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.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Rewards to come at Houston

Remember this post?...

Well, I received notification last night that not one, but BOTH of my quilts are receiving ribbons.  I am so excited and over the moon.  Which place, 1st, 2nd or 3rd will be revealed on Tuesday October 28th.

Now, comes the hard part: I need to find a dress!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Vintage Quilts 101, Part 1

I have just finished quilting two quilts for Julie that are both "rescues".  They are older, vintage quilts of an undetermined age.  Where some of these are simple quilting jobs, others are not as straight forward.  I thought it might be beneficial to discuss some of the nuances of what you may see if a vintage quilt top comes into your quilting studio.  Furthermore, it is wonderful to be able to preserve history, whether it is something from your family or just needing to be preserved.

Here's a look at the finished 66x86 (or so) quilt.  What Julie told me is this.   Her former boss gave her a stack of the hand-pieced 9-patches.  They are about 4-1/2" in the quilt, finished.  She did the rest of the quilt with modern-day fabrics and by machine.

The blocks themselves are kind of messy when viewed from the backside.  I'm not saying this to be critical.  The people that made these hand-pieced tops were not as anal about pressing seams as we are today.  That, coupled with the non-existent 1/4" seam that we are now religious about made for blocks that were less precise.  Afterall, early day quilters were not as concerned with the accuracy as they were about keeping their family warm.
These fabrics are thinner, fraying, and likely NOT color safe.  The other thing I believe from seeing the fabrics is that the lighter fabrics in the blocks appear typical of 1920-1930 fabrics, but the darker ones do not.  They look to be a later genre, probably 50's or even 60's.  They are rougher and may well not be all cotton.  
Like I said, I have done a few other vintage tops for Julie, and on a couple of them we added a muslin liner.  This is just a prewashed/pressed piece of muslin placed between the batting and the top, intended to even out the colorations of the fabrics.  It is common that some are very thin, almost sheer, and others are thicker.   It also puts a fabric at all locations, when having gaps  (holes) where piecing comes together is not really uncommon.  On this top, Julie sent me the liner, but upon close inspection of these blocks, I realized that there was a greater risk at hand.  If the minute and fraying seam allowances were not tended to, even with a liner, the blocks were destined to fall apart.

The solution I went with was using the thinnest weight fusible I could locate.  I cut 88 5" squares of it, and fused them only onto the 9-patches.  Her other fabrics were plenty thick.  This would keep the seams from pulling out, and it barely affected the quilt's hand whatsoever.  I also decided after this was done that the muslin liner was not really needed.  The blocks were not sheer, in fact the thinnest fabrics were the darker ones, and they were now stabilized.
 The Quilting...
One of the issues still staring me in the face was the fact that the 9-patches were not symmetrical. The squares were all different sizes, and it was very visible.  The way I chose to mask this was to turn the viewer's eye to the background, and away from the 9-patches.  I needed to do a pattern on the backound that was pretty.  We could have just done an edge-to-edge at this point, but that wouldn't have been nearly as attractive.  Feathers were my choice, with a simple framed arc-shaped border. The arc border just creates enough of another pattern that the non-squareness of the squares of the 9-patches is less obvious. 

I should note that this is quilted with Hobbs 80/20 batting and a Superior Omni thread in cream.  I chose the Omni because I do prefer to longarm with the polyester threads, and this happens to be low/no sheen and resembles a good cotton hand quilting thread.  It's 40wt.
 The outer border is busy fabric, so feathers and intricate designs would be wasted there.  Piano keys fit the bill just fine.
 Within each of the 88 blocks, I ditch stitched the 9-patch.  This was done for 2 reasons.  First it looks good to have a crisp edge, but more importantly, if for some reason (with use and washing) that interfacing were to gradually want to lift, this will keep it from going anywhere.  Remember, I cut the interfacing 1/4" wider than the block itself.  Though it proved slightly challenging, I chose to quilt continuous curves within these 9-patches.  The end effect really does not indicate that the blocks are nor all of a consistent size.  Just what I hoped it would do.
 Here's a peek at the back.  It has nice texture.  It is great to be able to save an older quilt and preserve it for future generations, or just to be able to use it!
 Tune in next time when I show you a vintage double wedding ring quilt that had a much rockier start!  The end result is just as lovely.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Planning Ahead

It's never too soon to plan one's next quilt, right?...I told myself when the silk hexie quilt top was finished that I could start thinking about what to do with these fabrics.  There are a dozen or so fat quarters that I gathered at both Houston and Paducah.  They come from a wonderful vendor that only visits a few shows a year.  She does little yardage, but if you are lucky enough to get a FQ with a selvage then more can be ordered (as I did with a few of them that I really like).  It's pretty challenging to make anything but a scrap quilt with only fat quarters.
 Now, I am torn a little.  Part of me wants to make a quilt that is "an easy piecing" job -- kind of mindless piecing for when there is time...sort of like my Meet me at Giverny quilt (made in only a couple months).  Then, part of me wants another hand pieced project so I can work on it constantly in the evenings.  I have considerably less time during the day to do machine piecing (with my increasing pile of tops needing quilting!).

I sat down with EQ7 to play with some designs.  My first criteria is that I design a unique block.  I initially conceived this being a mariner's star, but somehow this resulted.  It's a bit finicky to put together, but certainly fits the "stitch by hand" desire, and I really like how it looks when on point.
So...there went 9 of these blocks, on point, and my first thought to use all of the many shades of turquoise and green, in a sort of scrappy background.  Now, let me preface these designs by saying that I haven't completely settled on any design nor have I cut any fabric.  Still letting the ideas percolate.
 The first design didn't seem focused enough.  Or maybe it is too redundant.  I don't know.  So I moved onward.  Perhaps just one of these fussy blocks would be enough.  Whatever I was thinking putting the 1/2 blocks was just crazy.  That'll never happen without a mess.  I was attempting here to get more of the green which I love so into the quilt.  What I don't want, though, is this very wide and solid green outer border.
 But then, I am not sure I really like the scrappy look either!  Gosh, designing some days is making one cruddy design after another!  Aspects of this next possibility do catch my eye nicely, like the red and aqua spiked triangles, and the way the golden triangles give the illusion of another framed square on point.  It is often these serendipitous finds that lead to final designs.
I still don't like that scrappy green outer border, but I DO want plenty of green in the finished piece. No point collecting dozens of yards of delicious greens to make the quilt purple!  But the purple outer edge does ground it nicely :-)  This style of wavy border has been done before.  Heck, nearly everything I draft has likely been done before.  It's really hard to be creative and unique.  May come down to my quilting.
 I played a little more with the outer border, trying to bring the spikey look outward.  Designs need to copy/repeat motifs, and this brings the center of the quilt outward to the edge.  It helps to keep the eye moving around.  I still have some block designs to be refining so that I dont doom a design from the start.  By this, I mean that I hate designs that have points that end smack at the edge.  It is just asking to have those points chopped off.  I recess them back 1/8-1/4" from the edge.   I still need to assess the fabrics to know if there is enough for some of these larger areas.  And I already know that I need the red for the outer border.  But, the battle is won because I know what red I plan to order!
 Remember, if at first you don't love the design, keep playing!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Positive Progress and Starting of Designs

To the average reader, I probably appear to have the attention span of a gnat.  One week I post pictures of a green silk quilt I am quilting.  Another week there are photos of a different quilt.  Truth be told, I operate best when there is a variety of things to do.  I typically have 3-4 quilts in the works at once...one is in the design phase, one is partially quilted, one is probably sitting on a table mostly quilted (awaiting some pick out and contemplation, and another being hand stitched.  This one is two evenings from being a completed top (unless I decide on some embroidery, but probably not!).  It only lacks 12 silk dots being hand appliqued.  It is planned to finish at about 80", as I want to have another quilt that can go into the largest category.  Big Bertha has a limited number of shows, and she needs a replacement for sometime next year.  Furthermore, I made 25 of those hand stitched hexagon blocks, and by goodness, I was going to use all of them!  It is busy, but I am OK with the business.  It is different enough in color, fabric and design choices so I think it will look great quilted.
I say that without much of a plan for the quilting yet!  The hardest area I think is this 11" wide border.  It will have a scalloped edge, which I have already marked.  Since I already have ideas for the center and silk sections, I am focusing my energy on the green outer border.  My first step was to print out a picture, which is faded out a little (this helps me to see when I write on it!).  This picture is only 8-1/2"x11" paper.  I just started sketching some thoughts I had for the quilting.  At this point I have no idea what will fit, what will be marked, etc.  I just want to identify motifs that will combine nicely in this space.  It is wide, so I will need several ideas.  The other key thing is keeping with the theme of the quilt.  The hexie blocks are made from Kaffe, Philip Jacobs and Brandon Mably (and others) large scale floral prints.  The fussy-cutting of the pieces makes them look very flowerlike, so I want to maintain this flower motif throughout areas of the quilt.  The deep green silk (happens to be matching the border green perfectly) dots I have appliqued on the border will be the centers for the flowers on the border. 
One thing I have run amuck with previously is that I overdesign the quilt via computer, and then have all the details so completely small that I cannot possibly quilt them on the actual quilt.  So, once I have a basic concept for the quilting that I like, I either use tracing paper and sketch the quilting on it (at actual size), or do what I did this time -- I printed out the photo of the border at actual size.  I had about 6 pages that needed taping together, but whatever.  It is only a guide.  It's sole purpose is to tell me if this design will look good, and how to mark it to quilt.  
 I pulled out my curved cross-hatch rulers and a couple circles and started sketching.  I have an idea how to minimally mark this as I go.  Nothing is so complex that I need marking prior to loading.  The silk will be a different story.  This green fabric is tougher to mark because of the deepness of it.  I will use a sharp chalk-pencil, and a blue pen on the silk applique.  The ribbons that connect from flower-to-flower will probably be created from a cereal box, and marked as I go.  As always with designs, I hope that I will like it.  I hope that I choose the right threads.  Those crazy nerved will kick in soon enough...as I probably won't start this for 6-8 weeks.  I have some very patient clients' quilts to get done now that school is back in session!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Current Machine Quilting Magazine

This is the cover of the current edition of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine.  It is the only magazine dedicated to techniques for machine quilters.  It always features wonderful how-to articles on topics ranging from quilting techniques to machine maintenance.  The quality of the photos and product are truly unmatched in the industry.  And, I happen to be a technical contributor to the magazine this year as well as next year!  This is my unsolicited toot for the magazine...if you don't subscribe, then you should.  It has awesome content for both longarm and DSM quilters.
The quilt on the cover is by my quilting friend Andrea Brokenshire.  She was at MQX this April with her truly amazing collection of botanical quilts.  They are painted silk wall hangings of all flowers. She has a feature in this edition with a ton of lovely shots.

And, since the magazine has gone to print, I can now share a small piece I did for my article which is entitled "Finding Your Feather".  I have many, many sketches of feather variations for a variety of common shapes.  But since I feel like the first page of every article needs some nice eye-candy, I squeezed this into my crazy days.
It's only about 18" square, and completely feathered.  My scrap batiks in pastel shades make for a lovely future Easter quilt for my table.   I will also use it as a teaching sample next year.  Oh, did I say that??!

Yes, the cat is out of the bag now.  I am contracted to teach 4 classes next April at MQX in Manchester, NH.  Three are hand's on longarm classes, and one is on  (you guessed it...) Feathers! Getting ready for this is a little daunting, because I know that the client quilts are just about to go crazy.  My clients always know when my kids return to school!  But please, don't let this deter you if you have a quilt to be quilted...somehow I always get them all done.
 Here's a couple of details...Mostly this was just a fun piece to find different ways to feather with traditional feathers.  We all make these very basic and common stars, afterall!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Phase 3 - Burnout

I have been puttering with this quilt off and on for nearly a week.  The first few days seemed to be going well, but as usually happens, last Friday, I hit a wall.  I was making mistakes, quilting things I didn't like and second guessing things I had already stitched.  It is currently stabilized enough to remove, which I need to do so I can get onto some client work.  I may give myself another day to finish this diamond border though.

Because there is a slight difference in the length of the borders from side to side, I chose to end the triangles like this, rather than running them into the half-circle spikey things.  Diamonds outlined...
In the same deep green silk thread, I have added 1/8" fill to pop the diamonds.  They definitely pop, but they are too large to just leave by them selves.  The interior needs some quilting.
 Another view...at the corner which seems to have mysteriously morphed from a nice square unit. This causes me consternation.  I know that it started very squarely, and hope that a good final blocking will restore that.
The last step in this diamond border is to echo the diamond 1/4" inside, and fill it densely.  This is the same filler I used on other diamonds on the quilt.  Of course <> I wish I had gone a slightly larger echo, like 3/8".  Oh well, this isn't coming out.  I do have some dense mess to remove, but this hasn't surpassed my "I must remove" threshold.  Currently, one corner is done, one is up to the point of the previous photo, and the other two just have the frame stitched. 
 Right now, I have gotten frustrated with my design.  I may well remove it from the frame and LOVE it; this does sometimes happen.   But I need a break.  I have been working on this and my silk ivory wholecloth simultaneously, as that one needs to be finished in about a month if I am to enter it at Road to California.  It is growing on me a lot as it progresses.

I will leave you with a look at the center of this quilt.  I am not extremely pleased with the quilting on the pink.  I ripped it out once already when I discovered the thread was too dark.  The particular design I chose is tricky to get good symmetry.  I tried, but I see the boo boos.  I really LOVE the center, but the critical skeptic in me is worrying that the center doesn't go with the rest of the quilt.  SIGH!...time to move on I guess, let it sit, and let me work on something else.
This is how projects go...I love it, I hate it, I don't know how I feel about it...Tomorrow's another day :-)