Saturday, April 18, 2015

First Birdhouse

Here's the first birdhouse stitchery that I've finished for Leanne Beasley's stitchery quilt, Down in the Garden. It will finish at 7" square, and there will be four all together, placed around the corners of the quilt.

Back in November this was the first block that I used for my Ink Week experiment, and the birdhouses were the reason for the ink in the first place. I was very concerned that the flowering vines would over power the birdhouse. So, I thought that colouring it in with the ink would keep things organized and clear. Even though the ink turned out very pale, I think it still helps.

The last time you saw this block, it looked like this:

The leaves and flowers were all in stem stitch, and the purple was DMC 209. Normally I like that shade of purple, but against the almost fluorescent green and blue it looked surprisingly brown and drab. It has been sitting around for months, but this week I took it out in daylight, and realized that it had to change. Here's the same section now:

I changed the flower colour to the periwinkle DMC 340, and stitched everything in back stitch instead. The yellow is true in the second photo, it is very light. I think it was much better to keep the stitching light and fresh too. I've revised the colours for all the flowering vines several times, and I've realized now that it will be best to keep them all bluish and cool.

Now that's all decided, I have fresh motivation for these birdhouses. For a couple of months I've seriously considered redoing them completely in applique to give them more oomph. But I think the real problem is that all winter I was looking at them in artificial light. It all looks different in the daylight, and I think it's finally coming together. (In my head, I mean -- there's still plenty of stitching left to do!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Long Time, No See!

Remember those diamonds I made in March (here and here)? Well, this is what they are for. The last time I posted on this project was almost three years ago. Since then, it's been growing!

I have already written more than enough extensively on this project, and it went through many changes. But, the end is in sight and the plan has pretty much jelled. I started with these three cross stitch designs by Jim Shore:

They were stitched on raw linen aida instead of the perforated paper in the kit, and the plan was to stack them vertically and sew them into a long quilted banner. In 2012, the paper pieced borders were going very slowly, and the project got pushed aside.

Over a year ago I thought that a long, skinny banner didn't feel right to me. I decided to line them up horizontally instead, and add a couple of borders to make a wall quilt with some presence. The question was whether I had enough of the original fabrics:

The orange fabric was my main worry, because I knew I wanted it for My Country House too. Fortunately, I still had lots, and after searching high and low I was able to find all the other fabrics too.

So in January I easily finished up the last four of those green flying geese borders. My paper piecing is so much better now! I know it looked ok, but I have learned some things since then. The Quilt Show had a Carol Doak video available a year ago, which was very helpful. Also, the Judy Niemeyer instructions with Prairie Star had a surprising amount of good information, and improved my technique as well.

From the start the tricky part with this project was going to be joining the aida and the pieced sections. I used a narrow strip of dark green fabric to frame the cross stitch and transition to the quilt fabric. I carefully trimmed the aida and left a 4 thread seam allowance. Then I pinned the green strip to the front, and from the back I carefully (and slowly!) machine stitched four threads from the edge. Then I went back and stitched a second line three threads from the edge to anchor it:

By accident I found that if I lined up the pins along that fourth thread, it was easier to stay on course:

Then the last step was to trim the seam allowance down to one thread from the stitching:

So, it was a lot of slow, careful machine sewing, and I ended up taking a one month break in the middle, but I am happy with the result so far:

After I finished the hard part yesterday, I was excited to put it up on the wall and see how it looked with the second and third borders:

Why did that look wrong? It's just because I cut the light green second border oversized, I said to myself. Out came the tape measure. Argh! There's an extra diamond block in the top and bottom borders. How did I manage to make too many? I decided which two diamonds to eliminate and just pinned them under for now:

I'm going to applique some flowers in the light green second border. I spent the rest of the day yesterday auditioning fabrics and cutting out the appliques. That's when I really start to feel creative! After all that, I finally realized that the diamond side borders were wrong too! They should be one diamond longer, which accounts for the "extra" diamonds along the top and bottom. Argh again. That fix won't be quite so simple, and I'll have to juggle things around to keep it balanced.

But, the applique flowers are all figured out, so that will keep me busy for a while!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Early Crocus

Here're some shots of our first flowers, taken on Saturday. These early crocus are half the size of regular crocus, and they are about a week later than normal. You can see the grass is still mostly dead, but there are some new shoots showing up in the next photo:

No, not many!

It seems like spring photos are all around the blogosphere this week. Wanda in Illinois has forsythia blooming already -- we have maybe another week before we see that here by the lake, but they may be blooming in other warmer parts of the city. Daphne in Victoria has full grown tulips, but Victoria had cherry blossoms even before they did in Japan. Rebecca gets the prize -- it is still snowing in Alaska. Although, Christine tells us it can snow at Easter in Greece too!

As you can see, our snowdrops are still holding on. This week will be the first week where every day will be above 10 C (50 F), so they'll be gone soon. With luck, we'll see the full size crocus by the end of the week. Right now though, this is all we have:

Ah, spring!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Country House Landscaping

Gosh, I see it is almost two months since I last showed this block! It's the centre block for Lynette Anderson's 2015 BOM, My Country House. I had to re-sew the roof seam on the machine before I could applique the trees. "I'll just wait until I have white thread in the machine," I thought. Did that happen? No. Finally I threaded the white thread specifically for that one seam. It only takes a minute -- silly, isn't it?

Anyway, it gave me lots of time to mull over the width of the strips for the trees. In the pattern the trees are a little Christmas-y, with stars at the top and an evergreen shape. The tree trunks are thicker than the branches. My version is smaller at 3/4 scale, decidedly summery, and I knew I wanted to change the tree shape and put leaves all the way around the top. Finally I decided to make all the stems everywhere on the quilt the same 1/4" size, using the Clover 1/4" bias tape maker. I like the feathery look to the trees. Plus, with the smaller scale I think consistency with the stems will be cleaner, and help to tie the whole quilt together.

The stems started out pretty wild...

...but they were soon pruned down to size. The leaves are big chunky detached chain stitches, done with four strands of floss, two medium and two light green. When you compare this with the first photo, you can see other changes as well. The doorknob was done in padded satin stitch:

While I was sewing the doorknob, the window above the door started to look too empty. As an experiment, I filled the space with the same motif as the gingerbread along the eaves. It seems like the obvious choice now that it's done, doesn't it?

But after that, the original gingerbread along the eaves looked very dingy, and I became convinced that I had used a different, less white, thread. After another day or so of dithering, I took out the original stitching. The new gingerbread was stitched with four strands of floss instead of the original two strands, and fewer "spokes" in the wheel:

I think it is better. With the heavier thread I thought the colonial knots in the original would be too much. Now that I am looking at the photos, though, the knots looked pretty good, so I may still try them. Without the knots, I did have to add an extra red brick on either side to fill the empty space.

The felted wool sheep were the last addition. Two of them are peacefully munching the daisies:

And the one on the far left is looking up... the big blue chicken which will sit on the right chimney. But, the chicken will overlap the top seam, so it is still on hold.

With the trees for landscaping, and the sheep as landscapers, I think the block has really come to life. Given that I started this block on January 2, I am glad to have it done!

Monday, March 30, 2015

MCH Month 3 Finished

Probably for the first time ever, I have finished a block in the same month that it was released! This is Month 3 of Lynette Anderson's 2015 BOM, My Country House. Of course it helps that it was the easiest month so far, and I simplified it further:

Instead of piecing the heart, I just fussy cut it whole from the same red fabric that I used for the house door in Month 1.

I've had the stems sewn down for over two weeks, but then I waffled quite a bit about how to sew down the hexie flowers. Click the photo to see it larger:

I pieced the flowers with 100 wt silk thread, which is completely invisible. But it felt wrong to use the same invisible thread to applique them down. So I had three options:

  1. Sew down the flowers invisibly with the 100 wt silk.
  2. Use cotton thread for the applique, same as the stems and heart. But, should I then change colours for the coral and orange hexagons?
  3. Use perle cotton and a running stitch for the applique, same as I did for Jacks and Cats. But what colour should that be? Yellow, orange, coral, or even black?

I do not believe that an invisible applique stitch is the only right way to applique. Rather, I think it depends on the type of project and how it will be used. In this case there will be a lot of wool applique, which I like to whip stitch down with a single thread of embroidery floss. And I appliqued the stems with cotton and a regular, visible applique stitch, so they would relate to the leaves.

Finally I chose to use pink perle cotton and a running stitch to applique the flowers. I had some size 8 perle cotton in my stash, so I used that, but ideally I think a narrower size 12 would be better. I think the pink blends well with the coral and orange, and it will look nice as a big stitch quilted detail on the heart, once I get that far.

I also waffled about whether to stitch the vein on the leaves, because that is a big commitment for the 48 leaves still to do in Month 2. But, since I went with the perle cotton on the flowers, I decided it would be a nice touch for the leaves. Fortunately, I had the perfect colour in my stash! It is also size 8, DMC 580 perle cotton, and back stitch. And it didn't take long at all.

At 3/4 scale, I was just able to squeeze the 40.5" block into one width of fabric. I still need to finish the trees on Month 1, and then I'm going to move ahead to all the pieced blocks. There's a postage stamp border between Month 1 and Month 2, and I have the idea that it will be more efficient to make the stamps from the leftovers of the pieced blocks. I'm not sure it really is efficient, but I will try!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Hanami is the Japanese word for "flower viewing," and it is generally used specifically for viewing cherry blossoms. Right now the cherry trees are just starting to bloom in Japan, and, after a big push this week, I have managed to get a tree to bloom right here in Toronto too!

I started making half square triangles (HSTs) for this quilt in December, but then other projects took over and I thought that I'd missed the season. I'd actually banished it to the basement until Mary Ellen left me a comment about an HST exchange last week. After some online research I realized that I still had time, so here I am!

Today I'll talk about my inspiration for the quilt, and in future posts I'll discuss my method.

In 2011 The Quilt Show had Edyta Sitar as a guest for episode 802, to talk about quick, paper pieced HSTs and quilt designs for them. Some TQS members organized a big HST exchange, and TQS member Wilma Moss made a Tree of Life quilt with her triangles that really caught my eye:

Big Thicket by Wilma Moss, adapted from an Edyta Sitar design

Thanks to Wilma for letting me post the photo! You can read about Wilma's quilt in the TQS quilt gallery here, and she also has a website, Brick Cottage Quilts.  I loved the mix of fabrics and those flashes of bright colour in Wilma's quilt, and I started to think about using up some of my large scale floral fabrics in a similar way.

Then last fall Audrey at Quilty Folk created her own version of the Tree of Life block:

Tree of Life blocks by Audrey at Quilty Folk

Many thanks to Audrey as well! I really love the compact trunks on her trees, and the round shape of the crown. Her colour scheme was quite inspiring too! Once again I thought about flowering trees...

Then the Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt Grand Illusion started at the end of November, and many bloggers started sewing masses of HSTs. I am unlikely to ever do someone else's mystery quilt, because making and/or tweaking the design is half the fun for me. But I thought, how could I surprise myself?

The answer was to incorporate some random elements into the design, and a Tree of Life seemed like a perfect opportunity for that. I reworked Audrey's design, keeping the outline but changing the construction so I could make it entirely from HSTs:

For about ten minutes I even considered making the whole background from light/light HSTs as well! I dug into my stash looking for a mix of bright florals, but I soon realized that I had enough pink to make all the trees pink, and the cherry blossom orchard idea was born:

I thought, wouldn't it be cool to get it done by the start of the hanami season? Well, it IS cool, and I am pretty stoked.

And it will be even cooler if I can get the top finished by the end of the season in early May! One down, twelve to go. :D

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Diamond Economy

Somehow, a diamond economy sounds better than economy diamonds! Either way, I think it's better than square-in-a-square-in-a-square-in-a-square, lol.

Anyway, I finished these up this morning, and yesterday I finished the last eleven four patch diamonds. As I did the final trim, I found a little bit of serendipity:

An orange flower was centred perfectly in the block, completely by accident, not once, but twice!

So, I'm on a roll, and next time I plan to show you what it's all for.

Oh, and by the way, that extra pin in the seam that I mentioned last time made all the difference! The last batch was much more consistent. And, isn't it interesting how the blue sky outside made these photos bluer than the last post? The colours were more accurate last time.
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