Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my faithful readers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finding Designs

I design my own quilts.  Have you ever tried it?  Of course you have.  You may have used a published pattern, but if you chose your own color palette you have taken a baby step into designing.   There are many ways to design, but here are a few:

*Try mixing two standard blocks.  It is amazing what you can come up with.

*Use a one or more of a familiar block and place them creatively in space.

*Add something new and different to your block.

*Make a grid of triangles on paper and fill them in with color.  See what designs you can create.  Substitute fabrics for the colors.

*Try appliqué.  There are tons of ways to use almost any beautiful shape.

Look around you and see the designs in your environment: flowers, clouds, fences, trees, leaves, wrought iron gates, houses, wildlife, floors, rugs, wallpaper, etc.  What tools do you need?  Only pencil and paper, a sprinkle of imagination, and a pinch of inspiration.  Optional aids might be the computer and crayons or colored pencils.

I had the wonderful good fortune to take a cruise through the Mediterranean in 2009.  Every surface is heavily decorated in the whole region from southern Italy to North Africa.  There are mosaics, sculptures, frescos, paintings and architecture.  Magnificent!  I took many pictures that now reside in the quilting folder on my computer for reference, and I look at them often.  Here are some examples:

Mosaic for patchwork and border
Overall plan for a quilt.

Love the black and white detail. 
I have incorporated the black and white arch idea in the quilt I am currently working on.

Black and white and Pumpkin Seed
Look at that background.  It is a beautiful, popular FMQ design.

A bowl - whole cloth or appliqué
Mosaic compass with extras

A door with FMQ designs
Look at other peoples' work as well, but find your own way.  It is not cool to just copy someone else's designs precisely unless you buy their pattern or take their class.  You can use elements from different sources and put them together in your own way.  Caveat:  Don't mistake my meaning here.  You can learn a lot by taking a class, but take that new technique or idea home and incorporate it into your own creations.

My greatest leap into quilt design came from doing Rhapsody quilts (Ricky Tims) and Spiral quilts (RaNae Merrill).  When you design you truly start from scratch and end up with something that is uniquely yours.  It does not provide instant gratification, but it is so much fun.

TIP:  Reach out, stretch your intellect, try something new.  Grow.  You may not think you are an artist now, but you can become one.  It is up to you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What's Next?

Contemplate. I am always thinking about what project to do next.  I sew for a couple of hours almost every day, but get worn out sometimes doing tedious tasks.  Don't get me wrong I LOVE to sew, but my body and my brain become fatigued and mistakes ensue.  That is when I go back to my computer and work on painting, genealogy, and often on new designs.  I hate to be without something percolating in my future.  My previous post related a problem in one of my designs.  I got lots of comments and ideas on that post and everyone who participated can be sure that their suggestions have been added to the box in my brain.  Thank you for taking the time to share.

At the moment I am quilting an intricate quilt with lots of different quilting designs and a lot of stitching-in-the-ditch.  I often find my dulled mind pondering new ideas or solving problems or thinking about what to get the grandchildren for Christmas.  Yes, it sometimes is mind numbing, but the results are so thrilling when they turn out right...not so much when they have to be ripped out.

There are times when you need a good seam ripper and here is my very special one.  My daughter and her husband gave this to me.  They made it from wood and purchased innards, shaping it on a lathe, and applying a beautiful finish.  I love it.  It fits my hand like a pencil and the business end is longer and sharper than any I have ever purchased.  No clunky, monster handle.  No tiny implement to cramp my fingers.  No covering top to get lost or broken  The upper photo shows my ripper closed.  Pull the silver top off, turn it around, push it into the handle, and there is the ripper.

My special seam ripper.
TIP:  Do you get numbed by the repetitive tasks of quilt making?  That is part of the process and can help relax your mind if you let it do so.  I love to count and stack the pieces I've sewed or admire the parts I have quilted.  It is a self-esteem booster to watch a product grow to completion.  Get up and move around for a minute and get a glass of water.  Embrace the occasional tedium and recognize how much you are accomplishing.

Ruminate.  One of the emerging designs that crawls around the edges of my mind is a flower.  Specifically, a wild Gaillardia, also called Indian Blanket.  I was desperate to take a photo so, in lieu of anything else suitable, I honed in on this poor blossom that was coming to the end of its beauty.  The photo turned out to be particularly appealing to me.  I want to make a quilt from it and will try painting with pencils, ink or thread to bring it alive.   It won't be large and I still have to audition production possibilities.  I  haven't even looked at fabric yet.

Dancing Gaillardia
Cogitate.  Last weekend I bought Lea McComas' just-released book on thread painting faces so I sat down and did the preliminary tasks for creating a design for a quilt of my dog.  We'll see if that one works out.  I never start a new concept with something simple.  Oh well...I am what I am.

Reflect.  I have another spiral with a Native American theme that I am eager to do, but it is pretty big and since my present quilt is large and ungainly, I am in the mood to do some smaller projects.

Deliberate.  Then there is that whole cloth quilt to be done from a design on an antique plate.

I don't think I will worry anymore about what to work on next.  It will depend on my mood.  Maybe I will start more than one!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Design Flaw

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving.  I think all that turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie gave me a case of Blogger's Block.  I also have a case of Designer's Block.  Well not exactly, but I ran into a problem I haven't solved yet.  I played around with a spiral design by skewing it in Illustrator.  Is that fun, or what?  I came up with the following plan for a 48 x 48 inch quilt with lots of room for magnificent FMQ.  Not so bad.  Then I started breaking it up into the pattern pieces that will be needed to make the quilt.

Roman Candle
See the part that runs from the center ending in a paddle with red and blue? It is made up of two long, skinny triangles, mirror images of each other.   Well, I isolated that triangle in Illustrator and it is about 24 inches long!  Oooops!  Design flaw.  How on earth am I going to print a paper piecing pattern on 8.5 x 11 inch paper?
Recalcitrant fan or paddle piece.
*Can I glue pieces of paper together with washable glue?  I don't have any Paper Solvy on hand to try it.

*Can I tape two pieces together?  I am reluctant to to do that because of increased bulk and sticky on the needle.

*How about tracing it onto freezer paper?  I worry that some of the points are too narrow to do it that way.

*The best idea I have come up with is to trace it by hand on Golden Threads tissue, which comes in a roll.  I haven't used it for paper piecing and I am afraid it is too thin to put through my printer (worth a try though).  Maybe tracing paper?

*Of course, I can always redesign that portion of the pattern.  Last resort!

Now is the time to incubate the problem and let the ideas percolate as I walk the dog, practice the piano, cook dinner, sleep at night, work on the current UFO.   Finally, I will sample some of the possible solutions.  I also welcome any ideas from you, my readers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Did you figure out how Galaxies was made?  It is all paper pieced, but you already figured that out.  It is made from several major shapes, which are broken down into a log cabin type design using triangles instead of rectangles.  When the shapes are put together they create a 60º wedge.  Put the wedges together and you have a hexagon.

I think I would call this an advanced design for quilters.  There are a lot of difficult seams to match and points to stitch correctly.  It takes time.  The top black pieces are all part of a triangle shape so it is made of little paper pieced triangles like the colored part.  The side black pieces are large pieces of fabric - no seams.

Coloring in the little triangles is what makes the design move.  All of the triangle shapes have mirror images of each other, either horizontal or vertical, and with the same or different coloration.  The hexagon and pentagon are just what they are.  However, on each side of the pentagon notice the rhomboid shapes (skewed rectangles or parallelograms with unequal sides and angles).  They have been colored differently from each other to give movement to the hexagon.  They also create an unusual black shape at the bottom because some of the little triangle pieces are cut from black fabric.  Below is the the complete drawing of the design.  Add black fabric for the corners and you have a square quilt.

Illustrator drawing of Galaxies.

See last week's post to see the actual, finished quilt.

You can take a design like this, color it differently and have a totally different looking quilt.  Tons of fun!  I always color one wedge and then let Illustrator rotate it around the center to see the complete design.  Then I live with it for awhile, present it to my husband, incorporate his thoughts and try again.  This generally goes on for days, but it is fun to have him involved in the design process.  He has good ideas.

TIP:  What can I say?  Have fun.  The design process takes time.  It needs to percolate through your days and your nights.  It is easy to make changes at this stage.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Negative Space

RETRO:  Before I start this post I must refer back to my last one.  I never mentioned the value of "needle down" for FMQ.  If your machine has it, use it.  It is invaluable for keeping the quilt in place as you reposition.  Also, I didn't mention that I do all my quilting on my Viking Sapphire.  No space for a long arm machine.

TODAY:  Now for a discussion of negative Space:  What is it?  What am I supposed to do with it?  Is it important?

Negative space is a place where nothing lives.  It can be a plain block between colorful pieced blocks or it can be empty space around a central motif.  Note the quilt below.

Look at all that black around the spiral design.  It makes the spiral look a little lost.  I had finally reached the place where I was able to draw lovely feathers and all that space is heavily quilted with trapunto feathers.  I used a dark grey to stitch the feathers.  When you get up close you can see the quilting, but from a distance it might as well not be there.  The spiral itself is all done with stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

Galaxies detail
This quilt was juried in to two quilt shows and I was quite pleased with that, but didn't win anything.  One judge dinged me for too much negative space.  The other judge found seam(s) that didn't match up.  Two lessons learned and acted upon with following quilts.

What is to be said for seams not matching?  Not much.  It takes fastidious pinning, sewing and persistence to get it right when there are several seams coming together in one place.  Next time I am going to forget the pins and glue baste.

TIP:  If you are interested creating exquisite quilts, it is important to pay attention to technique from the time you cut fabric to the time you finish the binding.  This is critical if you want to show your quilts.  If there is a mistake, the judges will find it!

As to negative space there is a lot that could have been done and my instinct kept nudging me that I needed something in those corners.  I didn't listen.  Another lesson learned!  I could have put a colorful quarter star in each corner or some sort of appliqué.  I could have quilted with a bright color of thread.  I could have (and may yet) added color to the feathers with Shiva Paintsticks.

TIP:  Pay attention to your creative muse.  It is usually right.  A creative muse is a source of knowledge reflecting an inborn sense of design, experience, vision, inspiration, technique, and external learning.  It will guide you to excellence, but only if you listen and act on what it is saying.

Off Topic:  Can you figure out how Galaxies was made?  I'll share that next week.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How to Practice FMQ

How do you learn and continue to improve your free motion quilting?  Every teacher, every book, every online tutorial has thoughts on this process so this post reflects my own journey.  When you sit down at the machine for the first time you'll find that the quilting foot doesn't hold the fabric down,  the foot pedal wants to send the machine into outer space, your eye doesn't know what to look at, your hands are helpless, and the quilt bulk is totally unmanageable.  At least that is the way I felt.

1.  CHALLENGE:  Back and neck get stiff and sore.
CAUSE:  Poor posture.  Chair and machine don't meld to maintain good posture.
SOLUTION:  Get a good chair.  Plant your feet flat on the floor with thighs parallel to said floor.  Forearms parallel to the floor from elbow to sewing table.  Sit straight.  I found it helpful to get an unstable cushion (yoga cushion).  It takes some getting used to, but will strengthen your back and help you sit straight.

2.  CHALLENGE:  Body and brain tension.
CAUSE:  FMQ is intense because there is a lot to think about to get it right.
SOLUTION:  Take periodic breaks, walk around and stretch.  Drink water.  You will learn to relax as you do more FMQ.

3.  CHALLENGE:  Quilting doesn't look like the planned design.
CAUSE:  Inexperience.  Design may be too difficult at this stage.
SOLUTION:  Practice your design with paper and pencil before sewing.  This helps build muscle memory and eye-hand coordination.  It really works!  Doodle.  Doodle with the sewing machine.

4.  CHALLENGE:  I don't know what designs are best to learn with.
CAUSE:  Inexperience
SOLUTION:  Draw, then quilt some loops like the letter "e" and start with those.  Medium size is best for learning.  Keep practicing with any letter of the alphabet - it is OK to backtrack.  In fact that is a useful skill.  Look at books and online tutorials.  Leah Day has over 400 quilting motifs and has arranged them so that you can find the ones for your level of expertise.  She has short videos with each of them.  Practice on them.

5.  CHALLENGE:  I don't want to ruin my quilt with my imperfect skills.
CAUSE:  Lack of experience and practice.
SOLUTION:  Make at least a dozen 12-inch square sandwiches of fabric-batting-fabric.  I used muslin that I had, but you can raid your stash, buy fat quarters or whatever.  Pin the sandwiches together so they are ready when the mood strikes, or for daily practice sessions.

6. CHALLENGE:  My needle has a mind of it's own and doesn't always obey.
CAUSE:  Inexperience.
SOLUTION:  Keep your eye about 1/4 inch in front of the needle and it will follow.  Amazing, but true!  There is some kind of mystic connection between the eye, the hands and the needle.  Don't try to move your hands at the same time you are moving the fabric under the needle.  Stop, rearrange and start again.

7.  CHALLENGE:  My hands and feet don't coordinate.
CAUSE:  It takes some getting used to.  Sometimes your foot makes the machine go when you are not ready and that can cause havoc.  Sometimes the puppy steps on the foot pedal - urrghhhhh!
SOLUTION:  Work on keeping the machine going at a steady speed.  Listen to the machine.  You can hear when you are getting irregular.  Take your foot all the way off the pedal when you stop and don't put it back until you and your hands are ready to stitch.  It is not cool to stitch a finger.

8.  CHALLENGE:  After stopping then starting again the needle jogs off to the side.
CAUSE:  The fabric is pulling.
SOLUTION:  This is tricky because it is hard to get started along the same line again without a jog when the weight of the quilt is not supported.  Arrange the fabric in a nest around the machine so that you have complete control of the portion around the needle.  Bring the needle up then move it down almost to the fabric by hand so you are sure it will land in the right place.  Do a stitch in the same hole where you stopped, then start slowly as you move the fabric carefully.  You have to hold the fabric very steady as you start.  Practice this regularly on your little squares, but realize that managing a big quilt will be a bit more difficult...but you can do it.

9.  CHALLENGE:  Stitching in the ditch to anchor the quilt.
CAUSE:  It is intense and difficult to stay in the ditch.  It just is!
SOLUTION:  Stitch two inch squares together into a 12 inch "quilt," batting and all.  Practice sewing right in the ditch.  Be careful at intersections where the seam allowance may be switching to the opposite side.  When done correctly the thread will bury into the seam and be essentially invisible.

TIP:  I'd rather stay positive, but I must warn you about a couple of things.  Stippling is one of the hardest stitches to master.  Straight lines are also hard to manage until you have more control.  These are important to learn, but not critical at first so get your feet wet with easier designs.

When you feel reasonably confident with the alphabet, look at some books with patterns.  Most quilting books have some ideas and there are designs all over the Internet.  Before you know it you will gain competence with eye-hand-foot coordination and will notice that you can follow a line.  When I was finally able to follow a line exactly, I realized I could do just about anything with a needle and quilt.

TIP:  I found it great fun to quilt on medium to large floral fabric, following the edges of the flowers and leaves.  It great for beginners because the occasional misplaced stitches are not obvious.  Looks pretty too.

What are my recommended goals at this stage of the game?
*Maintain good posture.
*Strive for a regular, steady speed with the machine.  Some people go fast, some slow.  Some
machines have the option of a slow, set speed.  Decide what works for you.
*Aim for stitches that are all the same length.  No one is perfect, but it is an admirable goal.
*Keep your eye ahead of the needle.
*Learn to stop and start in the same place without the needle going off to the side.
*Draw designs.  Doodle.  Practice 15 to 20 minutes each day on the machine.
*Have fun with it.

TIP:  You learn to quilt by quilting.  With some practice under your belt go ahead and quilt your quilt.  Most people won't even notice the imperfections.  I promise you will get better with each quilt.

Here is one of my early quilts.  I tried my hand at FMQ and thought it looked so awful that I ripped out ALL the quilting and started over.  That is probably not the best way to practice quilting, but when I went back to it, I did a much better job.  I did simple, large flower petals in the plain areas and followed the border design in the fancy spots.  You really can't see the quilting in the border areas.  That is real advantage on this quilt!  I got a lot of practice doing this, and you know what?  The quilt is not ruined!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Thoughts about FMQ

I can't remember when I started FMQ (free motion quilting), but at some point I decided I was going to have learn.
       My fingers refused to cooperate when quilting by hand.  
       Quilting by hand takes too long.  
       Having someone else quilt for me is too expensive.
       I don't want someone else to finish the quilt I have created.

In order to start the learning process I took a class at the local sewing machine store.  I was told that I had to sew fast.  Every time the teacher came by my table she said, "Speed up, you are going too slowly."  When I speeded up I immediately lost control.  It was like my running:  if I run too fast I fall flat on my face.  What did I get out of that class?  Discouragement, a mess on the fabric, and a fierce determination to quilt only straight lines with my walking foot.  
Walking Foot Quilting
The walking foot quilting looked fine and was easy, but terribly boring.  I really needed to tackle FMQ again.  I had the opportunity to take a beginner's class with Harriet Hargrave, the lovely lady who began the FMQ movement many years ago.  She was a rebel, but persisted and taught others her craft.  Her philosophy is that you can go any speed you want as long as you keep the machine running at the same, regular pace...your pace.  Ah, that fit so much better with my psyche.

Now I was on my way.  All I had to do was:
       *Keep my foot steady on the pedal.  Riiiight!
       *Use my hands to move the quilt through the machine in such a way that the stitches were all the same length.  Riiiight!!  (It helped to discover that my machine has a slow speed button.)
       *Keep my eye ahead of the needle.  I was promised that my hands and needle would follow. Riiiight!!!
       *Manage the bulk of the quilt so it doesn't pull, doesn't hang up on a corner somewhere, doesn't fall off the machine, and goes through the harp neatly and smoothly.  Riiiight!!!!
       *Prevent needle breakage and thread shredding.  Riiiight!!!!!
       *Somehow do all the quilting without ever stopping because when restarting, the needle created an unsightly jog off onto a new trail of its own choosing.

...and so it went for awhile.

Early FMQ
The quilt above fits a double bed, and the quilting is all FMQ on my domestic machine.  I spent half my time changing broken needles and broken thread.  The other half of my time I was manhandling the quilt trying to maintain some control.  There wasn't much time left for sewing.  The stitches were not terribly even, and the quilting didn't follow my imaginary lines.  I hadn't marked my design because I was not able to follow the lines anyway.  I finally finished, was happy to be done, and learned a great deal about how to manage the process.  Although not exquisitely beautiful, it is functional, I did it, I got a little bit better.

TIP:  Be gentle on yourself.  I know you would like to be another Leah Day or Diane Gaudynski, but give yourself time.  Don't quit.  You'll never improve unless you practice, practice, practice.  Watch tutorials.  Read books.  Practice, practice practice.  Concert pianists didn't become professionals by sitting on the couch wishing for music technique to be assimilated by osmosis.
Does all this sound familiar?  Please don't get discouraged.  I caught on and you can too.  Tune in next week and I will share with you the things that have most helped me become a better FMQer.

TIP:  Did I mention that PRACTICE is the single most important ingredient in learning to FMQ?  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quilting the Spiral

Most of the spirals I have seen are circular, also called mandalas.  Most of them are placed on a rectangular background.  This results in a lot of negative space in the corners that is crying to be included.  Left alone, the mandala can look lost and cause viewers to lose interest.  There are a ton of ways to decorate the corners, but in this case my feature fabric had such lovely flowers and leaves that I created mini-bouquets in each corner and tied them together with a 1/2 inch border.

I learned the hard way how to quilt a spiral.  A friend suggested that I use wool batting because it "quilts like butter."  So I put the fluffy wool batting into my quilt sandwich and began my quilting.  I soon realized that my quilting designs on the spiral turned it into a flat and fluff mishmash gridded with seam lines.  It looked awful!  In despair I very carefully took out all my quilting and started over.  I couldn't figure out what else to do so I quilted in the ditch of every seam, and it looked wonderful.  I now do that on every spiral quilt, and have discovered that I can do some overlay quilting if I want to, but don't have to.

Quilting plays a critical part in filling up the negative space.  When I made this quilt I was just beginning to venture into Free Motion Quilting (FMQ) and had only done simple stuff.  I was just easing out of the broken needles-shredded thread stage.  I had not educated myself regarding the importance of the right needle, the available threads or the critical need for them to work together.

TIP:  Take time to learn about threads and needles. BTW I am a staunch fan of Superior Threads.  They have excellent quality thread and many opportunities for education.  Subscribe to their newsletter, which always has a funny joke or story, in addition to valuable information, and of course, deals.

You saw this quilt in my post two weeks ago, but here it is again so you can look more critically at the finishing.

I was eager to try my hand at feathers, so I gathered my books, pencil, eraser and tracing paper to create a design.  I never thought to look on the Internet for ideas on making my feathers artistic and interesting.  Below, you can see the feather design up close and personal.  That is all there is to it.  I look back and wish I could do something more interesting, but I was already stepping up to a new level.  I did it, my FMQ improved, and I felt really good about it at the time.  It filled the empty spaces.

Reverie Feathers
I was terrified of those feathers.  I knew I couldn't backtrack accurately so I designed the feathers in a way that avoided as much of that skill as possible.  My stitches are not perfectly even, which takes a lot of practice on a domestic sewing machine with no stitch regulator.  I had trouble stopping and starting again without making a jog to the side.  I had fused the appliqué flowers in the corners, but didn't know if I could quilt through the fusible because it was a little stiff.  I bit the bullet and did it anyway.   These challenges improved my FMQ immensely just because I was trying new things.

TIP:  Look at other blogs, show quilts, and Pinterest on ideas for quilting designs.  Go ahead, fly out of your comfort zone.  It is amazing what you can learn to do, but you have to start somewhere.  You will quickly forget your fear.

I am not much of an embellisher, but I went ahead and hand stitched gold Razzle Dazzle thread around the center motif, the spiral itself and the binding.

My quilt went on to win "Best Machine Workmanship" in the 2011 Hoffman Challenge, and has been shown across the country and in Ireland.  It has also been shown in some special exhibits.  I am soooo glad I braved the unknown and stepped into new territory.  Pick up a copy of the Dec/Jan issue of Quilters Newsletter Magazine.  My essay about this quilt is in the column "300 Words."

BTW I am entering this quilt in the Bloggers' Quilt Festival  in the Original Design category
this week.  Voting will be November 1.  You can also click the button on the right sidebar.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marking the Quilt

I promised to talk about the quilting of my spiral quilt this week, but I think it is important to address marking techniques before I go into the actual sewing process.  As a newbie I was deeply puzzled about how to mark my quilts, but slowly I learned many different methods with varying degrees of success. I will share with you my opinions about the tools that I have used over the years.

1. Chalk
Chalk for marking is available in pencil form and powder form.  The pencil form has pieces of chalk that fit in a mechanical type pencil.  The chalk comes in several different colors, and refills can be purchased.  The powder form is used in a dispenser with a cog roller at the bottom.  You can purchase refills in white and blue.

Pros:  Tried and true method for marking fabric.  Easily removed.  Chalk sticks can be sharpened, but the point doesn't last long.  Both come in colors that will show on light and dark fabric.
Cons:  Chalk sticks break easily.  Chalk brushes off easily so you can mark only a small area at a time.

2.  Pouncing Chalk
To do this you must first punch holes in a paper pattern.  This can be done by running the paper through the sewing machine using an unthreaded needle to outline.  By stapling several layers together you can make more than one punched pattern at a time.  However, usually you can use the same piece several times.  Once the holes are punched, lay the pattern on the quilt bumpy side up and gently glide the pouncer across the template (don't whack it from above).  Lift the template and the chalk outlines your design.  The chalk comes in both white and blue.

Pros:  Once the holes are punched this is easy and accurate.  Either white or blue shows up well on most fabrics.
Cons:  The chalk rubs off easily so you can prepare only a small area at a time.  It doesn't work well for a very complex design.

Pouncing chalk and Golden Threads tissue
3.  Golden Threads Tissue
This tissue is a sturdy, yellow tissue paper that is great for punching holes for use with pouncing chalk.  You can also draw or machine stitch (unthreaded) the design on the paper, pin it to the quilt, and sew through paper and quilt.

Pros:  The design is clear and easy to follow.
Cons:  This paper is too thin to run through a printer.  If you sew through it on the quilt you must pick out the paper when you are done, and some tiny pieces invariably get stuck in the stitches.  I have a good pair of tweezers on hand for this problem.

4.  Blue Water-soluble Marker
This marker has become a standard in the industry.  It leaves a blue mark on the fabric which disappears with water.  DO NOT IRON.  There is also a Blue Line Eraser currently available (I have not tried this).

Pros:  Works beautifully and is one of my most used tools.  It stays until I am done with my quilting.  Washes out with water.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark fabrics.  Can dry out, but you can keep it in the freezer between uses and it works like new (I have not tried this).  Cannot iron over it.  I have also heard that the ink sometimes disappears spontaneously (hasn't happened to me!).  As I say, I have encountered no issues with this marker on my quilts (100% cotton), but some people have had problems.

Blue Water-Soluble marker
5.  White Marker
There are two white markers on the market.  One is water soluble (I have not tried this) and the other disappears with heat, i.e. the iron.

Pros:  Shows up on dark colors.
Cons:  My experience is with the heat-removable variety.  I found that it didn't show up immediately, which I don't like.  When it finally appeared, it was hard to see.  I marked a big quilt and by the time I got 1/4 of the way through my quilting all the white marks had disappeared and had to be re-marked.

(No photo - I no longer use this)

6.  Purple or Magenta Disappearing Ink Marker
This marker is visible for 2-3 days and disappears when exposed to air or water.

Pros:  Handy for marking when needed for only a short time.  Can be removed with water if desired.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark colors.

Purple and Magenta Disappearing Ink markers
7.  Ceramic Pencil
I love my ceramic pencil.  Mine is made by Sew-Line, but there are other brands.  The ceramic "lead" is like chalk, but is sturdier, thinner and doesn't brush off as easily as chalk.  However, it can be erased with the eraser on the pencil or by rubbing with a piece of fabric.  Refills of the ceramic filler can be purchased in several colors.

Pros:  Easy as a pencil to use.  Gives a fine line.
Cons:  Keeps getting buried under fabric because I use it so much!

Sew-Line Cermaic pencil
8.  Colored Pencil
Colored marking pencils come in several colors and have for years.

Pros:  Marks a relatively fine line.  Doesn't smear.  Lasts long enough to do the quilting.
Cons:  Yellow may be difficult to remove.  Constantly need sharpening and the points break easily.

(No photo - I don't use these either)

9.  Frixion Pen
These pens come in different colors and can be purchased at office supply stores as well as quilt stores.  A hot iron removes all visible marks.

Pros:  Easy to find for purchase.  Gives a clear fine line.  Several colors.  Will iron off.
Cons:  Although the color of the ink is removed by the iron, a residue is left on the fabric, which shows up if the fabric is frozen.  Sometimes it shows without freezing.  I do not use these.

Frixion Pen
10.  Freezer Paper Template
I recently stumbled onto this one.  Trace a design on freezer paper and cut it out.  Iron it onto your sandwiched quilt and trace around it with the blue water-soluble marker or ceramic pencil.  Remove the freezer paper and repeat where needed.  Works great.

Pros:  It is easy to trace a design on freezer paper.  It stays put after ironing while you trace around it onto a quilt sandwich.  The template can be reused numerous times.  It is cheap.
Cons:  It takes time to cut out the template.  You have to be careful not to iron over any of the blue marker if that is the marker you used.

Freezer Paper
11.  Hera Marker
The Hera Marker is a plastic tool with a sharpish "blade" on one end.  It is not sharp enough to cut anything.  You can draw a line by pressing the blade end on the fabric.  It leaves an indentation that lasts long enough to sew a short distance.  You can draw a curve or a line on which to perch some motifs so they will line up properly.  Also useful for "finger" pressing.

Pros:  Handy and quick to use.
Cons:  Indentation is short lived.

Hera Marker
12.  Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy
This is a fabulous water soluble product.  You can draw on it or run it through the printer, peel off the paper backing, and it sticks to the quilt with a light adhesive.  You quilt right through it and the quilt sandwich.  You can also use it as a soluble stabilizer.

Pros:  Stays put while you quilt, but pulls away easily if you need to reposition it before sewing.  I used it for a complex design that I wanted to be as symmetrical as possible, and it worked beautifully.  It completely dissolves in water with a little soaking and a little hand agitation.  I have used it on 100% cotton and it does not appear to have left any residue.
Cons:  It is more expensive than other options (about $15 for 12 sheets 8.5 x 11 inches).

Below is a piece of recent quilting I have done.  The animals were cut from freezer paper and I traced around them with a ceramic pencil.  I also used the ceramic pencil to place the red diamonds as they had to be positioned relative to the quilt's center.  I tried pouncing chalk for the feathers, but the chalk dots looked like a starry sky and I couldn't tell where to quilt.  Eventually I drew the border design on tracing paper, scanned it into my computer, printed it on the Sticky Fabri-Solvy, stuck it to the quilt and began quilting. Fabulously easy!  The fillers and the lines of pebbles were done freehand.  All quilting was FMQ on my Viking domestic machine.  The feathers were painted with Shiva Paintsticks after the quilt was all finished.

A portion of my quilt "Bigtop"
The caveat to all this is that you should test any marking tool on the fabric that you will be using.  There is no single way to mark a quilt.  Your choice of tools depends on the quilt, the quilting design for that quilt, and whether you are able to draw freehand with the needle...or not.  I like to draw out my major designs, but do all my fillers freely.  I usually use more than one technique before I am finished with a quilt.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to try new techniques.  Some work, some don't.  Some work for me, but not for you.  Experiment!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Sew it Together

You have finished all the paper piecing and are admiring the completed shapes on your design wall.  Now you get to sew those shapes together, which is exactly like sewing the pieces of any quilt together. First, you sew the shapes (pentagon and triangle here) of the wedge together until you have all your wedges complete, then sew the wedges together.  With only two shapes this is a relatively simple matter.

You will have points to watch along the seam lines.  Be sure they look the way you want them to before you go on.  Some of my points refused to behave at the seam line so I cut out little flowers from one of the fabrics and appliquéd them over the offending areas (see right side of photo).  This was a better solution than redoing seams until the fabric died.

TIP:  Covering up faults is not cheating.  It is called artistic innovation.

Another problem area may be the very center where all the wedges come together.  This design has a lot of seams jammed up tight at the center point and it was impossible to put them together nicely.  My solution was to make a 4 inch kaleidoscope of six small wedges from my feature fabric, and appliqué it over the bulky center.  From the back I cut away the bulk.

TIP:  One way to avoid problems in the center is to use a single fabric at the point of the wedge and choose a hexagon or octagon for your design (6 or 8 wedges).  That chosen fabric could be fussy-cut to yield an interesting design.  This solution would have to be included as part of the original design.

I have not tried it yet on a spiral quilt, but on my next one I am going to glue baste the seams together instead of pinning.  See Christy Fincher's tutorial on this process.  I tried it on a recalcitrant border on my current work in progress and it was fabulous.  When you think about it, no matter how careful you are with pins, they distort the fabric.  I have spent way too much time redoing seam junctions, and with spirals there are often more than two seams coming together.  RaNae Merrill likes to keep the paper in until the seams are sewn.  I prefer working with the fabric without paper so I tear off at least the seam allowance.  You'll have to find what works best for you.

TIP:  Take your time, work slowly and carefully, and it will be beautiful.

Pressing is a major issue as the bulky seams have a mind of their own.  I just let them play their own game as long as the piece looks nice on the front.  The only time I try to control them is when I have three or more seams at a junction.  Then I like to have all the seams flat in the same direction so I end up with a nice little rosette at the center.  That often means that a seam will have to twist somewhere along its length.  To tell you the truth, I have never noticed those twists when the quilt is done and they don't interfere with the quilting.  They are less bulky than the seam junctions.

Finishing requires placing the circular design onto a background, and I leave it to you to figure out how your special design will be displayed.  I put mine onto a square or rectangular background by sewing large pieces of fabric onto the edges of the spiral however they will work and be easiest to sew.  You can face the mandala, cut away excess fabric after it is turned, and appliqué it to a background.  If you do this, you will have a circular border around the finished spiral.  The heavy seams of the spiral will not turn under neatly so they have to be sewn in a way that allows them to lay flat.

This is the finished quilt that I have been describing.  In my next post I will talk about quilting this type of quilt.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Sewing

The planning and shopping are all done.  The new fabric is pre-washed (I always do that).  The pattern is drawn or printed and ready to be your guide.  If you have never done any paper piecing I suggest you try it out on a simple block to acquaint yourself with the basic concept.  There are lots of tutorials on the Web.  I also recommend my go-to sources:  RaNae Merrill's books, "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts" and "Magnificent Spiral Mandala Quilts."  That said, I will give you my version of paper piecing spiral shapes.

TIP:  You only have to know one thing:  You can learn anything!

Here is the paper pattern.  In my mother's art stuff I found some old tracing paper which is soft and translucent and that is what I am using for this tutorial.  Usually I use Sulky Paper Solvey, which is also translucent but I don't have any on hand.  It helps to be able to see through the paper, but copy paper will work in a pinch.  The finished product will be the reverse of the printed side of the pattern sheet.

Printed side of the paper pattern

Step 1.  We start every round with the star triangle.  This is not necessary, but it keeps me from getting mixed up.  This serves as a reminder that this first triangle is unique and will require special treatment.  With the printed side of the paper pattern facing you fold it toward you accurately on the red line (above), which the starred triangle and center share.  This is where it helps to see the line showing through to the other side.  The red lines outline the first triangle.   The folded paper covers the center piece, but don't forget it is there.

Step 2.  Prepare a piece of fabric for the center at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Prepare a second piece of fabric for the triange at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Line the fabrics up together along a straight edge, right sides together, center fabric on top (wrong side of center fabric will be facing you).  The ghost shapes show how each piece will fit on its piece of fabric.  The fabric showing at the top will be seam allowance.

TIP:  It is clear that there is plenty of fabric for the white center.  The red is behind and you will have to visualize whether you have enough fabric for the triangle.  A pin stuck through a side or corner of the paper triangle can help to make sure there is enough to cover.  Obviously I have lots of red to cover the triangle, but I am using scraps rather than cutting rectangles for each piece.  You must  have enough fabric to cover each piece and its seam allowance or you will end up with frayed edges on the front.  You will trim the excess as you go along.  Generosity is good.

Step 3.  Lay your folded pattern on top of the two fabrics leaving 1/4" seam allowance above the paper fold, then unfold the paper carefully holding the two fabrics in place.  You may need to pin them in place or secure with painter's tape as you cannot see the fabric when sewing.

TIP:  Before sewing adjust the stitch length of the machine to a shorter stitch.  My "normal" is 2.5 and I drop it to 1.5.  This holds securely with the added benefit of making the paper easier to remove later.

Step 4 (first round only - star triangle):  Lay paper and fabric down on the sewing machine, paper side up.  Now you are ready to sew exactly on the line between the center and the triangle starting at the wide end of the triangle.  Yes, you sew through the paper and both fabrics.  On ONLY the FIRST triangle of each round you sew a partial seam as shown below, stopping about 1/4" before the junction with the triangle abutting the point of the triangle you are sewing.  No need to backstitch.

Step 5:  Turn the paper over to the fabric side and fold the triangle fabric away from the center fabric so the right side shows and press the seam you just sewed.

TIP:  I find that using the iron eventually scorches the paper and makes it brittle and cranky.  I prefer to press with this handy, Hera Marker by Clover, which is available where quilting supplies are sold.  You could also use a small wallpaper roller or a spoon.

TIP:  It is critical that the fabric be pressed completely back from the seam if you want those crisp, perfect points that are the earmark of good paper piecing.

After pressing, fold the tail of the starred fabric (1st triangle of this round) back to the "stop" line and pin or tape the tail out of the way.  See the photo in Step 7.

Step 6:   With the printed side of the pattern toward you fold the paper on the line of the next triangle (#2) to the left, formed by it and the center.  Trim all visible fabric to 1/4" above the fold.  With the right side of the fabric for #2 triangle facing you, line up its raw edge with and under the trimmed fabric (right sides together) above the paper fold.  Make sure the fabric will cover the triangle and its seam allowance.  Open the paper and sew on the line from the wide end of the triangle all the way to the point.  Turn and press.

Step 7:  Moving in a counterclockwise direction (looking at it from the printed side of the pattern) continue to add fabrics to the other triangles in the round.  Trim, stitch and press each time.

TIP:  Be careful not to cut or stitch the folded-back portion of the star triangle fabric.

The photo below shows the star fabric plus two more pieces added.  Note the way the star fabric is turned back and secured out of the way with a pin.

TIP:  Don't worry about extra fabric.  It all gets trimmed as you go along.

Step 6:  When all the triangles of the first round are sewn and pressed, we are back to the unfinished first triangle, the special star.  Remove the pin and, using Elmer's School Glue (no other) run a small line close to the raw edge of the turned-under seam allowance.  Lay the glued fabric down on the fabric of the last triangle (light blue in this case) and heat set.  This is the only time I use the iron.

FYI:  Elmer's School Glue is starch based.  It will not hurt the fabric or your children even if they mistake it for snack food.  It will hold the seam securely as the fabric is manipulated and sewn, but will wash out.

Step 7:  Now we do the super sneaky trick.  Move your fingers to the junction of the star fabric and that of the second triangle you sewed (dark blue in this case).  Grab hold of both fabrics and gently tear the whole unit from the paper until you come to stitched junction.  Now the star fabric will lay flat and you can see the partial seam.  If it tends to wrinkle a bit, restrain its exuberance by flattening it with a pin to avoid stitching wrinkles in.

Step 8:  Turn the whole thing over to the printed side of the paper pattern and stitch from the end of the partial seam out to the point of the triangle.

Step 9:  Turn over, press and admire your first round of paper piecing.  Use a small piece of tape to repair the torn bit of the paper pattern.

Step 10:  Sew the succeeding rounds in the same manner using steps 1 to 9, moving ever closer to the outer edge.  Instead of sewing triangles to the center you will sew the triangles of round B to a previously stitched triangle of round A, moving further out with each round.

TIP:  When/if you do a mirror version of this shape you will be working clockwise instead of counterclockwise, but always from the wide end of the triangle.

On my demo piece I stitched a final two pieces of black to each side of the pentagon top.  I pieced them through the paper as before, but they are not part of a "round."  This is an unnecessary element that is dictated by the design.  Below is the finished block from the printed side of the pattern.  Trim away any excess by cutting along the outside line of the seam allowance.

Turning the finished shape over reveals the finished, paper pieced block.  Note how the points nest perfectly into the junctions of the triangles (red circles).  Now you can press it with the iron.

TIP:  You must watch the points every time you press.  If you notice a nasty misfit later, you will not be able to go back and fix it.  The only thing you can do is start over.  I've done that too!  If your pressing is sloppy the points will be too.

TIP:  Christy Fincher has a great tutorial on paperless paper piecing.  I have tried it and loved it, but it doesn't work on the spirals that I have tried.  The seams get too bunched up and close together to sew properly.

Next post I will talk about sewing the shapes together and quilting the finished product...and I will show you my first, finished spiral quilt.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Shopping TIPS

Who doesn't like to shop for fabric?  I consider a fabric store a superb replacement for a candy store.  I have a minor sweet tooth, but not enough to ever enter an actual candy store.  I don't even like the smell.  However, a fabric store is a different proposition.  There is a plethora of colors and textures with a good, clean fragrance and sales people who understand my needs, dreams and desires.  I walk into a fabric store and feel an immediate calm envelop me.  I can wander around by myself or with a friend and consider that I have had a very enjoyable experience, and every store has its own distinctive flavor to savor.

Before going on a shopping excursion you must figure out how much fabric to buy for your spiral quilt.  This can be daunting because the pieces are all triangles of different shapes, sizes and colors.  I don't like to spend my money on a lot of fabric that I have to store in my limited space.  On the other hand, I want to make sure I have enough of each fabric to complete my project.  On the rare occasions when I have run short, it has taken a lot of time away from construction to locate more of my chosen fabric.  That also means more money for gas or shipping for a small amount of fabric, so I have figured out a method designed for efficiency.

I make a visual chart for each color or fabric that I will be using.  You can do this with graph paper, or on the computer as I do.  On the computer I create a document in Illustrator 40" x 72" to approximate a two yard piece of fabric as a starting place.  Then I copy each little triangle in the shape (i.e. pentagon) to the chart of its color.  I enclose the little triangle with a rectangular box that is a generous 1/4" - 3/8" bigger on all sides than the triangle.  This should be plenty of room for seam allowance and maybe a little extra.  I make as many copies of the rectangle as I need for that shape in that color.  How many times does that shape occur in each wedge?  How many wedges are in the spiral circle?   I do the same for all the triangles in a shape, and then for all the shapes in the wedge.  I end up with a chart like this for each color, except that I do it on a grid, which didn't come through the export process:

Chart for p6 purple fabric.

From the grid you can estimate the amount of fabric that you will need.  Then add up to a 1/4 yard to cover pilot error or your learning curve.

TIP:  You don't have to worry about straight of grain.  The paper foundation holds everything together and prevents dancing around the dreaded bias stretch.  You will sew straight grain pieces around the finished mandala and they will hold it in line when the paper is removed.  The final quilting also exerts control over errant triangles.  I have never had a problem with bias when I paper piece.

I mentioned my fabric chart in the last post, but I actually make it before I go shopping.  Here is what it looks like printed from the computer.  [I no longer have the shopping sheet from the quilt I have been developing here, so the colors are different.  No matter, the idea is the same.]

Fabric Chart for Shopping and Referral
I type in my code name for each color and the amount of fabric needed.  I then take this to my fabric stash and pull fabrics that I think will work, cut small examples, and glue them on top of the appropriate colored rectangles.  If I don't find what I want I leave those colors open and know that I will be hunting for them in the fabric stores.  As you can imagine these pieces change, migrate and evolve as I develop the final choices.

I put this in a plastic sheet protector with a printout of my quilt design on the other side.  I also add my contact information in case I lay it down while manhandling bolts of fabric and forget to pick it up.  Been there, done that.  I have had to return more than once when I got a call from a quilt store.  Those ladies understand that my shopping sheet is an important part of my quilt!

Isn't this a lot of work?  Yes, but it saves time and money in the long run.  When my fabrics are pre-washed I cut pieces and glue them into place on a sample, paper wedge to make sure I like the way it looks.   Finally, I am ready to sit down at the machine with no worries about whether my fabric will make it through the process.