Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I see pictures of many quilter's studios, and drool.  They are in pretty rooms, with good light, heat, windows, rugs, and appropriate cabinets and things for storage, etc.  Mine?...nope.  I was lucky to get access to the basement 4 years ago.  My kids would have much preferred having it as a play space.  Gradually, I have taken more and more of it, claiming it as my own, and little by little, the area is getting neater and neater.  I'll never have windows or heat -- but in all seriousness it doesn't get that cold even in the dead of winter.

I could only find a couple of "before" pictures, and these were taken about a year ago.  You can see in the first one where I was priming the walls for painting them.  The battleship gray concrete was so dank and dismal looking.   I was doing what I could to increase the brightness, to make it more like a work room and less like a concrete cell.
I don't mind the pre-school foam mats on the floor.  They keep it warmer, and soft under foot.  It might be nicer if they were all one color, but the only way they come like that is if they are all brown or all gray.  No thanks. Crayola colors, here I come.  The shot below shows how my thread was stored...these June Tailor thread cone racks, strung together with carabeaners and hung with chains.  Kinda tacky, agreed, but the function was there.  I'm telling you, the concrete walls limit everything.  It is very hard to get anything attached to concrete.  There's my old (small) sewing machine, on the wooden table, with a desk we no longer have next to it for extra space.  I also had another 30"x6' table behind these where the cutting mat lived.  It was not enough storage or work space and honestly, it looked hideous.  It was a mis-match of epic proportions.  Fortunately, an ugly studio didn't limit my ability to quilt beautiful quilts.

Last winter, I painted the walls bright yellow, and got matching yellow sheers to cover all of our personal storage areas.  I just wanted to see my space.  I'm by no means a fan of yellow, if fact, I loathe yellow.  Don't wear it, don't sew with it, and definitely don't paint the walls upstairs yellow.  But here it was for reflecting the light.

Flash forward a year or so.  This panorama which may be hard to view shows where I am now.  There are subtle improvements, not the least of which are less clutter, and more space.
 My husband made one half-joking comment about my ribbon collection last year (which was hanging from a 24" mini-quit in our bedroom) - he kidded that the wall was going to come down with the ribbons soon.  I liked having them upstairs because it reminded me of where I have come in 4 years (then 3 yrs).  I promptly moved them down to the studio that was under renovation.  This year I had to add a 2nd row.  The ones on the bottom are from this season.  Soon I won't see the bright yellow walls.
 The machine hasn't moved, and you can see the yellow curtains hiding our family stored stuff on the far left.  My thread is now hung on the wall.  There are rolls of batting stored to the far left (and one is on the bar under the machine).  Every inch of this place (all 900 square feet) has function.
This is such a drastic improvement over the previous crappy system, which knocked off cones if you inadvertently bumped the racks!  But, I kid you not, it took my husband 6-8 hours to predrill the holes in the concrete wall for those 4 furring strips!  I don't have the heart to tell him I need 2 more racks (and they can't go higher or I can't reach them!).
 My new machine that I won at MQX East sits here now.  It's like seeing a full size cruise ship by the smaller yacht variety.  I have also acquired a couple of new tables.
 Unfortunately (or fortunately) one of them was a very economical deal that my husband got from his office, which they sold off really cheap, but it was shorter than what I ultimately wanted.  My mom heard this, and got me the black one on the far left, which is fine for storage, but too wobbly to cut on, and just doesn't match the rest of the tables.  Life, I guess.  And the chair, which is ugly, has never bothered me in the least.  I moved my cutting mat to just left of the sewing machine because I was doing some paper piecing.  I plan to make a small ironing surface to use there too, someday.  I still plan to get a 30"x60" cutting mat, but other areas of life have taken precedence.
A couple weeks ago, I drafted plans and bought the lumber for my husband to make me an ironing table.  I even had Lowe's cut the plywood to the right sizes to save him time.  I found the canvas at Mardens for a whopping $2 per yard, or I might have searched for something more matchy for my studio.  Last weekend, he was persuaded to make the table for me.  It will eventually get a shelf on that lower area, but I haven't sanded the wood yet.
 Nobody likes or needs to iron quilts on a conventional ironing board.  It is constantly on the floor, and that pointy end was only designed with clothing in mind.  Ours may never get used again...I got out the power stapler and 2 layers of batting, and whipped up the top in about an hour.
 My fabric shelves are still being organized.  I let them go totally messy so it is taking a while.  I got another rack this past week too so that they are not overloaded, and I can keep better organization.
All of my small scraps are in the little tubs that are on this (above) shelf).  I used to use the scraps quite a bit, and wonder how much they will be used.  Sometimes it is hard to part with fabrics that you like.   The unit of drawers on the top of the shelf is also new.  It arrived yesterday.  It is really for storing screws and hardware, but I am using it for bobbins.  Perfect! Gone is the cardboard box that held 30 bags of bobbins, which made finding the right color a challenge.

One area I still lack is a design wall.  Right now, a quilt I am pondering lays on the floor in pieces.  I need to investigate hot-gluing a flannel-backed table cloth onto the concrete wall.  My competition quilts are all layed out on the insulation board that I block on.  Within a couple days the last of these will be on their way to the September shows.
Lastly, I will leave you with a little banner I quilted nearly 4 years ago.  It was printed by Spoonflower onto a fat quarter.  It's just pinned onto the sheers.
 Perfect studio?...Not even close.  Furniture doesn't match, it has one casement window, one overhead light that has died (to be replaced this weekend!), but it is mine and slowly but surely it is becoming more organized and functional.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Busy Quilt?...Never Fear!

My client Carol has sent me 4 quilts now, that she wants full custom quilting on.  One is headed for a show next month, so I have only posted a few sneak peeks.  In a month, I will show more.  This one is 29" square (yup, pretty small).  It is made from Kaffe Fassett, Phillip Mabry, and other similar busy modern prints, along with some batiks for added color.  She's pieced all of the drunkard's path blocks by hand in a way that I have never yet seen a quilter do so well.  When clients say that their quilt is hand-pieced, it sometimes raises my eyebrow, but not her's.  They're beautiful.  They lay flat, every seam where it belongs, etc.  This one isn't even blocked yet, but it lays near-perfect.
If's frequently a challenge when a quilt comes in that does not have space for me to do decorative quilting. To compound that, this quilt doesn't have a visible focal point within the piecing either.  It is a repetitive pattern in very busy print.  My job's difficulty is escalated!  I tried to rise to the occasion. 
I used a combination of curvy borders and dense fillers to define an on-point frame. There is another one done at the center of the quilt, which defines the center for the viewer's eye.  When I first saw this quilt, I though it reminded me of the tropical sunshine.   Carol is from Panama (the one in central America, not Florida!) so she knows about sunshine.  For that reason, I quilted suns in some of the circles.  It keeps the quilting fun and light-hearted.  Other areas of the quilting are extremely structured, so the suns are a nice juxtaposition.   
 Use of 1/4" parallel lines and rows of pebbling help to pop the waving lines I used as frames.  To make these waves more pronounced, they are doubled and trippled in some cases.  I love the effect.
The outer border is a stripe, but not a regular stripe.  I was hesitant to do the parallel lines, but decided to do it anyways because I felt they'd tie into the lines I'd used elsewhere better than anything else.  At the center of each border, I placed another sun.  It helps to tie the border into the quilting of the body of the quilt.
 Curious minds?...
The quilt is double batted: Hobbs 80/20 with Tuscany wool over that.
I used a lavender Glide thread on the top and Superior Bottomline in the bobbin.  Why lavender? Well, it's almost a crapshoot with these very playful and colorful quilts which color thread really works best.  In the end, I chose a thread that blended well on all of the fabrics.  I could have gone with an orange on the outer border, but opted to keep the thread color consistent (and added orange bobbins to the list of my Superior order!...pst...I didn't have a bobbin color I preferred either!).

This fun little mini looks phenomenal and I hope she loves it as much as I do.  I just took her other quilt off the frame today and will show it to you later this week.  It's another wildly fun piece.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Too Busy

The last few days of summer have been a blur.  There are just way too many distractions to get much of anything substantial done.  Last week, I spent half a day with Sophie, cutting and stitching her lap quilt.  She bought 3 of the fabrics at a recent quilt show, and "shopped for the rest" in my stash.  Today we got the backing.  My hope is to add the borders and let her try stitching it on the longarm in a week or two.  Call me crazy...this plan very well may backfire!
 A week or so ago I did up this bento box for a local client.  She got the pattern and directions from my blog (search Bento Box!).  It's not like there are not other patterns out there, but this one yields no waste, and can utilize jelly roll precuts.  I made a couple of these, and it makes up really fast.
The quilting is nice simple swirls, at her request.  It is for her daughter to take to college...just in time!
I am also cutting into my scrap bags of Cherrywood fabrics.  I have designed something for then a dozen times, but never can commit because these scraps have lots of pieces, but there are very few repeats.  That makes selecting a traditional pattern challenging.  I am going for the free-pieced and modern look.   It's not done, but underway.
I am working on a second show quilt -- small, thank goodness.  It's for a client that is on holiday in the US until the end of September, and I want to get it mailed to her while she is  here.  It ought to be done by next week I suspect.  I'll show some pictures of the first one next time.  It turned out great!

Monday, August 12, 2013

No Longer a Slave to this Massively Sized quilt

Last week, I finished up a monster 112" Civil War Chronicles quilt.  I quilted one of these 18 months ago, and this client wanted this one done basically the same.  I tried hard to convince her that I really think that a nice Baptist fan pattern all over would look very appropriate and effective, but she didn't want an edge-to-edge.  While I kept much of the design like the previous quilt, I did make some slight modifications when I felt that they were warranted.
The quilt is made up of many 12" blocks -- 28 I think plus a center, and 16 more smaller blocks.  Custom quilting every one of the 12" blocks was beyond the budget of either quilter, so a loose feathered pattern was done instead.  I can quilt this like it is an E2E pattern, thus saving time and cost. 
The lighter colored (less printed) areas received prettier feathering patterns.  The stitching is more likely to show on the lighter fabrics.  There is also some straight line work to help frame the center diamond.  Multiple parallel lines tend to show considerably better than just a single line.  I think I used triple lines.

This quilt has a QD wool batting.  This is great batting, and gives the details a better poof than cotton.  I used a single color taupe/tan Superior Omni thread on the entire quilt.  Except on the darker fabrics, it barely shows over the prints.  Omni is a 40wt polyester, but it has a dull finish similar to cotton thread.  I felt this was a good choice because traditionally this quilt would have been stitched in cotton anyways.
The setting triangles next to the outermost border received pretty feathers.  You'll note that even though I used a combination of E2E and custom quilting, there is a LOT of ditch quilting.  It keeps each border and block looking crisp.
The backing of this quilt is not really what I might have chosen, but it is fine since this is a bed quilt.  It's a solid tan batik.  After having issues on a couple of recent quilts with batik backings, I am kind of getting on the "no batik backings" bus.  It is just too unpredictable if I will have a problem or not.  On this quilt, it is somewhat "out of period"; I think a CW repro would have been better.  It does, however, show the quilting, which for me is that double edged sword in that when it really shows, I have to be more careful with stitching  and stops and starts, etc.
 There are definitely some pretty patterns to see on this backing :-)
Three weeks until I will be delving into that increasing pile of backlogged custom quilts.  I can not wait!!  I have a few edge-to-edge jobs for the remainder of the month, but I really look forward to the return of being able to quilt 6 hours a day!  I am receiving many inquiries at present.  If you are curious, I am always taking new clients.  I am taking quilts with an approximate October delivery unless they are simple jobs.  If you are thinking about Christmas/holiday deliveries, I will need these within the next 6 weeks, or before.

This past weekend I went to the Images 2013 Lowell Quilt Festival in Lowell, MA.  My Zen Garden quilt took the top Best of Show award.  It is a very nice relatively local show, and the town of Lowell does a fantastic job of getting into the show, with a shuttle bus taking you to several other venues having smaller quilt displays.  I hope to post some highlights of this next time.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Or Stay-cation, if you prefer since I didn't go anywhere.  My kids have been at my mom's for the last 5 days.  The boys are doing a soccer camp half day, and Sophie is just at Nana-Camp.  It was planned months ago partly around my knowing that I needed to get a huge 112" custom quilt done this week.  This is the second of these Civil War Chronicles that I have done, so I had a pretty good idea how long it would take!  Pictures of this will go up next week.  It's dreary and wet here and there is no light for taking pictures of a quilt that is nothing but pattern and print.

Speaking of patterns...This is an edge-to-edge I finished recently.  The local client hand pieced it.  It is rather an unusual pattern I thought!
 So I did what I thought was "getting smart".  Last week, I loaded this monster quilt.  I figured I was pushing getting it done in one week, even with no kids here.  I got a jump on it, quilting about 1-1/2 hour a day from Wednesday until Saturday.  I'm telling you, every hour helps.  Turns out, I worked long hours and finished the quilt early on Thursday.  So at 8am, quilt finished, no kids around, what's a girl to do??! 

I have been puttering with some free-pieced curved 5" blocks made from Cherrywood fabrics.  I have about 35-40 of them done, but they just are not singing to me.  Instead of continuing to make a mess of that fabric, I decided to get these blocks out.  By all accounts, I started this in the early winter of 2012.  I could have sworn it was before that.  I have had a block of 32 pieced diamonds and 24 pieced/appliqued setting squares done for at least a year though.  At least!
 Yesterday I decided I would play with this quilt for 2 days and see how far I could get it.  Many of the pieced diamonds looked like I'd pieced them with my eyes closed.  Too many needed to be ripped apart and have their points re-matched.  I'm anal like that. I spent nearly 5 hours fixing blocks!  Then I started piecing the many Y-seams.  At the end of yesterday, these 56 blocks were pieced into 20 larger units.  By 8am this morning, there were only 10.  Sadly by noon, I was down to 2 large units, and that is where I have officially lost steam.  There are so many Y-seams in that last seam that I just don't feel like doing it!  I don't have the last bit of the dark blue background on or do I really know what I am doing for a border, if at all.  I am toying with a narrow color-washed partial border like I have shown.  Whatever it is, I want it to draw the eye into the center star.  The quilt top design is not totally completed either.  I seem to have a few icky areas where too many points and bulk have come together in not such a sightly manner.  Pondering how to address them.  I also kind of hate the red butterflies, but am not so sure how to fix that either (yes, backing is cut away beneath them!).  It's not so much the butterflies I don't like as much as it is the color.  The quilt is not done, but progress was made.

This afternoon I shifted gears to calmly hand applique on this beauty.  I just love this quilt, and love working on it.  This picture is from last week.  I have nearly finished the 2nd side of the applique.  The silk ivory ribbon is so incredible looking.  Two more sides and I will start to think about how to quilt this.  I am getting excited!  Maybe while I am Lowell tomorrow for the Lowell Quilt Festival I will spy a backing fabric.  I need a nice rose floral unless I get brave and go with the gold/mustard solid I found.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Zen & Bertha bring it home

Last weekend, I had quilts at both Quilt Odyssey and the Maine Quilt show.  Someday I'd love to go to Q.O. if it could ever be not on the same weekend!  It is a very good, high-caliber quilt show.  It is leaps and bounds above the Maine show, but this is in my home state and I feel some sense of obligation to place quilts here.  My Quilt Odyssey quilts both took home 2nd place ribbons ("Meet Me at Giverny" and "Rainbow Nouveau"), which was fantastic.  Who doesn't love a little Red, and green (yes this show pays money - an added bonus!!).  I had my Zen Garden and Big Bertha quilts at the Maine Quilt show.  Though I completely love Zen Garden and it's design and colors, I fully expected that Big Bertha would beat it.  The surprise was on me.
 Zen Garden won the Best of Judged, along with an exceptional merit ribbon for achieving over 97 points.  It received many nice comments from show-goers.  This is always nice.  I'm not the type of quilter that likes to hang out by my quilt for the duration of the show, just to be able to answer questions.  In some ways I feel like I am snooping as they chit-chat amongst themselves.  I do pop in and provide answers to their questions if I happen to hear them guessing about something though.  Generally, the comments were nice.
Because Big Bertha didn't win, I have been anxiously awaiting the judges comments to know why.  They arrived today.  I know that it had to be close, since Bertha took an exceptional merit ribbon also.  There was one other quilt with a purple ribbon - this one.  Megan's Japanese ladies are sensational, and so well made.  It's no surprise that this quilt was also the one right behind my Vermont win as well!

Judges comments are always something I try not to take too personally, but I was especially interested none the less.  In the past I have had one judge in particular that just hated a fabric that I used on a quilt, and every show it went to where she was there, the scoring showed it.  That type thing makes me bonkers!  After the unofficial disqualification of Big Bertha at MQS earlier this year, I am hopeful that it will do well at future shows.  Those judges just didn't think it was "traditional" enough.  Seriously, it is a Dresden plate pattern. Go figure.

Comments at the Maine show only separate my two quilts by one point.  99pts versus 98pts.  That is how insanely close it gets!  They think that Big Bertha could have had neater pebbles.  Sigh and grumble...they are very clean and round (probably better than what is on Zen Garden!!...as this was quilted 2 yrs ago). Both quilts got excellent binding comments, although if I were a judge I'd have used Bertha as the 25pt benchmark and critiqued the other based on that!.  That is why I am not a judge.

I have quilts at the Lowell Quilt Festival next weekend, and will hope for a good showing.  Zen Garden and Kaleidoscopic Calamity will be at that party.  I am mailing Big Bertha off to Houston in 4 days.  It will unfortunately be there until November, so it will miss all the fall shows.  I have all my others lined up, however to hopefully attend 4 or 5 of the fall shows.  Summer has been a welcome break from the constant rigors of custom quilting, even if it has come at the expense of sanity loss from having all kids home!  I have my kids spending next week with my mom so I can quilt one large custom for a client.  Then three more weeks of E2Es, and then back to the regular program of client quilting!!  Yea!  So if you have been waiting until the summer ends to send me a quilt, now is the time to get into my queue.  Drop me an email...