Tuesday, December 31, 2013


My final production for the year of 2013 is a small baby quilt called "Sisters".

Partly as a personal challenge, and partly because it seemed a good way to get a wide selection of batiks in tan, pink purple and brown (the desired color scheme), the quilt top is made entirely from 10 inch squares from two Tonga Treats layer cakes. The light tans were used for the background squares and sliced up to make a piano key border, the pinks and purples were used for the bunnies, and some nice chocolate browns were used for the 1 1/2 inch sashing and corner stones (all very simple and traditional).

The snoozing bunny image comes from Darcy Ashton (she has the cutest drawings of bunnies, dogs, etc). I made a plastic template and then used it to trace 18 bunnies. I used a stencil cutter to make slots for later marking of outline stitching and embroidery lines.

I cut out 9 purple bunnies (3 from each of 3 fabrics) and 9 pink bunnies (also 3 from 3) and then paired up each pink with each purple (i.e. pink1 with purple1, pink1 with purple 2, pink 1 with purple 3, pink 2 with purple1, etc) to get 9 pairs.

I laid out the background squares to get the arrangement and positioned the bunnies so that every block is a little different. Sometimes the sisters are snuggled close, sometimes they are further apart but still in concord, sometimes pink is in front and sometimes they are facing in opposite directions. I wanted this quilt to be soft and usable, so instead of fusing, I glue basted around the edges and then free motion start stitched twice around, just inside the raw edge (with tear-away stabilizer underneath. The raw edges are a little frayed, and there is a slightly rustic feel. I used a 12 wt cotton thread to embroider the bunny's noses and eyes before trimming the squares to 9 1/2 inches for assembly.

Assembly was very simple -- I presashed the squares and then sewed the inner top together.

The borders were made by slicing each of the remaining background squares into 3 vertical strips (some narrower than others), sewing all the strips back together along the long edges into one long piano key strip, and then sewing the ends of the strip together to get a big loop. This was cut down the middle to get two loops about 96 inches around and 5 inches wide. Like in bargello quilts, the loop allowed me to decide to start the border in different places and adds diversity. Each half loop made enough for two border strips, and the remaining 10 inch square of corner stone fabric was cut into 4 squares for the outer corner stones.

Quilting was simple and not too dense. I quilted in the ditch along both sides of all the sashing, free motion quilted around the outside of the bunnies, and then loosely filled the background. Each square uses adiffernt filler. In a couple of cases I just followed the batik pattern. The border was done in a big free motion feather that turns the corner and goes all the way around. It adds texture but only shows on the lighter, plainer fabrics.

The binding is a Marcia Derse fabric (I have a bunch but usually just look at it admiringly and pet it -- this is the first time I've cut into it). After sewing to the front, I used glue basting to tack it to the back and then stitched in the ditch on the front, just catching the edge on the back. Not as beautiful as hand sewing, but SOOO much faster, and actually looks pretty good.

This quilt is a present for the woman who has given me great haircuts for the last nearly 10 years, and who also used to cut my father's hair during the 4 years he lived with me and my husband. She was wonderful to him, and now she is having a baby and this is an opportunity to say 'Thanks'.

Thanks for reading and best wishes for the New Year -- which is now....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tuscan Nines

The International Quilt Festival in Houston is always a great time to see and do and learn quilty things. Living in Houston, I try to take full advantage. I take off work, and take a bunch of classes. I usually focus on getting a taste of new skills and techniques that may or may not make their way into my regular toolbox, but I also like a class or two that is relatively low stress and just for fun.

This year, I took a really fun class with Lynda Faires called "Crazy Nines". You basically start with largish squares (10" is a nice manageable size) of 9 different but compatible fabrics and you end up with 9 blocks of about the same size as the original. Each square is a wonky 9 patch, with 1/2" sashing strips and contains each of the nine fabrics.

Block mocked up in EQ7 and colored using JPEGS of fabrics

Back of the real thing. Note that the sashing adds back the seam allowances, so things fit together and end up about the same size as the original.
For final assembly, the blocks are trimmed to square-up. Mine went from 10" squares of fabric to 9.5" finished squared up blocks. These are sashed together to assemble the whole top.
Top mocked up in EQ7.
I like mocking things up in EQ7, just to get a feel for how it might look and to try to get fabrics and contrast about right. I didn't bother to make each block unique, the way it will be in the real thing. The JPEGS from the online fabric store include the store's logo, which I did not bother to photoshop out. I do usually add an extra very narrow outer border, so I can see what the binding might look like. The real thing always looks better.
Finished top before layering and quilting.
The class was 3 hours (including some explanation time), and by the end, I had all the blocks made. Now that I know how its done, I could probably do it a little faster. I cut all the sashing strips ahead of time, and it took about 5 hours to sew everything together. The top is definitely something you could put together in 1 long day, if you really worked at it. Finished quilt will be about 40" by 40".

There are lots of possible options for fabrics. One of the other students in the class used a gorgeous collection of Marcia Derse fabrics. I don't normally make a whole quilt from fabrics from a single line or designer, but for this project, going with a collection seemed like a quick and low stress way to get a nice selection. Layer-cakes are perfect for this type of quilt. I bought one layer-cake of Denyse Schmidt's "Florence" and separated it into orange and turquoise colorways. I've made the orange version and I have enough "layers" left to make a second turquoise version.

Left-over turquoise/green "layers" of the cake will be enough to make a second quilt.
I bought yardage for the sashing strips, outer border, back and binding. The fabric is very busy, so quilting will be very simple -- in the ditch and maybe a freeform feather (a la Philippa Naylor) in the border. I don't have an intended recipient for this quilt yet, but I want it to be soft and usable.

Thanks for reading (comments welcome) and Best Wishes for the Holidays,

Addendum -- finished quilting and binding. I used BottomLine in the bobbin. First, I tried Invisifil, which is very thin and nearly invisible but softer than monopoly, but kept getting snags and breaks -- especially with free motion. When my frustration meter max'ed out at "EXTREME -- ready to throw something heavy!", I switched to a neutral shade of BottomLine to blend into the top and finished with no further problems. The binding is a cute orange pin-stripe, just like in the mock up. I used my new favorite technique -- glue basting the folded edge to the back (just past the stitching line) and then stitching in the ditch on the front which catches about 1/6-1/8 inch of the fold on the back. This is not as beautiful as hand finishing, but looks quite nice if you take you time on the glue basting and is very fast.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Graduate Student Art Show time again

It is BCM Graduate Student Art Show time again -- time to donate a few things to the silent auction and help the students raise a little money for Texas Children's Hospital. This will be be third year I've contributed something. It is clear I don't know what people will be willing to pay money for. Things I think are cool don't sell and things I was less excited about seem more popular.

This year I have 3 little things to contribute -- two class project left-overs from the IQF Houston, and one brand new quickie.

The first left-over looking for a home was a Tsukineko painted beetle from a class with Judith Coates-Perez. The class was great and I was amazed at how the beetle (based on a Dover copyright free image) turned out, but then "What to do with it???"

Here is what I came up with. I added a batik border, like a picture frame, quilted around the beetle with very thin, nearly invisible thread, and then drew in fairly crude leaves with a chalk pencil and quilted with a nice green shiny rayon. There is feather quilting in the border, but it doesn't show much. Binding matches the backing, but is done in the usual way. Batting is two layers of a thin cotton -- the result is fairly stiff, which is nice for a wall piece, but was hard to sew through. It looks OK, but seemed to need something. One of my signature finishes is to couch thick Perl cotton along a seam or along the binding. I think the extra definition is a big improvement.
Quilted and bound

Black Perl cotton couched on, 9"x10"
 Now for the second left-over. This one is really old. I took a class on precision piecing with Sally Collins and one of the class exercises was to make a small Lemoyne Star using templates and Y-seams. It was very educational -- I learned I could do it and could probably get good at it with more practice, and I learned that maybe I didn't want to be good at it. In any event, I was left with 1 orphan, relatively precisely pieced Lemoyne Star. The fabric choices, which were based on what I happened to bring to the class, were somewhat unfortunate, and not good for showing off all the hard work of matching the points etc. You can hardly see the diamonds that make the star. I thought this might make a nice "Mug Rug" (a term I was unfamiliar with until recently), and that this might be a good opportunity to experiment with shifting the color one sees in a block with quilting and thread. Here is the original, unquilted block.
Original unquilted block

Red feathers added in half the star points

Yellow cross-hatching added on the other points
 The red and yellow rayon threads have some effect, and do improve the star's definition, but not as much as I hoped. Even denser quilting would probably have done more, but I used a double thickness of batting here too, and had a lot of trouble with threads shredding, so I decided not to push it. I used the same trick with Perl cotton around the edge to add a little more pizz-zazz. A darker salmon would probably have been even better, but my palette of available colors (I have a zip-lock bag of small skeins left-over from a previous needle-pointing life) is not unlimited.
Lemoyne Star Mug Rug -- 6"x6"

The final Art Show contribution is something that practically made itself. I recently got a couple of coffee themed batiks, and they just cried out for a free-cut cup and steam. The raw-edge cup and steam spirals were glue-basted on rather than fused, just to tack them down, and then stitched down in a sketchy free motion manner (see also And-then-there-were-two ). I used free motion quilting around the cup and in the background. It is subtle (maybe too subtle -- that is one of my problems), but the chemical symbol for caffeine is quilted onto the coffee cup. Hopefully some scientist browsing the Art Show will notice and think that is cool.

The border is actually the binding. It was cut 3" wide, folded, sewn on from the back with a 1/4" seam allowance, and then brought to the front. The mitering is done exactly as you would normally, and works beautifully. I glue-basted the folded edge down on the front, and then used a big blanket stitch with a heavy thread to stitch it down. The Perl cotton (dark brown) is the final touch.
Coffee Cup Mug Rug -- 8"x8"
As always, the fun is in the doing... Have fun and thanks for reading.


Update: Everything sold (Yippee), and there was a tiny bidding war on the bug.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Eggplant fix

Last summer I took a class with Ruth B. McDowell and started a small pieced quilt based on a photograph I took of an Ichiban Eggplant in my garden. The following pictures show a bit of the creative progression. See my previous post in July 2012 for more details.

Original Photo

Simple tracing

After creating the full size tracing and freezer paper template, the fun part starts -- picking fabrics.

Making fabric choices

More fabrics and possible borders

I finished the top about 10 months ago and have been staring at it ever since, thinking about whether it feels right, and about how I would quilt and finish. This was my first effort at this type of work, and there are some things I would do different next time, but two places bothered especially -- the lower right of the flower, and the top of the lower left leaf. One of the cool things about the method is the ability to change a few things. Two weeks ago, at a quilt retreat of the Houston Modern Quilt Guild, I removed these two pieces and replaced them with lower contrast pieces that seemed better suited.

Finished top -- almost
More finished top

I'm still not totally satisfied, but I think I like the result better, and plan to move on to quilting. 

I learned a lot from this -- contrast is important, complementary colors make things pop, fussy cutting to make the fabric work for you, and editing the picture to 'abstract' the essence. Mostly, I need to dive in and do a lot more of these...

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 26, 2013

And then there were TWO

We are having something of a baby boom at work, and there are 3 group quilts in various stages of completion. One of the new ones is called "And then there were TWO", because this is a second child. In 2011, we made a depression era inspired bunny quilt for the first one. Bunnies were from Darcy Ashton's Grandma's Bunnies designs and were so cute.

Here is the original:
Grandmother's Favorite Bunny
The second quilt has a slightly more -- dare I use the word??? -- "modern" flavor and was mocked-up in EQ7 to work out the layout, cutting, etc. The bunny shape in the EQ7 image was used just to get a feel for the look. In the real quilt, the bunnies are cut from one piece of fabric and fused to the background. I had a lot of left-over 2" purple and yellow 4-patches that were intended to be corner-stones in the original quilt. Somehow they didn't quite work, so have been saved in the scrap drawer until now. I only had to made 48 more, and fortunately still had enough jelly-roll strips to do it.
EQ7 Mockup

Blocks laid out on the design wall, ready to sew together
 The bunnies are all made from a charm-pack of 30's repro fabric. Blocks are 7 1/2 " unfinished. Yellow background fabrics were cut slightly oversize, to give a little flexibility, in case the bunny artists didn't get things centered perfectly, and after free motion stitching around the raw edges, which sometimes causes things to draw up, the blocks were cut down to size, and the purple corners were added.

Close up of a bunny block showing free motion stitching on raw edge fused applique
Originally, I thought to use a blanket stitch, which was also used on the first quilt, but I did one block that way (my bunny block) and didn't like it and ended up ripping it all out. Besides, stitching around 26 bunnies was going to take a REALLY long time, and was going to be incredibly boring. Each bunny pair was made by a different person in the group, so experimenting and possibly ruining someone's contribution was not an option. I made one small mock-up and tried free motion stitching around the edges (using a tear-away stabilizer underneath). I went around twice and I quite like the way it looks -- a bit sketchy and informal, but definitely secure.

One of things that I love about this quilt and making it with my friends, is that despite the fact that we all used exactly the same bunny shape and it is just silhouette -- no eyes, nose, no facial expression, etc -- the positioning and spacing, with some facing the same direction, some nestled really close, some farther apart, some facing in opposite directions, etc gives these bunny siblings an absolutely amazing breadth of personality and interaction.This is not something that I would  have or could have done on my own, and every time I see how the 'odd' choices of the other contributors make the whole so much better -- I am awed.

This will get sewn together this weekend (with help from the group), and then will go off to the long-armer.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Son, The Sun

Last year I learned about and joined SAQA. So far I have not been able to participate in any local events, but some of the art quilts being produced are quite amazing. For example, at the 2012 Houston Quilt Festival (an other venues), there was a SAQA exhibit entitled Seasonal Palette. This group of more than 30 quilts is now (April, 2013) in Cincinnati, Ohio and then moves on to other venues. They are fabulous.

Each year the organization auctions small (12"x12") donated quilts to raise money for their programs, exhibitions, etc. Last year I bought a couple of really cool pieces and this year I thought I would try my hand at making a quilt to donate.

Inspiration: I've got kind of a thing for Mariner's Compasses, especially after taking a class from Judy Mathieson. My idea was to make to make a small elongated compass and a second baby compass that would be like a mother and child. I wanted to show the mother Sun beaming down at her son Sun and enveloping him in the glow. This is also a play on classic words -- Meet my son the doctor, Meet my son the Lawyer, Meet my son the Sun... The child could have been a daughter, and maybe I'll try that next time, but it didn't slip off the tongue quite the same way, and I like catchy titles. 

Execution: I had a beautiful batik collection of 2 1/2" strips that I thought would make great sunny 'suns' and provide nice complementary contrasting backgrounds. The challenge to myself was to get the entire top and binding out of the strips.

Fabrics used
I designed the general layout and sized the compasses using EQ7, so that I could use EQ7 to print out foundations for paper-piecing the compasses. 

EQ7 Mockup used "custom set"
Foundations for the Mother Sun
"Son" Sun assembly diagram

The foundation pieces for the elongated Sun are all different sizes and thus are not interchangeable. They must be sewed back together in exactly the right place (i.e. 8 has to sew to 1; 2 sews to 3; etc and then 8-1 sews to 2-3, etc, see Son assembly diagram). The centers were machine appliqued. The edges were turned under using the freezer paper template and starch technique, and then the pieces were attached with a very narrow zigzag using a coordinating color of InvisiFil(r).

The compasses are not pieced into a background circle because that would have made too sharp a line, and my background fabric was already cut up into 2 1/2" strips and thus not big enough. 

Instead, the background was added around the compasses in an improvisational string piecing or log-cabin manner. I purposely used oversize pieces for the outer edges when I made the compasses, so that I could add 'strings' in straight lines without cutting off the points. The background was all made from the 1st and 4th fabrics in the package (total of 4 strips). Both fabrics have areas of blue or green background printed with lighter leaves and flowers. "Background" compass segments, shown in white in the foundation figure, were 'fussy-cut' to place the lighter green on the edges where the compasses meet, and to place darker blues and purples on the outer edges. One of the hardest parts was visualizing things in reverse, since the paper piecing results in a mirror image. The improvisational string piecing was done to shade the background correspondingly. 

The two Suns and their backgrounds were made separately and then joined together by "taking a page" out of Ruth B. McDowell's book. I made an exact freezer paper drawing of the desired finished layout on the shiny side and drew the polygonal seam that would place the baby Sun into the bigger background. Then I re-drew and added tick-marks across the seam line, marked corners, etc on the paper side, and finally cut the freezer paper into two pieces on the seam line. I ironed each piece onto the wrong side of the corresponding pieced Sun, carefully marked the seam-line and tick-marks and then cut to leave a 1/4" seam allowance. That part was pretty scary, after so much work. The final assembly was then a matter of matching the seam lines and tick-marks for the first leg, sewing a straight seam, clipping, pivoting, matching and sewing etc. 

Back of Meet my Son, the Sun
The quilting is relatively simple since the background is so busy. It shows a bit better on the back. I stitched in the ditch around each Sun's rays, did a loopy motif in the middle of each ray, and then free-motion quilted flames in the background, using two different variegated threads -- greenish for the greener areas and blue-purplish for the bluer areas. I've just started to experiment with embroidery embellishment, so added a perl cotton stem-stitched grid on the 'face' of the mother Sun. Next time I'll do that BEFORE layering and quilting. The binding was made with the few remaining scraps of the background fabrics by piecing things to place flower motifs to blend with the background in some places (see Front bottom edge), and not to blend in others. 

Out into the World: SAQA requires a label and a sleeve -- always a good thing. I got it done and sent in by the first deadline of April 1, 2013 and it is actually online (WooHoo!!). Hopefully, this little quilt will find a new home and raise a little money for a good cause.

Thanks for reading...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Its a One-derful life

This is a continuation of something I started before the holidays, so technically a UFO ( see "what's not so old...").

Some of the hexagons, sewn to the
half-hex stage, and then pinned together.

Recall that this is a one-block wonder. It is made from kaleidoscopic 60' triangles cut from the same place in a large print pattern repeat. After staring at the 'blocks' up on the design wall, and rearranging many times, I spent most of yesterday assembling vertical strips out of half hexagons, and adding half triangles on the tops and bottom.

This was specifically planned as a small foray into one-block wonderland, so I intentionally chose a large print is a relatively small repeat. The fabric I cut up yielded 20 hexagons plus about 1/2 yd left over. After all the arranging, I have 1 whole one and 2 halfs left. I plan to sew them together with half triangles to square-up and use this on the back.

Then, what to do for a border? It seemed to need something. I finally settled on a 1 inch strip around the inner section, using a piano-keyed stripe, and a wider border around the outside.
Finished quilt top (~52 X 35)

The outer border is actually the 'wrong' side of the fabric that was used to make all the hexagons. I think it gives a muted effect and makes the center appear more vibrant. In order to get the leaves to radiate from the center, I had to use strips cut on the length-wise grain, and the border is pieced in several places. I cut the strips to use the repeat and the piecing perfectly connects on a repeating motif (I folded under a 1/4 inch seam allowance, dotted with Roxanne Glue Baste-It, and carefully aligned to match motifs), so they are essentially invisible. I finished sewing and mitering the borders this morning and now the sewing machine is off to shop for a long overdue cleaning and preventive maintenance, so no machine sewing for a while.

Til next time, all the best...

I'm linking with Leah Day on UFO Sunday