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.

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!