Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.

Treasures from India

Oh, I feel loved!

Indian scarvesEarly this morning I got a text message from someone who loves me.  My son-in-law is literally halfway around the world on a work assignment and sent the photo you see here.  He said, “I saw all this fabric and thought you might want some.  There is wool.  There are wool/silk blends.  There are more.  Tell me what you might like.”

Oh, really?  WOW!

I have no shortage of fabric.  I’ve even been on sensory overload this week seeing fabrics of all descriptions at vendors’ booths at the AQS show in Paducah. I bought a lot that thrilled me and I can’t wait to play with it.

But, exotic fabric yet unseen thrills me more.  I’m so excited!  I actually felt a spring in my step as I walked around after the text message exchange.  WooHoo!

Making fabric is a multi-step process involving many people, often in several countries.  Someone plants and harvests the crop, or raises and shears the sheep, or tends the worms. Someone spins the yarn.  Someone weaves the cloth.  Someone grows the dyestuff, mixes the dyes, applies the color, prepares it for distribution and markets it.  I usually don’t know any of those people.  But when I touch the fabric they have produced, I am connected to them.  Across miles and maybe oceans, we share something that helps me realize a comforting project for someone or a piece of art.

But to know that Kenny selected the fabric and brought it to me from a land far away will add a special link in the chain that somehow makes it stronger.  He mentioned scarves.  So I may get to wear it a while and cherish it that way, making memories with it before it becomes anything else.

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!