Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wonky, Improv Chevron Quilt

This is my last quilt to post for the year. It's also one of my favorites for the year (I have lots of favorites). I made this as a Christmas present for my older sister. The design is inspired by a mug I saw somewhere a long time ago. It took me a while to figure out the best way to piece the strips, but I'm very pleased with how it came out. Creating this quilt ended up being more time consuming than I planned and actually took me two months to finish. I had to take a few breaks from it because the piecing drove me a bit crazy at times.

The final size is about 58" x 75". The chevron rows vary in width from about 6" finished to 12" finished. The skinny sashing between each row varies from 1/2" to 1 1/4". It's bound with a simple navy chevron print. The backing is gray chevron minky (I also used a layer of cotton batting). My sister selected the colors which I've fallen in love with. I'm considering switching up the colors in my bedroom to use the navy and coral together. 

All pictures below were taken my my sister after she received the quilt last week.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Newest Quilt

One of my goals for 2014 is to work through my stack of minkie I've purchased for quilt backs over the years. This particular minkie has been in my stash for at least a couple of years. The other night I came up with a concept and pulled fabrics to turn this guy into a quilt.

We'll see, this might be my first finish of 2014!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hoping to Adopt

It's pretty rare that I share very personal info on this blog, but I wanted to share my sister's news that they have decided to adopt. Diana is six years younger than me, and I'm biased, but I think she is adorable. After several years of infertility, she and her husband Marc have decided to pursue adoption to build their family.

You can find out more about them on their blog: We Are Hoping for a Family

Adoption is not an easy process for adoptive parents or birth parents. I worked as a social worker in adoption for about five years and saw the ups and downs of this process. I also saw amazing relationships develop between adoptive and birth families as they shared this experience. If you know someone considering adoption, please feel free to pass along Diana and Marc's information.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Can-Can Skirt

I bought the Can-Can skirt pattern from Made a few years ago. I never made it. Finally, I decided it was time to try sewing with chiffon and braved it. I'm not a huge fan of sewing clothing. It's not my creative love. It don't do it often, and it drives me a bit nuts. My girls love how their skirts look, but I won't be making more anytime soon....

Child #1 refused to pose and changed out of her skirt as soon as we arrived home from church. Child #3, on the other hand, will do just about anything to get her photo taken and happily obliged me with a few poses.

The chiffon is soft and fluffy and ruffly--everything a little girl could want. It makes for a pretty good twirling skirt as well!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

The other evening we had a surprise visit from a special guest. The kids were ecstatic. After Santa left, Little Dude desperately searched outside to catch a glimpse of the sleigh. I love the excitement and anticipation they experience leading up to Christmas. It makes it all the more fun.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A New Baby Quilt

December always becomes a slow blogging month for me. Either I have too many other things going on and can't find the time to blog, or I want to wait to blog my projects until after they've been unwrapped on Christmas morning. This December seems to be a combination of both.

Earlier this month I finished a quilt from this stack that I can't wait to share! It's a design I have wanted to make for quite sometime now.

It's currently sitting under my sister's Christmas tree. I even gave her the responsibility of photographing it for me. We've had so much snow lately that outdoor quilt pictures haven't been working out too well.

I do have one small finish to share today. Recently, it seems many of my friends and family members are having new babies. My typical default for baby gifts is a box of diapers. After having twins, I know you go through a lot of diapers, but at the same time it's a bit of a boring gift. I decided a couple months ago that I wanted to make some baby items to have on hand for gifts rather than facing the inevitable crunch time and heading to the store for my default gift.

Several months ago when I received fabric from Timeless Treasures to make this quilt, the rep also included some various Sketch cuts in quilting cotton and flannel leftover from Market. These pieces were all different sizes and many had large chunks cut out. This little quilt came out of those scraps. It's approximately 40" x 40". I wanted to do something very simple using only what I had. I used quilting weight fabric for the front and flannels for the backing. This quilt came together in a short amount of time. It was a great distraction when I needed a break from a much more challenging project I was in the middle of. I'll tuck it away for now to use as a baby gift for someone down the road.

The backing is simply strips of flannel cut WOF. The width of the strips depended on how much fabric I had. I love the simplicity of the design (both front and back), plus the sketch flannel backing is so wonderfully soft.

I love making little projects only using what I have on hand. It makes me feel a bit better about my fabric obsession when I actually use a bit of it!

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season with friends and family!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Small Town Quilt Show

I'm excited to have another opportunity to teach next year! I'll be teaching Improv Piecing at the Small Town Quilt Show in Heber, Utah coming next June! Registration is now open!

Although, students won't have a finished project, I'll be going over various improv piecing styles as shown in my projects above. It will be a fun three-hour class similar to the class I'm teaching at Sew South in March.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Free-Motion Quilting

Virtual Quilting Bee

This post is the second of two about free motion quilting for the Virtual Quilting Bee over at Diary of a Quilter.

Now that the quilt is basted, we're ready to start quilting. Sometimes I know exactly how I want to quilt a project before it's even basted, but often I stew about it for weeks while it sits unquilted. I often spend a while looking for inspiration. Here are a few places I go to for ideas when I'm stuck:
Once I decide on a design, I practice, even if it's just for a minute to get the feel for the design again. I have several practice scraps. I simply use a two pieces of fabric to make a sandwich for practice. I prefer these pieces to be at least 1 yard x WOF (42"). This gives me a better feel for how it will be to actually quilt the design. I never make small quilt sandwiches for practice. For me they are harder to work with.

Here is my current doodle sandwich. Once I've filled all the empty space, I simply start quilting over the designs again. Although, when I'm practicing a brand new design, I like clean slate. I generally use a contrasting thread when I practice, allowing me to better see the design.

I always use quilting gloves, even when I practice. They help give much better control of the quilt.

Getting Started:
  • Decide on a pattern--I find stipling or a loopy meandering pattern to be the easiest. 
  • Start sketching--Draw out how it should look before testing on fabric.
  • Clean and oil (if recommend) the machine, replace the needle, and rethread upper thread and bobbin. Attach the darning/fmq foot.
  • Grab some gloves--I have four different pairs (shown above). I've gone back and forth on my favorite. Right now my go-to pair is the whitish pair in the photo above. They are some type of fruit-picking gloves from Asia. I'm not even sure of the language that was on the package, but they are great. They fit snugly and give just the right amount of grip. If anyone knows of a location to buy these, I'd love to link up.
  • Clear the work area--I often move my machine to the kitchen table to have plenty of space for quilting.
  • Test tension and stitches on a practice piece.
  • Jump in with a scrap sandwich! You aren't going to learn unless you try.
I have found that there is no magic bullet when doing fmq. Even still I have issues (bad tension, skipped stitches, broken thread, etc) nearly every time I finish a quilt. The various combinations of fabric, batting, thread and needles make for a lot of trial and error. When I can't get things to work I go through the following steps:
  • Rethread the whole machine.
  • Switch out the needle--even a new needle can be bad. Sometimes it's also good to try a different size--larger or smaller. I've also found a top stitching needle to work well, but not on all quilts. 
  • Change the thread--I've tried many types of thread. I prefer polyester over cotton. I find my thread breaks far more frequently when I quilt with cotton.
  • Increase the tension--I only adjust my tension if I'm getting eye-lashing on the back of the quilt (stitches with incorrect/pulling tension). Every machine is different. I know some quilters must significantly increase their tension.
  • Clean the machine again--I find for some quilts I need to clean my machine again about halfway through the quilt.
  • Stop--When I'm frustrated, I make the most mistakes. I usually need to step away from my project for a while when things just aren't working.
  • Take the machine in for service--I'm at this point right now. I've been having more and more issues lately when I fmq. I think it's time for my machine to head to the shop for a tune up. It's just hard to part with it for two weeks. 
I've heard from many people that they are too scared to try fmq. Just try it! There is little risk in ruining a couple yards of cheap fabric and batting scraps. Your first try will not be stellar. Don't expect it to be. Keep trying.

Just this past year or so, I have finally become more adventurous in my quilting. Here are a few examples from my past quilts as I've tried new things:

Loops, Arcs: Chicopee Kaleidoscope Quilt

Loops: Honeycomb Quilt

Pebbles, Leaves, Swirls: Layers Quilt

Simple Stiple: Baby Star Quilt

Flames: Roadwork Quilt

Large Swirls: Unraveled 2 Quilt

Swirls, Swirl/Pebble Combo: Jumbo Star Quilt
Woodgrain, Oval Pebbles, Loops: Preppy Improv Quilt

Snowball Flower: Ombre Zig-Zag

Scribbles: Confetti Quilt

Meandering Loop: Modern Grandma's Flower Garden

Free Motion Quilting--Basting the Quilt

Virtual Quilting Bee

In conjunction with her Virtual Quilting Bee, Amy from Diary of a Quilter asked me to post a bit about how I go about quilting my quilts. I've made 80+ quilts and quilted all but one. The ability to free motion quilt (FMQ) my own quilts was honestly what got me hooked on quilting. I knew I couldn't afford to pay someone to long-arm my quilts for me. When I realized I could realistically do it myself, I became a quilter. My very first experiment with FMQ was an inexpensive sheet I cut in half, sandwiched with batting and just started stitching. It looked horrible! Fortunately, my ability to FMQ on a domestic machine has greatly improved since then.

The Quilt Sandwich
There are three main components to the quilt sandwich--simply the quilt top, back and batting.

The quilt top:
  • After piecing the quilt top, press well. I prefer to starch my project along the way and simply touch up any stubborn seams at this point with a little more starch. 
The batting:
  • I generally use Warm & White, Warm & Natural or Pellon Nature's Touch. I've been equally happy with all three products and my choice is generally influenced by what I have on hand or what is on sale. If my quilt has a significant amount of white fabric, I use Warm & White. I do not like using poly batting. I have tried a couple poly blends and still prefer the 100% cotton batting for my quilts. I always using batting in my quilts, even when backing with minky. I love the extra weight in a minky quilt. 
  • I cut my batting about 4" wider and 4" longer than the quilt. I don't like a significant amount of excess along the edges.
The backing:
  • For the backing I generally piece my leftovers from the front into a new, complimentary design for the back. I love using up what I have. I have also started using minky quite frequently. I actually design my throw quilts to fit a 2-yard piece of minky (quilt top size about 56" x 70"). 
  • Like the batting, I generally cut my backing about 4" wider and 4" taller than the quilt top.

The first step is basting. There are multiple ways to do this. For the sake of space, I'm just covering my personal technique today.

I baste my quilts on our kitchen floor. We have nearly indestructible laminate. I move the table out of the way and the chairs into the living room. If we had nicer wood floors I would probably need to find an alternative location for basting. I also have a friend who simply waits for a good day, sweeps her driveway and bastes on the concrete. Sometimes this step requires some creativity.

The two main methods for basting are spray basting with a product such as 505 or pin basting with safety pins. Either way generally works fine. I generally prefer spray basting because I quilt much more quickly since it doesn't require that I remove the pins as I go. The downside is the added chemicals (that supposedly wash out) and the added cost. Pin basting takes longer, but doesn't require the added spray.

First, tape down the backing. Use a heavy duty masking tape for this. In the particular quilt shown, I struggled keeping this minky taped down. In later photos you'll noticed I actually retaped with duct tape because it kept popping off. I first tape the corners. Next I tape the center of each side. Finally I add any additional pieces of tape to secure the sides and reduce the ripples. This will depend on your fabric and size of quilt.

Next spread out the batting. Remove all wrinkles if possible.

Package batting seems to have more stubborn wrinkles. Press these out if necessary to achieve a smooth, flat batting.

(If pin basting, skip this step). If spray basting, fold batting back to the center of the quilt. Lightly spray backing about 10" at a time, smoothing, and pressing batting down. Repeat until entire batting is fixed to batting.

Center and smooth quilt top on batting. If spray basting repeat process shown above.

When finished I like to roll my quilt tops to minimize stretching and pulling on the basting (whether pinned or sprayed).

When pin basting, place pins about 4" apart. I find it easier to close the pins after removing the quilt from the floor. I simply remove the tape, sit on the floor with the quilt on my lap and work through closing all the pins before moving or rolling the quilt. This means less time on my knees while basting, but it's also easier on my fingers, and I tend to poke myself less.

Now head onto the next post about the actual quilting!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pixel Project--The Confetti Quilt

This quilt looks nothing like my original intention, but was a great experiment none the less. I started this project because I wanted to try out piecing 1" finished squares. It evolved over the months. I ultimately decided to finish this project by framing the confetti blocks in large improv-pieced sections.  It turned out very busy and I'm not sure how much I love it. Quilting for me is definitely about the creation process. I learn a lot by putting different designs and fabrics together. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I'm still undecided on this one. Maybe I just need to get over the torture of piecing these tiny 1" squares. I like small piecing, but this is too small...

I admit to loving the back more than the front. I used Kaffe Fassett shot cottons which are much more beautiful in person than in photos. I love the depth of color on these.

My quilting inspiration came from Katie's great quilting series over at Swim, Bike, Quilt.

Quilt stats:
  • Size: 65" x 70"
  • Fabrics: Too many different colors to count, pulled from seven different solid charm packs as well as my solid scraps. Solids are from at least five different manufacturers. The neutrals come from at least five different linen or linen blend fabrics.  

One thing is pretty much certain. I won't be piecing many more 1" squares for a long while. I've had enough of these tiny squares for now. If anyone is interested in my leftovers, leave a comment. I'll randomly select the recipient and send you a bunch of 1 1/2" squares to make your own confetti blocks!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 11, 2013

All My Favorites--A new quilt

I have a new scrappy quilt underway. It includes "all my favorites". All my favorite fabrics and colors that is. These are some of my very favorite fabrics from my stash including my favorite shade of each. I've wanted to make a quilt like this for a while. This will be my new "traveling quilt". It's not going to be a quick one. With 832 small HSTs, I'll be doing it for a while.

Luckily, I'm trying a new method for those HSTs. I haven't used my Go! Baby for quite a while. Recently, I received an email from Accuquilt offering to ship me a new die to try. I've had a love/hate relationship with my Go! Some of my dies worked great, others, not so much. I'm so happy with my Go! Baby again since this new little die that arrived on my doorstep! I requested the 2 1/4" HST die. It's a odd finished size, but that doesn't really matter to me for the project I have planned. This guy chops up perfect triangles for sewing. There is very little waste, and they sew together perfectly without trimming. So far I really am in love with this die.

In my die collection I now have. (I received all of these from Accuquilt for promotional purposes, except the circle die which I purchased):

I always forget the size my fabric should be for each die. I simply wrote it on the foam. For this die I start out with a 3 1/4" x 7 1/4" rectangle.

My test scraps sewed up perfectly and quickly with no trimming at all.

I was able to cut and prep everything for this quilt at our guild sewing day this past weekend. I was very pleased with the results.

I have occasionally been asked in the past if purchasing a Go! cutter is worth it. Here's my two cents on the subject after having it for a couple years:

I initially had mixed feelings, thinking I really don't use it that much. I was surprised at how many projects I actually used this tool for as I scrolled through my finished projects. I think the important thing to consider when making a purchase like this is how much you will truly use it.

I was once asked by a friend who was getting into quilting if she should buy one. I proceeded to ask her what she would actually use it for. She was surprised I even asked and exclaimed. "Well, quilting of course!" She had no idea which dies she would purchase or how she might even use them. She simply saw it as something cool to purchase if you quilt. If this is you, don't buy it.

If, on the other hand, you can scroll through the list of available dies and think, "I would love to make a quilt with that die!" it could be a good choice. If there are 4-5 dies you love and would use, it's probably worth it. I personally wouldn't purchase shapes that are already easy to cut (such as simple squares or strips), but rather dies that will definitely make the quilting experience easier. I haven't found much use for those shapes in my quilting. Although, cutting all the drunkard path pieces for my Retro Flowers quilt would have been a huge pain using a pattern template, but with the die, it went so quickly. The massive number of circles I needed for my bubbles quilts would have been a nightmare by hand. Finally, I have wanted to make another HST quilt for a while, but have avoided it because of the trimming (and I don't really love Thangles either). With this new die I am now able to make this quilt.

Finally, on considering the Go! vs the Go! Baby. I've been perfectly happy with the Go! Baby. The smaller dies are more suited to my taste as well as my quilting style. It's less expensive which certainly makes this a more feasible purchase. There honestly aren't any dies for the full version that I love and "need", so I have no regrets about having the Baby vs the Go!. It all goes back to what you will use it for. If most of the dies you want are larger and require the Go!, head in that direction. If you are like me and love the smaller dies, the Go! Baby would be appropriate. As with any larger purchase, do the research first and seek out the best prices possible before purchasing. Depending on where you live, you might even find a deal on your local online classifieds or Craig's List.

There are certainly pros and cons to this product. I hope that my opinions help for any of you on the fence about purchasing. It has to be worth it in the end. Make sure you really want it and will actually use it before investing. Mine has allowed me to create some projects I wouldn't have done otherwise, but it's certainly not a necessity for most projects.

**The products in this post were provided to me at no cost by Accuquit. I have tried to provide helpful, honest feedback for those interested in these products.