Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Not Done After All

In my last post I mentioned that I was thinking of making a few more blocks for Rosalie Quinlan's Best Friends Forever stitchery quilt. On Friday, that's what I decided to do!

The decision to make the project bigger is a bit of a celebration for me. In March and April I've been dealing with a personal health scare, and it looked like my time might be cut short. But, on Friday I learned that while the doctor still can't diagnose the problem, it probably isn't the worst case scenario. I had a very clear feeling that the road was stretching out ahead of me again!

Since time was back on my side, it seemed right to finish off the remaining BFF stitcheries. Interestingly, my BFF thread palette was still intact:

I like to pre-cut my embroidery floss and set it up on a cardboard thread organizer like this. I make a set for every project, so everything stays together. When the project is finished, I cut the cardboard apart like this...

...and sort the floss back into my thread stash. I use plastic bags (one bag per colour) on rings to store thread, which works really well for me. I can keep both cut threads like this and new skeins all together in the same bag.

Actually, I've been using the same threads for Little Wooly Baskets:

Most of the BFF thread has been perfect for my wool colours too. Maybe I'm developing a style?

That's a slight digression, but my point is that I never sorted the thread back into my stash, so I guess I was never really done with the project. I now plan to make 31 of the 32 designs, which will give me a good sized throw quilt, probably in the vicinity of 60" x 80" (150 x 200 cm).

And the long break has given me fresh inspiration too. Last time I looked at this motif I couldn't think of what to do with it at all. Maybe the big bird should be teal blue, so the cardinal stands out? This time one choice led to another in a very natural way.

I used to avoid using too much of the tiny chain stitch, because it is slower. This time it didn't seem like a problem, and I used it all over. Last time I was also worried about the swirls over the birds heads. I didn't want a big feather on the head of my cardinal! This time I said to myself, "I'll just blend it out with the light blue, and that will be fine." And it is fine! And once it is part of a big lap quilt, no one will ever think about it again.

So, a little perspective is a helpful thing. :D  25 done, 6 to go.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

All Together Now

Earlier this month I sewed the last two long rows on my Texas Star quilt. Now all 333 stars are joined together:

The bright sun seems to wash out the colours a bit, but I thought it would be a good plan to take a photo before the weeds and ants take hold again on the patio!

I still plan to applique a narrow white border to even out the edges. But it is a nice milestone to get the English Paper Piecing part of the project done. There are around 3200 pieces -- I added it up once, but lost the paper the math was on! By some EPP standards, that is not a lot, but, it's plenty for me! I am glad to have this part done. To see all the posts on Texas Star so far, please click here.

Now I can re-focus on finishing the setting for Best Friends Forever, which is also EPP. Of the 22 BFF blocks, 8 are done...

...and another 4 or 5 are almost done. They are hard to photograph! I have not really looked at this project for about a year now. Seeing it with fresh eyes, I am very happy with how it looks so far. I'd forgotten how pretty the stitcheries are!

Remember this fabric that I bought after Christmas? I was going to cut it up and use it for the pieced background for BFF. But, I've changed my mind on that, again.

Now, for sure, I am going to piece the background with scrappy prints -- mainly light green, and a little pale blue and yellow thrown in.

Each flower block will need 24 scrappy kite shapes to turn it into a large hexagon. It sounds like a lot, but it is actually a simpler plan than some of the ones I've considered!

I know you will laugh, but I've also been considering making this quilt larger. The complete BFF pattern set has 32 stitcheries, and I didn't stitch them all. Since I've decided to make the background scrappy, the project is more scalable, and I may embroider a few more.

To see the posts so far on Best Friends Forever, including all the stitcheries, please click here.
We have company coming this Sunday, but I am still going to try to squeeze in a little sewing on BFF. Maybe start a new stitchery? We'll see. In the meantime, you can see what everyone else is doing for Slow Sunday Stitching right here.

We have just a few flowers in the garden now, but in a week there should be lots more. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Adventures in Quilting

Many of my posts in March included some whining about the machine quilting that I was doing "behind the scenes." I was finally quilting Hen Party. This quilt has 6" snowball blocks made from my collection of chicken-themed fabrics. Many of the blocks were framed around one large chicken. After literally years of creating and dismissing quilting plans for this quilt, I decided to use a bonded batting that only needs quilting every 10", so I wouldn't have to worry about quilting around the chickens inside the blocks. I straight line quilted in the ditch, and free-motioned a little clover motif in each corner:

Some of those first clover motifs were pretty dubious:

That was when I was getting tired at the end of the day, and the weight of the quilt was making things tricky. But, I got better:

I didn't mark anything, first, because I hate marking, and second, because I do like that "freehand doodle" look. So, I'm not going to unpick any of those wobbly ones. And from the back, it looks surprisingly good:

Just ignore the fold lines and loose threads for now!

What I couldn't ignore, though, were the problems with the border. "I'll just straight line quilt a few lines around the border," I thought. "I have mastered straight line quilting," I thought. "Fast and easy," I thought. But strangely, while two sides looked good...

...two sides bunched up terribly:

Whyyyy? I thought I had this figured out when I changed to the pin feed. Somehow the top and bottom layers are feeding through at different speeds, and it must have something to do with the crosswise vs. the lengthwise grain of the backing fabric. But, it is practically ruffled, so it must come out, and that has been taking forever. Once the straight lines are unpicked, I'm going to do a free-motion stipple, which I think will be more forgiving. And at least, after all those clover motifs, I am feeling better about my free motion abilities.

In February, when I was having similar trouble quilting Mod Trips, I said to myself, "this is the last large quilt I am quilting at home." But you know, it turned out well in the end, and everyone liked it, so basking in the glow of success I forgot all the pain! But in March, facing all the same trouble again, I really started to resent the time that quilting was taking from my other projects.

I decided it's finally time to invest in some rental time on a long arm quilting machine. Yesterday I took my Cardinal Stars flimsy to a local long arm dealer that offers rentals.  And after about one hour of class time and three hours of quilting time, it is quilted! By me!

On the back here you can see the pantograph I used, Cloud 9. I am not always the biggest fan of pantos, because they can be a little uninspired, but I have to say they are quite forgiving even when you are never right on the line! It is a good way to build your skill and still have a decent result.

On the front, the panto's flow of curves and arcs blends together the blocks and background:

The polyester thread was my biggest hurdle in deciding to try a long arm. (And the money, of course, but I decided to re-allocate my fabric budget to quilting for a while.) I deliberately took these photos to highlight the thread. It is shiny polyester Glide thread, but not this obvious in every light. I can see why longarmers like it, because it is perfectly smooth and even, with no fluff, even after quilting the whole quilt at high speed. I like it better than I expected, and in future, I will have the option of bringing in my own cotton thread.

Now that it is home I cannot believe how much quilting I did, and that it is reasonably good looking to boot! I am sore, but not any more sore than after a day of quilting on my home machine. And, with one day on the long arm I accomplished more than a month of quilting at home!

So yes, I'll be doing that again. For me, the "aha moment" was when I was basting the edge of the quilt before following the panto across the middle. When I baste the edge of a sandwiched quilt on my home machine, it stretches and puckers and slides around and generally tests my patience to the limit. On the frame of the long arm the edge of the fabric doesn't move at all, and it is easy to sew a scant 1/8" from the edge. Everything stays straight. Amazing!

Now I have a list of new things to try on the long arm, which should use up my stack of flimsies, including Collector, It's Warm Inside, Picnic, and Circa 1998. Although, now that I see how easy it is to quilt a large quilt this way, I am once again considering adding a border to Circa 1998 to bring it up to queen size. We'll see how it goes!

(Hen Party, though, I still have to finish at home...)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Cardinal Stars Flimsy

In 2009 my local quilt shop had a bolt of this gorgeous "Wild Wings" fabric:

I think it sold out in about 3 weeks. Fortunately, I bought 3 metres! I had a vague plan of using it for a border for a lap quilt.

In November 2010 I finally started the project. The plan was to make a pieced centre with alternating yellow stars and red/black diamonds, and use the cardinal fabric for the border. But, my piecing was not very accurate then, and it didn't go well. And the design felt uninspired.

So, I redesigned it a gazillion times (more or less). In 2013 I decided to take apart those first blocks, trim the units more accurately, and re-sew the blocks. In 2014 I decided to make the units into star-in-a-star blocks.

The setting idea is from a quilt in an old Quiltmania, possibly named "Les Roses Bleues," but I can't swear to that. That quilt also had a large background print, a floral (with blue roses), and they framed each block in a narrow border like this and "floated" it on the background. Although I planned to, I never made it. So, I was happy to use the same idea here:

Cardinal Stars, 64" (163 cm) square
Since the background is almost the "focus" of the quilt, I used most of my 3 metres. The borders were pieced, because I wanted to break up the repeat on the fabric, and try for a more natural distribution of birds. You can see that the centre, though, is one 20" square of fabric.

Overall, I think my plan worked better than I expected! I was worried that the block colours wouldn't match the background, or that the solids would be too jarring against the print. But, I think the blocks are balanced with the print, and neither is too dominant. I was very careful when I chose that jade green solid, and took the print to the store to match it.

Most of all, I am glad to have the flimsy done! And I do not plan any further delays on the quilting. Suddenly I'm in a finishing frame of mind again! Let's hope it lasts. :D

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Back in Season

The cherry trees are in full bloom in Tokyo right now. Here in Toronto it is snowing, thanks to another visit from the Polar Vortex. Although, one forecaster called it a "Siberian" air mass, which I guess implies that it is even colder, lol. In any case, a little snow is normal for us in April, and fortunately, I'm prepared for spring with my blossoming cherry tree blocks:

It's almost a year since I've shown this project, Hanami.  It's my own adaptation of the traditional Tree of Life block. Most of my inspiration came from Audrey's trees here, except I changed the trunks to make them entirely from HSTs. Unfortunately, my first few attempts at the block came out distinctly rectangular.

So, on my summer break last year I took the first blocks almost completely apart. The seam allowances were not consistent, and my setting will require precision. This time they look much better!

And while I was at it, I changed the fabrics in the tree trunks too:

Old Trunk

New Trunk
Some of my pink florals are very light, and those dark browns completely drowned them out. I chose dark beige and light silver grey instead, because I want a very light, misty feel for this cherry orchard. I remember plenty of misty days in Japan!

A couple of the trees are almost all white:

I think this will still work, because the pattern is set by the darker trees, so the eye will fill in the gaps.

This quilt was my DIY Mystery Quilt, where all the pieces for each tree were drawn semi-randomly. Each block is a challenge! You can read more about that process here.

Now I feel like all the bugs have been worked out. Six blocks are done...

...and there are just seven more to go.

Of course, my plan last summer was to have this flimsy finished by now. But, on my first day back in blogland last fall all my plans were thrown out the window when AHIQ came along, and they were ground further into dust by Allietare in November. And, going "off script" has been exactly the right thing to do, because both Allietare and the ongoing improv challenge have dramatically improved my quilting. I am amazed at how much easier these blocks seem now!

So, there are no wrong turns. And, fingers crossed, I can still get this to the flimsy stage before this year's blossoms have fallen. After two months of frustrating machine quilting, it is nice to be piecing again!

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