Friday, May 30, 2014

Left or Right?

The other day I sat down to do the blanket stitch on this flower, and I suddenly thought that I'd been doing it wrong up until now! I've always stitched blanket stitch from left to right, I guess because I saw it that way somewhere. But I'm right handed, and I've been finding that stitching is generally easier when I go from right to left. It was! It's a much more natural way for me to hold the needle.

Do you ever struggle with a stitch, only to turn it in a different direction and have it all fall into place? It was an interesting experience.

Anyway, this is the first motif from Month 4 of Rosalie Quinlan's Best Friends Forever.

I managed to get some purples back in the mix this time, and I added the lazy daisies to try to minimize the "sliced eggs" look of the ovals. I think that stitching them in green helped too.

I'm starting to think that Best Friends "Forever" may be prophetic on this project! Maybe after this month is completed I'll put it aside in favour of this project with the Flight Patterns fabric that I showed you earlier in the year. I have an immediate use for that project, but not for BFF, so I may re-prioritize. Despite my best intentions, I've got new projects sprouting out all over again, and my sewing area is getting chaotic. Time to clean it up and make some choices!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shirtings vs. Blenders

Scrappy vs. Stained

Today's cautionary tale is not about something I did, but rather about a quilt I saw at a show here in Ontario a few years ago. I've been to shows from Burlington to Trenton and all points in between, so I'll be no more specific than that!

Walking around the show, I saw a great log cabin quilt a few rows away, and as I approached I could see that it was badly stained. "Oh dear," I thought, "I'm surprised she still put it in the show." It looked like the victim of an encounter with a pack of untrained puppies.

But when I got right up to it, I saw that it was not stained at all. The quiltmaker had sewn all the light parts of the quilt from strips of light coloured blenders, that from far away had indeed blended together into a mottled disaster.

Since then, I've paid attention to how quiltmakers can make a successful scrappy quilt with light coloured fabrics. I've found that the difference is to use shirtings rather than blenders.

Every quilt shop in Southern Ontario has a shelf full of light coloured blenders -- those white on white, white on cream, beige on white "background" fabrics. So our anonymous quiltmaker was likely dependent on the local supply. I have quite a few myself:

But when you look at a great, light coloured quilt in a book or magazine, these are not the fabrics they used. In the Summer 2014 issue of Primitive Quilts Catherine Hughes has a very satisfying quilt called "Shoofly Delight" that shows what I mean:

"Shoofly Delight" by Catherine Hughes, Primitive Quilts magazine Summer 2014

Hughes used shirtings, light coloured fabrics with simple stripes or prints in dark colours. The difference is that with the variety of prints, the eye can clearly see the edges of each piece, even though all the fabrics are light in value. So the quilt looks scrappy rather than blended and/or stained.

And, to finally make this post relevant to my current projects, shirtings were also used in the background of Barb Adams' "Trick or Treat," the applique quilt project that came up in my "quilt lottery" back in April:

"Trick or Treat" by Barb Adams, When the Cold Wind Blows 2008

When this project came up I thought I had all the fabric in my stash and I could start right away. But this shirtings vs. blenders issue put things on hold. I very nearly made the same mistake as that other quilter a few years ago! I needed more shirtings for the backgrounds if I was going to be happy with the result.

I tried to go back to a different applique project instead, but I couldn't let this one go. So, I started shopping online for some new fabric. A dangerous situation! And a very surprising result, which I will show next time!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Machine!!

I've had my eye on this sewing machine since another Ontario quilter whose work I admire recommended it to me. A couple weeks ago I finally had the chance to drive up to That Sewing Place in Newmarket and give it a good trial. Needless to say, it came home with me after that! Isn't it beautiful?

You can see that my sewing table had a previous incarnation as a paint studio. But never mind, the machine is the Brother 1500S, which is a single stitch, high speed sewing machine. It has everything I want, including a needle down function and lots of workspace, and nothing I don't want, like a bunch of fancy stitches I'll never use. My old Janome still works well for those times I'll need the zig zag stitch. Although I am starting to think that will not be too often!

I was very lucky that the owner of the store, Jaret, who is an expert on this machine, was there to give me a complete lesson. Once I got home I was able to get it all threaded and set up without even cracking open the manual. It also comes with an extension table and a knee lift, which are not shown in the photo.


So far I've used it to piece the flannel parts of my snowmen blocks, I've done a little free motion quilting on the Homegrown placemats, and I've done some straight line quilting with the walking foot on Edward's quilt. It is really nice. When you get the free motion up to speed, the fabric positively glides under the needle. And the humongous walking foot is making easy work of Edward's wretched quilt. Plus, the machine will hold a full sized thread cone, which I really love.

So, no more excuses! I have a back log of projects that need quilting. Some are so old and long forgotten that I thought I'd post some photos with my to do list:

Homegrown kitchen set -- a little more FMQ in the centres and these will be ready for binding.
Edward's quilt -- long, long, long overdue, the straight line quilting on this quilt has been an ongoing nightmare. I used a new flannel sheet for the backing and the fluff goes everywhere, and it just keeps getting hung up for no apparent reason on my old machine. But the new machine copes beautifully!
It's Warm Inside -- I have some FMQ and an experimental quilting in sections technique to try on this one.
Hen Party -- I almost sent this out for quilting, but I had my own ideas that I wanted to try too. Now I can!
Highlands Houses -- my latest idea is to quilt this all over in a small clamshell pattern. I hope I can pull it off. :)
Spring Planting (aka the yoyo quilt) -- I think I finally have a way to quilt this monster. The yoyos make it very fat!

Since my WIP list has grown again, it seems appropriate to link up to WIP Wednesday at The Needle and Thread Network. Here's to a decent list of finishes in 2014!

Monday, May 19, 2014

16 Snowmen Blocks Done!

All my log cabin snowmen blocks are now done! Here's the final layout:

I have to say that my plan to randomly select my next project has been a success. Even when I was tempted to start something else over the past couple of weeks, the inital burst of energy from the quilt "lottery" generated enough momentum to carry me through. Fortunately, the chosen project was not very large, so that helped too!

The next step here will be to sandwich and quilt the blocks individually, and then join them at the end. But before I get to that, I have a backlog of projects to quilt. More on that in the next post!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Four More Snowmen Blocks

I haven't had much time to sew this week, but I do have another four of the log cabin snowmen blocks to show you.

My original plan was to use just the almost-solid blenders on the front of the quilt, and have a very graphic, more modern look. The white snowflake fabric in the block above was intended for the back. However, once I started cutting the strips for the blocks I realized that I didn't have enough for the top, and I had to "borrow" from the back.

That's what I get for buying the fabric before I finalize the design! But, I'm actually quite pleased with the way it looks, I think it adds a little sparkle to the quilt.

I hope I still have enough fabric for the back!

Friday, May 9, 2014

First Four Snowmen Blocks

I've had a fun day today, cutting the rest of my flannel strips and piecing the first four snowman blocks for my lap quilt, It's Warm Inside. Flannel is great to work with, I've found. All my fabric goes through both the washer and dryer, and the flannel is practically felt when it comes out. It doesn't fray, it doesn't stretch, the pieces stick together when you sew...easy!

I finished the first four blocks and while I was ironing the last seams open and congratulating myself on a job well done...

Whoops! LOL. Time to call it a day. But I did fix it first.

Last time I said I would give all the measurements, which I am now regretting because I don't know if anyone really needs measurements for a log cabin block. These ones will finish at 12" square. But I know estimating yardage can be tricky, so I think what I'll do is write the whole thing up in a proper pattern once the quilt is done.

So, here are the first four blocks finished, with the red and green block fixed up:

The flannels are all from Connecting Threads, by the way, from their Quilter's Candy Flannel Basics collection. And still available too!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Strip Chain Piecing

Here's my next new project, which I'm calling "It's Warm Inside." This is one of my randomly selected projects from a couple weeks ago. The concept is that we are looking out at the snowmen through window frames, while cozy inside. I was inspired by a photo of this project that was posted on Sew Mama Sew, but made by Shruti from And yes, it's just taken me half an hour to track down those links! project will be a log cabin lap quilt with several "new-to-me" techniques, including a version of quilting in sections and the strip chain piecing that I used to make the framed snowmen above. Judy Niemeyer uses a variation of this with paper piecing, which I'll be using when I get back to Riviera Star as well. So it was good to get some easy practice first!

Strip chain piecing is a fun technique that I will definitely use again. But, I made a couple of wrong moves, so I can share a few tips so you can learn from my mistakes! Plus, I'll give you all the measurements in case you want to make it yourself.*

I started by fussy cutting the 16 snowmen into 2.5" squares from two suitable fabrics I found in my stash. I had another fabric with snowmen too, but they were too small for the frames and it didn't look good. The white strips are cut 1" wide by the width of the fabric (WOF). For the 16 blocks I only needed 5 strips.

I started the strip chain piecing by putting just the white strip in the sewing machine and taking a few anchor stitches 1/4" from the edge. My fabric is a solid, but if yours is printed put it right side up. Then, with the needle down, lift the presser foot, lay one of the squares face down on the strip and right against the needle. The square and the strip should be right sides together and lined up along the right edge. Lower the presser foot and continue sewing your 1/4" seam. Once you've sewn down the square, keep the needle down, lift the presser foot, lay down the next square, and repeat to the end of the strip.

Benefit #1: No pins are needed, because the presser foot holds down the top of the square, and you can just keep a finger (carefully!) or a stylus on the bottom edge until it's sewn.

Benefit #2: All my snowmen were cut on the bias, but the strip underneath stabilizes the seam so it doesn't stretch at all.

Tip #1: Iron the seam open before you cut apart the blocks, it is more accurate. I didn't do that for the first strip, and some of the edges came out a little wonky.

Also, make sure the seam allowance is pressed away from the centre, which you can see is wrong in the photo. I had to go back and re-iron all these after I cut them apart!

Once you have cut apart all the blocks, you can start another strip and sew as before, laying each block in face down and sewing them to the strip one at a time. When you work clockwise around the block, and you iron the seam allowances away from the centre, all the seam allowances will be "down hill" as you sew, so no pins are needed.

Tip #2: Use a ruler to cut the strips apart, and keep squaring them up as you go. The next raw edge should be 2 1/4" from the opposite seam. I tend to sew a scant seam, so I often trimmed away a sliver of fabric from the centre while I was separating the pieces.

Once the four sides were sewn on, I gave all the pieces a final trim to square them up to exactly 3.5".

The next step will be to cut the rest of the outer strips, which will be in flannel, and finish the blocks. I'm hoping the contrasting fluffy and smooth fabrics will be interesting on the finished quilt. It's a lot of cutting...

...but, working with flannel like this is also "new to me," and it's been fun too, so far!

*Everyone is welcome to make this quilt for personal or charity use only.  Design, photos and text are copyrighted. Please contact me in the comments or via my profile with any questions.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

BFF Month 3 Finished

Here's the last motif for Month 3 of Rosalie Quinlan's Best Friends Forever. I am continuing to "Canadianize" the motifs where I can, so it seemed clear that the girl with the pigtails should be a redhead like Anne of Green Gables.

But I didn't know what to do with the character on the right. Shades of purple, perhaps? Then I remembered this illustration from Frances Tyrrell. If you look closely you can see one of the fairies in a very similar hat and tunic. Maybe it is a standard fairy outfit? Anyway, I went with green and I'm quite pleased with the result.

I also tried to do the flowers in light purple, but it made the piece too cold, and I wanted it to be sunny. So once again, there is no purple here. I'll try again in Month 4! Although, Month 3 was not completely purple-free:

Regular readers may have noticed that is it just three days since I said I would be packing this project away. But, after several days of doing nothing but Texas Star in the evenings, my hands were complaining. So I added BFF back in the mix so I don't strain one particular set of muscles. There will be one other change too -- the Trick or Treat baskets were not as "ready to start" as I thought. I may need more background fabric. So, I think I'll go back to Home Sweet Home, which at least is all blocked out, and the fabric choices are done.

The next post, though, will probably be some snowmen, because that's my plan for tomorrow!
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