Friday, May 1, 2015

my process for a pieced backing

i have always loved a pieced backing on a quilt. it's one more place to have a little fun with fabric and even an opportunity to play with a more modern, large-scale, improv-pieced scheme than i would normally go for on a quilt top. if you have a beloved fabric you want to feature in a large panel, the back is the perfect place to do so. unless i'm making a baby quilt, i always make a pieced backing. even on my very first quilt, i made a pieced backing. i didn't know much about quilting at all, but i knew i liked pieced backings. so my first backing, for "at last" was a four panel piece which echoed the block pattern used on the front. i remember carefully selecting the four fabrics so the colors and shapes best represented my ideas for the front. it just might be the best part of that quilt. it's definitely one thing i did right when i was struggling with so many aspects of launching a first quilt.

"taite" uses large panels of fabrics from the front interspersed with leftover chain-pieced block strips wherever seams were needed in the panels. my daughter chose the main panel and i chose the two side fabrics. the fabric selections also reflect the pattern i used on the front. this was another backing i carefully designed with the design elements of the front in mind, and also to use up leftover pieces.

not all of my tops are so carefully laid out and designed. there are also those that are improvised and less structured.

a pieced backing can make a great home for leftover or bungled blocks or yardage that were originally for the top. when i made "twirly" i accidentally cut the large fabric panels too short, so they went on the back. because they were oddly sized, i joined them with leftover border blocks in the seam. i also had a few extra blocks and more leftover border strips that went into the back, too. the rest was made up of excess fabrics not used in the blocks. since i usually buy generously for the fabric requirements, i always have leftovers to play with on a backing. in fact, this is one reason i over buy.

knowing i can use pieces on the back makes it less stressful when something doesn't work out or gets miscut. i'll just use it to make the back more interesting. "what do i do with this now?!" problem solved and i grieve mistakes less, too.

sure, you can always make a backing inexpensively out of a plain muslin or you can sew one or two seams in the same fabric to make one great big piece. but i like to have fun with the back. also, i don't like to pattern match and mismatched patterns bother me. so even if i do use large pieces of fabric for the back, i will put at least a small strip of something in between the panels. my all-time favorite backing is on my "at last" quilt. it's just three 2.5" wide strips sewn together and placed in between two large vertical fabric panels of the same fabric, but i really, really love this one - as much as the front, maybe more. a pieced backing doesn't have to be complicated at all to be effective. 

some other quilters that come to mind when i think of pieced backings are elizabeth hartman of oh, frannson! (especially in her book the practical guide to patchwork), kelly of my quilt infatuation, and rachel hauser of stitched in color (like here and here).

in my experience, a pieced backing can be either a planned design to compliment the front or a place to use up leftovers from the front. or maybe sometimes something in between. as i got ready to make my backing for my latest quilt, "dreaming easy" i decided to document the process in case anyone was interested in trying their hand at a pieced backing but didn't really know where to start.

this backing was unplanned until i saw what was leftover once the front was complete. i did have one feature print in mind for the backing - a 4 yd piece from the main fabric line i used for this quilt ("dream on" by urban chiks for moda). i could have made a backing out of that, but of course didn't want to leave just one single fabric. so i pulled out what i had to work with: the 4 yd cut (green floral), a 2 yd cut of another fabric i had used on the top (pink "modern meadow" joel dewberry print), a small piece of "meadow dot" in robin's egg, and a few charm squares that were too low-volume/light for me to use in the arrow check blocks on the front. if i didn't have that large piece of pink fabric, i probably would have used the green fabric for both large panels with a strip in between. however, i did have it and liked the variety of prints.

 you can go about the process mathematically, but i prefer to just lay out the top and build organically over that. as long as the back i'm building has a few inches more on each side than the quilt top does, i know i'm good to go. so first step - lay the top out on the floor. really, you could place it face down so it's oriented the way the quilt will actually be put together, but i didn't here. that only matters if you want certain pieces under other pieces. this time that wasn't a concern and i just did it for sizing reference.

 next i lay out my largest pieces across the top to see which way they are going to fit. i could have placed these panels vertically, but the pink print wasn't quite long enough when laid that direction. in order to avoid extra piecing, i turned the pieces horizontally. here i had plenty extra of that lower floral print, so once i decided on the orientation, i cut the excess off, leaving it a few inches larger than the top with my shears. same with the upper pink print.

now i have two large panels and i'll just need to make a strip to put between them in order to use up those charm squares. the top was composed of blocks that included hsts and i could have made some out of the charm squares to echo the design on the front, but i chose a simpler route.

 the charm squares were all very similar in appearance to each other and hardly distinguishable if placed next to each other in a row. i wanted to break them up visually a little, so i cut half charm square pieces (2.5"x5"cut) of the random "meadow dot" piece and placed that between all the charm squares.

i just did this without measuring until i had a strip long enough to cross the width of the quilt top, with the needed excess inches on each side.

 then i attached the two large panels to the pieced charm squares strip and i had a pretty pieced backing. this one was quite simple and came together in no time. if the pieces you are working with are of various sizes or you have blocks to include, you can just play around with fabric placement, sort of like building a puzzle, until you have the back big enough to cover the top. next time i make that sort of backing, i will make sure to take photos so i can walk you through that process, too.

 something else i did on this backing - i included the selvages on the large pieces. i've done this twice before and find it can be a very nice design feature, like when i did it on "paris daydreams." if the print on the selvage is placed right, you can see it well and it's kind of cute, i think, to have it showing.

 the "dream on" panel had it's selvage print mostly well placed and it showed nicely. the "modern meadow" print did not have a good selvage for display purposes, but i was feeling lazy and didn't want to trim it off that long piece of fabric before i sewed the backing together. so i included it, too. lazy, i know.

once you have a back, you are home free to sandwich and baste your quilt! i positioned the top so that the charm square strip fell about 2/3rds the way up the quilt, making the green panel on the lower portion of the back larger than the pink panel on the top portion. if you don't cut off excess backing before sandwiching you can play around with top placement like this.

that ends the tour of piecing a backing splish splash stash style. i hope you found it informative, interesting, or at least entertaining. or maybe you just like looking at the pretty fabrics. that's alright by me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


 i missed quiltcon 2015. did you? i flirted with the idea of going, but i just couldn't justify being gone for it. not now, not at this point in my life and my children's lives. that's totally a personal decision and i was ok with it. but when the photos started pouring in to instagram and i realized how many of my favorite internet quilty people were there, not to mention that it was in austin, one of my very favorite cities i ever lived in, i may have regretted that choice just a little bit. especially missing the gee's bend ladies! however, austin quiltcon is all water under the bridge, memories for those who went or didn't.

i looked up the next dates for upcoming quiltcons and was excited to see that the 2017 show is in savannah, ga. i've heard all kinds of good, romantic things about savannah, but inspite of having lived in the south several times and the state of georgia twice, i've never been there. quiltcon seemed like a good excuse/opportunity to go in a few years and check the place out. i was talking about the missed austin conference and the upcoming savannah one with my husband. he said, "great! you should go. i'll come with you. you can do your quilt stuff during the day and hang out with me at night." um, that's not how it works, hon. quiltcon is for being with your quiltly people all day and night.

fortunately for me, he took me to savannah for our 20th anniversary this spring instead. whew! and i have to tell you, savannah is amazing. we were there for the beginning of azalea season, so blooms were just starting to pop up all town. savannah is built around 24 sqaures, which are kind of like parks in the center of the blocks, in a grid pattern. it's very walkable and incredibly pretty.

i'm sharing a few shots i took around town in case you were thinking of going to quiltcon 2017 and need some incentive beyond quilts. here follows some sightseeing photos i took and a bit about some savannah sewing spots as well.

 personally, i just loved all the colors and natural textures everywhere on all the architectural features and structures.

 savannah is a city of churches. this catholic cathedral had some incredible stained glass inside. we visited this one and several historic homes open for tour, also.

there are a variety of architectural styles preserved through out the city.

 and there are some pretty good eats - like the ice cream sandwiches at byrd cookie company. the cookies are famous, but we went right for the cookies with ice cream combo. they were perfectly sized and utterly delicious.

 the highlight of the trip may have been lunch at the wilkes house. our first day there, i kept noticing poeple coming out of a street level entrance, which was curious because most of the main entrances are on the second floor. one of the patrons explained to us they'd just eaten lunch at the wilkes house. lunch is served, boarding house style, daily from 11am to 2pm. you have to line up outside and wait to be seated at a table for 10 with whoever is next to you in line. a typical wait is about 30 minutes. there are 20+ dishes of authentic southern home cooking served up to the table, followed by dessert. $20 a person, cash only. we were assured it was really great food and worth the wait.

the next day, we tried it out, waiting in the rain with a larger-than-normal crowd (which had started to gather for st. patty's day the next week. another story.) my husband is in the above photo, at the rear with the black and rainbow striped umbrella.

 we were a bit afraid this was mostly hype, just an experience you had to have if you went to savannah, with mediocre food. fortunately we were dead wrong! it was so completely delicious, every last dish. if you do quiltcon 2017, you had better make time in your schedule for lunch at mrs. wilkes or you will have missed one of the finest institutions of southern cooking on the planet.

ok, ok, you're thinking. architecture and great food. fine. but we're quilters and fabric lovers. well, savannah has that too! i was on my anniversary trip, but the mr was very nice about letting me do some fabric shopping when the chance occurred. unfortunately for me, the luck of the irish was being spent elsewhere during that holiday season. no kidding, the very first shop we passed on the street after we parked our car the first day was a fabric shop. he said i could go in, but that seemed the wrong way to start our romancing, so i told him it could wait til later. later that day, i noticed another store, but we were in a hurry to get to our anniversary dinner, so i let that one pass, too.

the next day we were out and about, i was ready for some fabric shopping.  fabrika fine fabrics is in downtown proper, pretty close to byrd cookies, if i remember correctly. a peek in the windows had me drooling. it's a wonderful looking shop.

 unfortunately, window peeking is all i got. they had just closed down for the st. patrick's day weekend. i was crushed.

 apparently savannah is the second largest st. patrick's day gathering in the united states. it's rather like mardi gras. the streets get closed down to auto traffic and the party gets big. we were there the week before the holiday and things were already getting plenty green and crowded. they city even "greens" the fountains, shown above. i guess the local merchants not in the party business are wise to this and they simply close shop. if i'd known this, i would have taken the husband up on the fabric shopping offer the first day instead of being such a noble, self-sacrificing wife.

 the first shop i had seen on the first day, measure - a fabric parlor, was closed also when i tried it the second time. i couldn't believe my bad luck! both shops were open the first day and closed when i went back.

measure had some very cute window displays with some fun fabric projects and vintage items in the window displays, but i couldn't see any more than that. looking at the site on-line i can tell i missed out! (they have an etsy shop, and ig account, too.)

so, yeah, i didn't come home with any fabric for a 20th anniversary commemorative quilt or anything like that. but i will definitely be going back to savannah. maybe for quiltcon 2017.

anyone thinking of being there, too?

Monday, April 13, 2015

at the moment and a serious dilemma

 it's been a while since i've had a finish. i'm right in the middle of a couple of projects, some which are approaching the finish of phase 1 - piecing the top/making a flimsy.

 "dreaming easy" is getting it's rows pieced together. unfortunately, i sewed one of them on backwards last week so i'm at a standstill until i unpick the whole darn row.

 my triangle quilt, which really needs an official name, is developing a split personality. i find i have two types of rows: bold, bright colored ones (top and bottom) and gentler, softer rows with less contrast between the triangles used, like all the golden bits in between. i am either heading towards 2 separate quilts or two sides with slightly different colors because the bright ones are not blending too well, especially the one at the bottom of this photo. this fabric pull was a branch out for me and i'm learning about it as i go. i'm curious to see where i end up when all the experimenting and play is done.

poor old penny patch 2.0 is begging to come out of the corner of shame. after i failed to realize i was sewing the directional prints all the wrong way, i stuck the design half wall containing the laid out blocks in my formal parlor, facing toward the wall to help preserve it from child-induced disasters or simple curiosity. this also greatly enhance the appearance of this "nice" room of the house, can't you tell? three months in the corner is long enough, so the other day i pulled it out to consider what needs to be done.

 it wasn't looking too good on the other side of that design wall! i opted to remove all the blocks and just start over with the layout once i get all the new pieces cut. in the meantime, i put "dreaming easy" up on the wall since there wasn't any spare room for it anywhere else.

that's all that's in the works at the moment.

 now here's my dilemma.

 my dining sewing space is hardly recognizable as a dining room anymore and is not easily converted for use in it's original mode. in fact, it's overrun with sewing and looks terrible. this is one of the first spaces of our home you see when you enter the front door. it's simply not attractive. even when i clean it up, which i do regularly, after an hour or two of me working in here, it looks a mess again. not to mention that fabric and boxes "hiding" all over the place even when cleaned up doesn't look nice.

my poor husband has been pretty patient with the whole scenario, as much as he dislikes it. the other day he said to me, "we need to enclose this and fully convert it to a sewing room for you." on the one hand, i love that idea. the location in the house is just where i would like it to be if only i could close it off from view when wanted. being able to make this a more functional sewing space would be dreamy, too.

but then i loose my formal dining room, which i haven't really had for over a year anyway. i'm not using it as the dining room but the idea of forever giving up that option is hard to formalize. before the sewing came in i had this space almost exactly where i wanted it for a nice dining room. i like to use it for sunday dinners for our family, large family gatherings at holidays, and the occasional, rare entertaining spree. i've collected lots of white ceramic wares which are housed in this room. the genealogy wall, with our family tree fan chart and heirloom photos is also really special to me. i don't know where i would move these two collections. the 12 seat dining set is a whole other matter entirely.

in reality, this became a sewing space a long time ago and i should probably just give in. a set of sliding barn doors across the front will give me a space i can open or close as needed. then i can get to work making it a truly functional sewing space, which will also open up room in my bawthroom if i can bring all my stash down here.

i don't think i need to ask any sewing enthusiasts what they would do because that's pretty obvious.
oh, decisions, decisions!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

bandwidth - a simple yet large finish

you will have to use your imagination a little here and turn the quilt upright in your head
 i have reached the end of a series of finishes. the way i work, i usually start several things in succession and then they get finished close to each other, too. the beginning of this year i completed a couple of quilts that had been going for at least a year. this one - "bandwidth" - is the last of that group. i was supposed to take my younger son, s2, out for lunch and a photo shoot, but that just hasn't happened. i felt the need to get this post done since "bandwidth" was completed in january, so today i grabbed the only two children available in the last of the afternoon's light and we snapped some shots in the backyard. apparently our grass is growing in abundance. d3 and d4 had to stand on chairs to hold up this behemoth quilt as even on it's side it's too tall for them. their little arms just couldn't get it straight enough but that's okay - the wonkiness of the photo rather reflects the accuracy of the quilt stitching. if i remember correctly, "bandwidth" measures approximately 98" x 70", making this the largest quilt i've made to date; almost double the size of what i usually do. if i cut it in half i could have two throw quilts. i didn't exactly aim for this size. i simply cut up the blue i was using for the panels to what looked like a balanced size to the strip sections and this is what i ended up with.

the front of the quilt is composed of three sections of jelly strips pieced together in rows running horizontally across the quilt, and four panels of solid blue (kona's windsor). my color scheme came from a jelly roll of riley blake's "superstar" fabrics i purchased for the strip sections. by the time i got around to making the quilt, i thought it would be better to use only some of the strips and incorporate coordinating colored prints. (the leftovers went into a baby quilt, "way out weston," for a new little cousin.)

technically, this is my own design, but it's hardly worth calling it a pattern. i sewed strips together and inserted panels. end of story! still, it makes for an effective, straightforward, modern design aesthetic that i am rather fond of.

i quilted in a randomly spaced straighline stitch, also on the horizontal, in a light blue aurufil 50 wt thread. i was going to use three thread colors, but decided that was too much work with all the thread changing. in the end, it was easier to just keep going in the same color. i don't know what possessed me to use such a light, high-contrast color on those dark blue panels because i had trouble with my straight lines being straight. they look fine from a distance and i think when i wash the quilt, the effect will be corrected even more.

 the back was pieced together from large cuts of two prints from the "superstar" collection and some leftover strip pieces.

 the binding gave me pause to consider the possibilities, but i finally decided to go with another coordinating print from "superstar" with one fun little accent piece of an orange "monsterz" print. i machine bound this one because it was going to need extra durability since it's for one of my boys.

this "monsterz" print is probably my favorite from the whole quilt. i am also using it in s1's wonky coins quilt. i decided to add this bit in as i was attaching the binding. as soon as i put it in, i realized i should have sewn it on straight rather than on the bias, but it was already done. not a deal breaker, though.

now my little man can stop asking me when his quilt is going to be done! he's been snuggling and reading under it since the moment i finished it.

and using it as a superhero cape, too.

he obviously likes it and makes use of it daily, which makes this mama quite happy. now i just have one more mama-made to go and each child has one.

linking up with amanda jean's friday finishes at "crazy mom quilts."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

hello, jade princess

 oh, happy mail day!
this is probably the happiest mail i've gotten in a long time. and since i order books and fabric online regularly, that is saying a lot. but this package just has a lot more meaning to it, which is what makes it so special and extra-happy.

the icing on the cake of opening this package was i didn't realize one of my favorite prints was in this quilt, and there it was, right on top. i'm currently using that "antique flower" print from the "miscellany" line by julia rothman for cloud 9 in my triangle quilt.

photo courtesy of rachel hauser at stitched in color
 so i've been crushing on rachel hauser's "jade princess" quilt for quite some time. (as well as sara schraw's modern flower version.) and i'm a crazy enough fan of hers that last summer, when we were travelling through the south, i thought about contacting her and asking if i could purchase the quilt and pick it up in person. you know, just so i could meet her. it seemed like a great way to get two birds with one stone. (yes, i am a total freak; but, no, she doesn't need to be scared of me. honestly, rachel, you don't.)

anyway, i decided against that for a couple of reasons and it seemed the quilt just wasn't meant to be mine. but then rachel had her baby last month and there were complications and an auction on instagram to help raise funds for their family's unexpected medical expenses. i was on my 20th anniversary trip and i missed the auction. i had been so excited for rachel through this whole journey of her getting to that baby and i really wanted to do something. after realizing i missed the auction, i remembered "jade princess." low and behold, she was still in the etsy shop and i decided now really was the time to buy her.

 the colors of this quilt may look slightly different in the lighting in my house versus how they looked in rachel's, but it does not disappoint in the least! those dainty, orderly dots (comma chalk periods) used for the background of all the blossom blocks are so cute. and the peach leans to the pink side, a very pretty shade. in middle school peach was my favorite color - the first time i ever moved away from my childhood love for red. i've since returned to red, after a few stops at forest green, white, and robins egg blue, but that doesn't stop me from admiring this peach, too.

my other favorite detail since seeing this quilt in person is the quilting done in all the sashing. it's a chunky white 12 wt aurifil in a large stitch. it's reminiscent of hand quilting, or as close as i've seen achieved with machine stitching. i love it! i'll have to give this a go myself soon because it's an awesome effect.

i really like the backstory of the inspiration for the quilt, whose color scheme was taken from this image from fjeldborg. i think rachel did a fantastic job of translating the colors and feel in the image into the quilt. that single pop of jade, balanced by the two mustard blossoms, amidst all the softer colors, works so beautifully. rachel's use of color moves me and motivates me to try new things in my own quilts. maybe someday i'll be able to achieve what she does so effortlessly.

the dogwood quilt was a project for rachel's penny sampler class, which was not offered again this last round of classes she did, even though i voted for it myself. maybe someday it will go up again and then i can learn how to do my own blossoms in this applique style. until then, i'm going to continue loving on and snuggling in this beauty made by rachel.