Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lots of fun in AZ - the results of a quilting retreat

In the last post, I mentioned that I had sewn a top at a quilting retreat.  I've been going to this retreat in Phoenix for 10 years now.  Frequently I put together kits to work on while I'm there.  The main point of the weekend is to see friends and get away, but I do like to gets some sewing done too.  The last couple of years I either worked on string quilt blocks or last year it was a bargello group class.  Since I hadn't done any novelty quilts in several months I decided to do kits again.  And as often happens (I've probably posted this before) I get started making kits and end up with more ideas than I have time to sew.  Including the top I sewed the weekend before I left (couldn't wait) and the blocks I sewed into rows after I returned, I completed 5 tops - though technically I only sewed 3 1/2 while I was there - still pretty good for a 3 day weekend.  Here are the remaining tops.

This one was an idea from a catalog.  It's half square triangles arranged in a swirling pattern.  The finished blocks are just over 5", started with 6.5" squares then trimmed - I always like to trim as I'm not great on my 1/4" seam. Since I started with whole squares cut in half, this has the advantage of not only being I spy, it's also a matching game.  The extra one will have to go on the back (odd number on the front).
Since grouping fabrics by colors work so well, I had wanted to try this design for a while.  I love the colors and contrast.  Black does always look great with bright colors.  The idea came from the Corridors pattern by Marjorie Rhine.

This quilt was a fun exercise in using up some extra 2" squares.  And with the precut 4" squares, prep was very fast.  I have done this one before, previously using only kitty fabrics and TOT squares.  But it works great with novelty scraps too.
This one was fun, but I think it fall in the "probably won't do this one again" category.  I think I'm definitely favoring grouped colors or a more orderly arrangement of the novelties.
So now I've got a significant stack of I spy tops.  At some point soon I'll need to have a quilting binge.

Deciding on fabrics - the process

My eye has a tenancy to not really "see" what a fabric looks like overall but instead focus on the picture.  I've tried taking my glasses off, squinting, etc.  But a small picture on my phone screen works well.  I do this when determining block placement, but as I've started doing more color study type quilts, it also works well when selecting the fabrics.

This photo was to determine if I had a good arrangement of color and value.  The quilt will be 4 x 5 blocks so I laid the folded fabric out that way (you can see the EQ layout of the pattern at the bottom of the screen.  

The pattern will use one 4" square and four 2" squares, so I picked 2 fabrics that have a similar color value and read approximately the same from a distance.  I have to keep in mind that the 2" squares need small patterns or the picture won't be identifiable.  The 4" squares can have a larger picture.  I could use the same fabric for the large and small squares, but where's the fun in that!  I took this picture to see the arrangement on a small screen and only focus on the color, value & contrast instead of the individual figure on the fabric.  Some fabrics are extremely close, others are more of a blend but I think they will work. This quilt will have white background/sashing, so I couldn't use white fabrics.  I'm also putting a kit together that uses black sashing, so for that one I excluded black fabrics.  Knowing that I'm going to work on quilts that need small print fabrics that read almost as a TOT (almost) I have started watching for those as I shop (as well as looking for specific items).

This kit was sewn at the AZ retreat last February, having pre-cut the fabrics it went together extremely fast.  This one may get sewn again.  I think it needs a border but for now I goes in the stack of tops for future finishing.


Old Favorites Worth Repeating

Here is another post written 18 months ago but never posted.  I have to admit I've only made 1 of these in the last 18 months, I've decided I really like color studies better.  But it's still relevant.  These are all pretty quick and easy and effective.

I previously did a post was about quilt patterns I won't likely ever make again.  So this time I thought I'd talk about the reverse.  Here are some patterns are just so fun or easy (or both) I've made them several times.  A few of these I've posted before but felt they should be included in this post again, sort of an I Spy Hall of Fame.

Disappearing 9 patch - this pattern is very basic and easy but the secondary pattern is somewhat of a surprise.  I've made 3 of these though 2 of them were in black so I've only shown 2 here.

Disappearing 9 Patch
Disappearing 9 Patch
Woven strips - This patterns is a good way to use up some of those fussy cut left overs that weren't quite 4.5".   It uses 4.5" x 3.0" cut rectangles with 1.25" side strips.  One thing I learned in this quilt is that 1/4" seam is very important or it won't go together easily.  The last version I arranged the rectangles in groups of 2 and by value and color to give it some additional organization.  I like the result.  I've made this one 4 times, one in lilac, one in hot pink, one in black, and one in blue.

Pink and Purple Woven
Woven Graduations

 Bricks and Stepping Stones.  This pattern by Bonnie Hunter at is super easy.  4 Patches are one of my favorites to sew.  They go together very easily but are very forgiving if your 1/4" seam isn't perfect.  The first of these I was using up some swap fabrics that were oversized.  The 2nd one I used my standard 4.5" precuts.  Combined with strip sewn 4 patches it went together very fast.

Bricks and Stepping Stones
Bricks and Stepping Stones

Leaning Stars or trellis pattern uses the same block.  It starts with a standard 4.5" square, then add a small triangle on alternating corners.  Depending on the color of the triangle and the arrangement of the block, the secondary pattern changes dramatically.  The only "downside" to this block is all the tiny triangles left over that I feel guilty about tossing.  I'm still trying to use them all up - my tiny Triangle quilt is still growing.

Orange Leaning Stars

All About Me
All About Me by Attkinson Designs is a great pattern that works well with large print novelties.  The repeating colors add unity to the overall design.   Another nice thing about this pattern is you aren't limited by the background color.  Normally if the background color is white, I can't use white novelties or the same with black.  With the various colored frames, you can mix in every color.   I've made this one twice and it's on my "need to make that again" list.  Since the last time I made it I've gotten much better at that 1/4" seam, I think it will go together better now.  I remember I had to ease or stretch in several places to fit the pieces together.

Frugal Patch by is a wonderful way to use up piano keys.  This is another example of a pattern I modified to work better with novelties.  Instead of the standard square in a square that Marcia Hohn's instructions indicate, I changed it to a 9 patch on point so that I could have 1 full light colored novelty square in the center.  I made two of these several years ago, then two more again recently.  I used lots of starch and pinned when sewing those little setting triangles and I'm proud to say I didn't lose any points/corners in the most recent versions.  The pink one below was a quick donation quilt, using up some of the pink and purple piano keys left over from another quilt.

Frugal Patch
Frugal Patch

Frugal Patch
The Shadowed Squares pattern is always a big hit.  I wrote some instructions for this one to utilize strip sewing on the sashing/shadows that makes this one super simple to sew.  The second version of this I substituted small half square triangle on the corners which makes the blocks appear 3-D, but you can't use the strip piecing so it takes a little longer to piece.  I do love the optical illusions.  I've made this one 4 times (plus the T-shirt quilt made recently which turned out great).

Shadowed Squares
Shadowed Squares

 Since I had a specific post about Attic Windows I won't show those again, but variations on attic window always work great with novelties.  I don't tend to repeat patterns as much as I used to, mostly because I keep getting ideas for new patterns to try.  But these are some of my favorites for many reasons.  They work well with novelties and they are straight forward to construct.

Some Extra Fun

I'm not sure why but I just realized I never posted this.  But it looks ready, so here goes.

Hearts and Jars - These are a couple of patterns that are obvious stars for novelty fabrics.  For a while there were Jar quilts everywhere and I kind of resisted following the pack.  But eventually I gave in and here is my version.  The patterns is easy and effective - but honestly a little boring to make, basically just a rectangular snowball.  But I had to do at least one.

Hearts - I originally saw this pattern at my first Houston Quilt Show but later they seemed to be every where too.  But they are such a great quilt for a little girl I have made several of them.  And I still have a big stack of large triangles left over from them.
Black  Sashed Hearts

Green Sashed Hearts
Pink Sashed Hearts

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trying something different

Sometimes I've seen a pattern and thought, hmmm, I could make an I spy out of that.  And then I try it.  And part way through I think, oh dear, not having fun here.  Or else, this really isn't turning out too well.  Other times the resulting quilt looks great but the construction was so fiddly that I won't likely ever make the pattern again.  So here is a collection of some of those attempts.  Some worked great, other's not so much.  These are likely to be one and onlys, a very limited edition.

Tic Tac Toe
This tic-tac-toe pattern was from Quilter's Newsletter magazine, designed by Pamela Rocco.  Cutting was challenging for me, mostly because I don't do "wonky" well.  I'm the kind of person who straightens pictures in other people's houses.   I tried following the directions but my wonky strips kept ending up weird looking.   I also struggled with only using 24 fabrics.  I had to select very carefully in order to have all 26 letters of the alphabet and still have good contrast.  And it made me sad to only use 24 fabrics when I've got baskets and baskets full.  It needed a border but I couldn't figure out what would work, so it never got one. 

Clam Shells
Clamshells.  I can honestly say that I hate this quilt. I should have just tossed this when I realized how bad it was going but I hated to waste the fabric so I stuck with it.  It was another pattern from Quilters Newsletter called Quick Bias-strip Clamshells by Barbara Barber.  I thought it would be fun to try the technique but I did not enjoy it.  It used A LOT of fabric to make the bias edge on each shell and left lots of weird rounded scraps.  And it wasn't particularly quick either (Sorry Barbara).  It's way too busy.  Perhaps I should have used a solid fabric mixed in somewhere.  Fortunately the lady who bought it from me loves it.
My friend Shelley from the quilt forum found this pattern by Rachel Griffith called Smitten.  I modified the way it was constructed to work better with the novelty fabrics.  But I made the little triangles in the sashing too small; they sort of disappear or look like a mistake.  The border was an attempt to get rid of some triangles from another project and I'm not happy with the different thicknesses of the whites strips.  I couldn't figure out the geometry properly - too long since I had to use that knowledge.  Overall I think it would have been better if I had followed the instructions in the original pattern.
On the Go
This is a happy quilt and the pattern is by one of my favorite bloggers, Melissa Cory called On the Go (I've done several quilts based on her blogs).  It was for a little boy adopted from China so I thought the arrows indicating movement and travel were appropriate.  I like how it turned out, but I didn't enjoy the process enough to do this one again.  Too many triangles and lots of scraps left over.  Also I didn't like how the novelty fabrics had to be pieced which chopped the larger pictures in half.

Another happy quilt but I probably won't do this one again for similar reasons as some of the prior ones.  This pattern is called Dragon's Lair by WhistlePig Productions.  No idea why it's called that.  I like how it turned out but there were lots of left over triangles that I'm still trying to figure out what to do with.  The math on this was fiddly too as I constructed it different than the pattern indicated.   The pattern called for quarter square triangles but I didn't want all those little pieces so  I used my 4.5" standard cut squares instead.  I would have preferred the white strips to be all the same width but couldn't get it quite right.  It reminds me of cut jewels.

Fletcher pattern by Shiney Happy World was another attempt to use triangles but to limit the waste.  Rather than start with a large rectangle and cut off each end to make the point, I cut off one end and attached it to the other.  I tried to chose fabrics with scatter patterns so it wasn't be as obvious.   I don't really like how much background fabric this pattern needs, so I probably won't make it again.  It was quick and easy and I liked how it ended up over all.  I did add some extra 4" square novelties as a border after this photograph was taken (primarily to make it larger for a toddler) and I think it helped pull everything together better.
As the title of my blog indicates, this is a journey.  I've learned a lot through the years from all my quilts.  I've learned how to better evaluate a pattern to determine if it will work with novelties.  I've learned that sometimes you can modify the pattern but sometimes you should stick with the instructions.  I've learned to have a variety of scale and color in my stash.  I've learned the importance of contrast as well as the need for a place to rest your eyes (think Clamshell).  I've learned how to handle the construction to minimize waste (see Fletcher).  Most imporantly I've learned to have fun and enjoy the process.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Another process post

I thought it was time for another post following an idea from the start all the way through to the finished top.

This one started with a small picture clipped from a magazine subscription ad.  I had tossed it in my idea box a couple of years ago and ran across it recently when looking for something fun.  Here's the original idea.
I looked around the internet to see if I could find a pattern, but with no luck.  So I first drew it in EQ, but then drew it out the old fashioned way, with my old drafting tools.   My version doesn't have as many ribbons in each wave but I didn't realize this until after it was sewn.  Oh well, it still works.

 I cut some templates from plastic and used them as guides for cutting the fabric.  I started out drawing around them, but then got lazy.  I confess, I did use them with the rotary cutter which I know isn't exactly safe, but I was very careful.  I promise.
One of the fun things about scrappy quilts is playing with all the different fabrics.  As I was cutting out each piece, it put them on my design wall to make sure I was getting a good mix of colors.  I also check to make sure I didn't miss any letters of the alphabet.  This pattern is particularly fiddly with 6 pattern pieces, 3 are the mirror of the others.  The design wall especially important with this pattern; I couldn't have kept it all straight without it during the cutting phase.

Having lots of fun with this.  Did I mention one of the big pains with scrappy quilts is putting away the fabric after you are done?

Starting out, I was going to mark each piece with alignment marks and pin in 5 places.  I did this for a while, then again I got lazy and tried not pinning.  The curves are pretty large so I tried the method of sewing curves by holding the concave piece on top and feeding it through the presser foot gradually matching up the edge.  I discovered it worked when the curve went one direction but not the other and not on all fabrics.  Darn.  I really wanted the outside edges to match correctly so I wouldn't have to trim.  I knew it would make things easier when I put the blocks together.  I wanted the seams to match properly or the pattern wouldn't work as well visually.  Finally I decided pins really were necessary but only at the start and the end of each piece; since the curve was so gradual I didn't need them in the middle. 
I had to rip and re-stitch several blocks to get those edges to come out even, but it was worth it.  Putting them all together was very simple.  I pressed each alternate block in different directions so I could nest the seams between them but with the curves I needed pins to make sure they lined up properly.
I decided I wanted to add borders to the quilt so I thought I'd show how I measure for borders.  I first fold the quilt in half and then half again.  This lines up the two edges of the quilt with the center.  I lay my first border down on that edge and use the quilt itself to cut the length of the border.  There isn't any need to use a measuring tape.  If it edges are a little longer or shorter than the middle, I use the center of the quilt.  This prevents wavy edges.  I pin these to the quilt, easing in any excess.  Never just start sewing the border without trimming and pinning - wavy borders guaranteed (ask me how I know).
Another trick when using multiple borders is to sew each alternate border together before attaching to the quilt.  For example, top and bottom I sewed the green narrow border to the quilt.  For the sides, I sewed the green narrow border to the wide blue border first, then attached to the quilt.  Then I sewed the last blue border to the top and bottom.
It turned out a very happy quilt.  The little boy who received is happy too.  His last name is Fish and it was a happy coincidence that I included an unusual number of fish fabrics (I didn't know who was going to get it when I started).  I added to my usual ABC poem on the label a line to count the fish.  Hopefully I'll have a happy picture soon with his smiling face.  I might make one for myself using "regular" fabrics, it's such a fun pattern visually.

Discussion about fleece backing

Most of my I spy quilts have fleece backing.  When I first starting making baby quilts I used poly batting with flannel backing (very puffy).  But once I figured out how to deal with the stretch of fleece, I was hooked.  There are many advantages.  I live in North Texas where it's warm a good part of the year and even in winter it only rarely gets below freezing.  So a heavy quilt isn't a benefit here.  Fleece makes the quilt lighter.  It's also always on sale and batting isn't necessary, so it's very cost effective.  It's wide, so it doesn't need to be pieced.  And since batting isn't needed, loading the quilt is that much faster.  I roll an entire bolt of the fleece onto long cardboard tubes left over from drapery fabric purchases.  Then when I need to use it, it's very easy to transfer to the take up bars on my frame.  I can quilt several quilts in a row production line style, then roll the left over back onto the cardboard tube for storage.  This also minimizes stretching the fleece during loading.

Stretch.  That's the big problem with fleece.  The first time I tried fleece on my quilt frame, it was a disaster.  I had to remove every stitch and start over.  The problem?  I didn't load the backing with the selvage on the sides, but instead at the top and the bottom.  And it stretched, very badly stretched.  Fleece like most fabrics stretches the most on the width of the fabric.  It's much more stable along the length.  Loading the fabric on the frame (even cotton) with the length of the fabric running up and down instead of side to side will minimize stretch and subsequent puckering. 

Loading the fabric properly helps but doesn't solve all the problems.  There's still that side to side stretch - lots of it.  Originally I was using the clamps that came with my frame on the sides but this posed lots of problems.  They hung down so that when I was using rulers and the ruler base, it hit against those big clamps.  They also were so heavy that they stretched the fleece.  Fleece stretches very easily on the width of the fabric so it requires more care than quilting cotton.  Somewhere on the internet I saw a solution that I liked.  No idea whose video I was watching so I can't give credit.  Here's my version - not real pretty but they work great.  (That's a scrap of cotton batting there on the right that I use as a thread catcher - important as I have a cat who loves to eat thread and I'm tired of vet bills)

I  took two fabric scraps (one for each side), hemmed and added a casing for the dowel.  I cut a couple of slots where I could wrap the Velcro around the dowel.  The fabric is pinned to the backing on the side, then the Velcro straps are stretched and attached to the frame.   The dowel keeps the tension consistent as does pinning end to end (I typically use 4 large pearl head pins).  Pinning takes a little longer but honestly it's easier on my wrists than those clamps.  The fabric and dowel are thin and light so they don't pull the fabric down and they don't get in the way when using rulers.  I can quilt to within an inch of the edge with no problems.  With the fleece, I only put just enough tension so that the Velcro straps don't sag.  But no more.  This keeps the fleece flat but doesn't stretch it.  Don't pull taut like you would with quilting cotton.  This is very important if you don't want ugly bubbles along the edges of the quilt.

One other trick I've started using.  My machine is only 16" but my frame can accommodate a larger machine (maybe someday).  I had a hard time remembering where I needed to stop as I was quilting.  Nothing more frustrating thinking you have room to do one more swirl and ending up with a flattened donut instead.  I thought why not put a guide to give me a warning when I was getting close.  At first I used the leader from the bar meant for the quilt top (I float my quilts), but then one day I got too close and sewed through it.  Hmm, how about a ribbon.  I baste each side of the border as far as the machine will reach, then use that as a guide to pin the ribbon.  This gives me a visual cue as to have far I can go before I get into trouble.  I've only caught the ribbon once and I just cut it instead of my stitching.

One more thing.  I float all my tops, meaning I don't use the bar on my frame meant for the quilt top. I've found that the fleece holds the top smooth and flat enough that I don't need any tension and it makes loading the quilt faster and easier (not my favorite part of frame quilting).  I leave the bar on the machine and the canvas leader provides a little bit of tension as does the weight of the top hanging down.  As I get near the bottom of the quilt I will pin the top to the backing when I can see it's needed to keep things flat and even.  I've started floating tops like this even when using batting and cotton backing.  It is so much easier to smooth out the batting as I go when the top is hanging loose.  I guess if you are doing heirloom or dense quilting it might cause problems but so far I've not seen any need to roll the top on the bar.  Sometimes I have to chase the cat away as he thinks the quilt hanging down is a toy but then he thinks everything is a toy.  For large quilts and quilts with batting, I made a type of sling or hammock from slippery lining fabric to keep things off the floor (but that cat thinks that's a really fun hammock -sorry, no pic).
In case you were wondering, the red strips in the picture above are called Red Snappers, a system of plastic grips used to attach the backing to the canvas leaders.  They are very quick to use but they take some getting used to.  Initially I had some problems using them with fleece but over time they've loosened up.  I've also gotten the hang of flexing them as I press down but you do need a flat solid surface to do it.  Removing the leaders from the bar helps.  I attach the top of the backing to the back bar first and roll the entire thing loosely onto that bar.  Then I attach the bottom leader, making sure it's 90 degrees to the edge of the fabric.  I carefully attach the leader back on the bar, making sure it's straight, not shifted and the fabric is 90 degrees to the bar, then I roll everything back onto the bottom bar slow and even.  As mentioned above I can get an entire bolt rolled this way unless it's especially thick fleece.
Thanks for reading, hopefully some of the things I learned the hard way (my favorite way to learn) will be helpful and save others some frustration.