Thursday, 23 October 2014

Appliquéd in China

I'm back from an amazing 24 days in China - what a trip! It was wonderful, exotic and exhausting.

Orange Peel Quilt-along
I had brought two projects with me to work on. The first one, that I wrote about in my last post, didn't get touched. Maybe it was the heat that made working with wool totally uninteresting. I did however bring an appliqué project that was perfect for the trip, even if I only got to it a few times. Just before leaving, I joined Julie's Orange Peel Quilt-Along at Button Button.

From Tula Pink's Fox Field collection
Since I had a million things to organize before leaving, I chose coordinating fabrics from Tula Pink's Fox Field. I originally bought a package of fat quarters at our guild's quilt show at the Mad about Patchwork booth. I fell in love with the large pink polka dots with random bunnies.

The background fabric is one of the white's from Kona Cottons. Before I left on my trip, I ordered more fabric from the Fox Field collection - in case I decided to make a larger quilt. I'm not sure which white I used as the background, so I guess I'll have to order a variety and keep the others for future projects.

Julie's instructions are clear and contain some good hints. Since the appliqué pieces would be travelling, I followed her instructions by cutting the orange peels from freezer paper templates and adding the 1\4 inch seam allowance. I ironed the seam allowance before leaving and then as soon as I got to Beijing, I basted each of the orange peels. This ensured that each peel was ready to appliqué, even if they got battered a little in my luggage.

The peels are quite large, so it was really nice to appliqué.  After appliquéing a few, I figured out that for me, it worked best when I was sewing counter-clockwise.

I posted a picture of my fabrics before I left for China but wasn't able to access anything other than email while on my trip. I took a picture of my work-in-progress while cruising on the Yangtze River. I posted my progress on the second check-in, once I returned.

I originally prepared 36 orange peels to make a wall quilt, but I definitely want to make a larger quilt, now that I have the "orange peel bug". Of the 36 peels, I only have 7 more to appliqué. After that, I'll have to order more white Kona fabric and start cutting more orange peels from the left over fat quarters and from the two new fabrics I got from the collection.

Taken on the Yangtze River Cruise
What I learned:

  • I thought I would be able to appliqué while on the plane or the bus, but that didn't work out. It was just too cramped.
  • Basting and appliquéing in the evenings, when not too tired, worked out well, especially when relaxing during the cruise.
  • The project traveled really well and required only the fabric, scissors, needles, a couple of pins and the thread.
  • I love the size of the orange peels. They are large enough that it makes the appliquéing quite easy. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be brave enough to tackle smaller projects!
  • I really missed sewing and quilting during my trip. Twenty four days is a long time to go without. I was glad to have this project with me since lugging a sewing machine across China just wasn't feasible!
  • It's great to be home :-) Travelling makes me very grateful for all that I have.


Monday, 22 September 2014

Travelling with an UnFinished Object (UFO)

This summer didn't yield as many finished projects as I would have hoped, but it sure was a creative one based on the projects that I started and worked on.

One revived UFO was an art quilt that I started in 2010. I took a class at Quilty Pleasures on creating an art quilt. When the teacher saw the picture that I wanted my project to be based on, her comment was:"That is very ambitious". That really should have been my first clue!
Photo of Lightning at Ayers Rock From Time Nature's Wonders

Since that photo was what I had brought, it's what I worked on. The photo is of Ayers Rock in Australia. It reminded me of the south-west of the US, which we had recently visited. Since I'm the author of my project, it's now the South-West Rock art quilt.

Creating the sky and the rock itself wasn't really difficult. The ambitious part is all of the scruffy landscape in front of it. I started working on it but it was beyond my ability, so I left it. However, every time that I would see embroideries or art quilts that resembled my foreground; I took mental notes of how I could accomplish this.

Four years later, I'm back at it. Since the beginning of the project, I've learned a few things:

  • When working on an art quilt, you want to start with the back and move forward so that you can layer and add to it;
  • You don't have to add one blade of grass, bush or flower at a time. It's possible, and probably best to give the illusion of many blades of grass etc. This is where the couching stitch comes in handy. It's essentially tacking on a thicker thread (like wool) with another thread. If you use interesting wool, it can look like many bushes or patches of vegetation.

I took out the project because I wanted embroidery work to do during very long car trips. It's amazing how quickly time flies when you embroider! Actually the first time I embroidered in the car, we were heading to North and South Dakota. It's great that this project is a result of those wonderful car trips and that I'm working on it on other trips.

I got about half of the foreground completed going back and forth to Northern Ontario this summer. I'll be working on it during my next trip - which is to China! Between the 15 hour flight and the various buses, I'm hoping to have the project finished by the time I come home.

South-West Rock Art Quilt - only the foreground and lightning to finish!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Re-quilting a Door Hanging

About 3 years ago I made my first door hanging. I wanted something on the door that wasn't a wreath - it was either make something or repaint the door (in other words, a no-brainer!) I started with four different panels and incorporated various elements from magazines etc. I found some lovely appliqué of flowers and a Canada goose, so I decided to work around these.

Since the hanging would be used in the summer, I chose a white background and lighter colours. The bottom-left panel had the flowers appliqué while the top-right had the Canada goose. I made a block for each of the other panels. The bottom panel had a basket block with flower fabric while the top block was a star with evening colours. I added a star above the goose and embroidered our last name underneath it (I didn't want anyone leaving with it!)

Original quilting
Original quilting
That was the extent of my door hanging. I had very little experience machine quilting so I did a little bit of stitch in the ditch and a few wavy lines here and there and called it done.

When I made that first door hanging, my intention was to have one for each season. This summer I finished my second, spring door hanging. I had learned many lessons about door hangings by then, so it wasn't white, but rather bright pink, green and orange. Nothing calm about that one!

As I've mentioned in my last post, the quilting I do depends a lot on the amount of energy I have in the evenings and on weekends. Low energy this summer has meant that I have watched many Craftsy courses. The one that has inspired me the most lately has been Cindy Needham's Design it, Quilt it: Free-Form Techniques. Since I'm always looking for projects to practice my free motion quilting (FMQ) on, I took out that first door hanging. I had nothing to loose. That door hanging had served me well for two years, so if I messed it up, it wasn't the end of the world.
Stencil for the basket
Stencil for the basket

I really wish I had taken a before picture. In the photo above, the lines represent roughly the original quilting. As you can see, it was pretty sparse - I just didn't know what to quilt.

In the re-quilting, I started with stencils. I used a border flower stencil for the bottom-left side. I added a flower stencil on the basket and then a sun, two stars, a fleur-de-lys and a diamond pattern in the top-right.

Here is some of the FMQ I did:
FMQ using stencils, lines, echoing and swirls
FMQ using stencils, lines, echoing and swirls

  • I added echoing around the flowers, dragonfly, the Canada goose and the star. They had already been bordered but the echoing is much more effective. 
  • I worked with the original straight lines above the flowers and added more. 
  • Swirls were added around the basket as well as to the left of the Canada goose.
  • I scribbled in the white triangles and squares within the basket as well as around the embroidery. That provided lovely contrast.

That filled in most of the space. I really didn't know what to do with the rest of the background, so I watched the Background chapter of Cindy Needham's video once more. I figured out that I had to block off the areas that were still blank and work each one separately. Breaking down the area really helped.
FMQ pebbles within S curves and Dot-to-Dot quilting
FMQ pebbles within S curves and Dot-to-Dot quilting

I also practiced drawing the swirls and the pebbles a lot, so that by the time I started FMQ, my hand muscles knew exactly what to do. As Cindy suggested, I also used my fingertips to guide the FMQ - that was extremely helpful.

For the star block on the top-left, I used that trusty dot-to-dot from Angela Walter's Dot-to-Dot quilting technique. I didn't want to distract from the design, especially for the windmill in the middle of the block.
Re-quilted door hanging
Re-quilted door hanging

What I learned:


  • I thought that I would really dislike making repetitive designs such as swirls and pebbles. It was very tedious before I got the motion down, but after that, it was really enjoyable and very Zen. Not at all what I was expecting!
  • A WHITE door hanging is NOT a good idea. I knew that it would be subject to the elements, but I didn't realise that it might blow away and land in the garden. Darker or brighter colours are much better suited to door hangings.
  • I am very happy with the results. The only thing I would do differently the next time is to plan out the stencils a little more. Most were fine, but I overdid it in the top-right panel.   
  • Cindy Needham says that we should have movement, depth, and light and shadow in our quilting. I think I'm getting there.
I shared this post at Sarah's blog, Confessions of a Fabric Addict for her Whoop Whoop party! and Link-A-Finish Friday with Richard and Tanya Quilts. Check out the fun.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Advancing a Low Energy Project

Isn't it frustrating when life gets in the way of quilting, especially when it's... the work part of your life? At those time, I have to remind myself that:
  • quilting is not a competition or a race; 
  • if I don't have the energy to quilt, it's best not to (cause then I spend my  time "unsewing"!); and
  • sometimes work can even be creative and rewarding! 
Anyone who knows me will probably think that I'm being sarcastic in the last point, but I'm not! In my other life, I occasionally get to be creative and this week was the launch of an elearning tool I developed. It's still in "pilot" mode, but it's my baby out there - as much as all the quilts I create are my babies!
New E-Learning Tool

This project has a lot of similarities to many of my quilting projects: I started it over a year ago; it's evolved in so many ways; at times I didn't think I would ever work through the challenges, or would ever get it "right or good enough"; but it's finally out there!

Just for the heck of it, here's a picture of the tool, even if I've removed our organisational identifiers. If anyone is interested in learning more about the design part of the project (and what I learned), I'll be writing a post about it in my Learning & Design blog.When it's done, I'll link to it.

So, all of this intro to say that I did get a little bit of quilting done, but not as much as I would have liked. Here's a WIP (work in progress) that I want to post for Needle and Thread Thursday at Kelly's My Quilt Infatuation. Check out the lovely quilts linked to her blog.

When my energy is low, I can sew simple things together. This is what I did!
How I cut the stips

I started this project about 2 years ago. It was the other half of my Scrap Happy Quilt project. When I started it, the only way my mind could get around creating the triangles required for this quilt was to create a square of strip fabrics and then cut the square into 4 triangles (just like you do to make half or quarter triangles - see picture). I now realise that I could have made strip rectangles  and then used a triangle-ruler to cut the strips. I just wasn't getting the concept at the time, so I made enough squares for two quilts!

The first quilt I made with these blocks were for my brother and his family. It's now in Denmark, on my niece's bed. As I re-read my post on that quilt, I could feel the frantic pace of getting the quilt finished before they left. Am I an amazing writer or was it just re-feeling the stress of trying to get it finished on time? (rhetorical question)
First Scrap Happy Quilt
First Scrap Happy Quilt 

Latest Scrap Happy Quilt
Latest Scrap Happy Quilt
So, a year after the first quilt made it to Denmark, I went back to the second quilt. You'll notice that the pattern is very different from the first one because in the first quilt, I used the vertical strips to make the blocks while in this quilt, the horizontal strips form the pattern for the block.

The second quilt is also a little bigger. I wanted it to fit on our double bed in the spare bedroom. After adding the three strips for the border, I tried it on the bed. Too bad it's not quilted, because it's the perfect size and it would have stayed there! 

Eventually a Lovely Warm Bed Quilt
I've decided to quilt this project using heavier batting. Generally I prefer very light weight batting - mostly because most of my quilts are lap quilts and they don't really need a lot of added weight or warmth. This quilt will be in the basement bedroom, where it's always a little cooler, perfect for a warmer and slightly heavier quilt to snuggle under.

What I learned:
  • I'm glad that I made two quilts out of these blocks, but it's not necessary and now that I know how to use a triangle ruler, it'll make creating these blocks much simpler.
  • The first quilt had a lovely backing, but it look a while longer to make. Since I would like to have this quilt on the bed before winter, I'm going to keep the backing and quilting simple so that I can quilt it quickly, without needing a huge amount of energy to tackle it!
  • Projects requiring low energy are fun and can also be lovely!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dropping off a quilt in Vancouver

I had the most amazing weekend. At the last minute my husband decided to visit his sick brother and so we flew from Ottawa to Vancouver for a long weekend. As you can imagine, my brother-in-law was so happy to see him. We were last there about 5 or 6 years ago with our children. This time it was a short and sweet visit with loved ones. We had a wonderful time reconnecting.
Jewel Tone Quilt after sewing-in-the-ditch

Several months ago, I decided that one of the quilts I've been working on would go to my brother-in-law and his family; Rob, Simone and Maddie. When I asked Simone a few years back about her quilt preferences, she mentioned jewel tones. This winter, as I'm getting ready to start quilting this piece that I had started in the winter of 2011, I realised that it was in jewel tones and the perfect quilt for them.

I had just emailed Simone that I would be finishing the quilt shortly and mailing it when we decided to visit. Thank goodness I only had to finish binding it!
Nine Patch Blocks
Nine Patch Blocks

As usual, this piece was quilted as a learning project for Cindy Needham's Design it, Quilt it: Free-Form Techniques course on Craftsy. I started quilting it as she advised - "stitch every stinking seam" and stitched most of the seams except for the 9 patch blocks. (See MakingProgress post.) I knew that I would be using a template to quilt motifs within them. Before taking Cindy's course, I would never have used a 7 inch template on a 6 inch square but the pattern going out of the square adds depth (and I didn't have to quilt the sashing!!!).

Details of the feathers and loops
Details of the feathers and loops

Quilt back
I considered quilting the border but since we ended up leaving for Vancouver (and honestly, after quilting 30 blocks, I was tired!) the borders are just stitched-in-the-ditch. Thank goodness for all that pre-work before the final quilting.

I love the feathers in this motif - even if I didn't realise that they were feathers until I was almost done. After I finished, I watched Cindy's next lesson on quilting feathers....I sure wish I had watched it BEFORE I quilted these. It would of helped.

The look on Maddie's face as she examined the quilt was priceless. She slept with the quilt while we were there. I had to make her promise that she would share the quilt with her mother and father, at least a little bit!

What I learned:

  • I had a little bit of tension problems with my red and blue threads. I changed my bobbin, needle and thread as well as adjusting the tension. I got it down to an acceptable level but I'm thinking that it might be time for a machine tune-up and cleaning. I've put a lot of mileage on my Jag since I got her.
  • Cindy has some great ideas for working on feathers - I can't wait to practice them.
  • It's very cool to quilt outside the box (of nine-patch)!
  • There is nothing in the world more wonderful to a quilter than giving a quilt that is going to be loved. Thanks Maddie!
This was posted on Fabric Tuesday at Quilt Story. See what others are working on!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Trying new things

I'm not sure if other quilters feel this way, but I tend to stick to things that I know and feel comfortable making. Although I love to try new techniques, I often need extra energy and courage to start.

Block 2 - Amethyst
For example, most of the blocks that I've made to date for my Grandmother'sChoice quilt are pieced. For you non-quilters, a pieced block generally means that we cut the various pieces of fabric we need and then sew them together. The pieces are generally rectangles, squares or triangles in different sizes. We sew them together to make a specific pattern or block. If the pieces are other shapes, then we can trace the shape and make a template (although there are now fancy rulers to replace many templates).

Quilters will often have strong opinions about using templates. Until recently, as soon as I saw a template in a pattern, I skipped it! I was sure that cutting rectangles, squares or triangles was just much easier. Now I'm not so sure.
Block 33 - Contrary Husband


In my Grandmother's Choice quilt I consciously stayed away from anything with a template. However, there were a few blocks that I wanted to make that required templates, such as block 48 representing Canadian suffrage. So, I gave the template blocks a try. After all, they're only 8 inch blocks - if they don't turn out, I don't have to use them in the final quilt!

In my lastblog about Grandmother's Choice blocks, quite a few of the blocks were made using techniques other than straight piecing. Here are the blocks that I made using templates:
  • block 2 - Amethyst 
  • block 33 - Contrary Husband 
  • block 34 - Coffee Cup 
  • block 48 - Fair Play

Block 34 - Coffee Cup
Block 48 - Fair Play
They mostly turned out well. My favourites are the Amethyst and the Contrary Husband blocks. The Coffee Cup didn't turn out as well as I had hoped but it had nothing to do with the template but rather my choice of fabric. (I really have to listen to my instinct when I do these!)

The Fair Play block, representing Canadian suffrage, went well even if it had two challenges - templates and curves. I know I shouldn't be intimidated by curves since I've been sewing sleeves on clothing most of my life - but it's a little more intimidating on a block (mistakes show up more!)
Block 7 Alice's Flag

Another technique is the appliqué block. To date I've only done a few of these: 
  • block 7 - Alice's Flag 
  • block 21 - Parasol 
  • block 36 - Sunbonnet Sue

These blocks are more or less fine. Appliqué is just not my forte, but I will keep trying to get better! The good thing about appliqued blocks is that they will be quilted over, so that will help hide any little problems and keep them attached.
Block 36 - Sunbonnet Sue
Block 21 - Parasol

Since I LOVE paper piecing, I decided to see if I could convert a template block into a paper pieced block. First of all, I read a couple of articles by Carol Doak, the queen of paper piecing. The first article is Piecingon Paper - Converting Traditional Designs to Paper-Foundation Patterns. The second article is Piecing onPaper - Designing Your Own Blocks. Between these two articles and experience paper piecing, it was simple enough to do.
These are the two blocks that I converted to paper piecing
  • block 11 - Little Red Schoolhouse 
  • block 17 - Mother's Delight

Block 17 - Mother's Delight
For the Little Red Schoolhouse block, converting it to paper piecing was mostly a matter of figuring out where to separate the sections. The only adjustments I had to make were to cut up the side section of the sky into two parts.
Block 11 - Little Red Schoolhouse

I also had to add a border around the block since it was more like 7 inches. That was an error in photocopying the pattern.
Block 17 pattern and sample piece
Block 11 Paper Piecing Pattern
The Mother's Delight block looked easy enough but turned out to be very tricky to sew together. As you can see, I made a sample piece using scraps before trying the real thing. The tricky part was connecting the top part (A&B) to the bottom part (1,2,3,4). It involved what can either be called an inset or "Y" seam.

Those can be difficult to sew, but when I googled Y seam to make sure that this is what it's called; I found a great tutorial by JennyBeyer. I may go back and redo this block - it'll depend on how ambitious I feel when I get back to this project.

What I learned: 
  • Templates are not always difficult to use. I'll try to be a little more open to doing projects with them from now on. 
  • Appliques are still difficult! I guess I need more practice. 
  • I was really happy to convert those two blocks to foundation paper piecing. I think that for pieced blocks with many small pieces, paper piecing is a good option when possible. It was a good experience - now I know that I can do it. 
  • Next time, I might want to check out the internet tutorial BEFORE I finish the block.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Colourful Welcome Door Hanging

Last winter I started a spring door hanging at a retreat (it was very cold and I was very tired of winter). I had a lot of fun putting it together, probably because I did it purely by instinct. I added strips here and there, cut them up and sewed them back on. The colours were totally spring - pinks both bright and soft, greens, orange, small and large floral. Most of the fabrics may have come from the same collection. Let's just say that it wasn't for the faint of heart.
Appliqué - on freezer paper
Appliqué - on freezer paper

I had been looking at this thing for over a year. It was fun but it was missing a focus. This spring I decided that it was time to get it done! I went through a bunch of magazines to find something that I could add to the left panel of the project. I found this great looking owl that was supposed to go on a placemat. It was perfect. (It's from Owls All Around by Pearl Louise Krush, Quilter Magazine, April/May 2014)

I copied the pattern onto freezer paper, ironed the freezer paper to the fabric and then cut out each piece with an extra ¼ inch.  I appliquéd the owl by hand using the needle-turn
Appliqué ready to be sewn
Appliqué ready to be sewn
appliqué technique I learned last year in Kathy Wylie's workshop.  I didn't do too badly but it was only once I finished it that I remembered the trick she has taught us for making circles (the trick is essentially to make a yoyo and appliqué it). I'm afraid I wasn't keen enough to pull it apart.

I had an awesome time free motion quilting (FMQ) this project. Since I'm presently following Cindy Needham's Design it, Quilt it: Free-Form Techniques course on Craftsy, I wanted to practice some of those techniques.

Quilted using a template
Quilted using a template
The first thing I did was to use a few quilting templates within the quilt. This photo shows one of the templates I used. It's got a heart in the middle (which is on the house...our home); the second layer looks like a sun and surrounds the home; and finally the outside of the template are feathers. Since I find following lines easier then making designs free style, this suits me well.

On the right top corner I used a corner template of a flower and quilted it in bright purple. One of Cindy Needham's suggestions is to have parts of the motif outside of an area to give it depth. It's hard to see in the image, but the flower is peeking out of the  border.
Beaded flowers and template quilting
Beaded flowers and template quilting
I also used a template around the border of the top left quarter of the hanging. These are swirls sewn using Superior's Bottom Line thread. Two years ago, if you had told me that thread made a difference, I probably would have discretely rolled my eyes, but I am now a believer. Thread CAN make a huge difference. I almost always use Bottom Line in my bobbin when FMQ. This is one of the first times that I also use it for the top thread. It makes for very subtle quilting. Next to the owl I quilted "Chez les Faubert" in purple thread. You have to look attentively to see it, but I think that's perfect since we are a pretty quiet and subtle family (except for that hot pink!)

In the right bottom part of the quilt, I practiced some of the patterns that Cindy showed us - the "S" curve, the lines and the circles. Once I was finished quilting, I added beads to the flowers. It's slow work but very peaceful.
FMQ with "S" curves, lines and circles
FMQ with "S" curves, lines and circles

Quilted Door Hanging
Quilted Door Hanging

 What I learned:
  • A project gets completed when it's ready to be completed - it's pretty hard to rush inspiration.
  • On a busy quilt, you need something for the eyes to rest on. 
  • I love using templates and my stash is slowly getting bigger!
  • Using Bottom Line thread both in the bobbin and on top for FMQ can be very effective. 
Quilters aren't greedy, they’re just materialistic.
Enjoy the summer! When it's too hot out there, stay in and quilt :-)