Wednesday, September 17, 2014

when life's too crazy for quilting

antique victorian "crazy quilt"
y'all, i've been frantically trying to live my actual real life the last few weeks, which has left zero time for quilting of any kind, other than a brief stop-in at rachel's angled class every few days to dream and sigh over what i would like to do when i have the time someday. like in about 15 years when i have no more children at home. the fact is, i signed up for 7 children and homeschooling all on my own crazy initiative. really, that requires a certain amount of gutsy insanity, and some focus and commitment as well. no matter how many cool quilting ideas i get or how many wips i have in progress, i have responsibilities that have much farther reaching. longer-lasting effects than my quilting does. so i've sewn a total of three straight lines in the last two weeks. 

just last night while my husband and i were pillow-talking about all the things i can't get done and what maybe needed to be cut out, i declared i hadn't even been doing the "fluff" or "me" stuff since we got home from our summer road trip and i still feel like i'm drinking my life from a firehose, unable to get even the massive list of essentials done. he congratulated me on that and encouraged me to think carefully about my priorities and schedule. and ironically, here i am blogging today.

i have nothing new to share, not even some more straight lines of quilting. but this afternoon i just needed to connect to the blogosphere in some way. i've been wanting to talk about how i finally managed to fabric fast for several months on end (no purchases since april! four straight months!) after my repeated failed attempts (bad february, iffy march and april), but i have no photos to show of something i didn't do. 

so i dug out the few quilting photos i took on our vacation. they aren't of my work, but rather of some cool vintage quilts i stumbled across in a museum on a spontaneous stop in a little backwoods town. seeing as how we visited several historic sites, including colonial williamsburg, washington, dc, and mount vernon, i was puzzled at the lack of quilts i came across. perhaps i just didn't get to the right exhibits. however, a few weeks into our trip we were driving from atlanta, ga to seaside, fl and found ourselves passing through the quaintest, most picturesque small town of eufaula, al. the main street was divided by a large, verdant median, and both sides of the avenue were lined with a completely charming mix of cottages and antebellum mansions. after driving the street a bit i declared we needed a break from the car so we got out and walked.

 please excuse our rough travel appearances as we'd been on the road several hours already and were more concerned with comfort than style or grooming. carseat hair is just about as bad as bedhead.

 this lovely home turned out to be museum, which we decided to tour on the spot. it was a treasure trove of period furniture, clothing, and artifacts, maintained by the sweetest souther docents you ever met. they welcomed my rumpled children with open arms and honeyed southern accents of the most genteel nature.

 bless my little ones, they were enraptured and photographed nearly every inch of the mansion. i handed over my phone and let them go at it. i want to raise photographers as well as quilters and bibliophiles.

 upstairs in a bedroom i found my only encounter with quilts, fabric, or quilting the entire trip. unfortunately, the lighting was very low to protect the antiques, which made for poor photographic conditions. nevertheless, we were allowed to roam through everything at will rather than just view from behind ropes or glass, which makes for such a different experience.

 i love star quilts and this one was no exception. i think the crosshatched box quilting is particularly charming.

 another star quilt, part of a trousseau, was also on display. it's soft, somewhat earthy muted tan and sage color palette was lovely.

the crazy quilt laid out on the bed was a sight to behold. so many fascinating little bits stitched together and embellished with intricate needlework of every sort. as i child, i always thought crazy quilts were just too crazy and chaotic, but looking at this one up close, i can understand the appeal.

that's all i have to share for now; memories from my summer vacation. i hope that another week or two will resolve the pace i'm functioning at right now. getting back into our home life and launching another homeschool year for 6 children has been no small feat. in fact, i feel so busy that i keep wondering if there is a newborn in the house since i find myself with little time to even brush my own teeth! (no newborn, but a potty training 2 yr old demands a large share of attention.) when the dust settles, we'll see if i can get some more lines quilted or a top perhaps finished for that tutorial i was working on. but not while my babies need me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

line upon line

home at last and got to turn on juki come friday night. i was deligthed to see she's still alive and kickin' after the long slumber. what with trying to recover and catch up from the travels, i didn't get any friday morning quilting time in. maybe next week. but i did settle down to some stitching for friday night sew along on instagram. i have quite a few projects on the cusp of being finished, so it was hard to pick. however, i settled on s2's last-christmas quilt, which is in the "needs quilting" que. you can see i managed all of three lines of stitching.

i'm going for randomly spaced straight line stitching for this quilt. also, using two or three colors. goodness, i forgot how hard it is to stitch a straight line! it's even harder when you are interrupted every 3 to 5 minutes by children who need something only you can get, the doorbell, and the telephone. i was on and off the machine for over two hours. by the looks of my output, i'd say i was more off than on. but it was a start.

little quilting chores make for big quilting finishes, right?

perhaps this week i'll get another few inches along.
if the doorbell and telephone stopping ringing.

linking up with lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

happy binding

 it's the rare occasion that i try to make the pattern in my bindings match up. this was not one of those times. however, as i was ironing out the strips after joining them, i couldn't help be pleasantly pleased and just a little tickled when i noticed how perfectly some of the strips lined up. pretty, aren't they? hurray for happy sewing moments when something spontaneously goes right rather than awry!

 and now this adorable heather bailey "lottie dot" (which is really more like a concave square) is ready to bind up the florida baby quilt (as yet unnamed). i love this dot and was so disappointed that she didn't make it in the orange from this collection, too. "lottie dot" from "lottie dah" came in purple, olive, charcoal, and cream, but not that luscious tangerine orange. so sad. it would have made a great binding, too.

since this is a baby quilt, i went for machine binding again. following my last happy accident, i purposefully made this binding at 3" rather than 2.5", which works out beautifully for me for machine binding. previously, i used a piece of clear scotch tape to mark where i should be attaching the binding but somewhere along the way since then, someone else mentioned they use washi tape. (sure wish i could remember who to credit!) the washi is easier to see and a lot cuter, too.

 the one little mistake i did make this time around, besides wandering off course in a few places, is i attached the binding to the wrong side. i attached it to the back, which means i'm folding over and finishing off on the front. with handbinding, this doesn't make a difference to me. but when machine binding, the first side has more potential room for showing error, so i'd like the errors to be on the back, rather than the front. not too big a deal, but it's a "note to self" preference for next time.

actually, i probably should have used a thread that blended rather than contrasted. that was just laziness of not wanting to change threads. again, not that big a deal. just a "note to self."

 otherwise, this is a pretty, happy binding that makes me smile!

there is still a smidgen of quilting to go (backwards, i know), because i had to finish unpicking that ugly quilting on the pink strip. i got tired of waiting on the unpicking and completed the binding first. now to correct that quilting. when that's done, i'll have a finish on my hands! and a great story to share.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

19 and counting

my epp has been languishing away in a lonely corner for most of the spring and summer, but i've worked at it a few times during d2's volleyball games in the last few weeks. i have lots of other opportunities to work on it coming up, so i pulled out all the finished blocks to see where i stand with the project. i have a combination of approximately 19 wheels - approximately because some are full wheels, some half, and others already joined. add in the one i sent liz for her birthday and that means i made 20 blocks since i started last summer.

as d1 so kindly pointed out, at this rate of production, it will take me 5 years to complete the 100 blocks i am aiming for with this quilt. not such a happy thought. but i was pleasantly surpirsed that my total was as high as it was. last time i checked, i only had about a dozen made. working at it here and there, i managed to make 7 more blocks without realizing it. i should do that more often.

today i was cutting some fabrics i bought to add in several months ago. as i was cutting triangles, i took this photo to remind myself in the future that the perfect measurements for the triangles are as follows: 2.25" strips, cut at the 1.5"/#2 line. this makes up pieces just exactly as i like them.

now let's see how many more wheels i can churn out before summer is over.

Friday, August 8, 2014

photos that just won't

 so, i know a thing or two about photography. i really do. i have a good camera and a fantastic lens. i use natural light whenever possible and often wait until i can get it to photograph something. i know how to shoot in manual. i adjust my white balance and exposure compensation all the time. i know what aperture means and which way to go when i want more light or depth of field. yeah, i know all that stuff. i aim to take pleasing photos "in camera" and don't edit hardly ever, at all. this works pretty well for me most of the time.

however, i am having a hard time with the latest fabrics i've been using. despite the natural light and adjustments, they just don't look good. whenever i take a detail shot, i end up with what looks like a terrible flash photograph. just look at the ugly pictures i got when shooting in the lovely location above:

white balance - shade; too yellow

white balance - sunlight; slightly grey

white balance - sunlight, exposure adjusted +1 for more light; washed out and colors too bright
 and what happens on the design wall is even worse. i really do try to square myself with what i'm shooting, but it's difficult in the room with the table in the middle of everything taking up all the space. i stand behind it or on it when necessary.

  i tried to get a shot of part of the quilt on the design wall in natural afternoon light. it looks like a nasty indoor flash photo to me. is it that the intense colors in this quilt are difficult to photograph or is it me? the reds, in particular, are always off. and i either get slightly grey photos with not enough light in the whites or nice bright whites but the other colors are too intense and/or washed out.

here's the setting where i'm shooting the design wall photos, all natural light only:

white balance - shade; too yellow
 btw, my walls are a buttery yellow color, best captured on the left behind the ironing board in the above photo.

white balance - daylight; greyish, especially in the whites.

white balance - daylight, adjust exposure +1 for more light; washed out and colors are lurid
i know all our screens won't be synced, so this may come across differently from where you sit, but maybe you see what i'm talking about. any suggestions?

fyi - i shoot with a canon 60d body,and canon ef 24-70mm 2.8 apt ultrasonic L series zoom lens.

Monday, August 4, 2014

basket o' quilts

 last summer, i had three quilts happily living in our family room, there for anything (reasonable) the children wanted to use them for. my method of storage for them was to drape them over a couch arm. it worked well at the time. fast forward to early this summer and i have 5 quilts who reside in the family room. the old arm-hanging method wasn't working so well anymore.

so i found a basket at target that rounds them all up nicely - and quite literally seeing as it's a tube-shaped basket and i roll the quilts to put them in there. this is a smith and hawkins basket that matches the large baskets i have housing kids' shoes and sports balls in our central hallway. i like that the basket matches but is unique in it's shape.

until becky gets busy with her mad woodworking skills and makes me a quilt ladder (pretty please?) like the one she just made for herself, we'll be using the basket for quilt storage 'round here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

the last bit

 are you sick to death of my penny patch? you ought to be. but i found some photos of the binding which i never used, so i'm throwing them up here. then, like binding finishes off a quilt, i'll be finished talking about this particular one.

i auditioned and even bought a few different bindings but had difficulty settling on one. finally, this clementine micheal miller "tiny tiles" won out because of it's vibrant hue (which photographs too vibrant no matter what settings i use) which matched the backing so well, and because of the subtle orange peel pattern, which matched my quilting choice.

some of the colors on the front are a little flat next to this deep tangerine, but there is enough variety in orange shades that i think it works. it's been on there long enough now that i either like it or am just used to it.

i'm pretty sure i completed the handstitching of the binding whilst watching a movie with my kids, probably bbc's version of dicken's "little dorrit." (really good mini series, by the way - i honestly think i like it even better than the book, even with the changes.) oh, wait! now i remember. everyone else was gone camping except s1 and i. he was watching bbc's "sense and sensibility" with me. really. after a dinner out and stop at the gelato shop, he spent some time hanging out with me while i watch elanor, marianne, willoughby, edward, etc. i stitched on one end and he snuggled up under the other. it was fantastic. see, that memory, sewn into the binding, had to be recorded because i'd already nearly forgotten it.

the last stitch taken in a quilt is always such a satisfying surprise to me. "yipee! i'm done! really, i'm actually done after all this time? yes, it's really a quilt now!" since i have a few finishes under my belt lately, i've noticed the setting of that final moment becomes part of the quilt and another memory added to it's story. some people have even playfully suggested naming their quilts after the movie they were watching when they finished it - common way to cross the finish line, i guess. that would work for me quite often. i suppose this one should be called "sense and sensibility" or "elanor" or something like that. but it remains just plain old "penny patch."

to back up a bit, i got the binding going one friday afternoon while sewing with becky (and boys). it took us another few weeks but we did get together again after our long put off first friday sewing social. she'd managed to get a new machine, too! (i may have encouraged that and her sweet husband may have obliged for mother's day.) now she has more harp space to work with and features to play with. not to mention that she's already working on something completely new - matching hst herringbone quilts for two of her boys. "oh, yes, that other one's done already," she says in passing.

 the 8 yr old was the only photographer available to me for capturing our sewing time. interesting angles and cropping, no?

becky's hst's, which i'm sure are already quilts by now. i need to text her about this friday. maybe i can get a top put together! and have something to show besides an over-advertised penny patch.

Monday, July 21, 2014

modifications - cinched, part 2

i don't think i've ever followed a quilt pattern exactly as written. i always find some way to make adjustments, whether it be in size, layout, or fabric choices. apparently i can't even follow my own pattern without making modifications. i've made a few changes along the way with "cinched".

accent square/block

first up, instead of that simple accent square in the middle section, i chose to make a courthouse steps block. i spent about an hour fussy cutting and fidgeting to create the block that will be the focal point of the quilt. it's a bit busy, but all the fabrics from this line are loud and luscious. i had a little fun including the critters in the strips i cut for a touch of "eye spy" action in the outer ring.

the white floral fabric came from my backing and the other two pieces came from leftover jelly roll strips not used in the body of the quilt. the sizes of the strips came about purely out of what i had available to work with. i just kept adding until i had the block size i needed.

this block of the quilt is one place where you could spend a bit of time doing something special if you wanted to amp this pattern up just a bit. any favorite block, as long as it's size 10.5" unfinished would work here. or, like in my original, you could fussy cut a fabric you wanted to focus on or highlight. anything the correct size goes - the possibilities are wide open.

if you are simply cutting a 10.5" block, cut it from fabric a. if you are making a "racing stripes" pieced backing like mine, while you're cutting, you can cut additional 2.5" wide strips of fabric a until you have an 80" x 2.5" pieced strip.

*measurement options - another adjustment i've made to this quilt is a few of the measurements have changed. originally, i was trying to keep fabric requirements as small as possible, so i made the accent square 9" in order to get it out of 1/4yd. but after putting the quilt together, i noticed the 9" square didn't match up with the 2" strips. so i enlarged the square/block to 10" finished/10.5" cut. this means the accent strips adjoining the square are also slightly larger than the original at 10.5" high. if you want to buy less fabric, you could reduce the square/block to 9" cut in order to get it out of 1/4 fabric. just make sure you also adjust the adjoining strips to the same height.

accent strip

the rather clumsy name of this quilt comes from the accent strip & block that divides the upper and lower strip sections. i originally toyed with the name "sweet spot" because of that accent square, but that didn't sit right for a few reasons. then i thought how the accent strip looks kind of like a belt "cinched" around the waist of the quilt body. and this quilt is a "cinch" to make, being so easy and all, so that became the name. since nothing else brilliant came along, it's stuck with a somewhat lame name.

the whole point of the accent strip was to add some length to the quilt, making it a larger size than just a jelly roll alone allows. also, it was a chance to add interest to a basic strip quilt and showcase a few favorite fabrics from the line. selecting two fabrics with lots of contrast makes a better impact in the quilt.

anyhow, to make that accent strip, first create your 10.5" unfinished square/block (options above). from fabric b, cut one strip 10.5" x wof (or 42" long) and one strip 10.5" x 12". (this is a little wide, but it will give you room to place your block exactly where you want it in the quilt top.)

sew the long strip to the left side of the accent block and sew the shorter strip to the right of the accent block, as pictured above.

upper strip layer

this is where i left off last time - ready to sew strips together. once you have all strips laid out in a pleasing manner, begin sewing them together in pairs. then join 3 pairs together in one group of 6 strips. square off these groupings of 6 before joining them together. this will help keep everything straight. when you sew multiple strips by just adding the next strip on, you can get a slanted piece. so chain piece in pairs, then group in sixes, and square up before joining them all together.

also, to aid in keeping everything straight, i alternate the direction i sew the strips in. i chain pieced the pairs top-to-bottom and pieced the pairs together bottom-to-top.

now join your upper strip layer to the middle accent strip layer.

when you do this, line up the seams of the accent block with the strip seams above it. pin at the seams and at other intervals along the length of the seam, then sew.

lower strips layer

 a few days ago i got the top section of half strips sewn all together. now for the lower strip section. but as i looked at them hanging on the design wall, they weren't exciting me much. meh. blech. boring. so i just left them alone and did what i was supposed to be doing around the house instead.

however, yesterday i was browsing blue elephant stitches, catching up with jolene's work, when inspiration hit. i don't think i even saw anything specific there, i just got the idea of how to spice up my strips some while i was looking at her lovely quilts.

i was never really crazy about all the half strips put together in this pattern, but it was a necessity because of cutting all the strips in half for the top layer. so i tried cutting more long strips from my extra yardage and weeding out some of the pieced strips. surprisingly, i liked that even less. the joined up strips were adding interest to the quilt. i thought about breaking them up into more pieces per pieced strip, but each time you cut the strip you loose 1/2" length to seam allowances and that cut down the length of the over all quilt.

well, the idea i got was to take one extra half strip of  light green gingham and put a 2.5" (cut) block in between the joined strips. i already had my pieced strips sewn together, but it wasn't much work to unpick those few short seams. and it was worth it! i like the way these little boxes look a lot.

by using the little block to add length, i was able to put more pieces in some of the strips so that there is also variety in where the blocks fall and how many per strip. the lower section is peppered with little bits of green gingham and i like it. this could also be done with more than one fabric but i like the consistency it adds to the quilt having just one fabric for all the small blocks.

 i liked it so much that once i got going, i cut into some of the other long strips that i hadn't intended on cutting at all. now i have more variety and am much happier with the way the long lower section is looking.

new lower section layout awaiting sewing (just ignore the unrelated blocks sharing the board)

next up, sewing the strips together and finishing this top!
nearly there.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"cinched" - a pattern in the making, part one

i was quite content to work on that wip list of mine and not feeling the need to start anything new. but then my birthday rolled around and while everyone else spent a few hours watching the world cup game, i decided to sew something. seeing as it was my birthday, i also decided i wanted something fresh, especially since my machine was still tucked away upstairs and i had no desire to lug it down. a little pressing and cutting seemed perfect.

happy birthday to me sewing time
several weeks ago i brought out this jelly roll, which i had slated for a project for a friend, with the intention of completing the quilt before a certain deadline. but that didn't happen and the jelly roll has been decorating a cake plate in the dining/sewing room ever since. until my birthday, that is. a few hours to myself seemed the ideal opportunity to break open the jelly roll and get to work on that gift quilt. (um, sorry kids.)

flat view of the top - taken quickly on the back porch/excuse the sloppiness
i'm revisiting the first pattern i ever put together myself - the very simple jelly roll-friendly "cinched" pattern i used for "out on a limb." i've always meant to do this again, photographing along the way so i could write up a pattern to share. now here we are.

the friend i want to make the quilt for has always admired my "out on a limb" quilt and also likes the "oops-a-daisy" fabric line, so i think it's a good match. i'll be recording my process along the way and then try to do one sum-up pattern post when it's all done.

i'm not doing a quilt-along, but since i'm posting this to share, anyone is welcome to follow along. (that said, i'm not working on any set schedule. this is getting fit in as i have time.) it's a pretty easy beginner quilt, but also a fast and fun way to use a jelly roll you might have hanging around. of course, it could easily be made with yardage or scraps, too.

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. for the final pattern, i'll narrow down the fabric requirements more specifically.
  • 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 strip joining squares and backing strip c
  • 1/2 yd binding fabric
  • 4 yds backing fabric
it's a pretty small list. if you want more variety in the strips, which i do, you can use additional coordinating pieces. once i started getting my strips up on the design wall, i realized the fabric line i'm working with has a lot of repeats to make the full 40 strips. since i already have a lot of other yardage cuts for this line (went a little crazy on a clearance sale purchase), i'll be cutting into that to supplement the jelly roll. however, this quilt is totally doable with just a jelly roll + 5 extra strips for the strip portion.

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

preparing strips

my design wall is only half a wall, so i'm laying out my pieces in reverse - the top portion of half strips is on the floor

this pattern is constructed with 30 full strips, (measuring cut 2.5" x wof - some full length and some pieced from 2 halves) and 30 half strips (measuring cut 2.5" x 21"). a standard jelly roll has 40 strips so you will need an additional 5 full strips minimum for this pattern. options:

  • one option is to use 5 white or other solid colored strips. this allows for some white space/breathing room in the busy design. 
  • in my original quilt, i cut 2 additional strips from 3 pieces of yardage in the same line and pulled one fabric i didn't like. i did this to add some consistency to the quilt so it wasn't 100% scrappy. 

begin by sorting your jelly strips into those that will stay long and those you will cut in half. options:

  • if you are only going to use the jelly roll + 5 more strips, you'll be cutting 30 of your strips in half, so pull the 15 strips you want to remain long. 
  • if you are using extra yardage or scraps, you can decide how many extra strips you want to cut to which lengths. you will need a minimum of 30 half strips for the upper portion of the pattern. the lower portion is made of 30 strips that are either full length or pieced together out of two half strips. 
also, if you don't want pieced strips on the lower portion, you have two options.

  • for jelly roll + 5 only, choose 15 strips to cut in half to make the top portion. (this means you will have each fabric in this section  repeated twice.) you will then have 30 full length strips left for the bottom. 
  • if you are using extra yardage, you can choose to cut either more half strips or full length strips at your own discretion, so that you have 30 half strips for the top portion and 30 full strips for the lower portion.

 start prepping the strips by opening the jelly roll and pressing the strips. the jelly strips won't be that wrinkled, but i do find they need some quick pressing, especially that middle crease where they're folded in half. once the strips is pressed, i cut the printed selvage off. i don't bother with the other end because it comes off when the top is squared.

when they are all pressed, cut your half strips. you can do this by measuring with your rulers, but i use the following method:

fold the strip in half and lay out on your cutting mat, aligning it with the lines on your mat. slide your ruler up to the very edge of your fold, so that the fold just barely hangs out by a few threads. square the ruler with the fabric and mat lines, then cut along the ruler.

you'll have one tiny bit of a scrap left when you've cut.

my reference photo to check distribution
  if you have a design wall, begin laying out your strips in a row as you cut. you can also use a bed or the floor for this part of the process - just somewhere you can see how it's looking. when you have them all laid out, take a reference photo that you can use to get another view on how balanced your color/volume/scale distribution is looking. also, once it's completely arranged, i print the reference photo as a guide for when i'm sewing the strips to help me get them sewn together as i intended. no matter how well i mark them, i always mess up something, so i find the photo helps me a lot.

if using jelly roll + 5, you will have 30 half strips in a row for your top portion. to make your lower portion, you will have 30 half strips (leftover from when you cut for the top portion) to piece into 15 long strips and the 15 long strips you already set aside.

 as you lay out your strips, start pairing up the half strips to make pieced full strips. my pieced and full strips are randomly placed. in some places, i have pieced strips next to each other, but never in a mathematically patterned way. see the photo above of "out on a limb" for reference. you can make a pattern of every other one or if you are using solid strips for breathing room, place them every 5th or 6th strips. once you are happy with your layout, sew all the half strip pairs into pieced full strips for the lower portion.

you are now ready to sew your upper and lower strip sections.

this is as far as i've gotten - to be continued!

linking up to lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced