Monday, March 31, 2014

Jack O' Lantern Trio Completion

These three Jack O' Lanterns were very instrumental in helping me progress along my FMQ learning curve.

I decided to try diagonal channeling like Lee did in her Freshly Pieced baby quilts for twins. Although I think she did hers on a long arm with a ruler, I did mine on my domestic Pfaff, free hand, using the background postage stamp 1.5" grid as guidance. I am glad I did not cave and sew the parallel lines with the feed dogs engaged. Initially I was dismayed with the quality of the FMQ but it did get better with practice and once I established a rhythm. Think of all the turns I would have needed to make had I chickened out on FMQ and engaged those feed dogs! Here is a close-up of my parallel channels.

I experimented with a curvy treatment for the flying geese top and bottom borders. I did the bottom border first and was a bit shaky. The lines are wavy and sometimes criss-cross each other.

My curves within the flying geese improved by the top border. They are smoother and a bit more consistent.

Yep, those are itty-bitty spiders running around the binding. A fat quarter was just the perfect amount of yardage. I attached my binding on the back and then brought it around to the front where I machine stitched it in place. I wanted to practice a technique using an edging attachment on my sewing machine. The result was surprisingly tidy for a first try. I still prefer hand stitched binding but this wall hanging was dedicated to technique, not product at this point. The top-stitching on the binding turned out quite reasonable.

Again using the postage stamp 1.5" grid as a guide, I stitched scallops in the orange of the pumpkins themselves.

The back of the quilt is no frills and not at all fancy. You can just barely make out that I used both blue and orange thread for the quilting. The backing is a somewhat periwinkle toned check crescent moon fabric I'd bought many years ago on clearance. The color did pick up nicely on the purple spiders in the binding.


Although this wall hanging finished a small 21" x 30", it earns a big sigh of relief as I move it from my ongoing projects list to my completed list. In my February 2, 2013 post and my January 23, 2013 post I had discussed how I eliminated some black bats, cats, and witches since they did not contrast enough with the blue background grid. I'd also scaled the size way back. The original pattern on which this wall hanging was based was Halloween Night by Dorie Whipple and had been copyrighted in way back in 1995. It is hard to believe that this little quilt was 19 years in the making, although admittedly the majority of that time the component sections were warehoused in storage. That is almost two decades! Yikes!

Although many squares do make for a lot of background piecing I like the overall mottled effect. I did something similar with another quilt from my period when Debbie Mumm sunflowers were popular in that barn red, mellow gold, and muted green colorway. This wall hanging measures 40" x 40" and was completed in June of 2004 using a 2" grid of squares. The background was a tonal collection of beige plaids and stripes.

The backing matched the front colorway. The binding was a pieced medley of the top's reds, golds, and greens.

P.S. Just a musing of mine...
As I browse through old projects I am struck with the stark evolution both in fabrics and designs. I also noted the increased use of solids in modern day quilt compositions and the increased role played by the overall quilting pattern. These two wall hangings are dated looking by today's standards, but I still remember the enjoyment that came from making them. Piecing a crisp point or a precise seam intersection is a joy forever. A color palette that is harmoniously combined gives me pleasure even when its placement on the color wheel has become unpopular or out of fashion. Soon I will become more content with the quality of my FMQ, so that it, too, will contribute to my love of quilting to the same degree that piecing, pattern, and fabric selection do now.
... I'm getting there!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

WIP: Time Out

I have just returned from a week of quilt-filled and granddaughter-filled time visiting my daughter in Oklahoma City. We bonded by pouring through quilt magazines and admiring her fabric stash. We visited two quilt stores. In one store I bought a cloth book panel - yes, another one, this one by Riley Blake. This panel came in a zip-loc packet with sheet of written instructions.

As we are driving away I open the packet and begin reading the instructions. I see the phrase "front pocket". I murmur. "Hmmm. A pocket. Are there small stuffed animals to put in it?" My daughter, upon hearing my musings, slows the car and begins to pull off the road toward the right. "Do we need to go back to the store again, Mom?" she teases. She uses just about the same tone of voice you would with a toddler if you asked, "Do I need to put you in time out?"

Time Out Chair image from 

Within minutes of leaving the store I have discovered that yes, there is a pocket, yes, there are stuffed animals for said pocket, and yes, of course, I need a second book for second granddaughter who is due to arrive any day now. My daughter dutifully makes a U-turn, we go back, and I purchase a second book panel.

Having a 17-month old keeps my daughter from posting as often as she would like to her blog Robin Loves Quilting. But at her OKC home, I am inspired by her works in progress. We discussed an approach for finishing her Christmas Traditions Quilt and talked about tricks for mitered binding corners in her Boo Quilt. I admired her FMQ on the Boo Quilt, especially since I did struggle so with my own FMQ on the Ghastlies Quilt I completed a little over a week ago and brought out with me to show her.

But, as folks keep telling me, FMQ does get better with practice. After returning from my trip this week, I plan to attack my Jack O' Lantern Trio wall hanging. My plan is to do diagonal channels on the blue sections, gentle arcs along each side within every orange triangle of the flying geese bands, and perhaps something curlique-ish within the pumpkins themselves.

I will not be so concerned now with even stitch size, but more with fluid motion. With the Ghastlies, I seemed to keep leaning on the quilt or getting it hung up on something and so I'd get jagged rather than smooth stitchlines. I'd occasionally forget to completely lift the pressure foot so when I dragged to a different area, I would often snap my thread. Aaargh! I also need to improve on r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g.  Even though I'd taken breaks, I'd woken up several mornings with tight shoulder muscles and a sore ribcage from my Ghastlies efforts. Because of the angle on the front of my Pfaff, I hunch over to see underneath the overhang above the pressure foot to concentrate and guide where I move the quilt next. Since I have identified where I am going wrong, I can now focus on areas for improvement.

I am not giving up. I do not want to invest the money nor the space for a big longarm machine where the quilt must be loaded on rollers; but I am considering a Handi-Quilter.  A bigger bobbin would mean less stops and restarts. Better visibility and bigger throat size is appealing more and more. The needed skill is the same as on a domestic machine but an HQ Sweet Sixteen or a Baby Locke Tiara would be a lot more ergonomic and convenient.


I believe they are the same machine. I need to improve my skills first before seriously considering purchasing one of these. If any of you readers have comments or opinions on these machine please feel free to share them.

My stats this week are not all that impressive in terms of projects I did so I will go to Freshly Pieced WIP to enjoy browsing what others have done. But my success this week was priceless in terms of quilting bonding time with my daughter and play bonding time with my granddaughter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WIP: "Chicks' Week In" in Oklahoma

I am in Oklahoma this week visiting my daughter and my 17-month-old granddaughter. I brought out the Ghastliest quilt which is finally finished. You can see more details of it in my March 17, 2014 post titled Ghastlies Quilt Completed.

My son-in-law is on travel for work so this is going to be a chicks' week. We hope to talk, chill, quilt, look at fabrics, maybe shop a tad, and read. My granddaughter is in a crazy-about-books phase now so my daughter and I will be reading and reading and reading to her. I brought out two hard cover books and four cloth books. I already blogged about the two cloth rainy day books in my post for February 28, 2012 and the other two cloth books are in this post. This one is titled Tiny Tailor. I figured I might as well get the next generation indoctrinated into fabric and sewing at a young age. After all, there is a theme for this week's visit and my daughter hopes to get in a fair amount of sewing accomplished with me here to help entertain said grandchild.

The illustrations are adorable and the book will also help with learning to count. I plan to read it to my granddaughter tonight at bed time. Maybe it is just because I like swirls, but I think the shoe page is my favorite. But I have to admit that the toad on the toadstool and the wren with scissors are pretty darn cute, too.

The other book is a brightly colored one about nursery rhymes.

I like how the words are written all around the square on the left page as well as written out as a verse on the right page. I already read this one to my granddaughter last night. She sat in my lap so I was thrilled. Living half the width of the country away we Skype, but when I do see there there is a bit of stranger-danger to overcome when I first arrive for an in-person visit. I have no pictures yet but hopefully before I leave…?

I think when I return home after this week away, I will start to FMQ some of the smaller projects that have been on my ongoing list for just about forever. It will be good for me to get in more practice while the Ghastlies quilt is still fresh in my brain but I will have had a bit of time off. My stats for this week are:

Completed projects since 03/12/14 WIP post:
  1. Ghastlies baby quilt (begun in February 12, 2014 post and finished in March 17, 2014 post)
  2. Tiny Tailor cloth book
  3. Nursery Rhymes cloth book
Ongoing projects:
  1. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
  2. Grinch quilt (May 22, 2013 post) - all borders added, need to back, quilt, and bind
  3. Jack O'Lantern Trio (February 2, 2013 post) - awaiting FMQ
  4. Chicken quilt - awaiting FMQ
  5. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
  6. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
New projects since 03/12/14 WIP post:  
  1. Tiny Tailor cloth book
  2. Nursery Rhymes cloth book
  3. A wall hanging kit I brought with me to Oklahoma to cut out
I will now link up to this week's Freshly Pieced WIP.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ghastlies Quilt Completed

The Ghastlies quilt is finished! We had a beautiful day here Saturday so my husband acted as my quilt stand in our backyard for the photo shoot. The interplay of the magenta, lilac, olive, and coral bricks with the deadly mauve of the Ghastlies pleases me. I do not tend to gravitate toward black and white but I took a chance with the black and white accents for the delineators between rows and for the binding; I am glad I stepped outside my comfort zone. My FMQ of the swirls, trees, and characters is passable. It will look better after I have washed the quilt and it softly crinkles up a bit.

The quilt back is a bright pop of sunshine in the forest to match our beautiful day and remind the Ghastlies not to be too serious.

A close up of the back shows up my swirls and trees and feature FMQ. Since the Ghastlies figures are on the reverse side of the trees, it is the FMQ of those eerie folk that shows up. It surprised me that it sort of looks like rolling hills among the grove of trees.

 You can sort of see pathways and berms better here where I zoomed in.

After placing my last stitch in the binding, I am happy to be finished. I seldom add a full quilt label. I have often exhausted my capacity for making decisions by that point and am unable to mull over what to say on a label. I usually initial and date my quilts subtly in the lower right corner of the front. This photo shows my trademark signature and a closeup of the zebra binding and yellow backing with its olive dots. After all my agonizing over the size, the final dimensions turned out to be 37" wide x 60" tall.

When I visit my daughter this week, I plan to bring this quilt with me from California to Oklahoma and show it to her in person. I will mail it from there to Boston where my daughter's lifetime best friend lives with her husband and new baby daughter. Best buddies in high school, mutual sounding board for each other throughout college, maid/matron of honor at each other's weddings, my daughter and she are now companions in motherhood. I think that is awesome!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prints Charming

My package from the Fat Quarter shop arrived today. Here is what I bought at 40%-50% off. I do watch their newsletter and periodically click on the links for the sale fabrics. They are a great source of basics for me. At the far left are some textured solids. The three in the center are for replenishing my supply of polka dots. At the far right are some two tone graphics that I love to throw in here and there or use for binding.  I bought a yard of each.

The purple impulse purchase on the left is for my granddaughter with an October birthday. For her first birthday her mom sewed her a dress out of a monster fabric so who knows what will happen for her second birthday? I bought 1.5 yards. The story book charm pack was not on sale and is not assigned a recipient yet. I have been admiring the collection for a while. A charm pack is a relatively small monetary investment (even though I just missed the 20% off incentive) and I do not have to decide among the print choices. I also wanted some charm packs to try out a quick quilt pattern the Fat Quarter shop offers for free that takes two print charm packs and two solid charm packs.

The colors of the Storybook collection are like luscious sherbet and the prints are precious. I bought two print charm packs only. I have solids I can cut up to use. It will not be as convenient but it will work. I just have to choose a color for the solid. Although I would like to be a bit more adventurous than white, white would make the prints pop the most. Sometimes the most common choices are selected not because they are safe but because they work the best. I have a white on white heart mini-print I am considering but need to see if it is too creamy or too off-white next to the charm pack white.

Hmm... this free pattern approach is suspiciously like the pet store that gives you a free goldfish and you have to by the bowl, gravel, food, etc. The link for the free downloadable pdf pattern is The link for a tutorial is

This will be more fun and more colorful than a goldfish. Smells better too and I will not have to clean the bowl.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WIP: Ghastlies Quilt – FMQ Finish and Binding

This week I free motion quilted the Ghastlies figures with a lilac toned thread that was not an exact match but complemented the background color. I was going to outline just the figures, but then noticed that if I stitched around the flocks of bats and around the shadows as well, the quilting density was enough and I did not need filler among the figures. The result is not perfect but as the saying goes, "It will not be noticed from a galloping horse".

After concentrating on following a certain path precisely with the trees last week and with the Ghastlies figures this week, I was actually looking forward to quilting a free-form design on the bricks. I went with a swirl design, something rounded to offset the rectangularity of the bricks.  My swirls are certainly not uniform; I think it would take a computer controlled long arm to do that, and that is a whole different look. Since I did not change thread color with each brick  – yee-gads, that would be crazy! – the quilt stitch contrasts more on some bricks. They are okay. Not great, but okay. I trimmed up the quilt and it is ready for binding.

I was happy to re-configure my machine back for normal sewing with feed dogs raised, stitch-size automatic, even-feed engaged, quarter inch foot installed. Ah, this is my comfort configuration. I happily sewed on the zebra binding, mitered corners and all. All that remains for completion is to hand stitch the binding to the back and sign or label it in some way.

Here are my stats updated relative to my last WIP post. I  exclusively worked the FMQ on the Ghastlies quilt this week. Since I did not want to upset my sewing machine's configuration for thread tension, pressure foot, feed dogs, etc. there are no new projects. The ongoing projects, or more correctly called, the stalled projects, are unchanged from my 2/19/14 WIP post and mostly awaiting FMQ. That was almost a month ago so I have repeated them here, primarily to remind myself.

Completed projects since 03/05/14 WIP post:
        None –  but the FMQ on the Ghastlies is complete

Ongoing projects:  
  1. Ghastlies baby quilt (begun in February 12, 2014 post)
  2. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post)- need to back, quilt, and bind
  3. Grinch quilt (May 22, 2013 post) - all borders added, need to back, quilt, and bind
  4. Jack O'Lantern Trio (February 2, 2013 post) - awaiting FMQ
  5. Chicken quilt - awaiting FMQ
  6. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
  7. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
New projects since 03/05/14 WIP post:  
        None – but I did get out a new kit and look longingly at the directions

I will link up to Freshly Pieced WIP now to gaze into the world beyond the Ghastlies.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

WIP: Ghastlies Quilt – Backing and FMQ Start

This week I planned to insert a few rows of white and grey trees on the grey and pink striped backing of the quilt. I fussy cut them and joined them. I calculated how to space them out so they would fall roughly behind the Ghastlies panels on the front.  Both the Ghastlies and the tree panels would then be somewhat evenly distributed vertically. I'd even selected a lovely lilac thread for my FMQ that went both with the front and blended nicely with the grey/pink on the back. Then I laid out the striped material to cut it and had to change my plans. The stripe was a very light weight, almost like a thin shirting or blouse fabric. I doubted it would hold up as a quilt back – rubbing would wear a bare spot in it rather quickly. So I auditioned (and rejected) two alternate candidates from my stash.

Reject 1: The baby getting this quilt is named after a flower so I thought perhaps this print with roses would be a nice touch. The lilac background is like one of the polka dot bricks and the witch does have roses in her hat. But the overall tone and pretty colors I thought was too prissy for such a comical feature fabric. It was just plainly and simply ... wrong! I am all for a surprise on the back, but not a jolt of discord.

Reject 2: Then I thought this deep magenta border print was worth considering. The majority of the fabric is the dark band on the left and does go with those magenta colored polka dot bricks. I really disliked the introduction of the aqua color in the small paisleys, though  and I considered it to be overall too dark and oppressive for an entire back.

The Winner: I am going back to my gut feel for what works. I'd second guessed my original backing choice of the yellow with olive dots after both my daughter and one friend questioned "Really?" But, the green is the correct somber green, not the minty pastel nor the aqua color in the two previous pseudo-contenders. The splotchy stenciled dots are a nice eerie touch that remind me of clouded over moons. They match the trees in color and the bricks in spotted spirit. The serious green has a lots of cheery sunny yellow to balance it and make the overall effect happy, as it should be for a baby. Since I'd only had a half yard of the yellow, I searched for and found an additional one yard on eBay quite a while ago. After going to all that trouble, I am going to use this fabric for its intended purpose.

A five row high grove of trees on the back stretched my yard-and-a half of fabric to the length I needed and broke up the expanse of yellow. I set in accent strips of the black polka dots to give it a more crisp look and to tie in with a black and white binding. Monday night I trimmed everything to the right size and sandwiched it all together with bamboo batting. First thing Tuesday morning I basted it with 505 basting spray.

I auditioned thread colors on the front for FMQ. Black I thought would be too intense and I vowed to be braver than using a clear thread this time. Candidates were white (safe), grey (dull), mauve (too matchy-matchy), pink (serious contender), lilac (actually gave it a lift), or green (brings out shrubbery, trees, some bricks). I started with the green  thread, and began outlining the green tree row. So far, so good.

I have heard repeatedly from many home quilters, quilt class teachers, and professional quilters that they all use the same color thread in the bobbin as on the quilt top, claiming that no matter how well you adjust your tension, little dots of the contrasting color pop up on one side or the other. I want to use the lilac to outline the characters in the ghastlies sections and wonder if I dare continue with green in the bobbin for the back. On the other hand, using lilac in the bobbin and having it appear on the back might add a bit of interest. Deciding to stick with matching bobbin thread, I would FMQ the white trees in white, the grey trees in grey, and let the back be a rainbow of sorts. The white trees were next. I completed one row of eighteen trees. They looked fine from the front...

 ... but, uh-oh! Just look at the back!

Three trees in from my row of eighteen trees my bobbin thread broke. When I got situated again and brought the thread up through the quilt to resume, I apparently did not lower my pressure foot to the correct position. On my Pfaff there is a lowered position, for sewing with feed dogs engaged, and a fully raised position, where tension wheels are disengaged and you can slide your fabric freely out from under and away. A third mid- height plateau position is for darning and free motion quilting. I groaned, but thought that at least the threads were loose and loopy and would remove easily, kind of like when you find the right end to start ripping out a chain stitch. Not so much. The loose loops would become entangled with each other and not come out with just the pull of a thread. I was paranoid that I was going to get impatient and tear hole in the quilt from tugging. I took my time and remained calm and fifty minutes later I finally had the mess cleaned up and was ready to quilt again.

I have an index card that I tack up on my bulletin board to help me remember the steps to prepare to FMQ. I added the step about having the pressure foot at plateau height. I started to make the mistake again during the grey trees but thankfully half a tree into it I recognized my sewing machine sounded different and caught myself before I made too much of a mess.

After ninety trees I felt like Daniel from the movie Karate Kid when Mr. Miragi tells him, "Wax On. Wax Off." I had the motion engrained in my muscle memory. Here is part of my grove of trees.

Next up to FMQ are the Ghastlies figures. They should be fun to outline. The bricks will be last. I have not decided an FMQ pattern for them yet. It needs to be relatively simple since the thread will contrast with some of them and my inexperienced FMQ slips will show up more.

Here are my stats updated relative to last week's WIP post. I caved and completed two cloth books with a rainy day theme but mainly I have been actively working this Ghastlies quilt. The ongoing projects are unchanged from my 2/19/14 WIP post and mostly awaiting FMQ so I have not repeated them here.

Stats since 02/26/14 WIP:
     Completed  projects - 2 cloth books (see February 29, 2014 post)
     Currently in progress - 7 - but actively concentrating on Ghastlies
     New projects - 2 -  I caved and sewed two cloth books

I will link up to Freshly Pieced WIP to check out what has been keeping others busy.