Wednesday, May 28, 2014

WIP: The Owl and the Pussycat

I just finished the Monkey Quilt and gave it to my son for his birthday this week. You can see it in my post for May 26, 2014. After that long labor of love I wanted a quick and simple project.

I pulled out a quilt kit I had sitting around for the while. I'd bought it at the Cotton Patch in Lafayette, CA because I thought the image was charming, it would be good FMQ practice, and it was marked down 50%. It consisted of a printed panel, backing fabric, and binding. I figured it was a good deal even if I repurposed the backing and used just part of the panel. Here is the feature panel.

Although I liked the center image I was not fond at all of the outer border. I decided to change the outer border so I cut off the black/pink/yellow printed star blocks and the pink/black sawtooth edging leaving a 1/4" seam allowance.

The kit included blue wave fabric for the backing and solid blue fabric for the binding. I decided to use those and they are the two blue fabrics on the left. I added the green and pink fabrics from my stash to substitute for the border I was removing. The pink chevron is one strip out of a jelly roll. Yes, I had the audacity to break up a jelly roll set. After buying it on impulse I realized that a whole roll of that chevron print would be a bit much in a quilt so I decided to break it up and use it as accents. The bright pink would pick up the pink wording and the pussycat's collar. I liked the bright cheeriness of the green dotted wave and thought it would go nicely with the green and blue of the panel.

Since I had only one strip of the pink chevron I had to slice it lengthwise. I only wanted a narrow accent anyway.

I originally was going to cut the green wavy stripe on the cross-grain and have it radiating outward on all four borders of the panel. Then I realized its curvy pattern was like waves of water so I ran it all horizontal everywhere by cutting the top and bottom borders lengthwise and the side borders crosswise. This also made the seams at the corners less visible.

I have already prepped the blue binding but I might change my mind on using it. Here is the top with its batting and backing size check, ready to be FMQ'd and bound. Hmm, if I stare at it too long I become slightly seasick. I still like it better than the original and at least it disguises how square the center panel is or is not!

Time to step back, regroup, and evaluate my statistics for this week of quilting.

Completed projects:
  1. Monkey Quilt completed and gifted (May 26, 2014 post)
Ongoing projects:
  1. Owl and PussyCat quilt (this post)
  2. Chicken quilt - spray basted, awaiting embellishment (April 24, 2014 post)
  3. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
  4. Grinch quilt (May 22, 2013 post) - all borders added, need to back, quilt, and bind
  5. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
  6. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
New projects:
  1. Owl and PussyCat quilt
It's time to link up to this week's Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monkey Quilt Completed

I finished the last bit of the Monkey Quilt for my son Alex this past week, just in time for his birthday today. This was one of those rare times when all four corners of the binding mitered neatly into place at precise 45 degree angles. This was in spite of the "good fortune" to have the binding seams fall at three of the four corners. Hmm...  perhaps this is why they creased so nicely? Nah! Here is the finished quilt.

Did you notice an inconsistency? My daughter called it a design choice. It was unintentional but in retrospect I think it worked out for the best. I will explain at the end of this post. Here is the obligatory photo of the back. The print is of monkeys and lollipops hanging from tree branches.

For the label I did more than just my usual initial and year. Since my son is an adult in an assisted living home, I wanted the quilt to be labeled with Alex's name. So I added a brief inscription machine embroidered on grosgrain ribbon and attached it in the lower corner of the back. This photo also gives a closer look at the backing and border fabrics and the typical mitered corner. You can see that those are monkeys with orange pants and yellow shirts hanging from tree limbs scattered about on the back. On the front border, the green and yellow squares are printed with bunches of bananas, the yellow rectangles have fish, and the aqua rectangles have lollipops. 

Alex has limited speech but he can say "Mun-kee" and he loves bananas and lollipops. We will also give him this fruit medley patterned rug to go beside his bed. It has the banana theme and the color palette goes with the quilt.

The first thing Alex noticed on the quilt was not the monkey, but the owl. "Whooo," he said and pointed.

Alex enjoyed unwrapping his rug.

And here is Alex trying his quilt on for size.

Now, about that unintentional design decision...? The bottom border is put on in the same orientation as the top border. For a directional patterns I sometimes do this intentionally but this was not one of those times. I did not notice the "non-reversed" border at all until I'd put in place the final stitch of the binding and stood back to admire the fruits of my labors. Aargh! It was too late to change this feature after its having been quilted in place and bound, even for someone stubborn enough to spend 16+ hours picking out brown squiggly quilting in the four corner blocks.  At least I will not anger the quilt gods with perfection. However, there is a serendipitous consequence arising from placing the yellow squares of the piano border up against the inner border instead of down next to the outer border at the quilt's bottom – the non-squareness of the quilt panel is not as noticeable. The yellow banding that tapers to compensate for non-squareness of the center panel scene would have stood out more had it been placed next to the contrasting green squares. So the bottom border orientation just helped me to make lemonade out of lemons. How coincidental that there are lemons on the rug, too! Hakuna matata! No worries. I think from the last picture that Alex likes his quilt and that is what counts.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WIP: Monkey Quilt Home Stretch

This was the home stretch in more ways that one. I did a lot of standing up and stretching during and after 16 hours of picking out the brown quilting in the dotted centers of the corner blocks. (To see why, go to my previous WIP post dated May 14, 2014.) I have quilted the brown, orange, and white dots now, though, and it was worth the effort. Here is the quilt folded to show the four re-quilted corners. There  are no more scraggly dark brown squiggles amongst the dots.

I stitched an eighth inch away from the seam line on the inner edge of the brown frames. I decided I liked the way it looked, so I decided to repeat it on two sides of the outer edges of the brown frame. This meant taking out the orange scallops first. But I was now an expert at picking so it took me only about an hour to do two edges on four corner blocks. I left in the scallops that are on the outer edges of the quilt so that they would remain continuous adjacent to the binding.

In other parts of the quilt I just straight stitched an eighth inch away from the seam line for the framing bands of orange and yellow. This photo also shows my scallops in the border and my outlining of the leaves.

All that is left for the Monkey Quilt is to attach the binding and do the hand stitching on it. It will be ready for my son's birthday on Monday (fingers crossed). I will post a finished photo in the next WIP, perhaps with my son in it, if time and lighting permit.

For those of you who follow my blog posts, I have often expressed a fair amount of fear with my FMQ. This quilt was a breakthrough of sorts for me. It had a variety of FMQ techniques – outlining in the center panel, free hand arcs in the border, free hand circles for the dots in the corner blocks, and straight stitching with feed dogs engaged. I changed thread colors many times – orange, yellow, brown, turquoise, beige and did not resort to the more forgiving clear thread for the top. The border scallops are even in an orange color, different from the top fabric (such bravery). And, yes, I did pick out a lot. Thank goodness it was a contrasting thread so I could see what I was picking. (I suppose you could argue that had it not been contrasting thread, it may not have been so compelling for me to remove it, but let's not go there.)

In retrospect the picking out was a positive experience in many ways. I developed several methods to remove the stitching even when my stitches were exceedingly tiny. I did not rip the quilt fabric itself, not even once. I would get up first thing in the morning and have quiet time with my own thoughts while I was picking. But most important of all, it gave me the sense that FMQ is not final, it could be undone even if tedious, and I would not ruin an entire quilt. I also learned the hard way that continuing to FMQ a section in a way I think I do not like is not a good way to confirm that, yes, indeed, I do not like it!

I did deviate from my work on the Monkey Quilt this week in order to take up the shoulder seams on a dress I wanted to wear to a dance last Friday night. It was quite ironic that I had to do more picking to open up each shoulder seam before I could take it up. To add insult to injury, I sewed the first shoulder seam with the strap twisted and had to take it apart to do again. Overall I picked out three shoulder seams for one dress. Fortunately I had the dubious good fortune to have gotten more skilled at picking out from this week's marathon de-quilting. My other improvement is that the hemming of the outer chiffon-like fabric and the inner slippery lining of the dress went fairly quickly and easily. It looks like making those eight napkins (post for April 8, 2014) paid off in my getting better at using my hemmer foot than I was for the last dress I hemmed (post for May 20, 2013).

Other than the dress alterations I have been working the monkey quilt and ignored all other projects. Here are my statistics, which seem pretty static. But my early morning musings have told me that there has been growth in my quilting skills on a longer time scale and I can look back on older posts and confirm it is true.

Completed projects:
  1. Took up shoulders and hemmed dress
Ongoing projects:
  1. Monkey on a bike quilt - quilting completed, just needs binding and signing
  2. Chicken quilt - spray basted, awaiting embellishment (April 24, 2014 post)
  3. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
  4. Grinch quilt (May 22, 2013 post) - all borders added, need to back, quilt, and bind
  5. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
  6. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
New projects:
  1. Alter and hem dress
It's time to visit Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday and check out what has been keeping other folks busy this week and to see all the great photos from Spring Quilt Market. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WIP: Monkey Quilt FMQ Status

Last week I did the piano key borders on the Monkey quilt with an orange peel pattern and liked the way it came out. It can be seen in my previous WIP post dated May 7th, 2014. This week I started out by FMQ'ing the corner blocks.

I did not want to quilt the corners too heavily, following the rule of thumb that quilting density should be kept pretty equal throughout a quilt top. I circled each brown dot in brown thread. When I was done the dots did not really stand out. Perhaps if I had done the white and orange dots as well, the puffs would have shown up more. I was too lazy to change to white thread for the white dots and orange thread for the orange dots. Plus, it was tedious lifting up the pressure foot and moving from dot to dot even doing just the brown ones. So I decided to use brown thread and repeat the honeycomb type ring pattern about all the dots, using continuous quilting.

I did not like the results of the honeycomb approach. Here are the before and after pictures. The brown lines printed on the fabric (left) look like whimsical scribbling but brown stitching lines (right) look sloppy on the quilted block. And the dark brown on the turquoise was overpowering and showed every glitch. Of course I did not firm up this conclusion until I had completed the four corner blocks. I moved on to the center panel portion of the quilt, planning to re-visit the four corners at a later time.

The water section, with the fish, and the grass section, with the frog and alligator, came out much better. In the water section, I did not want to change color for each fish so I used the background blue color and went around each of them, even each little bubble, using a non-continuous quilting pattern. It was not as onerous as I thought it would be. On the grass section I was emboldened to do each tuft of grass individually. Cutting all the connecting threads was a bit pesky but well worth the results.

I like that the critters, water ripples, and tufts of grass give added dimension. Here is how flat the green section looked before the quilting.

And here is how the water and grass sections looked after the quilting. I followed the same "rule" when I quilted in green around the bicycle section in the grass.

Next up was the upper beige background section where the monkeys and giraffe and trees are. Taking my cue from the blue water and green grass sections, I did this in beige thread like the background. I outlined the leaves, bicycle, and animals. Yay! They came out great. So technically my FMQ on this quilt was finished. Here is the upper left corner of the panel.

But now I became convinced those scribbly corner blocks looked awful by comparison – way too densely quilted and unforgiving of crooked quilting. Hmmm. Perhaps I should go back and re-do those corner blocks with blue thread (camouflages goofs better) and circle just the colored dots (less quilting density).

  1. Those scattered round puffs of color would look really cute raised up.
  2. I will not be reminded of my poor scribbly decision every time I see the quilt.
  1. The blocks are in the corners, not center, of the quilt and not that noticeable. 
  2. I would risk tearing a hole in the quilt.
  3. It would be very time consuming and tedious picking.  
I decided to try picking out the brown thread and see how it would go. I started on some of the obvious brown wobbly stitch lines, but like peeling sunburn or wallpaper, once started I was suckered in. It is an awful lot of picking out. As a novice FMQer, my stitches were tiny due to my poor coordination between the speed control with my foot and the fabric movement with my hands. Not only did I sew slowly with tiny stitches but I did each row of circles by doing the top half on the way across and completing the bottom half on the way back. This meant each circle had a region of overlapping stitches in two places, making those places in particular very, very, difficult to pick out. The tools of my torture were some curved thread snips, a sharp pointed seam ripper, and a pair of tweezers. Even so I left a few brown lines at the edges and a couple double stitched circle overlaps so as not to risk ripping a hole in the quilt itself.

Four hours later I had one corner block picked out and ready to re-quilt with puffy individual dots only. Here it is re-quilted. I tried to photograph it at an angle so you can see the puffs at the colored dots. They will puff more when the quilt is washed. They really do look happier than those angry brown scribbles did.

But now I am committed to many more hours of anti-progress, picking out the stitches in the other three corners. I got up this morning and in 1.5 hours I had picked out a little over half of another corner block.  The stitches were not quite so tiny on this one so score a few points for inconsistent stitch size in the correct direction. My revised estimate is three hours per block. The lower "with" and upper "without" scribbles version, seen side by side really do convince me that my decision to pick out was the right one, as tedious as it is.

My FMQ on the quilt was "done" until I got picky – picky in more ways than one. This week I started no new projects and worked exclusively on this monkey quilt. My project count and progress stats are unchanged from my previous WIP post.

For now I am going to take a break and re-engage my feed dogs to do some straight stitching in the frame of the center panel and to attach my binding.  Once I get to hand-sewing my binding I can always alternate between putting stitches in as I attach the binding and taking stitches out as I remove the quilting lines in the corner blocks. I will channel my inner self (and fingers) like in that 1984 movie The Karate Kid with a minor difference. Instead of "Wax on, wax off," I will be reciting "Stitch in, stitch out."

During my picking break I will also visit Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday for this week. Perhaps I should nickname my blog Freshly Picked.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WIP: Monkey Quilt Border

This week I decided on and started quilting the Monkey on a Bicycle quilt for my son. I auditioned patterns for the stitching lines. After considering several patterns in my post for April 16th, I narrowed down the choices for the border.

I thought about using a diagonal grid. It would be easy because I would keep the feed dogs engaged and straight stitch the lines. However, I felt it detracted from the prints too much. It seemed to showcase seams instead of fabric.

I tried the orange peel type treatment of stitch in the ditch like I did on my Jack-O Lantern Trio and liked it better since the centers of the pieces were more displayed. That corner block still needs a bit more thought. I have not decided its pattern yet.

I modified this curved approach a bit more to capitalize on the squares and rectangles in the borders and wound up with this pattern with fewer and larger arcs. The center panel will be quilted in keeping with the leaves and characters of the print.

I like that the arcs seem to echo the curvature of the bananas and showcase the fabrics. 

Now follows the confession of my goofs. I share my process foibles not to complain, but so you all may feel a bit of camaraderie and perhaps have a few laughs. I do not know how I did it, but on the left I omitted a row of quilting. I will go back and catch that row when I do the outer border by moving across inward on the bottom, then back outward above it, with that little up-and-down detour.  In the right photo I did a square length arc instead of a rectangular length arc and will have to pick out some stitches to recover.

In this next stroke of bad luck, I ran out of bobbin thread just two inches from the final edge! Aargh! I did not have an orange bobbin already wound to go either, so had to stop and wind another bobbin. To add insult to injury, when I went back to do that two inches I did not put the pressure foot at the correct plateau height required to FMQ on my Pfaff. The picture on the right shows the loopy bobbin thread mess I made on the back side that I had to pick out. It is not so much the time to pick out that I mind, it is the fear that I am going to slip and cut a hole in the top or backing. It may look like the photo is a bit blurred. This corresponds to the state of my vision after I did all the stitch picking. I did not make any holes in quilt, though. Whew!

I was originally going to do the quilting in brown since that color was in every fabric. I knew it would show up and was going to commit an act of courage with my budding FMQ skills. Once I did a quarter inch around the outer edge in the brown, however, I felt it was too strong. Orange was in every fabric too, so I used it instead. Next week I plan to work on quilting the corner blocks in orange and the center panel in an assortment of other colors. My free-hand arcs are still a bit crooked and not equally sized but, all in all, I like how it is coming together. It does take time and practice, but I do see my FMQ skills on my domestic machine improving slowly.

I have no completed or new projects this week and my list of ongoing projects is pretty much unchanged. I am gradually reducing that back log of quilt tops, though.

Ongoing projects:
  1. Monkey on a bike quilt - FMQ progressing
  2. Chicken quilt - spray basted, awaiting embellishment (April 24, 2014 post)
  3. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
  4. Grinch quilt (May 22, 2013 post) - all borders added, need to back, quilt, and bind
  5. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
  6. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
It's time to visit Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday and check out what has been keeping other folks busy this week.