Dueling Woolies, and a Couple of Tips

I’ve been working on these two wool hand embroidery pieces. One is for the shop, the other for home.  By the time I finish them, I will either have gotten wool completely out of my system, or I will have started a dangerously addictive habit.  I really like working with wool and have learned a couple of things.

(An acknowledgement of the patterns:  The first comes from a Moda book called Moda Mini Marvels. The second is a Wooly Lady pattern called Kaleidescope. Sadly, it no longer seems to be available.  But check out their site as they have many more patterns and kits that are similar.)

 

 

 

Tip Number One:

Use a long-arm stapler to attach the pieces of wool and hold them in place while you stitch.  Seriously. Skip the fusible. Skip the pins. They add bulk and distortion and take all the fun out of the smoothness of attaching wool to wool.  I  was struggling with it and our tech came over and said, “Do you want to know what the Australians do?”  Now, honestly, who doesn’t want to know what the Australians do. She suggested the stapler and I was struck by the simplicity and brilliance of the idea. Why didn’t I think of this?  Try it.

Tip Number Two:

You need this tool.  Clover Press Perfect Roll & Press. Your local quilt shop will have it and if they don’t, ask them to order it!  If you ever do piecing, this is one of the best investments you can make. I work in a quilt shop and try a lot of tools.  I like them for different things, and we all get addicted to different gadgets…it’s part of the process.

But the project I’m working on requires 1 in. half square triangles, finished size 1/2 in.  I need 84 of them.  That’s a lot of sewing, cutting and pressing of tiny pieces. But this little roller works SO WELL!  I did not need to use the iron once…it lays the seams so flat. Get it, try it, find out for yourself.

I continue to carry on, with more fun projects on the horizon.  But I find that at this time in my life, a little handwork is cathartic and soothing. I like my wool to be bright and cheerful, but who knows?  That can change at any time.  When all is said and done, we’re all evolving, aren’t we?

So You Think Improv is Easy?

When I was in college, I found myself in an Improv class.  I’m sure I wanted to take some sort of communications credit and the class was full, so in order to fill the elective, I took the only other alternative:  Improvisation.

I was terrified.

I prayed that the class would be an intellectual discourse on the history of theatre, comedy, acting etc. Nope.

The teacher asked us to introduce ourselves in this way:  The first person just had to say his name.  The second person had to say her name and the name of the guy before her.  The third person had to say her name and the name of the two people prior. You can see where this was heading.  Twenty-six people in (of COURSE I sat in the back), we were all giggling awkwardly, and, I’ll be darned, even the last person remembered everyone’s name. (Now, if we got up and moved around, or…heaven forbid…changed clothes, all bets were off.)

Our next task in the class, was to gather in a large circle. One at a time we each had to pretend to open an umbrella, hold it over our heads, and close it again.  Simple, right? The first few people did the obvious.  Then one person added a shake before they closed their “umbrella” and it suddenly seemed more real.  The next person added a twirl over her head, and before you know it, we were all really seeing each others’ umbrellas. Adding little tiny details mattered when it came to believability.

For our final grade, each person had to produce a skit.  It was the student’s responsibility to:

  1.  Describe a scenario.
  2. Cast characters from within the class.

That’s it.  The skits only lasted 5 minutes or so, but I never laughed so hard during finals as I did during that class.  Something about Improv brings out the silly in people.  It’s like playing, but it’s a lot more about interaction with others.  One of the main tenets of improv is you must always accept another’s reality. So if someone says “What about the kids?”  you can never say “We don’t have any.” (This example is taken from the book “Something Wonderful Right Away” by Jeffrey Sweet.)

All of this brings me to improvisational quilting…or improvisational piecing, which comes first. I wanted to do something freeing, use up some fabric and make something that has not been done by anyone else…at least not in the exact same way.

In order to do this, I had to set up a couple of rules for myself, much like the final in my Improv class:

  1.  I had to use the colorful jelly rolls of ombre fabric.
  2. I am not allowed to square everything up into even-sized blocks. It has to be more free-flowing than that.

That’s it.  Those are my two rules.

As you can see, the fabrics themselves have movement.  The colors are cheerful and I had plenty to work with…at least to start.

I can safely say that I have no idea where I’m going with this.

But I love it.

The challenging part comes in the curves and Y-seams.

If you’re not used to sewing curves, it can be daunting as there are just so many variables to keep nice and neat. It takes a little bit of thoughtfulness.  Just like improv acting.  Go with it. Try it.  Don’t say no to the crazy seam.

It might just create “something wonderful right away.”

 

 

Crazy is Good

I was sitting at the kitchen counter one day, staring at the valance over my window.  I’m ready for something new.  I get this from my mother who changed curtains in the kitchen to match every holiday and season.  In the fall, we had leaves, after Thanksgiving, holly and berries, in the spring, the lovely florals went up…you get the picture.

I don’t have cafe curtains, though I have thought about them.  But sitting there, staring away, I had an idea.  What about a quilted valance?  Better yet, what if I made matching seat covers for the chairs?

Suddenly I was excited about a project.  All I wanted was colorful and different.  So that’s what I made.

window3The valance is made of crazy quilt blocks, 8 1/2 inches unfinished. I grabbed all sorts of scraps I had lying around…some were from fatquarter bundles, some random, some leftovers from other projects and just began sewing.

The beauty of this project is that it doesn’t take any real focus or concentration.  The 1/4 inch seam doesn’t have to be perfect.The colors can be anything you want…no matchy-matchy stuff. Just square it up to 8 1/2 inches, then sew them together.

crazyblocks1 If you have never sewn this way (improvisational is what some call it) you will love it. Well, some people like me love it, and others find that they need more guidelines.  But, the freer you are with the blocks, the more fun it gets (if you can let go of the need for perfection.)

And the result is happy crazy.

window1For this valance, I assembled 3 rows of blocks, measured the window and the rod, and created a quilt sandwich and quilted the whole thing.  Then I came back and added the scallops and bias binding.  From the top, I just folded it down enough to form a rod pocket and sewed it in place with a couple of straight seams.  The binding goes all the way around, it’s just turned down at the top so you don”t see it.

And because the quilt is heavier than plain fabric, even with a lining, it hangs nice and flat.

I love it.  It’s exactly what I wanted.

Then I turned to the chairs.

chair3Each chair requires an additional 9 blocks.  I only finished one chair so far, but it goes fast. The blocks on the chairs are not quilted…just nine blocks sewn together.  I studied the chair to see how the cover was attached, and I could see that they started in the back. ( I am NOT an upholsterer, but would love to be…I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks when you get to armchairs and things like that!)

Anyway, I started in the back and pulled the fabric to the front, using a staple gun.  I did allow myself enough fabric to double the seam where it’s stapled…I didn’t want the fabric to fray and unravel.

chair2Just pull taut from the back  to the front and staple it down.  It doesn’t look very taut in this picture, because my hands were on the camera, but when you are working, you really need to pull tight, with one hand and staple with the other.

chair1You can do this.

I am loving how this turned out.  I know it won’t last forever, but now that I’ve changed the covers once, I can do it any time.

sinkwindow1Finally, I made another little valance to go over the sink, which is a smaller window.  Same process, fewer blocks.

This was fun stuff.  If you can make a quilt, you can make these valances and chair covers.  It’s just taking the same principles and adjusting to different shapes.

The Back Story of One Quilt in Madison This Weekend

When you work in a quilt shop, you talk to people.  You get to know them, you share stories, you find out their struggles and generally share tips, life hacks, experiences, and sometimes we even talk about quilting and fabric.

Yesterday, a young man walked into the shop.  I’d seen him many times before, he does gorgeous and unusual piecing…technical stuff. He likes to bring them in to show us, and we love to see his work.  Honestly, we love to see everyone’s work, it’s so inspiring.  But his is always a bit different.  One quilt he brought in was completely Harry Potter themed, with books and potions and characters all arranged on a series of shelves, with tiny pieced accents and Harry Potter memorabilia.  Cool stuff.

I turned to greet him, “Hey, haven’t seen you in awhile!”

He shuffled his feet a bit, as uncomfortable early twenty-something young men do, and said, “Well my mom got sick and had a long illness and died.”

At that, all of us working stopped in our tracks and went over to him. We offered our condolences and then he said, “After she was diagnosed, for the next 9 months we worked on a quilt together, and it’s showing in Madison. She died the day before it came back from the quilter.”

At this point I needed a Kleenex.

I asked if he had a picture of the quilt.  It was stunning…gorgeous…meticulous.  It reminded me of a Judy Niemeyer. He said he did all the cutting, pinning and pressing, his mom did the machine sewing. He told us that they matched every single thread, and if something wasn’t absolutely perfect down to the thread, they corrected it.  He said the medallion in the middle had 24 pieces of fabric coming together at the center and he managed to get it down to about 1/8 of an inch thick. He said Best Press is his friend. When they went to square it up it was 100 inches by 100 inches precisely.  They worked on it in the nine months that she was still feeling OK.

I cannot include a picture because it’s in competition in Madison at Quilt Expo this coming weekend Sep 8-10.

As part of the show, he’ll be having his picture taken with the quilt.  He said he’ll be bringing a picture of his mom to hold up so she’s in the shot.

If you will be at Madison Quilt Expo this weekend, you may want to send a little love and encouragement his way.

And, I don’t know, his quilt may or may not take Best of Show or any award at all.

But it sure is a winner.

 

 

 

Keepin’ It Together

So I finally got around to making one of these Sew Together bags.  Have you seen them?

sewbag5sewbag6

Here’s your convenient link to purchase the pattern. Or ask your local quilt store to get it in for you.  It’s from a designer named Sew Demented.  That should give you a hint.

One blogger noted that everyone wants to receive one as a gift….because no one wants to actually make one.

Here’s the thing.  It’s not a difficult bag to make.  It’s extremely functional.  It just takes a little time and patience and the more varieties of fabric the better.

And all the cool kids are making it.

Take a peek at Pinterest.

sewbag7I had never heard of this pattern until I made the sample for our Bernina Software Inspirations class.  Turns out the “software” part was the easiest thing to do. (And the embroidery software is optional…you can quilt or just leave the front of your bag plain).

sewbag1The idea behind this bag, is that you can carry all your sewing supplies in it and keep things organized.  You will see in the pictures that the bag has 3 zipper pouches with pockets in between.  If you have a fear of zippers, you will overcome it completely with this bag. In my humble opinion, the hardest part of any bag project is getting everything cut ahead of time.  And with this bag, you’ll want to use as many different types of fabric as possible.  The fun part is how scrappy and colorful and interesting each one can be.

Grab a fabric line you love and get a bunch of fatquarters from that line.  The brighter the better, and a fun binding doesn’t hurt either.

At this point, I highly recommend using this tutorial to assist in your assembly.  Read the directions in the pattern, then read this tutorial.  They are very helpful.

sewbag2The pattern calls for you to lay your fabrics in order and you install the zippers assembly-line style.

sewbag4After the zippers, you attach the sides, then the exterior of the bag is attached and binding added all the way around, including the zipper which holds the bag closed.  It’s pretty ingenious. Between the instructions and the tutorial, you should have no problems.

I started at 9:30 in the morning, and stopped to shop, get lunch, talk to my son after school, eat dinner….and I finished by 7 pm.  The next one would go even faster because I now understand the construction, and wouldn’t have to spend as much time reading.

So go ahead! Step out of your quilting comfort zone and try one of these fun bags.

 

Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

nickel quiltsQuilting is like gambling.  No, really. Stay with me on this one.

If you’re a typical quilter, as I am, you purchase fabric…maybe you even attend shop hops.  When you’re on vacation, you locate the nearest quilt shop and stop in for ideas and inspiration.  And fabric.

But when you lay down your money, you are placing a bet. You’re betting that you’re going to have the time, energy and inspiration —  in this lifetime — to use that fabric.  And the odds are good.  You, like me, have a history of completed projects, gifts you’ve made, accents around the house, finished, quilted, bound…complete.

You play the odds.  I do too.

But this week, I had to face the fabric.  I found a number of blocks I had started eight years ago (maybe longer).  I have all the fabric to make this into a queen size quilt.  I caressed the blocks.  I lovingly examined the fabric…already cut, by the way, ready for piecing. I inhaled.

I recently took a yoga class for the first time in twelve years.  (A lot has changed in my body.  For one, it’s not that easy now for me to get up and down off the floor.)  But the instructor had a calming voice and at one point she said, “Inhale….exhale…you know CEO’s and other high-powered executives have a hard time with exhale.  They can take long deep breaths in, but have the hardest time releasing, letting go, exhaling.”

And I realized something.  I’m no high-powered executive, but ALL my focus is always on the inhale.  The exhale is something I ignore.  The letting go, the release, is not something I ever think about.  My focus quickly moves to the next inhale.

So this week, I’m honoring the exhale.

It’s not easy. It is very difficult, EXTREMELY difficult, to admit to myself that I’m never ever going to finish that project I started eight years ago.  I gave myself this much wiggle room:  I will make the completed blocks into a lovely table runner.  Assembled, they will be functional, just not grandiose.  I will take it out in the springtime to celebrate their bright colors. But I will let it go at that.

And then I will exhale.

And fold ’em.  And let ’em go.

Ugly or Interesting? Read about it before you decide.

foodquilt4I’ve been working on this quilt for my teenage son.

I’m racing against the clock to get it done for Christmas. All I have left is hand sewing the binding and then I’ll need to make a quilt label (Don’t forget the quilt label!!)

It certainly was not my choice of fabric.  The pattern however, is the disappearing hourglass that I discovered in one of the recent Block magazines from Missouri Star Quilt Co.

The fabric has been the choice of my son, over the course of, oh, 13 years.  If you quilt and have a child, you know what I mean.

For years, basically his whole childhood, I would drag him to quilt shops.  He would slouch into a chair in a corner and wait for me to finish.  Usually.  However, on a number of occasions, he would approach me with a bolt of fabric.  Not a lovely bolt of fabric.

It was usually a bolt of french fries, or pizza, or chocolate chip cookies. Was this child always hungry? And because I wanted to encourage him (and also felt a little guilty for dragging him around), I would purchase a half yard here, a half yard there.

Well over the years, we had assembled quite a collection of food fabric.

And this year, because he’s old enough now, not to be shuffled from quilt shop to quilt shop, I made him a quilt of all the fabric he had selected over the years.

Don’t judge me.  This is not what he eats every day…but apparently what he thinks about while in quilt shops.

foodquilt1I guess what I’m enjoying about the quilt is that up close, you can see the details of the food, but you have to step back a bit to notice the quilt pattern.

foodquilt3foodquilts2foodquilt6It was larger than I expected, hanging over the top of a full size bed, so quilting was a bit of a challenge.

borderThe border is chocolate chips.  My son picked out the binding fabric which I thought was quite hideous against the chocolate chips.

So I added a small flat piping to separate the two fabrics…and miraculously, it looks pretty great.  I would never have selected any of these fabrics, but the random surprises of letting someone else choose turned out to be the best part.

backFinally, I pieced the backing from other fabrics he had selected along the way:  maps, pheasants and computer gear.

Want to know what floats around in your kid’s head?  Bring him (or her) to quilt shops and let them wander and select a few things.

You may or may not be surprised. But I guarantee it will be interesting.

Shipshewana Dreamin’ – Part 3

Don’t worry, this is my last post about Shipshewana.  I’m not a travel brochure.  But it was a peaceful getaway not far at all from home and so I just wanted to share.

I had the opportunity to meet an Amish woman who sells hand-quilted Amish quilts from her basement  —  some of them she works on herself, some of them she contracts out from others, and some she sells on consignment.

(An aside: the stark contrast between an Amish basement and my own is embarrassing. Hers was empty, with a few things on shelves, not a dust bunny or piece of anything unnecessary in sight.  Mine is filled with boxes from outdated electronics, old toys, old furniture, old books, old pictures.  What a cluttered, junk-filled life we live. )

Here are a few of the quilts she showed me.  This is just a sampling as she had many more. Make sure you scroll to the bottom, because at the end is an absolute masterpiece.

While she gave me permission to take the pictures and put them on a blog, she did not want her name given.  “What if someone sees a quilt and cannot live without it?”  I asked, in my total blundering non-Amish way.

She smiled and gave me a card.

So if you cannot live without one, leave a comment and I will privately give you her info. The prices are very reasonable for the amount of work.

While I did purchase a piece from her smaller-sized collection, everyday I think about driving back out to get the whole cloth quilt.  And who knows?  Maybe she already sold it.

But we can all still appreciate it.

This is one she did herself.  She pieces by machine and quilts by hand.

This is one she did herself. She pieces by machine and quilts by hand.

SHe chose the colors for this, but asked others to do the piecing and quilting.  She said she's not good at curves.

She chose the colors for this, but asked other Amish women to do the piecing and quilting. She said she doesn’t like curves.

amish4

Hand appliqued and hand quilted.  A beauty.

Hand appliqued and hand quilted. A true beauty.

This one is a masterpiece.  She told me an Amish woman in Pennsylvania gave it to her to sell on consignment.  It is a whole-cloth quilt, and the hand quilting is so perfect it almost made me cry.

This one is a masterpiece. She told me an Amish woman in Pennsylvania gave it to her to sell on consignment. It is a whole-cloth quilt, and the hand quilting is so perfect it almost made me cry.

wholecloth4wholecloth3

THe whole quilt was for queen size but with overhang, so very large.  the entire edging was in scallops with these lovely feathers.

 The edging was in large scallops with these lovely feathers.

 

 

Maybe You Stitch on the Edge Too!

An edgestitch is exactly what it sounds like.  A stitch on the edge.

Most sewing machines have a specific foot for this purpose and Bernina’s foot #10D is, of course, one of my favorites.

On the way to sewing this baby quilt I decided to add a ruffle.  So I cut 2 1/2 in. strips as you would for bias binding.  Only I needed twice as much to form the ruffle.  Because I wanted the ruffle to last through many washings, I decided to add a stitch right on the edge of the fold prior to ruffling.

edgestitch foot3I moved the needle 2 points over to the left, to stay just inside the fold.

rufflingNext I started to ruffle. You can see I am adjusting the ruffler to get just the right amount of “bite” so that the ruffle isn’t too curvy, but also not too flat.  You can see the edgestitch along the left, on the fold.  In general, when creating a ruffle, you need your length of the ruffle fabric to be twice the length of the fabric it will cover.

Then I attached the ruffle. (I don’t have a picture of that.)

edgestitch foot

Next, I attached the binding over the raw edge of the ruffle and the raw edge of the quilt.  It naturally wanted to turn itself with the ruffle on the outside, so I went ahead and did another edgestitch along the top front of the quilt.  The binding lays flat underneath.

edgestitch flawlessThe whole thing was only possible because I have rounded corners on the quilt…no miters. And I used a bias ruffle and a bias binding.  Isn’t that a gorgeous edgestitch?  Nothing like having the right tool for the job.

edgestitch foot4Now all I have left to do is to hand-stitch the binding on the back.  The binding is longer than usual because of the way the ruffle is attached.

almostfinishedNow all we have to do is wait for the baby.

 

 

Quilt Market Prep

It’s that time of year again. Quilt Market is coming up and the fabric designers and manufacturers are revving up their marketing engines. Come May 15-17, they will be at full throttle and social media will be abuzz with new product, new designs, new fabric and quilty fun.

But I’ve always loved a good preview.

And fabric manufacturers are getting good at it.

One of my favorites is Art Gallery Fabrics.  Young, hip, fresh, at least by my standards.  I love what new designers (read: young people) are doing in the industry.  Art Gallery has released a Look Book of their new Spring 2015 fabric. 

Take a look and let me know your favorites.  Mine so far is Sketchbook and Happy Home, but I have to admit, I love them all and would be hard-pressed to choose.

Moda, the pop queen of fabric manufacturers, is also starting to tease some of their new lines. On their blog, we get a glimpse of the new Bonnie and Camille,  as well as Minnick and Simpson, Zen Chic and Fig Tree Quilts.

Stay tuned, as I will try to distill some of the quilt market info as it becomes available.  In the meantime, quilt on, friends!

grandneice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New quilt in progress for my  grand niece,  pattern is free from Me and My Sister Designs.  Fabric is Airmail, by Eric and Julie Comstock.