All progress is good progress!

I tell you, it feels good to finally be crossing off projects that have been sitting on my “to do” list for ages – sometimes months, sometimes years! Why did I procrastinate so long? At least I’m getting through them now.

Over the weekend, I quilted my “Values” quilt – it was a from a workshop I did a couple of years ago with Cheryl Arkison, to learn how to use value placement more effectively in quilts. Top has been finished for so long… now, finally almost done.

Here’s the front of the quilt. It’s made of half-square triangles arranged in concentric squares. I thought that radiating lines from the centre square would emphasize the movement of the design (since I’m trying to find ways to make the quilting complement the design, not just hold the layers together). Using my walking foot and some green painter’s tape to mark guidelines, I quilted many times across the quilt, trying my best to keep intersecting at the centre square.

Overall, it worked pretty well. But there were some drawbacks. First, I realized as I worked that the centre point was becoming pretty thick with threads. I tried to capture it in this closeup. Can you see? The outer edges of the quilt are soft and draping, because there is distance between the quilted lines, but as you get toward the centre, the quilting becomes denser, until you end up with a mass — almost a bump — of threads at the centre point. Another time, I might try to come up with a different solution. Perhaps, have fewer lines go right to the very centre of the design, and then use some deep inverted “v” lines to create the impression of additional spokes (if you get what I mean).

Another issue that is related to this one: where the fabric became densely quilted, it started to “puff”. Can you see it? I’m going to see if I can use my iron on the steam setting to press that sucker a little flatter. But it’s a problem I didn’t foresee at the beginning. Ah well, this is all about learning, after all.

And here’s the back. The trick was, I made two additional rows of blocks for the back that mirrored the corresponding rows on the front of the quilt — then I had to figure out how to get them to line up perfectly! I used basting spray on the quilt back and ironed it onto the batting, nice and flat. Then, with DH and Mouse holding the back/batting up to a window so I could see through, I carefully worked at lining up the quilt front with the pieced strip; the front was also spray-basted, so it stuck where I put it, but was repositionable. When I had them lined up, I ironed the quilt front to the batting, then basted around the whole perimeter using my machine set to a basting stitch.

On the whole, it worked pretty well. However, another time, I would baste the perimeter by hand, using even longer stitches, so that the layers and edges are secured where I want them, but the thread could be more easily clipped and removed if necessary during quilting. Even set to the longest stitch, my machine’s stitches were still pretty close together, and that made it awkward whenever I quilted toward an edge that need to be released.

Anyway! There you go. Another big step conquered; all that’s left is making and attaching the binding and sleeve, and the Values quilt will be done. I could have completed that today… but instead I worked on something else.

I was looking through my task list this morning, and noticed something that had been sitting there for while — something that kept getting scheduled, but then not done, so pushed forward again. Yes, it was finishing the last four pairs of Christmas pajamas. I made so many pairs back in December that I felt burned out on pajama-making, so the last four pairs had sat, partially cut out, since then. I decided to bite the bullet today and finish them off entirely: much though I still disliked the idea of working on them, I disliked even more that feeling I got every day when I saw them still sitting on my task list. So I brewed some hot jasmine tea and made myself sit down and sew a pair for Q, a pair for DH, and (amazingly enough) two pair for me that were made from the leftovers of Q’s and DH’s pairs. Since I had them each listed separately on the task list, that meant I could cross off 4 items today! Whew!

I have a few more things I’d like to get done in the sewing room this month, but happily I still have several days ahead of me to sew. I shall just keep chiselling away at my self-assigned daily tasks, and I will be able to look back on March as a productive month!

 

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Candy Stix is finished!

Glad to have finally finished this one, about a year after I’d started it!

I put off the quilting of the piece forever, because I wasn’t sure what to do about the back of the quilt, and I didn’t know what sort of quilting would suit the design.

I finally decided to make the back of the quilt look like an oversized version of the blocks on the front – my husband’s idea, actually. I used some bright, cheerful Amy Butler prints, that I hoped would capture the whimsy of the scrappy piecing on the front. That solved the first problem. But how to quilt it?

I have been trying to thinking about having the quilting reflect the design of the quilt, to complement it, not just be a generic meander that holds it together.

I finally decided to do an off-kilter spiralling square, the middle of which is stitched to look like one of the blocks on the quilt front. I used a colourful variegated thread to try to pick up the bright colours in the scrappy candy-coloured bars… but I found that the colour really didn’t show much. Especially not on the front. I also discoverd that the spiralling square was tricky, particularly when I wanted to turn the corners. So the execution is imperfect.

But it was a good learning experience, and I had fun with it. And – I’m glad to be finished another UFO!

Finished the Balinese quilt!

I’m happy to say that I put the last stitches in the Balinese quilt this week. It was fun to make, and I like how it turned out – but it was a big project, and it feels good to cross it off the list.

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Here it is, hanging over the upstairs railing. After getting it all pieced, I seriously considered my husband’s suggestion of sending it out to be quilted. However, I also wanted to be able to say that I’d finished the whole thing myself. So when my friend Megan kindly offered me the use of her long arm, I was happy to accept.

IMG_2659.jpgI really debated how to quilt it – I explored all sorts of ideas. In the end, I decided to keep it simple, because the fabrics are complex. I decided some soft organic curves down the length of the quilt, reminiscent of waves lapping on the Bali shores, would soften the geometry of the hexagons, but not challenge the complexity of the fabrics.

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I hope the recipients will be happy! I look forward to giving it to them soon.

Rockin’ the blocks

Yes, I have made progress on my Balinese quilt, but I’m not posting about that today. Instead, I’m going to show a few pictures of individual blocks I’ve made/worked on lately.

So, last year I joined a modern guild in my area. I love it! It’s a small group, so hands-on activities are a little easier to manage. In the months before I joined, the group decided to do a round robin, where everyone started with a block they had made themselves and a tin of fabric — then the tins were circulated through the group, so each month members added a new block to a different tin. It looked like so much fun, I wish I had joined a little earlier so I could have had a chance to join in.

At our December meeting, the participants had their big reveal. Some really cool projects came out of those tins! But due to some mix up, one quilter got fewer blocks than expected. I think her tin was misplaced. However, since then, another participant and I both offered to make her an extra block, so now she should have a full return. Her theme was “Wonky Log Cabin” in black, grey, red fabrics. Here’s the block I made for her:

travelling quilt block

Now, a wonky log cabin usually means that the “logs” are uneven, cut on angles, etc. I didn’t do that. I hope she doesn’t mind! I’ve got this thing about using little pieces, so I made my block wonky by doing some improv piecing in the logs. I thought it would make the block unique – and hopefully in a good way. Oh well, if she hates it, she can always use it on the back!

I also noticed that there was one very small block already made in the tin. I decided to add to it, whilst it was in my possession – because the rules say that you can add to other blocks if you want to! So here’s that block:

block I added to.jpg

Originally, it was the red centre, with the grey and white fabrics around it. I added the red/white, and black/grey rounds. This one is a more typical wonky log cabin. I let her know that I was finished with her tin, and she is stopping by this afternoon to pick it up – fingers crossed that my additions are good surprises for her!

Now, in the modern guild, the one requirement is that every person participates actively in the guild. That has turned out to be no problem from me, because I’m the sort of person who has a hard time sitting on my hands when I get an idea or see something that could be done. One thing I noticed, in looking at other websites, was that other modern guilds often do block lotteries – so I decided to organize one in our guild.

The February meeting was our first opportunity for a block lotto. I sent out the pattern in advance (Wonky Star), and anyone who wanted to participate made one (or more) blocks. Each block entered in the lotto translated into one ballet, so if a participant made 5 blocks, she got five ballots. Here’s a picture of most of the stars for that lotto (I took another, final photo of all the stars, but it turned out blurry).

Feb 2017 block lottery.jpgMy two stars are in the second column from the right, the second and third stars from the top – one has a green centre, the other has green tips. I think it was a pretty cool collection. I didn’t win – truthfully, I didn’t even put in a ballot for myself. I didn’t think it would be fun for others if I, the organizer, won the first lottery! I may enter in future, though.

I’ve already tested the pattern for the March block lotto. It was suggested by another guild member, and the pattern is called Tic Tac Toe.

Mar 2017 lotto block - tic tac toe.jpg

What do you think of the orange and pink? I thought it was really fun and funky, and cheerful for this dreary time of year. Unlike the wonky star, this pattern requires exact piecing: but I think it looks really cool, especially once you start putting blocks together.

Now, my idea is to keep trying different things – new techniques, different colour combos, etc. We’ve had two blocks in a row with solid white backgrounds, so now I’ll be trying to mix it up with something different. I hope others keep participating, because I can imagine having a lot of fun with this! Let’s see what I can come up with for April’s lotto…

Making a half-hex quilt

The other day, I talked a lot about my fabric selection process for the Balinese quilt. Today, I thought I would share a little about the process of making a half-hex quilt.

hex n moreHalf-hexes are surprisingly easy to cut and sew. I used this template, the Hex N More, by Jaybird Quilts.

To be honest, I had been wanting a 10″ hex template, but the largest template my local quilt shop carried was this one. I decided to purchase it, however, because of its versatility. Using it, I can cut hexes or half hexes in 8″, 6″, 4″ and 2″ sizes, as well as varying sizes of triangles (to fit between hexagons), and tear drop shapes. I figured, if I could cut multiple shapes and sizes, I would be more likely to use this template again some time. I hope that turns out to be true!

cutting a hexTo cut half hexes is very easy. I first cut a strip of fabric that was 4.5″ by WOF. Then, I positioned the template on the strip of fabric, lining up the top and top edges of the template with the edges of the fabric. Then I only had to cut along each side of the template using my rotary cutter. It was important to cut the little indents at the bottom of the template, because eliminating those “rabbit ears” right away helps you line up the half hexes for sewing. Cut one half-hex, then flip the template upside down – if you cut neatly, you should only have to cut down one side on the subsequent cuts.

two halvesSee on my two half hex pieces, that the bottom corners are snipped back? That really, really helps in the sewing stage.

Anyway, I cut all my hexes and lined them up on my design wall the way I wanted them. Once I was happy with the arrangement, I was able to start sewing the hexes in long columns.

two halves paired for sewingYou place the half-hex in the number one position, and position in face up. (I marked my “number 1” in the chain with a piece of masking tape, so I wouldn’t forget which end was the top.) Then, place the number two half-hex right side down, lining up the edges — and see how the snipped-off corners make them fit perfectly? Then sew along that edge and press the seam to the dark side.

to halves pressed openSee? Two halves sewed neatly together. Continue on down the column, to the end. Then start again with the next column! Once your columns are finished, you will join your hexes using straight seams — easy! No funky piecing, no inset seams.

 

bali in rowsHere are several of my columns on my design wall – see, all the tops are marked with masking tape. I think half-hexes are great for creating a complex-looking pattern, using very easy piecing. I was really pleased with how quickly the top came together. I mean, there were a lot of pieces to sew – about 338, including all the end pieces – but very straightforward and efficient.

Yes, I’m pretty happy with this quilt. I might have to make a similar one for myself, one of these days!

Bali fabric selections

One of my goals in the last couple of years has been to become more competent about colour and fabric selection. By which I mean, to make more conscious, purposeful decisions about the fabrics I use in my quilts — and about the design and quilting, too. So I wanted to take a moment to talk about the design selections I’ve made for the Balinese quilt I’m currently working on.

array of batiksHere’s a shot of the batik fabrics I started with, which as I mentioned came from my brother-in-law P and his partner S, when they went on a Bali vacation. The colours were mostly golden-brown, black, deep green, dark purple, with white, grey-blue, and orange accents.

I know quilters often associated the word “batik” with bright tropical colours – pinks, yellows, oranges, lime green and sky blues – and with simplified, repetitive designs, like palm leaves or flowers.

close up on brown batikThese batiks, however, are quite different. The colours are more earthy. The designs are complex and sprawling. There can be a huge variation in design and colour from one point in the fabric to another.

Look at this gold/black piece. It terms of value and colour, it is very mottled! And how could you describe the pattern? There are flowers in one area, diamonds in another, stripes in another — and there is some sort of overarching design with leaves and birds, too.

close up on floral batikNow check out this piece. Part of it is definitely a brown background. But another part has a flowery blue/green background. And there are bright blue, purple, orange and green flowers and butterflies superimposed on it. Honestly, it was hard to cut into these pieces. Any one of them could have been a whole-cloth quilt, all by itself!

close up on green batikLook at this green piece. Some medium greens, some dark greens… but so much white! What value would you give this fabric? It’s dark and light at the same time.

So the first question I had to ask myself was, am I going to use ALL SEVEN of these fabrics in the one quilt? To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure of the answer until I was cutting out hexes and putting them on the design wall. In the end, I thought that, if it looked alright, I wanted to use all the fabrics, to capture the idea of the factory they visited — full of so many different pieces of cloth!

I decided on the half-hexagon for a basic block. Partly, I thought it would be a bit more exotic than a square or rectangle, and would suit the exotic fabric. But also, P&S keep bees in their backyard, and I thought a hexagon would be reminiscent of honeycomb, and therefore add a more personal element to the quilt. So that part was resolved. But I couldn’t decide on the fabrics to add in, and so I continued to let it percolate in my brain, and from time to time I’d haul the fabrics out and audition other pieces with them.

Ultimately, I wanted to stay with the colour scheme suggested by the main batiks – the earthy browns and greens, with the hints of purple and blue. Anything added should complement these colours, but not push them aside. Bright, saturated yellows and oranges and blues would, for example, drown out the earthy tones. However, the half-hex design gave me the opportunity to do some light/dark contrast within each hex. I calculated that I would need 12 hexes square to give me a good-sized bed quilt, so I would need 12 “lights” (light to medium) and 12 “darks” (medium to dark) for variety.

parasol fabricThus began the hunt for fabrics that would would suit the colour scheme. Although it was impossible to find more of the kinds of fabrics P&S had brought back, I wanted to add additional “darks” that at least had some colour and design complexity. The parasol fabric had the right purpley-brown, with hints of grey-blue and green. It also had a strong light/dark value contrast. And the parasol made me think of Hong Kong, another place P&S have visited. It seemed a good fit.

turtle fabricAnother fabric I chose was this tortoise one. It has the requisite golden-brown and blue, with hints of green and orange. Also, the tortoise reminded me of the Galapagos Islands, yet another place P&S have vacationed (yes, they really are world travellers!).

 

bali in rowsMy hope was that, as the quilt went together in rows of hexes, a viewer would find their eyes moving from the lights to the darks in a pleasing way, and discovering each of the patterned fabrics like gems in a treasure box. Or perhaps like ornate beads on a string.

I wanted some of the “lights” to be closer to medium, so that it would create a sun-dappled effect, and look more natural than a crisp, geometric light/dark pairing. And, in general, the light fabrics have simpler patterns and less colour variations, so that the strong patterning of the darker halves will be more prominent.

Sometimes my description makes it sound like my decisions were more pre-planned than they really were. I didn’t, for instance, go out purposefully looking for tortoise fabric – what happened was, I saw the fabric colours would work, and then when I looked closely at the design, I realized that tortoises reminded me of their Galapagos trip. So that seemed a good reason to keep the tortoise fabric in the mix. On the other hand, I did have in my brain a hazy vision of some fabrics I’d hoped to find — but didn’t. After looking around a few places, and hunting through my stash many times, I managed to eke out enough fabrics to fit the hazy vision, and the vision came more clearly into focus as I decided on the fabrics.

I’m happy to report that I am now mostly finished piecing this quilt top! I have about 16 long seams left to pin and sew… then I will have to begin the hunt for a backing fabric. And decide how to quilt it. But those are problems for another day!

 

Balinese Travels

My brother-in-law and his partner travelled to Bali a couple of years ago, and brought back some fabrics they’d purchased in a factory there. Batiks – but different from the sort we usually see here. The designs look handpainted, and are busy and intricate – not repeating patterns, but more like a sprawling tapestry across a length of fabric. Meant more, I think, for shirts, skirts, scarves, curtains.

I offered to make them a quilt using some of their fabrics, and they happily accepted. Um, but that was last year already! Yikes! I made it my goal to get their quilt finished by the end of February this year.

starting to cut hexes.jpgTheir Bali batiks were mostly black & golden brown, with a couple of green/white fabrics and a purple/white. My first challenge was to think of a pattern – I settled on 8″ half-hexes. I thought they would be big enough to show off some of the patterning in the fabric, and a little more exotic than squares and rectangles.

Then I had to add a fair number of fabrics to the ones they’d provided, to get more variety and value differences. In this picture, I’m starting to cut out half-hexes, and auditioning some fabrics to go with them. I was trying out that purple Japanese fabric in the fourth row down, but eventually discarded it. It was turning out to be the only Japanese print in a sea of batiks, and the difference was drawing my eye too much.

starting to lay out.jpgIn this next picture, I’m randomizing the blocks. You can see I’ve pulled that Japanese fabric, and I’ve mixed up the pairs (no longer pairing dark green and light green as two sides of one hex – I thought separating them would help distribute colour across the quilt better).

I had to cut a total of 288 full half-hexes, plus another 48 partial halves (to make a straight edge along top and bottom). But the end of the evening, I was tired!

ready to sew.jpgA good night’s sleep, and I was back at it this morning. I got all the halves cut, and worked on laying them out in a pleasing way on my design wall.

I like the light/dark half hex arrangement. The colours are subtle and earthy, and remind me of sunlight sparkling on the dappled ocean, or of wooden beads, perhaps. I hope they will like it, too!

Now to sew… once I start piecing, the seams will shrink up the fabric so it fits my design wall better. The half-hexes means it will be easy to piece columns, then join the columns to complete the hexes and make the top. Okay, off to sew!