Tuesday, February 27, 2024

I completed my first Judy Niemeyer project

Star Baby quilt

Thanks to the generosity of a quilter friend, I just finished the piece to the left, a challenge that could potentially take my quilting to the next level.

This quilt -- Star Baby – was designed by Judy Niemeyer, a well-known and loved quilt designer who has taken foundation paper piecing to almost impossible heights. This technique is where fabric is sewn onto a foundation paper which is later removed. At the very least, it encourages perfect points and matching seams. And it is all about precision.  

I have tried a few paper pieced projects and did alright with them, but I can’t say I am really comfortable with it – yet!

Niemeyer is arguably, one of the best quilt designer/paper piecers I’ve ever seen. Her work is exquisite. Her designs are often best of show winners.

I knew a Niemeyer quilt project was way beyond my skill level, so, I’ve been content to challenge myself in other ways, always learning new skills and practicing those I still need to perfect.

Bali Wedding Star block

But a few weeks ago I ran across the photo of a quilt I just fell in love with. I don’t remember where I saw it, but I knew that one day, I would have to make it.

It is a Niemeyer creation called Bali Wedding Star and was designed several years ago. There are lots of examples of this design on Pinterest. It is a variation of the Double Wedding Ring quilt pattern. An example is at right. This is just four blocks. Imagine the beauty of an entire quilt made of these blocks.

Inspired, I did a little research, scouring the Internet and You Tube for all I could find on Niemeyer, her website Quiltworx, and this quilt pattern in particular. One day, I will make this quilt.

What I learned with all my internet sleuthing was that I was correct to believe that a Judy Niemeyer quilt really is out of my league. I still see myself as a newbie, despite quilting now for nearly 30 years. I take it slow though, learning as I go, making perhaps one quilt every year and always one at a time. But each new skill just makes me want to go further. From what I can tell, quilting is an endless endeavor. There is always something new.

My path has taken a turn

One day not too long ago, I commented on a post by a quilting friend on Facebook who I actually went to high school with, Jane Schwab Coons.

Jane and I may have shared some classes but we weren’t close friends in school; so I’m not even sure we knew each other beyond passing in the hallway between classes. Who can remember; it was a very long time ago? But for several years I’ve enjoyed being her Facebook friend. She has been quilting for 44 years, has worked in the quilting field, and has does beautiful work. She teaches, and has guided students for most of her quilting years.

“I love all things quilty,” she says, adding that she especially loves gathering and sharing all quilt-related things. She taught herself to work on a computer early on as well, and uses it for designing. She is also a long arm quilting pro.

I told Jane that I was smitten with Bali Wedding Star, but knew it was way beyond me. She responded by saying she had an easier Judy Niemeyer quilt kit that she wanted to send me, as a gift. She said it had been lying around her studio for a long time and it would be beneficial to her to do some purging. She messaged me to say that she had mailed a box to me, and to let her know when it arrived.

When it came a few days later, I was flabbergasted. Not only did she send the quilt kit she described, the one I just finished that is pictured above, but she sent another one as well, along with some other Niemeyer patterns. I felt like it was Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. I messaged her right away to thank her and tell her I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

And dive in, I did. I watched You Tube videos on how to read Judy’s patterns. They are like little booklets, even for this relatively simple beginner pattern. It is called Star Baby and is basically a mini Lone Star pattern. I’ve always admired the Lone Star because of its significance to Native Americans.

The Lone Star stands for honor and generosity, important virtues among the beliefs and traditions of the Lakota (Sioux) people. The image of a star quilt serves as a reminder of the significance and honor that comes from giving to others. It is often given to honor individuals at birth and other milestones throughout life. It is so fitting that Jane sent me the mini version of this pattern. I see it as a testament to her own generosity. I am grateful.

As I began looking at the directions, I was pretty intimidated. Not only is Niemeyer a fantastic designer, but the way she designs the instructions to make her quilts, she has to be an organizational genius. She covers every aspect of making the quilt, breaking down each pattern into sections, taking one step at a time, and including tips that she has perfected on her own quilting journey.

So after just one small project, I have joined countless other “Judy Junkies,” who are enamored with the work Niemeyer produces.

As for my journey, I did OK with my project. I botched the color placement. I should have used more contrasting colors next to each other. But frankly, I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing. I was just thrilled that it worked out. I was so worried about following the directions that I didn’t even think about how it would look. So, now that I got my feet wet, I’m sure I will do better next time.

I see more foundation paper piecing in my future. And, I can’t wait to get started.


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

New Year, new quilt


As we embark upon another new year, and it seems like this story has played out so many, many times before, it is time to think about new quilting endeavors, not to mention completing some old ones. 
While I am not into New Year's Resolutions, I am rather excited about the upcoming year as it pertains to quilting. 
I'm looking forward to a new block of the month (BOM) quilt pattern that will begin Jan. 1 and continue throughout the next 11 months. As in the past several projects, Pick a Petal is hosted by The Quilt Show. Their offerings do not disappoint. 
These undertakings, in my view, offer an opportunity to grow as a quilter, often with new skills to learn and practice. Quilt Show BOMs are not easy, by any stretch, thereby providing me with the challenge I seem to crave in my quilting quest. 
This quilt will include some embroidery.
Sometimes I think I forget skills I just learned. I make the dumbest mistakes at times, which provides a little humor to my quilting life as well. After all, if you can't laugh at yourself when you bungle something when you know you know better, what is the point of trying? I see it as all part of the process. It is what seam rippers are for. I admit, I am getting pretty good at unsewing.
Case in point: My new quilting studio remains a bit stark with little, so far, to distinguish it as a quilting studio over simply a spare room.
So I decided to make a small table topper for a letter sorting case that my late husband used when he worked for the U.S. Postal Service.
I didn't want to fuss over anything, so I decided on a simple log cabin design. I even printed out a pattern, so as to not have to think much the size and number of strips I would needed for four blocks. 
I picked out fabrics and set out to follow the pattern. Well, that didn't work. The size was all wrong. 
I ended up measuring each strip and cutting it to fit. Then I realized I was sewing the strips in the wrong direction. I was on the third round when that occurred to me so I had to rip out all the seams and start again. Jeez! After all these years, screwing up a log cabin is pretty sad since it doesn't get much easier than this. 
But, I laughed at myself and persevered. I worked well after dark but got it done. It dawned on me, that my studio is a very pleasant place to hang out, even if it was a little longer time than I had intended.
About those old projects: I am hoping that this is the year I can get my act together and quilt one, two, or all three quilts I have yet to complete. The tops are done, and for one of them I have already decided on the backing fabric. I have purchased the batting and just need to get to it. I'm excited to get the past behind me and look forward to a new year and new projects.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

More than just a completed quilt top

It has been a busy year for me, for so many reasons, but my favorite part was finishing this quilt top. I loved every minute of it.

This is my version of "Homeward Bound," a block of the month, which means it took 12 months to complete. It was the 2023 project offered to members of The Quilt Show, designed by Sarah Fielke of Australia.

For profoundly personal reasons, this one means a lot to me. I just wish my late husband John was here to see it completed. This one will always remind me of John, who tirelessly encouraged my quilting and was always complimentary about every quilt I made. 

He had quilt appreciation in his DNA I believe, since his mother and grandmother, with whom he lived his entire life until he met me, were quilters. In fact, his grandmother still quilted when she was in her 90's. She did some amazing work.

I wasn't a quilter when John and I met. That was in October 1976. I didn't make my first quilt until 2004, but I knew then that this was something I would always want to do. And I have never looked back. This blog is filled with stories of my adoration for quilting.

John always raved about the many colors in my quilts, though I've always wondered just what he actually saw when he looked at them. I used to consult with him about color combinations until I realized he didn't see them the way I did. I used to laugh when he said our cats were black and white, though he insisted. They are in fact, gray and white. Color blind, he had trouble distinguishing shades and even colors, confusing blue with green and red with pink.

Making the quilt with a black background was also John's idea. He mentioned it once a few quilts ago, "Why don't you use black instead of white?" he asked. So, this one's for you, John. 

He liked what he saw, the first four months of work which included that entire center section. He died in May, the fifth month.

Quilting Therapy  

I have mentioned in a previous post during my years of taking care of John, a stroke victim with disabilities, how quilting was my therapy. That was never more true than with this one. I worked on it when I was exhausted, emotional, and just couldn't seem to do or think about anything else. My brain no longer worked, but my fingers did. Hand-sewing dominated this quilt and I learned to love the mind-numbing needling that to anyone else might have seemed tedious. I love hand sewing however and plan to do it as long as my fingers still work.

The same was true for my journey into the grieving process. While little else did, stitching brought me comfort.

First in my new studio

I worked on this quilt while my new quilting studio was being remodeled, as outlined in a prior post. As has become customary, I turned to the quiet comfort of hand-stitching while chaos surrounded me.

When I finally got to work in my new quilting space, the final border was done in two days. I was completely immersed in my new surroundings, on a new machine, at a new quilting table, in front of a window where colorful leaves gently fell outside.

Finally finished, the icing on the cake was when I was able to take a picture of this quilt top hanging on my newly affixed design wall. Never before have I been able to take a picture of a hanging quilt top. I was able to enjoy a new perspective on a finished quilt top that I had never had before as I looked at it straight on instead of it on the floor or a bed. 

Those two days in my new studio were wonderful, even though I realized I have lots of organizing and arranging still to do, but that will come. I hope to hone skills there, both organizational and creative. I'm now ready for a new year and a new project. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Operation sewing studio commences

As mentioned in a prior post, Operation Sewing Studio, I am in the process of converting a bedroom into a sewing studio. While the space is starting to take shape, progress has been slow, but steady. 
It remains far from where I want it to be.

I know that I have a long way to go because after spending some time working on a quilt in progress and sewing together some pieces of scrap fabric into what will one day be another quilt, I wasn't entirely comfortable yet. And,
I realize that a little organization is in order.

I am beyond grateful for the help of family and friends who not only came to help empty this room after I lost my husband earlier this year, but who have offered support and encouragement. Thanks to Terry of TLM Construction for doing the heavy lifting.

Just moving all that sewing “stuff” into a room does not automatically make it a sewing room. And just a room is not what I am after. I envision turning this simple room into a studio, a place where just walking through the door will invoke an inner creativity.

I still need to make a design wall. I need some quilty things on the walls. I need to organize tools, templates, rulers, needles, pins, thread, and scissors, etc. And, I need to be able to find all the things I’ve organized. This could be the hardest part.

I have purchased a new sewing table and sewing machine, had carpet removed and new flooring installed. The walls are painted for the first time, in a color I love. But I am far from done. The trim needs to be finished. And I still have a closet filled with sewing things that need a place, as well as a somewhere to put a plethora fat quarters and less than yard pieces of fabric.

I can’t say I am comfortable sewing here yet, but walking into this room does put a smile on my face.  It is especially so when I think about all the quilts I have made in the tiny sewing space I had before, which was a small countertop off the kitchen, pictured in my previous post, Operation Sewing Studio.

It is still too new, but before long, I hope to find comfort, pleasure, and creativity in this space. Only then will it fulfill my expectations. I’m excited to see where this all goes.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Operation Sewing Studio

I have a new focus, a new way to use whatever energy I can muster at my age. I’m calling it Operation Sewing Studio.

For the last eight years, I have been caring for my husband John who had been ill for eight years. Disabled, he spent most of his time either in bed or in a power chair. Sadly, he passed away a few months ago.

During that time, I managed to steal away an hour here or an hour there for my own kind of mental health therapy – quilting. I could not have gotten through those years without it.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” said Benjamin Franklin. While I don’t personally believe in a devil, the quote is certainly not lost on me. I have spent my life working with my hands, mostly in the form of knitting and crocheting. Not only have some lovely pieces come out of my efforts, but I know of no better way to organize my thoughts, contemplate new ideas, reminisce about days gone by, and even dream about things to come.

I started quilting about 25 years ago, inspired by local quilt shows and meeting quilters who had already fallen in love with their craft. I was amazed that quilting embodied so much more than a two-colored log cabin bed covering or other traditional patterns I had seen over the years. I realized that the sky was the limit to what could be created. I’m not there yet. I haven’t yet tapped into my own creativity. I may never get there, but I will always consider that there are no limitations besides those I place upon myself. Even if I never become a quilt designer, I still see so much value in the art itself. I may remain content in the cutting and stitching of fabric into something warm, wonderful, and beautiful that somebody else designed.

When John got sick, I had already made several quilts. I decided many years ago that I would always be a quilter. I realized early on that there is no end to the challenge, skill, creativity, and absolute joy it brings to work with beautiful fabrics in every array of colors imaginable.

Whether I take my quilting to the next level, whether it is creative or if I use this medium to carve out a living I still believe I will always be a quilter.

I have made the decision to move from my small quilting area – a breakfast counter overlooking the backyard – to a spare bedroom that was in need of an update anyway. I am turning a spare bedroom into a sewing studio – a place I plan to spend lots of time in the coming days.

So far, I have purchased a new sewing machine, a Janome Skyline S5, which is just perfect for my current needs. I have ordered a sewing table in which to put it. The room will be painted periwinkle blue, a color named for a Doris Day song my late father loved. New vinyl wood planking will replace the worn out carpet that has definitely seen better days. And I have ordered a Day Bed with a trundle for when visitors come or if the cats want to hang out while I sew.  

My view will be the front yard instead of the back. And, I’m hoping the old breakfast counter will hold lots of plants in that south-facing window. These changes already make me happy, and they are still only in the planning stages. But that’s OK. Once things are all in place, who knows where my quilting life will take me. As my favorite newsie says, "Watch this space."

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Homeward Bound is a fun project so far

My latest quilt project actually began in January; it is a Block of the Month (BOM) originating from The Quilt Show, free to Star members. I am proud to participate in the Quilt Show, a valuable resource for quilters. I learn new things every time I sign on.

This quilt is called Homeward Bound and was designed by Australian designer and teacher Sarah Fielke. 

While I have completed four months of this project, I have embarked on a bit of a lull at the moment, having completed my 4th month. I couldn't wait to create the fourth month Coneflowers, so I created my own pattern for them in the 3rd month without waiting for the official pattern. That left the whole month of April free for yard work and other chores that often take a back seat to my love of quilting.

I believe this quilt top will be gorgeous when it is done, many, months from now. 

As is typical for me, I decided to make this my own by choosing fabrics and colors from my own fabric stash rather than purchasing the kit that was offered. Tweaking colors is about as daring as I've ever been to quilt design—which is not very far at all. That is my goal and desire; I want to design my own quilts someday but I feel I have lots more to learn before I get there. At the very least, I enjoy the option to take a pattern I like and adapt it to my own taste through the fabrics and colors I use.

My first decision was to make this quilt with a dark background. I have never made a black quilt before, but thought this might be a worthwhile endeavor as well as fun for a change. All the other fabrics I will use will showcase my favorite colors and patterns; I will use fabrics I have collected over the years. Picking out fabric is an important first step, one over which I often agonize.

With so many small pieces to applique, this might even be considered a scrappy quilt. Quilters always have plenty of scraps to choose from.

I love handwork with a preference for needle-turn applique. I am far from perfecting this skill, so I plan to keep practicing. This project will provide plenty of that.

This is the progress I have made thus far on this project in this, the fourth month. 

This is the progress I have made thus far on this project in this, the fourth month.

I find myself watching the calendar for the next step. I can't wait to get started on it. I can’t wait to see what May has to offer.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

I make quilts, but for now, they aren't for sale

My quilt inventory keeps growing. For some, this might be a problem, but not for me. Seeing quilts all around me makes me happy. When I look at them, I remember working on them as well as the techniques I learned while making them. I like seeing colorful quilts on the back of chairs, couches, hanging on doors, and on display wherever I can place them. 

I recently purchased a ladder on which to display several of my favorite quilts all in one place. 

Oh wait, they are all my favorites!

Ironically, I do not have a quilt covering my bed. I do however have one folded neatly at the foot of the bed. I also have one hanging from a rack on the wall, above, and another quilt rack on the floor that holds the first quilt I ever made and a couple that my husband inherited.

I have been asked many times if I would ever consider selling them, but I just can't. Only on rare occasions have I given some away, but only to family members. I have never been commissioned to make a quilt. 

I have made many different small projects to give away as gifts but I have nearly all the quilts I've made in the last 20 years. None are "put away." They are all out in plain site, which is just how I like it.

For me, quilting is a quest, a project, a challenge, a skill, an art, a learning experience, and therapy; quilting is basically a highly personal endeavor that takes a year or more to complete. There is no way to put a price on that. 

I truly love the process of making a quilt. From choosing the colors and selecting fabric to hand or machine quilting, to hand-sewing the binding to washing the finished product, I do every step of the quilting process myself. I don't employ long-arm quilters. I don't just piece a quilt and then pay someone else to quilt it. I love all that goes into making a quilt and revel in all the many steps it takes from start to finish. 

The only possible exception to that is putting the quilt top together with batting and backing and securing it through some sort of basting to get it ready for the quilting. Because of my limited space, basting is not an easy task and one I'm not too fond of. But once the quilt is sandwiched together, I am back to loving every stitch, whether it be by hand or machine. I love both methods.

I don't quilt when I have the time so much as I make the time to quilt.   

I don't have as much time to devote to quilting as I would like, but I steal away hours here and there.

For the past eight years, I have been the sole caregiver for my husband who is disabled. I do all the chores around the house and in the yard, all the cooking and cleaning and take care of our three inside cats and feed our three outside cats. I do not have much spare time, but when I do, it often involves quilting. If I'm not sewing myself, sometimes I just watch other people sew on You Tube or my favorite quilting sites. Quilting is my obsession.

All this said, I can see a time when I may want to make quilts to sell. It just hasn't happened yet because the challenge is what inspires me the most. I guess that is because I am still learning, still trying to perfect my skills, and most importantly, still challenging myself. But I am getting there. Some day I may go into the quilting business, but for right now I am content with the way things are. There are still so many techniques I want to try and traditional patterns I want to make.

I don't have a quilting studio, so any business I would undertake would have to be limited. I basically have a breakfast bar that I've converted into my quilting space. I've written about my space in the past. It is very small, but it works for me. There is a place for my sewing machine, as well as a cutting and pressing area. What more could a girl ask for? I've machine quilted large quilts there quite handily. The only drawback to a small space is that it must be tidied often. I am limited to one project at a time because there just isn't room for more. That is OK too, since one of the other things I love is all the organization necessary to keep my space functional. I use baskets, cubbies, jars, and whatever else I can come up with for organizing the myriad tools and multitude of what-nots that are necessary for quiltmaking. 

So, for now, I have no interest in turning my obsession into a business, but stay tuned, because who knows what the future will bring.