Friday, March 30, 2012

Ribbon Embroidery by Di van Niekerk

Ribbon Embroidery and Stumpwork by Di van Niekerk (Search Press, 2005) is the latest book I've purchased.  I've had it a few weeks now, and the more I look at it, the more I like it!

When I bought it I didn't realize that it is basically a project book.  It has all the instructions for the sampler that is shown on the cover.  The project is beautiful, but I really have no intention of making it.

But even if I don't want to make the project, I've been thinking of lots of ways to use the individual components in other projects.  Right now I am mainly interested in the ribbon techniques, although some of the stumpwork ideas are appealing as well.  Look at these cute hydrangeas:

As I said in my review of Inspirations 73 last month, I have been seeing more and more of this kind of turned edge stumpwork, which I really like.

For the ribbon embroidery, van Niekerk provides excellent diagrams of all the stitches used in the book and advice on what needles to use, as well as all the information needed to transfer the design and prepare your fabric.  To my mind, what distinguishes van Niekirk's work, in this book and others, from other ribbon embroidery books is the naturalistic effect she achieves with the ribbons.  There is nothing stiff or formal about her flowers!  I am used to always thinking about keeping stitches even, with a consistent length and tension.  This style of embroidery requires you to break out of the box somewhat, which is a good exercise for me!

You can see how every stitch on these blue delphiniums is different:

The deep rose coloured hollyhocks are done in a combination of cast-on stitch and bullion knots in a gorgeous hand dyed raw silk thread.  I love the extra dimension that the variety of materials and stitches gives in the project.  I am sure I would learn a lot if I did the whole sampler!

You can buy all the materials for this project and others, including complete kits, at van Niekerk's website -  I admit that I used to be afraid of what the postage cost from South Africa would be!  But I recently bought some of her ribbons from the site, and the postage was quite reasonable.  I think the key is to keep the weight down, and fortunately, the ribbons are very light!

(Update May 2012:  Unfortunately it looks like my order got lost somewhere along the way.  After six weeks I received a full refund, but it was still disappointing.  If I try again I will look into using EMS rather than regular mail.)

Van Niekerk's new book, Roses, will be available soon.  It is definitely on my wish list!  I am even contemplating buying the whole kit, I think it is really something special.

So, although I was a little slow to warm to this book, it is now another one I definitely recommend.  If you have never bought a book on ribbon embroidery, this may not be for you, although it certainly has all the information you need to complete the project.  If you are looking to expand your ribbon embroidery horizons, however, this is a great way to go!

Related Posts:

Inspirations 73

Allie Aller's Crazy Quilting

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time to Get Over Myself

Do you know that I have now done 15 posts about Sedona Star, and I have yet to completely finish any of the months?  The sticking point all along has been the fusible applique.  Well, I am over it!  And I have this brilliant quilt to thank:

Go! Bedazzled

Isn't it beautiful?  This was made by Sandy Lawrence of Phoenix, AZ.  It is another Sarah Vedeler design.  Sandy was lucky enough to take a class with Sarah when she made this quilt, and another class with Diane Gaudynski for the quilting!  As you can see by the ribbons, the quilt won First Place for Machine Embroidery and Best of Show at the Arizona Quilter's Guild show in 2012.  No surprise!  You can click the photo to see it larger.

What I really love about this quilt, and what has finally converted me, is the way Sandy has made the machine embroidery into a separate design element of the quilt.  The embroidery is not just a way to hold the appliques down.  For instance, most of the hits of turquoise that you see in the quilt are thread.  Imagine the quilt without it!  I love the Southwest colours she has used.  If you look at the large photo, you can see areas where more than one colour of thread was used around the edges of the appliques.  Sandy has also done embroidery within the shapes. 

There are so many great ideas here!  Even with my basic machine I can think of some interesting combinations to try.  Now I am so keen to get started again!  Alas, I am still waiting for my new iron, so it may still be a while.

Now it looks like I won't be paper piecing Month 2 after all!  But I'm still glad I did it, because it made me very aware of how the dark fabrics show through the light appliques.  I will have to do some careful trimming, I think.

Sandy, thanks so much for the photo, and all the inspiration too!

Related Posts:

Paper pieced practice block

Adjusting the template for paper piecing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Heather Stewart

The speaker at our Rouge Valley quilt guild meeting last night was Heather Stewart, who did her trunk show and gave us some extremely entertaining anecdotes about her quilting life.  She is a fantastic speaker, and gave us a good mix of laughter and tears.  Her story about a city slicker magazine editor, and a photo shoot involving a horse, goats and sheep, is one we'll all remember for a long time.  She also brought home the challenges faced by our military families, which made us all a little more appreciative of the sacrifices they make.

Presentations like Heather's reinforce my belief that the story behind a quilt is often as interesting and significant as the quilt itself.  Right now, I am having a difficult time thinking of any other craft that has quite that same quality.  Fine embroidery, especially ecclesiastical embroidery like Ruth O'Leary's St. Cuthbert's Banner, can impact many people, but it is in a different way than a quilt that is used in daily life.  As Heather said last night, it is the idea that a quilt can also be a "comforter" that is so appealing sometimes.

And on a completely different note, Heather also dropped a great tip about using a photo or painting you like as your inspiration for a colour scheme.  Starting with a photograph is an idea I've run across before, going all the way back to Kaffe Fassett's first book, Glorious Knitting.  But Heather added a very helpful expansion of the idea.  In addition to using the colours from the photo, you want to make sure they are in the same proportion as they are in the inspiration piece.  She says that the relative proportions of the colours are actually more significant than the colours themselves.  So if the photo you like is about 10% yellow, you want to keep the amount of yellow in your quilt to 10% as well.

I love this idea!  I have already been tearing photos I like from magazines, without being sure how to use them.  Now I know!  Trust me, my mind is turning.  ;)

So a big thank you to Heather for her great presentation.  If you have the chance to get her to speak at your guild, I highly recommend it!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sashiko Style

This book has been on my list to review since I started doing book reviews.  The Quilt Show is about to do a show that features sashiko, so now seems like the perfect time!

Sashiko Style (Japan Publications Trading Co. & Joie, Inc., 2007) was originally published in Japanese, and this edition was translated into English by Yoko Ishiguro.  As you can see on the cover, it has instructions for 18 traditional and elegant projects.  By far its main strength, though, are the detailed and thorough instructions for how to actually do sashiko.  I bought Paradise Stitched by Sylvia Pippen at the same time as this one, and while she has some really beautiful designs, the instructions are very thin.  So I would recommend this book no matter whose designs you end up trying.

I was very interested to learn that sashiko originated as a counted thread technique, that was done to give additional strength to loosely woven cloth. Now it is more of a decorative technique, and you do not have to count, although this book does give instructions for counting if you want to.

If you have read any of the Japanese quilting magazines, you know how thorough they are with diagrams and photos of the instructions.  This book has the added bonus of being translated into English!   

All the basics are covered - starting and stopping the stitching, what do to do if you run out of thread in the middle, preparing the fabric, drafting and marking the designs, all the project instructions, everything!  It also includes several pages that catalog many of the traditional stitching patterns for you to use in your own designs:

Even with all this, it is not a huge book.  There is no fluff.  It has everything you need, and nothing you don't.  It also includes a pull-out pattern at the back for all the projects in the book.

For me though, the biggest payoff was an unexpected one.  I have long wondered how exactly the Japanese do their hand piecing for patchwork.  Have you ever seen it?  It seems so fast and easy.  Here is a video from Yoko Saito's Quilt Party channel:

How exactly is she holding the needle?  The same way you do sashiko!  It is thoroughly explained in this book.  Although I haven't tried it yet, I will soon.  I already know the project I want to do.

So once again, this is another book I highly recommend!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Breaking my iron on Sunday has really thrown me for a loop!  I have done no sewing of any kind since it happened.  It is ridiculous, because the vast majority of my projects don't require the iron.  But I guess I was finally so focused on Sedona Star that now that it is on hold (again, yes, again), I am having a hard time changing direction.

Mother Nature, however, is having no problem changing direction.  Spring is here weeks early, and as you can see, the evidence is everywhere!

The only thing that feels appropriate for me to do right now is cleaning and organizing, so I've been sorting books and fabrics.  Both are badly needed activities!  Hopefully, at some point during all that my next step will become clear.  :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Paper Piecing Sedona Star Month 2

If you're wondering where I posted my picture of my completed Month 1 blocks, the answer is that they aren't finished yet!  I am still experimenting with my turned applique by machine technique.  In the mean time, I went ahead with paper piecing Month 2, and showed my practice block yesterday.  The practice block was made with the real fabrics, so you can see where I am going with it.

As I promised yesterday, here is how I altered the Month 2 template to accomodate paper piecing:

I left the image fairly large, so if you click the photo you can see all the details.  Here's a description of what I did:
  1. I assembled the template from plain copy paper and drew on all my revisions.  Then I copy each quadrant onto the Ricky Tims' Stable Stuff.  The edges were trimmed down so that each side, including the centre seam, fits onto just two pages.
  2. I pieced it in two sub-units, sewed the centre seam, and then added the appliques and outer border.  You can see that I extended one side of the centre point both up and down.  I am indebted to TQS member FLAero52 for this idea.  She did it slightly differently, but the sub-unit idea is key.  I added a cutting line on either side of the seam, mainly to remind me that it IS the seam.
  3. I extended the corners of the grey background grid out to the edges, and also added a trim line parallel to the grid on all four sides.  This is to speed the assembly of the templates.  I trim the copies at the trim line, butt the edges against my Olfa mat, and line up the corner extensions at the 0" and 16" marks on the mat.  Then I know for sure that the assembled template is exactly to scale. 
  4. I also added some small lines across the seam line at precise right angles to serve as pin markings when I sew the centre seam.  That seam has to be dead on, or the final shape of the block may be distorted.
  5. The background pieces 4a and 4b are an awkward shape.  Rather than using a very large rectangle and then cutting away most of the fabric, I traced the shapes onto wax paper (freezer paper) to use as pattern pieces.  This allows me to cut the angle for the seam so that the fabric will flip up exactly into the right position.  Yes, it IS tricky.  But it works great once you get it.  Please let me know in the comments if you want to see a picture, and I will take one once I get going again.
I ordered this cute iron from Keepsake Quilting today, and the pressing surface too.  With my small sewing space, I think it will be a better solution than a full size iron.  Maybe there was a silver lining to my misadventure yesterday!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sedona Star Month 2

Since December, when I decided to commit to the TQS 2012 BOM, Sedona Star, I have been debating how to handle the points in the Month 2 blocks:

The instructions call for raw edge, fusible applique, but I don't much like raw edges, or fusibles either.  My applique plan for the quilt has been to use Beth Ferrier's technique for turned applique by machine.  I have a comprehensive review of that technique coming up! 

The centre point on the Month 2 block is very sharp, though.  I know I could do it by hand, because you would sew one side first, and then stuff all the seam allowances against it as you stitched the second side.  But there are nine large blocks!  I thought about machine sewing part of the point and hand sewing just the end, but it seemed very complicated.

I briefly considered converting the block to paper piecing, but I saw problems with that.  However, one of the other TQS members, FLAero52, did it, so I was inspired to try too.  It is NOT EASIER.  There is a lot to figure out, and I did it a little differently than FLAero52.  Here is my practice block:

There are a few problems with it, but they are fixable, so this is how I'm going to proceed. I am very happy with the points.  Another benefit of paper piecing is that the dark blue background fabric won't show through the light appliques.  I love that fabric - it's actually a blender from the Elvis on Tour collection!  The white dots are spotlights.  :)

I'll show you how I revised the template to accomodate paper piecing tomorrow.  For now, though, here's some of the problems that I need to address:
  • My white fabric applique at the base is fairly sheer, and the yellow and orange fabrics show through, so I need to trim the seam allowances from the points.  Also, the "Template F" lettering on the template shows through, so I will have to mask that from future copies.  The placement of that applique is also a little off, but that is easily corrected next time.
  • You can see a dark shadow on the right side of the top point.  That is the blue fabric showing through the light green, where it got caught in the centre seam.  I will have to trim those blue seam allowances before I sew the two sub-units together.
  • The yellow fabric from the centre point also goes too far up in the centre seam, which adds bulk and which will make it hard to applique the final dot.  I just have to trim it before I stitch the seam.
  • I used my Clover plastic pressing tool to press the seams, but for this block I think a hot iron will be better.  The long background pieces are a little loose, and so are the long light green pieces.  And what did I do today?  I broke my iron!!  Disaster!!  So it will be a few days before you see any more of these.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Second Run at Redwork

I recently showed you all the problems I'd had with redwork in the past.  I'm glad to report that I think I have them all solved!  I've been going full stream ahead.  This is just one day's work while catching up on Coronation Street:

This is all stem stitch.  I have been debating between stem stitch or back stitch, but what I've found is that stem stitch is a lot easier.  It is hard to get a continuous line with back stitch, while with stem stitch if you miss the previous hole you cannot really tell.  I may still use back stitch for some of the fine details, like the fingers.  I am finding, though, that just shortening the stitch handles the details well too.

The biggest difference, however, has been working the embroidery in hand rather than in the hoop.  It is so much easier!!  I find I can get the tip of the needle to just pop up in the previous hole when I am working in hand, so my stitching is faster and much more accurate.  There is no issue with puckering either.  I am planning to take my Cottage Garden UFO out of the hoop as well, to see if that gets easier too.

And the back is now a thing of beauty, but I forgot to take pictures of it!  Next time.

Related Posts:

Previous redwork efforts - Sweet Hearts

Cottage Garden UFO - 10,000 Hours and Deliberate Practice

Monday, March 12, 2012

Yoyoing Right Along

I may not have been blogging for the past few days, but I've still been sewing!  I'm down to the last 19 yoyos on the yoyo quilt from the cover of the June 2011 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting.  I started with 38 strips appliqued with 10 or 11 yoyos each.  Now I've joined them into 19 long strips, and all that's left is to applique the last yoyos over the join and sew the strips together:

I am trying to be as random as possible.  It really is an act of willpower not to organize the colours!  My only rule as I was appliquing the yoyos was to not put two of the same fabric right beside each other.  Actually, though, I am a little sorry I did that now, because a truly random sample would have given clusters of fabrics that would have added interest.  Too late now.  But, for the rest I am going to allow the random universe full reign!

I have a couple more observations on the construction of the quilt to share.  First, for the background fabric, the pattern suggests a batik with a small repeat.  The need for a small repeat is obvious, but I am also glad that I went with a batik rather than a print.  These strips are handled a lot as you are appliquing the yoyos, but because the batik has such a high thread count there has been very little fraying.  So I would say that a batik is a necessity here.  Because the yoyos are so lumpy, there is no way that you could cut the strips wide and trim them down later.

The second thing to watch out for is how you deal with the thread tails from the yoyos.  In the demo video, which seems to be gone from the site now, they suggested that you just bring the thread tails down through the centre and to the back of the yoyo.  This turned out to be poor advice.  This is what has happened to several of my early yoyos:

The stiff hand quilting thread has a tendency to pop up out of the yoyo.  Later on I started to pull the thread tails back down inside the fabric on the same side as the knot, and there has not been any problem with those tails.  I will have to get myself a self-threading needle to fix the threads that have come loose.  Fortunately, it is not a big disaster, just an annoyance.

Hopefully it will not be too much longer before this one is ready for quilting too!

Related posts:

December 2011 - first post - Yoyo Alchemy

December 2011 - yoyos finished - 409 Yoyos!

February 2012 - Return of the Yoyos

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sedona Star Month 1 Points

After so much time at the sewing machine over the past few days, my back was really complaining, so I've been taking it slower again.  I've been doing the log cabin points a few at a time:

Four more to go!  You'll be seeing a lot more of these particular fabrics as the quilt progresses.  An unexpected benefit of using solid fabrics is that there is no wrong side, which makes the paper piecing even easier.  I hope, though, that it does not make me sloppy once I progress to prints later in the quilt.

It's been really fun so far.  The finished points have a satisfying weight to them, with the fairly thick Kaufman Kona Solid fabric, and the Ricky Tims Stable Stuff on the back.  I've been using 1/4" seams too.  The instructions call for 1/8" seams, but as a new paper piecer I just didn't feel comfortable with that.  If I pay for it later, so be it.

Many people have also mentioned the somewhat frugal cutting instructions for the quilt.  Because I was planning to use a wider seam allowance, I just measured the widths right off the template.  I ended up adding 1/4" to the width, and about 1/2" to the length for these pieces - it may have been more for some of the others.  I have lots of fabric, so I am not worried about running out!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beginning to Paper Piece Sedona Star

I was very excited to actually start sewing Sedona Star!  I began with the ring on Month 1, because that looked the easiest to me:

The light colour here is actually this light purple fabric.  The camera made it blue.  But the piecing went really well.  I very nearly sewed the two ends wrong sides together, even after reminding myself about it!  But fortunately I realized my mistake before actually sewing it.  I was so encouraged by this initial success that I moved on to the centre star:

I realized a few things when I was about halfway through this.  The first was that my colour scheme is not going to leave me any room for error!  I deliberately chose the high contrast scheme to show off the more difficult parts of the quilt.  I wasn't thinking though, that it meant I am going to have to do those parts really well.  Anyway, so far, so good.  I'll have to be super careful with those points when I sew the two circles together.

The second issue is that the dark fabrics really show lint!  I can see that this is going to be a problem for the lifetime of the quilt.  It looks much worse in the photo because the flash picked out the light particles.  I wondered where all that lint was coming from, and I realized that it is from the Ricky Tims Stable Stuff.  It is shedding tiny, shiny, polyester fibres as I work with it.

On the TQS forum Margo suggested that I can wash the finished flimsy to remove all the Stable Stuff before I quilt it.  Now that I've seen how these fibres stick to the fabric, I don't think that will be an option.  For now, I'll just use a good lint roller before I take any final photos!

Otherwise, though, the Stable Stuff is a dream to work with.  It is much easier to use for paper piecing than the vellum was.  It makes a very clean fold when you are cutting the seam allowance.  The vellum didn't always want to fold along the line, but with the Stable Stuff there is no problem.  And because the Stable Stuff is more like Pellon interfacing, it doesn't remember all the fold lines, so you can wrinkle it up all over and it still goes back to lying flat when you're done.

When I lay the two parts together, it looks like this:

My intention with the centre of the quilt was to keep it simple, and I am satisfied with the result so far.  The main focus of the quilt will be the applique blocks we're doing this summer, so I didn't want to do too much here.  I'll show you one or two of the log cabin points tomorrow, and then it'll be on to the applique circles!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Preparing the Templates for Sedona Star

Well, I had a busy weekend.  I finally started Sedona Star!  Hard to believe, I know.  :)

Saturday night I put together the templates.  What a tricky job!  I have a feeling this was probably the most fiddly bit of the whole quilt.  But, if they are right, everything will go smoothly, so I didn't rush it.

The grey gridlines were a huge help.  I ended up cutting the templates just a millimetre or two away from the outside gridline, and butting them up against the edge of my Olfa mat, which I used as a ruler.  This allowed me to make sure that the overall measurement was 12" for the inside template, and 18" for the outside one.

I am using the Ricky Tims Stable Stuff for my templates.  As designer Sarah Vedeler suggested, I used Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 in the 1/4" width to hold them together.  It was pretty convenient to use, and held the pages together well.  Before I tried it I was worried about it adding bulk to the quilt. I found, however, that there is almost nothing to it, so added weight is not a worry.

There were no gridlines for Template 2, which is the ring with the appliqued circles.  To make sure that it would fit properly inside the outer ring, I used the assembled Template 3 as a guide:

I carefully lined up the solid stitching lines on each template (not the cutting lines!).  Template 3 has convenient marks for each section of Template 2, so it is easy to lay it right in place.  I worked my way around the ring, ironing each section to the previous one as I went:

I am not ironing the two layers together, just using the bottom layer as a guide.  Once it was finished, I knew it would fit into the outer ring perfectly.

Hopefully, with these tricks in my toolbox, assembling the templates in future months will be less painful.  Fortunately, the paper piecing on Sunday went really well.  I'll show you tomorrow!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Few More Collector Blocks

Sedona Star was on my calendar today for the third time, but my dad had already claimed the dining room table this morning, so I still haven't been able to cut the fabric.  No worries though, I had a very satisfying day putting together some more of my square-in-a-square Collector blocks:

They are not all going to be green, it just so happened that I hit the green part of the pile today.  The upper middle fabric, with the zebra, is possibly my favourite fabric in the whole quilt.  It is from the Jolly Jungle collection that came out a couple of years ago.  The whole collection was unbelievably cute, but I managed to only buy a few.  It sold like hotcakes at the local store where I bought it.

This is turning into a really fun quilt.  And I LOVE paper piecing!  I am so keen to get started on Sedona Star.  The dining room table is clear now, so I may still cut the fabrics tonight.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Connecting Threads

All right, maybe this is a stretch, but for Book Review Day I am going to talk about the March 2012 Connecting Threads catalogue, which just came in the mail yesterday.

Already well used!
I have become totally addicted to Connecting Threads.  I first bought some fabric from them a couple of years ago - the Wrap It Up collection - and I was not impressed.  The colours seemed grey, and there was a strong chemical smell.  But I kept getting the catalogues, and they have so many great easy patterns, and for Canadians especially the prices are awesome, so I tried them again last fall.  Big improvement!  Saturated colours, and no unusual smell beyond the normal new fabric smell.  Some of them shrink quite a bit in the wash, but then again, so do many "premium" fabrics.  I don't know if I would make a complex heirloom project with these fabrics, but for fun, practical throws and bed quilts they are excellent.

The new fabric collection for this catalogue is Sweetgrass Prairie, which has a lot of small calico prints, including a lot of good light prints.  I find it challenging to find a good selection of light prints these days, so I am very tempted by this collection.  I particularly love this quilt, designed by Mari Martin for the collection:

Sorry about the glare!
It's not a great photo, but you can see it online here.  I love the way this quilt is scrappy yet unified, and I like the fresh colours. This would be a great pattern for a lot of my really old stash calicos as well.  I'd be able to mix old and new.  Argh, I'm so tempted!

If that wasn't enough, I also really like the Pearadise collection by Jenni Calo:

I could use the two dark prints for my Collector quilt, which still needs more darks. I love the scattered apples and pears in the middle, and the dots and cross hatched blenders would be useful too.

Sigh.  I have a huge backlog of quilts that I already have fabric for, and there is no way that I need more.

I do want to reiterate what a great deal Connecting Threads is for Canadians, though.  Americans can find reasonably priced quilt fabric all over, but in Canada it is very dear, and the shipping and duty charges can be painful for imported fabric.  Connecting Threads has a flat rate $7 shipping charge to Canada, and they pre-calculate the duty, so it is extremely reasonable to buy from them.  They also have many great deals on notions and supplies.  Other international readers are out of luck, though, because I think they still only ship to North American addresses.

Me?  I guess I'll keep thinking about it for now...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meadow - February Progress

Given our snowy weather yesterday, I managed to pull myself away from the yoyos for a while and do a little more work on my Elizabeth Bradley needlepoint project.  Needlepoint is a great thing to do in the winter.  I really enjoy the contrast between the howling winds and grey skies outside, and the cozy warm lights and wooly stitching inside.

Unfortunately, I have not made nearly as much progress on this as I hoped.  Compared to two months ago, all I have managed was to finish the large bird (partridge?) and fill in a bit below it:

I'd hoped to do a little every day, but my allergies were so bad in January that I couldn't go near it.  Do you think I can still get it done before the weather gets too hot?  I don't know, I don't feel very hopeful about that.  It's moved pretty far down my priority list, but at least it makes a nice change once in a while!
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