Tuesday, July 22, 2014

celebrating with Olfa

You may or may not have heard, but Olfa is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the rotary cutter. That's a HUGE deal and I was super excited that they asked me to be a part of their celebration.

The second quilt I ever made was done without a rotary cutter. I used a square cardboard template and a pair of not-so-sharp scissors for the cutting. Having that experience, I am very thankful to have a rotary cutter to use daily! And I do...well, almost daily, anyway.
My favorite rotary cutter is the Splash, which I've been using it since they released it last year and I love everything about it....the contoured handle, the quick change blade and the fact that I can use it with either my left or right hand. I am pretty smitten with the color as well! It's wonderful to have functional and pretty tools.
I made a 6.5" block to contribute to Olfa's commemorative quilt that will be made and shown at Quilt Festival in Houston this fall. The only requirements were that the block finishes at 6.5" and it contains yellow. I considered a lot of ideas before landing on this one. I settled on a churn dash block because it is an iconic quilt block and kind of indispensable--a lot like the rotary cutter! I free pieced a tiny 35 in the center block. I like this little block a lot and I am looking forward to seeing the entire quilt.
As a part of the celebration, I'm happy to be hosting a giveaway as well. Olfa is giving away a 28mm rotary cutter and a small cutting mat. These are great tools for piecing small scraps together right at your work station or they would work well for paper piecing, if you are prone to such a thing. :) I've found the small rotary cutter indispensable for cutting curves with a template. If you'd like to be entered into the drawing, please leave me a comment. In your comment I'd love to hear how long you've been quilting/sewing. This contest is open to US residents only this time. (Sorry to my international readers!) I'll pick a winner in a few days!

Monday, July 21, 2014

lawn pillow cases

Over the weekend I sewed up a few cotton lawn pillow cases. They are luscious! The scraps were leftover from this quilt. Looking back I see that they have been sitting around two years. Gulp!
They are incredibly soft and they feel so fancy! Last month when I was on retreat, Jeni Baker mentioned that she made some pillowcases out of voile fabric, so I credit inspiration to her. I would not have thought to use such fine fabric for pillowcases, but what a great idea! Thank you, Jeni!
I added a thin flange of jade Kona cotton to separate the two busy prints on this one. It is a little detail that made a big difference. I used French seams throughout, so all raw edges are enclosed. (That took some extra brain power, especially with the flange part....but that's a good thing!) These are big scraps, but they are scraps nonetheless, so I'm counting them as scrap project #81/101.
One more little scrap project....a sunglasses sleeve. There is no need for a closure or anything, because my sunglasses friction fit inside. The sleeve is quilted and lined, so it will protect the lenses from scratches and that's all I'm after. I love having cute and functional patchwork all over the place. It's pretty much the best! This is scrap project # 82!

My sweet friend Suzanne set up a pinterest board for my 101 scrap projects, so if you want to see them all together so far, you can visit the page here. (It's fun to see them all in one place. Thanks Suzanne!)

Happy Monday to you!
 

Friday, July 18, 2014

sewing for my sister and a quilt back

Welcome to finish it up Friday!

My sister is headed to Guatemala to go to language school in about a month and she is working on building up her wardrobe. As a part of her birthday gift I offered to help her make some skirts for her upcoming trip. Yesterday we had a sewing day and we had much success despite my crazy kids' antics. Nothing like trying to install a zipper to the sound of the Indiana Jones theme song being played on the saxophone in the background. Good times!
I drafted the pattern from the book Flirt Skirts. This is my 5th skirt using the simple A Line pattern from the book and I highly recommend it! The pattern does run a little large, so making a muslin for the first round is a good idea. It only uses 1 1/2 yards of fabric, which isn't bad at all. (Can you tell I have plans to make a few more for me?)
This is not quite a finish, but it's certainly a step in the right direction! I debated buying a backing for my reclaimed stars quilt, but the frugal girl inside of me won out and I pieced it instead. It took me a few days, but I am excited about how it turned out. More importantly, I'm excited to have it up and off the floor so I can walk through my craft room again. It's the little things!
 
Now it's your turn! Please link up your finishes for the week. Thanks for joining me! Have a great weekend!
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Machine Quilting 101: The Nitty Gritty

It's been a few weeks, but it's time for another Machine Quilting 101 post. Today we will be talking about the basics...the nitty gritty, if you will...of machine quilting.

The number one goal with machine quilting is a pucker free quilt, front and back. Sounds easy enough, right? (Hahahaha!)
Handling the quilt
Most often I grip the quilt with my left hand and that helps me guide it. I smooth the quilt down with my right hand and form a hoop of sorts to keep the small section that I am working on taut. I do NOT use quilting gloves. I learned without them, so using them now feels very bulky and unnatural. I know that some people find them very helpful.

Practice!
We've already talked about the importance of practice, but it bears repeating. Practice is KEY! One thing I didn't mention earlier is that doodling on paper is a great way to practice before moving to the machine. When you switch to the machine, loops are a great place to start, because they are much easier than stippling.

Basic Quilting Designs
You can try loops in a line, as I did on my oatmeal quilt.
Or, you can try all over loops, as on my super stars quilt. These are pretty easy because the loops can be large or small or a mix of both. This is a fairly forgiving and flexible design.
Simply put, there is NOTHING natural about the movement of stippling, but it sure does look pretty and it produces a great texture.
Straight line quilting isn't super easy, especially if you are a perfectionist. You can call it organic straight line quilting and you have much more flexibility. :)

Look at the big picture
When you are up close, staring at a 6" square of quilting, all of the imperfections are noticeable. You may think that your quilting is less than stellar, (I know I usually do!) but this is when it's important to take a step back and take a look at the project as a whole. Often times the parts that bug me the worst in the moment are hard to find later because they really aren't a big deal. It's easy for me to get wrapped up in perfection, so I have to talk myself down every once in awhile. If it bugs you, sleep on it. If it still bugs you, then rip it out.

Slow down
If you are quilting in a high profile area, your standards may be higher. For example, when you are stitching with white thread on a navy background, you might want to be more precise in your spacing. It is much more visible than the stitching on your lighter colored prints. When I get to those spots in the quilt I take a deep breath, slow down and concentrate on my spacing just a bit more. That sounds SO corny, but it's what I do. And really, it's better to take your time and do it right the first time rather than rip out stitches.

Start and stop
When you run out of bobbin, or anytime you are starting and stopping in the middle of the quilt, you can do one of two things: 1. You can retrace a few of your stitches (use very small stitches) and overlap the old and new stitching lines. The overlap helps to secure your starts and stops. Or... 2. You can bury your threads as shown in this tutorial. The second option is my preferred method. I love that the starts and stops are invisible!

Keep an eye on the back side
Take a peek at the tension on the back every time you start a new bobbin and once or twice in between. It only takes seconds to take a peek, but it could save you hours of ripping later. I had to re-learn this lesson just this week! Thankfully the tension was QUITE loose, so the ripping was easy. But still!
For some reason after a bobbin change, my tension got quite loose. I don't know what happened, but I had to stop, get out my test scrap and reset the tension on my machine mid-quilt. It's weird, but that seems to happen from time to time. After more quilting, I was able to reduce the tension again. I don't know WHY that happens, but it does.
 
Trim the bulk
Before quilting, it is helpful to trim the backing and batting within an inch of the quilt top. This reduces the bulk and will help keep things manageable while quilting. Every little bit helps!  Also, it reduces the risk of extra backing fabric getting flipped over to the back and quilted down.
If the back DOES flip up and gets quilted down, cut it close to the stitched line, then pull the threads of fabric out, a few at a time, from beneath the quilted stitches.
The backing looks all hacked up, but this part will be trimmed off eventually anyway!  Again, object lessons from my quilting just this week! Sigh. It happens!

Spacing
The denser the quilting, the stiffer the quilt. The looser the quilting, the softer the quilt. Make sure to check the batting packaging for quilt spacing requirements. This one the stitch distance is 4". Some batting requires the stitching to be a maximum spacing of 10" apart. That's quite a difference! It's something to consider when picking a quilting design (and batting) for your quilt.
Density
If you are doing multiple quilting techniques in one quilt, try to keep your density fairly consistent throughout, so that when the quilt is washed there won't be bubbles and bumps. You want the shrinkage to be uniform throughout the quilt.
On my nap like an Egyptian quilt I had to go back and add lines of quilting (around the smallest inner triangles) because I left too much space un-quilted, even though I followed the spacing directions on the batting. I added the additional quilting after washing, which isn't ideal, but it was a better option than not fixing it at all. It's still a little bumpy in places, but it's better than it was.

Final thoughts
Some things come out in the wash. I am NOT a subscriber to the theory "if you can't see it from a galloping horse 10 feet away don't worry about it". I believe you should do as good of a job as you can. BUT, I also realize the need to forgive yourself those little imperfections, because it IS a hand made item, after all. What I'm saying is, don't drive yourself crazy...on either end of the spectrum! Much easier said than done.

If you don't use it, you lose it! I used to stipple so much more beautifully than I do now. Probably because I quilted almost everything with "a simple stipple" back in 2009. :) It's good to have variety, but it's also good to have a stand-by, or default in your quilting bag of tricks.

There is SO MUCH more that I could cover, but I think we will call it quits for today! I have two more topics in this series planned: threads and needles, and a post all about batting. Is there anything else that I missed?

If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments!

Here are the links to all the previous posts in this series:
Introduction
Pre-Basting Prep
Basting
Practice
Working your way around the quilt
Picking a Pattern

Have fun quilting those quilts!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

cabin quilt

Scheduled quilting time is a thing of the past around here...and I'm trying to be ok with that. Some days are easier than others! I stayed up late last night to finish the quilting on this one. I also added the binding in the wee hours and I top stitched it down this morning. I'm thrilled that this one is DONE! (I had the chance to sleep in, so I'm not any worse for the wear. Hurray!)
I used larger leftover pieces for the pieced backing and I love how it came together. I really liked mixing a non-traditional backing with the traditional quilt front.
I'm very happy with how this corner came out...front and back!
Since I bound it in a plaid fabric, I cut it on the bias. I think it's the perfect finishing touch....and I actually LIKE making bias binding once in awhile! :)
The quilt measures 60" x 72".

I'm now down to 9 WIPs! Woo-hoo! I'm enjoying it while it lasts, because no doubt I will be on a starting bender soon. That seems to be the way it works!

Friday, July 11, 2014

a few finishes

Welcome to finish it up Friday! It's been a crazy week, but aren't they all? I have a whole host of thoughts about summer and sewing and juggling and focus, but I think I'll save those for another day. :)
Last night I had the opportunity to speak to the Minnesota Quilters and my topic was Modern Quilts. It was a completely new talk for me, so I was very nervous. I usually steer clear from the "what is modern?" can of worms....but I shared a bit of my journey into modern quilting and did a trunk show. I'm thankful for the opportunity, and I am happy to call that a FINISH for the week! :) Thanks to the Minnesota Quilters for the warm welcome and the encouraging response!
I also found a little bit of time this week to complete a quilt top. (Sorry about the rainy day photo!) It's a simple HST quilt top for charity. These blocks have been sitting around for well over a year...so it's nice to have them in quilt top form. I've been working SO hard on completing my WIPs. It sure isn't easy, but I'm currently down to 10! And that feels great!!!
 
Now it's your turn! Please link up your finishes for the week. Thanks for joining me for finish it up Friday!

Monday, July 07, 2014

reclaimed stars

My oldest WIP finally became a quilt top on Friday.
I started this one back in September of 2009!
Two yards of Kona in Navy finish it off to make it a more usable size.
The middle section is quite traditional,
so, I tried to shake things up with uneven borders.
A lot of this quilt's success or failure is riding on the quilting.
(No pressure there!)
The quilt top measures 60" x 72".

Happy Monday to you!

Friday, July 04, 2014

avocado socks

Welcome to finish it up Friday!

Today's finish is a pair of hand knit socks! The color is so pretty....reminds me of a perfectly ripe avocado.
Three things about knitting socks:
1. They take a long time.
2. They give me ample opportunity to learn to look past and live with minor imperfections.
3. They are still TOTALLY worth it! (Nothing beats the feel of hand knit socks on cold toes.)
 
I believe this is my 8th pair of hand knit socks to date. I have an ongoing goal to keep up my sock knitting skills...because if you don't use it, you lose it. My last pair was finished in 2012, but my feelings on the subject still remain the same. Also, the portability factor can't be beat.
 
Now it's your turn! Please link up your finishes for the week. To those of you in the States, Happy Independence Day! Hope you have a safe and fun holiday weekend!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

I still haven't run out of scraps

I've been working on rearranging my sewing room this week (what a task THAT is! I still have a long way to go....) and I've found little bits of time here and there to finish up some small scrap projects. It feels soooo good to get back to my 101 scrap challenge! It's been almost a year since I started it and it's been most enjoyable.
I made these cute little pin cushions from the leftover corner pieces of my scrappy divided basket. They were already quilted and I couldn't image throwing them away, so they became little pin cushions instead. I LOVE them! They are scrap project #76.
This zip pouch was made from leftover quilted panels from my big tote bag I made last spring. I added a fun little print for lining and bright green zipper ends for a punch of color. My son loves and it and he may claim it for himself if I let him. (That always feels good!) I love it, too. It's little...5" x 6"....and it's scrap project #77.
I received that adorable little print (top) from my friend Melinda in a scrap gift package a few years ago and I've been hoarding it (fiercely) until now. I figured it would make a cute zip pouch, and it's WONDERFUL to have it finally sewn up. I am 100% happy with how it came together. (Proportions can be tricky on a zip pouch sometimes.) My only regret is that I don't have a crazy mom quilts label on the front of it! I suppose I could always add one later....if I'd ever get around to ordering some. This is scrap project # 78.
Since the previous 2 zip pouches came out so well, I figured I'd keep going. On this one the leaf fabric was a scrap that was generously given to me by a friend. Again, I immediately thought "zip pouch", so I went with it. I love how this one turned out as well! I usually quilt my pouches to minimize the need for interfacing, but if you use the right interfacing, things actually come together quite nicely! Who knew?!?! :) And it's quite a bit quicker than quilting the panels. This is scrap project # 79. (this one could use a label, too!)
Last summer my son did some improv piecing and was going to make a full quilt, but didn't have attention span to do so yet. So...I turned his block into a placemat instead. I'm sure he will get a lot of use out of it in this form. (This one has been done for awhile....I found it again while cleaning this week and realized I hadn't blogged it yet!) It is scrap project # 80!
This is another reason that sewing around here has been hit and miss. The weather has been IDEAL the past few days. There are a LOT of fish to catch in that lake! :) My husband likes to tease me about my fishing 'sickness'. I still contend there are worse things!

Monday, June 30, 2014

scrap basket quilt along link up

Welcome to the final week of the scrap basket quilt along! A HUGE thank you to all of you who are quilting along with me. If you haven't started yet, no worries. It's not too late to join in! :)

I finished my rail fence quilt last Tuesday when I had a few uninterrupted hours of sewing time. (It was such a treat!) I'm very happy with how my quilt turned out, but more importantly my boys gave it their seal of approval. Not that it's a tough sell or anything, but still, good to know!



When you are finished with your quilt, please send it to the following address:

Margaret's Hope Chest
630 Griswold SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

Just a few reminders....

The "deadline" is August 1, 2014 if you'd like your name thrown into the hat for prizes. One prize per every 20 quilts donated. If you are donating a boys' quilt, your name will be thrown into the hat twice. It can be any type of quilt, it doesn't need to be a rail fence quilt as shown here. If you are looking for other ideas, there are bunch on this page. Aim for a finished size of 50" x 60".

Now, it's your turn! If you are quilting along with me, I'd love to see your progress! Please link up so all of us can see your progress/finished quilt. I will leave the linky open until August 1, so even if you don't have progress to share at this time, you can still link up when you are ready.

Happy Monday to you!

Friday, June 27, 2014

A's new dress

Welcome to finish it up Friday! I'm so pleased to have a finished garment to share today!
My friend Linda is working on her first garment pattern and I did some testing for her this week. (I thought quilt pattern writing was hard. I can NOT imagine garment pattern writing! Oh, boy!) It was good to have a deadline for testing or I would have procrastinated for weeks. Garment sewing scares me a little bit! (But it's also something I would like to do more of.)
It was hard to pick a fabric that both my daughter and I agreed upon. I wasn't crazy about her choice (and I wasn't sure that I wanted that many scraps of this fabric left over-hahaha!) but I gave up control and in the end I think it worked out well! I can pick out quilt fabric all day long. Picking out fabric for garments is a completely different story.
This is my first garment ever made with button holes...and they actually turned out pretty good! That feels like an accomplishment! I'm so proud of my friend Linda for writing such a great pattern. I have plans to make a few more of these dresses soon....no wonder "the list" never gets shorter! :)
This photo is proof that you can still chase bugs even if you are wearing a dress! Good to know, right?

Now it's your turn! Please link up your finishes for the week! Thanks for joining me for finish it up Friday!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Machine Quilting 101:Picking a Pattern

We are up to week 6 in the Machine Quilting 101 Series! I'm very excited about today's post!
If you'd like to check out the previous posts, I've added the links for easy access:

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Pre-basting Prep
Week 3: Basting
Week 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
Week 5: Working your way around the quilt

Today we will be talking about how to pick a quilting pattern for your quilt. You've probably heard the phrase "quilting makes the quilt". No pressure at all, huh? I've been machine quilting for over 11 years and I have to admit that I STILL get nervous when I begin quilting a new quilt. Yes, every single time, because I don't want to mess it up!

The main thing to consider when picking a pattern is what is your comfort level vs. the risk. If you are trying a new-to-you technique, it's best to practice on a quilt that will be for one of your kids/grand kids, maybe a picnic quilt, or a quilt that will live on the back of your couch. Something low risk. If you are entering your quilt into the fair, submitting it to a book or magazine, the risk is a higher, so you probably want to stick with a pattern that is within your comfort level.

Not to sound like a broken record, but don't underestimate the power of practice. Start small and work your way up to a larger quilt. For example, when I was learning how to machine bind quilts, I started by binding doll quilts and I worked my way up to a lap quilt. The first quilt that I bound completely by machine was for my son, who didn't really care if the top stitching was crooked in places and a little wonky around the corners. (And it was.) Eventually, I machine bound a quilt that ended up on the cover of Quilty Magazine, and I wasn't nervous at all about the quality of my stitches. Practice really does help!

When picking a quilting pattern for a quilt, there isn't one right answer. I'll show some examples of what I've quilted and try to break down why I chose that pattern for that quilt. Hopefully I can convey my thought process a little bit.

All Over Quilting:
Sometimes all you need is something to hold all the layers together. A stipple or loop-de-loop is a good solution for so many quilts. I've done a lot of this in my day, and I love how it adds texture to a quilt. A lot of my quilts are simple designs that celebrate pretty fabric, so a meander of some sort works beautifully on this type of quilt.
On this patchwork quilt, I quilted loops down the center of each row, eyeballing the line of stitching down the middle. The squares finish at 2.5", so one line of stitching is enough. I chose this pattern because I knew it would be quick and easy, plus it was a nice alternative to my usual stippling or loops.
This quilt has larger patchwork, with squares that finish at 4", so I did two lines of loopy stitching down each line of patchwork. I like how the stitching shows up more in some squares-like the solids- and how it is camouflaged in some of the printed squares. I was still able to eyeball the placement, so no marking was required. That's always a bonus!
On my trees! quilt, I did an all over loop-de-loop pattern because it reminded me of tangled Christmas lights....to go along with the Christmas tree theme. Since the trees are so linear, I wanted the quilting to soften the hard lines of the piecing. Contrast is good!
On my plain spoken quilt, the quilting is a major component of the overall design of the quilt. (Pattern is Plain Spoken from the book The Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.) The elongated stippling is curvy, which again contrasts nicely with the hard lines of the patchwork.
On the Up, Up and Away quilt (pattern in Sunday Morning Quilts) the squares finish at 2" and I was afraid stippling would feel kind of chaotic. I quilted it with straight lines to keep things simple and clean. The patchwork acted as a guide for quilting and I chose to only quilt through every other block. It seems to be a nice compliment to the tiny patchwork.
I chose to quilt a diagonal grid on my round and round quilt, mainly because of the size of patchwork (another 2" square) and the amount of white in the quilt. No extra marking was required. Yes, it's a running theme because it's so important! All the negative space shows off the classic grid quite well.
In these two quilts (running in circles above and crop circles below) I used the same quilting treatment....spirals for the circles and stippling for the background. This helps define the patchwork and highlights the curved piecing. If you are going to go through the work of piecing curves, why not show it off?
(Just a little disclaimer....piecing curves isn't hard...it's actually quite fun! I have a detailed tutorial here if you'd like to try your hand at them.) 
 
Thread Color Changes:
Choosing a thread color is a whole other topic that I plan to dig into deeper on another day, but I will touch very briefly on it today. Sometimes it's hard to pick a quilting design that works with just one color of thread, so occasionally two thread colors (or more) is the answer.
For my candy cane quilt, I quilted lines of loops that follow the patchwork. I wasn't very confident in my quilting abilities at the time, so I was nervous to quilt with red thread on the white patchwork and vice versa. Matching the color of thread to the color of patchwork was a great solution.
 It formed a really cool design on the solid backing! This was a happy accident.
I had a hard time deciding how to quilt my rolling stones quilt, mainly because of the stark color contrast between the blocks and the background color. I finally settled on a pebble quilting design and two different colors of thread. It was a boatload of work to pebble quilt this thing (it's a large twin size) but I definitely made the right decisions all around. Pebble quilting....rolling stone pattern. It was a pairing that was just too good to pass up!

Quilting the Elements Separately:
This is my Splash quilt (pattern in Sunday Morning Quilts). I couldn't settle on just one type of quilting, so I chose to quilt the elements separately using 3 different thread colors. I did some channel (straight line) quilting on the orange block to help unify the patchwork. I pebble quilted the white border because it was a small section and I wanted it to highlight it a bit more. I quilted a wavy grid on the aqua background because it mimicked waves of water and because it was easy. It required a lot of stopping and starting, but I liked the quilting treatment enough to quilt a second version in the same manner.
On my Gumdrops quilt (also from Sunday Morning Quilts) I quilted over the gumdrops to help secure them in place. (I used fusible web, but I didn't trust it completely, so I quilted them individually, just to be sure.) Once I had the gumdrops quilted, the background puffed out in an unattractive manner, so I filled in the background with teeny tiny loops and meandering. I wasn't planning on it, but the quilt needed it! That happens sometimes.
 
Highlighting Negative Space:
On my migration quilt the applique is quite minimal, so the negative space required some special treatment. I chose the swirls because they reminded me of a windy day...fall....migration. It's all a part of the theme. I wasn't very confident in my swirls when I started but I got a lot of practice and was quite proficient by the end!
My rainbow log cabin quilt is another good example of the importance of quilting the negative space. I quilted a petal shape in the gray areas and it adds a lot to the overall finished quilt. It contrasts the linear quilting in the center blocks and makes the borders pop.

I hope that you've found this post helpful. If nothing else, I hope that it gives you a few new ideas for quilting your quilts. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments. If you've found something particularly helpful, I'd love to hear that, too!