Saturday, January 24, 2015

cutting edge

aren't all the itty bitty chained pieced bits of my "kitty in the corner" (my modernized name for "puss in the corner" block) just darling? it's like a mini bunting this way and may have inspired a project idea. but in the meantime i am once again full speed ahead on the gypsy wife quilt. i've been tackling lots of the intricate main blocks, one at a time, and doing so much cutting. which has inspired me to talk about my cutting tools, some of which are recent acquisitions.

most quilt teachers or books for beginners will tell you that you only need a few quilt rulers to get by. and this is very true. i did just fine with a 6"x24", 9.5"sq, and 12.5" sq ruler for my first several quilts. these are enough for squaring off fabric, cutting strips, trimming blocks. they're quite versatile. you can even successfully cut triangles with those rulers.

but over time i found myself thinking a few other sizes would be more manageable for different jobs. so whenever i had a coupon or rulers went on sale, i would pick up one that seemed handy. when discounted, they are only a few dollars each. given enough sales and enough time, i've amassed a good pile of rulers.

when it comes to square rulers, which are fantastic for trimming blocks precisely or fussy cutting certain sizes of fabric, i now have each graduated size, by the 1/2", from 2.5" to 6.5", minus the 3", which was out of stock at the last sale. (but two of the 4" because they both came with some sets i bought. i suppose i have a spare. one for upstairs and one for down?)

the 2.5"sq came with a mini cutting mat i bought for travel purposes. at the time i thought it was too ridiculously small to use but have since been proven wrong. even that tiny fella gets a turn at the mat periodically. like when i'm trimming up mini hsts.

my gypsy wife quilt, which features a great variety of block sizes, is the type of project that makes all these different rulers quite handy. i'm continually needing to either fussy cut or trim up blocks. so i find myself frequently reaching for those square rulers.

my rotary cutter is a gingher i got on sale from joann crafts. i love my gingher shears and snips, and i thought it looked really nice, so i picked this instead of an olfa when i started quilting. they routinely go on sale and so do the replacement blades. for my cutting surface i have a 36"x24" fiskars self-healing mat. i really like the soft green color (it's butter yellow on the other side). i find it to be very accurately marked and no longer use two rulers for squaring up or cutting strips. rather, i use the mat-and-ruler method.

my cutting area lies at the end of the table so i can work off the three edges easily, which is quite helpful when cutting as it allows me to move myself rather than the fabric or block at least half the time. however, the fabric inevitably has to be moved at some point. here enters the genius called "rotating cutting mat." i had heard of these wonders a time or two but didn't think they were for me. until i was elbow deep in gypsy's blocks and always having to shift everything. so i looked on amazon and found the olfa 17" rotating self-healing rotary cutting mat. there are smaller mats, too, but i had the space so i wanted as much rotating space as possible. i can see how it would be convenient to cut small blocks on a smaller mat, but i'm good with this one.

there is the black under-mat, which stays put, and the top green cutting surface rotates a full 360 degrees in either direction for cutting. its perfectly smooth and wonderfully flat.  just look at the following photos to see it move.

spinning to the right

and all the way back around again
i was a little skeptical of just how useful this might be but i can sing it's praises now that i've given it a go a few dozen times. i'm certain my trimming accuracy has increased and it definitely saves me time. i'm doing a ton of trimming for the gypsy wife as i am working on my accuracy with all the points involved.  each block is a mini project and i trim most every bit accordingly.

one nice thing i just discovered is that since the diagonal of this mat measure 24" across, i can still trim strips longer than 17" if i just put the fabric on the diagonal. very handy. otherwise i have to move the rotating mat off the big one. maybe someday i'll have a dedicated sewing room with both these mats in their own spaces.

as for my other rulers, i have two 6"x24", a 3.5"x24", and a 3"x18"rectangles. the two long ones are for squaring up fabric, making large cuts, and trimming quilts. the long skinny one is for when i am making skinny but long cuts and don't want to deal with the width of the wider one. like when i am cutting strips. and the short skinny one is for shorter strips or smaller cuts when i don't want all the length of the other two. this mostly goes by feel. if i find i have too much width or too much length for what i'm cutting i'll switch to another ruler. i store these on a recipe book stand.

the stand is also good for holding up quilting books or patterns i'm working from and it houses my quilting notebook, which is for keeping track of projects, working out maths, and sketching out ideas.

then there are the triangle rulers! you can definitely cut triangles without special rulers, but i've found it simpler to use them for cutting rather than trying to use the lines on the straight rulers. also, the fons and porter rulers have some of your math already worked out for you right on the ruler. i have been using the 60degree pyramid ruler for my indian blanket quilt and epp cutting. i liked it so much i picked up the flying geese ruler at the last sale. i've heard it highly recommended by others, too.

so that's the scoop on my cutting gear.
i used to despise cutting when i first began quilting. it was one of the most difficult parts for me. but over time, with practice, i've gotten better at it and actually enjoy it in doses now. having a variety of tools on hand to help makes it that much easier and more enjoyable for me.

happy cutting and sewing all!

***i should probably put some sort of disclaimer on here that no one asked or paid me to say any of this, that i purchased all these tools myself for my own use. i'm just sharing what i use and why i like it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


most quilters can trace their love affair with quilting back to a specific quilt or quilter that enthralled them, grabbed their notice, and got them interested in this hobby or that they have an emotional attachment to. my roots in quilting go back to my childhood, to one particularly lovely pink patchwork star.

my mom made some whole-cloth, tied quilts at various points in my childhood, and i even helped her tie a few of them, but she never did any patchwork quilting. so the first patchwork quilt i ever met and loved was the pink texas lonestar quilt that resided on a bed at my grandmother margaret's house in my aunt catherine's former room. when i lived with my grandparents for 6 months as a 13 year old, this became my room and quilt for a while. i always loved seeing it when i visited. as a new bride in 1995, i was staying with my grandmother and noticed the pink lonestar was no longer on the bed in my room. she told me that, sadly, catherine had tried to machine wash the quilt and it now needed repairs, so she had removed it from the bed. at some point, catherine took the quilt in hopes of finding someone to fix it. i was quite disappointed. although i was not yet a quilter, i loved the quilt and had a deep love of family heirlooms. the pink lonestar would have been in my top 3 choices of items i would like to inherit.

last year i contacted aunt catherine and asked her if she could send me a photograph of the quilt because i wanted to try to recreate it. she said she'd hunt it down and send me a picture. the photo never came. however, when i realized our summer travels would be taking us close to my aunt, i asked her to get it out so i could photograph it myself when i visited her. i'll admit i was thinking of tactful ways i could convince her to let me take it home with me so i could get it repaired myself. and maybe keep it. there was no need for me to be devious. when i got to catherine's house and asked her about the quilt, she said, "it's in the front hall. i'm giving it to you." i honestly started crying on the spot. this quilt is the only heirloom quilt in my family that i know of or have ever seen. and now it's mine through my aunt's generosity.

  grandma margaret told me this was a wedding present from her aunts. as a war bride in 1945, i can only imagine what went into the making of this by her aunt(s). i've always thought she said her mother's sister(s) made it, but now i'm not so sure of my memory. anyway, this quilt that was about 40 years old when i first met it is now approximately 70 years old. and it's rather delicate. there is evident fading going on, but it's still in quite lovely condition.

 i don't remember this, but when aunt catherine gave it to me, the quilt came with two pieces: a quilt and a pillow sham. i don't know what else you call the sham exactly because it's not a pillowcase type sham like we have today. it's more of a half-quilt panel. but i'm pretty sure it's designed to cover the pillows. the cool thing about the sham is that it's not as worn or faded as the quilt, so you can see the original colors better. the fact that it's not faded and that i seem to remember using the quilt to cover the pillows when i used to sleep with this quilt, leads me to believe it wasn't on the bed. even the sham has some fading in the brightest pinks, which just don't seem to be colorfast.

here i laid the sham over the quilt to show the difference in the colors. there are anywhere from  4 to 7, possibly more, pinks used, but it's just too hard to say with the fading.

 even with all the fading and spots of damage, this is a stunning quilt. when i laid it out on my bed to photograph today, my three year old excitedly exclaimed, "it's PERfeh!" the sixteen year old was also quite taken aback by it's beauty when she walked in the room.

in light of what we consider "modern" vs. "traditional" in today's quilting world, and now that i know a little of quilt history, this quilt strikes me as not typical for the 1940's or at least not what most people would think of as typical. it is not a scrap quilt, apparently made from fabrics chosen specifically for this quilt rather than pieced together from reclaimed items. also, it's not made from prints - it's all solids. how very modern! and the bright, all-pink palette is definitely modern.

i think it just goes to show that the lines between modern and traditional are a lot blurrier than we think, that traditional quilters generations ago made some very "modern" pieces just like quilters of today can choose to make some very "traditional" quilts. really, even though there are trends in each age of quilting, there have always been quilters who quilt outside the lines of what is most common for their era. and maybe there is just a lot more variety in taste and style all along than we realized.

 at my grandmother's house, this quilt lay on a full-sized, brass framed bed. today i photographed it on my king-sized, aluminum framed bed. as much as i'd like it to stay on my bed, it's not suitable for everyday use anymore. but i think i just found the perfect place for it. more on that later because it's kind of a big deal and is going to take some work before i can get it in place.

peeking through the rips and fraying, the piecing seems to be done by machine, but the quilting was definitely done by hand. on the star, the quilting is stitch-in-the-ditch around the diamonds. these lines then continue into the negative space, where they are crossed by another set of lines to create more diamonds, with the four corner squares all being quilted in the same radiating direction. the four triangles formed between the points on each side of the quilt also were in a pattern, but after studying it i realized just one of them is not going in the same direction as the others. a little oops when in the making? probably. but it's not noticeable in the least unless you are trying to pick out the pattern.

 the backing is a solid pink, pieced together by at least two of the pinks from the front. i think the batting must be some kind of polyester or polyester blend because it's rather full and slightly puffy, and has kept it's shape all these years. it's not creased like a cotton batted quilt would be after so many years in folded storage. also, it's not extremely dense like a wool batting would be. i had no idea they had polyester batting in the 1940's but i guess they must have.  seeing how well the batting has worn over the years has given me pause to reconsider my own personal preference for 100% cotton battings.

the binding is the lightest pink of those used in the quilt. on close examination, i can tell it was machine sewn down and then turned to the back and attached by hand like we would do today.

however, it's not stitched on with a blind hem stitch but tacked down by small, rather uneven stitches every 1/4" or so. this imperfect detail, along with several other imperfect factors in the making of this quilt, remind me that quilts don't have to be perfectly crafted to be beautiful or loved, that the mistakes or small cover-ups for shortages will fade into the larger picture of the finished quilt. this gives me not only comfort about all the flaws in my own quilts, but makes me love this quilt even more.

i don't know how long i'll be able to preserve this particular quilt in good condition, but i'm immensely grateful to have it since it's the only quilt from my family's tree i've ever seen.
truly, it is a priceless heirloom.

i hope i can make enough quilts that my great grandchildren can all say they own or at least have seen something from their family's quilting roots. i hope i inspire lots more quilters and quilts to grow on that family tree in the years to come. maybe this little lady will make some of her own someday, like the great-great-great grandmother she was named for.

but that is another family tree quilting roots story for another day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

as the year begins

my big fabric crush today is on this "antique flower" print from julia rothman's miscellany collection for cloud 9 fabrics
last year i had a lot of goals, ideas, and finishes to complete at the beginning of the year. this time around i'm just continuing to work on where i am. that means i need to get some gypsy wife blocks done, maybe look at the sugar block club again, and definitely get around to completing my boys' quilts. definitely that! it also means to keep at the two quilts on my design walls: penny patch 2.0 and the indian blanket.

new year's day i got penny patch 2.0 back in place on the wall and assembled more than half of it into rows, then remembered i had put it on the wall sideways! i could have more on the wall and less on the floor by turning it sideways when laying it out. i was simply supposed to remember to turn all the blocks when i started sewing it together. this means all the directional prints are now running across the quilt instead of up and down it. oh, goodness. i'm not even surprised by now when i make these sorts of mistakes. however, i should come up with a system for leaving myself notes of my intentions since my sewing time is sporadic and i so often forget what i meant to do.

so now i have lots and lots of text prints going sideways and birds flying the wrong direction. i either have to unpick all of it, increase the size so i can reorient the quilt, or just live with it completely sideways. options one and three aren't really feasible so i'm going to have to add a whole lot of squares. but i can't take that just now so today penny patch 2.0 went in time out until i can deal with it.

i saved my sanity with a another row of triangles for the indian blanket quilt instead! i think the first three rows are looking very nice together. the other row i made is slated for further down the quilt and doesn't look so great next to these two so i'm leaving it out of the photo.

i love these triangles. they are challenging yet quick and easy at the same time. i'm tempted to just do the whole quilt, but this is my breather project for when i need a break. i really, really need to make myself work on the wonky stacked coins quilt for s1. it's time that was done. i don't make a lot of rules for my quilting anymore, but getting a quilt completed for each kid before i do anymore other sewing has got to be a priority. so this afternoon it's back to navy and orange and strips. wish me luck and fortitude!

linking up with lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 year end review

 as i looked over several 2014 year-end posts, i thought i hadn't done very much myself this year. certainly not as much as last year. i couldn't even remember a single finish because it seemed all i did this year was finish up leftovers from last year. however, there were a few baby quilts i did start and finish this year; two, actually. every other finish was started last year or further back than that (2011). for details on any of the finishes, just visit my "quilts" page and follow the links.

and there were plenty of things started last year that were still not finished this year either, not to mention all the projects i did start this year. (top left to right, by row: fl strips baby quilt, color card from color intensive class, paris daydreams, gypsy wife blocks, january sugar block club installment, bandwidth, girls weekend charity quilt, wonky stacked coins for s1, bloom where you are planted, penny patch 2.0, indian blanket from angled class.)

if 2013 was the year i really became a quilter, 2014 seems to me the year i made lots of big plans and joined lots of activities, but didn't really do a whole lot. or at least finish a whole lot. i got seduced by the gypsy wife qal and sugar block of the month right out of the gate in january so i never even got around to any of my 4 "goals" for the year. (actually, penny patch 2.0 was one of those so i guess i did get one of them started.) i did, however, do some worthwhile things, like join the fabricholics anonymous fabric fast. that was on-off-on-off-finally-make-it-6-months for me. i took two classes from rachel hauser at stitched in color: color intensive and angled. both were awesome skill builders for me. the gypsy wife qal and sugar block club both pushed my skills in new directions i didn't think i was ready for just yet. but i surprised myself with what i was able to do. i also stretched past the stipple by learning to fmq the dogwood stitch and even tried some other improvised styles on the ill-fated strips baby quilt. this year i managed to get both of my oldest two daughters to make their own first quilts, one as a school project and another for a church auction.

so all in all, it really wasn't a bad year. i took time off when i had to. when you're a mom of 7, that's quite often. i'm not a fast quilter and i don't churn out finishes. but i do enjoy this hobby immensely.

what does 2015 look like from here? i'm not making any plans or commitments this year. i'm going to take it as it comes and see where i go along the way.

but i sure better get my boys' quilts finished up soon!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

pile 'o fabric

 after i got my penny patch 2.0 all laid out and then made a baby penny patch, too, i needed a break from it for just a little while. so it sat for several days. i knew i should go ahead and get the top pieced and be done with it, but i didn't have a lot of time or even inclination to do that just yet. the mr was planning on taking the little kids to the zoo and giving me the day off last friday, so i thought i'd probably get around to it at that point.

but then some boys were kicking a soccer ball around in our large central hallway, adjacent to the dining room/sewing space and my design wall got hit. game over, for me at least.

it's been sitting there for about a week now. i don't even have the heart to go in and put everything back up yet. yes, i was mad and even teared up a bit, but this is life in a large family, life with children, life with boys. they are the more important piece of this equation. so i'll just sigh a bit, reassemble it when i get a chance, and get that top sewn together, hopefully before they strike again.

thank goodness i always take a layout shot to work from when piecing so i at least know how it's supposed to look and don't have to figure out the layout all over again. because that took hours!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

a master's touch

 maybe you remember these quilt blocks i made several week ago to learn a few techniques during the online  ::angled:: class from rachel hauser at stiched in color? they were sent in to rachel so she could make a quilt to donate to a charity. originally, rachel was going to make one baby quilt from each style block if she got enough submissions. however, when i emailed her that i'd sent my blocks she said she hadn't got enough of each for individual quilts so she was probably going to combine some of them, maybe even put them all together in one big quilt. i'll have to admit that when she told me this, i was highly skeptical that would work at all based on the block assortment i had sent her alone. i could not see how my blocks would work together, much less how she could mix in whatever else she received.

but that's why rachel is a quilt master and teacher, and i'm not. just look what she did:

all photos courtesy of rachel hauser at stitched in color
 i absolutely adore this quilt! it has a homey, vintage feel - like maybe it was found in someone's grandma's attic or buried in a chest of heirlooms somewhere. at the same time, it has a very modern aesthetic to it, too. i think putting together such a wide assortment of blocks from several quilters lends to the scrappy, make-do vintage feel it has, as well as the black-and-white ticking stripe sashing she used.  some of the block styles, the colors, and various fabrics give it it's modern side. i'm posivitely stunned by what she made out of these blocks. never in a million years could i have dreamed this up. rachel is simply magic.

 i can see my two wonky star blocks and four butterfly blocks in this photo. play a little "eye spy" if you want to find them. here's a hint: none of them are touching each other but they are either lined up or in the same position as their mates.

 the envelope blocks, which i might have been the only person besides rachel to make, went on the back of the quilt, which is a softer, sweeter layout than the bold front. but it still has plenty of color and punch to it!

i really love how she threw in the typewriter block among all the envelopes. that coupled with a text print she put in the lower left corner turns the back into a writing themed spread. i like to think of them as notes of love and encouragement to the recipient of this quilt from those who contributed to it's making. it's so fun how both sides of this quilt have a strong and unique personality. because there were so many blocks put together, this turned into a generous throw sized quilt that will be going to a women's shelter. i hope the mother who gets this feels wrapped in the love of ladies who cared enough about her and her situation to make something warm and comforting even though they didn't know her personally. the whole time i was working on these blocks i thought of how they would be for someone in need and although i didn't know who they were, their story or situation, i knew they needed love and that God knew who they were even if i didn't. He'd see the quilt got to the right place. my part was just to make pieces of it and send them out.

again, i am so grateful to rachel for not only offering an excellent class but for giving the students a chance to put their budding skills to good use to bless the life of someone who could use a quilt.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


 get ready, i'm gonna talk fabric a whole, whole lot. you may just want to come back later.
first trip out in 6 months
 my fabric fast is over. i stopped and started, soared and fell, for the first several months of this year, not making it through the goal of 6 months. but then i did it! i went 6 whole months without purchasing a single inch of fabric, not even my allowable exceptions. i was going to just continue on until the end of the year but i got wind of some favorite solids being discontinued and on sale.

crash, bang, boom, bang! that was the end of the fast.
and the beginning of the feast.

i don't know how pleased i should be with myself when as soon as the fast was over i went out and purchased everything i'd wanted to in the past 6 months. really, did i accomplish anything at all?

i ordered from a few online stores and then went local to find some more bits for penny patch 2.0.

local store #1, etc, used to be my favorite scrapbook store. when they started carrying designer quilting fabrics, that's when i got into the world of modern quilting. (or the modern world of quilting. i don't think i'm fully a modern quilter if you talk about style and aesthetics. anywho . . . that's how i got started.) they have a very nice selection of quilting fabrics but don't carry everything my little quilter's heart could desire. then again, who does? they also have a rewards program so i routinely get my purchases at 10% off. and seeing fabric in person is the best possible way to select fabric. while there, i got lots of little bits for the blue/red/yellow/black chevron quilt i want to do and stocked up on some old favorites that were on 60% clearance. i also signed up for two new classes.

on my second trip there a few days later (for a class), i picked out some fabrics for the baby shower quilt i needed. i was starting to second guess my recent pull so i began replacing the missing fabrics for my original plan A (corals and purple dot). and i also picked out some fabrics to go with the plan B pull i'd made (pink and black dots). it wasn't until later that i realized i didn't need to shop for both pulls because it was an either/or situation. oh, well. i also got a new DS print for my triangle quilt. then i spied the zen chic circles in green and orange. yikes! these are such perfect blenders/low volumes that i thought were all gone. 2 yds each now stocked.

 next i stopped in to local store #2, which is a more traditional store - the kind where you find a loooooong aisle or two of batiks and sweet little white haired ladies wandering around. mulqueen's caters to the large group of snowbird/seasonal retired persons who visit each winter, and their style of fabric and quilts reflects this. however, they have some really great things going for them. firstly, they have a huge selection - tons of choices. if i take the time to scan through everything, i can always find some nice surprises. secondly, they only charge $6.95 a yard for designer quilting fabrics. wowsers, that can't be beat! thirdly, there are some really sweet ladies in there. it's always worth the stop and hunt if i'm on that end of town.

also local, is the national chain, joann fabric and crafts. they now carry a growing selection of designer fabrics from the likes of denyse schmidt, jennifer paganelli, cloud 9, and julianna horner. the big pre-christmas sale of 40% off is hard to pass up and a great time to stock up.

are you tired yet? i am. but we haven't even gone online yet!

llama fabrics on etsy surprised me by including a nice chunk of samples with my yardage. all those smaller cuts on top were extras. (i keep saying, "llama face!!!" in my best david spade voice every time i see the shop name. hee hee! anyone else an "emperor's new groove" fan?)

at llama i found the elusive katy jones art gallery line, priory square, i was looking for. also, some fox field stars and various low volumes to build my stash.

the darling and talented heather bailey has a lovely holiday sale going on so 1/2 yd cuts of up parasol are finally mine! and i already think i need more even though i've only cut into one of them. heather just knows how to produce fabric that makes my heart sing. i'm obsessing over the quilt market brochure she included in the order which features her up-coming clementine line and the most amazing "spin daisy" quilt pattern. i think it's time for me to tackle curves and templates just for "spin daisy." (it's not on her blog yet but you can see it on IG.)

there are two orders from on their way here. yes, two. darn cyber monday.
and a fat quarter set of summer love from art gallery so i can make this plus quilt like jolene's.
that's enough. i've already made myself sick thinking about all of this at one time so i'm done for today.

happy sewing!
i hope you are more responsible and less of a hoarder than i am.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

plan c

 penny patch 2.0 is well underway. in fact, it's all on the board (and floor) awaiting piecing now. last week after i got the initial fabrics cut and started placing them up, i found myself feeling like there was something lacking. the colors just weren't balancing out the way i wanted. on examining rachel's original penny patch, one of the things i noticed about it that i like was the large amount of low-volume and white space in it with punches and sprinklings of her colors. even fabrics she was calling her "color" fabrics were mostly white with touches of the colors. this gave the quilt an overall light, airy feeling and helped the colors shine out.

my first penny patch quilt turned out with a much more earthy, autumnal feel than i was originally going for because many of my fabrics were color saturated and/or on a cream background. so this time i intentionally went for as much white in my fabrics as i could get. but once on the board, i found myself craving a little more variety in prints and even more white space. so i went shopping, of course! i went to my local store for the first time in 6 months (more on that later) and got some additional fabrics to round out penny patch 2.0. not all are on a white base, but it added what i wanted.

 and a little of what i didn't want. that very light blue scrolly print front-and-center in this photo was too baby blue for me. so out it came. some of the new fabrics actually never made it in at all because i found i didn't need as many as i got. in fact, when all was said and done, i had a nice little pile of leftover squares.

now while all this was going on, i was also supposed to be making a baby quilt for my sister-in-law's shower. i'd already been through plan A, but couldn't find the fabrics i'd pulled, and moved on to plan B. however, i was second guessing that plan B and wavering toward replacing the fabrics for plan A. then i got the best idea yet - plan C:

i simply used all the leftover squares from penny patch 2.0 and made a mini penny patch baby quilt. voila! it's a bit less white than my big penny patch will be because i left out the white eyelets in the smaller sizes since this is for a baby. now i just need to quilt and bind this little gal in the next two months before her owner arrives.

and get my own penny patch 2.0 pieced for myself.

linking up with lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced