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Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas sewing - just a little

Some years I try to make most Christmas gifts, but this has not happened for a few years now; however, I did manage a few small things.

I made two tote bags following Adrianne's tutorial. I used a different size to maximise my piece of Soft & Stable and I did some straight line quilting to keep some of the layers together. My bags also have a bigger footprint - I chose to sew a 2" box corner. They went together super fast and the biggest issue was finding webbing for the straps that matched. These two were given as gifts to my two coworkers, one of whom had a tote in such bad shape I was starting to be a little embarrassed going around with her.


I also made four coasters for a Monday Modern Secret Santa - as is often the case with me, I forgot to take a photo before gifting it. Last year's was the same. I did a pretty traditional looking pattern using silver/white half square triangles on mostly black. The squares are 1" resulting in a 4" coaster. They looked a little bland, so I bound each one in a super bright solid binding (lime, coral, aqua, and hot pink). Here's a drawing of the design.


After a few years, I made two more woodland creatures (is a fungus a creature?) for the advent calendar. I am hoping to do at least one more before Christmas. These are so cute and go together so quickly, I don't really have an excuse why I haven't done more. I ordered the pattern from Etsy - they are by Amy Ray.


I have now finished work for a long while - I will return when my daughter starts school (6 weeks from now). I will hopefully get some sewing done when we are home - we are away for 3 weeks during the holidays.

Top priority is my center block for the 2015 Cotton Robin round robin. It is due by the end of January and since we will be away, I need to get it finished before I leave. This year's challenge is to use a color or color combination that we have not used before. I know I won't use blue or green, but it's hard to work out what I should use. Can't share more because it has to stay a secret, but here's last year's finish with my center block.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A dress

Lately I've been having trouble finding clothes for my daughter. Here in New Zealand, there seems to be a large hole in the sizes - most kids things only go to 8 or 10 and then suddenly there's nothing. There are few girls size 12, and nothing in a 14 or 16. I'm told she has to wear women's sizes, but she's shaped like a child, not a woman. The XS necklines are halfway to her tummy and the sleeves are 4 inches too long.

So, when faced with her primary school graduation (since when do you graduate from year 6?), I turned to some ancient skills - sewing clothes. There was a time many years ago when I would spend the weekend tailoring a fitted lined suit out of Italian wool crepe to a Vogue Donna Karan pattern. Those days are long gone and it's been over a decade since I followed a dress pattern.


But, some of the girls dresses go up to a 16, so I thought this would be the way to go until my girl gets taller and curvier.

We picked out a pattern (and then called around looking for somewhere who had it in stock - tricky) and some cotton fabric. I spent much of Sunday and another 45 minutes last night finishing it off. Everything was straight forward except the zipper - I always hated zippers. I used to prefer invisible ones in my pencil skirts and cocktail dresses, but I thought I'd just follow the instructions for the standard zipper. It's always the top part near where the slider stops that gets me. And there's always a gap at the top and I can never get the required hook and eye to work. But ignoring that, it came out great.


Since most of my sewing lately has been quilting, it's nice to try out some other techniques and stitches on my Juki F600 machine. The buttonholes turned out fine and I even used the blind hem stitch and special foot for the hem. I'm quite pleased at the end result. Maybe I'll make myself something...

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.