Friday, April 18, 2014

Now with even more applique!

As I mentioned earlier, I decided to make templates for the stems instead of using bias strips. It seemed like the best way for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted the motifs to be very uniform in shape, cutting templates would eliminate the wobble that sometimes finds its way into bias strip stems. Secondly, this stems are really rather thick, getting them to lie flat might have been a challenge. And last, working with a very dark background meant that even the brightest light box would have a tough time showing the guide lines. These motifs span the background from the pieced block to a background border, so I'd have to squirrel around the entire quilt to do the marking, placement and sewing of the motifs. Ick.

To make life even easier, the entire motifs were sewn together before placing them on the background. They can be held in place with fewer pins, and since the flower parts and stems are already stitched, all that is left to do is stitch around the perimeter.

This close up shows the stitching on the appliques. I'm a big fan of Superior's MonoPoly. It really is the best there is, super fine, flexible and yet strong. Love it. I've used clear here, the smoke color would have been too dark.

I didn't quite know how I was going to quilt it, I rarely do. I thought that the quilt was already busy enough, decided that the eye needed quiet places to rest. In the end I quilted the snot out of the background and added just enough stitch in the ditch on the appliques to give some dimension. Most of these spools of thread returned to the bin unused.

Here it is, all basted up and ready to quilt. This is the moment of terror, when I take this quilt top that I really love and chance ruining it with my quilting. Yeah, even though I've been machine quilting for more than thirty years, I still have to talk myself down before I attack the quilting.

Of course I didn't take a picture of the finished quilt, I was working on a deadline and wanted it out the door. But I wanted to show you a little bit more of the piecing. It's not perfect, although I am very happy with the overall outcome. What I wanted to show is how the seams are pressed. Instead of following the old rule of pressing towards the dark, I pressed all the seams away from the background. In doing so, the design fabric is elevated, pushed forward visually, making the background fabric recede. Stitching in the ditch around the piecing will push that background even further back, giving the design a real opportunity to shine.

I do hope that someone heading to Paducah for the show would be kind enough to send a picture of my quilt in the collection. It's the only time one of my quilts will hang in a major show. And at next year's show, when the quilt is auctioned off to benefit the National Quilt Museum, I hope it will bring in a tidy sum.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Piecing the Background

When my BFF remarked on how complex the center star looked, I just said, pshaw! It's not nearly as hard as it looks. After all, the feathers are merely half-square triangles! No biggie.

Well, yes biggie. It turned out to be quite the challenge to piece. I was so engrossed in figuring out what to sew next that I forgot to take more pictures. (I could have sworn that I did!)

Sure, the half-square triangles were a snap, but after that, each step took a lot of consideration. I tried to plan out the order of the steps in advance, but gave up and decided to just hope the star would tell me what to do next. It did, but, I have to say, I haven't sewn this many inset seams in one block before.

The block was designed to finish at 23", because it made the math a little easier. I was totally surprised and impressed with myself when it came out to just the right size! With a block with so much fiddling about, I was sure that it would be off by a country mile.

But here's the secret: aside from the ability to figure out piecing order, which did take a bit of advanced piecing know-how, the sewing part only requires the most basic of quilt making skills.

It makes me sound so curmudgeonly to say it, so totally old school, but mastering accurate cutting and sewing will never let you down. Learning just two skills, understanding how to cut out right sized pieces, and that holy grail of piecing, the quarter inch seam allowance, will open the world of piecing to you.

One more skill was needed for this block: understanding inset seams. They are made to sound so scary, but the secret of success is just to always sew away from a fixed seam. In other words, we begin a new seam right where we left off.

I've loved the challenge of this quilt, and I'm seriously considering making it again. I'm sort of into pastels at the moment, so maybe I'll make a very girly version to replace the one that got away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Glue Basting

Applique isn't hard, it just takes time. It's methodical, and I think that's what I like best about it. Or maybe choosing the colors. Either way, it's a step by step process. I like to set things up so that I can see my progress, for this quilt I decided to do all the red flowers first, because there are more of them, and when they're done I'm more than half way done with the flowers.

That, and a good Craftsy video on my tablet. I'm learning all about different yarns and the projects they are best suited for. In no time at all, I have a beautiful pile of red flowers. Ta Da! And I've learned a few things about yarn.

I must have a touch of OCD (or CDO, as I prefer to have the letters in alphabetical order), because I used this project as an opportunity to finish off all my partially used glue sticks. Keeps things tidy, you know?

When all of the glue basting is done the shapes are organized into motifs.

At this point, I decided to use templates instead of bias strips to make the stems. I want the curves to be uniform, so glue basting seems to be the best course.

I'm off to make the stems, and when I'm done with the glue basting it will be time to stitch the motifs together.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

While I've been away...

Lots of little things have happened in the last couple of weeks. Nothing exciting really, just day to day sort of stuff. Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows that I struggle with the idea that what I do might be interesting to anyone else. But, there are lots of blogs out there that I love to read, so, here goes.

The deadline for the Pilgrim/Roy Invitational Challenge is fast approaching. My goal is to ship it out by Friday, but we'll see how it goes. It's been my main focus for the last few weeks.

Quilters often think, when they see an applique intense quilt such as this, that it's hard to do. While the piecing gave me bits of fits (can you say inset seams?), the applique is just simple shapes. The motifs are not difficult to do, but they do take time.

I struggled a bit, with the fabric choices. As you've seen, I really wanted to use polka dots, the challenge fabric just begged for polka dots! But I was seriously dubious about my original selections, and had pretty much given up on the idea. I had a brief retail therapy opportunity before speaking for the Gathering in Fort Wayne, IN on National Quilt Day, where I found this perfect palette of dots.

All tone on tone, multiple values, perfect compliments to the crazy challenge fabric. (Yes, those are fingerless gloves on my desk, it can get pretty nippy in the studio.) Once I had just the right fabrics, I just dove into creating the templates for the applique shapes.

It's been a while since I've worked on a project with repeating motifs, but by marking each piece (I call it my addressing system), I'll know where each shape belongs. As the flowers were cut apart, each shape was stacked up on the appropriate fabric and then pressed in place. Another big bite of the project is done.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Great Big Sale on Craftsy!

Starting now on Craftsy, and running until midnight on Monday, March 17th, all of the classes are on sale!

I love Craftsy, I loved Craftsy before I became a Craftsy instructor. The classes are in depth, and the videos are marvelously clear. I have signed up for dozens of classes over the last couple of years, from cake decoration to photography to knitting and spinning.

Just in case you're not aware, my two classes are Machine Finished Hand Applique, and Oh My Stars!

Click here to start shopping!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Honestly. I've tried very hard not to complain about the weather. It's been weird and whacky all over the place. We're having winter with a capital "W". We haven't seen the ground since weeks before Christmas. This is unusual for us. The bitter cold has made it nearly impossible to work in my window filled studio. The poor little fireplace/furnace as struggled to bring the temperature above fifty degrees. It's hard to do stuff with numb fingers.

But it's March now, and the sun will have her way with us. I can feel the longer daylight in my bones. We're having more sunny days. It's supposed to go above freezing later this week, and, yesterday I saw three blue birds at the feeders.

Pow! I'll bet all that color got your attention! The print fabric is the closest I could find to the challenge fabric in EQ. I could have scanned the actual fabric to make a more accurate showing, but this is just a working diagram so it's not really worth the time.

After settling on a design, I decided it was too busy to use all my polka dot fabrics, instead, I plan on using tone on tone batiks.

I guess, since I haven't just plowed ahead, I'm having second thoughts about the amount of applique. Is it even possible to have too much? I'm thinking about eliminating the smaller motifs, but then the quilt looks empty. Is it back to the drawing board for me?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Where the light is better

Stop me if you've heard this one. A kid loses his toy and he's tearing up the living room looking for it. Couch cushions flying, magazine baskets overturned, in short, it's general mayhem. Enter mom, who is not at all thrilled with the state of the room, asking, "where did you see it last?" The kid answers (wait for it), "in my bedroom, but it's dark in there, and the light is better out here." Cue the rim shot.

If I were the sort to choose a word of the year (and I have been that sort in the past), my word would have to be "searching". For the last couple of years I've been looking for something I've lost. The trouble is, I don't know where I saw it last, or even exactly what it is.

Symptoms include (but are not limited to) false starts, re-reorganizing, duplicating tools in the search for the "right" one, acquisition of supplies for new hobbies (just on speculation because it looks fun and offers new stuff to organize), lack of blog posts (because there is nothing to report) and general crankiness.

Perhaps this is what burn out looks like, my loved ones have certainly suggested it, more than once. But how does one burn out in a vocation one loves? I mean, really, I get paid to design and make quilts, and share that joy with others. How is this not the coolest job ever?

Last summer I had a bit of an epiphany. I had come to dread time at the sewing machine. My long awaited dream machine had become a stitching nightmare. No matter how carefully I adjusted it, the tension was always off. Always. I couldn't even create a sample of a zig zag stitch with cotton thread in both top and bobbin, the stitch was so distorted.

The machine was returned to the mothership for repair, repeatedly. After some minor adjustment, it was returned to me with the suggestion that my problems were all user error. Over time I began to believe them. After decades of success with my sewing skills, I had somehow become incapable of properly threading a sewing machine. How demoralizing.

It's true that I put up with it longer than I should have, but in time the manufacturer made it right (as I knew they would), and the beast was exchanged for a new machine of the same model. When faced with the idea of creating several projects and a bazillion step outs for my Craftsy class on piecing, it nearly drove me to tears. Imagine my relief when, after a couple of days of sewing, I realized that I was having fun! Oh, yeah, this is why I loved making quilts. It's fun!

While I'm back to sewing, I'm still searching for that creative spark that compels me to make something lovely with needles and thread. There is still that longing for the passion that drove me to make stuff. I've been building up my supply of colorful embroidery thread, wool for spinning, looms for weaving in hopes of finding what I've lost. But I suspect that they won't be the answer. The light is just better there.