Monday, December 31, 2012

Maybe next christmas

Shortly before the holidays a friend asked me if I was ready. I thought about it and decided that I was nearly ready for LAST year's holiday season. Things just seem to go faster and faster. Before we know it, it will be summer, and then it was be winter holiday time again. 

I didn't get this done in time for this year, so I'm getting a jump on things for next year.
Holiday Tree Wall Hanging

This is a small (~16"x18") paper pieced wall hanging. 

It is an original design, but loosely inspired by several christmas tree blocks I've seen floating around. 

EQ7 Design
I designed the entire thing in EQ7, printed the foundations, pieced, quilted (see picture of back) and then embellished with small felt balls (cut in half), and rick rack. The wool felt balls are beautiful and come in lots of colors and sizes (Tami Pfeil, I actually had to order more balls, because the dog ate all but a few of the first set while my back was turned. 

The background fabric was not the best choice -- a little too much pattern to show the dense, swirly background free motion quilting. The back shows the quilting a bit better.

Back of Wall Hanging

I used Fast Finish Triangles in the upper corners for hanging ( 

It looks like the Fast Finish tutorial link is no longer valid, but here is another link -- or just google.

For the Fast Finish Triangles, you basically cut 2 squares of fabric that are about 1/3 or so of the width of the quilt, fold on the diagonal and iron (I sometime put a little fusible tape next to the fold inside and iron again to make it firmer). After the quilt is quilted and you are ready to bind, position the right angles (cut edges) of the folded triangles in the upper right and left corners of the quilt. I usually stitch them down in the outer seam allowance to make sure they stay put while I sew on the binding. 

Leave a comment and your email if you would like the instructions and PDF's of the foundations.

Happy New Year and happy quilting.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What's not so old is new again

When things are new to you, even when they are not so new to the rest of the world, they feel new. In our rush-rush instant information internet world sometimes we feel out of it and second rate if we are not on the leading edge. That tends to take the fun out of it. Well, I'll be the first to admit that I am NOT on the bleeding edge most of the time or maybe even ever. Despite being 'out of it', I do not intend to let that stop me from enjoying the newness and exploring things that are new to me.

Here is an example of something new to me: A friend bought a bunch of books at her church's buck a book exchange fund-raiser, including several quilt books. One of the books is "One-block Wonders" by Maxine Rosenthal ( This is a very cool idea, and the quilts are beautiful. The idea is to use repeats from a large print to cut 'identical' hexagon (or octagon) triangles, and to reassemble them to make kaleidoscopes. Since each kaleidoscope is comes from a different part of the pattern, each one is different, and sometimes very surprising. While surfing the web in preparation to write this, I also ran across entries from Jan Krentz that show her 'one block wonder' quilt. 

The quilts are very complex looking and at the same time serendipitous. It looked like fun, but most of the quilts in Maxine's book are quite large, and I don't make large quilts. The size comes mainly from using a fabric with a large repeat, and then needing to cut-up and make all the possible kaleidoscopes. You end up with a lot, and then they all need to go into the quilt. Maxine's design style also suggests arranging the kaleidoscopes so that they grade into each gently (no abrupt color changes, etc), so that the edges of the individual kaleidoscopes disappear. I thought I might get a feel for the process by using a smaller repeat with lower overall contrast. I found a beautiful leafy fabric from Kona Bay with an 8"x8" repeat. I bought 2 yds (not the 4.5 yds recommended in the book), and will probably have enough left for a border.

Kona Bay fabric showing repeat
I carefully cut 6 8" wide 'width of fabric' strips to capture the repeat, used Maxine's pinning method to get all the layers (right side up) aligned exactly on the repeat motifs, and then cut 60 degree triangles. As you can see, half of an 8"x8" square (i.e. 4"x8" rectangle) yields 2 triangles, nestled together, parallelogram style.
Two triangles cut from half of an 8"x8" square

I used a pyramid ruler with the pointy tip cut-off to maximize fabric use. By cutting 8" squares and then cutting them in half vertically or horizontally, by sometimes putting the 'right-side-up' pyramid on the left and sometimes on the left, and  by sometimes skipping an inch or so before cutting the next 8" square, I got 20 different triangles. That should be enough to make a wall size piece and get a feel for this process.

16 of my kaleidoscopes in a first pass of arranging
One trick to making this quilt top is to make half-kaleidoscopes, pin the two halves so you can see how they will look, layout the top, and then sew the quilt together in strips of half-kaleidoscopes. This also gives the possibility of using leftover half blocks to fill in elsewhere.

Quilt festival starts in Houston on Monday, so I don't know how much further I will get with this for a while. I'm taking several classes, and you know how distacting that can be. More new to me stuff... 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Support your local (or not so local) artist

I would not describe myself as a 'serious' collector, but I love having, "in the fabric" as Del Thomas says,  pieces from others. It is just wonderful to be able to see the fabrics, stitching etc, up close and personal.

SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) is running their annual auction, which helps raise money for exhibits, catalogs, the SAQA journal and regional activities ( There are many pieces and all are 12x12. I saw quite a few things that 'spoke' to me, many of which were snatched up in the early expensive rounds, but I did manage to snag three pieces that I think are wonderful.

The first is Strange Totems by Ruan Robertson. 
Description from SAQA: Cottons, including hand dyes, improvisationally machine pieced and quilted; selvage wrapped rings, hand appliqued.  Second sleeve attached for alternative orientation resembling a landscape.From what I can see on Google, this is iconic of Ruan's angular style.
Strange Totems

The second is Rockslide by Mary Ellen Heus. 
Description from SAQA: Hand-dyed & commercial silks, cotton, linen, poly organza.   Hand embroidered, machine pieced, appliqued and quilted. Even in the picture, it just shimmers, and the finish on the edge is very unusual.
The last (for now) is Shopping with Mother by Robin Laws Field. 
Description from SAQA: Dyed cotton applique on painted cotton background, with machine embellishment. With such simple lines, Robin captures so much! Amazing.
Shopping with Mother

One thing that I really like about all of these -- in addition to the wonderful visual imagery -- is the excellent workmanship. Just because it is small and donated doesn't mean it should get the same attention to details of edges and finishes. 

What a great way to have a little piece of art all your own...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alphabet Soup 2

This is my second go at this. The first version evaporated into the ether...

First -- The Design? I have friends who had a baby last fall, and of course they needed a quilt. Tonya Ricucci's "unruly" alphabet seemed like just the thing. My friends are mathematicians, so I had to include numbers as well. 26 characters and 10 digits are a little awkward, and being new at the liberated quilting thing, I used EQ7 to make a general roadmap and to get a sense of how things would look.

EQ7 Mock-up
As you will see, I took so long doing this, that the baby was born before it was done, and since I knew the name and date, I replaced the words BABY and LOVE with these details.

Next -- What fabrics to use? Tonya makes a strong case, in her book Word Play Quilts, for the importance of high contrast. Otherwise, the words and letters disappear. Similarly, big prints (relative to the size of the letters) do not work well. I decided of two sea-foamy, "read as solid" green batiks for the background -- a light one for the letters, and a shade or two darker for the background of the numbers and the liberated stars, a la Gwen Marston.

For the letters and numbers I bought a Kona Cotton Classic Palette Jelly roll. Starting with 41 colors, after removing white, black, grays, and 1 really light yellow, I had enough to give every letter and number its very own color.

Kona Cotton Jelly Roll

Strips and color guide

Letters in progress
Prepare to Piece -- I unfurled the strips, pinned them up on my design wall like an artist palette of paints. I used a little snippet from each one to arrange on a B&W printout of my roadmap to make sure I didn't end up with all the blues cowering in one corner or all the reds marching across the middle. This was important, because it took me a long time to make all the letters (I think I already mentioned that I'm SLOW), and I did the letters in book order. Tonya's book starts with uppercase and easy letters and works you through to hard and lowercase. "T" was first, "I" was next, "H" after that, etc. Letters with slanty bits (K, R, Z, X, A, W) are the hardest. As I finished each letter, it went back up on the wall in its approximate location. When I finished all the letters and numbers, I measured to work out how much background to add to get things up to a good size, so that every character would have some 'negative space' around it. Then I trimmed to the final size, tipping and shifting some a bit. The final assembly was pretty traditional, and very easy.

The last step in the piecing was making the baby's name and birthdate (date is 11-1-11 -- cool date, but boring to piece). After making the whole alphabet I was starting to "get it", and I really like how the name turned out, but this 'spontaneous stuff is harder than it looks and can take quite a bit of planning.

After adding a piano keyed, striped border, it was time to quilt. Each letter and number got ditched and then I went to 'free motion' town with wiggly borders around each character and loose feathers everywhere else.
Shows quilting around each letter

Right Lower corner showing feathers

Preston's First Letters, @sgh 2012

This was a lot of fun. I love how it turned out, although next time, I'll probably try for 'a little less chunky' and a lot more 'wonky'.
Hope you like it too.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Art Bits

It is the time of year that the graduate students at Baylor College of Medicine are putting on their 11th Annual BCM Art Show benefiting the Texas Children's Hospital Arts in Medicine Program. Contributors get to show off their art work, make a little money if their stuff sells and contribute to a good cause. At least 30% of the proceeds from the week-long silent auction go the charity.

Last year was my first year, and all my pieces sold for more than the minimum bid. It is an interesting feeling to actually make some 'art' that someone else will pay money for. Of course, I don't get the money (I donate everything to the students), and it is not much money anyway, but still... it is a nice feeling.

Gaillardia with ants

Petersen Cleaner Shrimp on Anemone

The flower and the shrimp were experiments in raw edge applique made by making a tracing from a photo, laying the tracing on the back of the background fabric and then, one by one from back to front, laying a foreground fabric on the front, stitching on the relevant lines from the back and cutting away outside of the stitching. On the shrimp, the purplish tip of the anemone's arm, and the shrimp's parts were the last things added. The final step is to layer up and quilt. I particularly like how the shading and contours of the anemone turned out.

Predictably, for a scientific institution, my most popular piece was the DNA molecule. The base pairs (green-purple, and red-teal to imply complementary bases) were paper pieced. The deoxyribose backbone was added using Caryl Bryer Fallert's machine applique method, and then the entire unit was appliqued onto the background. The background was cut away behind the molecule to allow removal of the paper and to reduce bulk.The quilting suggests continuation of the DNA molecule, binding of transcription factors and lots of other biochemical stuff in the cell.Some quilting motifs are based on Leah Day's designs (see link to Free Motion Quilting Project).

Miniature Mariner (9"x9")
This year's contributions include more experiments, and little pieces left-over from classes. This was left-over from a foundation piecing class with Jane Hall. See an earlier installment for a description of how this was made (little-experiment-in-2-parts). I think this will be a nice little qubicle quilt.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olivia by Olivia...


A co-worker's young daughter made this very cool image in art class, and my friend has it hanging up in her office. In most homes, it would probably be displayed on the 'fridge. It has a slightly zentangle feel. It must be a standard art class exercise -- write your name in wonky block letters that fill up the paper, add some squiggles across the page, and then color in the areas that the lines define. I've probably seen it at least 100 times. One day, I really looked at it, and thought, gosh, I'll bet I could make that in cloth.

Fabric palette & mirror-imaged drawings
I took a picture, made a careful black line tracing, blew that up, and then printed copies -- rightside out and mirror-imaged. I used the mirror-image line drawing to trace the entire image onto paper-backed steam-a-seam2 fusible. Then section by section, I carefully cut-off a chunk, cut the chunk apart into its constituent pieces, selected 'colors' from my palette of fabrics (kept pinned up next to the drawing). I used a color mirror-imaged copy as a reference.

Transparency placement guide
I used a fat quarter of dark tone-on-tone purple as the background (which shows through in a few places). After fusing the individual pieces to their fabrics and carefully cutting out each piece in the section, I used a full size transparency line drawing to guide placement. Once the first large piece or two were in place and properly aligned, the smaller pieces tiled the surface so well that placement was relatively easy. After removing the paper from the fusible, the surface is tacky, like a 'post-it' and even tiny pieces stayed put with no problems. When all the pieces were in place, I fused the entire surface, layered with backing and batting, and then used a narrow free motion zig-zag to quilt in the black lines and to secure the raw edges.

The final little quilt is darker, but surprisingly like the original picture. I added a narrow stripey binding, and couched a black chenille yarn down right next to the binding, a touch of contrast that is starting to become a signature. There is also some hand cross stitching on the baseball, and I blanket stitched the label.
  This will be presented to Olivia's Mom next week. I sure hope she likes it. 

Update: Mom loves it. So does does Olivia and now its up to them to 'duke' it out.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A little experiment -- in 2 parts

I've taken lots of classes, including on-line classes through Quilt University ( ). Sounds weird, I know. You might ask "How do you 'see' what to do? How do you get feedback? Do you use a virtual sewing machine?" Obviously, this doesn't work too well if the point of the class is to learn a manual skill that requires hands-on input, but for some things, the online thing works pretty well. One of my best experiences, so far, was a class with Jane Hall (Firm Foundations), in which she covers a very wide range of foundation piecing methods.

The first part of the little experiment was actually pretty big. A friend and I did the course together. We got together ahead of time and decided to use black and white fabrics, with a small number of jewel tone colors to spice things up. We knew we were going to end up with a bunch of individual blocks, and we decided to coordinate a bit, so that we could get some use out of what we made without a tremendous amount of extra work. We graded the B&W fabrics into a range of 'values' (virtually all white to virtually all black with about 5 intermediate values in between) and divvied up the fabrics so we would each have a set of distinct fabrics. Each week, for the class, we had a block or two that were strongly suggested as homework, and then a few more optional examples of the same technique. Somewhat miraculously, my friend and I ended up making the exact same set of 10 blocks (except for 1 extra, see below). I put them together with sashed blank blocks and an original paper pieced border to build a quilt top. The paper-foundation pieced border was a little like a 'senior thesis'  -- the capper for our Quilt University class.

The finished quilt was given to a colleague, but also get a nice honorable mention in the 2011 Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild Show (my second show and first ribbon of any color). The quilt also has a small black and white stripe (railroaded) binding, and a beautiful scarlet red pearl cotton couched in-the-ditch next to the binding.
"It's Not All Black and White" unquilted top,
upside down from final. (@SGH 2011)
Me and the quilt and our pink ribbon, GSAQG 2011

The second part is the little experiment. After making the quilt, there was one block left over. I made the miniature Mariner's Compass, and my friend didn't. I won't show the foundation, since that came from Jane's course materials and is copyrighted, but it was a fairly standard compass with 16 points, and an appliqued center. Amazingly (to me  --  this is only my 4th mariner's compass), the entire block finished 6 inches.
Sections partly paired up and ready for assembly

I sewed things in 8 sections, and used Judy Mathiesen's 'fold back and sew next to the fold' method for some of the pieces in order to control the direction of the seam allowances.
Back -- Sections assembled, ready to trim

Back -- Center and outer 'pie-crust' section added

The outer section was cut from a single 6.5 inch square, and the compass was sewn in using a freezer paper template method and a little glue stick. Note that the the background fabric was actually used with the 'wrong side' facing out (see below) in order to get a lighter, lower contrast background.
Front -- Finished Miniature Mariner's Compass

Front -- Finished Mini-Mariner

This poor, lovely but lonely little Mariner's Compass sat pinned up on my wall for quite a while. Although I had no desire to make any more, it seemed a shame to let it waste away -- hence the little experiment. The graduate students, where I work, hold a charity Art Show and Auction every year. Little, relatively inexpensive things sell better than big things. The show is a great opportunity to 'clean house' AND do some good, so there is some incentive to finish off little experiments and let them move onto another life.

Here are the experimental results. I used EQ7 to audition different ideas for the prairie points before picking this arrangement and colors. Finished, they are 3/4 inch tall and made using Susan Cleveland's ( prairie point tool. I really like the asymmetric look (note to self -- do more of this...) and I like the complementary colors (they look better 'in the fabric' than online).

Finished, this little guy is 9.5 inches -- perfect to warm up some one's 'cube' at work.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Birth of an Eggplant with Ruth McDowell as midwife

Earlier this month I got to take a class from Ruth B. McDowell ( in Kallispell, Montana. I've admired Ruth's work for years, and have been on the waiting list for a class for more than a year. This was an amazing opportunity, since Ruth is retiring from teaching.

Line tracing from the photograph
Photo of Ichiban Eggplant flower in my garden
"Changing ... Leaves some things behind"
SG Hilsenbeck, 2008
Preparation: Besides travel arrangements, plans for my husband to come later in the week and extra days to be spent sightseeing, fishing etc (Montana is a new state on our life-list), there was also preparation for the class. First, an image to be turned into a small quilt. I had several in mind but opted for this one. My goal was to translate this into cloth, aiming for a finished size of about 17x25 inches. Second, a pencil tracing of the image, to ID the main lines. Notice that in the tracing, I left out all the underlying foliage (mustard greens, etc). I wanted to hi-light the beautiful dark purple stems and the light green leaves. Third, I packed an entire small suitcase with fabric from my stash, in greens, purples, yellows, etc.  
Fourth, but actually done several years ago, it was important to already understand how Ruth's freezer paper method works and to have some experience putting pieces together. I made this little quilt by carefully following the instructions in Ruth's book.

First Days of Class: The first days of class focused on taking the image and turning it into something you can actually sew. Ruth did an absolutely amazing job of reviewing an image from each of 17 students and making suggestions for how to 'de-construct' the image into sewable sections.
Students in class
 Del Thomas (, also in the class, took this picture of several of us students, including me (standing) mesmerized by Ruth's magic.

The following pictures show Ruth's general suggestions for breaking up my image (left), my careful full size drawing, with all the sections and pieces meticulously labeled, and the final tracing on freezer paper (sections and pieces traced on shiny side) with major sections outlined in hi-liter on the paper side.

Ruth's Mock-up
Full-size drawing on tracing paper
Freezer Paper showing sections on
paper side.

This process was quite demanding -- requiring careful thought about how to things will be sewn together, thought about where colors will go, and great attention to detail. What a luxury to have an entire day, or more, to really concentrate on this. This would be hard for me to do at home, squeezing a little time here and there from in between other demands.

Next steps: With the full size drawing in hand, it was time to turn to fabric. What fun auditioning little bits to see how they would look. Experienced members of the class seemed to able to pick fabrics and immediately iron onto the freezer paper templates and pin up on the wall (Note: a design wall, with a full-size copy of the drawing on which to pin-up each piece (make visual designs visually...) is a must!). I opted to waste a little fabric by pinning up snippets, to see how they would look, and then go for ironing and actual cutting out, once I was generally happy with the choices. Ruth also suggests pinning up nearly everything before sewing, so you can really see how it will look, and make changes before you go down a path you will regret.

Starting to audition fabrics.
 With the photo as a guide, here I have pinned up little bits of candidate fabrics to see how it will look. I'm especially liking the flower. The strips of dark purple just give the impression of how the contrast will work with the stems.
Starting to pin-up prepared pieces

Beginning to audition possible outer border fabric.
Close-up, showing prepared pieces pinned in place.

We left the border fabric choice until the end, and after looking at quite a few, Ruth helped find an interesting fabric that hi-lited the green and purple of the design and was similar in 'value' to the center background. This also illustrates the need for a really deep stash, OR to live in a great quilt shop. The class was in the back of the Quilt Gallery in Kallispell, and it could not have been more convenient to pop-up to the front of the store to 'look for something else'. They even ran a tab.

Finishing the Top: I'm quite a slow, methodical piecer. In fact, I'm pretty slow on all the parts of the process. On the other hand, I savor each step, and generally only work on small to moderate-sized things that I can finish in my lifetime. I have actually made one large king-size quilt, but it was too much like sewing a circus tent, and I do not plan to repeat the experience. But I digress. Considering my snail-like pace, I made amazing progress on assembly of the top during the last two days of the class.
About half of major sections sewed, before packing up.

Back, showing seams
Front, showing finished top (18x24.5")
@SG Hilsenbeck, 2012

After an hour or so for several evenings, and all day last Saturday, the top is entirely put together. Amazingly, I did not lose any of the little pieces (ziplock bags are wonderful), I did not sew anything in backwards or upside down (color coded tic-marks, like being rich or thin, you cannot have too many), AND miracle of miracles, it lies flat.

Plans for quilting and finishing: I haven't decided exactly what to do yet, so this will have to wait until next time. When I step back, I'm quite happy with much of how the image looks and less thrilled with other parts. Rather than micro-analyzing or perhaps trying to tweek, I view this as a learning experience. Quilting will be the next part of the experiment. Thinking of this as the small experiment that it is takes some of the decisional anxiety out of the equation. I feel freer to try things out and then I know can to do better next time.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's a start...

Hi - I'm an academic biostatistician and this is my first blog. I like reading other blogs, especially about my hobby, quilting, and thought I would give it a go. I like posts that have a point, and don't constantly apologize for not posting, or otherwise self-recriminate. Not that any of us is perfect, but I think we all do that enough to ourselves. My paper journal is particularly boring in that regard. If, God forbid, anyone else, say 25 or 50 years from now, were to read it, they would surely think that I had a terrible life. Full of self-doubt, paralyzed with insecurity, overwhelmed with work-a-holism (well that's sort of true), and generally bleak. In fact, in general, I have a pretty wonderful life -- fantastic loving husband, rewarding job, wonderful colleagues and friends, challenging but appreciative students, and many other good things. I think writing in my diary is sort of therapy, and I only go for therapy when I really need it, so the diary is a pretty biased sample (aah, had to get a statistics reference in there) of my life. I will try to do better here.

Ethan's Dinosaurs
What about quilting? Well, I started quilting back in 1980, as mechanism of escape from stress and an outlet for self-expression. I took a little hiatus during the 90's, and started up again in about 2001. The re-boot was motivated by wanting to do something nice for a colleague whose son was diagnosed with leukemia (son now fine -- modern pediatric oncology is pretty fantastic). A friend and I designed a quilt themed on the son's favorite thing -- dinosaurs -- so that anyone in the research group who wanted to could make a block. For this we used a dinosaur coloring book to get the simple outline drawings, and permanent fabric markers that each volunteer used to trace and color their block. We sashed and corner-stoned with a nice batik multi-color (now, many quilts later, I would assemble a bit differently, but still love the colors and contrast), and bordered and backed with a really cute lizard fabric. We had so many volunteers and blocks that we ended up expanding the quilt and then had to make pillow cases with the left-overs. I did the machine, free-motion quilting. Boy did I learn a lot! Mostly, what not to do. This was my very first machine quilting effort, and having very little knowledge, I made a lot of mistakes -- none particularly fatal or crippling. There is something astoundingly liberating about working on a project like this. You want it to be really good, but this is not going to hang in the Louvre. There is more at stake than a throw-away practice piece, but it is "safe" to fall a bit short of the mark. In the end, they will love it because of the love that everyone put into it. 

The quilt, and the entire group process, were a big hit. When another significant life event came along for one of the staff members, the group wanted to do it again. Over the years we have made about 12 or 14 of these group quilts. Most of the participants don't sew, so designing something different and specific to the recipient that involves limited or no sewing by the volunteers has been an interesting challenge. As you might guess, fusing has figured prominently. More about some of those in the future.