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!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Made by a Human

Moving forward with my new colourway for Judy Niemeyer's Prairie Star, the next step is the RS units, or "large corner spikes." I planned out my own cutting instructions, concentrated, and the first one turned out great. Here is the new yellow and white section, laid out with the flying geese and melon spike units that I made a few years ago:

It was a little tricky to manoeuvre the big paper section through the machine, but doable.

The whole project is very well designed, and the instructions are detailed. But, they do frequently say things like "After you pin the papers onto the fabric strips, take the strips and the papers to your machine," as if your cutting table and sewing table are different places. It is all the same table here! It really felt like you need a large, dedicated studio to follow the instructions, and I decided it would be easier to simplify the cutting and strip piece it, instead of using all the cutting templates. Strip piecing is also easier with prints. I measured off the pattern, and rough cut everything without even ironing the fabric:

I iron the strip just before I sew it on, since the iron is right beside me anyway. And then I iron the seam open. The advantage of the strip is that you can sew along either side, and you don't have to worry about the right side triangle or the left side triangle. Everything always fits.

Well...everything always fits as long as you stay focused! You still have to take care pinning the strip.

This is the one segment where the strip has to extend well past the end of the seam, and I forgot. Those are very tight, small stitches, and I didn't want to unpick it. So I cut off the far end of the strip, which was now too long, and sewed it to the short end, not through the paper. I think it did the job:

If I hadn't fixed it, there would have been just a tiny quarter-inch hole there. You can see the seam allowances through the white fabric, but to me that was better than the damage I would have done unpicking the seam.

Made by a human! Two done, six of these sections to go. I'm going to do my best to stick with it, because it's not an easy thing to set aside and come back to later. And the warm weather is coming, so I want to finish the top before it is too hot to sit next to the iron. Fingers crossed!
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