Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down

About a month ago I posted this picture on Instagram of blocks hanging on my design wall. These blocks belong to a quilt project named The Random Sampler. It was a quilt-along begun by my friend Anita from Bloomin' Workshop. Several of us started these blocks back in 2012 and to my knowledge only Lotje ended up with a finished quilt.

Random Sampler~Progress Shot
Random Sampler quilt blocks

Anita suggested we all pull our blocks back out in March and cheer each other on to a finish - effectively throwing out the challenge to the rest of us slackers :o) Now I have to admit, I love working on blocks for this quilt because I can toss in anything and everything I feel like making. And, this is a quilt I am making for myself so there is no right or wrong. Funny - We don't have any quilts I've made, except for a few small wall hangings, so this will be the first large-ish quilt I'd finish for our home. There are two other unfinished quilts that are also supposed to be for us. Seems the only quilts I manage to finish are those intended for others.

As much as I'd love to dive in and work on my Random Sampler I've got two projects I should finish first. I've been so good at working my way through the To Do list I wrote up some time last summer and I'm down to just the two quilts. Here they are:

Social Climber is another Faith Circle quilt destined to be sent to Restore Innocence. This quilt is pin basted and ready for quilting. As of yet I have not decided how to quilt it...any suggestions are most welcome! Feel free to leave them in the comments. 

Faith Circle Social Climber - pin basted
Social Climber ~ A Faith Circle Quilt

Then, I'm on a tight schedule to finish up my Mixed Flock quilt for a local show coming up in mid-April. I don't think I've introduced the Mixed Flock top on the blog...this is my original design using the Dashing Geese block I created for QuiltMakers 100 Blocks magazine, Volume 9. However, Mixed Flock puts a completely different spin on the block by mixing up the color placement. 

Mixed Flock - progress shot
Mixed Flock - progress shot

I'm hoping you can see four large, bright "interpretive" stars, and one gray star, too. In a way I think Mixed Flock has a bit of a Southwestern look to it. I'm in the process of piecing the outer borders to finish the quilt top. Here's a sketch to show where I'm heading with the final design:

Mixed Flock - the plan
Mixed Flock - the plan

So, the question is, "Will I be picking up the Random Sampler gauntlet?" Many times what I should do, and what I end up doing, are two different things...we'll see how the month of March plays out :o) 

What would you do?

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Faith Circle Finish ~ A While in the Making

Wow! Sometimes there are those quilts that you just don't think are ever going to get finished - as much as you want them to. They sit neatly folded in your sewing room just taunting you. This appliqued wonky disappearing 4-patch is one such quilt.

Faith Circle Disappearing 4 Patch
Wonky disappearing 4-patch with applique borders

It started innocently enough with the selection of an easy quilt block, the disappearing 4-patch. I knew I wanted my Faith Circle partners to use a soft color palette to make these blocks, and to add a bit of whimsy, I wanted the blocks to be wonky. Thinking this might be a good opportunity to try my hand at writing a quilt block tutorial I snapped lots of pictures of the construction process and wrote up the directions. (Tutorial can be found here.) I like to point out that I did not create this quilt block, I only wrote up a tutorial for it.

Once the blocks arrived I just knew they were the perfect candidate for my first applique border. 

Applique border
Applique borders under construction

I combined pattern elements from several different sources to come up with a flowering vine to surround the quilt blocks. Whimsical flowers was the look I was after. Naively I figured it would take me about a month of sewing to get the borders all stitched down using machine applique. 

One flower stitched down. :)
Machine applique on whimsical floral borders

In reality it took me five months of stop and go work to get the borders complete. For some reason they just seemed to be an overwhelming task. Finally they were finished and the quilt top was assembled! Next to quilt it. Over the summer months I had collected a few books on free motion quilting using your home sewing machine. I wrote up a blog post about my adventures in developing my quilting skills that can be found here.

As you can see in this picture the Loops and Poppies quilt design is so nice when the quilt is freshly washed and dried...there is just something so appealing about a nice, crinkly quilt :o)

Faith Circle Disappearing 4 Patch
Just look at this great texture!

Here's a look at the entire quilt all finished. It turned out exactly as I pictured in my head and I'm so happy with it!

Faith Circle Disappearing 4 Patch
Wonky disappearing 4-patch with applique borders
For the back I took two extra blocks that were not needed on the front, chopped them up, and created a ribbon. Then, I added large cuts of fabric on either side to finish out the scrappy back.

Faith Circle Disappearing 4 Patch
Quilt back

This quilt is on it's way to Restore Innocence where it will hopefully bring comfort and warmth to a young woman in need of it. I'll leave you with one final picture...I just discovered this great tree behind our fence - it makes a perfect quilt display!

Faith Circle Disappearing 4 Patch
Quilt in a tree

Monday, January 5, 2015

Around the World Blog Hop

Hello! You have arrived at my stop on the Around the World Blog Hop :o) Today you are in Winchester, Virginia, USA on a pretty typical cold, damp January day. If you are here for the first time - Welcome! 

I was trying to do a little research on the origins of this particular blog hop and the nearest I can figure out is it started in early 2014. I'm not sure who started it - if you try to follow the hop backwards it just keeps going and going. Throughout it's spread it has featured blogs from all genre. I was tagged by the lovely Karen of CapitolAQuilter to participate. You can read more about Karen here on the post she wrote for the hop

Karen's SuperNova                              My SuperNova
SuperNova pattern by the talented Lee of Freshly Pieced

I met Karen about 2-1/2 years ago while we were both participating in the SuperNova Quilt-Along over on flickr. Here are the quilts Karen and I made. Karen's quilt is on the left and mine is on the right. Since then our virtual paths have crossed several times. Maybe someday we will meet in person :o)

This is an interesting hop because it basically permits the blogger to share anything they choose with four questions as a guide, so I'll work my way through them. 

My quilting To Do list
What am I working on?

In the last year I've really been convicted about not starting new projects that just add to the pile of unfinished work. To help me focus my efforts and make the best use of my time I started a short list back in the summer. Doing this has really helped me resist the urge to drop everything and jump in on the latest quilt-alongs and swaps going around on flickr and Instagram. Don't get me wrong, I love to join in every once-in-awhile because I think it helps keep creativity and fun going - not to mention the great people you meet, but if I'm to make any long-term progress I have to focus and not be dividing my time among too many projects.

Since I've shown you my list I'll share with you my progress on three of the quilts not yet marked off.

The March Faith Circle Quilt is a Wonky 4 Patch with machine applique borders. I am currently hand sewing down the binding. After this only the label is left to finish and then this one is heading for Restore Innocence in Colorado. Hopefully it will bring comfort and joy to a young woman in need.

As you can see I use a lot of pins when I stitch down binding - I find it helps keep my hands from fatigue

Next up I need to finish repair/restoration work on a quilt belonging to a friend of mine, Penny. The Dresden plates on the quilt were originally pieced by her mother from clothing worn by her little girls. I made took the Dresden blocks and added pieced borders to make one large quilt for Penny and her sister to give to their mother. If you would like to see a picture of the quilt as it was originally finished click hereWhen she passed her daughters each wanted a lap quilt so we separated the large quilt into two quilts. This created the need for new borders and the binding to be replaced.

Repair/restoration work - need to add an appliqued border and binding

Finally I'm working on a quilt to enter into a local show. The Northern Shenandoah Valley Quilt Show will have a modern quilts category for the very first time. I'm excited for the opportunity to play a part in showing the community what modern quilts can look like. I'm making what I hope will be a well received adaptation of my Dashing Geese quilt block. 

Dashing Geese block show in top left corner for reference only.

This pretty much wraps up what I'm working on in the sewing realm. In addition, I have a pair of crochet Croc sock liners in the works for my son, and an infinity/mobius scarf for me. I'd probably better save those photos for a different post :o)

I'm going to attempt to combine the next three questions into one answer. 
How does your work differ from others of its genre? 
Why do you write/create what you do? 
How does your writing/creating process work?

Often, as I'm sewing, I ponder how my work differs from that of others. Learning any new skill requires sitting under the teaching of others who have come before...talented, brilliant people who have caught my eye and caused me to stop and admire the beauty they have created. I have learned so much from the excellent tutorials and patterns so freely shared throughout the virtual quilting and crafting community. Generous people who have it in their heart to bring others along do so much for us all. This was an excellent starting point...but did my work differ from that of anyone else?

I began to wonder if I had it in me to move from simply remaking what others have already done and begin to create my own quilt designs - maybe not full patterns, but starting with quilt blocks.

About this time another online friend, Emily of Simple Girl, Simple Life, introduced me to Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks. I wondered...can I do this, too?? Can I come up with my own original designs? In all honesty I didn't think so...where would I even could I be 100% sure no one else had already designed what I came up with? Nonetheless I jumped in to give it a try. 

I know there are a few excellent drafting programs out that are popular in the quilting world...I don't use any of them. As a technology resource teacher I spend all day, every day, on a computer, so at this point in time I find it a fun change of pace to sketch out my design ideas on graph paper. 

My design notebook

For starters I open my 1/4" grid composition book and take up my colored pencils. To generate ideas I look at several resources, books of traditional quilt blocks, images on the Internet, quilts I've seen in magazines, etc. I look at the blocks and try to come up with ways I can change them...kind of make them my own. Once I've sketched out some miniature drawings I move over to 12" paper. (Quiltmaker's requires all blocks to be 12" square.)

12" Grid paper to reflect actual size of blocks
My first block design, Dashing Geese appeared in Quiltmaker's Volume 9. Dashing Geese combines a Churn Dash quilt block with flying geese. This block requires paper piecing because the geese units are not conventional 1:2 ratio. I did use the drawing tools in Microsoft Word to create the paper piecing pattern. Next, I came up with the idea for Nested Bear Paw. This block was inspired by land we purchased and where we hope to build a log cabin. It was super exciting to have Nested Bear Paw appear on the cover of Quiltmaker's Volume 10!! I loved this block so much I was convinced I would not be able to come up with any more ideas. However, I kept my eyes open and before too long inspiration for a third block materialized-also inspired by our future log home. I've submitted this block to Quiltmaker's for consideration in Volume 11 and am waiting to see if it will be accepted for this future issue. 

As I was reading blog posts written by other Volume 10 designers I noted how many of them refer to secondary patterns created by repeating their blocks across a quilt top. This became a new challenge for me as I puzzled with how to design a block with both a primary and a secondary design element. I've sketched out a design, but have yet to make a up sample block. This one may have the potential to become a pattern for a whole quilt instead of just a stand alone block. I'm pretty excited to see how it will turn out :o) 

Drawing out ideas with pencil and paper makes me feel connected to those who quilted in the generations before me...women who did not have benefit of computer drafting and copy/paste features. Many of them possessed mighty talent and I admire their ability to create the intricate designs that so captivate us today.

Well, in a nut shell that summarizes how I'm different from others, why I create, and how I do it :o) I sincerely hope that if anyone who reads this has imagined designing their own quilt block, but not taken the steps to do so, they will feel emboldened to give it a try :o)

Next up on our trip around the blog world I am pointing you to the Pacific Northwest to my good friend - and I can say my quilting mentor - Anita, of Bloomin' Workshop. Anita has taught me more than anyone else how to be a quilter. She has a heart for sharing her talent and writes the best tutorials of anyone I know. I met Anita when I stumbled across her Medallion Quilt-Along. I look forward to reading her post next week - Monday, January 12.

ps. If you are inspired to design a quilt block I urge you to submit it to Quiltmaker's...let me know if you need submission information. I'm happy to point you in the right direction :o) 

Happy quilting...and creating?!?!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Easy Free Motion Quilting?? Yes!!

Over the past year I've really felt a strong pull to grow my skills at quilting the quilts I make. I want to know that when I make a quilt I've not only made the quilt top, but quilted it, too, and can be proud of both.

It helps to take some time to learn about your sewing machine. In the five years I've had my machine I've learned a lot through trial and error. For instance: most of the free-motion quilting references say to lower your feed dogs. I never could get the tension to come out right on my machine when I did this. While researching tension problems I came across this post about feed dogs by Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project, and it completely changed my experience with tension. On my Janome it is essential to leave the feed dogs up. If I put them down the tension is just a mess. I just have to set the stitch length to zero and all is well. I've also learned to get comfortable with the small harp space (it's about 6" wide and 5" tall) on my sewing machine, a Janome DC3018. This picture illustrates it pretty well, I think :o) Yes that is a grapefruit!

My Janome sewing machine
Janome DC3018
Back in March I ordered some supplies to seriously begin quilting practice. After reading recommendations from others I bought a Supreme Slider, a pair of Machingers gloves, and some Little Magic Bobbin Genies. They didn't see immediate action, but one by one I've started using them. 

Free Motion Quilting Supplies
Free-motion quilting supplies
I'm not certain my Janome likes the Little Magic Bobbin Genies. The bobbin holder is not very deep and it does raise the height of the bobbin...but I've continued using one anyway. I can say I like the Machingers gloves so much better than any other gloves I've tried-they are definitely worth investing in! They have a nice amount of grip to them, but are not heavy and hot. More recently I've been using the Supreme Slider - I like it a lot, too!

In addition, I used a few 40% off coupons at Joann Fabric to purchase several free-motion quilting books. 

Free-motion quilting books
Free-motion quilting books

If you are like me, and are truly starting from square zero I found it helpful to read through more than one book. Each author is so encouraging and shares many helpful suggestions. Each of these books divide quilting designs into categories and show how to build on previously taught skills. I also took their suggestion to use paper and pencil and draw out the design I wanted to use so my muscles would get used to the flow of creating it. 

In the past I always thought that doing a stipple/meander design was where one should start when learning to free-motion quilt. I tried this on a few quilts with okay results, but just was not comfortable. Many times I would find myself backed into a corner - surrounded on all sides where I had already quilted and no way to get out. In Natalia Bonner's book, Beginner's Guide to Free-Motion Quilting, I selected a design called Loops and Poppies. It is similar to the stipple design, but just as the name implies it includes loops and flowers. 

Loops and Poppies all-over quilting
Loops and Poppies design by Natalia Bonner
This pattern has really freed me to enjoy quilting! As I'm stitching along I no longer have to worry about my quilting being surrounded on all sides. If I get into a "road block" I simply stitch a poppy and come right back out on the same side of the flower where I stitched in. Wow!! As you can see from the picture above, my little poppy flowers are not perfect, but they look cute, anyway :o) Fun. Fun. Fun.

I'm stitching this on a pretty large scale and I find I'm not so good at using my hands to frame the area I'm a matter of fact, my "technique" definitely needs some work. I'd like to practice on some smaller items like pillows or wall hangings where the scale of the quilting can be a lot tighter. I think doing this will allow me to improve my hand/arm position while quilting. I'm actually looking forward to it!

I hope this has encouraged you if, like me, you have felt overwhelmed by learning to free-motion quilt. Sequential building of skills (and a few of the right tools) make a big difference! I'd love to hear any tips you have to share with me...we can continue to learn this together! Happy quilting :o)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Snowflake Among the Stars

Photo taken between rain showers on a cold, windy day

Snowflake Among the Stars started out as many quilts do...with the announcement of an exciting life event. My dear friend, M, shared with me the news that her daughter {also an M} was going to be married! I've know this younger M since she was a precious little four year old :o)

With a wedding date set for mid-December it was a fun opportunity to make a quilt that not only celebrated the marriage of this couple, but could be used each Christmas. The quilt started with this dynamic snowflake as a central medallion. This pattern, Snow-Kissed Star, is designed by Konda Luckau of Moose on the Porch Quilts, and was featured in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of McCall's Quilting. It's such a bold design and I love how it lets you use all the beautiful fabrics in a jelly roll.  

Snow Kissed Star

The pattern in the magazine called for adding wide borders using a coordinating print around the central snowflake; however, for a wedding quilt I wanted something a little more special. 

In my sketchbook I started playing around with a border to frame the center snowflake. I knew I wanted to go with a crisp red and white border design - something simple, but with visual impact on the four corners. 

Two years ago I made this Gift Wrap pillow using a sweet little pattern by Stephanie {Venus de Hilo}. The star in the pillow is called Sister's Star...and I love how it looks like a bow. It seemed to be the perfect star block to use on the four corners of this quilt.

I planned out 10.5" sister's stars with a 2.5" ribbon framing the center Snow-Kissed Star.

My local quilt shop, The Scrappy Apple, had several yards of a red snowflake print from the In from the Cold fabric line - also by Kate Spain. I used this fabric for the red borders and the binding. 

For this young couple I wanted the quilt to have fresh clean lines, and just a hint of a vintage twist. The quilt top turned out just as I hoped it would :o) It is actually a square quilt - I just could not get high enough above it to take a picture that did not make it look rectangular.

Photo taken between rain showers on a cold, windy day

To quilt it I used the walking foot on my machine and quilted in a large spiral using 1/2" spacing. That was the easiest distance to space the lines because it allowed me to use the side of the walking foot as my guide. Using my Janome sewing machine it probably took about 12-15 hours spaced over several days to get the quilting done. Here is a close-up to show the spiral quilting:

I lightly traced around a circular jar lid to get the spiral started

For the backing I found a wonderfully soft, apple-green argyle flannel from Connecting Threads. The apple-green is a great match for the fabrics on the front of the quilt. I was hoping flannel would make the quilt cuddle-worthy and it did not disappoint. The vintage Santa label is from a yard of All Occasion Quilt Labels by Northcott. A Pentel black gel fabric pen worked great to write on the label. 

Name of the bride & groom crossed out on the label to protect privacy

The bridal couple live a long way from where I live so my dear friend, M, delivered the quilt to them when her family traveled to the wedding. She sent me this sweet picture of the lovely bride and groom with their Snowflake Among the Stars quilt. I hope it will be a treasured part of their Christmas celebrations for years to come :o)

The sweet bride and groom with their wedding quilt :o)

What a fun quilting journey this was! Wishing these newly weds a grace-filled marriage blessed with many happy years :o)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Debbie's Sewing Class :o)

Welcome to Debbie's Sewing Class :o)

I don't think it's a secret to anyone who reads my blog that I love doing hand work. We live in such a busy world and often I find myself compelled to finish things as fast as I can in order to begin the next new project. Hand work slows all that down. Sitting quietly and focusing on the small project between my hands brings such peace and allows time for reflection.

A few years ago my dear friend, M, and I decided to choose a project to work on that would encourage us to schedule time to get together and invest in our friendship. Life can get so busy that having a reason to get together helps make it happen. We chose this beautiful Poinsettia Basket pattern Leah Smith of The Country Cupboard. As we worked our way through this pattern I taught M how to do the blanket/buttonhole stitch on wool felt.

The picture that inspired the class
This beautiful fireplace is at my friend, M's, house.

Each Christmas M displays her lovely wool felt picture on her mantle where the beauty of the pattern has drawn many admirers. (Her husband made the great frame for her picture!) This fall M asked me if I would teach a wool felt class to friends and family and we chose a Saturday morning in November. 

I set about working on a pattern to use as I taught the basics of making wool felt pictures. I wanted the design to have gentle curves with no sharp angles so first time stitchers could build their confidence. Using round objects from around my home and a star-shaped cookie cutter I came up with the following pattern:

Wool star candle mat.

These small candle mats use both the blanket/buttonhole stitch and a decorative running stitch. The circles and chunky star are so easy to stitch and I like how the running stitch adds to the texture. We had several different colored pieces for the students to choose from. 

I was a bit nervous teaching eight people at the same time how to hand stitch, but they were great students! It turns out that previous experience mending soccer shorts translated right over to working with wool felt for my friend, R. He happens to be my supervisor when I'm a technology resource teacher at school...I thought we should just use this sewing class for my formal teacher evaluation and be done with it :o) 

Here's a short video I made using Animoto to show you the fun we had :o)

Each student was able to complete the project in one morning and seemed to enjoy the process. We had some great laughs as new skills were learned :o) I'm looking forward to teaching again!