Monday, September 25, 2017

The Error of My Ways

I would dearly love to have a quilt go together with no problems.  Is it possible?  I guess it would be if I did a really simple one without complicated piecing and color arranging, but I am not drawn to simplicity.  You get to listen to me vent as I try to solve the problems.  Sorry!  It does help to clarify the difficulties by writing about them.

I am making 36 square blocks with the same pattern. Each block is made of two half-square triangles, but each of those triangles is made with 14 pieces.  The finished blocks will each be 7 inches square (not counting seam allowance).  Three of the 14 pieces that make up a triangle vary in color in order to produce a complex design.  Below is the part of the design that threw me a curve this week and forced a bit of ripping and redoing.

Graphic of four blocks on point.
Note the four triangles with check marks.  They have to go the right way to create a bit of structure to the center of the quilt.   The checked black triangles must all be north and south, while the red ones must be in the east and west positions.  Those checked triangles are each a corner of a different block.  It really makes a difference when you look at the total design.  The graphic above shows one of four exact groupings that occur symmetrically in the quilt.  I am sorry, but I am not going to divulge the complete design so you just have to take my word for it.

Two of those four checked triangles were going the right way and two were oriented the wrong way - grrrrrrr!  I  had switched black for red and red for black.  A secondary design had vanished.  Some required the rip-and-redo treatment.  The others hadn't been sewn yet, and were only glued so they were really quick and easy.

I am so glad I discovered the goof before I went any further, and it only took about an hour to re-establish order.

TIP:  This is where a design wall is helpful.  I walk into my sewing room frequently and look at my work on the wall, analyze design and color choices, and find mistakes.  My wall is cheap.  I hung a flannel-backed tablecloth flannel side out, and it works great.

Off topic TIP:
I found a website with a solution that might help some of you.  It tells you a simple way to clean a cutting mat if it begins to hug fuzz in the cuts.  Here is a great fix.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you easy fixes if you run afoul of perfection.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Signing In

Signing in to say I am still alive, but not writing this week.  Last week was very busy with guests, hiking, and way too much food.  We had a wonderful time with people we love.  This week the night time temperatures are dropping into the low 30s so that means getting caught up with laundry while I still have water to the washing machine.  I am getting all my houseplants back into the house before they freeze.  I got the garage (aka Guest Cottage) sorted out with towels and bedding put away, and made it ready for storing the outdoor furniture cushions.  It has been a great summer, but we must look forward to winter now and be prepared.  Too tired to sew!

TIP:  Don't sew when you are too tired, if you can possibly avoid it.  It is way too easy to make mistakes when your brain and body are crying for rest.

Photos are from a lovely hike...short, but steep up to tree line with our visitors.  We were lucky in missing the downpour that drenched the mountains an hour later.

Poudre Lake straddling the Continental Divide (Rocky Mountain NP).
10,758 ft. elevation.  That's where we started hiking!

This beautiful mule deer buck posed for us in the sunlight.

Lovely alpine flower called Arnica.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you fatigue-free stitching and will catch up with you next week.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Know Thyself

I discovered something about myself.  After I finished my last quilt and decided that thread painted portraiture was not my strong suit, I was in limbo as to what my next project would be.  I sat down, pulled up Illustrator and tried some ideas using some paper pieced stars I had made awhile back.  The idea was to turn them into a small quilt, but no go.  It just didn't work for me until I messed around with a graphic version of those stars and arrived at an appealing design that doesn't look anything like stars.

I thought I wanted elegant quilts, Victorian looking, with lots of stunning quilting like Margaret Solomon Gunn.  I thought I would like to draw pictures with the quilting needle like Bethanne Nemish.  I do love their quilts, but their way of quilting doesn't manage to magically appear on my screen from my own brain.  However, as I fiddled around with my stars,  playing with ideas, moving and manipulating shapes and colors,  I made a remarkable discovery.  I LOVE intricate designs!  I think I have always loved them.

When I go to my Idea file I find all kinds of geometric designs.

Mosaics are all over the Mediterranean.
Don't remember which country this is from.

Mathematical designs.

Fountain at Hassan II mosque in Casablanca
Pretty designs.

Sconce.  University of TX in Austin.

Doorway/gate in Paris

Colorful designs
Hassan II mosque in Casablanca
All of these designs are non-representational.  Just interesting stuff.  Fascinating eye candy.  When I got to amusing myself with those silly stars I had so much fun creating, coloring, and crafting my next quilt.  Intense.  Who is going to cook dinner?  Oh, I forgot to get meat out of the freezer.  Oops!

Once I recognized that I love designs, I realized that I am also drawn to them everywhere I go.  I take photos of them, I scratch them onto my grocery list.  I love to create kaleidoscopes and spiral quilts.  Designs are in my DNA I guess, and actually DNA is a pretty cool design itself.

TIP:  It helps to know yourself.  Be honest about what you like, but step out and try new things.  That will help you grow, and you will learn new techniques to apply to your work.  Trying something new is refreshing and keeps your quilts from becoming tedious, but be true to yourself.  You will make happy quilts this way.

My four paper-pieced stars remain pending, currently unloved, waiting for inspiration.  I am working on my new quilt, which is a complicated, interesting design.  It is exciting watching it evolve as I think about how to quilt it.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you insight into your inner design wall.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Quilt Creases

Creases are annoying when quilts are on display.  I had one do that when I showed it, and had several knowledgeable individuals look at it and make suggestions.  They shook their heads and ended up telling me that they don't really know why it happened.  What I have learned since is that some battings will crease more than others.  Some have a "memory" of the fold creases.  Currently, I hear that some of the big name quilters have gone to wool batting to prevent creases.

I do know that packing a quilt to mail is one way to get unwanted creases.  If your box is too big the quilt will move around and it is impossible to figure out what it will do when it is active.  Sort of like a toddler.  If your box is too small, the quilt gets crushed into the shape of the box and folds get pressed in.  Likewise if you pack too many quilts tightly into one container.  I put a little crushed packing paper in the folds and that seems to work for mailing.

Quilts can be rolled on swimming noodles and I did that for awhile, but again, the all-knowing experts are saying that some parts of the quilt are subjected to more stress than others when rolled tightly that way.  I guess the best way is to store quilts flat on a bed.  Do you have an extra bed for that purpose?  I don't.

One way to avoid creases is to fold your quilts on the bias.  See Alex Anderson's video.  After looking at it I am tempted to go back to all my stored quilts and refold them!!!  You can see another slightly different method using bias folds here.

I have no photos appropriate for the content this week so I will share these cute mule deer fawns that have been enjoying the unusually green grass (for this time of year) and munching on my wildflower garden.  They've been tasting the petunia blooms too!

Three fawns but not triplets.

Care to guess why they are called mule deer?
Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to enjoy the outdoors and some wildlife.

Monday, August 28, 2017

To Shrink or not to Shrink.....

Quilt Show is over and now it is back to sewing and the ironing board.  It has been two weeks since the last ironing-related post, but life has been crazy.  We have had two black bears killed in our neighborhood very close to my house.  They both died miserable deaths from gunshot wounds, which is tragic and very illegal.  Some gun nut running around here is scary, and I am out walking the dog every morning.

This is the closest I'll ever get to a bear.  They can be a nuisance, but they
are fun to see wandering the neighborhood.  It was a tragic end to two of "our" animals.

When anxious, return to quilting.  Quilting and sewing keep a person on their toes.  They say that using the brain and solving problems keeps it functioning well, and forestalls age-related deterioration.  At this rate I think my brain should last at least 150 years!

My cork board ironing board is fantastic.

See how nicely the pins hold  in the cork board?  You can see the glue on
the back side of block, but it will wash out later when I block the quilt.

I wrote about my shrunken ironing board cover.  Apparently I didn't shrink the canvas when I made it a couple of years ago.  When it got looking grungy I just turned it over.  When I renovated the table top with cork board I washed the cover and it shrunk up irretrievably, so I had to make a new one.  This time I washed the new piece of canvas first and made the cover.  It fits the table top, but is a bit looser that I really want.  If I had not washed it, I could have spritzed it with water so it would shrink down to the table top.  The downside, of course, is that I would have to make a new cover every couple of years, whenever the cover got too grungy.  I guess the upshot is that you have to choose your own poison.

TIP:  Pre-shrink the canvas for your ironing board cover and you can wash it in the future.

TIP:  Don't pre-shrink the canvas for your ironing board and it will shrink to fit with a little spritzing.

I hated taking time out from my quilt to do this mundane sort of sewing, but I learned something about my sewing machine.  Do you read your sewing machine manual from cover to cover (eye roll here)?  Neither do I because I could never remember it all, and there is much that I will never use.  However, I needed to secure the edges of the canvas so I read about all the options for overcasting.  I don't use overcasting in quilting, but was in the mood to investigate.  I discovered that I have a lovely presser foot that does beautiful overcasting even on heavy, fraying canvas.  I never even noticed that foot in the box of tools or if I did, I had no idea what it was for.  I wanted to sew, not play with the toys.

I also decided something else.  I used pretty heavy canvas for my cover and since I had just enough left to make the new cover I used the same stuff.  I also had on hand a little bit of lighter weight canvas, which I used to make a small, portable pressing board.  Time will tell, but I believe the lighter fabric works just as well, and it is so much easier to work with.  Good grief, I used to cover my ironing boards with old sheets!

Small pressing board front (above) and back (below).

For my paperless paper piecing I laid an old sheet down to protect the ironing board cover - yes I did!!!  I use a lot of starch pressing each and every seam allowance.  I also press every glued seam.  I can throw the old sheet into the wash more easily than the ironing board cover.  I also use my teflon iron cover to protect my iron from scorched starch and glue stains.

Icky looking scorched starch stains on the old sheet.

Teflon cover on my iron.
TIP:  Save yourself some time and effort whenever possible.  You will have extra time for sewing!

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you no brain shrinkage.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quilt Show and Hoffman Challenge

Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival was last week and of course I attended.  It is the only major show left in our area, which is surprising because we have so many great quilters here.  Several quilt magazines are published this area and we have a wonderful Quilt Museum.   I went on the first day (Thurs), but even so was surprised to find so few attendees.  Maybe the other two days were better.  Unfortunately the show seems to get smaller every year; fewer vendors, fewer quilts, fewer people.  The complete Hoffman Challenge was on display, but several of those quilts were badly creased.  There were a lot of clever, creative designs with the chosen fabrics stitched within.  The winners can be seen here.  Following are a few that struck my fancy.  Some may have been winners, but they didn't provide ribbons this year.  Instead they put a small ribbon-shaped sticker on the ID card and I didn't notice those until I was ready to go home.  The winners were scattered among all the rest and hard to find.

If any of you made one the quilts below I am sorry that I cannot identify you.  The cards were so small that they didn't show up with my camera.  Let me know and I will place your name with your quilt on this blog.

Unique - Black and White

I liked the way the color and black and white were united.

Nice spikes.

Loved the explosion of color.

Nicely done clown.

There were several nice jackets.  I liked this one best.

Appealing.  Fun detail on the lower right.

Novel with the unusual shape.

Fussy cut star.

Out of an old English novel.

This face was sculpted like a bas relief.  Very nice!
It won a First Place.

Sew some  happy seams this week.  I wish you a chance to look at the quilts of others.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


On numerous occasions I have needed to pin some fabric to my ironing board, but the pins tend to have a mind of their own and topple from the upright position.  Recently I put two pieces of foam core board under the padding and cover.  It was fantastic...for awhile.  I could stick pins in there and they'd stay put.  Well, that worked for the short term, but foam core board is affected by the heat and soon began to look like a roller coaster.  Now I have three pieces of foam core board that are basically useless.

Why do I need to stick pins in my ironing board?  I use them to secure the first piece of fabric to the pattern when I am doing paperless paper piecing.  I also find pins invaluable for aligning seams and points when I am sewing a main seam together.  I stick pins through matching points straight up and down into the ironing board, and I stick pins here and there to match seamlines.  Then I glue baste the main seam allowances together, press and sew.  I generally get great results with only the occasional need to rip and redo.  I know, I am very fussy, but I like to be able to show my quilts and these details are important in that venue.

Sharon Schamber has a great video on making your own pressing board.  I have watched it a couple of times, but the board she uses is not meant for sticking pins into.  I got the brilliant idea of placing cork board on top of my DH-built ironing table (22" x 60"), and placing the covering over that. I did some research and found that it is heat resistant, absorbing heat without emitting fumes.  It is slightly rough, which grips the covering fabric enough to keep it in place.

Corkboard on top of plywood table surface (to the left is a small platform
for setting stuff on - not part of the ironing surface)

TIP:  In my research I found that you should not use particle board.  It does not hold up when exposed to moisture.  I do not use a steam iron, but do occasionally use water in a spray bottle and/or starch.  I didn't find anything about cork and moisture so I am keeping my fingers crossed, but I don't think it is an issue.  DH says it will be fine.

I am covering the cork board with cotton batting and canvas.  I am using Quilters Dream Request  (low loft), which I have on hand so I am using two layers.  If I were using Quilters Dream Select I would use only one layer.

Batting on of cork board.
Ironing board is ready to go.  Canvas cover washed and clean.  Canvas cover no longer fits!  It REALLY shrunk!  Quilting time on hold as I make a new cover.  New canvas is in the washing machine in hot water as I write.

TIP:  Pre-shrink your canvas if you are using it for an ironing board cover.  Duh!

Waiting for the canvas to dry (my dryer is the mountain wind).

Sew some happy seams today.  I wish you no shrinkage this week.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mistake Madness

Do you think that all I do is make mistakes?  I prefer to state that I correct mistakes and solve problems, but then I am a glass-half-full sort of person.  That is what this blog is all about and what better to write about than my own foibles.  I hope my solutions will be helpful to others as they read.  When you design your own quilts you have to iron out your own problems, and it is unrealistic to imagine that there won't be some along the way.

How's the paperless paper piecing (PPP) going?  Fantastic.  I am cutting out three or four of each piece, which takes about 30 minutes.  From there I can breeze through three or four blocks in nothing flat.  Well....compared to my first attempts.  I save up several glued blocks, and sit down to stitch them all at once, chain stitching.  That's called efficiency!  I have decided that this process  doesn't take any longer than paper piecing.  Both methods require a learning curve during which you have to be patient with yourself.  Now I have another plus to share about PPP.  Read on.

Mistakes?  Yes!  I printed out the overall design to use as a guide for the colors in each block.  All the blocks are the same basic pattern, but the colors are arranged differently in various blocks.  After printing the guide I went back to the computer and changed the color of one piece in each half-block.  Then I forgot to print out the new version.  Now one black piece in each half-block has to be switched out for turquoise.  Six square blocks done, so 12 triangles to rip back to that piece to change it.  It is an important element and must be done.

Black vs turquoise triangle.  Center seam not stitched.

Inner bulldog, get moving!  It sort of takes the joy out of quilting, but not the satisfaction of doing the job right and completing my design correctly.  Sigh......ripper in hand I plucked out the necessary stitches.  Fortunately, there really aren't too many because the offending piece was one of the last in the sequence of sewing.  By the time I replaced one, I had figured out how to do it without distorting the block.  First, I folded, ironed and starched the seam allowance on the new piece so I had a nice, sharp crease.

The fold is pressed over a strip of heat resistant template plastic.
You can use double freezer paper, but it gets soggy soon.

Then, working from the right side of the block I glued the seam allowance in place with the sharp crease exactly on the old seam line of the embedded piece, where I could see the line of little holes.  Press.

Glued down in place, with other pieces pinned back out of the way.
(except for that one little tail on the right - it was too stiff to stay folded back, but easy to work around.

Open out the new piece and stitch exactly on the crease line.

Crease line is a perfect guide.

The remaining two pieces were corner pieces needing only partial dismantling so they were really easy to manage.  They were the ones that were pinned back.  I laid those corners carefully back in place and glued them down making sure that the dimensions of the block were not compromised.  Then stitched.  Done....and it didn't even take too long to do.

Measuring before stitching.  Love glue basting!

If I had done this with paper piecing I would have unstitched the same three pieces, which would have messed up the paper, and I might have had to replace more than the one piece of fabric because the trimming would be tight.  There might have been more distortion from the messed up paper.  Paper piecing requires a bit of guesswork to position the fabrics correctly, then trim after sewing.  PPP is clearly the way to go!  However, I am glad the error was on the outer area of the block and not in the center.  Smile!

That turquoise piece is important as it part of the basic framework for the whole design.  It will set me back a day, but it will be soooooo worth it.  I'm not in a hurry and am already thinking about how I will quilt it.  Slow takes time to do those blocks correctly.

Oops!  I found a few seams that I hadn't sewn.  Good grief, I am glad I discovered and could fix them.  I had to hand stitch one because it was too deep in the stitching sequence.  It was a good lesson and warning to carefully check the seams as I go along.  The only downside of PPP is getting the seams sewn in order without missing any.  Working on that!

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you no mistakes, but if necessary, easy fixes.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


The quilt that filled so many blogs for the past year was juried in to the Quilt Odyssey Show in Hershey, PA.  I looked at the pictures that filled their FB page and figured I was way out of my league, but at least was juried in.  Imagine my surprise when the quilt arrived back home with a Third Place prize ribbon tucked inside.  I am ecstatic to say the least, and now I can show it to you, all finished.

Roman Candle
Sew some happy seams this week.  Do your very best and you will always be a winner!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Point Problem

I can plan and plan and plan.  I make patterns three or four times to get the kinks out.   It looks like I am ready to roll so I start making blocks.  After 5 blocks I discovered some things that needed attention.

Problem #1.  I have some critical points that should meet at the seamline.  They meet OK, but can't be sewn.  One in particular has four points coming together (that is 16 layers of fabric at the point) and the piece to which it is seamed is the same so now there are 32 layers of fabric.  Oh Boy!  My machine took one look at that and decided to fudge the seam allowance.  So now the points don't match and the fabric buckles slightly, but too much for my taste.  A rosette on the back won't work because the seams on both big triangles all go the same way because of the order of stitching.

Too many points together at the seam

I consider this a design flaw so back to the drawing board.  There is still a point now (below), but it doesn't come all the way to the seam.  It sews nicely and the design is not affected by the minor change.
See how the point is moved over a little bit? Problem vaporized.
Problem #2.  My pattern involves sewing two pieced triangles together to make a square block.  There is a piece of fabric at one point of the triangle.  When sewn together these two end pieces look like a half square triangle.  No problem with that, except my pattern does not have that line on a 45º angle.  Thank goodness I noticed it this early in the game, because in my adaptation that is a critical design flaw.  I can fix the few completed blocks pretty easily and redraw the pattern, but what a nuisance.

PS.  I just looked at the pattern in the book.  I drew it wrong.  Book is right.  Oops!  Now I pay for that seemingly minor mistake.

Red line is the way I drew it.  
Blue line is 45º angle.  Have to redo the pattern slightly.
Two blocks not sewn together yet.  See the light and dark triangles in the middle at the bottom?
Together they should be a half square triangle with STRAIGHT lines.
Those are my personal negatives, but are related to the pattern not the process.  I would never have seen it without my design wall to stare at.

I must say, that so far the paperless paper piecing is going beautifully.  I now have a system.  I love the fact that I can see the block all together before sewing it.  I am finding that the paperless method is more precise than paper piecing.  I haven't had to redo any points except as related above.  Sewing it is easy, but does take some mental gymnastics to get it right at first so there have been a few stitches to pick out here and there.  It is a new way of thinking.  Another thing I really like is cutting the pieces to the exact size, plus seam allowance of course.  Almost no waste and each piece fits right in place with no guessing.  With paper piecing I almost always had a few pieces that ended up too skimpy and had to be done over in spite of lots of experience with that process.

Does it take longer?  I don't really know and I am getting speedier the more I do.  A major plus is that once the block is together it is done.  No picking out paper.

This process is a keeper!

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you straight seams always, except when they are supposed to curve.