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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Let the sun shine in

The weather in Auckland has been pretty patchy this week - I woke to hail this morning. But, my day off yesterday was filled with sunshine - at least in my sewing room.


I won 15 sunrise blocks (7" x 14") from Block Lotto in June and a while ago I started piecing a giant sun to go in the center of a quilt to be surrounded by smaller ones. The half-sun blocks needed to be paired up to make full suns - and this was no easy task. It is always a compromise when you are working with elements in a quilt that were made by a variety of people.

I thought I would share my experience trying to put together some of these blocks. My goal is not to criticize any of the lovely quilters who contributed blocks - but there are challenges, and since this is the fifth quilt I've made from blocks that others have contributed, I have learned some lessons on how to best deal with some problems that come up.

I think that this block especially was at risk of being inconsistent. Different methods were offered for piecing (by hand or foundation paper pieced) and some people (including me) had trouble convincing their printers not to re-scale the patterns that were provided. A lesson to any of us creating a pattern for others: include dimensions on the pattern in both horizontal and vertical directions. My printout seemed correct in one direction, but I realized (luckily, not too late) that it was not correct in the other direction.

In my case, the variation of the width of the suns among the 15 blocks was almost an inch. Most were within 1/4 inch of each other. The sizes of the center half circles also varied, although not as much. My usual approach is to come up with a layout that obscures these differences - either with sashing or offsetting the blocks. But, some block designs are made to be interlinked and can often form intriguing secondary designs between them. For this project, I really wanted round suns, so I had to get creative.

I had three background colors to work with, so I grouped the blocks by background (blue, white, and yellow). Then I matched them up into pairs fitting them together as much as possible. Two blue ones were much bigger than the others and one of those was the biggest of the lot. For this one, I took in the large curved seam, especially at the edges by sewing outside the original stitching. This did slightly distort the block, but I knew I would trim them all square once they were paired up.

I needed to make one more half sun block so that I could have 8 pairs, so I made one with a yellow background to match the orphan that I had left. I admit that no pair is perfectly matched, but I don't mind. Now that they are all squared and trimmed, they look quite good on the design wall. I'm glad I kept every one that was sent to me and didn't give up on any of them by judging them too difficult to save. I can't imagine putting together 16 of these blocks myself - so I have 9 other quilters to thank. I made four of these blocks and they were pretty tricky. Three of them are in this quilt and the fourth (and best one) was sent to another winner.


The blocks were designed to finish at 14" and I've trimmed them down to finish at 13". The big center square will be a 32", so I'll need some sashing so that I can put two small suns on each side edge of the center. I also don't know what I will do in the corners. I guess I'll figure that out once I finish the two other quarters of the center sun.

Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced.

Stumbling towards the finish line

[NOTE: I was so disorganized when I wrote this last week that I never finished it - so, you have to imagine going back in time to read it and then moving forward in time to see the finished photos.]

Have you ever had a project that just didn't want to get finished? That's how I feel about my blue snowflake quilt - especially now that I've been so close to finishing for ages.

It's been a WIP for over 3 years and it was rescued from being a UFO a few times. In August I did a big push to get the last block appliqued and the top done, and by mid September it was mounted onto the Swiftquilter frame and I started the quilting. But then life got in the way and the quilting (which was more detailed than anything else I have done) took much longer than expected.

So, each deadline that I was trying to make, I missed:

  1. Auckland Quilt Guild Festival of Quilts submission on 4 October
  2. The Blogger's Quilt Festival (see Amy's Creative Side) entries closed on 31 October
  3. And finally, Auckland Festival of Quilts merchant's stand setup tomorrow (I know, there's still a chance I will make this one)

The quilt has been near-done for almost two weeks, but the hand sewing on the binding took me a while and the tucking of hundreds of thread tails is lingering over me like some leftover Halloween specter.

[Here it is - finished and hanging in our merchant stand.]


[Here's some detail, I love the back.]


And then there's Mario (of Nintendo Mario Brothers fame). I am used to missing deadlines for myself, but this is not a lesson that I want to teach my 10 year old right now. I moved through Halloween unscathed by costume prep because last year's still fit and she was happy to wear it again. But, when the invitation arrived for Charlie's "Video Game Dress Up Birthday Party" this Friday, I knew I was in trouble. I did suggest putting a box on her head in the style of Minecraft, but that was not popular.

So, it was off to source costume supplies last weekend - $50 later we had fabric for blue overalls, a red t-shirt, red fleece for a hat, white gloves, white buttons, yellow paint to cover the white buttons, and a variety of stick-on mustaches.

So far, the overalls are sewed together, the hat is made, and the buttons have been painted with about 10 coats of paint. All that's left is to seal the buttons with acrylic and sew them onto the overalls. I also have to make massive buttonholes for the big yellow buttons. My Juki F600 has a fab automatic button-hole attachment, but it has it's limitations - in this case 1-1/4" buttons. My buttons are more like 1-1/2", so I will need to do them old school. I am considering using Velcro instead, it is just a costume after all.

[Mario, all finished.]


Meanwhile, tomorrow is setup day for the Festival of Quilts and I will spend most of it packing up sewing machines, accessories, tables, a Swiftquilter, display quilts, etc. and then unpacking them all for the show.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quilting and Newton's laws of motion

The other day I was contemplating some physics - okay, that's a lie. But, there was a time, a long time ago, when I was quite embedded in physics and I was pretty good at it. Now, my applied mathematics is limited to calculating the size of a half square triangle, which I often get wrong the first time round.


But, I am a fan of Brian Cox and I'm sure he has never applied Newton's laws to quilting and creativity, so I may be the first. This is ground breaking stuff.
First law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
This is me and quilting - once I get going, I keep going, but if I stop I stay stopped. What is the force that starts or stops the motion? The stopping part is easy - they are the usual trappings of life: work, kid, pets, weather, cooking dinner, and whatever excuse I can come up with... But what is the force that gets things moving?
Second law: The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.
This one's a bit trickier, but it's all about force and acceleration. Basically, if the mass is constant, you need force to make it go faster. I'm considering my project as the mass, so I need to exert some force to ramp up rather than drift along at the constant speed that law one suggests.
Third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So, as my creativity and productivity accelerate because of the force I exert, there is going to be an opposite reaction to compensate - how about we get take out for dinner tonight (again)?

Stop rambling - tell us how this translates to the quilts?

The blue snowflake quilt is on the frame and I started quilting it (for real) yesterday. I had a few false starts on the weekend, but this quilt is 3+ years in the making and I was a bit nervous about taking the first stitch. Free motion quilting is hard to unpick, so there is a certain amount of commitment required.


I debated the quilting design and changed my mind 100 times. I wanted something that took advantage of the Swiftquilter setup and showcased what could be done. But, there are always those limitations to consider and these are half of the design challenge.


I did a lot of doodling and reviewed Angela Walters' Craftsy class Machine Quilting Negative Space. I took away some good ideas about changing the scale of the quilting design and echoing the piecing motifs in the negative space (thank you Angela). Progress is good and although I'm never 100% thrilled with my work up close, the overall effect is working well for me. I'm 1/3 done, so a few dedicated afternoons should get this one done.


I've also started piecing the center of a quilt that will use the sunrise blocks I won from Block Lotto a few months back. I found a pattern that I originally discovered as part of a New York Beauty Quilt Along a few years ago. The patterns are here (note: they are in German, the English links seem to be broken). I've chosen number 7 and scaled it up to finish at 16 inches.


So far I've finished one quarter and am working on the second. I don't always like foundation paper piecing, but it's the best way to get good results with a design like this. This time I am rough cutting the pieces because they are quite big and it's easy to misjudge the size and placement. I made templates with a 3/8 seam allowance and free-hand cut the fabric with my rotary cutter.


Of course, sometimes I still get it wrong - like this wedge that I sewed on backwards.


I hope to have both quilts done before the end of October. There's also a sewing day Saturday scheduled with a group I belong to - perhaps I will power through the rest of my green HST quilt...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finished tea towel owl quilt

This little quilt has been done for a little while, but I have had some trouble finding a good spot to photograph it. How do you take photos of your finished quilts?


The lovely Helen hand quilted around the owls for me after I had a nervous breakdown trying to do it myself. And, my mom did the binding because I was too busy. I had hoped to bring it along to the show in Hamilton, but did not quite get there.

The quilt is destined for the wall - the vintage tea towel in the center was a splurge and I suspect the colors will fade with washing. It was started when Sophie organised a tea towel challenge at the beginning of the year.

You can see more posts on this project here.

Blue snowflake quilt top ready for quilting

After a few false starts, I finally settled on a layout for my blue snowflake blocks. The wide sashing and borders makes good use of the feature fabric and makes a real statement. I like that it's different than the traditional narrow sashing with wide border. There is a lot of room for quilting and I plan to make this one a showpiece for what can be done on the Swiftquilter. Of course, this is limited by my skills - improving, but by no means expert.


The usual echoing around the applique is not possible using the frame. The blocks are too big for that. So, I will need to use a fill around them to create some texture and bring out the applique. I was experimenting with tiny matchstick lines while working on our stand at the Craft & Quilt Fair in Hamilton last month. I think it might be an effective technique around the snowflakes. It is dense, which means that the other areas will also need to be quilted with at least a medium density to balance it out

This is always a nerve-wracking process. There's no unpicking dense quilting; once I get started, I can't go back. I've ordered some thread for the job (should have thought of that earlier), so I'll get started when that arrives in a week or so.

Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quilting time

After a long period of little sewing, I have managed to move forward on a few things.

Last weekend Melanie and Robyn (from Monday Moderns), my mother, and I started quilting one of the two community quilts that I picked up from the Auckland Quilt Guild at the last meeting. A few of the girls were interested in giving the Swiftquilter a try and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finish off a few quilts for the guild to give away.


After a brief intro on using the frame, we worked through some ideas for the quilting. I admit that this is the hardest part of quilting on the frame - there's a bit of forward planning required. I suppose that this is the case with all quilting. The simple block design on the little quilt made a good guide to quilt around. We ended up with some diagonal squiggles and some spiral-centered daisies in the squares and feathers and swirls in the narrow border.


The group managed to quilt about half the quilt with everyone taking turns. I finished it up during the week and then mounted another one onto the frame. I made quick work of it with an all-over pattern.


Both quilts still need binding - I have a few volunteers, so hopefully, they will be back to the guild soon to give to someone that will appreciate them.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Progess after 3+ years

My blue snowflakes have resurfaced after taking me almost 3-1/2 years to applique 9 blocks. I thought I had decided how I would lay them out and the number of each type (light on dark or dark on light) was determined by this layout. But, after some analysis, drawing, calculating, whining, and recalculating I decided on a different direction.


I admit that my taste has changed over the years and although I still love the colors and the focal fabric (above), I didn't want to use a traditional on-point layout with sashing and borders which was my original plan. But I also do not (I repeat: DO NOT) want to make any more applique blocks. So, I added 1/2 square trianges to the corners to put the blocks on point without needing to mess with setting trianges. This also made all of the blocks one color, so the mix/match of the dark and light backgrounds would be less obvious.


I kept wanting to introduce some green, then maybe use the focal fabric as a few blocks. But this fabric is busy and it all looked too much. But without it, all the fabrics didn't quite go with each other and there was too much white.

So with mom's advice, I have gone back to sashing - wide 4 inch sashing and borders using the focal fabric. It does work, I think because of all that white to break up the busy print and not distract from the applique. The size of the quilt will be a bit odd as a 58-inch square - not exactly a king single which was the plan.

I'm already thinking about how to quilt it. There will be a lot of negative space, so it will require something interesting. Hopefully it won't be 3 years until I get around to finishing it.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced WIP Wednesday.