Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas sewing - just a little

Some years I try to make most Christmas gifts, but this has not happened for a few years now; however, I did manage a few small things.

I made two tote bags following Adrianne's tutorial. I used a different size to maximise my piece of Soft & Stable and I did some straight line quilting to keep some of the layers together. My bags also have a bigger footprint - I chose to sew a 2" box corner. They went together super fast and the biggest issue was finding webbing for the straps that matched. These two were given as gifts to my two coworkers, one of whom had a tote in such bad shape I was starting to be a little embarrassed going around with her.

I also made four coasters for a Monday Modern Secret Santa - as is often the case with me, I forgot to take a photo before gifting it. Last year's was the same. I did a pretty traditional looking pattern using silver/white half square triangles on mostly black. The squares are 1" resulting in a 4" coaster. They looked a little bland, so I bound each one in a super bright solid binding (lime, coral, aqua, and hot pink). Here's a drawing of the design.

After a few years, I made two more woodland creatures (is a fungus a creature?) for the advent calendar. I am hoping to do at least one more before Christmas. These are so cute and go together so quickly, I don't really have an excuse why I haven't done more. I ordered the pattern from Etsy - they are by Amy Ray.

I have now finished work for a long while - I will return when my daughter starts school (6 weeks from now). I will hopefully get some sewing done when we are home - we are away for 3 weeks during the holidays.

Top priority is my center block for the 2015 Cotton Robin round robin. It is due by the end of January and since we will be away, I need to get it finished before I leave. This year's challenge is to use a color or color combination that we have not used before. I know I won't use blue or green, but it's hard to work out what I should use. Can't share more because it has to stay a secret, but here's last year's finish with my center block.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A dress

Lately I've been having trouble finding clothes for my daughter. Here in New Zealand, there seems to be a large hole in the sizes - most kids things only go to 8 or 10 and then suddenly there's nothing. There are few girls size 12, and nothing in a 14 or 16. I'm told she has to wear women's sizes, but she's shaped like a child, not a woman. The XS necklines are halfway to her tummy and the sleeves are 4 inches too long.

So, when faced with her primary school graduation (since when do you graduate from year 6?), I turned to some ancient skills - sewing clothes. There was a time many years ago when I would spend the weekend tailoring a fitted lined suit out of Italian wool crepe to a Vogue Donna Karan pattern. Those days are long gone and it's been over a decade since I followed a dress pattern.

But, some of the girls dresses go up to a 16, so I thought this would be the way to go until my girl gets taller and curvier.

We picked out a pattern (and then called around looking for somewhere who had it in stock - tricky) and some cotton fabric. I spent much of Sunday and another 45 minutes last night finishing it off. Everything was straight forward except the zipper - I always hated zippers. I used to prefer invisible ones in my pencil skirts and cocktail dresses, but I thought I'd just follow the instructions for the standard zipper. It's always the top part near where the slider stops that gets me. And there's always a gap at the top and I can never get the required hook and eye to work. But ignoring that, it came out great.

Since most of my sewing lately has been quilting, it's nice to try out some other techniques and stitches on my Juki F600 machine. The buttonholes turned out fine and I even used the blind hem stitch and special foot for the hem. I'm quite pleased at the end result. Maybe I'll make myself something...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Let the sun shine in

The weather in Auckland has been pretty patchy this week - I woke to hail this morning. But, my day off yesterday was filled with sunshine - at least in my sewing room.

I won 15 sunrise blocks (7" x 14") from Block Lotto in June and a while ago I started piecing a giant sun to go in the center of a quilt to be surrounded by smaller ones. The half-sun blocks needed to be paired up to make full suns - and this was no easy task. It is always a compromise when you are working with elements in a quilt that were made by a variety of people.

I thought I would share my experience trying to put together some of these blocks. My goal is not to criticize any of the lovely quilters who contributed blocks - but there are challenges, and since this is the fifth quilt I've made from blocks that others have contributed, I have learned some lessons on how to best deal with some problems that come up.

I think that this block especially was at risk of being inconsistent. Different methods were offered for piecing (by hand or foundation paper pieced) and some people (including me) had trouble convincing their printers not to re-scale the patterns that were provided. A lesson to any of us creating a pattern for others: include dimensions on the pattern in both horizontal and vertical directions. My printout seemed correct in one direction, but I realized (luckily, not too late) that it was not correct in the other direction.

In my case, the variation of the width of the suns among the 15 blocks was almost an inch. Most were within 1/4 inch of each other. The sizes of the center half circles also varied, although not as much. My usual approach is to come up with a layout that obscures these differences - either with sashing or offsetting the blocks. But, some block designs are made to be interlinked and can often form intriguing secondary designs between them. For this project, I really wanted round suns, so I had to get creative.

I had three background colors to work with, so I grouped the blocks by background (blue, white, and yellow). Then I matched them up into pairs fitting them together as much as possible. Two blue ones were much bigger than the others and one of those was the biggest of the lot. For this one, I took in the large curved seam, especially at the edges by sewing outside the original stitching. This did slightly distort the block, but I knew I would trim them all square once they were paired up.

I needed to make one more half sun block so that I could have 8 pairs, so I made one with a yellow background to match the orphan that I had left. I admit that no pair is perfectly matched, but I don't mind. Now that they are all squared and trimmed, they look quite good on the design wall. I'm glad I kept every one that was sent to me and didn't give up on any of them by judging them too difficult to save. I can't imagine putting together 16 of these blocks myself - so I have 9 other quilters to thank. I made four of these blocks and they were pretty tricky. Three of them are in this quilt and the fourth (and best one) was sent to another winner.

The blocks were designed to finish at 14" and I've trimmed them down to finish at 13". The big center square will be a 32", so I'll need some sashing so that I can put two small suns on each side edge of the center. I also don't know what I will do in the corners. I guess I'll figure that out once I finish the two other quarters of the center sun.

Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced.

Stumbling towards the finish line

[NOTE: I was so disorganized when I wrote this last week that I never finished it - so, you have to imagine going back in time to read it and then moving forward in time to see the finished photos.]

Have you ever had a project that just didn't want to get finished? That's how I feel about my blue snowflake quilt - especially now that I've been so close to finishing for ages.

It's been a WIP for over 3 years and it was rescued from being a UFO a few times. In August I did a big push to get the last block appliqued and the top done, and by mid September it was mounted onto the Swiftquilter frame and I started the quilting. But then life got in the way and the quilting (which was more detailed than anything else I have done) took much longer than expected.

So, each deadline that I was trying to make, I missed:

  1. Auckland Quilt Guild Festival of Quilts submission on 4 October
  2. The Blogger's Quilt Festival (see Amy's Creative Side) entries closed on 31 October
  3. And finally, Auckland Festival of Quilts merchant's stand setup tomorrow (I know, there's still a chance I will make this one)

The quilt has been near-done for almost two weeks, but the hand sewing on the binding took me a while and the tucking of hundreds of thread tails is lingering over me like some leftover Halloween specter.

[Here it is - finished and hanging in our merchant stand.]

[Here's some detail, I love the back.]

And then there's Mario (of Nintendo Mario Brothers fame). I am used to missing deadlines for myself, but this is not a lesson that I want to teach my 10 year old right now. I moved through Halloween unscathed by costume prep because last year's still fit and she was happy to wear it again. But, when the invitation arrived for Charlie's "Video Game Dress Up Birthday Party" this Friday, I knew I was in trouble. I did suggest putting a box on her head in the style of Minecraft, but that was not popular.

So, it was off to source costume supplies last weekend - $50 later we had fabric for blue overalls, a red t-shirt, red fleece for a hat, white gloves, white buttons, yellow paint to cover the white buttons, and a variety of stick-on mustaches.

So far, the overalls are sewed together, the hat is made, and the buttons have been painted with about 10 coats of paint. All that's left is to seal the buttons with acrylic and sew them onto the overalls. I also have to make massive buttonholes for the big yellow buttons. My Juki F600 has a fab automatic button-hole attachment, but it has it's limitations - in this case 1-1/4" buttons. My buttons are more like 1-1/2", so I will need to do them old school. I am considering using Velcro instead, it is just a costume after all.

[Mario, all finished.]

Meanwhile, tomorrow is setup day for the Festival of Quilts and I will spend most of it packing up sewing machines, accessories, tables, a Swiftquilter, display quilts, etc. and then unpacking them all for the show.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quilting and Newton's laws of motion

The other day I was contemplating some physics - okay, that's a lie. But, there was a time, a long time ago, when I was quite embedded in physics and I was pretty good at it. Now, my applied mathematics is limited to calculating the size of a half square triangle, which I often get wrong the first time round.

But, I am a fan of Brian Cox and I'm sure he has never applied Newton's laws to quilting and creativity, so I may be the first. This is ground breaking stuff.
First law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
This is me and quilting - once I get going, I keep going, but if I stop I stay stopped. What is the force that starts or stops the motion? The stopping part is easy - they are the usual trappings of life: work, kid, pets, weather, cooking dinner, and whatever excuse I can come up with... But what is the force that gets things moving?
Second law: The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.
This one's a bit trickier, but it's all about force and acceleration. Basically, if the mass is constant, you need force to make it go faster. I'm considering my project as the mass, so I need to exert some force to ramp up rather than drift along at the constant speed that law one suggests.
Third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So, as my creativity and productivity accelerate because of the force I exert, there is going to be an opposite reaction to compensate - how about we get take out for dinner tonight (again)?

Stop rambling - tell us how this translates to the quilts?

The blue snowflake quilt is on the frame and I started quilting it (for real) yesterday. I had a few false starts on the weekend, but this quilt is 3+ years in the making and I was a bit nervous about taking the first stitch. Free motion quilting is hard to unpick, so there is a certain amount of commitment required.

I debated the quilting design and changed my mind 100 times. I wanted something that took advantage of the Swiftquilter setup and showcased what could be done. But, there are always those limitations to consider and these are half of the design challenge.

I did a lot of doodling and reviewed Angela Walters' Craftsy class Machine Quilting Negative Space. I took away some good ideas about changing the scale of the quilting design and echoing the piecing motifs in the negative space (thank you Angela). Progress is good and although I'm never 100% thrilled with my work up close, the overall effect is working well for me. I'm 1/3 done, so a few dedicated afternoons should get this one done.

I've also started piecing the center of a quilt that will use the sunrise blocks I won from Block Lotto a few months back. I found a pattern that I originally discovered as part of a New York Beauty Quilt Along a few years ago. The patterns are here (note: they are in German, the English links seem to be broken). I've chosen number 7 and scaled it up to finish at 16 inches.

So far I've finished one quarter and am working on the second. I don't always like foundation paper piecing, but it's the best way to get good results with a design like this. This time I am rough cutting the pieces because they are quite big and it's easy to misjudge the size and placement. I made templates with a 3/8 seam allowance and free-hand cut the fabric with my rotary cutter.

Of course, sometimes I still get it wrong - like this wedge that I sewed on backwards.

I hope to have both quilts done before the end of October. There's also a sewing day Saturday scheduled with a group I belong to - perhaps I will power through the rest of my green HST quilt...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finished tea towel owl quilt

This little quilt has been done for a little while, but I have had some trouble finding a good spot to photograph it. How do you take photos of your finished quilts?

The lovely Helen hand quilted around the owls for me after I had a nervous breakdown trying to do it myself. And, my mom did the binding because I was too busy. I had hoped to bring it along to the show in Hamilton, but did not quite get there.

The quilt is destined for the wall - the vintage tea towel in the center was a splurge and I suspect the colors will fade with washing. It was started when Sophie organised a tea towel challenge at the beginning of the year.

You can see more posts on this project here.

Blue snowflake quilt top ready for quilting

After a few false starts, I finally settled on a layout for my blue snowflake blocks. The wide sashing and borders makes good use of the feature fabric and makes a real statement. I like that it's different than the traditional narrow sashing with wide border. There is a lot of room for quilting and I plan to make this one a showpiece for what can be done on the Swiftquilter. Of course, this is limited by my skills - improving, but by no means expert.

The usual echoing around the applique is not possible using the frame. The blocks are too big for that. So, I will need to use a fill around them to create some texture and bring out the applique. I was experimenting with tiny matchstick lines while working on our stand at the Craft & Quilt Fair in Hamilton last month. I think it might be an effective technique around the snowflakes. It is dense, which means that the other areas will also need to be quilted with at least a medium density to balance it out

This is always a nerve-wracking process. There's no unpicking dense quilting; once I get started, I can't go back. I've ordered some thread for the job (should have thought of that earlier), so I'll get started when that arrives in a week or so.

Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quilting time

After a long period of little sewing, I have managed to move forward on a few things.

Last weekend Melanie and Robyn (from Monday Moderns), my mother, and I started quilting one of the two community quilts that I picked up from the Auckland Quilt Guild at the last meeting. A few of the girls were interested in giving the Swiftquilter a try and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finish off a few quilts for the guild to give away.

After a brief intro on using the frame, we worked through some ideas for the quilting. I admit that this is the hardest part of quilting on the frame - there's a bit of forward planning required. I suppose that this is the case with all quilting. The simple block design on the little quilt made a good guide to quilt around. We ended up with some diagonal squiggles and some spiral-centered daisies in the squares and feathers and swirls in the narrow border.

The group managed to quilt about half the quilt with everyone taking turns. I finished it up during the week and then mounted another one onto the frame. I made quick work of it with an all-over pattern.

Both quilts still need binding - I have a few volunteers, so hopefully, they will be back to the guild soon to give to someone that will appreciate them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Progess after 3+ years

My blue snowflakes have resurfaced after taking me almost 3-1/2 years to applique 9 blocks. I thought I had decided how I would lay them out and the number of each type (light on dark or dark on light) was determined by this layout. But, after some analysis, drawing, calculating, whining, and recalculating I decided on a different direction.

I admit that my taste has changed over the years and although I still love the colors and the focal fabric (above), I didn't want to use a traditional on-point layout with sashing and borders which was my original plan. But I also do not (I repeat: DO NOT) want to make any more applique blocks. So, I added 1/2 square trianges to the corners to put the blocks on point without needing to mess with setting trianges. This also made all of the blocks one color, so the mix/match of the dark and light backgrounds would be less obvious.

I kept wanting to introduce some green, then maybe use the focal fabric as a few blocks. But this fabric is busy and it all looked too much. But without it, all the fabrics didn't quite go with each other and there was too much white.

So with mom's advice, I have gone back to sashing - wide 4 inch sashing and borders using the focal fabric. It does work, I think because of all that white to break up the busy print and not distract from the applique. The size of the quilt will be a bit odd as a 58-inch square - not exactly a king single which was the plan.

I'm already thinking about how to quilt it. There will be a lot of negative space, so it will require something interesting. Hopefully it won't be 3 years until I get around to finishing it.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced WIP Wednesday.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A sunny Block Lotto win

June's Block Lotto was a 14 x 7 sunrise in aqua, turquoise, yellow, and white. I was so pleased to win because the block was challenging and I can't imagine making enough of them to put together a quilt. I was also happy to win so that I could keep two of the three blocks that I made. I was not pleased with how they came out and was wondering if they were not good enough to send to someone else. Luckily, as a winner I can choose to keep some or all that I made. So, I sent on the best of the three and kept the other 2 for myself.

I will receive 15 more making a total of 17. I'm not sure how I will arrange them or if I need to make a few more.

I made mine using different methods. For one (bottom one in photo), I paper pieced the sun rays, machine appliqued the center circle, and machine pieced the background onto the semi-circular sun. The problems with this one were with the scaling of the printed pattern, which I realized too late was wrong. It did turn out close to correct, but was not perfect.

The second one was entirely hand pieced (middle in photo). I made it while I was moving in to my new house and thought I could do it sitting by the TV in the evening. I don't think I've ever hand pieced something like this. I think the worst part was marking out the pieces. I also had some inconsistent seam allowances. Like the first, it was close to right, but not quite.

The third that I sent away was a combination of the two methods - paper pieced rays, hand appliqued centre, and hand pieced background. This turned out to be the best of both worlds and definitely the approach I will take if I make a few more.

I've received three so far and am eagerly awaiting the rest. It's so fun checking the mail!

Round robin has come home

For the past 3 years I have participated in Julie's Cotton Robin. For those of you unfamiliar with round robins - each participant makes a center block and passes it on to someone else who adds to it. In this round robin the center gets 2 rounds of borders and a third for quilting and binding. When it's finished it heads home back to the person that made the center block.

The process is anonymous so you do not know who is working on your quilt. It's always a creative challenge working with someone else's ideas and integrating your own into the mix. It is one of the things I really enjoy each year.

You can see this year's reveal here and my posts from previous years here and here.

This year I made a (slightly too busy) block from small equilateral triangles. Each one finished at 1 inch tall. I admit that I should have used a less busy background, but I wanted to introduce more colors into the mix. The block was an experiment for me - the round robin is a great opportunity to try out a technique on a small scale. I would love to make a big quilt with lots of these stars in different colors.

The first border was done by Julie who headed towards a color scheme that was a bit quieter that my start. At first I thought it dulled it all down, but now I think it lets the center shine. The piecing really enhances the center.

Maria did the second border and created a checkerboard design in grey and purple. I love the skinny aqua border (added by Julie or Maria) which sets off the two others.

The quilt was hand quilted by Cathy. The hand quilting was the perfect choice and echos the print in Maria's grey fabric. She added little 6-point stars in the checkerboards. I also love the blue binding.

I worked on three other quilts. First was Anne's improv center block. I added a border of little fuschia squares surrounded by dark blue and green batiks. I had trouble getting started on this one. The center didn't lead me in an obvious direction. I thought I wanted to create something with a regular pattern without losing the spirit of the improvisational piecing.

I added a second border to Sandra's tree. Glen had added an unusual curved woven section and I added the darker black strips, blue crosses, and a hot pink/orange outer border. I thought this one needed something bold and quirky to hold it all together. I like the asymmetry of the finished quilt.

The final round was Rachel's applique center. The two borders were so well integrated it was hard to tell where one started and the other finished. I decided against FMQ and did outlining on the applique, continued the circular lines for a while and then added rectangular spirals in each corner. Everything was quilted using a very fine beige thread.

I love doing these round robins. Every finished quilt is a surprise. And, although my quilts never turn out as I expect, they are always fun. Everyone's perspective is different and that's what makes it such an enjoyable process. I can't wait until next year.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My WIP is not a quilt

It's a house.

I moved into my new house last week after a flurry of activity and some anxious moments when I thought I would not finish in time for the new owners to move into my old one. The relief was unimaginable when I carried the last thing out the door (not counting the towels I forgot in the downstairs bathroom - a welcome gift for the new residents?)

My move may be one of the shortest - only one house stands between my old and new address. One might think that a short move is easier, but it's not. If everything had to be on the truck by a certain time, I would have been ready; instead I could compromise and say to myself: "Oh, that doesn't need to be packed in a box, I can just carry it down the road." After about 50 trips down the road, sometimes in the rain, I realized the error of my ways.

There is nothing new about my new house. It is of undetermined age and has been altered through the decades. My guess is that the oldest original parts are 100+ years old and the newest parts are from the 70's. There are many inspiring details that I will try to post pictures of - some might even be integrated into a quilt design or two. There are many uninspiring details too (like the bathrooms).

The old part of the house was divided into 2 flats and a basement flat was also added in the late 60s. Neither upstairs flat is quite right - one is smaller and sunnier and has the big original kitchen; the other is bigger and has a central living room and allows us to have a bedroom next to my girl who is 10 and not old enough to have her own apartment. Then there was the internet in one flat but the TV in the other. Going outside to have breakfast or check email was slightly inconvenient.

The only solution - find a door between them. There must have been 1 or even 2 doors from the main hallway to the three-bedroom flat - the house was once one large residence. Hubby got out the tools and after a few exploratory cuts, found the doorway.

Behind the plasterboard in the three-bedroom flat was some artwork, painted there on some old wallpaper. It is odd but amusing. Its age is unknown but I imagine it being painted by some hippies some time between the door being closed up and the plasterboard added. The old walls in NZ are often rough boards nailed to the framing with hessian / burlap covering. Over this is wallpaper. It makes for interesting wall archeology.

My sewing stuff is buried in a pile of boxes somewhere in the front room. There is an extremely slim chance that I can find it and make enough room to set up my machine and ironing board for some quilty therapy this weekend. The unpacking seems endless and it is hard to stay motivated when I know that in 6-9 months we will be packing it all up again so that the real work can begin. Does anyone know a good architect?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Finished wedding quilt

I finished the quilt for my friend's wedding which was on Saturday. I almost forgot to put a label on it, so with only a couple of hours to spare I was sewing it on the back.

I'm very happy with the end result and almost wish I could keep it for myself. Sometimes I think I like quilts that I make for others - they are better planned than ones I make for myself (not to mention the fact that they get finished quickly). There are several mistakes on this quilt, but it does take some looking at to see them. No handmade thing is perfect - isn't that kind of the point?

I don't have a good way to get photos of big quilts. I really need to figure something out. So here is the "Hey you guys, hold this for me" picture.

I did the quilting using my Swiftquilter frame and Juki TL-98P machine. After it was pinned and ready to go, I would guess it took me 4-6 hours to do the quilting. I admit that I tend towards dense quilting, so a more open pattern would have been faster. I used a free-hand spiral turned flower petal motif. It was easy to do and required no starts/stops and little concentration.

I had some soft sandy-colored variegated King Tut thread. There is no question that this is my very best favorite thread to use for quilting. This particular color just melted into the quilt. I used some pre-wound bobbins of Superior's bottom line in a pale grey. I've never used the pre-wound ones before and they were super convenient. Given the 8 bobbins that I used, it's nice to grab one from the bag and drop it in.

I can't be sure that they were 100% trouble free. I noticed on the back a few minor flaws and I suspect that the bobbin might have been the culprit. However, I also found that the bobbin case tension was too loose because some fluff was caught up in it and this too may have been the cause.

Of course none of this is important to the recipients of the quilt. All I hope is that they have many years shared together snuggling under its warmth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Scrappy X block

It is my turn to define the monthly block for Monday Modern quilters. I thought I'd make something up that was quick and could use up a few scraps.

  • Background - white or white-on-white
  • Scraps - bright solids or tone-on-tone prints (avoid prints with too many colours)

Cut an 8-1/2 inch square from your background fabric. For the bright scraps I used strips that were about 5 inches long and between 1 and 2-1/2 inches wide but you can use smaller ones that are 2-1/2 inches long (more about this later).

Sew the scraps together. In my case I made one strip that was more than 14 inches long and 5 inches wide. If you use smaller scraps you will need to make 2 strips, each about 2-1/2 inches wide and at least 14 inches long. These are bigger than they need to be but will be trimmed down.

Press well and then trim the stip down so that you have 2 strips that are 2 inches wide and 14 inches long. For mine I made one strip and then cut it lengthwise to make 2 strips.

Cut your white background square in half along the diagonal.

Sew one strip along the diagonal of one of the white triangles. Make sure you center the strip - it will stick out quite a bit at each end. Also be careful on the bias of the white triangle - try not to stretch it while you sew.

Press the seam towards the white. Lay the other half of the triangle on top so that the points are lined up. Sew this together watching out for that stretchy bias edge.

Press well. You should now have a square with the scrappy strip in the middle. Leave the ends untrimmed and sticking out.

Cut the square again on the diagonal perpendicular to the scrappy strip.

Using the same method as before, sew the strip to one triangle, press, and then line up the other triangle and sew it on.

Press well and then trim the square down to 9-1/2 inches. Make sure when you trim that you keep the X centered. I used a 6 inch wide ruler and lined up 4-3/4 inches on the inner corners of the X to center it. You're done!