Friday, October 2, 2015

adding up

after a summer of no quilting and living more deliberately, i think i have a new quilting motto:

if i only make one quilt a year, after twenty years i will have made twenty quilts.

and that's still a lot of quilts, even if it takes twenty years to get there.

 in the beginning of my quilting journey, i bought all the fabrics (and then some), all the patterns, many books, and just wanted to make everything. right away. sound familiar?

in her charming book make & love quilts, mary fons says,

"quilters are impatient people.
to a nonquilter this seems almost laughably wrong. aren't quilters gentle, steady folk who are content to stitch all afternoon in a rocking chair? . . . dedicated quilters are foot-tappers, forever on the lookout for ways to get quilts done more quickly and efficiently for one simple reason:
we want to make our next quilt as soon as possible."

all of which is ironic for a meticulous, time-consuming hobby. as soon as we start a quilt we want to be on to the next one, we can't wait to start another one and usually don't.

wow. that's a lot heavier than it looks. help!

having all those ideas burning in my brain or fabrics i'm just itching to cut into or looking at wips that have been around for a year or two leaves me weary, frustrated, and despairing sometimes. after all, one of my children still doesn't have his own quilt. can't i at least get that done?

the other day i paused in front of the fabric shelf in my bawthroom sewing space and looked at all the fabrics and patterns piled there, probably less than half my stash, and remembered all the quilts they were intended for. i said out loud, "there are anywhere from a dozen to twenty quilts waiting right here. and i'll probably never get them made." the mr. responded that was ok because i was focusing on the things that were most important and that was what i should be doing.

as i pondered this and my summer off over the next few days, i felt more relaxed than i usually would. at first when quilting was so new and difficult, it seemed i'd never get any done. i just didn't have the time. during the first two years of quilting, mostly due to a teeny, tiny addition to the family, i completed only two quilts (here and here), although i started three others (here, here, and here). i knew ladies who made a quilt a month and even some super-efficient quilters, like kelly of my quilt infatuation, who routinely churned out lovely quilts every single week on a regular basis. i felt like i'd be lucky to complete a few a year.

goodness, this is hot and sweaty work holding up this pile!
 well, i've been quilting for nearly five years now and guess what? i have quite a pile of quilts to show for it! if you visit my "quilts" page at the top of the blog, you'll find i've completed 10 full-sized quilts, 13 baby quilts, and a doll quilt. 12 of those quilts, pictured in this post, reside in our home. after gathering them all together to photograph today, and consequently staggering and sweating under the weight of them, i feel pretty good. i have made quilts. lots of them. sure, for every one complete there are 10 more i'm eager to make or most quilters have made 5 times as many. but i already have finished more than i think i could have envisioned 5 years ago.

and we haven't even talked about the quilts that are nearly done or somewhere in progress.

also, now that i know i will get quilts finished, at some rate or another, and that my skill set has improved, which facilitates speed of finish, i find i'm enjoying the process a whole lot more, that i want to slow down and experience it more.

quilts get made.

one stitch, block, top, day, month, year at a time.
they get done.

and my life is a lot more than quilts right now.
thank goodness!
that's a blessing, not an interruption of my hobby.

so, even if i only complete one quilt a year from now on, i'll still have plenty more quilts.

maybe even a gypsy wife someday.

linking up with amanda jean at crazy mom quilt's friday finishes
and sarah's can i get a whoop whoop

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

quilting with the littles

 my family's annual girls weekend has come and gone again. like last year, i was in charge of the humanitarian project. and like last year, i brought along a quilt for everyone to piece together for project linus. in fact, it was the same quilt. we didn't get very far last year. but that's okay. this year the girls made enough blocks for two small quilt tops.

the first little quilters to join me in making were the youngest girls, aged 3 to 5. they all loved picking out the four fabrics for their four patch blocks.

 zipping them up on the machine was super easy, too. i either held the tiny quilter in my lap and let her put her hands on mine as we guided the fabric through, or i had her stand next to me and run the foot pedal. "drive! go!," i'd say when it was time to stitch. they were each so thrilled with their simple blocks when they came together.

 this baby thought she should wear her blocks.

 the middle group of girls, aged 7 to 11, were just as game as the younger crowd to get sewing. however, some of them were more hesitant with the sewing. one little blondie turtled her way through her block, then let out a huge sigh of relief. "that was the first time i ever sewed anything. it was scary!!!" i asked what she was afraid of and she said she was worried about "messing it up."  it reminded me of sitting in my first quilt class, sweating profusely, nearly shaking, wanting so badly to make a quilt but being terrified i wouldn't be able to do it. and i was a grown woman.

 the girls waited very patiently for each other to finish and some even came back for seconds, making more than two blocks each.

 this baby loved nothing more than selecting fabrics and sewing them together. she made about 6 blocks. her unique sewing stance totally worked, too.

quilt number one got laid out and mostly sewn together. i accidentally flipped some blocks and then had to rearrange nearly the whole rest of the layout. unpicking would have been easier!

i didn't pressure any of the older girls or moms to help us. they had other things to do. i thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the girls who wanted to participate and sharing in their enthusiasm. i proposed that we do this each year and that in the future we work on a quilt for a different family member each time so that eventually we will all have our own girls weekend quilt. they were all for the idea. me, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

living deliberately and not quilting

i have this awesome new room in my house. once apon a time it was a formal dining room. then it was a combination sewing/dining room. but then i removed the dining table to fully convert it to a sewing room. however, it is now this wonderfully convenient space, just feet from our front door, where we dump all kinds of stuff, and which also stores my untouched-for-months sewing things.

holy cow, friends! i have been gone a long time. and i haven't sewn more than a few epp stitches all summer long. see, my darling husband bought me a cabin in the woods for our 20th anniversary this year. yes, a whole entire cabin in the woods! on 3 acres! no more summers in the blistering desert heat for me. that's where i've been. and i even took a bare minimum of about 3 bins of sewing supplies and my machine up to the cabin with me. i set up a really cute sewing space in the guest quarters, where i planned on finishing three simple projects this summer. however, i didn't even photograph the space much less even bind the "dreaming easy" quilt that was hours away from completion. there was just too much else to do.

 we took the dining table out of the dining/sewing space in our desert house and moved it up to the cabin, which needed a table big enough for all 9 of us. it's a bit crammed in there, but it works. and now i have no sewing table. but we're good.

 the former sewing/dining table gets lots of good use as a great play-do station and, of course, for meals. every single meal of the day, unless we eat outside. and this is what i did all summer rather than sew - i cooked. like, spent an hour or two in the kitchen each morning, while the rest of the family dozed, and made all kinds of yummy, wholesome things to eat. mostly from the smitten kitchen cookbook or blog, my new favorite.

 and then i (and sometimes the kids) would clean the whole cabin every day because it was small enough to clean every day unlike our real house, which i have decided is way too big. laundry follows us everywhere and that had to be dealt with. but the washer is currently in the basement and the drier is in the garage, so it required a lot more travel than i'm used to. not to mention that our cabin is older than i am and most recently updated in the late 80's, so it is slowly being redone and reimagined. there was a whole lot of taking-out and bringing-in happening. but in between all the domestic stuff, i went outside.

i went outside and walked all over the woods, marveling over wildflowers and breathing fresh mountain air. i let the cool temperatures caress my skin and the brilliant blue of the sky startle my eyes. most every day there was rain, too. usually just enough to keep things green and fresh, but sometimes all day long. a desert-dweller dreams of days like that.

as my life got simplified down to just taking care of my family and enjoying the outdoors, i kept thinking of thoreau's opening words to walden,
 "i went to the woods because i wished to live deliberately." 
every now and then when i passed the quilt space, i would think i must be pretty pathetic to not even be able to get a quilt bound in one summer. but, really, i was living much more simply and deliberately even than that. instead of quilts, i enjoyed things like this:

 my little girls and i got really good at spotting mushrooms of all sorts everywhere. we didn't pick or eat any but just got really excited whenever we saw one pop up somewhere. maybe next year we'll get into foraging and identification.

 my oldest son mastered the grill this summer, which relieved me of cooking dinner several times a week. after all the mornings in the kitchen, this was quite welcome. and did you know: everything tastes better outdoors? truth.

 we let the dogs run wild and they didn't get eaten by any predators or run over by any dirt-road neighbors. they just generally loved life as much as we did. a few times we wore sombreros left by the previous owners. well, at least some of us did. most days those someones were just dressed in overall and boots. because it was the mountains. but sombreros were fair game, too.

several weeks in a row my husband and a few of the children picked wild raspberries and then my oldest girls learned to make pies. from scratch. that's some pretty deliberate living.

another thing we did a whole lot was watch hummingbirds, which gathered by the dozens at our feeders. instead of swarms of bees, we had swarms of hummingbirds, which was quite amazing.

all of this kept me pretty occupied and busy. so busy i never touched the quilts and eventually just packed everything away so no little visitors, which we had aplenty, messed with my stuff.

another summer i think maybe i'll get a chance to quilt more because this cabin really needs a lot of quilts. this was not that year. and it was all wonderful just as it was even though i thought it would be nice to finish those quilts and photograph them somewhere green and pretty.

all this is what i did and where i've been.
no sewing, no quilting.
no trending new fabric purchases to gush about.
just living in the woods.
then we had to come home and get back into our real life, especially homeschool.
and i have no sewing table anymore.

i'm sorely tempted to just set up on a folding table and get crackin', but girls weekend is around the corner so i might as well leave everything packed so i can take it with. maybe this year we'll get further on that charity quilt we started last year.

and then i will come home and make room and a room for sewing in my life again.
see you then!

Friday, September 4, 2015

becky's disappearing four patch

well, it's friday and i've neither a finish to share nor did i have a friday sewing social with becky. i haven't settled in from summer enough just yet to start those up again. of course, becky's also pretty pregnant with her 6th son, so if we don't have one soon, we might not have any for a while. however, the other day i was organizing my sewing photos and came across these photos of a disappearing 4 patch block that becky was working on for her cousin's baby and thought i'd share them as a sentimental moment of nostalgia for those bygone sewing socials.

becky, who has only boys so far, had a few girly charm squares laying around that she'd had no occasion to use just yet. they were leftover from several charm packs that she'd already taken the "boy" squares out of for other projects. she paired them with some white charm square to make four patches, then cut 1" on either side of each seam.

 then she flipped the center pieced portions around and sewed them back together.

voila! simple, clean, and cute. and nearly as fantastic as becky's amazing smile.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"cinched" pattern tutorial

this is a simple strip quilt pattern which utilizes a jelly roll and a bit of extra yardage for an accent strip and block across the upper portion of the quilt. it comes together quickly and easily, with a few opportunities to embellish the design for more detail.

in this tutorial, i will give basic instructions for the pattern. for more detailed instructions, please refer to the links to each section of assembly.

fabric requirements

i'm starting with a generous amount of yardage partly because i already have it in my stash and partly because i simply like to work that way. generally i need room for error and i happen to adore scraps, so leftovers are quite welcome. 
  • one jelly roll (or 45 - 2.5" wide x wof  strips, see further options below)
  • fabric a - 1/2 yd for accent block and backing strip a (could be done with 1/4 yd or fat quarter if adjusting measurements slightly - see section on accent block)
  • fabric b - 1/2 yd for accent strip and backing strip b
  • fabric c - 1/4 yd for extra strips and backing strip c
  • fabric d - the equivalent of one jelly strip for strip joining squares (if using)
  • optional fabric e - 1/3 yd for accent block
  • 1/2 yd binding fabric
  • 3 1/4 yds backing fabric, 4 1/4 yd if using a directional print
it's a pretty small list. if you want more variety in the strips, which i do, you can use additional coordinating pieces. 

* note - 1/4" seams used through out and all measurements are for "cut" (seam allowance included) not "final" unless otherwise noted.

make the strip sections

cut the selvages off all jelly roll strips. (for more detailed instructions on preparing the strips, see cinched pattern, part one.)

select 30 jelly strips to be cut in half and used for the upper section. (set the other 10 strips and the 30 half strips aside for the lower section.) arrange these 30 half strips in a row for the upper section. (for a detailed discussion of strip selection and construction options, see cinched pattern, part one.)

layout the lower section with 30 full strips in a row. these full strips include the 10 remaining jelly strips from the jelly roll, your 5 additional full strips cut from fabric c yardage, and 15 full pieced strips constructed from the leftover halves from the upper section.

you can either simply piece the leftover half strips or . . .

you can make pieced strips that include small 2.5" x 2.5" cut joining blocks, for more interest. i did this, varying the placement height of the joining blocks in the strips, and also using three pieced sections and two blocks for some of the strips. (see cinched part one for a discussion on these joining options.)

cut the accent strip and accent block pieces from fabric b and e.

the accent block can be a simple 10.5" square of one feature fabric e or you can create any quilt block of your choice 10.5" in size. in this quilt, i chose to make a courthouse steps block. (for a discussion of block options and how i made my accent block, see cinched pattern, part two.)

join your accent strip pieces to your accent block to make the middle accent strip of the quilt top. there is a little extra length to this piece as cut so you can play with placement of where you want the accent block to fall.

lay all the pieces out either on a design wall, bed, or floor to check the placement of your strips in the upper and lower sections with the accent strip in between them so you can see how you like your layout.

join the strips in each sections together to create two panels, an upper panel and a lower panel. (for more details on joining the sections together, see cinched pattern, part three.)

join the three panels together to complete your quilt top, which is now approximately 70" h x 60"w, once you square it off. (i used 31 strips so my top is actually 62"w.)

next, create a backing. i like to piece my backings and used a three-strip accent stripe for the back of this quilt. (for directions on making this backing, see three strip accent stripe pieced backing.)

sandwich, baste, and quilt.

for the "out on a limb" version of this quilt, i did a simple echo quilt of all the seams. this resulted in lots of straight lines and a flatter, less-crinkly texture.

for "bloom where you are planted," i used a loopy figure eight quilting pattern, which ran along the strips. this quilt has glorious crinkle texture to it, if that is your preference.

in the accent strip, i stipple quilted for some contrast and added interest. the accent block also had some unique quilting in it's sections. (for a discussion of my quilting choices, see "loops and crinkles.")

"bloom" is bound in some lovely olive lottie dot from heather bailey's "lottie da" collection

now you just need to bind your quilt and you are ready to wash and snuggle!

i've completed two versions of this quilt so far, and have the fabric for a third set aside. "limb" lives on our living room couch and is regularly used and greatly loved, despite all it's imperfections, which i don't really notice any more. "bloom" was gifted to my dear friend and quilting buddy, jill, who has moved away. despite the fact that my 16 yr old photographer did not notice "limb" was upside down, you can see the two versions of the quilt here together and how the slight variations affect the look of the quilt.

i've greatly enjoyed this pattern, which is so simple and satisfying. having designed something myself, especially as a new quilter, is very gratifying, indeed. giving the gift of love made tangible in the form of a cuddly quilt is the best part of all.

i hope you enjoy this pattern and would love to see any version of it you create.

happy quilting!

the detailed steps for this tutorial are spread over 6 posts i wrote as i made the "bloom" quilt and worked on the pattern. find the others here:

cinched part one - fabric requirements and strip preparation
cinched part two - the accent strip and block, modifications from the first quilt, joining blocks for the long strips
cinched part three - joining your strips and sections to assemble your top
the three-strip accent stripe pieced backing - how to make the backing
loops and crinkles - quilting choices for "bloom where you are planted"
cinched part four - quilting, binding, and gifting

linking up with friday finishes at crazy mom quilts

Saturday, August 29, 2015

the three-strip accent stripe pieced quilt backing

 this is one of my all-time favorite quilt backs, which graces the backside of my "out on a limb" quilt, the first run of my "cinched" pattern. honestly, this back makes me as happy as the front.

i chose to piece this backing because i was leery of trying to match up the strong graphical pattern repeat in the red fabric. and because i just love a pieced backing as an additional design feature for a quilt. i chose to offset the stripe not only for design interest but because it would keep the quilt from having a seam down the middle of the back, where a quilt often gets folded. apparently, this is supposed to stress the seam.

because i was so pleased with this backing and because it's so easy, i've tried to duplicate the back on two other quilts. tried. sure, i was able to use the exact same method for the other two quilts, but somehow it didn't have the same effect. and after looking at the other two, i know why. if you look at the first quilt, you'll see i have a strong feature fabric that has little contrast in it's design (it's a simple, tone-on-tone red print). the contrast comes in to play with the strips i used between the large panels. i chose the three fabrics based on fabrics i featured in the front of the quilt. the blue owl strip was my accent block print, the red bandanna print was from the accent strip, and the low-volume yellow strip was used repeatedly on the front, more times than other strips were. i placed the red strip in between the other two prints so it wouldn't be right up against the red panels. and this is the formula for success.

next, i made a similar backing for "romance in the garden." one change was i used two fabrics from the same line and with the same aqua colored field (background) but of different prints. maybe the two prints are the problem or maybe it's because there is just too much sameness all around, but this back falls kind of flat to me. it just doesn't say "wow!" like the first one did. there is no real volume contrast here. that must be the issue.

when i made the backing for my second "cinched" quilt, "bloom where you are planted," i tried the contrast theory again. i did get contrast, but the large panel fabric is so busy the strips kind of get lost anyway. oh, well. now i know even better for next time what to do.

 to make this backing was quite simple. i used one large 4 yard piece of fabric for the main panels and three strips, 2.5" x 72" cut for the accent stripe.

i cut the main fabric in half, resulting in two panels approximately 72" high x 42" wide when the selvages were removed. the top for this quilt was 70" high, so this didn't give me a lot of wiggle room for shrinkage and shifting when quilting, but i took the risk. a safer length would have been 4 1/4 yards of the main fabric, which would have given me 76" in height.

here, with the three strips sewn to the two panels, i have a backing measuring 72" high x 90" wide, more than ample in width for my 60" wide top. but this gives me room to place my top exactly where i want it in relation to the strips on the back. also, because i was using a directional print, i did not want to piece one of the side panels, which i could have done out of one yard of fabric. if i'd done that, the print would not have been running the same direction on both sides of the stripe.

however, if you are not using a directional print, you could use 3 1/4 yards of fabric. cut one panel at 2 yards and 6" long (78h" x 42w") and cut the remaining 1 yard 3" in half (2 - 19w" x 42h" pieces), which can be pieced together to create a second panel that is 19"w x 84"h. cut it down to 78" high to match the other panel. when these two panels are added to the strip section (78" x 6.5", which you made longer than my 72" strips to match the increased height for these more generous measurements), you will have a backing that is 78"h x 65"w. this doesn't give you exactly the 4" on each side normally recommended for a top to backing ratio, but it's pretty good.

if you use the 4 1/4 yd method, you're going to have some nice scraps leftover from cutting the side down 22". just be happy you have enough of your lovely fabric left to use it again in another quilt! (or if you're using the "cinched" pattern, maybe you used if for your accent strip or additional jelly strips for the front? there's an idea!)

now that your backing is done, it's time to make a yummy quilt sandwich. i always enjoy this phase because it makes the different pieces finally look and feel like a quilt, not just a bunch of parts.

when placing my top and bottom together around the batting, i tried very hard to get the strips to line up as best i could. this can be done by seeing that your backing stripe lines up with the same strips from the quilt top at both the upper and lower edges of the top. also, you might be able to see in the above photo that i could vaguely see the backing stripes through the batting. so i slowly and carefully lined up the seams on the strips with the top as i placed the top on the batting.

this is not essential, but if you are doing some echo or straightline quilting, it will make the back look better.

there you have my favorite pieced backing in a nutshell.
or maybe a few nutshells.
i'm not very brief. ever.

the detailed steps for this quilt's tutorial are spread over 5 posts i wrote as i made the "bloom" quilt and worked on the pattern. find the others here:

cinched part one - fabric requirements and strip preparation
cinched part two - the accent strip and block, modifications from the first quilt, joining blocks for the long strips
cinched part three - joining your strips and sections to assemble your top
loops and crinkles - quilting choices for "bloom where you are planted"
cinched part four - quilting, binding, and gifting
cinched full tutorial