Saturday, December 23, 2017

Tour of Dee's place - my sewing room

If you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables, you'll understand the reference in "Dee's place" - my daughter thinks it is perfect - and it is my refuge.

Please come in and take the tour:

Formerly the master bedroom, this is now my sewing room/guest room after a master suite addition a few yeas ago.  This view shows my main sewing table and an extra portable table on the side - it makes a good t-shaped area for paper piecing and can be easily folded up and put away if needed.  I also have a pressing table made from a TV table I can put on the other side.

I have the sewing tables on slider pads so I can move them out of the way easily. The sofa is a fold out bed for guests, though mostly my husband or daughter sit and visit with me.  When we need the bed, I have to pack away the extra table and move the rocker, but it isn't terribly tight. The rocking chair with the extra light is great for hand work (and Cat loves it for supervising).  The track lighting is wonderful - no shadows.  The design wall is made from foam boards from a home improvement store, covered in fleece and mounted using command strips.  I have since discovered that the fleece sags over time and I've had to reapply it once already.  At some point I'll replace it but at the time it was considerably cheaper than felt.  The curtain rod with clips I originally used to hold a felt backed table cloth for use as a design wall, but the ceiling fan would blow the pieces off and I liked the idea of being able to pin into the wall.  Now I use the curtain rod to hold finished quilts for photographing after I slide the tables out of the way.

This photo shows the book cases and cutting station made with Elfa wire baskets.  I've used these baskets in multiple arrangements over the years.  I love the flexibility as I always seem to be re-arranging.  I have a small cork board to pin misc. items and a small file folder tray for frequently used rulers.  The shallow baskets hold notions and other rulers and thread.

The cutting surface was a little low, so I added spacers made from a 4x4 length of lumber to raise the surface, which also provided some additional storage underneath.  At first I was going to attach them to the surface but everything is heavy enough it stays put well and it gives me the flexibility to move it around if needed.  I have used the 3 x 5 board as a drafting table by sitting it on my mid-arm table and grabbing my old t-square.  Love flexibility.  The shelf has a stick-on florescent to get rid of shadows while cutting and provides a great place for pencils and a scrap basket for trimmings.

Fabric is folded to consistent size to fit in the baskets.  I tried comic boards but didn't like the space they took up - I want it all for fabric.  I like that I can pull out a basket and take it over to the table to look through it.  And it is easy to push the stack over and insert more - some baskets are pretty full.  The thread is store in a utensil tray, with the ends secured to keep it save from Cat.

Cat Cover - also known as sewing machine cover

I have to keep my machine covered or else unthread it as my cat likes to eat thread.  He has had two expense trips to the vet to remove yards of thread from his intestines.  Not a good cat for a quilter, I know.  I cut the box to size and covered it with quilt themes wrapping paper.  I also can't leave my mid-arm threaded unless I chase the cat out and lock the door.  I keep my thread locked away, empty the trash after each session and frequently scan the floor for dropped threads.  Short pieces of thread aren't a problem, it's the long ones that are deadly.  Stupid cat.  But he loves to be in the room with me, supervising.  If I close the door, he sits and meows, sticks his paws under and makes a general pest of himself.

I purchased my mid-arm quilting machine and frame from a friend of a friend several years ago.   I love all the storage space under the table.  I've upgraded the rails, arms and roller bars, though some day I would like to get a faster machine.  I have a tendency to move too fast and the stitch regulator can't keep up.  I have a pressing board with removable cover, lightweight and easy to move.  I added spacer boards to the table to protect the table rails when I lay things across as I didn't want to damage the new rails.  I move the rollers over to the far side to give me easier access to the table until I am going to use the quilt machine.  I tend to quilt in batches since I have to be so careful of Cat.  I can't leave the machine threaded and if a quilt is loaded he will walk across it unless I lay foil over it, s once I start quilting, I can't easily leave it for long periods.  It's easier to just get it finished. 

I keep my older zigzag machine and serger in this cabinet and can pull it out when needed, though more often I get my portable machine out and use the table next to my straight-stitch machine.  I bought this cabinet when I was garment and home dec. sewing, but it takes up a lot of space and the storage isn't what I need now, so it mostly is stored away.   It's a great cabinet, just not really what works for me any more. 
View of my closet.  I have a fold away cutting table that I don't use much now.  At one time my sewing area was in a corner of my kitchen so it was helpful to be able to fold it up small.  I still sometimes pull it out into the bathroom area if I need a large cutting surface but it is a tight squeeze.  The labeled boxes store notions, fabric strips, other craft supplies.  
Here is the other side of the closet where I have hanging storage and a file cabinet.  The cabinet holds papers, additional supplies and patterns.

I also have rolled backing and bolts in the corner by the files.  If I have more than a couple of yards of fabric, I prefer to put it on bolts so that it doesn't take up so much space in the baskets.

I know I am very fortunate to have such a great space to sew and quilt.  Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dee's tool caddy solution

Last year I had seen a tool bag that I thought was pretty nifty, so I purchased the pattern and made it before the AZ retreat.  I had some significant problems with attaching the snaps that hold the sides closed but otherwise was pleased with how it turned out.  I used it at the retreat and it worked pretty well, but I did have some things I found I wanted to change.

The footprint was a little large on the table and I didn't like that the ironing surface was enclosed between the sides.  I felt like I was going to burn myself on the little iron when reaching for the pencils.  The zippered pouches were not attached to the bag at the bottom, so they moved around, sagged and flattened which bothered my OCD desire to keep things straight and neat.  I did really like having the pencils and scissors in their own spot and tried to use it when I got home, but found I needed something smaller.  The name of the pattern is Quilters Organizer Bag and can be purchased on craftsy.  The pattern is a good one and would work in many cases, I just needed something a little smaller and specific to my needs.

So I started searching for other patterns and ideas.  I purchased two other patterns and planned to make either or both at various times over the last year. The first was the Ultimate Art Organizer bag.  I really liked the pencil holder and all the various ways to customize it.  There are pages of ones people have made with all sorts of great ideas for holding sewing feet, needles, note pads, even one using chalkboard fabric.  But I wanted it to be able to stand up on the table.  Many of the photos were done that way but with the materials used, it really wasn't rigid.  Would it get too heavy with all the tools I was going to put in it and collapse?  I also worried that each section was too skinny for what I wanted to put in there as they were only as thick as the zipper.
Then I found this one called Tooly tool holder/travel case.  I liked the easel idea a lot but worried that things would fall out when closed up, plus where would I put bobbins, sewing feet, etc. The pattern had little wings that folded over but what about the back?  That seemed like wasted space. 
After thinking and thinking and thinking and searching for months, I finally smacked my head and thought, duh woman, come up with your own using the best of all these other patterns.  Sewing it wouldn't take near as much time as I had spent thinking about it.
I knew I wanted to store a small calling mat so that gave me the overall minimum dimension.  My first step was to sew the pencil holder section.  I like how the elastic on the bag I made held all the pencils separately (vs Tooly) but I also liked the pocket idea so I combined them.  First lesson learned was even when you think the length of fabric is plenty long, make it longer just in case.  It's much easier to cut off the extra than have to add more.  As it turned out I needed about an inch, so I made the last pocket larger for the rotary cutter, then sewed another piece of fabric to cover the raw edge.  This section then became the front of a larger pocket, which I subdivided to hold a small ruler and scissors.  Then behind those was the storage for the cutting board. 
I loaded up the tools then taped it to a piece of cardboard to see how it worked.  Second lesson, I should have made the spaces for the marking tools a little larger.  Once the scissors were loaded, a few of the pencil slots are a little snug, but still workable.  I just have to be careful which pencils I put in which spots.  The weight of the tools also pulled down and made the cutting mat pocket gape, so I added a tab with Velcro to pull it back up straight.  I also found that roll of chalk fabric that I bought 20 years ago but never used and added a strip above the scissors.  Not 100% perfect but pretty darn closed.  I chose  some fun zigzag fabric I had purchased for binding a while back, pulling coordinating fabrics from  my stash.  Plus the zigzag hides my splicing pretty well.  Here is the bottom section with the Velcro tab folded down.
Next, what did I want on the back?  I knew that when I was at home, I wouldn't be using the back section, but on trips I wanted to store bobbins, machine feet, needles & measuring tape; small things of various sizes but they aren't flat.  And I wanted to be able to see what was there easily.  One thing I hadn't liked about the quilter bag was I could never remember which pocket contained what.  I had recently made a project using thin vinyl that was pretty easy to work with.  So I made 3 little clear zippered bags of graduated sizes with Velcro on one side.  That way I could hang them on the back side at the retreat, but leave them off when not needed.  I love Velcro!  What did we do before Velcro!  I even had some bright 2 sided Velcro that coordinated with the zigzag fabric and the colorful zippers.

I had reinforced the backing fabric on each section with left over strips of fusible interfacing that I have in abundance from making t-shirt quilts.  Now what to put on the outside of the caddy?  I didn't want to make it too complicated but I am a quilter and couldn't pass up those two big surfaces.  I decided on a simple friendship star block.  I fused foam to the back of each as I liked how the foam looked on the Ultimate Art organizer bag.  It's pretty cool stuff.  I was able to use it on the hinge later and having it fused was very helpful.  Here are the outside pieces. 
I wasn't completely sure how I was going to do the hinge so I left extra fabric on one end, just in case I needed it.  I sewed the inside and outside pieces together and slid in a piece of hinged card board into try standing it up, easel style.  It worked great.  Now to finish the edges.
I really liked how the ultimate art organizer bag zipped closed to keep everything inside when traveling.  I had ordered purse zippers from the pattern designer as I needed a very long one to go all the way around (40") and she had great selection.  I loaded up the tools again (I've done this about 20 times now) and attached the clear bags with their contents.  But when I closed it I realized even though the purse zippers were wider than normal zippers, they weren't going to be near wide enough.  I also didn't like how her directions had you sew the zipper in like on a pillow case, requiring you to turn it inside out.  My sections were way too stiff and thick for that.  I decided to sew extra fabric to extend the sides of the zipper, then add another piece that I would fold over and sew down over the raw edge, similar to how a binding is attached.
I did add a hinge similar to how the art organizer instructions indicated but didn't make a complete circle until it was attached, again a lot like a quilt binding.  I even glued the zipper down before sewing which I often do on bindings, which was very helpful when turning the curved corners.  I had examined how my bible cover was done and decided a curved corner would work best.  However it posed problems when it was time to sew the "binding" down.  I was able to machine stitch on the straight parts but on the curves I had to hand sew (nor yet done in the pics below.
Here is the carrier with the cardboard support inserted and fully loaded.  I made a small blue pin cushion which attaches with Velcro on the front for use, then moves to the back for storage.  The black section above the scissors is chalkboard fabric for jotting notes.
Here is the back with the clear bags loaded

This shows the carrier laying flat, with the pincushion moved and the small ironing pad attached for storage.  It helps to hold the bags in place while closing.
 This picture shows the spine with the fabric hinge.

Here you can see the other side of the ironing pad.  Love that fabric.

I'm sure as I use it over the next few weeks I'll think of things I might have done to improve it.  Figuring out how to sew the zipper on the curves and how to insert the cardboard support was challenging and a bit messy, nothing to be proud of and nothing I would try to describe to someone else.  But I think it will work well both in my sewing room and on trips.  And it was fun using my sewing skills to make something configured just the way I wanted.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Border decisions

A good border can really add to a quilt.  And a bad one can just make it Eh.  I thought I'd share a couple of quilts where I struggled with what to do on the borders.

This quilt started out as a baby quilt, but my daughter and I liked it so much I decided to make it bigger and keep it.  I talk about it in the AZ retreat post.

I wanted to add a border but could decide on one that worked well with the center.  It is such a dramatic design, I wanted something that set it off.  I tried a solid black to match the sashing, but that looked strange, like it was floating.  Then I did this pieced border.  In my head it looked great, but in person?  Yuck, it didn't add anything at all and even seemed distracting.  And so I ripped it off.  I think I'll just stay with the narrow black, though it will make quilting a bit harder.  I'll have to be especially careful to keep it square on the quilting frame or it will get trimmed off when I square up.

This quilt I also tried a solid border - again not good.  It just didn't add much.

So I tried a pieced border again.  This time I think it works. The quilt itself feels scrappy and the border goes well with that.  I used some of the miles of piano key scraps I make from the fussy cut trimming.
A little more about this pattern.  It is from a video by Jenny Doan at Missouri quilt company, called Exploding Block due to the way it is constructed.  I like the pattern though decided I didn't like the bias on the outside edges created in her construction method.  So I just cut the triangles with the grain going the normal direction.  I started with my precut 4.5" squares as the center, so all I had to cut was the white and then the corners.  I even used up some large precuts from previous novelty swaps.  The best thing about this pattern is you chop the points off, on purpose.  Yippee.  Here is a close up of the blocks on my design wall before they are sewn together.  Fun block to sew, scrappy result.  I'll be doing this one again.

What I did this spring.....

Hole in the Wall pattern by Eleanor Burns.  I got this pattern off the donation table at our AZ retreat and had been holding it for a while.  I didn't use the construction method in the pattern as I wanted to use novelty fabrics (of course) and needed to keep the direction of the fabric consistent.  I used mostly large scatter prints to camouflage the seams as much as possible.  As mentioned before it is always fun to collect and arrange novelty fabrics by color.  Makes me feel like I'm playing with jelly beans.

Pattern from Connecting Threads, double pinwheel.  The border used up the left over triangles from previous projects.    I'm not all that pleased with how the contrast works in the pinwheels but it was an interesting experiment.  If I ever do it again, I think the center pinwheels need to be solid or TOT and not novelty.  The novelty in the middle of novelty looks too busy or muddy.

This was just a fun quilt to use up scraps.  It goes together quickly and doesn't have any points to match!

Majestic Mountains.  Unlike the previous quilt, this one has LOTS of points and seams to match  But it was still fun selecting the fabrics, working on the contrast.  Cutting is easy as you put a light and dark square together and cut on diagonal, sewing is easy too.  It's just putting the blocks together gets fiddly, pressing the seams open works best between the blocks.

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.