Cyndi’s killer quilt

killer hexagonsToday at a community event where I was invited to share my quilting story, members of the group were invited to bring some of their family quilts as well.  Several did just that.  What fun to hear others’ quilt stories.

Cyndi brought a beautiful quilt pieced of hexagons.  Of course, the shape of the pieces got my interest immediately.  The arrangement of those hexagonal pieces was one I had not seen before, but the captivating feature of the quilt was its multigenerational story.

The quilt was begun sometime prior to 1917 by Alma, for her daughter Cleona.  Sixteen-year-old Cleona died that year at the age of 16, and  grief-stricken Alma stopped work on the project.  Alma herself died before ever getting back to work on the quilt.

Cleona’s aunt, Norma, took on the project at some point, but she, too, died before completing the work.

Years later, Norma’s daughter Cleona (niece to the first Cleona) married and asked her mother-in-law, Sarah, an accomplished quilter, to complete this piece of history.  Sarah refused, citing “that quilt has already killed three people!”

Determined, but out of connections to help, the younger Cleona took on the task herself.  Her husband built quilting frames for her and she began work.  When the master quilter Sarah saw the sub-standard stitches going into that gorgeous design, she gave in and completed the task.

Sarah lived to be 100 years old, so it seems the curse was broken.

Part of my talk emphasized labeling quilts, writing down the stories for future generations.  Cyndi had already done just that, complete with a genealogical chart to accompany the story.

Version 2Now I’m itching to grab some hexagons and assemble them in the pattern these women used.

Orphan Baskets and Bunnies

framed pearMany quilts are made in small units, or blocks, which are then assembled into a larger quilt top.  Most quiltmakers I know have an abundance of “orphan blocks”.  These can result when a project is abandoned, when extra blocks were made to test color combinations or size, or when the stitcher simply changed her mind about where the design was going.

I sometimes intentionally create orphan blocks.  I find hand stitching to be therapeutic and if I’m not in the midst of a big project, I love to explore single block designs.  Whether piecing or appliqué, I love playing and planning.  Many times, a big idea grows from a small block.

After I completed the appliqué for Indigo Pearadise, I continued to play with this motif in the smaller size.  A single pear fit comfortably in a 5” x 7” frame and makes a sweet little gift.

Early in my appliqué experience, I found that I could successfully stitch the running rabbit pictured in the design below.  To practice the appliqué stitch, to have handwork to do while visiting with my mother, and to explore the soft colors of Spring, I stitched many running rabbits.  Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the phrase “Baskets and Bunnies” in my mind and a theme emerged.  I found patterns for other bunnies, drew a simple basket with a rickrack handle, and kept sewing.

baskets & bunniesSome of these baskets and bunnies still reside in a basket awaiting their opportunity to shine.  The photo you see here is a quilt top that came about when my minigroup needed a quick project for a donation effort a few years ago.  The timing was Spring, my stitching sisters remembered my collection, and we got busy.  The completed top was quilted by a local longarm expert and we had a sweet little quilt in record time!

That little block with the rickrack handle has reappeared in reds and framed for Christmas gifts, too.  I don’t read many books twice, I don’t watch a lot of reruns on tv, but I do my share of repeating blocks I love.

Wool felt – Felted wool – what?

beauty & beesIn my quilts, anything goes.  I love quilting cottons, silk, linen, denim, and wool.  All together or separately, depending on the project.

I’ve worked with felted wool in many ways.  Wool as the background with cotton appliquéd on top.  Wool as the fabric to be appliquéd on a cotton, or linen, or wool background.  Because the wool doesn’t ravel, you don’t have to turn under the edges, and appliqué is fast.  Because the wool is plush, stitches can hide easily, so if your stitches aren’t perfect, and you use a matching thread, no one notices.  If you want your stitches to show, a contrasting or heavier thread or a blanket stitch will do the trick to add another element to your project.

Wool stitched on wool is like sewing through butter.  Both layers are soft and easy to needle.  Stitching goes quickly.  The result is bulky, though.  That’s something to consider if you are making a large quilt.

Wool stitched on cotton is fun.  You get a firm background which layers easily with batting and backing to get a traditional kind of quilt with dimensional wool applique.

Linen, or a 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, is widely available now in quilt shops.  It has a rougher texture that supports the weight of the wool beautifully.  And, I was surprised to see that quilting stitches show up nicely on the linen.

My preference for wool appliqué is to use felted wool, not wool felt.  There is a difference.  Felted wool is woven wool which has been washed and shrunk to tighten the weave.  The holes between the threads are still there. Wool felt has a flatter appearance and is harder to needle. Wool felt is made from fibers tightly pressed together and has no holes.  It’s a personal preference.  Some people like the wool felt.  I’m all about the process, and I like the feel of felted wool.

Note:  wool felt is not woven, it’s smushed.  It may have glue in it.  It lies flatter and ravels less, they say.  But it has a hard hand and a flat appearance to me.  My blog, my opinion.  Only my opinion.  Play with it and draw your own conclusions.

You can buy some absolutely delicious hand dyed felted wool now.  It’s sold in quilt shops, at shows, and online.  But, there is adventure in felting your own wool from recycled garments.  I recently bought a beautiful red cashmere coat for $10.  The store owner was surprised I didn’t need to try it on for size.  I brought it home, disassembled it, then washed it in hot water and threw it in the dryer.  It is the most luscious wool in my stash.  The linings, interlinings, and interfacings are interesting, too.

To felt your own wool, look for a tag that says 100% wool (blends can work, but the higher the wool content, the nicer the finished product).  I don’t bring it in the house until I’ve prepared it for washing.  I didn’t intentionally buy someone else’s bug problem.  I remove buttons, zippers, linings and interfacings.  I also cut away shoulder and sleeve seams before washing.  It’s hard to cut through all the layers after it’s felted.  I might leave some seams in a skirt or the back of a jacket, though, to have a bigger piece of wool.

Put it in the washing machine with detergent and your hottest water for the longest cyle.  Then put it in the dryer, again on hot.  Do check the lint trap frequently as you may have a lot of fibers in there.

Interesting things can happen if you wash red wool with white.  I sometimes am careful about color separation, but usually not.  I like surprises.

Details of photo:  Beauty and the Bees, 31″ x 24″, based on pattern by Maggie Bonanomi.  Felted wool from recycled clothing along with a few purchased hand-dyed wool pieces.  Tendrils and berries are free-motion couched by machine.  Quilting is all free-motion machine stitching.

Simple yet Effective

 

Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.

Geraniums

Geranium quitlI planted some geraniums today.  That’s a sign that I think it’s springtime!

I love geraniums.  Especially red geraniums.  They are so perky and straightforward, “I AM A BIG SHOWY FLOWER.  LOOK AT ME!”.

Even my brown thumbs can keep them producing blooms through the summer.

Maybe because Aunt Nellie always had them, I find their presence comforting in the yard.  I put them in terra cotta pots because she said “their roots like to breathe.”

So I found myself thinking of this little quit in the photo.  I made it for our guild’s challenge in 2011.  The challenge that year was to make a “two-block quilt”.  Further details in the rules said you must include two different pieced blocks.

Since I like to try to find an unexpected way to follow the rules, I pieced several sawtooth star blocks; not all the same size, from red and white fabrics in the top section of this quilt.  For the lower section, I pieced square-in-a-square blocks using some of my precious indigo collection.  These fabrics were printed in Africa using copper plates that are several hundred years old.  I bought them from a vendor in Paducah one year and treasure them in a special basket.  But I thought a geranium themed quilt was worthy of putting these treasures under the knife.

Atop the pieced background, I appliquéd the flower pot, stems, leaves, and geraniums using felted wool.  There is minimal quilting on this piece, a simple vine and leaf design that is one of my favorite hand-guided, free-motion quilting motifs.  It finished at 14” x 20”.

I confess that this was likely done at the last minute.  No label is attached as yet and the imaginative title of “Geraniums” is another clue that the deadline was nigh.  The geranium in the pot was inspired by one of Maggie Bonanomi’s designs,  I added a big satin bow to give dimension.

The geraniums in the watering can are a colored pencil Version 3drawing I made last week from a photo taken in our backyard.  I love old, well-worn watering cans almost as much as I love geraniums.  Anything in blue is beautiful  So, the three working together make my soul sing.

Treasures Under the Knife

treasures cut upI’m upstairs now in my sewing haven cutting up some coveted fabric collections and sewing them back together.  I boast in Fifty-Two Tuesdays that I’m all about using the good stuff.  But sometimes I think I should experiment with less desirable fabric, “in case I mess it up.”  How’s that for a negative self image?

I watched Katie Fowler (www.katiefowler.net) on the The Quilt Show (www.thequiltshow.com) yesterday.  I, like many audience members, was astounded as she cut up her beautiful quilt.  “Dramatic” is not strong enough to describe that episode.

Katie has mastered many quiltmaking techniques and is a creativity coach, helping others to “find their voice”.  Subsequent to the show (#1807) with Alex and Ricky, she revisited them to share the finished product of her cut up quilt in its new life.  Today I watched a skype session between Alex and Katie.  They discussed our reluctance to “untie the bow” on coveted stacks of fabric.

Inspired, yes I am.  Their conversation has me pressing and cutting and resewing some beautiful woven art.  Kaffe Fassett prints, shot cottons, and stripes have made their way off the shelf and are headed into a familiar pattern with a twist.  What fun!

I realize that my quilts I love the most are those in which I dared to explore the unknown with treasured fabrics.  GBI Blues, Indigo Pearadise, and Miss Lily’s Baskets are three examples.  All are in the gallery.

A personal design note:  Though these fabrics “go together” in that they are parts of distinct fabric groups, they are not from one collection.  They span several releases of Kaffe’s over the years.  And I pulled some other fabrics, too (non-Kaffe stripes, something that “reads” solid, other big bold prints).  When I do use a designer’s collection, I usually spice it up with some outliers.  Joanna Figueroa (www.figtreequilts.com) advises 85% collection/15% stash.  I don’t analyze, but I’d say that’s about right.

 

Dancing with my Sewing Machine

Miss Ruby's Red Bouquet
Miss Ruby’s Red Bouquet

Occasionally I will stitch layers of fabric and batting together with a hand stitch–to revisit history, or pay homage to my foremothers, or because it “suits the piece”.  But my real love is hand-guided, free-motion quilting on my sewing machine.

I use my simple, straight stitch sewing machine without a stitch regulator.  The “domestic” sewing machine where you sit and move the fabric under the needle.  Some people liken the process to drawing something by holding the pencil in place and moving the paper underneath the point.  That’s it.  Except this pencil point is sharp and is moving up and down.

It did take a lot of practice to become adept at the process.  But I was determined.   Once I became satisfied that I was getting the hang of it, I relaxed and realized I thought of it as “dancing with my sewing machine.”  Now I can stitch and talk at the same time.  I can draw designs with the sewing machine without marking the fabric first.  And, I enjoy it.

How did I learn to do this?  By reading and watching videos.  Diane Gaudynski’s books were the most helpful to me when I started this process.  I watched videos of her at work, as well.  Then I tried the technique myself.  Once I had to have a book at hand at every step of the process, selecting the needle, remembering how to start and stop, adjusting the tension, troubleshooting.

Later on, websites like Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs  gave me ideas for filler designs and how to stitch them.  Now, I have a file of designs in my sewing room, a bulletin board of designs on Pinterest, and a sampling of ideas in completed projects.  I sometimes run downstairs to look at a quilt on the wall to examine a stitching design.

I do tend to quilt my quilts heavily.  Bullet proof.  Within an inch of their lives.  I can spread the quilting further apart, but I’m usually disappointed in the end result.  My stitches end up being about 1/4″ apart in all motifs. That’s just how I like it.

Details of photo:  This quilt uses cotton fabrics, wool batting and cotton thread.  The variety of textures comes from several quilting designs: a feathered plume, curved grid, pumpkin seeds, some echoing, free hand vines, and paisley loops.

Piecing Pleasures

featherweightToday was a day with much time on the phone and on the computer.  Arranging details for upcoming events, paying bills, scheduling things.  Frustrating all.

And, seemingly accomplishing nothing.

But then I went into my sewing room for an hour or so.  I cut up some fabric and sewed it back together.  Now I’m myself again.

It was a simple design…one I’ve done before, but just refining the size of the block for another project.  But the pressing of the fabric, the slicing with a sharp rotary cutter, the sewing back together again, the hum of the machine.  Is there anyone who doesn’t find this process comforting?

I know, there are people who break out in hives just hearing about this.  But those are people who like to clean house and pull weeds, I think.  I love to sew!

I think I should reiterate that I was using a really simple forgiving pattern that does not involve matching intersections or tedious measuring.  Though those kinds of projects are rewarding too, today I needed improvisational bliss!  I oversized the pieces, sewed with a casual seam allowance, and trimmed to fit.  Pure pleasure!

Miss Lily’s Baskets

 

Miss Lily's basketsThis little quilt is a special treasure.  It was made with strategies I don’t normally employ.  I bought a charm pack of French General fabric (red is not usually my go-to color), came home and started stitching (I often mull over design plans for quite some time before I start cutting and sewing), I appliquéd baskets in front of tv several evenings until it was done, assembled the top and quilted the project all in about a month.

I had drawn the basket pattern for another project using Granny Zee’s scrap bag.  So I pulled out that plastic template, marked a square as the background, another as the basket fabric and started stitching.

As I made baskets, I placed them on the design wall and a color scheme began to emerge.  I played with several arrangements, but saw a light to dark progression forming in the background fabrics while the reverse was happening with the baskets.  I had always been intrigued by some of Judy Dale’s work where she accomplished that and suddenly, it was happening for me.

A neutral little check worked as alternate blocks and a sweet little quilt was born.  Oh, I did add my focus block that I focus block Miss Lily's basketlove…a basket sitting on one square, its
handle on three others.  The handle became a wreath with a perky little red checked bow.

img292 copyThe quilt is named to honor a sweet perky little lady I knew in my childhood.  Miss Lily.  Here she is pictured beside the love of her life, Mr. Charlie.

Details of quilt: finished size:  25” x 31”, wool batting, free-motion machine quilting.  30-weight polyester thread was used to quilt the vine and leaf motif in each alternate block, echoing that with 50-weight, 2 ply cotton thread

Sharing the Journey

I read where solitude and reflection are necessary for creativity to bloom.  I know that to be true.  I can work on my art with conversation, podcasts, or a television – if my art is in the stitching phase, or adding details to a drawing.  In other stages, I need alone time.

But the memories are made when the experience is shared.  The conversations, the podcasts, the music my husband is playing while I stitch, all find their ways into the eye of the needle and are easily recalled when the piece is finished.

Sharing the journey sometimes means the expedition reaches its destination.

imageWhen I first conceived  “Fifty-Two Tuesdays” I proposed to make a mini quilt each week for a year.  I planned a written journal to accompany it, thinking that at the end of the year I would have a finished quilt and a book. I shared this vision with my writing group at the outset.  They embraced the idea and as the year progressed, they asked questions about the structure of “the book”.  My creative focus was on the quilt itself and keeping a journal of the details; fabrics included, threads, batting, techniques.

Since some members of that group knew little about quilting, their questions forced me to think more about the writing element.  The take-away message here is to share your journey with people who don’t follow the same path that you do.  They force you to see your destination from a different point of view.

And if you are easily distracted, it helps to share your end goal.  My darling daughter, DJ, who loves all things fiber as I do, loves to quilt vicariously through me.  She sews and knits, but being a working mom, her fiber pursuits are now confined to shorter projects.  In phone conversations, she puzzled fabric choices and “how am I going to resolve….?” dilemmas with me.  And.  Every Tuesday night, she expected to get a text message with a photo of the completed hexagon.  That kept me on schedule.  The lesson here is to engage a taskmaster.  Deadlines are good.

And, finally, share your success.  During the year, I took a few completed hexagons to show to members of my drawing class. Comprised mostly of non stitchers, this group overlooked the bunched up binding and skipped stitches, providing positive feedback.  A reminder to look at the big picture.  “Perfection is the enemy of creativity.”

With help from all these cheerleaders, I accomplished something that I had dreamed but might not have pursued to the end.  And when I look at the finished products; a quilt and a book, I see these people who supported me as well as the events that inspired the designs.