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.

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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!

First two off the machine

I’ve heard about women who buy long arm machines and then don’t use them. You might think that sounds crazy, because long arms are expensive — who would buy one and not use it? Perhaps it’s because long arms have an intimidating learning curve. You have to learn how to load them, thread them, balance tension, etc. — all the technical bits. But you also have to learn the art of long arming: how to move the machine smoothly, how to produce interesting designs, where to “go next” as you progress across the quilt, and so on. I can imagine that some women are afraid to use their long arms because they know their quilts will look like they were done by beginners, and so ironically, they never progress beyond the beginner stage.

It’s understandable. I know that, in past, I have stalled over doing things that felt hard or intimidating. But I didn’t want to do that with my long arm, so I decided that I would jump in with both feet and load something in the frame. I had this length of fabric, sort of a printed panel, with dogs all over it. I decided it would be my first “quilt” through the machine, and that I would use it to practice tracing shapes and getting a feel for the machine. If I made any big mistakes, no issue — it wasn’t something I’d spent any time piecing. At worst, it might be a quilt for my dogs!

I just worked back and forth, tracing shapes and having some fun.

You can see the quilting better on the back (which is a pale yellow flannel). Nothing special! But the tension was good, I figured out how to work through all the spaces, and I’m adding a cheerful red binding — I think it will make a nice, simple baby quilt.

Encouraged, I dug through my collection of charity quilt tops for my next long arm project. I made this rainbow quilt last spring, and it has been sitting ever since, waiting to be finished. I thought the bands of colour presented a good opportunity to experiment with different fills. Some were easier to execute than others — I had a lot of trouble with the flowering vine I tried to make in the orange square. And in general, my stitching patterns weren’t as smooth and steady as I would like.

But that’s where I have to turn off my inner critic, and stop expecting perfection. The fact is, when I step back and look at it, all my little mistakes don’t show. And I’m certain that the child who ends up with this quilt (it’s being donated to the hospital as a comfort quilt) will enjoy the quilt for what it is, and not obsess over the stitching.

I had fun doing these first two quilts, and I made two useful things that look okay. I call that a win!

My goal over the next year is to keep quilting regularly, and to keep trying new things. So my plan is to be on my long arm 2-3 days a week, and to sew (mostly working through my UFOs) for 2-3 days a week. I have a bunch of books I’ve pulled off my shelf, and I will mark patterns and ideas I want to try.

By this time next year, I hope to have greatly improved my long arming skills, as well as finishing up many UFOs, using up fabrics in my stash, and making good use of books that are currently just sitting on my shelf. Go, me!



Quilt Show highlights

I had an opportunity to attend a quilt show back in October, put on by the local traditional guild I belong to, and I’ve been meaning to post about it for ages!! There were lots of great quilts worth mentioning, but I wanted to highlight three that particularly caught my attention.

Here’s one I liked. Made by Olga Mondoux, it is called “Planes, Train and Automobiles”. Olga used fabrics she collected during her travels around the world, and created a city skyline.

Olga Mondoux - Planes, Train and Automobiles

I liked that she used Tula Pink’s modern block patterns, but not Tula Pink fabric — and not even any brightly coloured modern fabrics I’ve normally seen used to make Tula blocks. The use of neutrals with accents of green is unexpected.

I also like is that the quilting is integral to the design. I see the blocks as a city skyline, because the quilting shows me clouds and rain: the quilting informs my interpretation of the blocks. Without that quilting choice — if the quilting was simply straight line quilting, for example —  I think I would just see an asymmetrical arrangement of blocks, but I wouldn’t see buildings. So the quilting contributes substantially to the interpretation of the piece, and isn’t simply there to hold the layers of fabric together, without reference to what is happening in the piecing.

Cummings _ Washline.jpgAnother piece that caught my eye was Millie Cumming’s “Washday Blues”. This wallhanging combines a number of techniques to powerful effect.  First, it’s dimensional – it incorporates the washline, wooden pins, and the hanging fabrics that are separate from the background. Millie’s fabric choices are compelling. My eye is drawn to the pale blue stripe off-centre, then moves right and left along the washline, examining the pieces hanging there: she has arranged the fabrics on the line to create a generally diagonal slope from top right to bottom left, and this line guides the eye.

Washline ground detail.jpgThe rust in the fabrics on the line are picked up in the rust-dyed fabric at the bottom of the piece — and what cool detail in the stitching! I love the way she’s stitched around the rust-stain details, and added stubbly-looking grass patches.

Similarly, she’s stitched clouds and breezes in the blue sky.Millie Cumming Washday Blues sky detail.jpgThe story card explains that this piece is a memorial to disappearing washlines and vanishing farmlands. I think it’s very effective. The worn denim and rust-stained cottons are rustic, but also convey a feeling of being worn-out and dilapidated.

Lastly, I wanted to mention Marg Notar’s piece called “Market Blooms”. One thing I want to improve is my ability to use colour effectively, and I really admired how well Marg has used the various shades of pink and fuschia to create the effects of depth, light and shadow.

The quilting is an inherent part of the design, adding texture and dimension as well as extra colour to the petals and flowers.

She also included a lot of detailed embellishment which is hard to capture in a photograph. I was really impressed with the degree of workmanship in her flowers.

I did take one close up shot that really shows off the stitchwork and the beadwork. Beautifully done.

There’s nothing like going to a quilt show (or reviewing my pictures from the show) to make me want to get sewing.

So, my takeaway from this is threefold. One, it’s intriguing when you can take a known quantity and do something unexpected with it. Two, colour and value are really worth mastering, as they have so much impact on your piece. And three, if you can start thinking about the quilting at the beginning of the project, and how you can make it a integral part of the design, it’s much more interesting than if you simply view the quilting as something that holds the layers together. Lots to think about as I get back to my cutting table!