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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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quilting as a problem-solver and stupid mistakes

Edited version of Image:Color_icon_blue.svg.
I just love the color yellow with all its tones!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nothing makes me happier than solving problems, especially when it involves #quilting. 

I have no idea why yellow is such a difficult color these days. My bathroom is yellow. My bedroom is yellow. For years, they have been yellow. I like waking up with sunshine and yellow mimics that beautifully. 

Finding throw rugs and other items like bedding, for that matter, is really difficult. I'm not sure when that happened. 

I solved the bedding problem when I made a yellow quilt. 

Most recently, I even resorted to replacing an old throw rug--you know that shag rectangle with the rubber backing--with a white one. It served its purpose, keeping me from flying out of the shower with my wet feet, but I hated it. It was hard to clean, even though it was only used when stepping out of the shower. It was a hair and fuzz magnet. Yes, I have cats.

One day not too long ago, I found a yellow throw rug at Big Lots, but there was only one. Ideally, I wanted two--one for just outside the shower and one for the below the sink. No luck, so I took matters into my own hands. 

The other day I decided to make a little quilted rug for that area. The design was simple. I made a similar flower in my last quilt--off the top of my head. This is probably right out of that book, All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten, except I never read that book. 

Anyway, it didn't take very long to cut a few pieces, sew them together and quilt it. It was done in a day from design to quilting.

I wish that was where my story ended. I was a little apprehensive about sewing the binding, since those are pretty sharp curves to deal with. So, I woke up the next morning, all ready to cut some bias strips. 

When I inspected my handiwork, my heart sank. I had sewn the brown center over the pedals without taking out the pins. Sheesh! If there is one thing quilting has taught me, it is how to deal with my many stupid mistakes. I seem to make them all the time. 

There was no way to unsew all the quilting, so the only option I had was to cut through the back to pull them out. They were bead head pins, so at least I could feel where they were. At first I tried a wire cutter, thinking I could just leave them inside, since they would be beneath two layers of batting. Then I thought about putting the tender soles of my feet onto a broken pin that was still attached to that bead. Finally, I got out my scissors and seam ripper and did a little surgery in six places on the back of my quilt. The holes are so tiny, they are hardly noticeable. I will cover them with a non-slip backing, which is necessary anyway. The binding wasn't bad either, so I'm glad to have another project in the books, and a rug in front of my sink.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New and better tools

Last summer, I wrote a blog post entitled "It is all about the tools." I referenced the benefits of my new Dritz Petite Press mini iron. 

Today I'd like to expand on the tools theme to add my latest acquisitions--a new adjustable height task chair and a sewing extension table. 

I don't have space in my house for a sewing room, but I do have a dedicated sewing area off the kitchen. It is sometimes a challenge to work in a small space, but I manage pretty well. 

Probably the hardest part is keeping the area neat and clean. I just finished my latest quilt, so there were threads and scraps and fabric yardage everywhere. I had bags of this and bins of that littered all over the place. 

There is little hope of keeping this area tidy while I'm in the middle of a #quilting frenzy. That is what I call the time when I'm finishing up a project am so busy I forget to eat. Fortunately I have a husband who cooks. 

During those times even my coffee gets cold because I'm too engaged to remember to drink it. 

But once that time is over, I actually enjoy the cleaning. I like folding fabric, sorting into sizes and colors, and then putting it all back into flat storage bins I keep under the bed. That is the primary place where my stash is kept. And those bins are invaluable tools.

My sewing machine is new and I want to keep it looking good, so this is also a good time to clean the surface of all the thread and dust as well as all that lint that collects near the bobbin. It is amazing how much builds up there. 

I also like to change the needle and rotary cutter blade. Quilting just isn't possible without those essential tools. Besides, I love being ready for the next project.

Latest tools
Since this new chair has black fabric on the back and seat, I made a covering for it, one that will not be a magnet for white cat hair, since my cats love my sewing area. That window faces south, so the sunshine, especially at this time of year is attractive to those with paws.

My new sewing table, made by Sew Steady, was custom made, ordered through my local sewing machine dealer. It is a tool that extends the base of my machine, mimicking a sewing cabinet. The machine is flush with the table, so I'm hoping it will help to support large quilts. It hadn't arrived in time to finish my last quilt, but I have no doubt it would have made the process of binding all those individual blocks together just a bit easier. Sewing all those seams was a bugger, and gravity was not my friend. 

I also hope this table will inspire me to try something new--to quilt an entire quilt--rather than simply blocks at a time. I've been thinking of doing this for some time now, but until now wasn't quite ready. I am now. 

As it turned out, this new chair, a typical office chair with no arms, is a necessity since the height of the table requires me to sit higher than I could with the chair I had been using. It also allowed the fourth dinging room chair to go back to where it belongs.

Tools are meant to help us be more productive. Although there are many things I want, I'm happy to settle for the things I need, those things that make me more efficient. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Love those finished quilts

Saturday night concluded another epic quilting journey. I doubt there is little that is more satisfying than finishing a quilt. 

I finished this about 7 p.m. which is way beyond my quilting comfort zone, but the power went out at our house for a couple hours. The idle time gave me a while to contemplate the quilting journey I was just wrapping up.

This quilt is from the Building Blocks Quilting project sponsored by my FMQ (free-motion quilting idol,) Leah Day. Her pattern for this quilt-along consisted of 42 blocks that focused on both piecing and FMQ skills. When I began the class, I already had some FMQ experience, but I always like to learn new tips, ideas, and techniques. I also relish the opportunity to practice my skills. There are some that I just can't quite master, like interestingly enough--the most basic skill--stitching in the ditch. I'm terrible at it. I need more practice at it.

My first decision
The pattern called for two solid fabrics, so the stitching would reveal mistakes as well as show positive progress. Many of the gazillion people who signed up for this quilt-along, from all areas of the globe, had never done FMQ before. 

This is my third FMQ quilt however, so I'm not a complete novice, though I still feel like a beginner in many ways. 

I had always wanted to do something with black and white fabric, which I had been collecting. So I decided early on to use a variety of that with my other favorite color--pink. To be honest, I'm not sure pink is my favorite any more. I've grown to love ALL colors. 
I also made a decision midway through that I wanted a bigger quilt. I reasoned that since I had never worked with varied-sized blocks before, I wanted to give that a try. So when everybody else was finished with their 42 eight-inch blocks, I was still at it. At this point, followed the lead of one of my fellow quilters on the Building Blocks Facebook page, that had put tiny pictures of her finished quilt blocks into the pattern grid. It was a good measure of our progress, clearly showing the yet-to-be completed blocks. I loved the idea so using Windows Paint, I took the pictures I had already taken of my blocks, resized them, and copied them onto the pattern. This is what it looked like. 

I then cut out each of those squares and individually pasted them onto graph paper, moving them around and adding a few double-sized or half-sized blocks. Because there were so many 8" x 8" blocks, I thought just a few additions would give the quilt added interest. I decided on double-sized blocks. Then I had to decide on a pattern for those 16" x 16" blocks. I chose my signature block, the Double Star, a Dresden Plate, a Chain block, and a flower block, all of which were in other quilts I've made. I made a couple of 4" x 4" blocks, one that was 8" x 16", and even filled in with a couple more standard 8" x 8" blocks. My-six by -seven block quilt had grown to almost twice the size of the original. It was now 7 blocks wide and 10 blocks long. 
Finally, when all the blocks were done, and I laid them out and took a digital picture of the final layout. At the same time, I tried to vary the layout of the back of the quilt. The printout was my final diagram. Then I set out to join the blocks with the QAYG (quilt-as-you-go) method. 

This was particularly challenging for me. I never did binding by machine before. I had a really hard time keeping my seams straight at the same time as trying to hold the fabric in place. I used my walking foot, but I'm not sure if that was a help or hindrance. It seems as though this took arm strength to manipulate that heavy quilt. I found it to be exhausting. The last quilt I did used 12" blocks plus a sashing around them which resulted in far fewer seams to bind. 

With the varied sizes, I had to also figure out the proper order to sew the blocks. It was not as easy as just sewing all the verticals and then all sewing all the rows together. 

Once I figured it out, I labeled each grouping of rows. For example the first row was easy; one after the other. But for the second row, I marked the first 2 blocks as row 2 A because they had to be sewn to the top of the 16" flower block. The next 3 blocks were labeled row 2B because they had to be sewn to row 3B before they could be attached to the huge star block, and so on. The figuring wasn't difficult, but following my own directions were a bit iffy. I got pretty proficient in seam ripping. More than once I sewed the rows incorrectly and had to flip them and do it all again. 

It took three full days and part of the fourth to finish this part of the process. When I finally reviewed the method for making a two-toned border, I had far fewer problems. In fact, this was the first time I bound a quilt without having to look up the directions on how to finish. I joined the binding strips on the first try. 

Taking this quilt out of the dryer and seeing that nothing had fallen apart, the colors hadn't run, and all the quilted areas were all poofy and quilty-looking, I was a happy camper.  

If fact I am anxious to start the next one. 

See this and other quilts from the Building Blocks Quilting Project here.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quilting challenges; jumping in with both feet

My quilting pursuit has led to an insatiable desire to further challenge myself. And, there are so many possibilities. It seems there are always new skills to practice and new ideas to ponder; there is always something to try that I haven't done before. From what I can see, quilting has no bounds.

This is such an exciting time to learn, not just about quilting, but whatever our interest. It is easier than ever before to get answers to each question that comes to mind. Just Google it. Someone has probably asked the same question already to which multiple answers are available.

For me, and my latest quilting obsession, my questions are often satisfied by the abundance of You Tube videos filled with instruction and inspiration. I'm so grateful to the many artists that have come forward to share information and techniques with the rest of us.

CHQuilts: Stars on Point quiltMy most recent quilt, 'Stars on Point,' was more to me than a comfy coverlet for the bed. It was a learning experience.

I learned new skills and honed some of those I had already become familiar with. I've already written about some of those in earlier posts, but to summarize, the following are just a few of my challenges from this project:
  • Moving bravely away from monochromatic projects; This is the first time I designed a two-color quilt.
  • More precise piecing; There is no end to the need for practice matching points and keeping seams straight. Precision is necessary in cutting, sewing, and pressing.
  • Practicing paper piecing; Some of these blocks were created using paper-piecing. I hated it when I first tried it. Now, I'm seeing how useful it can be and am anxious to further explore this technique.
  • Practice at free-motion quilting; I will always need to practice this skill. Thankfully, I have noticed an improvement since I first started. I am now more comfortable free-motion quilting. This is the second quilt I have done this way--as a quilt-as-you-go (QAYG) project, where the quilting is done before assembling the quilt rather than after. I'm hooked. I've learned that quilting is more than a way to anchor the piecing. It is a design element all its own, enhancing the look of the design.
  • First steps at modifying and enhancing a design; This was a Block-of-the-Month (BOM) project. When the year was over, there were 12 blocks that if sewn together and quilted traditionally would have made a perfectly acceptable and beautiful quilt. But I wanted more. So, I decided to set the blocks on-point, added 6 additional blocks and matching side triangles, to form a secondary pattern. Because the blocks are the same and form a linear pattern that travels across the quilt, they serve to draw the quilt together providing unity to what would have otherwise been just random blocks.
  • Laying out blocks on point, complete with figuring set in triangles; I have never done this before and didn't have the first idea how to start.
  • Carrying out the desired pattern into the set in triangles; I had no idea how to do this. Math equations, triangles and me, normally do not get along well, but I muddled through it.
  • Practice with Electric Quilt 5 (I bought it years ago and never used it); EQ5 saved me by allowing me to draw a template and figure the size pieces to cut for the setting triangles and corners.
  • Designing a pleasing patchwork backing; I wanted this quilt to be yellow and white gingham on the back, to be reversible, so I needed to follow a pattern on the front and on the back at the same time. I took digital pictures of the layout to help with that task.
The task at hand continues the challenge
CHQuilts: Black and white and pink all over quilt diagramI am currently working on Leah Day's Building Blocks Quilt Along, which I have also mentioned previously in CHQuilts. I've named it simply, "Black and white and pink all over."

The work on these quilt blocks is almost finished. The diagram at left isn't current, since I've already completed three of the six remaining blocks.

I've decided however, that it might be fun to challenge myself on this project as well. The blocks are going to finish at 8" x 8". There are 72 of them, so the quilt will be lap size. I've decided to add a few blocks to it. I have never made a quilt with varied sized blocks before, but that is my aim. I have no idea if this is going to work, or if it will look good until I lay it all out. I will do keep my fingers crossed.

CHQuilts: pink signature blockTo figure out dimensions and what I still need to accomplish my goal, I printed out this diagram. I cut out the individual blocks and pasted them onto graph paper, drawing in the additions. So far, I've sewed a couple of them. There will be a few 16" x 16" blocks, a some  4" x 4's" and perhaps a few 8" x 4" blocks.

My first endeavor was to add my favorite block--the double star block--which I refer to as my signature block. I have made several table runners using it and I have also put it into my last two quilts. This will make the third.

I just love everything about this block and I never tire of making it. I did, however, have to figure out how to cut the pieces to the right size since the instructions I have is for a 12" x 12" block. So, once again, I used EQ5 to draw the block and print out the proper dimensions. After many hours of trying to figure out the program again, it worked! This block is 16" x 16," so it will be one of three large blocks in the quilt.

CHQuilts: pink and black flying geeseI've pieced these three blocks, (left)--the second pic contains two 4" x 8" blocks--that will be used for fillers in this quilt. I haven't quilted them yet, but am thinking of an overall stippling design. I could probably stipple all day long. That is real progress, since the first time I did this overall meander stitch, it was anything but comfortable. Now, it feels perfectly natural.
CHQuilts: pink and black filler blocks
I enjoyed making these blocks. It was a day of mindless sewing as I was practicing making flying geese by sewing triangles together. That worked pretty well and this was the result. I was able to use up some scrap fabric, which also makes me really happy.

Waste not, want not!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Could there be a better compliment for a quilter?

CHQuilts: Ryan and Kasey snooze
With autumn in the air, the temperature  has cooled, both inside and outside the house.

I couldn't make the bed today, as it was still being occupied, long into the morning, even though I'd been up for hours.

When I got up, this is where I left them. It is apparently where they want to remain. Who can blame them? There is nothing more cozy than cuddling in a homemade quilt...just ask Ryan and Kasey.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hold my breath, close my eyes, and hope for the best

Washing a new quilt is like making magic


CHQuilts: freshly washed 1
Last night, I decided to hold my breath, close my eyes, and hope for the best. It was time to wash my newly-completed quilt. I had put it off all day, nervous about this final process. So much work and time went into this quilt that I couldn't bear to have to do any of it all over again.

I don't know how I would feel if any of the fabric raveled, stitches fell apart, or colors faded or ran. So I just held my breath, closed my eyes, and hoped for the best. Because of the vast contrast between the palest yellow and most vibrant turquoise, I also tossed in a color catcher.


I never pre-wash fabric before making a quilt. There is something about working with material right off the bolt that I really like. Not only that, but I despise the wrinkles, knotting, and needed pressing afterward. When I finally make my fabric choices, I want to get right to it. I do admit though, I'm growing more nervous about new fabrics however, since we all know nothing is as it used to be.

When I took my quilt out of the washer, a cursory glance made me feel better. The color catcher was a pale blue-green color, so I am glad I used it. I put my quilt into the dryer and followed the same procedure--held my breath, closed my eyes, and hoped for the best.

CHQuilts: freshly washed 2I settled into my favorite chair and watched some television as I waited. (I opened my eyes for this part.) About 30 minutes later, the dryer alarm summoned me. I unraveled the jumbled mass and much to my surprise and pleasure, my quilt had been transformed. I liked it before, but I love it now.   CHQuilts: freshly washed 3
CHQuilts: freshly washed 4 
I know instinctively that washing a quilt is like making magic, but I'm always cautious. No need. The quilting, which was somewhat dense in some areas cause the open spaces to pouf. The stippling that was so prevalent in many of the blocks turned out great, with just a hint of what I refer to as the stipple ripple. Even the border, which I was so unsure about, came out great. The stiffness in the white fabric I used for the backing was softened. The entire quilt felt rather stiff before, but now was soft and pliable. 

Still warm, I wrapped myself up in it, and settled back down into my chair. Soon, I had a cat come to snuggle, then another, then another. Finally, I had three of our four cats cuddling on my lap. Then one left and the other appeared. This is by far, one of the greatest moments of this quilt's history. I absolutely love quiltmaking.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Speechless for now!

I can hardly think of a thing to say, except that I have finally finished sewing the last stitch on this quilt, 'Stars on Point'. I love how it turned out and couldn't be more pleased. Mostly I'm pleased because it is finally done! And it's reversible!

In the coming days I will be more able to reflect on what a monumental project this was for me, challenging me in every way, especially with new ideas, skills, and techniques. For now, since it is the first day of Autumn, I think I'll just wrap up in it and revel in the fact that it is finally finished, after 32 months in the making.

CHQuilts: Stars on Point quilt

CHQuilts: Stars on Point reverse
 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nostalgia is more than a date on the calendar

I admit, I have been pretty remiss in posting here of late. I guess I just can't reconcile how to write about quilting while spending so much time at the sewing machine.

Over the last several weeks, I've been immersed in quilting, diligently trying to finish a project that in January will hit the three year mark. My aqua and yellow quilt, which I've written about many times before, is close to completion. I have no pictures to post; at least not yet. I swore to myself I wouldn't post a picture until it is completely FINISHED!

Not only has it been a joy to work on this quilt, but I have learned so much during the process. More about that when I post a picture.
 
Quilting is like sitting on a therapist's couch

Spending so much time at the sewing machine, it wasn't just my hands that were busy. At times my thoughts kept pace with the breakneck speed of my needle. 

One of the thoughts that popped into my head, came from a seemingly far away place--my first job--one that I held while I was still in high school. Perhaps my love of quilting was rooted far before I sewed my first stitch.

Nearly 50 years ago, I worked at Neisners, a five- and ten cent-variety store, located in a shopping center. I remember making $1.40 an hour, which was minimum wage at the time. It may not sound like much now, but it was enough to allow take the pressure off my parents when I wanted to buy bell bottom pants, mohair sweaters, Beatle records, and even to go roller skating on the weekends. 

As I was thinking about that job, I remember how much I enjoyed it. I worked after school and on weekends in the notions department. I didn't know very much about sewing in those days. But I liked all those little objects that were a part of it. Among the many tiny bins there were packages of needles, pins in heart-shaped plastic containers, pin cushions, safety pins, buttons, zippers, and the huge displays of thread. There were spools of thread in nearly every color, always neatly arranged. Rarely did we run out of a color. If I saw we were getting low, I ordered more. There were two or three rows of white and black spools, but there were also rows of colored thread arranged by varied shades from light to dark. In addition to waiting on customers, a big part of my responsibility was to keep all  the shelves, bins, and counters tidy. I was responsible for ordering, stocking, and arranging displays of all those items. In those days, workers were told to "look busy if there were no customers to wait on. I didn't mind that at all because I always had something to arrange or rearrange. I enjoyed the work, so I didn't mind.

I haven't thought about that job in years. Even now I struggle to remember more of the details. But, I remember enough to know that many of the practices I employed in that job have stayed with me, or perhaps come back to me. 
 
My sewing area is very small, so it is easy to make a real mess while working on a project. I have often laughed at myself for being so eager to clean up. When I finish for the evening or complete a project, I enjoy sweeping away stray threads, wiping away lint, sorting leftover fabric scraps, and generally putting everything in its place. I'm not a neatnik by any means; in fact, I'm quite the opposite in most other aspects of my life. But I really like a clean, efficient sewing area. I still like to arrange those little things. 

I'm relatively new at quilting--just 15 years now--so even though I thought all these tools of the trade were new to me, perhaps they really aren't. It wasn't until I really thought about it that I realize I am just revisiting a very old habit, one I undoubtedly was trained for from an earlier time in my life.  
 
I love that quilting is the kind of activity that lets me be alone with my thoughts. And there are times it is nice to revisit some of them.

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. 
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.