Friday, January 31, 2014

Polar Bears on My Bed

This is one of my Polar Bear Quilts.  I found these polar bear panels and fell in love with them.  For years I collected blue, winter fabrics and many ideas.  In the end I had so many polar bears that I did two quilts titled "Arctic Day" and "Arctic Night."  This photo is of "Arctic Night," so named because it turned out a little darker than the other one.  They are both twin-sized quilts, but the other one is buried in storage at this writing.

Collecting fabric for a quilt is way too much fun and I still have a ton of blue fabric in my stash.  Fortunately, blue is my favorite color.  I still have polar bears too because I bought plenty so I wouldn't need another and get stuck.  I can probably create two more quilts.  Pretty ridiculous.

This was the first quilt I really designed wholly on my own.  I used the methods outlined by Judy Hopkins in her book "Design Your Own Quilts."  The panel in the upper left portion of the quilt is a kaleidoscope, pieced from scratch using methods described by Paula Nadelstern in her book, "Snowflakes and Quilts."  My design wall was in use for a long time as I created blocks of different sizes and patterns, placed them on the wall, moved them, created new ones to create value differences, and so forth.  The borders are from the polar bear panels.  Can you find the other winter animals sneaking around among the blocks?

I also branched out with my free motion quilting on this one.  I mostly used flowers as in my earlier primitive petals, but I put points on them this time and added some additional defining lines.  Around the snowflake and the bears is stippling.  For the bears within their circle border, I followed the fabric, outlining the animals, clouds and snow with free motion lines.  This is a great way to get more comfortable with free motion quilting:  follow artistic motifs on the fabric.  When you can follow lines on the fabric, you will be able to follow more complex, drawn designs for your quilts.

TIP:  Let your hair down and dance while doing a quilt like this.  There are no rules so just have fun with the piecing, fabric fondling, and quilting whatever you are able or inclined to do.  Let the muse sing and don't worry about the mess you are creating...just create.  The mess will still be there later.

I wish I had known about Leah Day's fantastic website on free motion quilting.  This would have been a perfect quilt on which to try out some of her many designs.  In looking at Leah's site today I found two other websites to visit:  Linda's Landscapes and The Hard-Rock Quilter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Orion Star

I loved the design of this quilt called Orion Star and found a bunch of batik fat quarters in my favorite colors.  This is one of those quilts that I did for the fun of it.  It is not hard and was great to take to a quilt retreat when you have noise and confusion around you.  I prefer not to have to think very hard in that venue.  I saw it in a magazine advertised as a quilt made with "Thangles."  Thangles are a method of making half-square triangles using pre-printed paper as a cutting guide.  You can learn about Thangles here and get the pattern and Thangles here.  Since I tend to jump in and get all wet before buying more stuff, I just designed it myself by looking at the quilt in the advertisement.  Mine is much smaller (about 36" x 48") than what they sell in the kit, but it served its purpose for me.  The biggest challenge was working on my design wall to arrange the colors in a way that pleased my eye.

TIP:  You can have a fancy design wall or use your bed.  I hang a flannel-backed tablecloth on my wall, flannel side out and use it.  It is easy to put up, take down and store, and it does the job just fine for very little money.

TIP:  Arrange the blocks the way you think you like them, then leave it for awhile.  Wander into the room now and then and look at it again, rearrange and go away again.  You can get a lot of house cleaning done or dishes washed during this process.  Do this for several days.  Fresh eyes see things that were missed.  When you are sure you are happy, crank up the sewing machine and sew it together.

I had gotten comfortable free motion quilting flowers with big, simple petals and that design served well on this quilt too.  More practice.  I still wasn't loving it, but I didn't want to pay someone else to do my quilt.  It takes motivation, determination, and lots PRACTICE, to get the hang of free motion quilting whether you are working on a longarm or sit-down machine.  Don't get discouraged.  It will come.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paper Piecing

It was right about here in my journey that I learned how to do Paper Piecing, also called Foundation Piecing.  It is not hard, and once you catch on, it allows you to piece a block or shape with amazing precision.  You can piece tiny, little pieces that would otherwise be impossible.  You can look at a good video tutorial on Foundation Piecing if you don't know what I am talking about.  You can start with some simple practice blocks such as the triangle sashing blocks in this quilt.  The sashing is 2 inches wide so they really don't have to be paper pieced, but I found that the bias edges of the triangles were much easier to control with paper piecing.  I loved the way everything lined up straight and measured correctly when I put the quilt together.

Here you see again that I have a penchant for fussy cutting and kaleidoscope design.  The feature fabric is a symmetrical, border fabric that screamed for action.  The large blocks also have bias edges to work with, and they must be sewn carefully without stretching.  It may help to pin if the edges are long.  If you find that you must sew a bias edge to a straight edge it works best to keep the bias edge on the bottom as you sew and again, you probably would do well to pin first, but please do not sew over the pins.

If you look carefully you can see that I branched out to some easy free motion quilting on this quilt.  My first attempt was so awful that I ripped it all out and did it over again.  Yes, ALL the quilting!  This is frustrating, time consuming and discouraging, but I urge you to rip if you don't like the results.  You will never learn to like that quilt if you aren't happy with the job you did.  You can save yourself a lot of grief by making some 12 inch quilt sandwiches out of your chosen fabric and batting on which to practice your design.  Either way you will have practiced and learned to machine quilt a little better.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Medallion Quilt

I don't keep a journal of my quilts and sometimes, randomly, I keep a pattern that I found in a magazine.  I have lots of quilting books and often look at some from inter-library loan.  The result is a bit haphazard and I often do not remember where I found a pattern.  Since I now create my own patterns, at least I know where they are, but that is fodder for later blogs.  Right now I am taking you on a vicarious journey from my quilting beginnings.  The pattern for today's featured quilt was taken from a magazine, which published it in several parts.  If anyone knows where I got this, let me know and I will be happy to give credit.  It is a medallion with many parts and pieces and it introduced me to the intricacies and pleasures of adding successive borders to make a quilt. With so many different blocks, I learned a lot of techniques and ended up with a useful quilt, which was pretty on my bed.

I knew about blocking knitting projects, but it was many years before I learned about blocking a quilt.  It laid on my bed flat and I was happy.  I also learned about broderie-perse and used it to design the center wreath.  Once appliquéd I outlined the elements with embroidery floss and outline stitch.  It is all hand quilted with grid around the appliqué and lots of stitching-in-the-ditch where the seams were not too thick.  I don't remember what design I quilted in the center and the quilt is currently packed away so I can't look.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Asian Quilt

I made this quilt for my grandson's Christmas one year.  He is Asian and loves all things Asian.  The fabrics were in the Asian section of a local quilt store.  It is a simple quilt made of plain blocks and borders.  The dragon in the center came from a vendor at a quilt show.  Before I put them in the quilt I checked out the meaning of the characters to be sure they were appropriate, but I don't remember what they mean.

The quilting is plain, straight lines done with a walking foot.  This is a great way to start learning to manipulate a quilt sandwich through the machine.  I was working on a Viking machine with the old, short throat so moving fabric was difficult, even with a small quilt like this.  The background of the characters and dragon was done with stippling.  I was very disappointed with my first effort so I ripped it all out and did it over again.  Stippling is not fun to rip and you have to be very careful not to rip the fabric.  I usually take out stitches from the back of the quilt so a slip and slit repair is less noticeable.  Happily, the quilt was well received.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Love of Lone Star

This post features my first Lone Star Quilt and I learned so much in doing it.  I used a pattern from "Lone Star Quilts and Beyond" by Jan Krentz, and strip pieced the diagonals in the points.  This made it so much easier, but dealing with the wonkiness of bias remained a challenge throughout.  I found that it is very important to create a template, pin the points securely to an ironing surface, measuring and adjusting to fit the template.  Then starch and press.  This made them go together very nicely.

Another challenge in Lone Star quilts are the Y seams.  See the U-tube directions of Kaye Wood on this subject.  When the seams are done well they lie flat and lovely as in the following close-up of the same quilt.

I love Asian fabric and I had these wonderful birds.  I chopped the fabric to pieces, cut out the bird motifs and attached them with needle-turn appliqué.  If you like handwork you can spend a lot of time doing this.  I wasn't exceedingly precise because my plan was to quilt over the edges to blend them into the background.  That plan worked out very well.

I mentioned that I love fussy cutting so I put the center together with eight triangles cut exactingly the same.  It is important to sew the center points carefully to the place where seam allowances come together.  If you press the seams all the same way they nest together on the back and form a flat, unseen flower.  This presents another problem if you have open seams at the Y-seams.  Somewhere you have to let the seams change direction and press.  Some people say this is a no-no, but others find it doesn't affect the finished product.  I have done it many times and am comfortable doing it.  After all, you want both the center and the Y-seams to be perfect.  Here is a close-up of the center kaleidoscope.

At this point I was just beginning to learn to machine quilt.  I did 1/4 inch lines in each diamond, breaking thread in every one.  It was insane, and I thought I would wear out the quilt turning it four times for each diamond.  The borders were also done with 1/4 inch straight lines.  The black background was medium stippling.  I am told that is a very difficult way to start, but I didn't know it at the time.  By the time I finished this quilt I had just about decided I never wanted to machine quilt ever again.  That has changed as you will see in future posts.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


A truly new quilter welcomes suggestions from those in the know, and as she grows her talent she will be ready to make her own decisions.

The quilt that I am showcasing today is a case where intended helpful suggestions were not welcome.  I now know that there are ways of telling a person kindly that you prefer to decide on your own.  In my case, I wanted this quilt to be pink…all pink.  I knew that I needed some dark fabric, but wanted to stay in the red-pink spectrum.  The helpful lady in the quilt shop told me I needed something really dark and different so she brought out a bolt of blue.  It wasn't what I wanted, but I acceded to her opinion.  I went home and made the quilt.  It is an "Irish Chain" and is quilted by hand with intricate hearts in the white areas.  I am sorry the quilting doesn't show in the photo as I was pleased with it.  However,  I still do not like the blue in the quilt only because I wanted it to be all pink.

I made a mistake, but I learned from it.  Be sure you have chosen colors and fabrics that make you happy…that give you that "Ahhhh" feeling that this is right.  Don't let others make these kinds of decisions for you.  Even a newbie knows what colors she likes.

My cousin took a class in which she was required to choose a fabric she didn't like and incorporate it into her quilt.  She did as she was told in good faith.  She hated that quilt and had a very hard time finishing it.  She still hates it.  Colors are feelings and are different for everyone.  Listen to your feelings.

As an aside, you may look at this quilt of mine and say, "Goodness, that looks crumply and crooked."  Yes, it probably is.  I didn't know anything about blocking quilts when I made it.  You are looking at my history so you can take advantage of some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Learning to Quilt

I love to create and construct my own quilt designs.  This takes time and does not always go smoothly. I have shown a few of my quilts and won some awards, but I am not prolific as my quilts are complex and take a lot of time to design and put together.

I started sewing when I was a very young child by doing embroidery and then branching out to making doll clothes.  I would sit on my bed for hours stitching together my own designs.  Some worked and others didn't.  What a great introduction to sewing!  Eventually, I made my own clothes and then those of my children.  By the time the empty nest was looming one of my daughters began to quilt and teach others to do the same in China.  Longing for something to sew, I followed her example with a small, simple, Dresden Plate quilt using the English Paper Piecing technique.  It was done all by hand while I watched my grandson at his swimming lessons.  That was a little more than 20 years ago.  Below are a couple of quilts I made as I progressed.  It is important to start with the basics before tackling the more advanced designs and techniques.

"Crossings" is a simple quilt, but I had fun arranging the shading and cutting up a border print.  It incorporates basic, square blocks, made from triangles and thus required manipulating bias.  There are borders to line up, some paper piecing in the sashing, and fussy cutting.  The idea of redesigning fabric by fussy cutting has always appealed to me.

This Christmasy quilt is called "Shining Stars" because it was made during the Christmas season and incorporates some brocade and shiny satin.  My daughter and I were holed up in a hotel room for 2 1/2 months while she was attended by Mayo doctors to repair a badly injured leg.  With one sewing machine we were each able to make a quilt.  It elicits wonderful memories of our special activities together during a hard time.  This was my first attempt at stars, but by then I was able to manage the sewing.  I had more trouble with machine quilting because I didn't know what I was doing, and my thread kept breaking.  I crocheted four little round designs to cover up places where I didn't like the way the seams looked.  Sometimes you just do what it takes to make it look good!

That is enough for today.  I will share some more of my quilts in the next post.