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Monday, September 11, 2017

Accommodating my quilting bucket list

I’ve wanted to make a rag quilt for some time. I’ve also wanted to make a string quilt. Add to the mix, my desire to make a little quilted rug for my bathroom. I had a quilted rug before, but decided to use that as a table topper for my new file cabinet. So, I had nothing in front of the sink. That is no place for a naked floor, so I put all my bucket-list desires together and came up with a plan. 

This is the result. 



I took some leftover scraps from a yellow quilt, cut them into strips and made a few blocks. I got tired of that, and figured nine was enough, so I just alternated them with a few neutral yellow blocks. I made them all 6 ½-inch squares. Then I cut the same number of squares for backing, and a similar number of 5 ½ inch squares of batting. I placed all three together sandwiches together and sewed a simple “X” across them to hold them in place. I sewed a ½” seam between the squares.

 It was all done in one day. While watching TV that night, I snipped the seams, rather closely—in fact—close enough to make my fingers sore. I got it slightly wet and threw it into the dryer. The more I wash it the better it will look. For now though, it suits my purpose. I can’t wait to make a full size quilt with this simple method, but not until I invest in some ratchet scissors for all that snipping.

I have been saving old blue jeans just for this purpose. And, I have the cutest pink heart flannel to go with it. One of these days, I will actually get to it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Quilting never ceases to amaze me

I just realized that one more aspect of quilting--one that I had never even considered--is how it has improved my writing.

No, I don't mean writing as in crafting a blog post, I mean my actual handwriting. I'm a handwriting fan, always have been and always will be. When I heard that some schools wanted to do away with teaching handwriting, I was livid. I think it is a vital communication skill that is also a well-rooted tradition. Imagine if John Hancock and other signers, simply printed their names on the Declaration of Independence. But that is another blog post in another blog. In fact, I already wrote it. https://rural01.blogspot.com/2012/07/cursive-writing-should-always-be-taught.html

But back to quilting. I've noticed that since I've been free-motion quilting, I have to consciously try to keep straight lines straight, without marking the fabric (because I hate to mark). I have learned to judge distance from seams and other lines of quilting; in essence training my eye. I used to be embarrassed about my writing, because it was always uphill. I compensated by always buying stationery with lines. 

I'm old enough to remember when we used to write letters to friends and family. I always loved to communicate, so I wrote lots of them. I used to receive many compliments on my penmanship. When I was in grade school, it was my best class. I remember once my mother-in-law had to send out thank you notes for some occasion. I was honored that she asked me to write them because she liked my writing. Personally, I don't think it is anything special, but I do enjoy writing, even though most of my writing is done on the keyboard now, like everyone else. 
grocery list

I did notice though, while writing a shopping list or addressing an envelope, or whatever I write, that I don't write uphill anymore. Oh, there is still a little hint of it, but not like before. By the way, please don't judge my handwriting skills from this tiny snippet. And by all means, don't judge my spelling skills here either. Who spells strawberries with only one "r"? 

Anyway, you get the point...This is just another reason to love quilting. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I spray-basted a quilt for the first time

chquilts: ready to quilt
Ready to quilt my purple Dresden Plate quilt

I tried spray basting a quilt for the first time. Whoa, there has to be a better way. Or, I’m just not doing it right.

This exercise reminds me that when I said I loved every aspect of quilting, I lied. It isn’t a lie really, I’m just in denial about this part of the quilt making process. I have never been fond of this fundamental step-- putting a quilt top together with its batting and backing fabric—before the real fun begins. It is a very important step however.

I’ve tried several different ways and haven’t found one that doesn’t make me grit my teeth. I’ve used the traditional safety pin method, where I generally get aggravated or impatient or both, causing me to start skimping on the number of pins I use. I’ve tried Sharon Shamber’s method of rolling the quilt onto boards and then basting the three parts together a little at a time. She makes it look so easy. This is probably one of the best methods I’ve seen, but it remains timely and cumbersome with a large quilt in a small space, which is what I have to work with. This is why I wanted to try the spray basting method. I used 505 adhesive spray.

The only positive thing I can say about this step in the quilt making process, is that it is necessary. Without it, there is no process; There is no quilt. For me, that is just not an option. So, I will continue to grit my teeth.

While I recognize that perfecting this technique would be well worth it, this was just my first time spray basting. I do see the benefits. Admittedly, I struggled with getting all the layers smooth. I disliked all the on-the-floor, off-the-floor, on-the-floor that was necessary. I think hanging the quilt would make it much easier than rearranging all the living room furniture, shooing the cats away, and hoping I didn’t glue all my belongings together, not to mention the bending, stooping, and walking in circles. My only hope is to try Patsy Thompson’s method, which involves hanging the quilt and letting gravity help keep things straight. I will try that next time.

Spray basting was only part of my problem

This is also the first time I used an oversized backing fabric. I had picked out a fabric that I already had, but didn’t really like it. I decided to purchase a nice piece of lavender print that was 104” wide. I bought four yards of it.

I have been looking at this quilt for some time, actually. It was started ages ago. As outlined in a prior blog post, initially I wasn’t happy with it. It was square, so I enlarged it, adding an entire row with four brand new blocks, all the sashing and cornerstones. I was amazed how well that worked. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know. Then I decided I wanted to add the final border. I love how that turned out. It makes the quilt about the right size and in my mind, sets off the pattern nicely. But working with all that fabric was a headache.

First I got out my iron and ironing board. Yikes! By the time I pressed the last of it, the first part was already wrinkled. I just looked at it for a few days, wondering what to do next. I laid out the back, unrolled the queen sized batting on top, then added the quilt top. There was lots leftover. I trimmed away some of it, which helped a little. The table I was working on was always adequate in the past. I’m not sure why it was such a struggle this time, but it certainly was. Finally, I folded the would-be quilt, with all three pieces and left them for a while. I had to figure out what, where, and how to get this thing basted.

Finally I decided Friday night was it. Tired of looking at this pile of pretty purple fabric, I want to start quilting again. I decided the living room was it. I vacuumed. I moved all the furniture. I used painter’s tape to secure the corners and the middle of the backing fabric. Of course the tape didn’t stick to my vinyl flooring. I did the best I could though and spray basted one half at a time, first the top to the batting, then the batting to the backing. Then the other half. I did the best I could. Finally, I was able to slide a quilting hoop into the middle and secured it into place. Just the look of a quilt ready to be quilted is comforting to me. I placed the quilt hoop onto a wooden snack tray. The quilt drapes onto the floor, but should stay in relatively good form. Ryan, my cat loves new quilts, so I placed a towel on it to protect it from cat hair. Ryan is now its guardian.

I’ve decided to hand-quilt this quilt. I think the traditional pattern deserves traditional quilting. I’ve already taken a few stitches. Oh my, this is not comfortable. I am very rusty. I will need lots of practice, but that will come. I started by drawing a spiral into the middle of one of the Dresden plates. Wow, this is harder than I remembered. So much for quilting being a relaxing activity. Right now, I’m tense, the lighting is terrible where I’m working, my stitches are not uniform, and I definitely need to find my rhythm. That will come. Now, I’m ready for those cold, winter nights. Bring it on!

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.