Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stash Bee, Hive #3 February

This month is my month to be the Queen Bee of my Hive in the Stash Bee; I've been participating in this bee since about this time last year. I thought it would be fun to post my introduction and block here as well.

Hello Hive #3!  I'm so excited that it's finally February.  I have to say, I've been enjoying this Bee immensely and sewing up all the fun blocks that you guys have chosen.  I hope you like the block I've picked for this month.  So, on to the getting-to-know-you bit.

Hiking at White Sand in New Mexico
My name is Kat and I live in North-East Texas with my cat-allergic cat, Wilson.  I am currently in nursing school; I should graduate in May and become an RN.  I'm hoping to get a job in a trauma ICU, then later move on to Mercy Ships.  In between school and quilting I enjoy traveling, sailing, and working backstage on community theatre shows.

Crewing on the Hawaiian Chieftain
My day job currently is working at a t-shirt shop where I run a large embroidery machine.  It's a thread-happy job but not the same as quilting, for sure. I also work periodically as a dresser on touring Broadway shows when they come through our area, most recently West Side Story.

Wilson: Chief Quilt Inspector
The hardest quilt I have ever made would either be the Carpenter's Star I made last Christmas with it's insane number of Y-seams, or the Ocean Waves quilt this Christmas, which was a pure endurance challenge.  Both of these were more traditional designs which are not my norm.  The majority of my quilts are distinctly modern and I prefer to create my own designs rather than following a pattern.  Still, if I had it to do over I'd make these both the same way again.

The Carpenter's Star with its happy recipient
My mom originally turned me loose with a sewing machine and some general direction when I was around 8.  I think the first thing I made was a pillow.  I sewed occasionally until I was 21 when I began teaching myself to quilt on a whim.  I've learned to quilt through a combination of trial and error, consulting the internet, and observing the experts.

Action kitty Wilson pounces the krinkly ball
My favorite dessert food is dark chocolate... any kind, really.  As far as baked goods go, probably sweet potato pie.  I'm a good southerner like that.  The last time I laughed really hard was at my cat, Wilson, doing acrobatics chasing after a krinkly ball.
Finding joy in a very special little boy discovering cotton candy

My life philosophy is tricky to answer, but I think it would be: be joyful!  Find your joy in every situation, because it is there.

The Block 

The block I've chosen for this month is the modern bargello block introduced by Amy in the Something New Sampler.  Her tutorial is here.  I've had a long time to think about, and change my mind about my block, but when I saw this I knew it was the one.  

Amy's Block
The only (potential) change from her tutorial is size.  The tutorial makes a 14.5" x 7.5" block. I am asking for a block 13.5" wide by at least 7.5" tall. I noticed that I had a hard time getting mine to 14.5" inches wide so I'm giving you an inch more wiggle room in your trimming. 

You can make your block in any height you choose as long as it's at least 7.5".  To increase the height just cut your original strips longer where she cuts hers to 12".  I cut one set of mine to 20.5" and the final block was 14.5" long, the other set I cut to 24.5" and it ended up 17".  

You can also mix up the number/widths of your strips at the beginning as long as their width after they're sewn together but before you sew them into a tube measures at least/about 15".  

Amy specifies to press all the seams open but it isn't important to me whether you do or not.

My blocks
I am asking for blocks in blue, grey, and purple with pops of red and yellow. Please use a mix of solids and prints.  For the background use a solid of either blue, grey, or purple. 

I kept my bargello waves pretty tight, but feel free to make their sweeps more dramatic.  I can't wait to see all your different blocks! I am the opposite of a perfectionist so please don't sweat it if your block ends up a little small or something.  Make another if you feel like you should, but send along the wonky one, too. I'll make it work :) 

I am asking for one large or two small blocks (I'll leave it up to you to determine what sizes qualify) but of course if you want to make more I'll be thrilled.

If you'd like to send a signature block please sign a 5.5" x 3.5" solid color block.  

Thanks everyone! I hope that is all the info you need but please email me with any questions and I will do my best to answer. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finish! Shrapnel, a Sunday Morning Quilt

The sun was going down so I had to snatch this picture before he binding was put on.
Fresh from the dryer, I'm so excited to share this finish.  I'm calling it Shrapnel.  (As in Quilt Shrapnel, because that's essentially what scraps are, isn't it?)

This is my version of Amanda Jean's "Up Up and Away" quilt from her book "Sunday Morning Quilts."  You can read more of the details on this quilt in its WIP post here.  The idea was to use up all the small triangular bit of fabric I had in my scraps, particularly the 2.5" triangles trimmed off when making binding. 

Slowly emptying the triangle jar
 In the book Amanda Jean used her scraps to make a baby sized quilt.  I must have been feeling ambitious, or possibly insane when I started this, because I aimed for (64) 8" squares.  The quilt finished at 64" square before shrinking a bit in the wash.  I don't have an exact count, but my math says there should be a little over 900 scrap triangles in this quilt.

It's interesting to see so many of my fabric choices over time together in one quilt. It is pretty representative of my preference when buying, and the state of my stash: Mostly bold, saturated colors, lots of solids, heavy on the blues and greens, precious little pink or purple.  Almost every quilt I've ever made is represented here. As I was quilting it I began to remember what project each patch was from.  I can hardly believe I have been quilting for over 3 years.

I opted to quilt it with a grid due to the many seams, using my walking foot as a guide to stay about a 1/4" away from the seam lines. It seemed only appropriate to bind with all the leftover bits of bindings from previous quilts.  I last did this with the Double Irish Chain quilt  (which, incidentally, went to a new home over Christmas) but I had built up quite a bit more since then.

I loved the patterns in Sunday Morning Quilts and this one was so much fun to make! I can't wait to start on the next one :)

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday.  Pop over there and see what everyone else has going on. 

Quick picture post

"Shrapnel" on the machine!

Details tomorrow on Finish it Friday!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quick picture post

It's a momentous day: The thread catcher got full! So many memories in those thread layers. The first project to go into this jar was the Anacortes quilt back in the summer of 2011.

Time to start filling it again!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

WIP: A Sunday Morning Quilt

One of my Christmas presents was this great little book: Sunday Morning Quilts, by Cheryl and Amanda Jean. I'm normally not really one for quilting books, for the same reason I'm not one for patterns. I just prefer to come up with my own ideas. BUT, I've been loving this book. The first project from the book I decided to try is a version of Amanda Jean's "Up Up and Away" quilt. If you've been following my blog for the past week or so you've seen some sneak peeks of it.

A section of blocks
The quilt uses up all those little triangle scraps you have lying around, specifically the 2.5"-ish triangles from making binding.  I made several changes from the design in the book, mainly setting the blocks square instead of on point, adding in some larger 4.5" blocks along with the smaller ones, and changing the orientation of some of the squares.  Mine is also going to be quite a bit larger than the one in the book.

My triangle scraps jar after making several hundred triangles already!
One of the challenges of this design is in getting the correct angle when you sew the scrap to the background square so that it will completely cover when it is pressed.  With nice, even triangles it isn't such a problem, but the wonkier the triangle the more difficult. Especially because these are already small scraps and I don't want to waste any to trimming.  SO, this is the technique I use to sew them right the first time.

First line up the scrap over the square how you want it to be once it's sewn.  If it's overhanging anywhere you can go ahead and trim.

Holding the scrap in place flip the pieces over.  (Hopefully you are using a light colored background). Looking through the back of the fabric, find the edge of the scrap and line it up with the half inch line on your ruler.  Make a pencil line over the scrap, this ensures that once you sew your pencil line will be hidden by the scrap and won't show through the fabric.

Flip back over. Flip your triangle down into position to sew and (again looking through the fabric) align the edge with the pencil line you drew.  Sew and press and voila, perfect triangles!

The current progress.  All I lack is 2 more columns of 8" blocks to the left. (About 200 more triangles.)
Making this quilt, at times, has been like that movie "Groundhog Day."  I spend hours taking triangles out of the jar and sewing them to background fabric, and the jar never gets any emptier! The blocks on my design wall multiplied, but it seemed like the jar of scraps was bottomless.  Finally, tonight, after finishing another marathon session of 303 triangles (I counted!) I scraped bottom on the scrap jar.

I pressed my newly finished blocks and put everything up on the design wall.  I lack 2 columns of 8" blocks to the left of what is there. I quickly calculated that I needed about 200 more little triangles and, looking at what was left, I knew I'd need more.  At times I had thought the the magical bottomless jar of triangles scraps would outlast this quilt, but I guess it just wasn't to be.  Trusty scissors in hand I turned to my jar or crumbs, ready to create some triangles, when what did I find...

...MORE triangles!   Hiding in the crumbs.  Lots more.  More than I will need for this quilt.  It's unbelievable. Who knew that quilting produced so many triangular scraps??

So, I am proud to say: no square, rectangular, or otherwise usable scraps were harmed in the making of this quilt, only odd sized triangles.

This quilt got its name today while I was doodling in class:  Shrapnel.  I thought of it because of how the triangles radiating out from one point reminded me of an explosion, but it's perfect because it's also what this quilt is made from.  What are scraps, if not quilt shrapnel!

That's my WIP, what are you working on this week?  Head on over to WIP Wednesday to see what everyone else is up to.

Quick picture post

Piles and piles of wonky triangles

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Post-Christmas Recap Part II

The last of the Christmas gifts have been received and my old roommate was kind enough to take pictures for me, since I forgot to before I boxed everything up! The major item was this large wall hanging. I didn't measure, but it was in the 40x60" ballpark. It is inspired by Santa Fe, NM, a city that is near and dear to the recipients' hearts. The mountains at the bottom of the quilt are topped by stripes of "sunset" colors fading into a turquoise "night sky" print. 

I used the Easy Curves techniques to blend the dark purple block into the sky print. The mountains were done with fusible.  I transferred the silhouette of the Sandia and Ortiz mountains as viewed from Santa Fe onto fusible webbing and then onto three shades of blue.  Other Santa Fe touches in this are the Native American motifs and Kokopelli batik fabric.
Sandia and Ortiz mountains at sunset
This shot of the back shows how dense some of the quilting was. I did straight line quilting with my walking foot, starting off most dense at the bottom and gradually spreading out as I went up.

The back of the Santa Fe wallhanging
This smaller wall hanging went to another member of the family. A physics professor. It's the Fibonacci Spiral, based off the Fibonacci sequence. That whole topic in and of itself is something I find fascinating and someday I plan to make a full-size Fibonacci Spiral quilt. I hand quilted the spiral itself; the first real hand quilting I've ever done.

Fibonacci Spiral Wall hanging
Finally, the youngest member of the family with her pillowcase! It had to be pink, that was for sure, so I dug up some of my very limited stash of pinks. It came out great, and best of all, she loves it! I'm planning to post a pillowcase tutorial soon about my method of making them.

Well, that's the gift round up for Christmas 2012. Now to begin working toward next year!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Finishes! The Jersey Quilt and a Pillow

My first finish is the "Jerseys" quilt. I've got to come up with a better name for this baby, so please, suggestions are welcome. You can read more about this quilt here. I made it for my mom in memory of her brother who died 2 1/2 years ago.

My cousin sent me two of my Uncle's old high school football jerseys to incorporate into a quilt. I cut them up, backed them with coordinating fabrics, and then stared at them for almost a year trying to figure out how to make them into a "pretty" quilt. Finally inspiration struck and I put the top for this together on Christmas day!

At 86" square this is quite a large quilt. It fits nicely on my parents' queen sized bed. I quilted each of the 16 large block individually. 
The quilt in its natural environment.  Heart warming.
After some practice on some mini quilt sandwiches I decided to try out my beginning FMQ skills on this quilt.  I found a nice tan-brown thread for the top that blended well with all the colors.  I did some feathers, a lot of stippling, some pebbles, leaves, and just about anything else I could think of.  Mom loves the quilting.  So does Dad, but mostly from the back where the white makes it stand out. He doesn't understand why you want your quilting to blend in :)

Double feather wreathes
It was definitely a learning experience, but there wasn't too much unsewing required and over all I'm extremely happy with it.

Some of the quilting from the back.  I got bored with pebbles and didn't like the look, but I really like leaves (on the left).
I tried to get a picture of the whole back but this (below) was the best I could do before my quilt models wimped out (just kidding!).
This is my Dad's "What the heck are you doing?" face.  It was his first time as a quilt model, so he didn't realize how long it can take :) Thanks Dad!

The other finish of the week was a quick pillow I did yesterday.  It's a small lonestar made out of the remnants of a charm pack and some muslin.  The star took 9 charms, plus the 8 around the edges.

I quilted with my walking foot on either side of the many seam lines in the top.  This is the first pillow I've done with a quilted top and also the first I've used piping on. 

Up on the design wall before being quilted
When I started this I was trying to replicate the mini-lonestars I'd made before.  I remembered 1.25" as the dimension for the small diamonds, but apparently that was the finished measurement, not the one I cut to.  Oops!  Oh well, the tiny diamonds worked out well and the larger diamonds would have made too big of a lonestar anyway.

The pressing on the back of this block was almost as pretty as the front.

Making a pillow was a really fun way to work on intricate piecing and quilting without the bulk of a quilt. It's also a fun project with pretty much instant satisfaction, so I see more pillows in my future.

What about you? Any finishes this Friday?

Linking up to Finish It Friday and FMQ Friday.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

WIP: Ticker Tape

Hello! I'm linking up to WIP Wednesday this week.  This WIP is one I have mentioned on here before, but haven't really shown.  I've been chipping away on this ticker tape for a few months.  Little by little!

I decided to start on this because I'd always wanted to make one and I had picked up some minky on sale that I wanted to use as backing for something.  The size was determined by how much of the minky I had, and I elected to go ahead and use batting in addition to the double-sided minky backing, so it's super poofy.  Since I basted the layers upside down pins basting would have been a problem as it came time to remove them, instead I needle-and-thread basted (first time for me) and I'm just picking out the long threads as I cover up sections with fabric scraps.

Crumb jar, Ticker Tape in potentia
I'm totally addicted to crumbs. I save anything over 3/4" inch on its smallest side.  Some of these pieces are a good bit larger than what I would really call crumbs, but I like the overall effect that the randomly sized pieces are having.

I'm straight line quilting with my walking foot, first attaching a whole bunch of pieces by sewing their two vertical ends, then going back through and sewing the other two sides down a section at a time.  It's a whole lot easier than wrestling the entire quilt in a circle under the machine for every piece.
Quilting from the back
I did a small section last night (see picture below) using FMQ to sew the square.  It went pretty well but I found that it didn't look as good from the back due to the denser quilting where I had doubled back or cut across to another piece to avoid cutting my threads and starting over.  Not sure if I will proceed using this method or the one I had been using.

I finished up the major project I've been working on yesterday (blog post coming as soon as I get pictures) so today is a lazy day.  I plan to put in some more time on the ticker tape and watch reruns of Mythbusters.  Hope your Wednesday is great!
The obligatory Wilson picture

Linking up to WIP Wednesday

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Quick picture post

Color party on the design wall!

FMQ Lessons Learned

I've been free motion quilting for a grand total of about a week, so suffice it to say this isn't some kind of expert tutorial on how to have successful FMQ.  In fact, it's the opposite of that.  These are just some tips, by a novice and meant for a novice.
Beginner FMQ Scribbles
I noticed as I was scouring the internet for help trouble shooting the FMQ problems I was having that there wasn't too much out there. I figure this is probably because by the time most people get around to writing a guide for something they're gotten good enough at it that all the hiccups and trips ups that beginner face are long forgotten.  With that in mind, I wanted to write these lessons learned down before I get so good at FMQ that I forget all about them (fingers crossed.)

Lesson 1: Faster isn't always better
          I found mixed advice on the blogs as far as the speed one should learn to FMQ at.  Apparently the conventional wisdom is to go as fast as possible.  Others said that you should go as slow as you need to.  Personally tend more toward the slow.  Setting my machine to a higher speed did help a tiny bit with tension issues, but I was way to close to running over my fingers, never mind being able to sew a pretty, planned design.
         I find that I move my hands slowest at the beginning of a session of quilting, but as I  get "warmed up" I begin to go faster.  I bump up the speed switch on my machine correspondingly as my hands speed up.  My comfortable speed is pretty medium, in fact it's almost dead center on my machine's speed slider switch.  Still, it's faster than I expected it to be.  I expect that as I get better I'll get faster, too.

Lesson 2: It's only a matter of time before I sew over a pin
        It's also only a matter of time (probably not very much) before I run over my finger.  Not much to say about this besides, it's a whole lot easier to run over things with a free motion foot that a walking foot, so try not to do that.  And I'll try, too.

Lesson 3: Hand position
        I saw a lot of hand positions for FMQ as I was searching for information.  Both hands on top, both hands underneath, one on top and one under, gloves, no gloves, etc.  I tried a little bit of everything and found that I like to have both hands on top of the quilt, pinching the quilt with the fingers on my right hand to provide the grunt to move the bulk of the quilt while keeping my left hand spread flat for finer guidance.  Obviously everyone has their preferred way to do this, you just have to try until you find something that works.
Left hand position
Right hand position
         One of the most difficult things for me at first was moving my hands without making a major wobble in my quilting.  I'm still working on it; it's getting better.
        On a related note, I found it easier to maneuver with my quilt piled loosely on the table around my machine rather than tightly rolled as I have seen many people do.  Try both and see what works.

Quilt piled around machine, ready to quilt "toward" me (gradually moving quilt back)
Lesson 4: Tension problems and "tension" problems, Or: The dreaded eyelashes
        Thing were going so well, until... the dreaded eyelashes started showing up on the back of my quilt.  Here is what I learned after I threw up my hands and turned to the internet for help:  Popular wisdom is that there are two sources for this: top tension is too loose or you are moving you hands too quickly on the curves.  It's recommended to set your tension a bit higher for FMQ than where you normally keep it, but if you aren't getting eyelashes everywhere then that probably isn't the source of your problem.  Also, if your tension was working fine for piecing then really it should still be fine.
The dreaded eyelashes.  Source: SewCalGal
        As for speed on the curves, I was fairly certain that I was moving my hands at the same speed all over.  The stitches along my curves were exactly that same size as the ones in the straight sections.  I tried all combinations of hand and foot speeds anyway, but it didn't solve my problem.
        Next I decided to try various combinations of having my feed dogs up or down and setting my stitch length between 0 and where I normally keep it (see below for a more extensive discussion of this).  None of that helped either, but it was worth a try.  Messing with your feed dogs and stitch length change how your machine works mechanically so theoretically they could cause tension issues that don't happen when your are piecing.
         The epiphany finally came when I went back and looked at some of my more successful efforts and looked for things that had changed between then and now. The only difference? The bobbin thread.  I switched from red bobbin thread back to white and voila, no eyelashes.  Don't even ask me why, sewing machines are finicky things, but for now I am sticking to white in the bobbin until I figure it out.
PS: Everything I read recommended using the same thread color in the bobbin as on top to camouflage any minor tension issues as it's just almost impossible to get it perfect.  If even the experts admit to minor tension issues, I decided to be happy as long as mine are not obnoxious.

Lesson 5: The right thread?
         Everything I read online emphasized the importance of having quality thread for FMQ.  The wrong thread could be a source of tension problems and thread breakage, among other things.  Now, red bobbin weirdness aside, I was able to successfully FMQ using the standard, bargain but not cheap, threads I had in my stash already.  It is possible.  However, I bought some purpose made machine quilting thread to try and it did make a noticeable difference.  So, for me the fancy thread wasn't necessary, but it was nice.

Lesson 6: Dogs up or down?
        Traditional wisdom, as well as common sense, says that you should put your feed dogs down when FMQ-ing.  After all, they push fabric through the machine, and you didn't need their help for that when you're free motioning.
        However, with certain machines lowering the feed dogs alters the mechanical operation of the machine in such a way that it just doesn't stitch well with them down.  It's worth a try to leave them up, anyway, if you're having weird problems you can't diagnose.  Setting your stitch length to 0 should render your feed dogs movement irrelevant, so it won't matter if they're up.
        However, (haha, there's that word again!) changing your stitch length can ALSO cause issues on some machines.  So, try keeping your stitch length where you'd normally have it and lower your feed dogs.  If your feed dogs are down then your stitch length is irrelevant.
        If you are still having problems that you think may be related to your feed dogs and/or stitch length try taping a piece of an old credit card (or something similar) over the feed dogs to cover them and leave everything as you would normally have it set for piecing.  (Or you could not bother with the card... I found that I couldn't really feel the effects of my feed dogs against the fabric, even when I left them just as they would normally be set for piecing).
       In the end I've settled for turning my feed dogs off and leaving my stitch length set as normal when I free motion.

Six tips... that's all I can think of for now. I hope someone out there beginning to learn FMQ finds these helpful.  If all else fails, put your FMQ away for a few months and try again later. I have tried to learn before without success, but this time when I started I felt ready.  If I can do it so can you!