Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Signs of Spring and Summer

I've watched the Blogger's Quilt Festival from afar before but this year I've decided to actually enter. It's inspired me so much and now I get to be a part!

For me this quilt is so simple but it represents a real sense of progress for me. I know that it's probably not considered "advanced" or "intricate" but all the points are good, the borders were the right size, it's the first quilt I did entirely freehand on my frame, and also? I used up every single bit of the fat quarters. It's officially a stash-buster. I think back to my very first quilt, paper pieced and sweet but not really "me." And then there's this one, it's *all* me and it's currently draped over my love seat bringing screamingly bright spring and summer into my house even when it's thundering outside.

When I first saw the Dulcinea Schnibble I loved the soft colors of the original. But when I went to make it the fabric that called me was altogether NOT soft. I went with Deb Strain's "Fresh Flowers" along with some scraps of Fresh just to use them up. I finished it a while ago but just managed to get the binding on it last weekend.

With Steve not around to help with the holding-up duties, and given that it's a Schnibble, I enlisted the help of a Schnibble-sized helper. Clearly she gets her quilt display skills from her father. (I tried to pick just one of these pictures but I swear I just couldn't decide)

And for those who like their quilts in a more wearable fashion:

I was going to ask her to show off the new top I made her but clearly that will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A day in the life of a quilt

When last we met it was roughly noon and I was chain piecing the second points on my stars. the more I worked at it the more precise I got. I've never done one that was "perfect" but I feel good about how I improved and I only felt the need to redo two or three of the points in that second chain piecing run!

1pm - Time to press them back, trim them off, and press them open. Which sounds like some kind of horribly sadistic aerobics move from the 80's.

There's our babies, all in a row in sets of four. This picture is specially courtesy of the acrylic extension table that comes standard with my new sewing machine. I have a Janome Horizon and I'm a total convert. My clunky basic machine still works like a champ but it's so LOUD. With this one? I'm like a sewing ninja. Soooo quiet.

Now it's time to get the three strips of this star done. Do you guys do them like that? I do two side strips and the center strip with the big square.

2:15 - I'm on my last set of strips to chain piece and then I'll press the seams open and get ready to complete the stars. It always seems like stars take forever and then suddely you have a whole pile of them. I love that moment.

I know what you're thinking. An hour and 15 minutes to chain piece so few stars? Let's be fair,

At some point I did need to have lunch. In this case I polished off the last of the small vat of chili that Steve and I made when The Small Demanding One went off to Camp Grandma. It was so good and just the boost I needed.

Pause for a moment to admire the little details: mud splattered pull-behind bike trailer for the little girl to go on bike rides with her dad? Check. Netflix app running on my iPhone? Check. Seriously, y'all. I'm lucky I'm grandfathered into the original unlimited plan because I use my phone more for TV and movies than I do for phone calls. By a factor of about 10:1. Kitchen table I made myself from scratch? Check? (do *not* look at the big spot where the stain didn't soak in right) Lunch being eaten from early 80's Tupperware? Awww yeah. It's all about the details.

3:15 - At this point I've got all the sections of the stars pinned together and just need to finish piecing, separate and press them. It's starting to look like I'm making some progress.

And before you say anything, yes, my pins are organized in my pincushion. It helps me find the ones I want without digging around. Don't judge.

While we're at this point let's talk about why I'm now a huge fan of pressing my flying geese open. Also why I love both my sewing machine and my camera. Probably especially my camera.

See that spot right at the top of the point? That's where I want to stick my needle. I's not as easy for me to see the sweet spot when I'm working with seams pressed to one direction or the other.

Pretend I remembered to blow he dust off my 1/4" foot before I took that picture, please. Also this one:

Bingo, right on the spot. In this shot you can see my only gripe with the Horizon, see how the right feed dogs aren't actually fully under the side of the foot? It doesn't throw me off, but c'mon, how hard would it have been to notice that and fix it?

4:15 - All the stars are done and pressed open.

At this point I stood up to stretch my back and looked outside. For just a week or so this:

was outside my window. I love this tree, it was blooming like this the day we closed on the house and it always reminds me of that lovely day. I snatched up my camera and headed outside for a while.

I smiled and sat in the grass for a bit, I farted around on the internet, I enjoyed how quiet my house was for he moment. Then I got back to the grindstone.

5:40 - The borders for each star block are in opposing groups. Two short ones on each of two opposite sides, then one long one on each of the other two sides. At this point I've got all the short ones pieced together and pressed open and I'm getting them on to the star blocks.

Happiness is a total chain piecing pile-up. Okay, let's get these puppies finished.

6:30 - Whew. Done. With the blocks, I mean.

They go with absolutely nothing in my house but they make me SO HAPPY. Let's try out some layouts. I counted the blocks and decided that I wanted one longer as opposed to square, that narrows down my options.

6:45 - This is what I've settled on. I'm loving it.

So let's get it together, eh?

9:20 - Strips sewn together.

I know, I know. You're like "What the hay, Melly? It took you almost three hours to do that?" No, but a girl's gotta eat, yo. I stopped for dinner and a little TV and a phone call with my mother that went on for like 45 minutes but I can't remember a single thing we talked about (I love those calls). Anyway, it was time well spent is what I'm saying. I make up for the delay by being able to say....

9:45 - Done.

It's all together and just waiting for the laser stylus to arrive so I can give it a fun swirly all-over and make sure it gets to Project Linus. I love it and the idea that it may go out into the world and brighten someone's day is why I'm in this hobby.

My favorite star? I'm glad you asked.

Isn't it just so... happy?

Now, what have we learned today?

The secret to better piecing is sadly not a new tool or book or machine or even pixie dust. Just like everything else the secret is patience, persistence, and practice.

I'm a big fan of pressing my seams open. It's more work but I the results were worth it. And with the time I saved by *not* having to do some stuff over I may have done a nice break even on the time spent.

And finally? Atkinson's patterns are perfect for fat quarters. In fact she even details how many blocks you'll get out of how many fat quarters and what kind of layout you can make with that. Do keep that in mind and count your FQ before you cut. Lest you end up like me:

with two leftover blocks. Pillowcases perhaps?

And for a sneak peak of what's next, a fantastic busting of my stash of oranges:

Have a great evening, gang!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Like the world's slowest time-lapse photography

Let me preface this by saying that y'all know I love my girl. She's 18 shades of awesome and when she says "Mommy, I'm going to make you a quilt!" or "Mommy, I love you" or.. well.. anything, it just melts my heart. That being said, sometimes quiet time is nice, too.

This past Saturday my beloved was off hitting people with swords (no, really!) and our little ball of chaos was off being spoiled by her grandparents (that's their job!) and I took full advantage of the time. Not only did I spend the entire day quilting, I decided to take you along with me by taking photos every hour to document my progress.

Friday night I finished up Eventide and did a couple of proof-of-concept blocks for the quilt I planned on making Saturday. I also hauled all the rest of my tools and rulers and bits up from my sewing room in the basement and into the kitchen. I *love* my sewing room but it's in the basement and if I'd spent the entire day down there I'd have felt like a bit of a troll. The kitchen gets masses of light and I'd be able to hear if anyone came to the door and make myself some tea.

Here we are at 9:30 in the morning.

Hmmm. You see my dilemma. That chair is too short, that soda is not mine, I'm not sure where the pattern is and somewhere in here:

.. is my seam ripper. Also my thread snips, my good scissors (when you're a leftie these things really matter) but OH! there's the pattern. Okay, making some progress. But still, it would be a good idea to tidy up. Also breakfast would be good. And some of my own soda. I don't drink coffee, I just start drinking Diet Coke at breakfast. Gotta pick your poison, eh?

10am - Ahh, much better. Table cleaned off, fabric cut and organized. I see my seam ripper, my thread snips, and my favorite chair. (It's orange! I love orange.) Now, let's get to sewing. We're going to do Terry Atkinson's "Lucky Stars" pattern because it's awesome with fat quarters, looks fast and easy, and I do love stars. We're using the stack of fat quarters I got of Riley Blake's "Bloom and Grow" by My Mind's Eye in the coral/blue colorway. I used most of the brown and orange for a fall quilt that's sitting in the UFO pile. Should I be working on UFOs instead? I'll pretend you didn't say that.

11am - I've got two piles going. One of these -

One side of the little star points with the seams set and ready to be pressed open. Cordless iron? Best present I ever got. My poor mom was traumatized about giving me an iron. I think she worried it would seem like she was reinforcing some kind of stereotype to give me a housekeeping appliance. I thank her for it about once every month. And a pressing cloth. Not to protect my fabric, but to protect my pressing surface because I use starch like it's going out of style. I make it myself or I'd go broke on it.

Also, I have a pile of these -

The points pressed open and ready to be trimmed before.. well.. more pressing. I decided to make this (and the next) project the ones where I master two things, one being short corners. I've had a hard time getting them right and they're in so many great patterns I refuse to just write them off. So I remembered a line from the front of the hymnal that I used to pluck from the pew in front of me and read as a bored teenager in church. John Wesley said "If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing." I know that perhaps this isn't how he meant it (or perhaps it is) but I've always felt that to mean that facing your fear and conquering it makes you stronger and wiser. And maybe a better quilter?

Anyway. It's what I bring to mind whenever I think "I will never get this." I take it up, I practice, I am patient and forgiving with myself as much as I can be, and I accept that there is a level of expertise which only comes with time. It's amazing what I can get better at doing if I forgive myself for not being perfect at it right from the start.

Except for chess. I suck at chess. I forgive myself for that, too. :)

Where was I? Oh yeah! Okay, so I'm mastering short corners AND I'm making this the first project where I start pressing all my seams open. I found it made a big difference in some of the Eventide seams and it takes away that "which direction do I press these?" question. Unfortunately it adds an extra step to these corners. But worth the time.

Noon-ish (I may have waited until I had a good photo-op before I took this one, so let's call it 12:20)

Here's everyone pressed open and getting their second points. Is it me or does this stage seem to go on forever? (No Melly, you're just writing a really long post) Also? Behold! My Angler II in action! I have a new tool coming to replace this. It's vinyl cling and will allow me much easier access to my drop-in bobbin. I love my Angler but I hate having to wrestle with the extension table to get at my bobbin.

Chain piecing? I love you.

At this point I'm getting some real steam going and am rolling through episodes of Bones on Netflix at a frightening rate. It's gearing up to be a good day. We'll handle the back half of it in another post because this one is getting too long even for my wordy self.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's done it's done it's done!

I procrastinated forever about getting the scrappy border on. And then I took a while to audition some single fabric borders. And then I finally just put my big girl panties on and finished the quilt. It makes me so happy.

I tried to get a nice hanging shot but it was too windy to go with a tree or the fence and my husband? He's brilliant, clever, and funny. He does the dishes, takes the trash out, and spends his days teaching English to thankless high school kids. He's a saint. But holding up quilts for photos is not one of his strong suits. Witness:

I particularly like the bunchy bits at the top where he's got the fabric clenched in his fists and the drapey corners. I love him. Eventually he got tired of me saying "Higher.." or "To the left.." and I got this look:

He's too good to me to have to put up with my whinging at him about how this, so that's the point where I headed inside and got the kitchen floor shot.

My laser stylus for my frame machine (a Pfaff GQ I got for a steal complete with frame) gets here tomorrow and I'll put a nice swirly pattern on it, something that will just play with the surface without trying to compete with the fabrics. And then?

It's not quite right for our house, I'm still toying with letting my mother-in-law auction it off for her church auction. Or possibly a sale on eBay for charity. It wouldn't even be a big sale, I'd feel bad even considering it because my workmanship isn't at a professional level. When it comes to a worthy cause, any amount is a good amount.

I'd joke about how the complete engine replacement last week (to the tune of a number that starts with number greater than 3 and has a comma in it) makes me a charity, but the truth is that there are causes out there I'd love to be able to contribute to while still engaging in my hobby. We do what we can in other arenas; community service, giving of our time and resources, and I don't make quilts for any grand purpose but if someone liked one enough take it home in exchange for helping to make sure there are plenty of supplies for a place like this? That's pretty good in my book.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs from the universe.

Things which will bring your creativity to a screeching halt: The phrase "Ma'am.. it's the engine. We're going to need to replace it."

Which is, y'know, fine. It's fine. I really only need one kidney, right? :) Seriously, I think this calls for some serious destashing. I've never quite figured out what to do with some of the fabrics I just *had* to have, like that half-yard bundle of Wiscassett, or the Sanibel that is so pretty but has never quite wanted to be in any quilt. And lord knows there's French General coming out my ears. Plus, I got a layer cake of Grace last week and I know I'm going to need more anyway so why not let it go to someone who will use it and ask the birthday fairy for a fat eighth bundle? (eyes on the prize, eh?)

This might be the universe's way of saying I need more space in my sewing room.

The bundle of Heather Ross's Far Far Away lines, however? That's staying right where it is. I'm desperate but I'm not crazy! :D

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Not quite Eventide

You might have guessed by my lack of presence in today's parade that I missed the Eventide deadline. To be honest, I could have made it. In fact all but four blocks are made and the center of the quilt is sewn together but... I was rushing. I was rushing and I was making mistakes and I was wasting valuable sleep time.

And then there's the girl. She often comes to play with me while I'm sewing. She likes to put random fat quarters up on the design wall and "make a quilt" (which usually involves strewing a charm pack from one end of the floor to the other) but I realized that I'd been focusing so hard on making this deadline that I'd basically had my back to her all week. (note to self: Next sewing room layout involves a sewing table which looks out into the room instead of staring at the wall)

She's three, and she is occasionally a royal pain in my butt. Don't look at me that way, it's true. My child is a joy and a blessing but parenting is hard work and not always a barrel of laughs. And this is coming from someone living in the age of washable markers and dishwashers and OxyClean. I can't imagine what it was like for my mom. Though I'm sure I was a perfect angel who never gave her any trouble. STOP LAUGHING!

The thing is, that even if the days are sometimes long, the months and years are so, so short. Fabric lasts for a long, long time, but little girls are only little girls for such a little while. She's getting so tall and every day her words are clearer and she understands more and I just can't afford to spend a week with my back to her. Not to mention what she'd get up to while I wasn't looking. I'm lucky my hair is all still attached.

Anyway. Some time on Friday I just put the project into a lower gear and played on the floor with Chloe. I taught her how to use her safety scissors and we read books. And I sewed as well, but not quite as intensely. I should be done tomorrow or the day after. I'm going to give the top to my mother-in-law as she is a quilter herself and from Ohio so a quilt of Ohio stars might appeal to her. She has a friend with a long arm and they'll probably finish the top and raffle it off for the church.

It's been a great project and I had a really good time. I wouldn't have tried this pattern for a few years if it weren't for this and I wouldn't have made some of the color choices I did if I hadn't wanted to avoid duplicating anyone already in the challenge. And I am in *love* with some of the other outcomes. Just the variations in how the quilt looks with dark vs. light patterns for the big stars is amazing. And now I have a great notion of what to do with the Buttercup fat quarter bundle sitting on my shelf.

Am I sad I missed the deadline? No, I'm really not. The chance to win a goody straight from Mz. Carrie herself would have been lovely but come on, there's nothing lovelier than this:

Monday, March 28, 2011

The story of a determined pattern

This is the tale of a determined pattern.

I found myself with a Saturday afternoon free. Those of you with very small children will understand what a rarity that is. I knew that Steve would be gone most of the evening so I took advantage of the 50/50 split we try for on the weekends and said "I have an errand to run.." Then I took off for the drive to one of my favorite quilt shops.

Here's a dirty little secret: I don't like either of the shops in my town enough to call them my "favorite" quilt shops. One of them is stuffy and dark and it's really clique-y. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely to have a store where they recognize you and are happy to see you and hear about your projects and all that good stuff, that can make a good shop great. But with that store I get the feeling that if you're not part of their crowd they don't have time for you.

The other is a nice store with sweet people but geared heavily towards stitchery, needlepunch, and other textile crafts. And while they're one of the few stores I've found that actually carries Riley Blake fabrics, they don't carry Moda. With those things in mind I tend to make the drive about 20 miles further to the two stores in a neighboring town.

I tucked a couple of fat quarters into my basket and then spent the next half hour just... poking. You know, where you kinda tune out and just browse. I love that. I'd been meaning to try "Brown Eyed Girl" by Miss Rosie's Quilt Co. but when twirling through the pattern rack I found "Eventide" instead. I stared at it and then as though by magic it leapt into my basket. Leapt, I tell you! It spoke to me and said "Take me home!" When I said "What?" it said "Quilt along!" I sighed and realized that there's just no arguing with a really determined pattern.

I got home and thought about fabric. My first reaction was that I had a Park Avenue bundle that still had the ribbon around it. Then I remembered that Thelma was using Park Avenue and that given what I'd recently done with Madeline's Good Fortune if I used Park Avenue too that would make me the Single White Female of quilting.

So I went with Rural Jardin. Well, mostly Rural Jardin. I pulled out all the leftovers from my MGF and some blue Rural Jardin that I had tucked away and started piecing. I know I could have strip pieced a lot faster but I loved getting each block together one by one. I'm strip piecing the inner border strips but where there's more color thought I'm going one at a time. And I'm loving it.

I had to get some of the lighter blue to do the big double hourglass blocks and that's not here yet but fingers crossed it'll be here by the weekend. In the mean time? My design wall looks like this:

And growing by the minute!