Friday, February 28, 2014

Cheerful Dragon

"Cheerful Dragon" is a wonderful name for a dragon. I looked at many websites to find a dragon that wouldn't scare my 8 year old grandson every time he slept under it.  He had seen a quilt I made for his much older half-brother and he wanted one too.  I told him I would make him a quilt, but it would not be the same as his brother's, and asked him what colors he liked.  With his information in mind I searched online for a dragon that would be suitable and found this delightful, smiling creature on a fabric panel.  Then I searched for Chinese characters to incorporate in the design, and asked his Chinese father to approve their meaning, which he did.  Designing was easy as was construction.  I just had to make sure the pieces fit together.  It was fun to do something quick and easy.

This is the only photo I have of this quilt so you will have to pardon the extraneous elements in the background (extra feet, etc.)  As you can see, this quilt became a Christmas gift that year for a happy little boy.

I ran into very few problems constructing this quilt so it was finished quickly and easily.  It mostly entailed careful measuring and cutting. You know the old adage, "Measure twice, cut once."  There is an interesting article about measuring and rulers by Jenny K. Lyon here.  I have read that you should choose one brand of ruler and use it for all your various sizes.  Personally I like the green OmniGrid rulers, and they are available in most quilting outlets.

Hoping that the quilt would be used and loved, I did not spend time with lots of fancy quilting.  The exception is that I quilted all the defining lines of the dragon and stitched every scale on his body.  Around him I quilted straight rays, which originated from the center.  The borders are walking foot straight lines 1/2 inch apart, and I outlined the characters and stippled the red panels around them.  See Leah Day for lots of quilting ideas.

TIP:  You guessed it.  Measure carefully, accurately and often.

TIP:  Stitch in the ditch in all the seams.  This will avoid slippage as you do the decorative quilting and makes it all look so much better.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Puzzle Quilt

Here is a quilt that was just plain fun.  It is called a Puzzle Quilt from the book "Puzzle Quilts:  Simple Blocks, Complex Fabrics by Paula Nadelstern.  She is another very talented fabric and pattern designer and quilt maker.  The idea is to cut triangles from different, interesting fabrics, and she gives direction as to what is likely to work best.  In doing this I learned a lot about which fabric motifs create movement and make a block more interesting.  I also fussy cut some of the triangles.  My finished blocks were to be 12 inches square so I cut a piece of cheap, plastic tablecloth about 16 inches square, set it on my ironing board, and arranged triangles on the flannel back until I got a pleasing design.  Ms. Nadelstern suggests several main arrangements with variations for each, but your fabric choices are what will make your quilt.  She also shows photos of several finished quilts.  I loved playing with the fabrics and even dragged my husband in for his opinion now and then.  Since his head works very differently than mine, I got some interesting opinions, many of which were very useful.

TIP:  Avoid open windows and fans or you might get a colorful snowstorm of triangles.

I read the book fairly completely before I did the quilt, but I missed a critical element.  I wondered why she called it a "puzzle quilt."  Later I read that you are supposed to make your blocks so that there are two of each pattern, for which you use different fabric choices.  If you number my blocks like you read a book then #2 and #6 are the same pattern.  The idea is for an admirer to try to find the blocks with the same pattern.  I didn't do that, but instead just played, had fun, and love this quilt that now resides on the back of my sofa.  It is the perfect size to use for decoration or as a lap quilt.

For quilting I used the Baptist Fan design.  This link takes you to a website that shows a very clever way to draw the design.  I happened to use Adobe Illustrator on my computer.  Once I had the design printed I copied it onto one piece of  Golden Threads tracing paper.  Then I cut 12 pieces of the tracing paper, each large enough for a block, stapled them securely together and machine stitched through the pile without  thread.  This left holes as guide lines.  You can also stitch through only one if you want to use pouncing chalk.  I suppose you could use your walking foot to do the quilting, but I decided to try my hand at free motion so I could avoid turning the quilt so much.  I did OK, got a lot of practice, broke a few needles and broke the thread sometimes, but those frustrations can provide motivation if you can figure out what caused them to happen.  I quilted a simple design in the sashing, but still used the tracing paper to keep it regular. (Sorry the photography is not up to snuff here, but the quilting is pretty much background noise and doesn't show much even on the quilt itself.  Great way to learn!

TIP:  Read the books you buy!  It is amazing how much you can learn when you think you already know how to do something.

TIP:  Triangles have a bias edge and you must treat it with gentle hands and move it through the machine without stretching if you plan to have a quilt with straight edges.  Please be sure that the straight edges are on the straight and crosswise grains of the fabric or you might have an unpredictable mess when you put the quilt together.

TIP:  Cut the triangles a smidge large, then carefully measure and trim each square after sewing two together, making sure the diagonal line of the ruler lines up with the diagonal seam.  That way the 12 inch block will come out to be the proper 12 1/2 inches (that includes 1/4 inch seam allowance).

Friday, February 21, 2014


I love Jinny Beyer designs and fabrics so it is understandable that I fell prey to the pattern she named "Synergy."  It was published in McCall's Quilting magazine February 2007.  Her patterns have so much movement, depth and color.  I visited her shop in VA once and was entranced by all her beautiful fabrics.  What a treat.

Synergy was my introduction to spiral quilts, although I didn't know it until several years later when I picked up a book by RaNae Merrill called "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts."  It is comprised of sixteen blocks made in the same fashion as a traditional Log Cabin block, but with triangles instead of rectangles.  It is sometimes called a Twisted Log Cabin.  I used the paper piecing technique, but instead of copying the published master pattern, I drew it out on my computer so I could easily print out the necessary 16 paper patterns.  There are directions on how to sew this block without using paper here.  I must confess that I have not tried the latter method.  I happen to enjoy paper piecing or foundation piecing as it is also called.  I love Sulky Paper Solvy for paper piecing because I can run it through my printer, and it is soluble so you don't have to tear the paper out when the sewing is done.  I tear out the bulk of it anyhow, but any little pieces left will disappear when the quilt is immersed in water.

I love the way this pattern swirls and flows so I tried some quilting that reflected that quality.  It is not very imaginative, but remember, I was just learning and this was another step up for me.  I got hooked on curly-cues early on for the the red border.  Mine are very inexact, although I prefer to call them "organic."   I find curves easier to do than straight anything, but then I landscaped the lawn with curves too (drives my husband crazy!).  Leah Day has many ideas for quilting.

I have published these TIPS on paper piecing before, but it never hurts to review them:

TIP:  When paper piecing be sure that the fabric covers the required area and seam allowance completely … you go.

TIP:  Be sure to press the seam every time you stitch and press it all the way back away from the stitched join.  Sulky Paper Solvy  gets scorched and brittle from ironing if there are a lot of seams.  I now use the Hera Marker to do "finger pressing."  I find I do a better job of getting the fabric tightly pressed and I don't scorch the paper or my fingers.  A toothbrush back also works.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Storm at Sea

Today I am returning to Memory Lane with a Storm at Sea quilt.  Unfortunately the color looks dull on this page.  It is really quite vibrant even though some of the colors are pastel.  I used Michael Miller's Fairy Frost fabrics for the light colors.

After the Storm

This is a fascinating pattern and has been done numerous times with almost as many variations as quilts.  It is interesting, it is colorful and it has amazing movement, and it all happens with only two blocks and a variation on one of those two blocks as demonstrated below.

These were drawn on Adobe Illustrator with precision in mind.  After I had drawn the basic pieces I set them together in the general design of the common "Storm at Sea" and began to add color.  I actually did only one quarter of it because all four quarters are exactly the same.  It is like working in a coloring book, which I loved doing as a child.

You don't have to, but I paper pieced the blocks because I like the precision I get with this technique, and the pieces are pretty small.  The blocks are only 4" square with the diamond being 2"x4."  Of course, they can be made any comparable size you want.  I have done a miniature with 2" blocks and have seen it done with 8" blocks.  I labeled every column (8 of them) with a letter.  I labeled every row with a number (1-8) and the center row with a capital C.  On each quarter I only needed one of the center row as the other center column (that would be the  "i" column) goes on the adjoining quarter.  A color print of this labeled quarter was pinned to my design wall to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I keep old envelopes in a sewing drawer for organization purposes.  These are just small mailing envelopes and I labeled each one in pencil (so I can erase and use them for the next project):  1a, 1b, 1c…….., 2a, 2b, 2c,…….., etc.  That is a lot of envelopes and each one ended up with four of its labelled block, one for each quarter of the quilt.  A shoebox is nice to keep them all corralled.  Once organized like this I was able to take my box of completed blocks to Quilt Camp and put it all together without having to think very hard.  Even so, when I got home I noticed 4 blocks either in the wrong place or turned 90º or 180º.  Yes, I had to haul out the seam ripper, turn, and restitch.  I think I had to make one block over again from scratch, but considering that I had 288 blocks all together it could have been worse.

Once complete, I added a seaworthy fabric as a frame.  The quilting is an edge-to-edge ocean wave sort of design.  See, I am getting better.  I tried a new pattern for my quilting and got lots of practice doing a simple, curvy design so I could concentrate on moving my quilt around and keeping my stitches even….and I didn't even have to mark the quilting lines after practicing on scraps.

The quilt blocks are not hard, but you just have to be careful putting them together right.  See the many variations of this design on Pinterest.  You can get a free pattern here or you can draw your own as I did.

TIP:  Color or mark your paper foundation to make sure you are putting the right color in the right place.  I print out my foundations with about 40% color opacity so I am sure to grab the right fabric as I am piecing. 

TIP:  Organization is critical for a quilt like this.  If you look closely, blocks with the same basic design often have colors placed differently.

TIP:  Check twice or more before sewing the pieces together.  It is too easy to get one of them turned.

TIP:  Watch your points so you don't clip them off as you sew the seams.   

TIP:  Practice your quilting.  It is the only way to improve.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Creativity and a Red and White Design

I am finishing the quilting on one quilt.  Another quilt needs to be blocked and bound.  A third one has been in the planning stages for 3-4 years, and I got started on it when I got stymied on the other two waiting for a couple of online orders to arrive.  You'd think all those UFOs would keep me busy enough, but the mind is a strange confusion of nerve connections and molecules, and they are always yelling at me, "What are you going to do next?"  I respond to my brain, "I don't know, but something will turn up, turn over, or arise from under the layers of my stash."  While one idea was formulating in the wings, I came across a Red and White Design Challenge tossed out by SewCalGal.  She is challenging her readers to create a new design and does not require that you make the quilt.  You can do that in Phase III if you choose to.  I am stimulated and inspired when the gauntlet is tossed onto my sewing floor.  I have to pick it up because my physical space is so limited.

The requirement is that the design be your own, but it must be red and white ONLY.  These are not really my colors, but I found the idea exciting and I have quite a few reds and white-on-whites in my stash.  You can use many shades of red and of white, but nothing else.  Below is what I came up with:

Red Galaxy
This quilt is all paper pieced using techniques for design and construction from "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts" by RaNae Merrill.  I work on a Mac using Adobe Illustrator, which I like very much and because I think doing it with pencil and paper would be far more difficult.  I would have to own an eraser company.  I can also preview colors and fabrics on the computer, make changes quickly, and easily manipulate the design.

The finished quilt is 51 x 56.5 inches.  The Challenge rules also require that I post the amount of fabric needed so here it is:

Very dark red = 2 1/2 yards
Dark red = 1 1/2 yards
Scarlet red = 3 1/4 yards
Bright red = 1 1/4 yards
Dark pink = 1 1/4 yards
Light pink = 3/4 yard
Very light pink = 3/8 yard
White (can be various fabrics) = 2.5 yards
White for background (all same) = 1 3/4 yards

TIP:  Accept Challenges as they help you grow.  Try new colors as they expand your color perceptions.  Even when you don't win anything you learn new techniques, which you can use in other quilts.  You learn more about what you like to work on and what you are good at.  Sometimes you find out about things that you don't care about doing, and then you reevaluate and redirect your energy.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fussy Necessity

I was finished with all my works in progress.  What to do.  I have to have a sewing project.  I love Jinny Beyer's unique patterns and use of color so I went to her website and found a free pattern called "Coraline."  (I see that it is no longer free.)  I had a beautiful border fabric, but it was a bit short of the amount required for the quilt.  I did a lot of fussy cutting, measuring, making one pattern piece into two, scratching my head and rethinking.  I managed to chop the fabric up enough to complete the quilt with very little left over.  This is the final result of my version of  "Coraline."  I have mixed emotions about it because I really didn't have my heart in it.  I just wanted a project. The best part was that most or maybe all of the fabric was teased out of my stash.

 This pattern allowed freedom to do some more formal and ambitious free motion quilting than I had done before.  Unfortunately my photo does not show what I did. I have decided that photographing the quilting is a must as I look back at my quilts and can't remember what I did.  I must get those quilts out of storage!  Still too much snow and ice!  It is also a testament to my lack of confidence in my free motion quilting.  I still hadn't discovered Leah Day but did have couple of  Hari Walner's books of patterns.  The thread choices were made to fade into the quilt:  white on white, blue on blue, etc.  That way my wiggly lines and uneven stitches would not be as noticeable.  Perfection is an admirable goal, but probably unrealistic for most of us.  Keep on plugging.  It only gets better if you practice.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Asian Window

I love Asian fabrics and designs.  I don't know what exactly attracts me, but I always stop in the Asian section of any quilt store I visit and I have made several quilts with an Asian theme.  I fell in love with every aspect of this fabric:  birds, colors, moon, volcano.  It just spoke to me and kept calling for awhile as it sat in the closet begging to be released.  I have also liked the look of the "Attic Window" pattern, but this fabric needed something bigger than traditional, little windows.  I sat down at the computer and drew out a perspective view of a series of windows on Adobe "Illustrator," my go-to design program.  Once the design was on the screen I printed out the various parts and pieces, which became the cutting patterns.  From there it was just a matter of cutting my beautiful fabric (oh how hard that was!) in a way that would showcase the design elements.  Did I succeed?

Birds through the Window
My Asian grandson walked into my sewing room and saw the pieces partially arranged on my design wall, and he said, "Wow, Grandma!  That is cool."  Ultimately I gave it to him as he loves all things Asian.

The window sills and frame were quilted in straight lines, close together with a walking foot, but I went all out in a new direction by quilting around the birds' feathers.  This was the first time I attempted anything so detailed and intricate and it was my first time with metallic thread.  Quilting around fabric designs is a fabulous way to learn to control machine quilting.  Somehow, you will know when you are ready for this.  The background behind the birds is quilted with long, flowing flame stitches that follow the lines of color.   The stitching on the volcano follows the path that lava might flow and the moon has some squiggly, curlies on it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


I love intricate complexities.  I love doing kaleidoscopes.  I began the following quilt before the "Stack-n-Whack" craze started.  Enter that in your search engine and you will find lots of directions and at least one book.  I tried one once and was not successful.  My daughter has made several and they are beautiful.  Strange as it may seem, I am happy to work with a template and fussy cut each triangle like Paula Nadelstern directs in her "Kaleidoscopes and Quilts."

Many of the blocks of this quilt were created from the border print that surrounds the center.  I spent one whole weekend at quilt camp putting these together and never tired of it.  Each one turned out so cool although I liked some better than others.

I can't see how I quilted it and since my quilts are buried by more snow I can't get it out to look.  I think it is probably quilted in the ditch.  If I were to do this quilt today I would stitch a pretty design into the light blue border.  That would settle the puckering down.  Each kaleidoscope block would be perfect for interesting flowers, all different from each other.  I probably would have quilted around the motifs in the the border.  However, we have to start at the beginning to get better.

TIP:  How to fussy cut the kaleidoscope triangles:
1.  Cut a triangle template from clear template plastic, including the seam allowance.  The measurement of the triangle depends on your final shape.  A hexagon uses six 60º triangles.  An octagon uses eight 45º triangles.
2.  Move a hinged mirror around the fabric until you find a spot that makes a nice design.
3.  Lay the template over the chosen part of the fabric and make marks with pencil on the plastic so you can line up the template on the same part of another, same motif for the next triangle.  
4.  Line up the template on the fabric and mark around the edge with a fine marker.  Move it to another place on the fabric to the same motif and repeat as many times as necessary.
5.  Cut the triangles carefully on the marked line.
6.  Sew together carefully by hand or machine (that is another lesson).

Friday, February 7, 2014

Folded Flowers

Asian quilts attract me with their intricacies and unique techniques.  I found a pattern for this little quilt at Shibori Dragon, a quilt shop in the Seattle area.  I do not know to whom to attribute this pattern and can no longer find it in my files or on the Internet.  It was a fun project to take on a weekend, winter junket to Lake Wenatchee, WA, where I knew I would spend a lot of time indoors watching the unfolding beauty of an icy lake.  The flowers are made by folding fabric in ways that are similar to origami.

The background is made of square blocks pieced together.  The folded flowers are stitched onto he quilt by hand.  You can learn how to do make folded, fabric flowers in Rebecca Wat's book "Fantastic Fabric Folding."  I used antique buttons for the flower centers.

 The floating, green twigs are made with 1/8 inch silk ribbon.  I ran long, running stitches with ordinary thread and then wove the ribbon through the first stitch, then back the other direction through the second stitch, and so on, back and forth.  Finally, I turned the end under and blind stitched it down.  In the next photo you can see them more clearly.

Within the second border I did Sashiko embroidery.  It was fun to do a different design in each of the blocks.  You can use traditional designs found in Asian quilt books and magazines, on the Web, or make up your own.  The second photo shows a small bit of the sashiko.  Again, this quilt is in storage and I can't plow through the snow to pull it out for clearer photos.  

TIP:  Don't be afraid to try something new.  Quilting is an art that uses so many wonderful techniques.  Break out of your rut.  Try a new type of pattern or idea.  What you learn you will be able to use in future quilts.

If you can't figure out how to quilt your quilt, be sure to check out Leah Day's Free Motion Quilting Project.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Class Quilt

Today's quilt is the result of a class taken by my daughter and myself many years ago.  Everyone in the class made the same quilt, but used different fabrics.  The main thing we learned was how to use freezer paper for appliqué.  We learned to secure the turned edges of the pieces to be appliquéd and then blind stitch them to the background.  The paper was then removed by making a slit in the background fabric.  I am not going to share the method we were taught in its entirety because it was very confusing and I generally don't use it.

The most interesting thing I learned was how to do Sashiko.  It is a type of decorative quilting sewn with relatively large running stitches and heavy, contrasting thread or yarn.  It is an Asian innovation to embroider the top fabric or to secure the top to the batting.  It does not go through the backing.

This is a very small quilt, only 12" x 12" and did not require extensive quilting.  At least we didn't do any!  Obviously this is one of my early quilts and I consider it a valuable learning experience.  The binding is horrible, but it was a start.  It takes time to learn to do a perfect binding.  Fodder for a future blog.  However, I will never look at this little effort of mine without remembering the fun it was to spend this time sharing quilting time with my daughter.

TIP:  Take classes.  I can guarantee that you will learn something no matter how little or how much experience you have had.

TIP:  Take time to share an activity with one or more family members.  It is very rewarding.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Little Crystal

If you are wondering why I am going back to my quilting beginnings I will give you two reasons.  One:  it is a good place to start my new blog.  Two:  I want you beginners to see that we all start at the bottom of the learning curve.  There is a lot to learn in quilting:  sewing, buying the right fabric, appraising values, organizing, measuring, putting it all together straight, quilting, and finishing it beautifully.  It takes time to learn the basics.  It takes time to achieve confidence.  Some of us have been sewing since childhood. Some have a natural talent for putting colors together.  Some have taken art classes, graphics classes, textile classes and more.  Others start from scratch.  The one thing we all have in common is that we like to sew and we like to create beautiful things.  That is my soap box for today.

Today's featured quilt is a little gem from a pattern called "Crystal" by Jinny Beyer, printed in "Quilts with Style" magazine in June 2004.  Using patterns is a great way to learn new techniques.  I had done some paper piecing, but this one was a challenging learning experience.  It is only 16 1/2" x 16 1/2" so the pieces are very small.  I don't think it could be done in any other way.  I discovered late in the process that one little piece was a tad bit too short and a tiny edge poked out, but it would be crazy to undo everything to get to it.  I left it as is because it was such a small imperfection and not really noticeable.  I was not into showing quilts yet and it will never be heavily used so it remains defective.  I will always know it is there, somewhere.  I am fussier now.

TIP:  When paper piecing be sure that the fabric covers the required area completely with seam allowance as necessary…as you go.

TIP:  Be sure to press the seam every time you stitch and press it all the way back away from the stitched join. I use Sulky Paper Solvy for the foundation, but if you have a lot of seams to press it gets scorched and brittle from the iron.  I now use the Hera Marker to do "finger pressing."  I find I do a better job of getting the fabric tightly pressed and I don't burn the paper or my fingers.  A toothbrush back also works.

This little quilt is quilted with the simplest looking, but a difficult type of quilting:  stitch-in-the-ditch.  It is good for a beginner to learn because while the foot helps maintain control, the eye must develop the ability to make sure the needle goes down in the right place.  Poorly done, it will show, but not nicely.  Well done, it will be invisible.