Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WIP: Boats, Bitties, and Blue Waves

In my July 9, 2014 WIP post I had just begun the fabric selection for my Nautical Baby Quilt. I'd picked out all fabric except the fabric for the waves, deferring that selection until I had some boats assembled. I cut out the pieces for the boats and background and tried out a new assembly system using Alphabitties I'd bought at the Fat Quarter Shop. Here are all my boat and background fabrics cut into pieces, dutifully labeled and stacked in my project case. I find scrapbooking cases work great for projects in progress. At first I was a tiny bit befuddled by multiple letters for the same fabric. In constructing the quilt top, though, it worked great with the Sew Emma pattern.

The letter represents not just the fabric, but the size of the piece as well, so, once you've cut it and labeled it, there is less opportunity for mixing up similar sized pieces of the same fabric. Instead of phrases like "use your 3x3 inch square of fabric A", the instruction would guide you through making T/D, R/D, and P/D units. At first skeptical about the Alphabitties – after all I can make my own letters out of scraps of paper – I found these sturdy reusable plastic tabs had a nice feel to them and they were enjoyable to work with. Their color stands out well against both light and dark fabrics. This is not a sales pitch folks, just my opinion. I own no stock in Alphabitties.

I made the hulls of the boats first using the squares on the corner and flip technique. I lined them up on my cutting board and cut off all those corners in one fell swoop. 

Never quite able to bring myself to throw out fabrics, I chain-pieced the triangles I cut off into HSTs. I left them connected to each other so as not to confuse them with my other pattern pieces for the quilt top. I will open them up, press, and store them for future projects. I'll leave the trimming until I know what size I'd want,

Next I made up all the HSTs for the sails. Again I sliced them all at once since that bias seam allowance is not critical once they are stitched. Then I trimmed each with my precision trimmer to square them up and remove the dog ears.

The Precision Trimmer 6™ is another great tool I'd recommend, by the way. (Not so much, though, the Precision Trimmer 3. It does not have as many markings and is not as versatile.)

I planned which mast colors went with each hull and sail combination for the nine boats. I laid them out and snapped a cell phone picture to remember. Those masts are 1" x1.5" bits of fabric. Because of examples like this my husband knows never to empty the trash in my sewing room. Unless it is sitting outside my door he leaves every itty-bitty, teeny-weeny scrap of fabric right where it is! He is a very knowledgable quilting husband, from quilt-show-purchased treasures to sewing-room-generated trash. He even recognizes when quilts are set on-point!

The boats did work up rather quickly. I needed to be careful though since some faced right and some faced left. I actually think I spent more time agonizing over my choice of wave fabrics than assembling those boats. But this week I reached the point of having to commit to wave fabric and so picked these two mini-chevron prints. They are subtle and not very graphic so they will not distract from the boats. And they were the correct blue, finally! I did have to do a bit of head scratching, though, since the prints were directional even though they read as a solid. I wanted to be sure the ripples remained horizontal. The waves had a right and left handedness to them as well, so that complicated things a bit too. I made myself some mockups out of paper to be sure I had it right before I sewed the fabric.

I finished two rows of waves. I have one more row of waves to complete. Somehow making fourteen HSTs at a time is a bit less daunting than trimming forty-two HSTs! Add the two wave rows to the nine boats and three suns I have already finished, and this quilt is well under way. Next task up will be assembling the rows and adding the borders.

In terms of my weekly statistics, I have not completed any projects this week but at least I have not started any new ones either. I am cruising along full speed ahead on this nautical quilt and it has my full attention for the moment. Now I will link up to this week's Freshly Pieced Works in Progress Wednesday.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Surprise Package

Last Friday I got a surprise package in the mail. It wasn't something I'd ordered from Amazon. It wasn't something I'd ordered from the Fat Quarter Shop. It wasn't my even my birthday! I opened it up and in it were two fat quarter bundles of funky, adorable, animal prints from a fabric shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The style of the one on the left looked vaguely familiar and I read the business card tag. The fabric was titled Ed Emberly's Happy Drawing Too Fat Pac. Aha...that's why it was familiar! When my kids were little they loved Ed Emberly's drawing books. They had this one and used to sit at the kitchen table drawing animals from thumbprints. Here it is with its 1994 cover.

And here is another book, specifically of animals. I can hardly wait to unfurl the fat quarters and see if I can pick out matching animals. Right now the bundle looks too pretty for me to disassembly just yet.

The animals on the other bundle were also too cute for words. Upon reading the selvage and poking around a bit online I learned that the other bundle was by Amy Schimler-Stafford, an illustrator of children's books who is unfamiliar to me. I certainly plan to investigate her further. I love fabric by artists and book illustrators since they seem to have a distinct air about them. I learned this about myself with my cloth books by Joy Allen (June 11, 2014 and December 27, 2012 posts) and my search for a seaside print by Faye Whittaker

But the mystery of who this package came from was still unsolved. Then I found a single type-written page, scrunched in the bottom of the package. It began with the phrase, "Hello Lady Di". I smiled and knew immediately who had sent it. My husband's close friend from his college days always called me that. Richard and his wife Linda had sent it. Linda is a quilter and knitter but Richard proudly pointed out that he had "picked out the fabrics" himself. Richard has been an educator for special needs kids for years. As a teacher did he know these authors prior to their venturing into fabric design or was it merely coincidence? Or was it just the happy exuberance of the animals on the fabric that steered his selections?  Either way his choices were serendipitous for me. Here I am with Richard and Linda when we visiting them in New Hampshire in August 2013.

Richard's note went on to say how happy they were for us with the birth of our second granddaughter. We now have a 3-month-old granddaughter and a 21-month-old granddaughter. He explained that the package contained the two different sets of fabric so I could "make something different for each of my girlies". What a super neat gift and surprise it was to send fabric to a quilty grandmother for her grandbabies! Having someone else pick out fabric for me has the added bonus that I am not constrained by my unacknowledged biases nor sketchy-edged comfort zones. This is stuff is wild and I am going to thoroughly enjoy working with it. 

The package also contained some yardage of monkey fabric to make a pillowcase for my special needs son who loves monkeys. You can see the monkey quilt I made for him in my post for May 26, 2014. It was thoughtful of them to remember Alex as well.

I never knew about the Portsmouth Fabric Company with its over 7000 bolts of fabric. I moved from New England to California in 1976 and it was established in 1979. I guess I know what I need to check out next time I visit Richard and Linda. Many, many thanks to them for a thoughtful, unexpected gift I will thoroughly enjoy and put to good use.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

WIP: Nautical Baby Quilt

In the housing market when a contractor speculates and builds a house without a buyer lined up he is said to be building it "on spec" and hoping the fruit of his labors will pay off in the future. I bought a pattern from the Fat Quarter Shop a several months ago "on spec", dutifully filing it away in one of the piles in my sewing room.

Coincidentally several weeks ago I bought a fat quarter bundle from my local quilt shop In Between Stitches from the fabric line Seaworthy by Jack and Lulu for Dear Stella Fabrics - also "on spec". (See doesn't "on spec" sound much more important and acceptable than "just because I liked it" or "because I caved"?) In Between Stitches has a clever, interleaving way of packing their bundles that I am still trying to figure out and hence my step by step photographic record of the bundle disassembly. The bundle contained these eight fabrics - sailboats, red zig-zags, navy with white stars, white with navy anchors, sea lions, miniscule two-blue chevrons, mermaids, and spouting whales. 

I did not intend for this bundle to be used for the Row, Row, Row Your Boat pattern. I find that fat quarter bundles usually need to be broken up or used with a pattern that is fat quarter friendly.

The pattern and fabric purchases were several weeks ago. A third happy happenstance came this week when a friend of my daughter-in-law, seeing a quilt I'd made for my granddaughter, hinted that if I had extra time and if I was inspired, that she and her little boy would love a nautical themed quilt. I was flattered and bemused. So this week I have been planning a nautical themed quilt for a baby boy.  It seems that buying fabric and downloading patterns "on spec" is not such a bad thing.

My goal is to make this gift quilt totally from fabrics out of my stash. That never works 100% but sometimes with my sizable stash I can come pretty close. The fabrics I will use from this Seaworthy bundle I just bought are the feature sailboats, navy stars, red zig-zag, and possibly minuscule two-blue chevrons and mini-anchors. The hulls of the boats will be these three bright fabrics - the red zig-zag and navy stars from this bundle and the orange dots from my stash. The white of the sails may be from the mini-anchor print, though one does not usually put such heavy weight up where the wind is supposed to blow... hmmm.

For the larger yardage areas, borders and background, I did go out and buy fabric specifically for this quilt. For the wide border I bought more of the sailboat feature fabric because I just love, love, love it. It has stripes and dots in the sails, both real favorites of mine.  The small inner border will be a red and white candy-stripe from my stash. For the background, the white fabric I had in my stash rows of hearts on it, which may be passable for a boy but I wanted something that was not directional. I hoped to find a blue background because it would be easier to keep clean for a baby, but I did not want a plain solid and I could not seem to find the right blue, that was non-directional but still had a bit of textural interest. Besides, I really wanted that sailboat fabric border and it would have been too much blue to have blue in a background as well. I bought some white with navy specks. If I change my mind, it is a neutral enough fabric to have in my stash. It may go in the sails as well instead of a mini-anchors print.

My undecided fabrics are for the three rows of half square triangles that represent waves. This is where I am stymied. I have a lot of fat quarters but the waves take 1/2 yard of a light blue and 1/2 yard of navy. I could use a fat quarter each and mix the two size navy dot fat quarters I have. Perhaps the larger ones are too graphic and distracting. I do have a 1/2 yard of the blue swirls but it is not quite the right blue. Maybe since it will be offset from the feature sailboat border fabric by the red candy stripe it will be fine. 

I am also considering not doing half-square triangles at all but instead using a wave-like fabric as a sort of sashing. I considered white/navy chevrons like this white/black chevron print from my stash. Each row is 3.5" high but the kicker is that the rows of a chevron print runs parallel to the selvage. I'd need 1.25 yards for the width of the quilt, unless I cut a bunch of short lengthwise strips and seam them several places. I'd have to find a place that sells it, too. I think it also may be a bit too graphic and compete with the boats for attention. It depends on how bold the chevron.

The chevron on the left below would be better than the one on the right. Even if I bought the 1.25 yards, I know from past experience that this chevron type fabric is not true to grain and so the waves would, well... waver. I think I just talked myself out of this option. Maybe. I may just get a half yard more of the minuscule chevrons and use that as a sashing for the waterline. Its waves run selvage to selvage - the right direction for my needs. After all it would be the least bold of the chevrons and the right blue, too. With its smaller scale, any off-grain would not be as pronounced. I could also use it alternating with two sizes of navy dot fat quarters I have in my stash to make half square triangle waves if I really feel guilty about leaving out the waves. It could be substituted for the not-quite-right-blue swirl fabric. 

I have other wave-candidate fabrics in my stash but the blues are wrong. They are more aqua or purplish. Looking at this subset of the blues from my stash, it is embarrassing to think I cannot make something work out of all these options.

I could also leave out this waterline row entirely. That would solve the problem and then I would not be buying even more fabric, either. Writing about my options has helped me clarify some of them. For now I think I will buy a half-yard of the minuscule chevrons from my local quilt shop. I will make up the boat blocks. After seeing them and after some some time has passed, the design will have mellowed in my brain and everything will be crystal clear... just like tropical waters!

The backing will be made of two or three of these nautical prints I had in my stash. I have a yard of each so I will combine them somehow for the back.

Cute as they are, I will not use the mermaids, sea lions, and spouting whales from the bundle. Although they are the right pale blue and the right navy, I do not want to chop them up for waves. They are "on spec" for something else someday.

So now I will link up to this week's Work In Progress Wednesday at Freshly Pieced and see what others are doing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

WIP: Longarm Lessons with the Grinch

I rented time on a longarm machine, a Handiquilter Avante 18, and quilted my Grinch quilt on Friday.

I had practiced what patterns I was going to quilt - ocean waves, Lazy L's, and cursive grinch's.

Those plans went out the window and I just ad libbed and quilted by the seat of my pants. Instead of the precise waves graduating in size that I envisioned, my waves changed willy nilly in size, direction, and orientation as I fit them in. Lazy L's gave way to meandering. I never did quilt in the word "grinch" in neat cursive penmanship as I had intended. I am glad my first attempt on a long arm was my Grinch quilt since its randomness is very Seussian.

Here are some of the quilted sections of the Grinch quilt. This is the first block I did in the upper left corner. I originally was just going to outline the images but the white looked so naked I spontaneously did some waves inside it. You can still see the green stitched outline around the black ink hatchings of the Grinch's cave.

This block was not one of my favorites because I stretched my creativity a bit too far by selecting the red and yellow check framing. But I think it is my favorite for how the FMQ on the white part turned out. The mixture of waves and meanderings looks like something that came from a Dr Seuss book. The green thread FMQ does not show up on the wild check. Hmm, I wonder why...

On this block I like the meander in the white and the way the waves show up on the striped green framing. Waves were, after all, the original plan but they were not intended to flip randomly between clockwise and counter clockwise. Obviously I did not quite know what to do in the red inner frame and so just wiggled around a bit on three side before attempting mini-waves on the top. I need more practice on stopping and thinking.

I almost got the meander right in these white sections. I only crossed myself once in the fireplace image when I worked myself into a corner.

My self critique on this one follows: in the red outer frame - good waves, in the white part of the image - decent meandering, and in the green inner frame - what the @#$% was I thinking! I just filled space. It was the last block on the quilt. I was tired. The whole quilt took me 4.5 hours, during which I did a lot of standing and stressing and rethinking, but I really did a lot of learning.

In an earlier Grinch post (dated May 22, 2013) I had prepared a red plaid binding that I was not quite sure about, thinking it was maybe too formal. I did change my mind and made a new binding out of the green spots backing fabric. 

I've attached the green binding, hand stitched it to the back, and all that remains is the label. My husband held it up for me to photograph in our backyard. I just noticed that it added a lot of green to our landscaping which is suffering from our California drought. The sides really are parallel. I just take poor pictures. Here is my Grinch quilt. Finally. The size ended up approximately 45"x72". My first post on it was almost three years ago, way back in November of 2011. Now I can truly say it is Christmas in July.

In quilting this Grinch quilt on a longarm, I learned a lot in two kinds of lessons -  advance thinking and planning for the quilting pattern and basic lessons on machine operation. I captured these lessons learned in the following two lists. I hope they help me remember for my next time on a longarm.

List A on Advance Thinking: Very eye opening were the lessons I learned on planning. Someone may have told me these but they did not sink in until I was hands-on with a real quilt of my own.
  1. Square up the backing. Since two opposite edges are pinned to the leaders they should be parallel. Fortunately I had cut mine with a rotary cutter so they were parallel but often times when I just free motion on my domestic I do not need the top and bottom parallel as long as I have extra fabric.
  2. Consider the throat space. Somehow in my mind I had the impression of far less limitation by throat space on a long arm. My Grinch block size was larger than the roller spacing so I could not do a continuous wave around it as I had planned. Long sashings and borders cannot be done continuously unless parallel to rollers.
  3. Loading direction can mean fewer passes. I thought I wanted to write the word "grinch" and so wanted to look at my quilt right side up. Had I turned it sideways and loaded the longer side edges, I would have had fewer passes and could possibly have done those waves as I wanted them around the block.  
  4. Stitch predominently left to right. Stitching right to left can cause a twist buildup in your top thread that causes it to break. The third time is the charm. It took me two breakages to learn this. I am sure I will forget it for next time.
  5. Take a cell phone picture of what is quilted before rolling it up. I could not go backwards until the very end since those three layers (top, batting, back) that I'd just quilted together could not be split. And, since I'd deviated from my original plan, I had a devil of a time remembering what I'd done.
  6. Needle size is larger on a longarm due to high stitching speed. When holding the quilt up in the sunshine to photograph I noticed sunlight shining through the holes where the quilting stitches were. Upper and lower thread tension seemed balanced. Maybe I had it too tight in the quilting frame? Perhaps I should have chosen a fabric print busier that the fairly plain extra wide green spots fabric I used for backing and binding? Maybe the backing fabric was too light a weight or too loose a weave? Maybe the needle was getting dull? The pinholes are not visible when the quilt is not backlit and optimistically, I suspect they will close up once I wash the quilt. 
List B on Basic Lessons: I'd taken a certification class to use the machine but I needed help remembering the details of the basic lesson on machine operation. This brief list is mainly a reminder to me of what I did. There are many excellent tutorials out there on line taught by experts rather than by a newbie like me.
  1. Loading - pinning two edges of backing and one edge of quilt top to leaders on three rollers - using side clamps 
  2. Threading order for top thread
  3. Winding the bobbin using a separate winding device 
  4. Installing bobbin in correct orientation
  5. Using needle up-down button for basting
  6. Using start-stop button to quilt - unlike a car or a sewing machine you touch on and touch off, not hold to keep on.
  7. Working the releases of the rollers to advance the quilt

For my statistics this week I note that I am chipping away at my backlog of quilt tops to be quilted with only three left. The chicken and overlapping squares are on the small side. I am itching to start something new and I am not quite sure that assembling that mask fabric quilt will do the trick.

Completed projects (1):
  1. Grinch quilt
Ongoing projects (4):
  1. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
  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. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
New projects (1):
  1. Contemplating a nautical themed baby quilt