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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Quilting roots revisited; back to my first qulit




As I continue along my quilting journey, I decided to take a trip back to my roots. I finally signed up for a star membership in The Quilt Show, which is not unlike an online television show. I have no idea what has taken me so long to jump into this.

The Quilt Show, hosted by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims will keep me on my learning quest. It isn't that I needed more to learn because every time I pick up a needle I'm learning something new. I already have the motivation and inspiration. I could use a little more time to practice, but that will come. For now, I'm still enjoying the seemingly endless quest for quilting knowledge.

first quilt
This is where it all began
My very first quilt top
I spent yesterday watching a few of the past shows, with access to all the teachers and techniques that have been on the show since 2007. I may go through the episodes one at a time eventually, but for now, I'm just picking and choosing.

Simply QuiltsAlex Anderson provided some of my earliest inspirations for quilting. Not only did she host "Simply Quilts," a wonderful quilting show, but she was an excellent quilter in her own right. I used to watch religiously. If I knew I was going to miss it, I recorded it. Like so many others, when I learned it was going off the air, I was crushed. I learned so much from that show. Most importantly, I learned that I really wanted to make a quilt. I wasn't a quilter when I first started watching.

When I finally did get around to making my first quilt, I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to follow the steps laid out in my head from all I had observed for years. Finally, one day my daughter and I went to Joanne Fabrics in Orland Park, IL to pick out fabric. I hoped I was getting the right amount. I was exhilarating, but frightening to look at that pile of folded fabric. I realized right then that I loved having all those yards, half-yards, and quarter-yards in my hands. Nothing was as terrified as cutting into that beautiful bleached muslin the first time.

The picture is just the quilt top. I did finish the quilt. Never having done applique before, I made some mistakes, but when looking at the overall pattern, I can cut myself some slack. I never did needle-turn applique before. I figured back then that I can only get better. I picked out a simple rosette to hand-quilt into the empty spaces and outline quilted the elements of the Rose of Sharon blocks. It isn't the best-looking quilt ever, but it made me very happy to complete it.

I'm not sure when I finished this quilt. Judging from the photo though, this had to be taken sometime between 2003 and 2005. I notice a Delft blue container on the dresser that was from an arrangement I bought for my father's funeral in June, 2003. We moved out of that house in Jan. 2005. I completed that quilt in 2004 because it was done before we moved. I guess the moral of this story is to always make a label for our completed quilts.

I still put this quilt on the bed now and then. But mostly, it rests in good company, sitting on a quilt rack with the quilt my husband's mother made him when he graduated from eighth grade and one his late grandmother cross-stitched and quilted that she used on her bed.




Monday, July 20, 2015

So what's next? How about Orchid Flowers?

My pink flamingo quilt has been done for a few days now. Not having a project at my sewing machine has made me feel unfocused and a little scattered.

I need to get back to my sewing just to keep me sane, or at least aim for that.

I've been in a quandary though about just what the next project will be. I have so many ideas and there are so many options available. I have all but decided to revisit a UFO (UnFinished Object).

I think my next quilt will be one I started some time ago--a traditional Dresden Plate quilt in shades of lavender. I shall call her Orchid Flowers.

I did a little playing around with my Electric Quilt 7 software, just to come up with some kind of idea of what I want to do. I came up with this as roughly what it will look like.

Orchid FlowersI've always been drawn to these kinds of traditional quilts.

I already have a good start on this one, with several of the Dresdens already appliqued onto background squares. The squares are alternating white and off-white paisley prints. I love just about anything paisley. One day I am going to make an all paisley quilt, but I have some fabric to collect before that ever happens.

In my off-time, I'm also revisiting Craftsy's Quilt of the Month 2015 quilt. The class is taught by Jinny Beyer, one of my absolute heroes of the quilting world.

I haven't decided yet if I'm going to go all in--order the kit and make an exact duplicate of the beautiful quilt Jinny creates. There are always options, to just practice some of the techniques for another time, or pick out my own colors and fabric and go from there.

The kit is a lot of money to spend at one time, something I rarely do. I'm also a little leery of having a finite amount of fabric, just in case I cut into it and make a mistake. Ruining a piece of fabric would be costly, in so many ways. So the jury's still out on this decision.

I do love some of the techniques she teaches. In fact, I rather like the idea of piecing the quilt by hand. Jinny is masterful at her techniques. I love her color theory as well. I'm leaning toward purchasing the kit but haven't completely made up my mind yet. One morning I will wake up and know that is the right thing to do. I have always been curious about the beautiful border prints Jinny has designed. They look positively delicious. The colors are always rich and lovely. I have not had the time to actually participate in her classes, but I have watched all of them. The more I watch, the more I want to jump right in. But, I'm waiting until the time is right and I have a little more time.

I am also taking the Craftsy class with Peggy Martin on strip paper piecing. I have been watching those too before jumping in, and I'm starting to get excited about trying her techniques as well.

There is never a shortage of new things in the quilting world. I am so surprised by that. Each new door opens many others. There are so many things I want to try; there are so many things I have yet to perfect. Of course, the goal is always to master a skill, but more importantly, it is to enjoy the process along the way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pink Flamingo - latest finish

There is nothing quite like completing a quilt.

pink flamingos fill the lanai

I've been reveling in my latest 'finish' for a few days now, just looking at it, running my hands across the stitches, admiring my own handiwork, and at the same time, trying to ignore its imperfections. I'm pretty happy with my Pink Flamingo Quilt. I made it just for this room, the cat's room, or what I recently named the lanai (I decided to call it that so I can pretend I'm in Hawaii or some other tropical paradise.)

I think this quilt is a perfect addition. So, apparently does my Ryan, who is sunning herself in the morning's brightness of the east-facing window. Ryan is my best quilt critic, although I've never gotten any negative feedback.


Not only does this photo show one contented kitty, but it also shows some of the intense stitching that went into this project. Once again, I'd like to thank Leah Day, one of the best quilt instructors, for her quilt and stitch design. She is truly amazing, knowledgeable, and eager to help the rest of us become better quilters. This project was truly a learning experience and confidence builder.

This is my third quilt using free-motion quilting, or machine quilting. It is certainly a case of the more you do it the better you get. I still have some issues, but I can work around them.

Still not fond of stitch-in-the-ditch quilting
Interestingly, one of my least favorite things about free-motion quilting remains, stitching in the ditch, which is one of the most basic quilting practices. It is basically stitching between seams to outline elements in the quilt. I can stitch a straight line all day without aid, but when it comes to following that seam line, I just can't seem to control my needle. It seems to misbehave as it jumps from one side of the seam to the other on its own. As you can see above though, even a little needle mischief is hidden by the quilt itself, once it is laundered.

Love the magic
I have said it before and must reiterate--I love the ending of a project, but not just because it is finished.

I've always been the kind of person that saves the best for last. Like that last bite of cake is always the one with the most frosting, the best moment in a quilt project, for me, is when it has come out of the washer and dryer. There is no other way to describe it than to simply say it is magic. Stiff, flat fabric sewn together goes into the washer, but a soft, pouffy quilt comes out of the dryer. Somewhere in between during that whole laundering process, it magic happens!

As much as I love that last moment, it is always terrifying. I liken it to the first moment in quiltmaking which is just as scary. It starts when all those luscious fabrics that will make up the finished quilt are carefully chosen. They nestle together, folded neatly, to envision how the varying colors and patterns will compliment one another. Then, suddenly, the fabric is unfolded and meets the rotary cutter for the first time. Yikes!

But in the end, when the magic is happening, who can really be certain if the colors will run or fade, or if the fabric will shrink so much that it compromises the integrity of the quilt? After all, placing a newly-completed quilt in the washing machine is the first time you give up control of what took months to complete and represents hours and hours of work. You just never know what will happen to your beloved quilt inside the washer and dryer.

This practice has never come back to bite me--at least not yet! I always use Shout Color Catchers, which absorbs wayward dyes. I have never had a problem. If I did, I'm sure I would change my ways, but so far, so good.

I never pre-wash fabric
This process might be less scary if I pre-washed fabric, but I've never done that. Unless I am faced with a disaster, I never will.

I've often said that I love every aspect of making a quilt, from choosing the design, to the selecting colors, to picking out fabric; I love the cutting and piecing, and of course the quilting. If I had to wash all my fabric and iron it before I used it, that would not make me happy. That would be work. I don't work at quiltmaking. I do it for fun. Besides, I love working with fabric right off the bolt. I realize the fabric is treated to give it integrity, but that just makes it easier to work with. If I had to wash it, I'd have to starch it heavily just to put that texture back again. So, why bother?

So what's next?
There's the question of the hour. I haven't made that decision yet, but I'm working on it. This decision isn't an easy one either. Lots goes into making a quilt, so lots of thought has to go into it. When I devote months to a project, I want it to be one that I will enjoy throughout the entire process. So, stay tuned!




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.