Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween is coming

Yes, Halloween is right around the corner, and so is my very timely departure to Houston!  This is a crazy week for me with numerous things I hope to get done, and then there are 1-1/2 days with kids not in school and 3 conferences to attend.  I probably should just cut my To-Do list in half before I start it.  So, rather than thinking I might blog later in the week, here is a Halloween quilt I did early in September.  The client wanted light stitching so that the quilt remains soft and cuddly.

 It is stitched in Glide -- a few colors.  The candy-corns (which are really one of the more gross candies) were her favorites.
 I got her consent to add a spider to the quilt.  I think she was hesitant, but did give me the go ahead.  I honestly loathe these creatures, but a lime-green spider hanging from a web seemed OK for a Halloween quilt.
 When the fabrics on the front are so heavily printed, it gets hard to select quilting motifs that really show.    There's bats and webs, and checks...much print!  Here's a peek from the backside.
 I like to quilt pieces like this because they quilt up relatively quickly, and allow me to just go from one row to the next being creative.  This is all freehanded, with a little ruler-work thrown in.
Have a good candy-holiday (and wish me good ontime airline thoughts as I try to be home by 3pm on Halloween!!)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall Finishes

 Yesterday was a day of small quilts.  These two were brought to me by the same local client.  I did one of these fish quilts for her last year, only the larger version.  This was a fun and quick 13" square!  The only real challenge is that there are many threads needed, so I am constantly changing thread color, and it is raw edge appliqued.  She brings them to me just ironed, without any stitching around the pieces, so they are very delicate at the edges.  She will do the fish eyes - hence the expressionless swimmers.
 Her second quilt is this one...and I just LOVE it.  Really wish I could keep this one.  The applique is all needle-turn and is very well done.  I chose a white So Fine and dark brown Glide to let it shine.  I used 2 batts - a thin cotton and a piece of what I think is polydown (yes, I have loads of scraps for the pick-n-choose).  I wanted the appliques to puff, and a single cotton batting does not accomplish that.
 The white area, where the quilting shows easily, needed pretty feathers, leaves and curls.  In the brown, I wanted to break up the border just a little bit.  The circles do just that - nothing overly complicated because it is a narrow space, but just enough variety.
In between finishing at least one client quilt each day, I am working on way too many other things (besides 2 unfinished show quilts, a magazine article, and prepping for teaching in April).  This is a piecing project I have started whose mess is beginning to consume my studio.  I have some of the sections put together, and am currently working on the center, which has a little handwork.  The brighter fabrics are Moda Weave, and I simply love this line of fabric.  It is a great weight and has wonderful sheen for a cotton.
Teaching?  Did you catch that I am teaching at MQX in April?  It is official.  I hope those of you coming to the show will check out my class listings here!  I've got some work to do this winter to get my samples and notes all congealed!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Falling Leaves

This quilt was finished over a week ago.  It is nearly home by now to it's Washington owner and client Sherrie.  This is a kit she purchased while in Paducah.  It's all hand-dyes, and in person is so much prettier.  Somehow, the yellow comes across overly sunny in the photos.  Since the leaves outside my window are sadly turning already, I figure it is an appropriate quilt to show.  Sorry guys, it is not that the colors are not pretty, but I am a summer person, loving the heat and truly hating to be cold.  Snow is not my thing.
Designing for this type quilt is very challenging.  It forces my brain to think about different layouts, where you would have a visual focal point, and how to make the eye move about the quilt.  Block quilts are much simpler from that regard, as well as from the standpoint of creating secondary designs.  Coincidentally, the client asked for secondary patterns, referencing my Zen Garden quilt (shown at the bottom), but in all honesty, it's not feasible for this type layout.  I had to find other ways and places to put design into the quilt.

The most obvious place is this honking wide border!  It is doubly effective that it is a pale shade too, because that will show the design easily.  I have combined a detailed cathedral window into the border, placing 1/2" cross-hatch and raying lines into the spaces.  Feathers fill the smaller triangles. Now I know that this border has little to nothing to do with falling leaves, but I believe that the unstructured nature of this quilt can handle a very structured border.  It helps to ground it.
nevermind those ugly (and clean toes!)

The body of this quilt is huge.  The overall size is 82"x102".  It is impeccably pieced, but color is the only connecting feature.  For my design, I have created cascading, and swirling feathers (which are actually made up of leaves).   These feathers are very much like what I used on my Shenandoah Falling show quilt.  In fact, this is similar to a huge version of that, in a way.  The blank space around these has some free-placed leaves, and LOTS of fillers.
 I made 2 leaf templates out of a used cereal box - one is an oak, and the other a pseudo maple. They were traced with chalk.  Nothing had been prewashed, so I was not about to have bleeding.  My water-soluble pens were out.  The cascading leaves and free-placed leaves were stitched in a Rainbows thread.  It was quite the pain in the neck to use, as it sometimes is, but this was a perfect variegated thread color(s) to use.  I outlined the leaf twice to make it more visible.
There is a string of large-ish pebbles from the stems of these free-placed leaves to help them to show. I envisioned this exaggerating the look of falling.

This quilt has just one wool batt.  Background quilting is done in three shades of 50wt So Fine thread. I chose a duller, non-shiny thread so as to only see the texture.  Each of the three colors of fill, has its own filler too.  The gold thread does this free-feather fill.
 The aqua/teal thread does a leafy filler (all sections have these occasional sections of parallel lines thrown in, just because).
 The fuscia thread has this organic flame-spiral thingy that came from a Judy Woodworth class some years back.  All filler designs fill nicely into cracks and seem to fit the theme of the quilt.
 Stitching this detailed border around all these leaves was as hard as it looks!...and time consuming.

I thank you all for your nice comments about the progress on my next show quilt.  It is still on the machine, with another 4 days allotted in my schedule.  I am seriously hoping to get to the bottom by then!  Better get to work!...

In the meantime, I will leave you with a couple images sent to me from the AQS Des Moines show, running right now.  My quilts have done very well, again.  Big Bertha is sporting what may be my favorite ribbon of all time - lime green!  It is for best Machine Quilting, also for this business I am in, a treat to receive.  It is like they chose that ribbon just for this quilt!
And here's the side of Zen Garden, which received best Wall Quilt, with yet another lovely seemingly color-coordinated ribbon.
Both quilts will be coming home for a couple months.  They have been gone since July, entrusted to AQS to keep safe.  Zen cannot go to any more AQS shows, but Bertha has one in January.  Hard to fathom that these two dames will be soon in retirement.  There are 3 weeks until I leave for Houston.  Would love to meet up with folks if you are there too - let me know.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Starting the giant

On Tuesday, I started quilting this quilt.  It is mine, and I am almost scared to predict how long it will take until it is actually finished.  It measures 82" square to the outside of the scallops.  It's been a while since I quilted anything close to this big for myself -- Big Bertha was the last one, and it was 100", so by all estimations this should be done in 64% of the time.  Bleh - that is nearly 4 weeks!

Anyhow, I have given myself 2 weeks right now to allow it on the machine.  This window has been in my work schedule for a while now.  It allows me to get show quilts done, and to keep the client quilts on a predictable schedule too.  The design details on the macro level were planned out, the quilt was marked (on the silk), and it's Go-time.  I have 2 layers of batting - Hobbs 80/20 and Pellon wool. This is the first time I have used the Pellon.  I have heard good things about it from Kim Brunner and wanted to try it.  It is dense compared to the Hobbs, but not overly thick.  I have many different threads in use, so ask if you wish to know.
My outer border is a typical MG design - overly complicated, lots of motifs, etc.  I like designs that appear to "float" behind the applique.  Because this green print has a textural print (it is Sketch, for those that know this line), it is very difficult to actually see the thread, or where you are quilting.  The flowers are stitched in a brighter green so that they show a little, but in all honesty, I am a little timid using a thread bold enough to see it above the print of the fabric.  All other thread on the border is a dark green silk - just to leave behind the texture.  So, my job is to ensure that the design has a good textural imprint, and not a bunch of busy quilting (as is often done with fillers).

If you are observant, as I was not, then you realized that I did not stitch the design I drew!  You are right...I had designed for a pretty feather spray with a large leaf (see attached link).  I had filled 2 or 3 of those arches with the leafy fill before I realized my error.  Needless to say, what I quilted looked WAY better than 4 hours of ripping out 16 spi stitches.
When working on prints, it is critical to use framing effectively.  You will see the multiple frames of these arches long before you see what I quilt within them.  The same is true for those squiggly ribbons that connect the flowers.  They are wider than I often leave unquilted because I want the relief to be visible.  Having 1/8" parallel lines beneath them (to the quilt edge) ensures that they pop! Other motifs like the pebbles are 3/8-1/2", which is a little bigger than I might use on the silk areas, but the increased size guarantees that there will be visible relief.  On the textural prints, simpler geometric quilting motifs like the 1/2" cross-hatching will always show better than feathering or more random-type patterns.  

After I designed the silk patterns, I had a stroke of genius.  Don't laugh, these don't happen every day.  But I decided that the serpentine border between the silk and the green needed further definition...aka more framing.  So, I added this simple bit of 1/4" parallel lines, with a 1/2" border, and viola! is perfect.  Or at least it is for me :-)

I still have quilting to do on those green and gold silk appliqued ribbons, but that can be done last. Some additional SID too appears to be needed on the shoe-string bows also.  Details, details.

This is one of four blocks that are at the center of each border.  In all honesty, I hate them, but I didn't know what else to do, so they were not removed from the quilt.  I am fairly sure that when the quilt is done, I won't care, but I really need to tie in the flower theme of these floral-shaped blocks to the middle of the quilt.  I am already having 2nd thoughts about the raying lines, and have another plan I suspect I will quilt instead.  Must sketch one first though to be certain.  I will remove stitches from this one block, but to do it from all 4 (I haven't gotten to the other 3!) will tick me off royally!

These are 8-1/4" Lucy Boston/Patchwork of the Crosses blocks.  There is an Inklingo pattern for them available, but I drafted my own.  My blocks have fussy-cut modern prints, and they are all hand-pieced.  Each block took me about 6 hours to make.  Fun times (there are 25!).  The quilting on the "flowers" is done with a Glide thread.  This is a considerably heavier thread than the 100wt silk, with the intent of it showing some over the print.  The block above uses a YLI (color "Prickly Pear") polished poly thread (their equivalent to Glide), but the other blocks near the border are done with purple.

The corner blocks are set with squares of silk and setting triangles.  The silk is pretty and shows everything that you quilt on it (good or bad!).  I designed this motif for these blocks.  I will go back later and do something in the other areas around the detail stitching, but for now it is stablized.  I love how this turned out.  It is garden-y, classic and sophisticated.  
 I got brave on the ivory silk stitching - the detailed block above is stitched with the Prickly Pear (a golden, or pear colored thread).  Non-matchy threads are hard to work with as they show every error. These quilted up so effortlessly.  I have to attribute this to the new Handi Quilter wheels and carriage rails that my machine got last month.  They are wonderful!  I may never need my micro-handles again, I have THAT much control.  The next picture also gives a good view of the printed blocks.  Love how the 1/4" cross-hatching reminds me of spider webs.  Now...I loathe and completely HATE spiders, but the essence of a spider web just goes in a garden quilt.  I am on a mission to find a dragonfly motif, or to design one that should read.
While I haven't made it quite to the halfway point (HA...heck I can't even see the center block yet!), I did get to the inner green border.  It is a very busy leafy/cabbage print.  While it goes with the printed hex blocks very nicely, it is a challenge to quilt on this stuff.  It seems near impossible to see, and even harder to find motifs that show.  Back to the basics of stitching with heavy print...
(the pic above shows the colored thread on the champagne silk very well!)

My first plan of attack on this green border was to SID the borders, and to add a 3/8" additional frame beside the green silk piping (left side).  One border is good, two is better.  Next, I mimicked the pebbles of the outer border, and placed a pebble border here.  Rule #2 of a good quilting design: repeat motifs throughout the quilt.  I knew I planned a cross-hatch of sorts here, but it is kind of large to just do that to the entire border.  Plus that would be only a little (OK, a lot!) boring.  Sometime between midnight and 5am, when sane folks are sleeping, I dreamed up these feathery scallops, thinking that they would bring just enough simple variation to this space.  They are not so complex that they will get lost on the print, but simple so that they should show too.  If there was any doubt, I double lined the frame to make it more prominent.  I may also go back after and densely fill the background around the feathers to give them added punch.  These slow details can wait.
 My cross-hatch is different.  Hopefully when it is off the frame I will like it!  FYI, the feathered scallops are stitched in deep green Glide, and the hatching is the fine silk.

It is coming along, slowly but surely.  Hope you enjoy learning about how and why I have done these things!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Blue Collection

Please pardon me for not having taken the best photos.  I was rushed, as I needed to get this boxed up to ship to California.  This is the second of this pattern quilt that I have done this year.  It is a very labor-intensive job, with a proverbial TON of applique to SID.  And, yes, I SID all of it!
 Though similar, this client has chosen slightly different fabrics from the other quilt I did.  She has the most lovely teal silk.  It's a pretty shade for the odd-shaped leaves that meander up the sides of the quilt.
 This has a single layer of wool batting.  I used clear nylon for the SID, soft gold So Fine for the background fillers, and blue Glide for the borders.
 I'll keep the words to a minimum, and just let the pictures say it all.

 and a fun peek at the back of the quilt...The fabric is actually a pale blue, but is color altered with my camera apparently.
It's a lovely quilt, with some fantastic features, and colors.  Not sure that I am ready to conquer this much applique, but I am sure glad my clients are!  I am getting caught up after the summer slow-season.   If you have quilts you might like quilted before Christmas, please contact me soon!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Quilting Published in another book

Coincident with the AQS Chattanooga show, their book (below) is now published and for sale.  I was contacted in the early winter about quilting a quilt for it.  It was intended to showcase the quilting of modern-day quilters, on what are very traditional patterns.
 And, my quilt hung in the author's booth at the show (but the photo I was sent was painfully blurry so it's not posted here).  Here's my photos of it (unbound).  It's not a very big quilt, something around 32"x40" if memory serves.
 I double batted it with a scrap of wool to get nice relief.  The quilting is done with gold, red and white Glide thread.
 I added these diamonds  (the one below is sideways!) but chose to not center them.  I wanted to draw the viewer's eye towards the top of the quilt, and allow it to wanted from there to the bottom.   I just love the effect.  All but the feathers was done with templates.  You know me, I love those frames and dense fills to show them off.
 The feathers are allowed to meander in both directions...another trick to keep the eye moving.
 It's a great little quilt and I can't wait to see the others that are in the book.  My copy should be here soon!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vintage Quilts 101, Part 2

Glad to hear my readers like my first post on vintage quilts.  I received many great comments both here and on facebook.  I have been acquiring a fabulous arsenal of tricks to use on these interesting pieces of history.  But this quilt you are going to see today, will surely amaze you!

This was also sent to me by Julie.   She told me that she got this 90" double wedding ring quilt top on ebay.  It was made by an elderly woman, who was probably 90, from Texas.  It is mostly made by hand, but there are some machined seams too.  Please realize that as I describe the top and it's issues, it is not to be critical, but rather to instruct quilters on how to deal with such issues.

And the issues on this one are definitely many...
Although it does lay relatively flat (in contrast to some quilts where borders can have either too much fabric and wave like a flag, or too little fabric making the center of the quilt seem like a parachute), it has many problems with very loose seams, poor pressing (if at all), non-smooth curves, ill-tension on the machine stitched sections, fraying patches, holes, etc.  The list is extensive.
As you see below, there are ALL kinds of fabric.  I saw several generic calicos, solid cottons, chambray like you'd have in an Oxford shirt, and even some home-dec weight, and the one I show below that must've come from a very sheer shirt.  The tremendous variety is typical of this type quilt, as well as typical of what would have been used 75+ yrs ago (but I have no indication that this was made in the past, just made by an older woman).  The varying weights of fabric, however, do make proper tensioning more challenging because every weight behaves a little differently.  Given all of the big issues, though, this is low on my list of concerns as I begin the project.
From the front... There are several different white fabrics used on the tear-drop shapes.  Some are heavy enough to cover the shadow-through of the more colorful wedges, but most are not.  Given the insecure stitches, trimming away the extra fabric seemed riky.  I will discuss how this could have been handled on Julie's end prior to sending me the quilt at the end.
The wedges used in the pieced rings were clearly not all cut from a similar sized template.  Many of them have a large flap of fabric at the seam which half a fingernail fits underneath.  Or a hopping foot catches beneath...
The 4-patches where the rings come together tell the tale of the elderly quilter and her failing eye-sight and dexterity.  The patches often have a pull to them, indicating that the adjoining pieces were almost forced to fit.  I had to deal with both pulling stitches, as well as gaping holes at the centers on some.
The location where the largest squares have those acute points often had fraying ends.  These are challenging for a good quilter, but when pieces aren't cut identically, it is obviously hard to get everything to fit together.  When I got to areas like this, all I could do was stitch over them as best I can to keep it from further fraying.  When the quilt goes home, I will encourage Julie to get a bottle of No-Fray and generously dot these fraying areas.
one other idea, too, for the holes at the center of these 4-patches, is to hand stitch small fabric circles onto them to cover the area.
Places/curves like what I show above are hard to make lay smooth, but are fairly common when not enough stitches are taken, and when the curvature of the white patch doesn't quite match that of the ring.  

So now that you have seen what I received to work with, let's talk about what was done to save this quilt.  We have talked about using muslin liners to even out colorations of thin fabrics, and to cover areas that have gaping holes.  And trust me, I considered it here.  The reason I ditched the idea is this.  I had to quilt this as a full float on account of its curved edges,  I knew that because of its issues I would be manipulating it a TON.  I really just didn't want to have an additional piece of material to be messing with or potentially be creating pleats/tucks in.  If the quilt is in great shape, but just thin, then the liner is an easy addition.  This was anything but.

The other thing I tossed around was what batting to use.  Initially, before I had the quilt in hand, I told Julie we'd likely use a thicker or even a double batting to help take up excess fullness.  The truth is, though, there isn't much excess fullness.  The quilt has very localized pouf areas because of cruddy piecing.  These are predominantly from tucks and pleats though.  I did test the theory though before completely ruling the 2nd batt out.  I layed a piece of cotton and wool (similar in puff to the polyester I would have chosen, since I needed a white batting not natural), and compared how the quilt looked to having just the cotton/poly batting.  The additional batting caused the weak stitches to all show that much more.  It looked worse, and the messiness at every pleat was still evident.  So, I ditched the 2nd batt idea.  

The quilting...What I new was that this quilt would need every tear-drop and square block outline stitched, but not in the traditional "stitch in the ditch" manner.   I had to "top stitch" these areas in a manner that secures each of these seams.  This type of quilting goes against every grain of my training and practice.  Your brain as a quilter learns where to hold the template to hit the ditch, NOT the top side!  The other thing with top stitching is that the thread shows everywhere, and I had patches of every conceivable color!...Oh bother.  No problem, though, I chose the Madiera Monolon.  Most of these patches were either white or light.  This thread only shows a little when the fabric color is dark.  Life goes on, I told myself, so what if it shows a little on the dark green, red and purple.  So what.  There were larger issues to deal with.  This would work.  This would work (repeated like the Little Train that Could said).
Row by row, I went, ditching away, securing this quilt back together.  Many of the loose stitches were showing through the seams, but that is something that Julie can remove later if it is offensive.  It is clearly looking better with just a small amount of stitching.   I chose a stencil for the large patches that was pretty, not overly complicated and fit the space perfectly.  Initially I thought I might echo around these to make the motifs pop, but this was abandoned after realizing how many colors it would involve.  It would have had a great effect for the puffier batting, but was sort of a mute point on this thinner cotton.  In the white tear-drop shapes, I free-hand quilted feathers.  My goal with the quilting was to hopefully draw the viewer's eye away from the rings, where most of the problems were.  I should also note that all of this quilting of feathers and stencils is also with the nylon thread.  If it is good enough for Harriet Hargrave, it is good enough for me.

One area that I found to be a nuisance was the white squares.  Now, I marked the stencil on the colored patches using my miracle chalk.  It is fast, and effective.  For the first few rows of these that had white patches, I drew through the stencil with a purple air erasable pen.  The stencil is rough on these pens, and I hate to destroy my tools just using them.  I learned early on that some of the solid fabrics on this quilt were NOT colorfast, so I couldn't use the blue water erasable pens.
Eventually, I decided I would try something.  I wondered if I marked a white block with the miracle chalk (please note that I have learned that this product should NOT be used on silk as it react with it and leaves a permanent gray line - a Karen McTavish tip), would I be able to see the chalk with my UV machine lights.  I turned off all studio lights and gave it a try.  I was faint, but hot-diggity-dog, it was there!  Talk about a slick finding!
Here's a peek at one row, on the machine.  Just the ditching and the blank spaces is quilted.  I was shocked., as the quilt was coming together.  No pun on words intended.
I did all of the quilting on the rings last.  I hoped to do it in a bright color like the apple-green of the central 4-patches.  Julie's chosen background, though, had deep tones, with a muted gray background tone.  The green bobbin showed like a sore thumb.  Worse yet, I knew that I would be snaking here and there to keep the stitching as continuous as possible.  Plus, there were areas of the rings needing additional quilting to secure them, so I wanted my movements to be as non-visible from the back as possible.  Bright green was out, and I was bummed.  I chose a SoFine in a green-gray tone.  In all honesty, it's not the prettiest of muddy colors, BUT it doesn't show on the back, and it does blend pretty well on all of the colored patches of the rings.

My goal for the quilting on the rings was this.  Number 1: do necessary repairs, Number 2: attempt to lay down as many of the offending flaps of fabric as possible, Number 3: leave some relief (aka don't just mash down the rings with quilting).  My first thought was just doing two parallel arcs down the center of each ring.  I think that this would have been attractive, but I'd have pulled my hair out for the number of times I would have caught the hopping foot under the flaps of extra fabric.  Since using templates is already a 2-handed job, I would need a 3rd hand to manage the flaps.  I, therefore, resorted to a free-hand design that was simple enough that I could use one hand to assist the fabrics, and one to drive the machine.
The loops are simple, but they conceal a lot.  That is a good thing.  Leaves are placed in the 4-patches.  When I stitch these, I stitch as much over the seam as I can to give it extra security.  I think that these would look so sweet with either a small button at the center or a small fabric dot.  Ideas...

Looking down the row, I love how it is coming together.  Sure there are areas of imperfection, but I see those on all quilts.  This is about real life.  I hope I can still hand-piece tops like this when I am 90 (and evoke feelings of fear and pride into my young whipper-snapper quilter too!).
The finished quilt is a gem.  I hope Julie fully appreciates the process to take it from the initial pictures I showed to here.  It is definitely time-consuming, but it's gorgeous finished.  My plan to move the eye around has worked.  It holds many of the traditional-type motifs, despite being a modern-day creation.
One more look...
Now, in the beginning, I alluded to a discussion about what could have been done before sending this to make it better.  This is a list of thoughts that has come at me as I have worked it, so please don't think that I held out, or avoided doing what I could have done myself.  Every vintage quilt is a learning process, and this one was like a year of college.   In hindsight, Julie should have taken the quilt and top stitched (1/16" from the seam line) every tear-drop and every large square, with a clear thread or matching thread.  After that, she could have trimmed every seam so that there was no shadow-through.  A good bit of repair could have likely been done to the 4-patches, but at the very least seams tightened up, maybe place fusible underneath the center where the hole wants to show.  Lastly, just top stitching every seam of the patches on the rings would have contained the pleats, making more decorative quilting possible.  It would of course maintain the integrity of the quilt too. With these things done, I would have used a liner to even out the colors of thin fabrics, and likely a puffier batt too, so that the stenciled motifs could be echoed to pop more vividly.  Hindsight is the thread that binds our quilting lives into connected moments of insanity! I am pleased with the transformation that was made on this quilt, but these are just thoughts on how it could have been improved upon.  Maybe they are lessons you can use when you quilt a vintage masterpiece.