Sunday, September 18, 2011

A whole new world of quilting for me opened up today!

I started quilting about 15 months ago and have been mostly teaching myself, and taking advantage of classes when my schedule permits.  Today, I spent the day at a workshop sponsored by the Durham Orange Quilt Guild.

The workshop was held at a local Fire Station. And turns out to be a great space - though for some projects, I would be inclined to pack an Ott Lite as well. 

A few years ago, Gus took a great picture of Dash when we were visiting Mimi & Papa Bill in Arkansas.  This was the day after he snarfed down 1/3 of a box of rat poison, and clearly is feeling no pain. Though I'm sure he was a bit offended by the emergency vet visit...  I like the basic composition and the glint in his eyes.

The workshop was taught by Aniko Feher - - and the workshop the guild offered was Pet Portraits.

Using the picture above, I set out to create a Dash Quilt.  The first step (and as it turns out first hurdle) was to enlarge the photo - in this case to 8 x 10 - cropped to focus on Dash.  Unfortunately, we lost a bit of resolution in the enlargement, so there are softer lines.  And, as it turns out, my home computer is low on both cyan and magenta, resulting in a pink tinted photo. I did print out several versions of black & white, playing with the contrast along the way - to highlight his shiny white coat.

Using the various black & white printouts along with the portrait taken by Alvin Phillips after he finished his AKC Championship, I set out to create a paint-by-number version of Dash.  As you can see from my sketch, I've decided not to replicate my ankle or the novel on the back of the sofa.  I haven't decided on all of the background, but I think I'm going to create a quilt for him to rest his feet on and possibly a cushion on his left.

As a group we trekked to Staples to photocopy and in some cases to enlarge our drawings.  It took a little time for us to figure out how to work the dratted copiers, but once we figured out how to enlarge, we were off and running.

Back at the fire station, we numbered from light to dark - or in my case, light to dark and then pink for the inner ear.  I then traced my enlarged Dash onto another piece of mylar as I had extra.  I picked three whites, three golds, dark brown, black and a pinky orange as my key colors. Then traced the design by numbered parts, this time on freezer paper - which was applied to the fabric swatches and then to the base piece.

At this point colors 1, 2 and part of 4 have been placed onto color 3
Aniko demonstrated eyes and noses using Dash, among others - and the change in expression is remarkable! I probably should have packed his photo album so that I had a front facial shot to get some of his coloring figured out.  Shading was added with water color pencils to highlight areas.

We ran out of time at the workshop, so after dinner with the guys, I finished trimming and placing colors 5 & 6.

Colors 1-5, 7-9 are in place.

And now he is pressed into place and ready to stitch the pieces in place. Once he is stitched down, I'll cut him out and place him onto his background and finish the wall hanging.

It is interesting to note, in person, the solid white is brighter than the printed white on white, but in the pictures, it looks like the printed white is more reflective.  I'll be adding some thread painting on his white parts, especially his feet, which often do glisten.

Gus has laid claim to him.  Monkey doesn't know it, but she is next.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Preparing for the next project...

The first step in a new project for me is to choose the fabrics.  Back in January, I picked up the border stripe and accompanying scatter fabric for the table runner. I thought I had also purchased the large sunflower print, but it is nowhere to be found in my stash (until the dash of course).  I spent an hour or so digging through buckets to find the accompanying fabrics and checking them under the ott lite.

But fabric choice is only one aspect of preparation.  Over the course of finishing Carolina Rain for the swap, my iron ended up pretty gunked up.

So I pulled out a hand towel and squeezed out some Dritz hot iron cleaner.  The directions on the tube state to rub the hot iron (set to cotton) on the folded rag in a circular motion.

A few moments later, with the accompanying smoke, the surface of my iron is nice and shiny again, and I don't have to worry about transferring any scorched starch onto fabrics for the upcoming project.

As you can see, the towel now has the dirt.  And that will wash out.

This is a dry iron, from Vermont Country Store. I like it because it does not have the steam holes, so nothing to catch the fabric in when pressing, and much easier to maintain.  I keep a spray bottle of water near by to spritz in case I feel the need to steam a seam.  This works well for me, as I also don't have to worry about steam burns while using the iron. And I no longer have the problem of an iron spitting hot water at me.

The next step in the preparation was to check my seam allowance. I recently purchased a Bernina 830 to keep my Bernina 801 company.  I really like these old Berninas.  I used the Perkins Perfect Piecing Seam Guide to set my seam guides.  And looking at the picture now, I see where my problem arose last night - the tape, which I though was perfectly set, is in actuality angled just enough to skew the seam allowance.

To test the seam allowance, take three short strips that are 1.5 inches wide.  Sew them together, and after pressing the strips, you should be able to measure a perfect one inch on the middle strip.  I thought my problem last night was that the center strip was a few threads wider than 1.5 inches. And now, I think that the tape placement also put the seams a few threads off as well.  The solution is to use a shorter stack of tape, which will then be less likely to drift off line.

Friday Night Sew In Results

The first two strip sets are complete for my next project. Two more to go, hopefully today if I can get past the back spasm that is currently preventing me from sitting out in the cold rain while my son fishes. My son is much less sanguine about the change of plans...

The focus fabrics for this project are from Timeless Treasures, Sunflower Serenade.  More later.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Night Sew In tonight!

Oops, the third Friday came a little too quickly this month.

I spent the afternoon on the Quilt! Carolina Stash Dash - and poked my head into 7 quilt stores and one art supply store in 5 hours.

I've been working on strips sets for my next Quilter's Academy project.  This one introduces YUMS - Your Unique Measurements.  Pictures coming soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Carolina Rain - The Miniature

The deadline was looming, and the swap is Sunday, 9/11, and with the start of hockey practice, I knew I needed to get a lot done this weekend. (Note - I started writing this post on Monday, 9/5)

Thursday I added the final rain strip, and figured out that the top pieced was a bit short as I forgot to factor in the wider border. However, I had already decided that I wanted that border to be narrower that originally planned.  I clamped the backing to my big board, spread the batting, and started pinning. I put most of the Pinmoors in the colored bars as I decided to stitch in the ditch first around the "L"s and then across every third bar (or so depending on if a length was divisible by three or not).

I overexposed this shot to show the ditch stitching.  I used black thread on the back and clear YLI monofiliment on the front.  The clear is a bit shiny, and in hindsight, using the smoke might have been better against the black. My stitch in the ditch skills definitely improved during this project.

For the black sashing on the front, I decided to use one of the filler designs from Leah Day's "The Free Motion Quilting Project"  I chose to use the Flowing Lines design because I felt comfortable being able to use it on the long narrow strips.  I think her site is a great resource.

The finished project

And some detail of the flowing lines quilting.

When I was testing the tension on my practice sandwich, I realized that I could accomplish a gentle wavy line with the walking foot.  And with a bit of starting and stopping could circle the drops on the rain sashes. 

Once the quilting was completed, the fun of adding the binding began.  Because it is a miniature, I also needed to reduce the binding width - so I ended up cutting the binding 1.5 inches wide and the seam is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch.  With a significant join about every 3/4 inch, there is significant lumpiness, and it did make it more challenging to turn it over to the back as there is significant bulk in there, especially in the corners.  Not my best binding, but definitely my most colorful.  I do like the look of the pieced binding a lot, but I doubt I'll do one this tiny again.

The swap was tonight at the Triangle Modern Quilt Guild meeting and I'm happy to say that Carolina Rain is heading to its new home.  And yes, I was very tempted to keep it for myself.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I am a member of the Triangle Modern Quilt Guild. And part of me is still trying to figure out what makes a quilt Modern.  This month, the TMQG is hosting a Miniature Quilt Swap. After seeing how much fun the participants in the Pillow Swap a few months ago had, I challenged myself to participate. And as I seem to work well with a deadline, sometimes, I signed up.  Between signing up and being assigned a partner, I found a pattern that  struck me as "modern."  Hoffman Fabrics is showcasing one of their new lines with the California Rain quilt pattern.  The line is called Full Spectrum and the designer is Brenda Miller (Among Brenda's Quilts).  I really love the design, and while I like the individual fabrics in Full Spectrum, Gus and I agreed that they don't do the quilt pattern justice - not enough contrast - the values are too close together.

My first task was to reduce the size of the pattern to meet the Swap guidelines of 24 inches or less per side.  I decide to work on a 3/4 inch scale. In looking at the pattern, I see a 1-2-3 ratio:  Strip height 1/Sashing 2/ Width of color bars 3.

In using a 3/4 inch scale, I determined that the color bars would finish at 3/4 each, the solid sashing at 1 1/2 and the strip sets finish at 2 1/4.  Somehow, I managed to remember to cut my strips for the strip sets at 1 1/4 and my black sashing at 2 inches. But when it came time to subcut my strip sets, I forgot the seam allowance - so everything was cut at 2 1/4 instead of 2 3/4 which I figured out after constructing all 9 units...  And because of the way the units need to meet on the corners of the L's, I could not figure out a way to adjust the sashing and still make it work.

As a result, I now have an outstanding, 84 inch, pre-prepared binding strip...  I had planned to bind in the black background fabric, but this will be more fun.  I reassembled all of the units into one strip.

So much for the relaxing Tuesday evening. By Thursday, I drummed up the courage to start over again - which meant creating 2 new strip sets, subcutting 25 sets, undoing select seams to create the 9 units needed and getting everything appropriately pressed again.

A few days later, I started assembling the vertical black strips which have the rain drops.  I adapted the original pattern here as there were a few corner units within the design that didn't "work" for me. So my version has rain drops to the left of each color bar rather than some of the heavier corners.  Once I started assembling the units, working from the lower right, I learned that on my second set of strip sets, apparently some of the seam allowances were not the perfect scant 1/4 inch I had hoped for - and that I was not as accurate as I thought...  and also that multiplied over 15-19 seams, a few threads difference REALLY adds up. And that there is only so much one can do to ease the strips and stretch them - you really can't get back a full inch... so I adapted again, and added to the ends of the longest units.

I have one more rain strip and two borders to attach and then I'll be ready to figure out how best to quilt this.

I like the challenge of working in Miniature!

Lessons from a Quilt.

Last night, Gus and I took the Dolphin Signature Quilt to Gail.  Before I list what I have learned from the making of the quilt, let me just say that I'm learning every day from Gail as I read her blog and her journey with Ovarian Cancer. Gail is facing the cancer down with great spirit and faith. Gail is Gus's school nurse, and as I listened to them talking last night, I learned that she is also a friend to him and all of her students. She drew stories out of Gus about this school year that I had not yet heard.

This quilt started as a stack of challenge blocks from the Thimble Pleasures 9 Patch Challenge that ran from September-December last year.  While I enthusiastically made my 90 blocks (a block a day) and then some, actually quite a few more, I didn't ever put them together.  After learning about Gail's diagnosis, I thought about using some to create a quilt from Gus's fourth grade class. This grew to first include the entire fourth grade, and then the entire school as I brainstormed ways to create a design that could accommodate about 400 signatures (students, faculty and staff).  After figuring out that it was indeed possible to create a design for the second side of the quilt that could be appealing, I sent my designs to a few folks at school for their feedback and garnered their enthusiastic support.

New skills attempted (and mastered) and other skills practiced (I've blogged about much of this previously):
  • Sashing
  • Cornerstones
  • Bringing the thread to the top, and burying in the batting
  • Invisible Thread
  • Free Motion Quilting
  • Echo Quilting
  • Following Quilting Designs
  • Pieced borders
  • Creating & Attaching Bindings
  • Measure Thrice, Cut Once
  • Sometimes it is better to stop and draw the design carefully and other times freehand is great
  • Anchoring the quilting in both directions really is a good idea
  • A comfortable seam ripper and good lighting is imperative

The biggest thing this quilt taught me was not to be afraid to try something new.  And also that You-Tube is a WONDERFUL resource for learning quilting skills.  I definitely learn by seeing someone demonstrate over reading the instructions.

Binding and finishing the signature quilt

 The signature quilt will finish at just under 60 inches for each side, so the next task was to create 7 yards of binding.  I cut 6 width of fabric strips from the dolphin batik 2 1/4 inches wide. I the carefully joined them at right angles, making certain that the dolphins were all swimming in the same direction (working with batiks one can lose track of which side is up).  At each joint, I then cut the excess fabric off 1/4 inch from the seam. 

After trimming, I carefully pressed and starched the strips and then cut off the little triangle along the edge.  Happily, I got them right on the first try (though apparently followed up by photographing upside down).

Because I like to use a double fold binding, the next step was to carefully press the strip in half.  There are any number of gadgets and tricks that one can set up to do this, and might possibly make it faster.  However, I am completely comfortable working six to eight inches at a time, folding the strip in half, and pressing and starching as I go along.  So far, I don't see the value of using a long pin to draw the strip under (one technique), nor do I see the need to purchase the binding machine (I can buy lots more fabric instead).
After completing my 7+ yards of binding, I flipped it over and starched it again, then I rolled it onto an empty toilet paper roll to store it until it was time to sew it onto the quilt. 

The next step was to pin the binding to the front of the quilt, reinstall the walking foot (have become much more adept at installing that foot now), and setting the seam width at a bit more than 1/4 inch to stitch the binding down. This is my second quilt to bind, and I'm still working on finding the perfect sweet spot for the binding so that it is even on both sides.  At each corner, I stopped 1/4 inch before the end in order to turn the quilt and flip the binding in order to miter the corners, then finally tucked the binding into the starting point and finished stitching.  I thoroughly enjoy handwork, and relaxed while stitching the binding to the back. This time around, I used the quilt clips (look a lot like hair clips) and like the way they hold. It was much easier than pinning, and much less stress on my hands.

I finished the quilt, washed it, lint rolled it again to collect the remaining threads from the seams that I removed and to remove the new donation of Corgi hair.  This corner picture shows some of the binding as well as a corner heart and my first completed free motion quilting.  I am very pleased with this quilt.

Third Grade, Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade and the Faculty & Staff along the edges.
Kindergarten, First Grade & Second Grade - each class signed on two squares.

Gus is my photographer as the quilt is taller than he is.

The quilting, Signature quilt continues

For the body of the quilt, I decided on a repeating diagonal - something I can do easily and neatly with the walking foot.  In order to maintain the line across the white border, I lined up a ruler and chalked my destination onto the teal border.

The last bit of quilting involved about 8 inches on each end of the border. I really wanted to create a wave, and knew I would end up doing a bit of free motion quilting as a result.

I decided my best chance of keeping the pattern somewhat uniform was to use the tearaway paper method.  I first traced a wave pattern onto a piece of notebook paper, then stacked 8 pieces of golden threads quilting paper and pinned them all together. I unthreaded my machine and "sewed" along my tracing, or close to my tracing to punch holes in the quilting paper.  This is my first attempt at following a line, and as I warmed up, there was huge improvement.  I then pinned waves to each corner, flipping half of the waves over to work from the backside so that the would travel in the opposite direction. While doodling, I have learned that I can draw great waves to the right and really hideous ones to the left.  I started sewing the waves, still using invisible thread, from the point closest to the dolphins on one side, once I reached the corner, I then echoed the lower side of the waves and the low side of the dolphins until reaching the other corner where I picked up the waves and then finished with an echo back up.  Once I completed all four sides, I enjoyed tearing out the paper.  I also learned that the paper might not be the best solution for designs that are stitched closely together as it can be hard to get out of the really tight seams (and then learned too that it does not really wash away if you leave any on there).  For the corners, I used a chalk pen to freehand a stylized heart in order to connect the waves.

I trimmed the quilt to finished size and squared the corners utilizing the white border as a guide.

For batting, I used Natural Cotton batting by Pellon Legacy, with no scrim. It allows for a wonderful drape, but also needs to be quilted about 4 inches apart, and as I learned, produces a lot of lint while sewing.