and tossing a few stray socks whose match has long ago gone missing, when I realized I had two ironing boards taking up valuable real estate. Both are in good condition.

One will go into the garage sale space. In the back of my mind, I remembered my need for more space for pressing. I wondered if I could store the ironing board beneath the counter in my sewing nook. I no longer have the room for sewing, cutting, and pressing since I installed a new acrylic sewing extension table, seen above. What if I put the ironing board under the counter where I sew? I wondered if it would fit?

Not only does it fit nicely beneath the counter, but it can be stored completely out of the way. This is the perfect solution. Wasted space is now useful. These are the kinds of things that make me very happy. I love being efficient. My chair fits beneath the ironing board, at its lowest setting. When I pull it out to use it, it is like pressing on my lap. Perfect! In fact, I used it to fold and press the binding strips for my pink flamingo blocks. The long narrow board is just right for pressing strips.

What a great little innovation.

In the meantime, I couldn't help but steal away a few hours to work on my pink flamingo quilt. I know this project will take some time, but I'm willing to take it slow. Below is the progress I've made so far.
I think I'm going to like it!


Monday, February 23, 2015

Stability in life and in quilting


Stability is such a fleeting thing. Just when you think things are going along swimmingly, something happens to alter your course.

Mine was altered when my husband became ill. I've had to switch gears a little, going from quilter to caretaker.

John had a stroke in mid-January, so all my energy of late, has been devoted to tending to him and his needs. In addition, I've been doing all the cooking, cleaning, chores and errands, many of which he used to handle. For a while, it was overwhelming, but I must be getting more efficient, since I've found a little time to get back to my sewing machine.

He is doing much better, but will have a long road yet to travel. 

I hadn't started on my Pink Flamingo quilt, the (Dancing Butterflies) quilt-as-you-go project with Leah Day, but I have done lots of thinking about it. All the planning in my head made it easier to dive in when I found a little spare time.

It felt good to get back to my project, which at this point was a pile of fabric. First, all the cutting. It was easier than I thought to cut out all those flamingos, as well as the background squares onto which they would be appliqued.

I've never used fusible web before, but that was in the pattern, so I carefully read the directions. I think I love it. It was easy to applique all the birds in place where I wanted them. I decided not to have them all facing the same way or to have all of them standing upright on each block.

I see lots more applique projects in my future!

I wasn't so sure I liked the idea of satin stitching all those shapes onto the background fabric either. But it really wasn't so bad. In fact, I think I like it. Letting the machine do the work is so much easier and turns out so much better than my attempts at needle-turn applique.

Speaking of stability...That reminds me of the tear-away stabilizer I was to use to secure my flamingos onto the background fabric. The stabilizer keeps the dense stitches from distorting the fabric.

I have a little tip. I have no idea if this is a common practice when using tear-away stabilizer, but I quite accidentally came across it.

When I did the first few blocks, I cut a huge square of stabilizer, the size of the motif and stuck it to the back of the block. It worked well, in that the stitching was uniform and without puckers or bubbles. But, when I went to tear it off, it was very difficult. Still, I muddled through for 4 of the blocks, cussing and tearing, tearing and cussing.

On the fifth one, it occurred to me that each square contained a large amount of unused stabilizer. I was worried that the roll I was using wouldn't be enough to finish the 12 blocks I had to do.

So, in my frugal way, I decided to improvise. When I put the square of stabilizer onto the back of the block, I held it up to the light and trimmed away that which was not near where I was going to stitch. On the sixth block, I pieced those remnants together, completely covering the area that needed stitching. It worked. In fact, it worked well because it was easier to tear it off.

So now, I have decided to just cut strips and place them where needed.

I wish I would have done that in the first place. It is so much easier. Once the piece is stitched, it is no problem to tear away these few pieces.

This is one of the things I just love about quilting. There are always new things to learn, new techniques to try, and new ways to do things that make the process all the more enjoyable.


Monday, January 5, 2015

New year, new quilt

Christmas projects are done, gifts are given, and decorations are put away until next year. It is a new year and with it come all kinds of quilting possibilities.

The first project is one that has been waiting in the wings for awhile. In fact, I wrote about it recently in a blog post entitled New quilting project; Tweak it until it speaks to you. I wrote about the latest quilt-as-you-go project from Leah Day, free-motion quilting mentor for quilters around the globe.

As I pointed out, this year's quilt along will be the Dancing Butterflies quilt. I eagerly signed up, but decided to use pink flamingos instead, but I was enamored with the pinkness of her project. I carried that through, but instead of purple tones, I am using aqua to compliment a room in our home that just so happens to be themed, pink flamingos.

A funny thing happened to my quilting fabric though. First, I ordered a couple of yards of aqua batiks from fabric.com, one of my favorite online go-to quilt shops. A couple of days later, I ordered several yards of pink fabrics from a different source--Hancock fabrics--taking full advantage of Christmas sales.

CHQuilts: Excited about new fabric arrivalWhen my first package arrived, it was the wrong fabric. How devastating! I called right away and was told that I may keep the fabric that was sent and they would get mine out as soon as possible. Now that is customer service. That was just Friday. Today is Monday and both packages arrived. Could I be more excited?

Needless to say, I am almost as excited as my cat, Ryan. I'm not sure if it is the soft, comfy cloth or the box that gives her the biggest thrill. Perhaps it is a combination of both. At any rate, this is proof that new fabric is always a good thing.

CHQuilts: new fabric means new project
Even though I picked this out online and the colors are always pretty true, it is always a thrill to see them (and feel them) in person. I couldn't be more pleased with these. And, I can't wait to get started on this quilt.

Fortunately, I ordered just a little more than I will actually need. I am starting to visualize this quilt and can't wait to see it done.

There is surely a long way to go before that happens though.

CHQuilts: pink flamingo quilt sample
Fortunately, I had a little fabric on which to practice. The blocks should look something like this.

I haven't yet decided how I want to do the applique, satin stitch, as the patterns suggests, or some other method. Here I just hand appliqued the bird and then outline quilted around it. I also have two shades of pink and aqua thread, so I plan to use contrasting colors to quilt both the background and the bird.

I'm also not sure if I want to make his beak and feet a different color or leave them as is. Hmm! My first inclination is to leave it this way, but I'm open to all suggestions.

Quiltmaking is just so filled with decisions. I want to take my time to make sure I make the right one.

The only thing I know for sure is, that I am going to love this quilt. It is going to fit right in to this room.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Quilting is simply magic!

I have been sewing Christmas table runners to give away as gifts for the last several weeks. This one will go to my daughter, Jenny.

I made two that were identical, using Christmas candy fabrics I had collected. I thought it might be easier to 'double my recipe.' It turned out that it probably wasn't any easier. In fact it was a bit more confusing to do two projects all at one time, since each table runner consisted of three identical blocks plus sashing. That meant cutting and sewing 6 blocks at a time, which translated into 6, 12, or 24 of each piece. I figured that with two projects, I could illustrate and share my thoughts about what I refer to as 'quilting magic.'

Consider this my version of a study in magic.

chquilts: quilting magic 1
This first photo, is what the item looks like when it is merely pieced and pressed, and pin basted. It is waiting to be quilted.

chquilts: quilting magic 2At this stage it is hard to imagine the finished item. The piecing and joining of each block is the dominant feature here, which really accentuates the precision of the cutting and sewing of each piece. 

Imperfect points are obvious. If there are any puckers or less-than-perfect seams, this is where they are most evident.  

It is almost finished. The quilting is done and the piece is quilted, and the binding is meticulously added to finish the edges. 

chquilts: quilting magic 3Now, the quilting is the dominant feature. Any imperfections in piecing are far less obvious. It is the quilting that stands out. This happens to be machine quilting, but hand-quilting offers the same magic. 

So, even if the stitching isn't perfect, and it rarely is, the eye seems to take in the overall look of the project. 

But, it isn't finished yet.

I never consider a piece finished until after it takes its first bath, both washer in warm water and dryer at the regular setting. To me, this is where the real magic takes place.

I tend to stress out at this phase, because I've heard horror stories. Thankfully I've never experienced one. But because after all the work that has been put into a piece, the last thing you want to see is a color that bleeds into another or seams letting go, or whatever other calamity might be possible. 

Whenever I wash a newly-completed quilt, I always use a Shout color-catcher. This product has never failed me. I highly recommend it. I've never been disappointed, even when washing browns, reds, blues, and black fabrics. The color-catcher has always done its job.  

Each time I take a piece out of the dryer, I marvel at how it looks. The quilting causes some shrinkage in the fabric that makes it look like it has relaxed and nestled in around the stitches. I liken it to putting your head onto a soft pillow at night. Your head sinks down into the pillow resulting in the kind of absolute comfort that allows you to fall asleep. 

I think washing a quilt enhances the beautiful texture that quilting creates. 

Gone are any imperfections. There is no more thought about imperfect cutting, sewing, or less-than perfect points. Even slightly wobbly seams just no longer matter. What results from all the processes that make up quiltmaking--each one that I love--is to me, just simply magic.




Friday, December 12, 2014

New quilting project; tweak it until it speaks to you


When I first saw Leah's latest quilt along project, I was drawn to it. Her Dancing Butterfly quilt was done in pinks and purples, my all-time favorites. Though I liked it, there was just something I couldn't put my finger on. When she offered a discount on the price, for Black Friday, I jumped at the chance.

chquilts: Black and white and pink all over quilt
I so enjoyed the last quilt along project with Leah Day, the one that resulted in my "Black and white and pink all over" quilt, at right, under the watchful paws of my girl, Kasey.

I love #quilting. Leah Day is a wonderful teacher who has perfected her skills in free-motion quilting and probably any other thing she endeavors. The beauty though, is that she shares her knowledge with anyone else who is interested. This makes her an excellent quilting teacher, who has already taught me so much. In addition, I like her attitude and demeanor. Who wouldn't love a woman who has the patience to teach her own husband to quilt? Josh was a big part of the Building Blocks Quilt Along, as he learned the skills right along with the rest of Leah's students; students all around the globe. I cannot imagine my husband having the patience to learn to quilt, or me having the patience to teach him. But these two are obviously special people and wonderful partners. It is a pleasure to support their efforts wherever I can.

Since this quilt along was such a positive experience, I really wanted to participate in her next project, which was also a quilt along, but with applique added. That is a skill I have yet to master, so I thought it might be beneficial to join in.

Dancing Butterfly Applique Sampler QuiltI loved the beautiful batiks and the colors she used. I am not normally someone who does exactly as I'm told, but I wanted to make this quilt just like she did. If she would have offered a fabric kit for sale, I would have bought it hands down, even though that isn't something I would normally do.

But since that wasn't an option, I found some fat quarter batiks on sale for a ridiculously reasonable price from Connecting Threads. I would have bought them anyway because they were beautiful, but I figured on using this delicious fabric for the butterfly project. Then I read the materials list. It called for 2/3 of a yard of several fabrics. I only had fat quarters. I didn't know if it would work, so I decided to rethink all my options.

I downloaded the pattern and examined several of Leah's videos. This looked like loads of fun, but something was bothering me. I attributed it to the hard decision to pick out just the right fabrics and thread colors.

In the meantime, I had ordered new quilting software Electric Quilt 7. I had EQ5, but it was so old and obsolete. I am a frugal quilter, so I really balked at the price of this software, at $189. That was too steep for my blood. Then, I found it on sale for $30 less on Amazon, as another Black Friday deal. I knew it would never be any cheaper. So I reasoned that it would be a nice early birthday present. Well my birthday is tomorrow and I got it two days ago. Not bad!

I started playing with the program. One of the best ways to learn new software is to just start using it. I decided I would try to mimic Leah's butterfly quilt design. I figured it out. Learning new software isn't much fun if you can't tweak it, so I changed the butterflies to pink flamingos.

Hallelujah! That was it! That was what was bothering me. It wasn't the decision about fabrics. it was that I wanted to make a quilt that spoke to me. Every quilt I've ever made has spoken to me.

What I really wanted; what I thought I really needed was to make a quilt that fit into our newly-decorated enclosed back porch.

Just this year, we installed a laminate floor and painted it turquoise using a pink flamingos theme. That's what I wanted! It was easy to use EQ7 to turn Leah's butterflies into my pink flamingos.

I can still do Leah's quilt along in every other way except for the animal depicted.

CHQuilts: pink flamingo designI still have decisions to make, such as applique or paper-piecing, as well as fabric and thread color choices. And there may still be some tweaks to the design, but it should be easier now though, since I have a great idea where I'm going and where I want to end up. I love everything about the quilting process, so to pick fabric shouldn't have been a hang up.

This is like a lightbulb went on. I believe this quilt really did speak to me.