Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hand Piecing

I find myself in that awkward stage between projects, where one quilt which took what seemed forever to hand piece/applique/bind is actually mailed off to its first show, and another is waiting to be started.  In all honesty, I have been busy with plenty of client quilts, samples and preparations to teach at MQX too.  But another problem is creeping in that makes my days frustrating and miserable. I am sleeping horribly.  It's been a combination of everything from general discontent, to kids stressing me out, to just wanting to run away and live somewhere warmer.  At night, I get my kids into bed, and proceed to fall asleep in my chair.  I awaken at 10, and go up to bed, only to lay there for hours trying to fall asleep again.  By dawn I am ragged.  I believe part of this problem is because I fall asleep between 8 and 10pm, so...it is time to dream up a hand stitching project.  I am not sure that this will matriculate into a show quilt, but as I am plagued with issues of perimenopause, it will hopefully address the sleeping prematurely issue.

Last year I did the elongated hexagon blocks, and actually enjoyed the process and portability of these.  I decided this year to dig out some of the large-scale floral and mostly modern prints that I have been hoarding for 3-5 years, not knowing what to do with.  As I migrated into show quilts, these bold and colorful prints became harder and harder to use.  I learned with my last quilt (which I will fully reveal in 2 weeks just before MQX) that they can be successfully used on a show quilt.

I have a plastic template for a 1" hexie block.  I stake no claim to being so crazy as to make 1/2" hexagons.  That would take my lifetime to complete, and it would be torturous to quilt.  I still have to consider that this needs to showcase machine quilting, so it will have sufficient background space for that when it is done.  

Here are a few of the first blocks I cut out...I am using predominantly orange, pink, green and aqua prints.  Something about these colors just sings.
More mess...I mean "blocks.
The first one I hand pieced is here.  Let me show you how I do these, because it is different from the typical English Paper Piecing that most folks do, that requires those annoying cardboard papers and basting.  That, in my opinion, is for the birds.  My way is easier.
Here's the template I happen to have.  Like most quilters, we hoard things and then wonder why on earth we bought it (that was 2 yrs ago).  Low and behold, I actually found it in my studio last week! It makes a finished 1" hexagon.  Below it is an actual 1" hexagon, in template plastic.
 I use the large template to place where each fussy-cut block will be cut out of the fabric.  The actual size template is used to draw a pencil line on the backside of the fabric hexagon.  This is my hand-stitching line.  It takes a lot longer to baste a hexagon than to draw a line.
My primary motivation for using this method is this...I hate the papers; I'd rather handle bare fabric. AND I really dislike the look of whip-stitched hexagon blocks.  I do not want the stitching to show, whatsoever.  Below is what I do.  Using pins, I align 2 hexagons.  I then do a small running stitch only where the line is (do not go into the seam allowance).  I stitch 2-3 stitches (aka 3/16") in the opposite direction at the start and stop of each seam, before knotting.  My seams are very secure, and invisible, my word of today.
The piece is a little messy looking as the hexagons are being added, but that is fine.  I dont press as I go, as it is not needed.  It is actually easier to work with the angled seams if you don't.
 Here's the first block.  It took about 4-1/2 hrs to hand stitch, and maybe 45 minutes to cut out.
 The back is pressed nice and neat also...
 Seams are not pressed open as they would be with using the papers.  It is a better alternative for quilting.
 This one will be a bit bold.  I have a little travel coming up next month, so having something small to work on is handy.
Lunch break is over...now I must get back to the chores at hand!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pretty Stars

I am slow posting some of last month's quilts because it has been quite hectic around here.  MQX is 3 weeks out - just around the corner.  I am teaching 4 sold out classes, and I have been furiously getting all class materials worked out.  This quilt is by the same client that sent me this quilt in January.  It is made from, not surprisingly, many of the same taupes.  I like how she combines colors and fabrics - this has a very pretty look. 
It's (going om memory) about 75" square, has wool batting and Glide threads.  The piecing has nice movement.
Quilting this challenged my need (or maybe it is just a desire) to be perfect.  The client specifically wanted it custom quilted.  BUT like some quilts, it has some most obvious challenges like the fact that many "circles" were not really pieced to yield a neat circle, and the squares on point were, well, point-less much of the time.  I gave up the notion of ditching the squares, because this accentuates that they are not actually squares.  The meandering feather (I think) draws the eye away from the piecing.  Not every quilter shares my anal need to have points in tact, but they all need to have a good way to be quilted.
 Imperfect piecing sometimes yields quilting that is also imperfect, as I have below.  The circles aren't perfectly round, but I think it still has a nice movement, and I tried to draw your eye from the flaws and to the diamond at the center of each star.
 The back is the gem.  You don't have the piecing as a reference to the quilting.  It is just pure and sweet texture.  I love this.
 And the border...
This will go home to it's owner in a few days, and I think that she will like the finished look.

Now, with 2-1/2 weeks until I leave for MQX, I am just dealing with the daily things...taxes (yes, the dreaded taxes after a very successful year at the shows are in a word, frightening!), I am marking a new whole cloth, also marking some class pieces my students will quilt.  I have one small sample to whip up on scalloped binding, and a couple of articles to try to get a jump on.  Nothing big, there!...And then the usual duties of my son's birthday, another stupid holiday (not a fan of Easter), and all the homework and kid running around that 3 kids require.  I wish I could say MQX will be like a vacation, but not quite :-)

My whole cloth won another 1st place at AQS Lancaster last week.  It, along with 2 other quilts, will be at MQX.  This will be their first "real" outting where they are judged with an emphasis on machine quilting.  This is the first show that truly matters to me as a quilter.  The others are great, and the wins are fantastic, but this one will give me the feedback about my quilting that I so love.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Another Baltimore Autumn

Admittedly, I am behind on posting currently quilted quilts here on my blog.  I have been busy quilting, writing, prepping stuff for teaching and other kid related stuff.  I realized it was time to repost.  

Remember the Baltimore Autumn I did last spring - April or May...It was lovely.  It was some of the best needle-turn applique I have seen.  And that quilt went to win the BOS at the Napa County Fair, a pre-qualifier for the California state Fair this year.  Well, I knew when this quilt came it would be a big job with loads of applique.  But this quilt is actually fused applique.  The edges have been either blanket stitched or straight stitched.  I have already spoken with the owner, but I will broach the subject here.  Fused applique can be done very successfully, but please...please do not just layer it upon layer upon another layer.  Eventually it becomes the quilter's equivalent of formica.  Yes, places of this were dang near as thick as a countertop.
 I went into the ditching of the appliques with extreme caution.  I had just had my machine serviced/retimed and the tech had found this "gunk" near the basket which he figured had to be from fusible.  I do next to no fusible quilts, BUT my silk quilts do have a lightweight fusible on them.  I was pretty wary after seeing that about starting another fused quilt.
 It did turn out to stitch ok.  There were surprisingly no thread breaks or shredding as I anticipated.  Thicker areas do not tension consistently, but that is to be expected and I can't do anything about it.  A quilt hanging on one's home wall is no big deal.  You wouldn't want to quilt a show quilt like that.
 I did try to make the motifs used on this quilt different from the one I did last year.  They are equally pretty.  If you remember, the first client did not want any feathers.  This quilt was definitely getting feathers!
Feathers and leaves.  I like this simple leafy border.

Fused applique never has the poof that needle-turn will have.  It is inherently flatter.  The client was very happy though when this came home.  She had started it several years ago, and knew that there were better applique/fusing methods to use, but chose to finish it the way it was started.  It will be pretty hanging in her home!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Quilting with Kids

Today I saw a Facebook posting inquiring why the applicant number for the Quilting With Kids was down this year.  MQX has a wonderful category for children/teens, and I cannot imagine, with cash to be earned, why more kids are not jumping at the opportunity to make and enter a quilt.   We are looking for suggestions for what to do to increase this number, and to make the process of getting your child or another person's interested in quilting.  While there are plenty of people my age or older quilting, it would seem that those of the youthful age may be dwindling.  Is it cost?  Is it lack of interest?  Are parents too busy?  Thoughs?...

I came from a different background.  My mother sewed.  She made clothes, and she even made a few quilts.  She'll be the first to be humble and say that they weren't great, but that is just her.  I learned at a fairly young age if I wanted more clothes, they were going to be made.  By the time I was middle school age, I was setting zippers and making shorts.  By high school, I was making suits and skirts. In college, I got my first sewing machine, but I had been sewing a decade by then.  Most kids today cannot say that. 

So what do we do to entice them to even want to partake of this craft?  Clothes are all knits nowadays; nobody needs to make their clothes because there are discount stores around every corner. I have made a dozen or so vintage-style smocked (see here and here)  dresses over the last 10 years for Miss Sophie and her cousins, but few other clothing items.  It is true -  it is not just quilting that we want to entice the youth to try, but sewing in general.   As we all know, sewing can lead to quilting!  

As a youth, I took Home Ec in middle school, as did most people my age or older.  We made things like pillows, book bags and placemats, and I even remember a wrap-around skirt.  What I'd do to see that skirt today!  I have a hoard of clothes I made in high school packed away in my basement that I will show her one day...maybe even use the fabrics on some type of special memory quilt.  My son's middle school, though, does not even teach Home Ec.  They do one week of cooking as a part of a Health class, but sewing - HA!  not a chance.

Several years ago, when  my neice was 10 I believe, I got her a basic sewing machine for Christmas. She was pretty excited.  It has gotten some use, mostly when my mom visits, but what I gather most is that when a parent at home does not actively engage you to sew, you don't do much of it.  She's made a couple costume dresses and a couple quilts, but what isn't present is the motivation or a consistent mentor.  Kids need that mentor more than anything.  Mentors give the kids positive reinforcement, suggestions, and have samples of things that they can see and hold so that they can visualize making such a thing too.    And mentors don't have to be moms (or dads).  Grandparents and friends work too.  I'd love to know how to go about doing a community class for kids (and their moms) to learn to sew.  Lord knows my community/Rec program does not have their own sewing machines for these classes.

Years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, he had a teacher that we adored.  She was new to teaching, and was such a fabulous start to his education.  I decided in the winter, I'd coordinate getting 16 kids to help make her a quilt.  Though this was a project taken on my me, it was clear then that none of these kids had sewing or quilting parents -- not one out of 16.  Kids drew self-portraits, which I scanned and printed onto fabric.  It was beautiful when finished.
Two years later, my son's 2nd grade teacher invited me into her class room to talk about quilting patterns and the Underground railroad (She knew I was a quilter).  I brought in a couple current quilts that the very curious and touchy kids could see (aka fondle!).  They were very curious, and inquisitive, which was good to see -- even the boys.  We did some "quilting" activities where they designed their quilt blocks using precut pieces of construction paper.  Later in the day, they used fabric pens and colored their self portraits (below) on fabric.  This was a perfect age (2nd grade) to introduce the kids to quilting.  It was new to them, but many of them had the control to listen and sit long enough to complete the tasks.  I actually did the quilting and sewing, but they got the exposure and got  to see the finished quilt.
That summer or maybe the next summer (it all blurs together now!...but it was while my younger two were still napping, so it was that approximate age), I started sewing with my oldest at the DSM.  He pieced a couple very simple "placemats".  He did just straight seams.  I did the rotary cutting and ironing, while he manned the machine.  We put the foot pedal on a stool because he's as short as me! It was fun, he was interested, but it was somewhat short-lived.  Sports were more interesting.  My lesson learned here...Sewing can be just as interesting for boys, but you have to tailor the project for their innate inability to sit still.  They are wired differently than girls.  Needless to say, he hasn't stitched any since then, but my daughter has.

I ask myself, did I do something wrong to make him not want to sew?  I don't know.  I have heard from other moms of boys that inability to focus and sit still is an issue.

I get back to the initial question posed...Why are fewer youths interested in submitting a quilt to a quilt show?...One obvious thought is that maybe these youths have no real comprehension of what a quit show is like.  How many moms actually take their kids?...not so many usually.  I would think that this is a good first step.  Learning to sew and quilt is one thing, but visiting the very place you want to enter the quilt helps a child to visualize what it is for (besides cuddling under of course!).

The summer Sophie turned 7, we decided she might like to try learning to sew.  By we, I really mean "me", but she was game.  A year or so before, she too had done a "placemat" -- this one I pieced on machine and she hand stitched the quilting with embroidery floss.  At that age, the hand stitching is challenging because hand dexterity is not great.  She was ready to try something bigger by age 7 though.  The difference in Sophie and my oldest son is that by that age, she had been immersed in my love of quilting (more so than just seeing mom's quilts on the walls of the house).  She had been taken to several shows.  She had probably been to 2 Maine Quilt shows, VQF, and the Lowell Quilt Festival twice by then!  She had seen thousands of quilts.  She knew what quilt shows were like.  She loves to go to the vendors and see if they have candies, and inevitably to buy something.   She knows the excitement of seeing my quilts with ribbons and the pleasure of telling me which quilts are her favorite.  Even as a very young girl, that kid loved to handle my fabric.  It may be my demise someday!

The first quilt Sophie made (below) was actually pieced by me.  At barely age 7, I wasn't sure she was ready for my DSM.  OK, truth be told, I knew she only needed to quilt it to enter it at MQX anyhow.  BUT - I did make her accountable to learning the quilting process from the start.  She chose 4-5 fat quarters, and ensured that they went together (or as well as a 7yr old thought they matched!)..Then, rather than breaking mom's budget, she went shopping in my stash for another 4-5 fabrics that worked nicely.  I cut these fabrics into as many 4.5" squares as they'd yield.  She was given a piece of graph paper and 8-10 crayons, one representing each fabric, and told how many of each color she had.  She was to color the graph paper in the pattern she wanted the quilt to be.  To this day, I wish I still had this first design <>.  We layed out the squares on the hall floor one afternoon that I knew the boys (aka distractors) were off elsewhere, and row by row they were sewed together.  She gathered each row up IN ORDER and brought them to me at the machine.  I wasn't friendly with out of order rows, but joyfully she was really good at this!

(Sophie's Beautiful Butterflies quilt at MQX 2014)
Within 2 hours the top was together.  She didn't actually sew it, but she witnessed the processes, and contributed a reasonable amount to it.  Two hours is truthfully about the limit she will do at once.  

A few months later, when the business had a break, I told her we needed to get the quilt on the longarm.  I had perused my patterns and found what I thought to be the simplest.  It was a simple butterfly panto.  Let me say that, despite her doing this pattern with grace and happiness, pantos are not necessarily the simplest choice for a child.  Following long straight lines is challenging.  It is a very open pattern (seriously, I'd have done this in about an hour at most), so it did quilt up quickly - maybe 3-4 hours over a couple days.  Despite my short stature, the machine is still quite high for her, and a panto is not necessarily the most practical pattern for a child on a stool either! 
She was tickled with her quilt when it was done.  Many a butterfly looked like  it had been sat on by a giant, but she was pleased, and that is all that mattered.  I worried how her quilt would do at the show, as any mother would.  Her choice of fabrics, which included many solids (and a contrasting aqua thread chosen by her!), showed the butterflies really well.  I did block it for her, so at least it would hang proudly, and it did with its 2nd place ribbon.
Her brothers were very envious when she came home with $75! (never mind that she spent half of it at MQX!).  Sophie was so very pleased with the show experience that she took both her quilt and the lanyard (name badge w/ "winner" sticker) to school on Monday for show and tell!  A week later, there was an article in the paper.  I may have won 2 firsts and a best machine quilting, but it was her photo that the paper wanted!! Proud mama moment.

While this was really a very good first experience quilting with her, it left me knowing that there were areas we could do differently the next time.  These changes could make the quilting easier, hide the blunders of inexperience, etc - and provide new teachings.  Unfortunately, one of these (use more patterned fabrics) was destined not to happen...

While at MQX, I left Sophie hanging out with the great folks at Old City Quilts.  Rob was helping me load a couple rolls of batting, and she was sitting under strict direction to not touch if she ate anything (yes, they had chocolates).  I returned from my van to find her with a brown mouthful, and 3 stacks of lovely Cotton Couture FQs, and the newly earned cash to buy them!  Solids it would be (and they are gorgeous)!  The challenge would be mine to help her quilt it in a way that does not accentuate every mis-stitch.  This mom loves a challenge.

In the summer just before her 8th birthday, I got out my old DSM.  When my oldest was learning to piece, we did it at a normal height table using a stool, but this was far from perfect.  For Sophie, I put the DSM on the kids' small craft table, which is mostly outgrown.  This is ideal because she sits at the table at a good viewing height, and her feet sit flat on the floor.  The size of the table does not leave much room on the sides when the quilt starts getting heavy, but it is a step in the right direction to making it better for a child.
(fabrics she chose - from MQX and her 1st trip to Paducah)
One thing that was necessary was to come up with a design that she could stitch.  I asked her which fabrics she wanted on the blocks.  When she chose the zebra print beside the Eiffel towers, I just swallowed my better design sense and cut those.  It is her quilt, and her flair will make it perfect.  At this age, I allow her to use the dull scissors, but not my rotary!  The fat quarters of solids were randomly cut up in a modern/scrappy fashion.  I knew that straight lines would be hard, and they were.  Keeping piecing on random angles helped.  We called it "stained glass" piecing.  When it came time to sew on the borders to the blocks, I marked a 1/4" line in pencil where the seam should go. Stitching on a line was much easier than following the fabric along the side of the foot at 1/4" (I don't use a quarter inch foot).  Learning how to make the process easier for the child is imperative.
One small bugger came in December.  Sophie was hoping and planning to enter this also at VQF this June.  She set her sights on the sewing machines that the kids win.  VQF requires that the child do all the work.  That was why she was learning and doing the piecing of the top herself.   In December, though, VQF declared that kid quilts could not exceed 40"!  Aw crap - this is 68".  The wind left her sails.  I added the two long borders for her, hoping that she'd come back to this project and want to still finish it for MQX.  Fortunately she decided she'd make something else and smaller for VQF, so we planned a date to quilt.  I love her perseverance.

After much thought, I came up with how the quilt could be quilted.  I wanted to avoid doing a panto again, and was hesitant to have her on a stool on the frontside just stitching away.  Those solids would not be forgiving.  And, until the day she actually started quilting, there had been talk of her using this hot pink thread Jim Smith of YLI gave her at MQX.   It all sounded like a recipe for disaster to me (and she was clearly blinded by her total love of pink!)!  Fortunately she finally settled on a soft lavender which blended nicely.   

I decided (if she agreed) that we'd try quilting straight lines in a grid.  To allow for natural variations and imperfections, the lines would be intentionally spaced at different intervals.  This would give her a LOT of start and stop experience, because she'd start on the left, run the machine to the right, and tie off on the right side.  Now I really hoped that her blocks were square!  She learned about the channel locks.  It turned out to be a good quilting plan, and I would highly recommend it for another beginner quilter.
It is a better experience for the quilter to be on the frontside where she can see what she is quilting. This type of quilting is not ideal for all quilts, but worked for her's.  It is graphic, and looks good on the solids.  It is doable for a kid too.  And as they say, done is always better than perfect.
("Pretty in Paris", 2015...BTW, I am taking her to Paris in July too!)

Mentoring a child and teaching her/him to quilt is so much more than just quilting.  It's allowing her to be immersed in the life and the process that we love so much.  She is allowed sometimes to chat with my clients as the drop off or pick up.  As I said earlier, I do not hesitate to take her to shows.  2-3 years ago, I had to say "no touching" a lot, but now she's just delightful.  She likes to take my camera and photograph the show her way.  An extra battery is all I must remember.   Many of my sets of show pictures have a skewed upward angle!

Last April, I bit the bullet and took her to Paducah with me.  The kids' spring vacation was a week later, and coincided with the show.  I decided to take her partly because I felt guilty flying off while she was home, but partly because I thought she'd get a good education there -- my kind of schooling! And she did!  Paducah was a total blast with her, from the awards ceremony to seeing her mother on a truck, to all joys of a Southern spring.
She's a long way from making a quilt like this one, but she sees that with hard work and wild dreams, anything is possible.  Courage and imagination will take her everywhere.  My only job is to teach her good fundamentals.
After winning this award, I got the usual AQS taped interview which I dread so much!...Bonnie Browning was so nice, talking to Sophie, asking if she liked quilting (or was she dragged to this massive show when she'd rather be off with kids!!)...Sophie was very quick to proudly tell her she'd just won a ribbon at MQX.  After that, they filmed a short (and VERY nervous) segment with her.  I look like a goon, and she is visibly rattled, but it's more of the complete immersion she is getting. She realized that she was one of only a handfull of children at the show, but she's poised and happy to be there.  It makes me proud.
Yes, of course Flat Stanley came too... She was seven, afterall!  Part of mentoring the child is allowing the child to be in the child's natural way, and to learn in a way that is comfortable.

Here is the little dresser quilt Sophie pieced to send to VQF.  We still need to quilt it before June.  It is a simple pattern.  Strip piecing builds the quilt quickly and efficiently.  Anytime the piecing is too encompassing, the kid will get tired, bored, and the process will no longer be fun.  She pieced this 14"x 40 top in barely an hour.
Sophie and I are making our 2nd trip to Paducah this April.  Last year was too much fun to make it a single occurrence.  She also has Pretty in Paris in the MQX show next month too.

I welcome any thoughts you might have on how we can get the next generation more interested and more active in quilting.  Is it lack of classes?  Is it the general decline of people of a younger age (aka 20-50) quilting?  Would your sewing child be more inclined to enter a quilt if she attended one to experience it?  Would he/she enter a show if You entered the show too?  I know many quilting moms love the escape of getting to go to a show (alone!), so it takes a special one to leave that "retreat" time behind so they can take their kid.   I'd love to hear what my readers think about this.  Do your kids quilt?  It is our lifestyle so I can't imagine us doing things differently.  It would be sad, though, if my daughter didn't show signs of loving quilting too though.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

BOS Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival & The Jester's Folly

Thursday morning started with a bang -- a good sort of bang.  No, make that an awesome bang. Picture this, it is 6am, and I just have my coffee.  The rest of the house is asleep.  I went to my computer to check up on things before I went to quilt on a very time-consuming Baltimore Album quilt.  I knew that this was the opening day for Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, but I also knew they were getting a snow storm, and the usual people I might know going, were not going to be there until Friday.  News tends to filter slowly from this show unless there is a person you know on the ground, so to speak.  Anyhow, I had a number of emails already, and a message from my sweet friend Sherry Reynolds of congratulations.  My quilt Big Bertha, which I will not show because everyone has seen a bazillion pictures of it, it won the Best of Show!  This is such a bittersweet win for this quilt.  It is at most 3 shows from being retired.  It is aging out, and has run the show circuit hard for 2 years, racking up many awesome awards.  It is the reason my family can afford to do a 2 week trip to Europe this summer!  It started it's shows at MQX in 2013 with a BOS, and this is very close to it's end of life, so another BOS is delightful.

A while later, one of the vendors posted a picture of my other quilt that is at the show.  Let me introduce you to The Jester's Folly.  It is the 38-ish" silk quilt.  I have showed a few snippets of it's creation, but realized that finished photos were never shown.  This quilt won the wall quilt's Best Machine Workmanship award!
It is made from a stack of about 12 hand-dyed silk Radiance fat quarters I bought in Houston in 2013. I added pieces of other colors that I had leftover from other quilts.  When I bought the silk I was fully into my silk phase.  It quilts beautifully, but is not forgiving to hiding errors if you might want to!   Though I designed the top on EQ, it was clearly a "design as you go" top.
Here's the finished center section.  The band of piecing making up the empty space (above) was made that way so that I had enough of each color to do it!  It was a bit avant garde, never conceived as being the octagon that I brought out of it in the quilting.  For those of you that don't work with this fabric, I interface all piecings before I cut them with Pellon Bi-stretch lite interfacing.  It is a tricot interfacing that leaves the silk still feeling silky and pliable.  The hand is essentially unchanged.  The raveliness of the silk is controlled with the interfacing.  BUT, the interfacing makes the seams thicker, and it is more challenging to get nice points and great matches.  I did try extremely hard! This center block, in fact, was designed to "float" so that I would get the points.  I wasn't on the ball though when I designed the outer row of HST's -- I had to be really careful because the silk made it harder.
The last border was another case of "I don't really have enough fabric so I will piecemeal something together with this olive silk that I have more of...".  You get the idea.  I often avoid straight frames in my piecing because they must be quilted perfectly to remain nice and straight, and nobody wants non-straight quilting lines.  Didn't avoid them this time.  I designed the little spikey flowers in fuscia and blue to break up the green border, and to bring the center outward.  Copying a design from one area of a quilt to another is critical to creating cohesion.
 Some of you may have followed my progression of this quilt on facebook, where I floundered around on the use of tiny circles stitched on the points of the points.  Many readers thought that the top didn't need them or was not enhanced by them.  I went my own way, though, and added them anyways.  I'm sort of a rebel like that.  Every time I looked at the top above, I thought of a court jester, and his hat would have the little balls on the end of the points.  I added them, judiciously.

So, without further adieu, here is the finished quilt.  I like to show the top before quilting so you can truly appreciate how much detailed machine quilting can transform and even alter a mostly basic pieced top.  I think that this is a perfect example.
Aha...I am seeing the light bulbs going off, as you are seeing the octagon I was talking about.  When I sat down to design the quilting, I immediately saw the octagon, and saw it as a way to get rid of that wide olive border I placed on the center star block.  Using a wide border was my way of enlarging the quilt, simply.  Creative quilting easily masks the fact that it is boring!
So one of the most common questions I get from quilters is "how do you know what to quilt where?". Sometimes it is obvious, other times, it comes by drawing several wrong choices.  One thing I can say is that to keep this with the Jester theme, I knew I needed the 30-60 diamonds.  They just speak the theme.  So O placed them as you see below, in the rather large-ish dark green corners in a cluster of 3, AND (remember that wash-rinse-repeat thing) - you got it, repeat the diamond motif into the inner border too.  To give some variety, the diamonds end and straight parallel lines run into the pink jester-spikey things.  They really oughta have a name!
One other thing I chose to copy in terms of the quilting is that curli-que.  In the background of the HSTs, there is this serpentine line, with curli-que hooks on each end.  I liked how they hooked around each other in the corners, because they were also visible in the blue quilting and the corners of the octagons also.  Curli-ques are whimsical, sort of like a Jester, so this seemed in keeping with the theme.  Feathers were used sparingly, as they almost seemed too formal.

The outer border, which if you remember I used straight lines on against my real wishes, needed the curved quilting to soften the edge.  My style of quilting can be very rigid and geometric, and curves help to juxtapose that.  The arcs of pebbles tie into the octagon of pebbles, making that a repeated and useful motif.  Sections of pebbles can be pretty, but they can also be monotonous and over used.  I prefer to use a motif judiciously and with purpose.
I tend to repeat many motifs, right down to cross-hatching (using a 1/2" curved hatch in the HSTs) as well as 1/4" in the outer border.  They are different textures, yet similar.  A word about using lines to get a design to show...It was a challenge to get that octagon to be a prominent design feature.  To do this, there are two parallel 1/4" lines, pebbles, and then another set of parallel lines.  Tip to remember - if you want a design to show on an otherwise busy background (while the solid silk is not really busy, the multi-colors and way I pieced it make it busier than a single fabric), you must stack parallel lines.  One stitched line will vanish.  Two parallel lines will show, but only a little.  Three parallel lines, which create 2 ridges of positive  space, show more.  You get the idea...Places on this center design that show prominently had the design quilted with more than 2 lines!
I added what have to be the largest crystals I have ever used - some are size 30 and 34!  I just hope that they are still on when the quilt arrives home.  They were being a little persnickety the day I mailed off the quilt.  
Last fun thing to show you is how I like to torture myself with silly bindings.  I have done things like this before, but this one was the hardest...silk, an odd 32.5 degree angle.  But I love the way the border blends right into the binding.  I am just not a fan of turned-edge facing-type bindings.  I don't like them and when I tried to do one last year it was a disaster.  This is my approach.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Hope you tolerated the long quilting discussion.  Many people ask what goes on inside my head as I design, and this is it.  And if you are lucky enough to be coming to MQX in April, you should be seeing this quilt hanging in the show!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Making the NYB units

OK, so in between stitching on a Baltimore Album quilt and blocking 2 others this week (and mind you these don't really leave much extra time -- only that I choose to steal for my own sanity), I started on the little spikey NYB units.  They finish about 5" up the straight side, so not so large, and I need 24.  

First error was Monday when I cut all the pieces of blue and purple.  Unfortunately I didn't discover my error until yesterday.  Would seem that I cut enough pieces/triangles for about 16 blocks, not 24. Not sure what I was thinking, but it sure would have been easier to have cut all I needed then, rather than having to pull out 25 fabrics all over again!  Anywho...Here's what I am doing to make this (the curved missing portion/quarter circle  will be added by machine once all of these are made.  They look really pretty in person.  What doesn't convey well in photos are that some of the fabrics are gilded with gold.
This part of the unit is paper-pieced.  It's far from my favorite job -- kind of messy, slow, but it works for these.
Here's the back.  Before I go on, I have stay-stitched on 3 sides within the seam allowance to keep the bias edges from taking over the piece.  I do remove part of the papers beneath the purple spikes before the next few steps because the piece is easier to handle that way.
I have printed a template for the lavender quarter circle.  Disregard the templar piece shown in the picture, as I initially thought I'd applique the piece to the PP unit.  I changed my mind!
Let's look at how I am making these 1/4" (or slightly more) bias units.  It's a technique I learned this past fall in a Sue Nickels class at Houston.  I have used bias bars and bias turning w/ iron gizmos in the past, and they can work, but often the bias pieces feel stretched, or they require starch to make them hold the press.  This is easier.  These strips are 3/4" and cut on bias.

In my hand, just roll the 2 edges into eachother, and put a running stitch to hold it together.  It is relatively quick, and satisfies my need to have on-the-go projects.  I do NOT press these.  They are a little easier to work with unpressed.   You can press after they are stitched in place.

Next I use a tiny amount of glue stick and place the bias strip where I want it.  You could use pins, but they are a pain in the rump.
With a fine thread like silk or Wonderfil Invisifil, hand stitch the top edge of the bias strip to the PP unit.

I always print out a real-size pattern to have as a guide. 
 This pattern helps me to know that the lavender arc is where it belongs.  I also lightly glue this into place.  As a sidenote, if the lavender arc is cut a hair large, like 1/8" or so, then you have a little play in the stitching, and it can be trimmed to size after stitching.
Because there are lots of seams under that bias strip, it is important to trim things down as much as possible.  Keep the paper-pieced seams at 3/16 ", and you still may need to trim some areas so these aren't too bulky.

 Only another 23 more to go!..