Piece by piece

all 4 patches filled inI can’t say enough how nice it is to have a dedicated sewing room with everything set up all the time — I can walk in and piece a few units at odd moments during the day, and it really adds up!

Here is my quilt with all the four patches made. Then I cut the white 2.5″ squares to alternate with them. My idea was to start piecing the white squares and 4-patches into 9-patches, to help prevent the distortion you can get when piecing many little squares in a long seam.

piecing 4's into 9'sSo here’s the beginning of the 9-patches. It’s amazing how much the quilt “shrinks” when you start joining the blocks and adding up the seam allowances.

I also like how bright it looks with the white squares — I thought the yellow flannel was bright, but it looks really soft and muted compared to the bright white of the 9-patch units.

So on and on I went, piecing a few at a time.

more 9'sIt’s exciting to see it filling in. Just a few more to go, then I can join all the 9-patches into columns, and join the columns into a completed top!

You can see that this last photo was taken later in the day — the sun was no longer streaming in the window, and my white squares look grey in the afternoon shadows.

I have been so preoccupied with piecing that I haven’t loaded anything into my long arm lately. But I have several tops in the queue, so that will have to be a priority for this coming week.





4 patch inspiration

Despite having numerous projects on the go, I felt the itch to start something new. But at least I restricted myself to making something new by using existing scraps. It doesn’t feel like a cheat — I’m not buying any new fabric, so technically it’s not a new project, right?

blue car fabric.jpgI had this piece of fabric in my stash that I picked up at one of the charity-quilt-making days at my guild. Primary colours, car print. Yardage, but with a chunk missing from the bottom.

I thought this could be the back of a small quilt. The first thing I did was trim off the extra bit at the bottom. That gave me a back about 44″ square.

What would make a good top for this back? Something bright, lots of the same primary colours. I could cut some 2.5″ squares out of the remnant piece I’d trimmed off, but not enough to make a full top.

However, there was enough to make an X.

blue X.jpg

I had lots and lots of 1.5″ squares cut from small scraps. I decided to make them into four patches, and alternate those with 2.5″ squares of white.

bright four patches.jpg

Then I started filling in the X.

filling in the X.jpg

In making the four-patches, I tried to put darker fabrics in the top left and bottom right, and lighter fabrics in the top right and bottom left. I arranged the squares in groups of four beside my sewing machine, then started chain piecing them together. First the top dark/light pair, followed by the bottom light/dark pair.

chain piecing.jpg

I ended up with a long chain, but I knew that the units were grouped, so I snipped them off in pairs.

snipped in pairs.jpg

Then I pressed them open (toward the dark), and the little chain of thread held each pair together.

Press open pre matched.jpg

Then it was simply a matter of nesting the seams, and sewing the pairs into a four-patch. To make them finish a little flatter, I pressed the final seam open (which usually meant I had to quickly snip that thread loop).

snip the thread loop.jpg

And finally:

press the seam open.jpg

It’s fun to sew with bright colours, and I picked up momentum as I saw the ‘X’ become more and more filled in! And it feels good to make a little dent in the scrap bin.


Freehand extravaganza

I pulled a quilt top out of my UFO pile that has been there for years. Years and years.

I made it in one weekend, at a retreat. I think it may be the first quilt top I ever finished; it is certainly one of the first. You can tell because my fabric choice was questionable, many points didn’t match, the quilt itself is not square, the seams are uneven… there’s so much wrong with it, that I decided it could be my sacrificial freehand practice quilt. The top is so busy, the quilting would hardly even show up! But it’s flannel, so no matter how it turned out, it would still make a snuggly winter quilt for the couch or a bed. (It actually reminds me of the inside of the sleeping bags we had when I was a kid.)

flannel diamond quilt in the frame.jpg

I had black flannel for the back, also purchased years ago. So while the quilting doesn’t show on the front, it’s visible on the back. I used a variegated thread, top and bottom (meaning, I had to figure out how to use my long arm bobbin winder, too).


The only part not totally freehand was the outlining of each diamond. I used a ruler to help create straight lines around the perimeter of each shape. Problems encountered: sometimes my hand slipped, and the quilting line wasn’t so straight; sometimes my quilting line was perfectly straight, and thus emphasized the not-so-straight piecing!

Then, the fun part. I explored different freehand designs, varying them for each diamond. Some designs came out really well. Others, I struggled with. There were a few fails. But amazingly, when the whole thing was finished and I took it out of the frame, I realized that the designs all blend together, and it’s hard to see the bad ones.


closeup of the back.jpg

Hard to get good lighting, but this will at least give you an idea:

more of the back.jpg

It was really fun to do. And I actually like this quilt now — especially the backside of it.

I even wrote my name on it — as well as the names of my family members, and all our pets (one diamond even says “the Fish”).

quilted signature.jpg

Now to trim it and make some binding — then it will be another UFO off my list!

Up to 6

My official count of tops quilted since I got my long arm is six. I took better pictures of the three charity Smile quilts I recently finished, just for the record. They’ve been returned to the Smile quilt committee, who will find someone to bind them before they are donated to the local hospital.

sun and cloud (1).jpg

reptiles and dinos.jpgbarnyard-windmills.jpg



More long arm practice

I am determined to make good use of my long arm, and become decently proficient at using its various functions as soon as possible. Consequently, when I was at my traditional guild’s meeting this month, and there was a request for a volunteer to quilt some tops that are destined to be donated to the children’s ward at the local hospital, I raised my hand, and ended up with three tops to quilt.

The next day, my friend Audrey (of B Quilty Studio) came over to show me how to get started with Pro-Stitcher —  the computerized component of my long arm. She showed me how to use edge-to-edge designs, as well as how to select an area on my quilt and fill it with a block-sized design. I thought the charity quilts would be an excellent way to practice that new knowledge, and make sure I could figure out how to do it when she wasn’t standing there, waiting to help me.

lizard quilt 1.jpgThe first top I quilted was this flannel one, featuring a lizard print in one of the fabrics. I looked through the pre-programmed designs on my Pro-Stitcher, and decided that dinosaurs would be a good match for a quilted design. I just ran it from edge to edge, and played with scaling it slightly differently for each row.

Here’s a close up on the bottom border area, so you can see the stitching a little better:


The flannel was really fraying, so after I trimmed the quilt up, I zigzagged the edge, to make it a little easier for whoever binds it. I thought it turned out pretty well.

Next up, I used another edge-to-edge design on a top that is basically a single piece of fabric. The quilting design is a sun and clouds.


By that time, I felt pretty confident about using a continuous design on a quilt top. So for the last quilt, I decided to practice quilting patterns in individual block areas. The maker of this quilt top alternated farm animal prints with solid squares, so I decided to quilt a windmill pattern in each solid square.

pig quilt 2.jpg

pig quilt 3.jpg

I think it looks really, really nice. My only comment is, by the end, it got pretty tedious. I set up the machine to quilt an empty square, set it going, stood around and waited for it to finish, then set up to stitch the next empty square. After a couple of rows, I grabbed a basket of clean laundry, and folded clothes while I waited for the block to stitch out. I ran out of laundry, and tried doodling quilting patterns in my sketch book to pass the time between set ups.

So, while I loved the result and might do it again for a quilt that merited it, I learned that this was a very time-intensive way to quilt a top. Particularly since I don’t think the child who gets this quilt will say, “Ooh, look at all the lovely stitching!” I could have done the sunshine and clouds pattern on this quilt too, and it would also have looked nice, but taken a fraction of the time to complete.

That brings the total tops quilted up to 6 so far — though all have been charity quilts. Maybe it’s time to load one of my own, waiting tops into the machine. It would be nice to chip away at items on my UFO list!

Adventures and misadventures

I finally got the binding finished on my Puppy Panel charity quilt, making it myPuppy Panel 2018 finish 1.jpg first finish of 2018!

Now it’s ready for Show & Tell at my two guilds… and then to be donated to a child in the hospital.

I know the top is just a single piece of fabric, but I really like how it turned out! The images on the fabric and the colours are cheerful — I love the pale yellow flannel (left over from covering the boards for my design wall!) and the bright red binding. I hope it will be loved by its recipient.

Mannheim HST ready for long arm.jpgI then sorted through my completed tops, debating what to put on the long arm next. I chose another charity quilt top — an HST quilt made by a group of women from my traditional guild that I sew with once a month. This top was the last of three quilts created from that HST bonanza, and I wanted to get it finished and donated.

There are a lot of angles in this quilt’s pattern, and I thought, “Hey, this might be a great chance to try quilting with rulers on my long arm!” I have the special foot, the rulers, the ruler base that attaches to the machine… let’s give it a go!

I was a little nervous about attaching the ruler base (a clear plastic extension) to the long arm machine, because it is supposed to “snap” on. I didn’t want to break it. So I watched the video on the Handi Quilter site about how to install it correctly: slide it over one side to fit, then flex it and snap it down over the second side.

I snapped it alright.

snapped ruler base.jpg

Right in half. Yikes. I can order another one — and I will! — but it will be about US$150. Not to mention that I had the quilt waiting in the frame… and I didn’t want to wait to start quilting it! So on from this misadventure to a new adventure.

meander practice sheet.jpgTime to rethink the plan. I decided to try meandering — something else I’ve never done before. I decided I better practice a little first, so I grabbed my big ole sketchbook and practiced meandering for a few pages… I started at the bottom left and finished at the top left of the page.

I had once seen a video in which the instructor recommended approaching meandering like you’re drawing mittens — make a big roundish shape (the hand) and follow it with a little roundish shape (the thumb); then repeat, changing direction and orientation. I tried to keep that in mind while I meandered across the page.

Not the best — a bit uneven. A bit jerky. But I thought it would be good enough, if I used a low contrast top thread. So I decided to quilt just the darker value areas of the quilt, using a blue thread, and then contemplate what to do with the lighter value areas.

pink triangle meandering.jpgHere’s a close up of some of the quilting. Not too horrible. You can see what I have to work on: I have to pay attention to where I’m going, so I don’t end with long skinny arms that try to reach back into unquilted areas I missed. There’s definitely an art to the twisting and turning line, and I don’t think my finished product looks much like mittens. But stand back five feet and it looks great.

blue triangle meandering.jpg

I definitely improved as I went along. I need to practice looking ahead, and remembering to keep my movements round. No sudden changes of direction (that result in points). I probably need to slow down a little. Funny how I used to think meandering looked like the easiest thing to do! Now, I think it requires a lot of practice and concentration to do it right.

The quilt is out of the frame, waiting to be trimmed. Then I think I’ll use my walking foot on my domestic to do some simple straight lines through the light value areas, using a cream coloured thread.

Which means, it’s just about time to think about loading my orange and turquoise quilt into the frame. But first — clean the lint, put a drop of oil in the bobbin case, and change the needle!

Little by little does the trick

I’ve finally finished piecing the last of the curved blocks for this quilt! It has taken me forever, because I procrastinated so much about the curved piecing.

Recently, I spent an afternoon ensuring I had all the necessary pieces cut. Then, I divided the work into portions: sew just two blocks, then do something else. As my pile of completed blocks increased, I encouraged myself to make 4 blocks at a sitting (4 blocks make a sub-unit). I pieced the last four blocks this morning. Now it’s just straight sewing to make sub-units, rows, and a completed top. I should be finished all the piecing later today or tomorrow.

Sometimes it’s hard to make myself to things I know I should — like working on a UFO, or going to the gym, or doing housework. I’ve had the most success by setting aside a designated time to work on the undesirable task, as well as deciding ahead of time what my allotment of work will be at that time. Even if I just do the tiniest amount — if I just make one block a day — well, one block a day is 365 blocks in a year, right? It adds up. The small amount I actually get done today is better than the large amount I keep promising myself I will tackle tomorrow.

With my house, I’ve noticed that it’s in much better shape once I scheduled 45 minutes after the kids leave for school to power-tidy: I make my bed, swish and swipe through the bathrooms to ensure they’re presentable, quickly sweep or vacuum through one room, clean up the breakfast dishes, throw in a load of laundry etc. I don’t spend a lot of time on anything — I remind myself that done is better than perfect, and I blow through. My reward is that I get to have some morning sewing time in a reasonable looking house. Much better than when I used to put off housekeeping all week, then spend my whole weekend trying to make the house sparkling clean.

This is going to be my strategy for completing my UFOs and learning to long arm: I’m going to schedule time each week (daily, if possible) to quilt. I will make myself a task list for what I’d like to finish by the end of the week, and subdivide that into daily tasks. Little by little, I will chisel away at my big and intimidating tasks, until I can have the satisfaction of crossing completed projects off my list.

Do you struggle with UFOs, or procrastinate over quilting projects that have lost their attraction? Do you find that having scheduled sewing time helps you get more done? I’d love to hear any secrets to UFO success that you have to share!