Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why do we quilt?




I’ve been thinking about this lately as life has changed for our pack.  I used to look at quilting as an escape – a way to relax – a way to unwind.  Lately, though, I’ve been questioning why it is that I even quilt in the first place.  I think that my thoughts might be somewhat natural right now as we had to put our beloved shepherd down.  He was with us for 12 years and developed a nasty, incurable disease called Degenerative Myelopathy and it’s not good.  It’s heartbreaking, and it has been since we had to put our furry pal down.  He was with me and so ingrained in my daily life that I now have to figure out how to be without him by my side.  In the mourning process, though, I once again found myself questioning everything.  These thoughts are natural, I suppose. But one thing I never thought I would question would be my love for quilting and why I do it.  I find myself using quilting to divert some of the pain.  I use it to occupy my time – where, before, my furry companion occupied my time.  I use it right now to fill that hole in my heart that isn’t going away anytime soon.  I think, sometimes, our focus and need for certain things shifts, and while I think that my love for fabric and patterns and design will take hold once again, right now, it’s serving a substitute role, and that’s okay.  I don’t have much enthusiasm for the colors and the ideas right now, so my focus is pretty darned mechanical – just sew.  Just cut pieces.  Just do the simple things that you can do right now to get yourself through the pain.  So, I find myself working on a quilt that’s requiring over 600 cut pieces…cut it up, sew it back together.  I had the colors and pattern picked out well before our Tuco boy got ill, so right now, I don’t have to think; just do.  So, that’s what I’ve been working on – the doing part of things.  Just sew. Don’t think; don’t make decisions; just sew.  We all cope with things in different ways.  I guess I’m using the mechanicalness of quilting to help me cope and to not feel completely lost. 
Our pup, Tuco.  May he be playing on all fours in heaven...
There is some cheery-ness in the quilt I’m working on; I just can’t see it right now. But, that’s okay.  When the time is right, it’ll come back to me.  Just like over time, the enjoyable and fun memories I have of my furry pup will help curb the pain I feel right now. Some folks tell me that the loss of my pup hurts so much because I loved him so much, and I think there’s truth to that.  He was my constant companion and had such a fantastic, trusting personality.  He was unique and lovable, and I’ll miss him for some time.  



All the pieces and the progress I'm making on just sewing.  This is a pattern by Edyta Sitar called "Dresden Bloom"

I did manage to venture out a bit a couple weekends ago, though, as it was the annual Quilt Shop Hop here in Denver.  So, after work, I hopped (okay, not literally) to a local quilt store and tried to immerse myself in the joy of just looking at some fabric.  I did find some I liked…background fabric, mainly.  I haven’t done anything with it yet – not even pre-washed it like I do all my fabrics.  But, that’s okay…it’ll just be ready for me there at home, in the stash, when I’m ready to feel creative again.  

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How the Yellow Brick Road Became Star Flowers


Stardate 2017.187.1

Just what do you do with blocks that you’ve diligently pieced according to the pattern, then kinda don’t like the way the quilt top looks when you lay it out on your design wall?
That was my dilemma.  So, the blocks got shoved into the closet…for a year or so.  I didn’t want to deal with them.  Wasn’t happy with them.  They’d just remain a “UFO”.  But, one day, I thought to myself, “Self, what if you cut those blocks apart and set them in a different pattern?”  Turns out, that was the defining moment – and the trick to liking the blocks again.  So, I started cutting them apart, and here’s what emerged from the rubble:  A quilt I L-O-V-E! 

I think the problem with the original quilt – which was the Yellow Brick Road pattern -  was that the all of the colors were a bit to bold, and in mass they just got lost in the shuffle with none of them really standing out.  Plus, the original design didn’t have any “breathing room” for the eye; nowhere for the eye to relax and pause.
The smathering of blocks from the Yellow Brick Road pattern The high saturation of all the colors gave me heartburn when it was all together in a mass...
Enter the Star Flowers quilt design/pattern from Love of Quilting - March/April 2014.  
With the star pattern, now, the eye had a place to stop and rest; a place to linger and look at the quilt without becoming highly overwhelmed.  The white – a common tool in the contemporary quilter’s stash – became the exact component needed to break up the heavy, strong colors. 

Under construction and after the original pieces had been cut apart and placed in a new arrangement with the white to let the eye rest.  Ahhh.....
So, what did I learn from this little endeavor? 
  • 1    Sometimes, when you think things aren’t going your way, they actually are.  You just need to revamp your vision.
  • 2.    Those unwanted blocks can turn into the belle of the ball.
  • 3.    Don’t be afraid to explore different ideas. 

This was a challenging quilt to set together because it was loaded with Y-seams and lots of areas where using a partial seam really helped get those points matched up between stars. 
I finally set out to quilt it – after being inspired by Karen McTavish and the McTavishing method, I decided I’d try my hand on this large quilt.
McTavishing in the white diamonds of the quilt.  The quilting really lends motion to the quilt.
I started by using 40 weight King Tut quilting thread.  While it worked okay, it was very bulky thread and really shows where you had to backtrack on your quilting.  So, I got the hair-brained idea that using 100 weight polyester thread would do the trick.  Boy, did my machine NOT like that thread.  So, I then found the Aurifil 50 weight cotton thread, and it actually worked out really well.  The machine mostly liked the thread (they played well together for the most part) and the stitching didn’t seem so “thick”.  So, off I went, attempting to get this quilt done to enter into the fair this year (which is at the end of July), when…darn it!!!  … the needle came loose and jammed in the machine, so now the machine skips stitches.  A call to Bob – the guru of machine repairs…we’ll see if he can work his magic and I might still have time to finish the quilting in time for the fair…

The quilting in the center stars came out cool...I didn't realize it when I experimented with the quilt design, but it made a secondary star in the center of each star.  Fun!
Things I learned while quilting the quilt top…
  • 1.     Make sure to cut ALL the tails and dark threads from the fabric on the back side of the quilt.  (I forgot…and now have dark spots showing through the white fabric, when you look at it close (and a judge will…))
  • 2.    An extra layer of batting would have helped the quilting show through better.
  • 3.    Thinner thread breaks more easily.  So, be patient as you work on the quilting, and realize that if you use the same color thread as your background (or what you’re quilting), some of your mess-ups won’t ever really show. 
  • 4.    Stitching in the ditch using a ruler can be HARD.  But, like Karen McTavish said, “Do what’s hard”. 

In the words of Bob Ross, the painter, we don’t make mistakes, we have “happy accidents”.  That’s that this quilt is – a happy accident.

A larger view of the quilt.  I'm really enjoying how the quilting is enhancing the overall quilt. Lots of hours, but fun to watch it come alive.


 Here's hoping you have some happy accidents in your quilting adventures. 
Linking up with friends at Busy Hands Quilts and Confessions of a Fabric Addict.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Do What's Hard"

Stardate 2017.130.01

This was the mantra of Karen McTavish – a renowned quilter from Duluth, Minnesota.  Through the local quilt guild, which I’m a member of, I had the pleasure of hearing Karen speak and display a trunk show during one of our monthly meetings.  Karen is a humorous, colorful, wonderful person and is a great speaker, capturing your interest from start to finish.  She doesn’t look like what we’d think a “quilter” looks like, with her long dreadlocks, tattoos, and heavy-rimmed black glasses.  Her amazing microquilting showcases her interesting spirit and her amazing talent.  She showed many quilts and I was struck by how small she would quilt some of her patterns, and the way she would vary the quilting within the quilt.  She might do one part of a block in straight lines, then mix in some of her more custom quilting (“McTavishing”) in the next part of the same block.  This lent interest and texture to each of the quilts she touched.  Her style is amazing and highly inspiring! Here's a couple shots of her quilting...

Hopefully you can see the quilting detail...very small and quite dense, but really added to the texture of the quilt.

More texture - up close.  She noted to keep the microquilting to the solid fabric areas as it gets lost in the patterned areas...


The next day, I was able to attend a Modern Quilting class which she was teaching.  I took time off of work to attend, and it was well worth the expended vacation day!  Two things she said really stuck with me:
  1.      Find one or two quilting designs you really like  and then practice them like crazy – master those designs – do them well, and then use that design in the quilts you quilt.  In essence, you develop your own “signature quilting”. I found that piece of advice interesting.
  2.        Secondly, she kept reiterating, “Do what’s hard”.  Meaning to not always take the easy route when it comes to your quilting.  Just as the quilt pattern and colors have an impact on the quilt, so does the quilting.  And the actual quilting can really make a pattern pop!
In that same token she really emphasized looking at the quilt, grasping its character, and quilting accordingly.    For instance, she noted, don’t try to quilt intricate designs in a Kaffe Fasset quilt, in part, because the intricate quilting will never show.  Save the intricate quilting for those negative spaces and spaces where it makes sense.  Once you get to those negative spaces, though, “Do what’s hard” – meaning, make those spaces stand above the crowd.
She’d noted there are no real rules in modern quilting – and so you really can do what you want, but in a controlled way. 


Now, while it doesn’t look like I accomplished much from the class, here’s what I did accomplish, with really only about one start/stop in each square block.  




I experimented with some patterns and they just seemed to flow.  I’d used my domestic machine, so I’ll be extrapolating these techniques to my mid-arm machine as soon as I get time (hopefully soon!). 


I was highly inspired by Karen and her attitude toward quilting.  If you ever get the chance to see her speak, GO!  It’s worth it!

I learned a few things that helped me out in my quilting, so I’ll share them with you.
  •      Stitch in the ditch around your block areas you want to quilt, then use that outline to help you determine how you want to quilt the inside of that stitched area.
  •      Square off.  Whenever you’re working on doing the detailed stitching, squaring off your design helps make the overall design more cohesive.
  •      Use thin thread.  In class, she had us using a 100 weight polyester thread.  That’s thin stuff!   But, when you’re doing a lot of backtracking on the quilting lines, the thinner thread won’t make such a “thick line” out of your backtracked stitches.
  •      Match thread color to the area you’re stitching.  Those matching colors hide a multitude of sins.  The eye blends the colors and sees through the thread to the texture you created.
  •      Look at the quilt overall to decide on your design, then attack it in small sections.  You know, kind of like “eating an elephant”…

Here’s a couple of examples of patterns I’m trying out for a large star quilt I’m getting ready to quilt.  I’m going to give that micro-quilting a go and see how the quilt turns out.  I have a feeling it may take a lot of thread, but I’m ready to experiment.  If you don’t push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

I love how the quilting just flows.  And, with the contrasting stars in the quilt (which are angular), this will really add movement to the overall quilt.
This pattern will be for the center of the star blocks.  You can see my "I don't like this" part of the discovery of how to quilt the center part...then I landed on larger leaf-like structures with a bit of echo quilting around them.



A shout out to my sister for taking photos of some of the quilts with her phone (my phone camera stinks!).  She got some great shots of the quilting!!

Linking up this week with folks at Let's Bee Social @ Sew Fresh Quilts, Finished or Not Fridays @ Busy Hands Quilts, and Confessions of a Fabric Addict.

Happy Quilting!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happiness in Bubbles

Stardate 2017.67.1

Finally…a breather.  Work being a bear, is finally taking some level of hibernation, and so, I get to come to the surface for air and chat about some of the quilting I’ve managed to do in what little spare time there has been.  Funny how time flies…when you start a project then actually get it nearer to completion (notice, I said, “nearer to completion”…there’s still more to do), how excited you can get over seeing the small moments you have to work on the project actually start to add up and you have a quilt ready for the next phase.

Here's the finished quilt top...all getting ready to be sandwiched and quilted...

I think about 2 years has passed, and over 1500 pieces cut apart and sewn back together has now materialized in the bubble quilt I adored when I saw it in the magazine.  I spent a fair amount of time just gathering fabrics that I could use in the quilt.  The hardest color to gather was pink.  I think I’m just not a pink person.  But, I thought the pink would lend a nice spark to the quilt overall.

On the design board...ready to sew together. 

For a while I was thinking this was a new pattern, and then one day while thumbing through books at a local thrift store, I found a quilting book with the exact same pattern (I didn’t buy the book.  Yep…I don’t know what I was thinking, either…).  I now know the pattern name is “Offset Log Cabin”, and of course, depending on how you set the individual “logs” together, you can end up with the bubble quilt I’ve assembled.

Mine is a bit brighter than the version in the magazine and I included additional colors, but I love the energy the quilt has and just the pure smile it puts on the face when looking at it. 

I learned a few things on this one while piecing it.  I’d use a styrofoam  block -  which came as packing in some large item – as a staging area.  I’d cut all the pieces for a 9” block and place them in sewing order, then they’d be ready for stitching together when I had time.  And the styrofoam kept the wind from blowing the pieces around when I left the window open…now, that was helpful!

Here's my staging area...cut pieces, all ready to be sewn together.

The next step now will be deciding how to quilt it.  I have thought of taking it to a longarm quilter and just get it quilted, but with all my quilts, I have a deep desire to quilt them myself so I can enjoy that part of the process as well.  Right now, I’m thinking modern feathers in the white/negative spaces…and for the bubbles…not really sure yet what I’ll do there.




It’ll be a bit before I get this bright spot quilted as I have just sandwiched a quilt to start doing all that fun stitching on, plus I need to find some backing fabric.  I just had to share, though, as the quilt feels nice and bright like Spring.  Until then, I hope you have fun discoveries in your quilting adventures.  

Linking up with folks this week...Have a great quilting week!