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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chicopee Luxe Tote

Although I didn't attend Sewing Summit this year due to some schedule conflicts, I was able to attend the SLMQG mixer on Saturday evening. While there, I was able to meet Lindsey from LRstitched and see her cute Luxe Tote from the class she taught during the conference. Lindsey often sews bags and pouches with leather accents. I've never sewn with leather, and all of the sudden I decided I needed to. I ordered Lindsey's Luxe Tote leather kit and bought her pattern not long after being able to chat with her. Lindsey's pattern is great with step-by-step directions on creating this bag. Her kit is all pre-cut, making the leather accents easy to add.

I fully admit to having many challenges with this bag. Being new to leather, my machine and I had some fights. It did not like the leather. There was a lot of trial and error. Luckily, I had a test scrap of leather to practice on. Twice, my thread broke while sewing, and I actually unpicked the row of stitching to start over. Then I hand-cranked my machine to make sure I hit the previously stitched holes as to not punch new ones.

I thought I had a "great" idea by adding a pocket to the front, the size of the linen panel. Unfortunately, I measured wrong so my seams don't perfectly line up. Also, when I went to actually sew the front and back of the bag together it was way too thick. I had sewn my pieced top section to duck canvas for stability. Between the canvas, the fabric, some interfacing, the pocket and the two layers of leather, my machine absolutely refused to stitch. I started removing everything possible, cutting away the canvas, pulling off interfacing and cutting the linen away from the leather. I was going to save this bag! Finally in the end I was able to get my machine to sort of sew the seams along the leather. I still had multiple skipped stitches. I then lined the seam with liquid stitch to make sure it held, clipped it with wonder clips while it dried, and called it good.

  • Lesson #1--Follow directions, especially the first time around! I shouldn't have added the extra pocket or used the canvas. I also should have been more careful so that the interfacing didn't cover my seam allowance. Lesson learned!

As frustrating as this process was, I'm so glad I tried! Lindsey's pattern is great with many tips for working with leather. I love the bag. It's a perfect, classy tote when I just need a few things. Plus it looks great with my new quilt! I won't be carrying bowling balls in here, but it is sturdy enough for the things I will be carrying.

My machine and I need a break from leather for a couple weeks, but I'm going to try again! I also bought a 8" x 12" piece of gray leather when I placed my original order. I think I need to try a pouch next.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chicopee Kaleidoscope Quilt--Finished!

I love this quilt! It is honestly one of my favorites I've created (which is saying a lot--I have many favorites). A few years ago I saw Angela's kaleidoscope quilt on her blog, Fussy Cut. It became one of those "must make" quilts for me. About a year later I started making this guy with Chicopee.

I have been working on this quilt for more than a year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I planned to take a while on this quilt. It was convenient and simple, random piecing. I would take it to sewing days with friends and my guild because it required no planning. It was my traveling project--easy to transport and easy to piece while chatting with friends. I love the idea of a project like this and am beginning to cut my next traveling project which I'll share next week.

I knew how I wanted to quilt the linen, but I struggled with how to quilt the prints. Thanks to Instagram, I had several suggestions within just a few hours. I went with arcs between points on the triangles. Despite the fact that my quilting is no where near perfect, I'm very glad I went with custom designs rather than my standard all-over loopy pattern. The texture of the quilting really adds to the quilt. I almost don't want to wash this quilt because I know so much of the quilting will disappear with the crinkly-ness that results.

The back is simply pieced with my leftovers.

Quilt stats:
Size: 56" x 72"
Fabrics: Chicopee by Denyse Schmidt and Essex Linen in Natural
Block: 8" Kaleidoscope cut using the Kaleidoscope Triangle Ruler by Marti Michell

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Homemade Spray Starch

My husband teasingly accuses me of being a snoot about several things. I like to think of it as being particular. I'm a chocolate snoot (Hershey's really isn't worth the calories to me). I'm a fabric snoot (I simply like good quality fabric. He doesn't quite understand that).

Until recently I'll also admit to being a spray starch snoot. I started using a pricey quilt shop brand and got addicted. It was certainly better than the cheap stuff I was buying at the grocery store. Unfortunately, it was $10 a bottle, and I found myself going through it pretty quickly.

One evening while working on a project, I ran out of spray starch. It was too late to go to the store, and I really wasn't in the mood to pay for it anyway. Enter the internet. I searched for "homemade spray starch" and found several recipes--water, corn starch, and essential oil. It sounded way too simple.

I admit to being really worried when I first started trying this concoction on my fabric. I tested it on some scraps first and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked really well. I've now used this on three different quilts, including cotton and linen fabrics. It's been great. The one downside is that the corn starch settles and requires me to shake the bottle frequently. But, if it saves me $10 a bottle, that's a pretty minimal downside. It leaves no residue on my iron and leaves my blocks perfectly crisp. It can leave some white spotting on dark fabric (which washes out), but I wouldn't recommend using this on your nice black shirt.

This is all you need:

Empty spay bottle
1 pint water
1-2 Tbs corn starch (more will give a stiffer starch)
2 drops essential oil (optional)

Pour the corn starch into the bottle using the funnel. Tap down if needed. Add water and essential oil. Replace bottle lid and give it a good shake. (I have found on my bottle drips just bit during this part from the force of shaking. I simply cover the spray spout with my thumb to minimize drips.)

As with anything new, if you try this, please test first on scraps.