Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Christmas Star Top is Done

It is nice when you can marathon a weekend to finish a quilt.   Both the blocks and the star were done done on Friday.  I was feeling pretty foxy about putting the top together.  Just put on the border fabric for the star. sew the rows of blocks together, add them to the star and finish with the outer border.  Zip Zap Zam I should be done by noon on Saturday.

Remember the adage, Measure Twice CUT Once? I ended up having to buy another 1.5 yards of the border print because I cut the length 2 inches too short to be able to frame the star with a mitered border.  Of course I realized this at 7 PM on Friday so that brought everything to a halt until I could get into the store for more fabric - I know, what an excuse.

So Saturday I picked up the fabric and got it washed, cut and on the star with nearly perfect miters.  I already had the blocks laid out on the design wall so I could just sew the rows together.  This afternoon/evening I was able to complete the block assembly and finally the outer border.  With a little convincing, the border fabric mitered nicely to frame the quilt and turn the corners. 

I picked up some nice Christmas stencils at the AQS show in Des Moines a couple of weeks ago that will work perfectly for this quilt.  I hope to have this done for the holidays.  Now that would be a record for me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Christmas Star

In all of the years that I have been quilting I have made a single Christmas lap quilt.  It has been on my wish list to make a Christmas quilt for my bed for a number of years but it never made it to the top because I haven't seen a group of Christmas fabric that I wanted to spend that much time or money on.  This year I took it off the list all together because I didn't think I would have the time.  So, of course, this is the year that they came out with a line of Christmas fabrics that I like and enough variety that it blends with my stash.
I tinkered with a couple of designs on Electric Quilt and looked through the patterns, books and magazines until I realized the Glad's Lone Star in Ohio would be a good base for the quilt.  The Robert Kaufman line of fabric includes a nice striped fabric that I am going to use as an inside border around the center star and then again as mt final outside border.

I have had to put it all up on the design wall so I can see when too many of the same fabrics end up in the same corner.  Now that I am sewing the blocks together it is starting to look like Christmas.

Lone Star Maniac - The Binding is Done

The quilting is complete.  The binding cut and complete - it took more than 1 or 2 baseball games to get 480 inches of binding stitched down.  I just have the label to complete and attached.  I will see about getting a photo of the completed quilt to put on the blog.

Be sure to plan some time in the first week of January to see the staff quilt show at Glad Creations in Minneapolis.  I think just about every one of us has a Lone Star that is going in.  I have seen Susan's American Jane star on the Glad's blog, and Nathan's is a beautiful Judy Niemeyer Lone Star.  It should be quite a show for all the stars.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back to basics - don't overlook the obvious

The Lone Star Maniac quilt is so large and will take time and lots'a lots'a thread. I have a good supply and have found that I like different threads for different quilts.  When I bought the Juki it came with a number of Superior threads that I am still playing with and looking for that purrrrrfect combination.

No too long ago, I had picked-up more King Tut thread by Superior at one of the quilt shows.  I like the look (variegated by design and a 40 weight so it is just a little heavier than my usual Aurifil) and it comes in large cones.  I had plenty of the Sahara Shadows - 2 1/2 cones - that is a variegated gold and tan color that works well with the Americana color base of this quilt.  In the original thread kit was a cone of John Flynn So Fine polyester in the perfect tan for the bobbin.  It is the right match for color and look with the King Tut.

I started by loading 3 bobbins for the Juki and got through the primary stabilization lines and part of the first star point before I had to reload my bobbins.  I am now about 30% of the way through the quilting  and I have already loaded the 7th bobbin in the machine.  I am amazed when I look at how big the spool or cone of thread is and then realize how much thread I actually use in a project - how many miles of thread we use go through in just one quilt.  As a guess, I will estimate 20-25 bobbins in this one quilt - that will add some weight to the quilt.

What I am saying, in an indirect way, is that we forget about the quantity and the cost of the thread we use in the construction of the quilt and then in the quilting.  By the time you have spent so much money on fabric for the top and the back, and invested your time in construction (and your time is worth a lot) this is not the point to go on the cheap and use inexpensive threads. 

I will keep trying different threads and combinations to get the look that I want.

On a slightly different note, during my quilting so far, I have been having trouble with a lot of skipped stitches.  It has been really frustrating and resulted in a lot of cussing at an inanimate sewing machine.  Of course it is a problem with the machine.  I did everything I could think of:
  • Took the machine apart, 
  • Cleaned and oiled everything I could reach, 
  • Re-loaded the bobbin and the top threads
  • Sewed slower
  • Sewed faster
  • Changed my needle
  • Spent time on the internet looking at forums for some ideas
  • And completely overlooked the obvious
I was using the Schmetz Quilting Needle which should be just right.  However, I was using a 75/11 with a 40 weight thread.  My needle size was too small for the weight of the thread.  I was my own worst enemy and created my own problem.  When I changed to a 90/14 Jeans needle my skipped stitches virtually disappeared.  I have to add 90/14 Quilter's needles to my supplies.

As with thread, changing needles frequently to keep a fresh sharp needle in your machine improves stitching no matter what you are working on.  How long should a needle last?  I read somewhere that it is recommended that you change your sewing machine needle after about 8 hours of continuous sewing.  Although that makes sense when you remember that the points will get dull with use, I can't be quite that obsessive. For some folks that could be in a couple of weeks or even months.  Often for me that is every couple of days.  I try to remember to change my needle at the start of every new project and then every so often during the project.

I do know that it is time to change my needle if I hear a popping sound, when the needle goes into the fabric or if I start to see skipped stitches.  These are two of the most common signs of a dull needle.

So when was the last time you changed your needle?  If you haven't replaced the needle since you started the current project, is it time to make a change?  Is it really too much to spend $0.75 or $1.00 for a good quality needle 2, 3, or even 4 times during a project that you just spent $175 buying the fabric for? 

I just gotta keep it in perspective, if I want smooth even stitches then I need a well oiled machine with a sharp needle, and good quality  thread appropriate to the project to pull it all together.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lone Star Maniac continued

If I plan to have this quilt ready for the Glad Creations staff quilt show on January 1, I better get crack'n.

You should come to the store the first week of January and see our quilts - this year it is all about stars and predominantly Lone Star quilts.  I didn't pick the theme but since it is one of  my favorite quilt designs I was tickled when it became the theme.  I had already resurrected the Jan Krentz Lone Star for completion (See Jacobean Floral Meets Lone Star and Beyond posted in August 2010) and I had bought the fabric to make this giant Lone Star for my brother-in-law and his wife so I was already heading alone the path of Lone Star quilts in 2010.

Well, the top was finished the end of March and here it is the first week of September.  I knew that the back was going to be an event since the quilt is so big.  I have to admit that I just kept adding to it until it was big enough (half priced fabric helped).  I decided Labor Day weekend was a great time for a project like this.  Little did I know what a commitment that was.

Over the years I have amassed quite a number of pins but it just wasn't going to be enough.  I started with the quilt centered on my pinning table.  Even with extension legs to raise the table up to 38 inches the quilt hung down to the floor and folded up on either side. Oh well, time to pin.  I had gone through more than half of my available pins just pinning the center section which is less than 25% of the whole quilt.

I went looking for those 2 quilts that I have pinned but have not quilted yet (procrastination does consume resources).  I ended up putting in the stabilization line in both quilts and tacking the outer border so I could get all of the pins.  Knowing that I was still going to be short I decided to count how many pins went into a section so I would know how many pins I needed to buy.  It was 475 pins which meant that I was going to be about 600 pins short.  By the time all was said and done, I am guessing that there are roughly 2500 pins in this crazy thing - and it weighs a ton.

It is Labor Day Monday and I have started quilting this quilt.  Despite the fact that it is huge (120x120 plus when you add backing and batt) the quilting is a simple serpentine down either side of the seams.  Because of the size and the mini Lone Stars in the setting squares and triangles I expect this will take a while to get completed.  Fortunately the Juki can handle the large volume of fabric under the extended arm.We will see how long this takes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Memory of Julie

I don't even remember when I started this quilt.  I think I was still living in Atlanta (early 1990's) and it was a "Sew-In" with pre-cut strips.  I had never made a Log Cabin quilt and this was a way to get started. 

This became one of those sits on the shelf quilts, no doubt the colors were posing a problem for me to work on the quilt. These really weren't my colors but my sister would probably like the sort of earthy tone.  I would work on it for a while until another more interesting project would come along.  I was working on the last blocks of the quilt in 2001 with the intention of giving the quilt to my sister.

You see, Julie was a troubled soul with significant emotional issues and was always wound-up about other peoples' problems.  At the time she was living in New Orleans and read tarot cards for the tourist on Jackson Square.  Personal possessions and a grasp on reality were often hard for her to hold on to.  Alcohol was her preferred escape.  Then 9/11 happened and Julie was lost at the bottom in a despair that was more than her liver could handle.

By mid October she was dead and the finished quilt top went to the back of the shelf where it sat until 2005.

By 2005 I had started machine quilting my own quilts and was looking for finished tops to work on and there it was.  Enough time had passed that I could spend time with the quilt.  I realized that what I should do is complete the quilt and donate it to a woman's shelter in the hope that Julie's story would help someone else.  I had the quilt bound and ready in late 2005 but somehow never got it donated.

Last week my sons were in town for the wedding of Steve's nephew.  During their visit Brian was using this quilt as a "TV quilt".  I hadn't seen it in a couple of years.  The following day, Brian and I were out driving around the city and stopped by the family cemetery which brought Julie back to mind.

It is time to close this chapter. Document the story and donate the quilt - which I will do tomorrow.  Thank you for reading about Julie.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Emma's Graduation Quilt 2010

A couple of years ago I saw this really interesting quilt at the Lake Beauty retreat.  The basic concept was a cross between the kaleidoscope pattern and a Stack and Whack but using a 4 patch repeat.  The 4-Patch Posy pattern is fun to make and fascinating to watch happen.  I knew before I started that it does best with fabric that has a good size repeat with multiple design points to create interest.  I have made a couple of these and really enjoy the variation of each block.

I found this floral fabric that I thought had nice movement and good color balance so I went hunting for the fabric to act as the block frame, sashing and cornerstones. 

 This is a little out of focus but it lets you see the basic design
I actually made the quilt top 2 years and set it aside waiting for the right person to finish the quilt for.  It is great when you have a quilt top on the shelf waiting for it's people to come claim it.   I felt this quilt top looks like a Italian hand painted tile wall.

I finished the quilt with Warm & Natural batt and machine quilted it on the Handi Quilter mid-arm.  There is so much texture in the fabric and pattern that an all-over design was appropriate for the quilting. 

Sample Block 1
Sample Block 2

Sample Block 3

This June Brian's girlfriend, Emma Erickson, graduated from college with a BS from Evergreen in Olympia, WA. I thought that she would enjoy the colors and flowing motion that makes this a really light and airy quilt in some of the gray rainy days of winter in Olympia.

Congratulations Emma! 

Jacobean Floral meets Lone Star and Beyond

Over the years I have learned that when a quilt lands on the back of the table for a prolonged period of time, there is a reason.  Something about the quilt just isn't fitting right, maybe it is one of the fabrics or a block just doesn't come together or maybe the direction is all wrong.  When I find one of those pesky quilts just waiting to be finished, I now put it up on the wall so I can study it.  Once I figure out what bothers me about the quilt I can make a decision on how to fix it.

Sometimes my solution is to finish the quilt and give it away as fast as possible so I don't have to see it anymore.  Other times I write notes on what I can do to fix the issues and put the whole thing in a box for future assembly - maybe more than I want to take on right now.  Generally though, if I have figured out what needs to be changed I will de-construct the quilt to the point where I can make my changes and then complete the quilt.

I still have to wash and block this hanging but it is looking pretty good.
This photo is from below eye level which is causing distortion

This Lone Star and Beyond quilt hanging is one of those quilts.  I took the class from Jan Krentz in 2003 at the Minnesota Quilt Show in St Paul.  It was a great class and a fabulous technique for doing a Lone Star.  I actually had the whole quilt pieced before the end of the year and loved the way the colors played out.  I had bought all of the batiks at Glad Creations and really expected it to be a much brighter quilt since each of the fabrics was bright - at least for a batik.  I planned to put the star on black setting squares to make it really pop but realized that the batiks have a gray undertone and just "died" on the black.  Fortunately Fossil Ferns were big that year and one of the vendors at the show had the perfect moss green for the setting square.

I knew that I wanted to applique a design into the 8 setting squares and working off the fabrics in the star, I thought a large grape cluster in each square would complement the quilt.  I found a number of different patterns and merged them into a design I thought would work.  Using the same purples, blues and red-pinks from the star I was building the quilt one square at a time.  When I had 2 of the squares completed the quilt moved to the back of the table under untold other fabric.  Off and on over the years I tried to complete the quilt but never got the third square done much less the other 5 squares.

I have thought about the quilt over the years.  Every year it would make it on the list of quilts I really should finish but no progress until February of this year.  I realized that the problem I was having with the quilt was the grape cluster design.  I starting thinking about different designs I have used and seen in books and magazines when I ran across my copy of Pat Campbell's Jacobean Romantica.  This whimsical design of flowing flowers was exactly what I wanted.  I quickly, but very carefully, removed all of the applique I had already completed.  Because the quilt had not been completed the original fabrics were still together in a project box so I was off to the races.

The quilt was started in 2003 and languished until 2010 looking for a purpose.  Once I found my answer for the applique it took me just 6 months to complete the applique and only 2 days to machine quilt the wall hanging.  It now hangs in my front entry and I love it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kay & Wayne's Paprika Wall Hanging 2009

Over the years I have made quilts for people to realize that often they are the quilts I wanted to make and not necessarily in the design or colors that the people wanted to receive. Although I don't always have a destination in mind when I make a quilt, I have come to realize that if I am making a quilt for someone specific I am better off if I have their input.  When I consider the money in fabric and time in assembly plus quilting, it would be nice if the recipient liked the quilt from the beginning.  (My son once described the fabric I intended to use in a king sized quilt for him as a "migraine in fabric".  I did change the fabric with his input before he knew my intentions.)

I have decided that going to the lake with Steve's family gets me into trouble.  There is a quilt shop relatively close by that has a way of parting me from my money.  I had never made a quilt for my sister-in-law of 35+ years and decided it was time.  So I asked Kay to pick out some base fabric with a design that pulled in 3 or more colors and select some quilt patterns she found appealing so I would have an idea of what she would like for a quilt. 

Kay found a great fabric that really pulled in the paprika color that she was using in her home.  The dark reds and greens played well with a gold/beige background colors.  We found a pattern called Savannah Star by Mary K Ryan designs that was well setup to showcase a 2 color quilt on a neutral background.

I have come to enjoy putting unexpected backs on my quilts and had seen this back in Scraps and Shirttails by Bonnie Hunter.  Although she did not have the pattern in the book her photo of the back was enough for me to play with and come up with my version of the design.

This photo is out of focus and doesn't do justice to the back.  Each of the triangles is an 8 inch half square triangle.  Since the star block is 4 by 4, the star block ends up at 32 inches - making the 4 block center 64 by 64.  I just needed to add more of the theme fabric for the border to finish off the back. 

I really like using leftover blocks or block parts plus unused fabric from the front to make my back.  As long as I am not trying to hand quilt the final project (and can keep my seams reasonably straight) I think the interesting back complements the front.

Baby Bear Quilt for Debi's Grandson

I have "bartered" quilts for haircuts with the lady who cuts my hair in the past.  In 2009 they became grandparents of a little boy.  Debi and her daughter-in-law picked out a cute baby bear pattern that came as a kit from Connecting Threads.  This was a nice little quilt that went together quickly and made a cute gift in contemporary fabrics.

Brian's Flannel Snuggle

Completed March 2009
I don't make a lot of flannel quilts but have found that the Fun and Done quilt patterns are great for lap quilts and warmers in the winter.  Brian, number 2 son, lives in Olympia, Washington where it is cold and cloudy most of the winter.  Brian asked for a flannel quilt for "lounging around" so this was his Christmas gift.

With Fun and Done quilts you:
  • cut squares of fabric for the backing, 
  • layer the backing - batt - 
  • add the  top "design" fabric step-by-step as you go along.  
This is a sew & flip method that quilts the block as you assemble the top.  When working with flannel, it is a real advantage to have the top and backing stabilized almost immediately.  Stretching out of shape has not been a problem.

When you have all of the blocks made, you just sew the backing fabrics together and use the extra fabric to create the sashing between the block.  I added the extra borders to the pattern for additional length.  I have not figured out the way to add the border and not have a break in the pattern for the 2nd and 3rd borders.  Someday I will spend the time to work that out.

Over the last year I have picked up some of the other Fun and Done patterns which I will have to try out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A lesson in the quarter inch seam allowance

It all started because I was bored at the lake for a week.  I had under-estimated what I should take for handwork and so I went looking for a plan.  The local quilt shop had a nice Pacific Rim Quilt Company pattern called "You Are In Our Hearts" and some beautiful teal colored fabric from Jinny Beyer.  I thought "How perfect.  A pretty applique pattern that I can use for the center of a quilt." 

Steve's niece saw what I was working on and said that she liked the colors so I decided it could be the center of a quilt for Heather. I don't have a photo of the applique block available, I will add that when I put up the final quilt photos.  The applique went together without a hitch, a little fussy as it is 42 inches square as a whole cloth design but no real issues.

Knowing that the center was going to be this large applique block I needed something to frame it but not compete with the design.  I thought that a simple log cabin design in similar jeweled tones would be a nice accent.  Judy Martin's book on Log Cabin Designs had just come out so I went looking for a barn raising style of design to display the applique center on point.  I liked the layout of the "Summer Lake Log Cabin" but probably wasn't going to use the Grecian Scroll work around the outside.  Her book was great for organization of what can be a very disorganized pattern.

Once I got the central portion of the quilt blocks completed and up on the design wall I could see that the inspiration applique block was NOT going to work in this quilt.  Time to adjust and make the quilt using the full pattern from the book.  Again the blue tape fence for my quarter inch made for very consistent and easy piecing of all those logs.  I had to enlarge the quilt to work on a king size bed so I just kept making blocks.

I had the top completed in mid 2009, and then I started on the back.  The blocks are based on 1" logs making a 9" square.  If you enlarge the logs to 2" finished and keep the 9 log blocks then the finished square is 18 x 18.  The center star is made up of 16 blocks laid out 4 by 4.  With an 18 inch block that star becomes 72" by 72" - or enough to be a center of the back with fabric panels used to square it out for this large square quilt.  It actually was very easy enlarge the logs to make the back and add large sections of fabric to the edges.

The whole quilt was sandwiched in October and I started quilting on it.  I used dissolving thread for my stabilization lines because I wanted to use a feathered quilting design and did not want the straight lines remaining when I was done.  I did put it aside for a couple of months over the holidays as I worked on other things.  By January 1, 2010 the top, back and sandwiching was complete plus about 25% of the quilting.

I finished the quilting in May and am finishing the binding and trim work the first week of June.  This quilt is going to be in the Minnesota Quilt Show in mid-June.  Once all is complete I will post photos of the final results (no safety pins and batting sticking out all over).

Lone Star Maniac

Eighteen months ago (Oct 2008) American Patchwork & Quilting published a pattern by Laurie Simpson and titled it Reach for the Stars.  When I first saw it I thought it was way over the top.  But the more I looked at it the more I liked the huge Lone Star going from binding to binding.  I have always liked Lone Stars and have made a couple over the years (when I get around to posting the prior history quilts you will see some of them including Glad Creations Lone Star in Ohio and Jan Krantz's wall hanging quilt).

About the same time the magazine came out, we were talking at Glad's about what should be the shop challenge for the January 2011 staff quilt show.  There were lots of votes for the Lone Star which I thought was a good idea.  Knowing that I had never made a quilt for my brother-in-law and his wife I thought this would be a great project and a perfect setting for her style of fabrics: Americana.

This is a giant quilt at 116 by 116 inches.  At one point I did figure out that there are 2144 diamonds in the quilt.  I started cutting the fabric for this quilt the first week of January, 2010 and had the top finished the last week of March. 

Initially I followed the designers methodology to the letter. However, I was having trouble with my seams not laying flat so I reverted to using Jan Krantz's method for putting the diamonds together.  Once I was in my comfort zone the quilt went together rather quickly and the top lays perfectly flat.  I certainly did get practice with set-in seams and eight pointed stars. 

I was very careful to maintain my quarter inch seam and block each diamond unit as I went along.  Once I laid down my painter's blue tape as my seam allowance fence I did not move it until the whole project was complete.  (I am lucky to have side access to my bobbin so I did not have to remove the tape during the 3 months that I worked on this top.)  Between the initial pressing and blocking the diamond units through out the piecing process I went through 3 cans of spray starch keeping everything stable.
My next step will be to make the back for this monster and then get it quilted.  That will be sometime after the Minnesota Quilt Show in mid June.  Since there is sooooo much going on in the quilt the quilting is going to be very low keyed....maybe just a serpentine along the seam lines and a little something in the minimal background.  Not sure.

I will make this quilt, or actually a variation of it, again in the next year.  I already have the fabric selected.

Diana's Hug

My friend Diana has been out of work for a while - it feels like a lifetime to her. Although she lives in Maryland and they typically don't get more than a storm or two in the winter, this year has been disasterous for them.  I thought Diana could use a warm hug to get her through the long cold snowed in days.

I made this 4-Patch Posey top in 2009 and never got it quilted.  Well now it has a good home out east. This is a fun and quick pattern that really shows off the large prints particularly the florals.

I always put a custom label on my quilts with information about when the quilt was made, for whom, and the materials/threads/batting used to complete the quilt. It is easy to build a custom label on the computer using graphics available online and a more formal or casual font.  Using a good color printer I can print straight to fabric (i.e. Printables).  If I have a photo of the quilt, or the person for whom the quilt was made, before I make the label I  will often add a photo of the quilt on the label.

You gotta' start somewhere!

I have wanted to have a blog for quite some time.  Somehow I always felt like I wanted it to be done without the gittin' it done side of things.  Last week Steve and I went to Indiana for a week of his woodworking classes.  I took my sewing machine and a pieced and sandwiched quilt which I need to have done for the Minnesota Quilt Show (drop off is June 11th).  On the long drive out and back I kept thinking about what a poor job we do of documenting our respective projects and decided it was time to get started.

 April 25th, 2010

So the first quilt I am going to document is the quilt that I am making for the neighbors who watch our dog(s) when we are out of town.  Mary & Jerry have taken care of the zoo (Beaux, Dottie, Bullseye, Dude and Mocha) on many occasions over the years.  Every year I planned to make them a quilt for Christmas and just didn't get around to it until October - now that is thinking ahead.  This year, in February, I asked Mary to go out with me and pick out her fabric color and style.  

Mary choose a fairly traditional color pallet based on the Moda Vine Creek line.  Mary  really likes the quilts I make with a dark or black background.  I decided to use the Glad Creations pattern "Just Around the Corner" to complement the traditional fabric style and play off of the light/dark contracts in the background.

I was already committed to make this quilt for Christmas 2010 when my co-workers at Glad's decided that we should all enter a quilt in the June 2010 show using a Glad Creations pattern.  Suddenly my time-line was significantly shortened.  By the end of April I had the quilt top pieced and was planning the back and quilting designs.  Because the quilt was a little narrow for a queen sized bed, I added a Vine Creek border section to the left and right sides of the quilt.  

I decided that a black based backing fabric and a Hobbs Heirloom black batt would be best for this quilt.  Getting it pinned before I left for Indiana last week was a little challenging as was getting the stabilization lines quilted on small tables in a hotel room.  I am in the process now of completing the free motion quilting and should be putting on the binding by the end of the week.

Once the quilting is done and I have the sleeve on for the Minnesota quilt show (drop off day is just 10 days away!) I will take additional photos for the blog.

Now I will need to look backwards to what has already been done this year and then try to work through some of my archive quilts to at least get them documented.