Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making Space for Improv

My AHIQ two block challenge quilt is a finished top! The initial design happened so fast that it is hard to remember exactly how it unfolded. I think my thoughts progressed something like this:
  1. Modern
  2. Asymmetrical
  3. Slashed "+" blocks
  4. with nine patches
  5. Grey
  6. and green
  7. Very minimal
  8. Lots of negative space
Then I tried to forget about it and focus on finishing Nettie. But, I was worrying about the negative space for this quilt already. What size should I make the blocks to ensure that there are enough blocks to demonstrate the two block pattern, and still have lots of empty/negative space? Without making a huge quilt?

My trusty clipboard and graph paper are never far away. I am good with computers, but I always design in pencil. I find that drawing is a more direct link with my creative side, and the ideas flow more naturally.

I started by drawing the outside edges of the quilt, and then worked my way in from there. Is it still improv if it's planned? I definitely think it can be. In this case, I already had the eight requirements listed above. On the design, I drew physical boundaries, and improvised inside them.

If you think about it, every improv quilt starts with some kind of limit or boundary -- colours, fabrics, size, technique or purpose. Usually a combination of those. I often think that people who are hesitant about trying improv are intimidated by the "blank page." So my point is that you get to decide how much improv to put in your quilt. Just make some space!

So, after all that, how does the quilt look?

9+, 55" x 70" (140 x 178 cm)

The idea for the grey pieced blocks, and the placement of the extra blocks across the bottom, both came while I was doodling with pencil and graph paper.

After the blocks were pieced, I laid them out to get the best flow of colours and shapes. On the graph paper I had a strip of solid grey between the green 9+ section and the grey one. But as soon as I had both sections finished I could see that they would be better sewn together. So that's what I did. And then I had to re-balance the borders, and I did that too.

Start to finish, about three weeks. It certainly is a welcome change to have everything flow together so quickly and smoothly! It is a big confidence builder. To me that has been the biggest benefit of incorporating improv into my quilting life -- I'm more willing to take risks, with the trust that I can fix any problems that arise. And, I'm no longer paralyzed by worry about the small details. Keep calm, and carry on!

And while you're doing that, check out all the other improv projects at AHIQ this month, right here.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Two of the participants in the April AHIQ link up, Mary and Sophie, had some very nice tone-on-tone piecing in their projects. Since my new improv project, 9+, has 5 shades of grey, I was able to use the idea right away!

Isn't that light grey print beautiful? It looks like a rich, grey wool flannel. It's one of the Faux Linens that Connecting Threads had a couple years ago. The dark corners are their Faux Burlap, which is fun too.

All the blocks are now finished. Next time...flimsy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two Block Construction

Moving right along, the main section of my two block improv challenge quilt is now together:

I had all the inverse nine patch blocks, with five green squares, left over. I did consider making the quilt reversible and putting them on the back. But I don't really have enough fabric for that. So, I just sewed them together:

I think it's going well!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Organic Nine Patch

Once again, just one photo today. It's the second block for the two block improv quilt challenge for AHIQ:

This is another adaptation of Sujata Shah's Cultural Fusion techniques. It's the same process as her Crossroads block, adapted to a nine patch.

When I started making them, I thought that I would be able to adjust the process and end up with just two colours in each block. But that was wrong! When you make them four at a time, you always get a different colour in the centre.

Somehow, three colours in the block was less minimal than my original plan. Should I backtrack or keep going? In improv theatre you always say "yes, and..." So, I decided to just keep moving forward.

All the blocks are made, but not all trimmed yet. My calendar is pretty full this week, but I seem to have a lot of momentum here, so maybe I'll get the two blocks sewn together fairly soon. It's a simple plan!

Oh, and now that you've seen both the blocks (the slashed blocks are here), I can tell you the name of the quilt -- 9+.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Just one photo today:

This is my start on the next AHIQ challenge for an improv, two block quilt. I've always wanted to make some of these simple slashed blocks, so I decided this was the right time!

I also have 3 or 4 metres of solid Kona cotton in steel grey that I want to use up, so that was my other starting point for this quilt. I rarely regret buying fabric, but that steel grey was not a good purchase. The centre top and centre bottom blocks are the solid Kona steel.

My plan is for an extremely modern and minimal quilt, with a lot of grey. I didn't think the solid steel would be enough for the whole top, so I added some grey textured prints. Do you see how only two of the nine blocks ended up in the solid? Yes, I am not doing a very good job of getting rid of it. But, I am very excited about the tone on tone possibilities of the different greys!

I think that'll be next.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Nettie is a Top

The "wild jumble" from my design wall has been tamed:

It should be around 62" x 80" (157 cm x 203 cm), but I haven't measured it. Everything fit, so that seemed good to me! I'd forgotten how much easier it is to assemble a quilt with sashing in between the blocks. Hardly any seams to match!

To compare my layout with the inspiration quilt by Nettie Young, click here. Nettie made 15 blocks in a 3 x 5 layout. I developed my layout based on my memory of hers, rather than while looking at the photo. And every time I ended up with those two columns of dark cornerstones that she has, it seemed like a mistake. I thought it would be more balanced to have at least 3 cornerstones across the row. So that is why I increased the number of blocks to 24 in a 4 x 6 layout, and cut them down to 10" finished.

The original 12" block, with the centre seams cut out and reassembled to 10"

I made 896 hourglasses for the original, all-hourglass plan. I still have at least 500 left. But, I am going to send them to the basement for at least a year! Hopefully some new idea for them will sprout after a good long rest.

The first AHIQ challenge was for a Chinese Coins design, and I don't really consider this as a fit for that. I just liked the layout in the Nettie Young quilt. The second challenge is for a two block quilt, and I have a legitimate two block design planned. Is it improv if it's planned? I would say yes.

And I've already started it! It's going to be very modern indeed:

5 grey fabrics.

Solid fabrics in a range of turquoise and green.

So, totally different. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wide Sashing

It's time for the Kaleidoscope of Butterflies once again, and no, this is not Moth in the Window, as previously promised.  The only progress on Moth has been that I decided I didn't want to make 90 blocks after all. My original plan was for 56 blocks, and all the fabric was carefully chosen and balanced, and I feel like it will go off track if I add to it now. I think the best plan will be to skip the border, and make it throw-sized.

Right now I am full steam ahead on my improv hourglass project, "Nettie." All 24 blocks are finished, including this tricky zig zag block:

I actually sliced the hourglasses in half to make flying geese, and then re-assembled as you see here. I won't lie, it took a while. But, I love it!

Last time I theorized that wide sashing would fix all my concerns with the dense hourglass blocks. Today I cut all the sashing, including that butterfly fabric above:

And, I put it up on the wall:

Now, I debated whether to show this photo or not, because it looks like a wild jumble. But I am really, really happy with it, and for now you will just have to trust me. It works, and it will calm down when it's all sewn together.

Hopefully that won't be too much longer, because I already have a finished design for the next AHIQ challenge, a two block quilt. But I refuse to start it until Nettie here is a finished top.

Back in March I was actually worried that I didn't have any new projects in the works! But, with Moth in the Window, Aunt Millie, this new solution for the hourglasses, and the two block quilt waiting in the wings, I think things are back to normal around here!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Stuck and Unstuck

On Thursday we had a brief thunderstorm, and then the best sunset so far this year:

Inside, I've been wondering what to do for AHIQ. Yes,

What to do

 Last time you saw my hourglasses project, it looked like this:

I thought I was off to a good start with these big brick shaped blocks, and I spent a long day earlier this month making one more...

...and one big word:

I was very happy with the word, and ok with the block, but at the end of the day I was feeling like things were on the wrong track. I was trying to combine two projects into one, but that wasn't working. So my first decision was to save the word for later and focus on the hourglasses for now.

Now what? One day I was looking at the patio stones, and I thought it would be good to sew my bricks together into big squares, and still have the narrow green sashing I wanted before. But then I never got around to it.

Then last week I started my new Aunt Millie project, and that whole thing just fell together so naturally. Most of the quilt is already cut. Yesterday I was admiring it, and I really liked the simple and light feel that it has.

Aha! Light. I realized right then that my hourglasses were too dense and heavy. And cumbersome. Thank goodness I didn't sew the blocks together into even heavier sections! In fact, I realized that heaviness has been my problem with this quilt from almost the very beginning. I tried to change the construction method, I tried to lighten up the colours, but nothing really helped.

What I needed were smaller blocks, with wide sashing to let them breathe. I cut my big blocks in half:

And as soon as I thought of wide sashing, I thought of this quilt, Stacked Bricks, by Gee's Bend quilter Nettie Young. Back in January Ann shared this link as part of the kick off for her Chinese Coins improv challenge, and it really spoke to me. I did some math and thought about fabrics, but the time wasn't right. I've found, though, that once I start thinking about a quilt, eventually it will see the light of day, in one form or another. My plan is to use these blocks, in that layout.

My existing blocks were about 13" square, and I wanted to get them down to about 10.5" unfinished. I tightened up all the rows, and then gave them a final trim around. They're not totally exciting, but they work.

I'm banking more on the full effect at the end, rather than the individual blocks.

But, I also still had another setting idea to try for the hourglasses. It is a lot easier to make the smaller blocks! And I'm very pleased with this layout. This one is weighted to the dark fabrics...

...and this one is weighted to the light fabrics. I like them both.

I also started to take more care matching the fabrics. When I started I had the idea that it had to be random. Now I've realized that the main thing is not to get bogged down in decision making, and just look for nice combinations as I go along. I think I finally have some traction on this quilt!

I've already named it "Nettie." And, since it's also going to be Modern Utility Quilt #3 in my continuing series, I'm going to use some of this:

Riley Blake made this printed gingham in 11 colours, and I have them all. I used the red and orange in MUQ#1, Picnic, and the yellow in MUQ#2, Sunshine. So, I guess there is still room to run with these for a while. Although, there is a brown gingham and a navy gingham that are both pretty ugly. But, that is a challenge for another time!

Right now, please check out all the other improv links for AHIQ this month. And if you are inspired by the next challenge, anyone can join in!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Straight Stitch Edging

Yesterday there were a couple of comments asking how I manage to keep the stitching straight on the edge of my fusible applique. There was some trial and error involved, but I thought that post was already getting long. But I do have a photo of the "error," and the second block is done too!

The only clear plastic foot that came with my straight stitch machine is the hopping foot/darning foot that I use for free motion quilting. I know that art quilters like Melinda Bula and McKenna Ryan use free motion stitching to hold down their fused applique, so I was game. Leaving the feed dogs up is supposed to give you more control, and I did that too. It was not successful:

The hopping foot actually jerked around the fabric, and it was impossible to stitch straight. Thinking about it now, I am pretty sure that in her TQS show Melinda Bula goes off the edge of the applique when she stitches. And, since she is making an art quilt for the wall that will never be washed, that is just an "artistic touch" and in no way a problem.

But, I need to wash this quilt, and I need the stitching to stay on the applique, so I needed to see where I was going. I tried out the zipper foot, and it turned out to be perfect for the job:

As you see, my zipper foot can be adjusted to the left or right of the needle, and it is possible to fine tune the placement so the edge of the foot lines up perfectly with the needle. Then I just line up the edge of the foot about 1/8" inside the edge of the applique, by eye, and stitch normally. At every corner I stop with the needle down, lift the foot, pivot, drop the foot, and stitch to the next corner. With the short stitch length (1.75), I rarely have to hand crank the machine in the corners.

On curves I've also found that it's better to keep stopping and lifting the foot to pivot every few stitches, rather than trying to twist the fabric under the foot. Again, I can thank TQS for that tip, from Pat Holly's show.

So, it's not like I'm zooming around. It took me about two hours stitching time to go around today's block. But, compared to hand stitching, it is fast. And with the machine going so slowly, it is very easy to hear the TV, or a podcast, or a book on tape.

I am finding the process is completely addictive. I like cutting out the applique -- it reminds me of early art classes in school, but still takes a lot of focus. And I like the slow pace of stitching it down too. You get into a rhythm -- stitch, stitch, stitch, lift -- and it gets easier to judge where to stop in the corners. The whole thing is definitely a "flow" experience. As soon as I finish one, I am looking forward to the next.

So it's a good thing that my applique wishlist is long. Suddenly all those "someday" applique projects are looking a lot more today!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Stash Sale

This weekend a nearby guild had a big stash sale. One of their founders, Marcie Lane, lost her fight with cancer last year, and they were selling her stash to raise funds for cancer care and research. Personally, I really like the idea of continuity in a stash sale. The room was packed, and every person there went home with a little of Marcie's legacy. I sincerely hope that when I am gone (you know, 40 or 50 years from now), my guild will sell off all my fabrics too.

Among other things, this bag of red and white fabric caught my eye:

When I lived in the States, I thought my obsession with red and white quilts was because I'm from Canada. But, here was a whole room full of Canadian quilters who had no problem walking right by this bag. So obviously, it's just me. Looking closer, I could see there were several applique patterns on freezer paper ironed onto the red fabric.

A red and white applique quilt, I thought. Nice! I added it to my pile, and sat down to wait for the checkout line to get shorter. I had a nice chat with Marcie's mom, who was also a Bob Ross fan. But the line didn't get any shorter, and I decided that I wasn't going to be able to wait. I put it all back and headed home.

While I was driving, I could not stop thinking about this quilt. I was sure that I could fuse the red to a light pieced background, and that would be nice. So, back I went! Almost one hour in line, but quilters always have plenty to talk about. ;)

At home, I opened the package and pulled out the other blocks. They started to look familiar:

That is such a distinctive block, and I realized that it is actually Aunt Millie's Garden by Piece o'Cake Designs. Fortunately, I already had the pattern:

A red and white version of Aunt Millie, I thought! But, now I am pretty sure that the big red squares were just the backgrounds, same as the original quilt, and marked in silver pencil for the placement of the applique:

And all that white fabric probably wasn't part of the project at all. There were 11 blocks in the package, so I think Marcie had already started one, and that ended up separated from the rest. It is funny that I assumed that Marcie was making it the way that I would want to make it, even though that was not the case at all!

But I still had to try my idea. I took off all Marcie's freezer paper, dug out an old roll of Steam-a-Seam, and covered the back with the fusible. Then I carefully cut out the applique following the silver pencil lines:

Snip, snip, snip...
The fabric is a thick, rich red hand dye, so fortunately there is no wrong side, and the fabric is very stable. My fusible, however, was old and not sticking very well, but I kept the mat underneath at all times, and I got there.

I laid it out again on my fabric, and fused it. My plan was to straight stitch the edge, rather than satin stitch or blanket stitch. Over at Indigo Threads, Sharon recently shared a photo of a quilt she'd made this way. The fabric frays a little at the edge after washing, and I really like the soft look it has.

I considered a matching red thread for the stitching, but then I decided orange would have more character. The stitch length is fairly short, about 1.75 on my machine, and I usually piece at 2.

The Aunt Millie pattern has little pieced circles in the centres. While I was cutting, I was reminded of how Hawaiian quilts are made, and I decided to fold and free cut the centre in a similar way. It is like a "maker's mark." Mine turned out fairly wonky...

...but I think it sets the right tone. I will try some different cuts on the other blocks. But for now, here's the finished block:

The red is so rich that it looks like velvet against the prints. I'm happy! I think I'll make 9 all together, and set them on point with alternate pieced blocks. It's all planned!

Since fusible applique is probably my future, I am glad this came together so well, and that I have eight more blocks to practice with. It was just the right degree of challenging, and I am interested to see how the next ones will turn out.

Now I have to find room for it in my project drawers... Just when I had it all neat and organized, a new project comes along!

(N.B. I went back to put in the link to the Bob Ross post, and I see that post links to the Piece o'Cake blog! Isn't it funny how some things seem to stick together?)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Moth in the Window

My grandmother used to say that if the first butterfly you saw in the spring was white, it was good luck. After a couple years of seeing yellow butterflies, I was happy to see a white one this year!

Mine was IRL (in real life), but maybe this block set the right tone. Yes, it's another new Bonnie Hunter project! This is Moth in the Window, from Bonnie's new book, Addicted to Scraps:

I know I've talked a lot about how Orca Bay will be my next new quilt, but I am still tweaking my plan for that. In the meantime, when Robert Kaufman announced that the Kona Color of the Year would be Pink Flamingo, I had a burning need to make a pink-based quilt. But in February, nobody had it in stock. And then I found this pink print from Blend, which is almost the same colour. It was discounted to about half the price of Kona (Kona is expensive in Canada) at a fabric outlet near here. Score!

Bonnie's Moth in the Window is made with plaid shirts and black sashing, and I love it. But, I had a feeling it would also look good with pink sashing. And, the simple two colour block is a great way to show off your fabrics.

I had the day free on my birthday recently, and I thought, what could be better than a new project? An hour with the calculator, a couple of hours moving heavy boxes in the basement, whittling down to about 60 fabrics, rough cutting them all, and by the end of the day, the first block made:

Most of my colour inspiration is coming from collections that Pat Bravo did for Art Gallery a few years ago, especially Indie. The three backgrounds above are all her fabrics. Even though the sashing is pink, I don't want the quilt to be too "bubblegum." I chose all the fabrics to coordinate with the sashing. Of course there is a little Kaffe too:

And I don't know how long that daisy floral has been in my stash. But aren't they awesome together? It is so fun to try out different combinations. Even the wilder blocks blend when they're all together:

This is just the start, there will be a lot more of the blue-greens to come. My original plan was to make 56 blocks, and use leftover squares for the border. Bonnie used HSTs in the border, but I still need at least 800 HSTs for my Cheddar and Indigo quilt, so I thought I'd just use squares. I sewed up some strip sets...

...but I decided yesterday that even in these nice fabrics, they will not do anything for the quilt. So now my plan is to make more blocks, hopefully 90, and just put 3" of the pink around the edge. Maybe there was a reason I never put all the fabric away again! Other than mere laziness...

Anyway, I am having a lot of fun with this, and now I have a project for the Kaleidoscope of Butterflies again! Come back on May 1 to see how much progress I've made.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rose Boll 9

So, it turns out that Prairie Star is too demanding to sew straight through. For a break, I've finally made a few more Rose Boll blocks:

This is my red and white version of Bonnie Hunter's Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll. You last saw it on New Year's Day. Since then I've been steadily making the 500 HSTs required. Now that's done and the blocks are coming together fairly quickly. It reminds me of a building project, where for the first half of the project it's just a big hole in the ground, and then all of a sudden it starts growing fast!

These rosy florals are so fun to work with. This dark pink is from Eleanor Burns' Forever Love collection.

I've also used a few fabrics from the Savannah Garden collection from Henry Glass. This red looks even better than I expected cut and sewn.

And this is the main Savannah Garden floral in white. I believe the ditsy red print is from my old LQS, now closed for many years, and the white on white blender too.

I had planned to make the whole quilt from stash. But, it turned out that I had plenty of cream florals, but none of the reds that I imagined. So, woe, a little online shopping was required. I lost my head at Missouri Star, but I'm certainly not having any regrets now! I like all kinds of fabric, but these florals feel like home.

I'll need 25 of these blocks. More to come!
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