Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Checkered Past and Present

I'd just returned Wednesday from traveling to Southern California for my granddaughter's 1st and my son's 32nd birthday celebration. I blogged about craftwork I'd seen during my time away touring the battle ship USS Iowa. Please check it out in my previous post.

Earlier this month I'd joined a second quilt guild, the Diablo Valley Quilters, and attended their April meeting. Friday, I joined in to help at one of their monthly outreach workshops. They are a very friendly and welcoming, not to mention an extremely productive and talented, group of women. I was surprised to find we were able to get 42 sandwiches layered, pinned, folded, and ready to be distributed among the members for quilting, all the while chatting away cheerfully. These quilts will go locally to children with health issues and/or struggling mothers. 

It takes me a while after I return from traveling to get back in the sewing groove so my personal sewing this week was quite scattered and unfocused. I made a few more checkerboards for the quilt I am revealing just bit by bit. Here are the checkerboard blocks in four colorways. Hmm, is this how they will be assembled? Nope. The assembly plan is yet to be revealed. They tickle my fancy though, nondescript mini-prints that they are.

There are four of each checkerboard color so that gives a bit of clue. But they are rectangles... not squares!

Here are leftovers from the cut strips prior to slicing into squares. I may checkerboard them for adding interest on the back or save them something coordinating. They also qualify to be just scraps - but useful ones.

I cut and joined the binding for the two strip quilts I'd assembled a couple weeks ago (April 15th post). I cut it my normal 2¼" wide. I am going to attach the binding to the quilt edge French binding style, doubled over as I usually do, but this time I will not press or crease along the soft fold before attaching.

I read somewhere that if the binding is not pre-creased along its length, the hand sewing portion goes more easily and smoothly. The binding fabric is supposedly more accommodating if there is a soft curve rather than a crease. That way the outer binding fabric can be a bit wider than the inner binding fabric since it needs to wrap a further distance around the edge. There is freedom for this adjustment if the crease point has not been pre-determined. I am a tiny bit nervous that the two edges will shift along the stitching line relative to each other while being attached but I guess they won't if I'm using my Pfaff with the built-in dual feed feature. Besides, even when I have applied my bindings hard pre-creased, the two edges could have shifted relatively to each other anyway; but in my experience, that has not been the case. Skipping ironing in a center crease may also save me a few steamed fingertips. These strip quilts are not yet sandwiched and quilted so the binding step is still a bit in the future. Once I try this new technique I will report back if I find this approach to be better in practice.

I dutifully picked out my mess-up on the Simple Gifts FMQ (April 22 post) and continue to echo quilt just one or two gifts each day that I sew. Twenty gifts from the green and red columns are complete and one column of five aqua blocks is complete. I only have five gifts to echo around twice more to finish. Let's see... 25/30... I am at 83%! That is a grade of B for completeness. My quality is getting better but needs work. My outer two echoes are straighter than the inner stitch in the ditch and the first echo. As an example, that first echo below the left bow loop in the aqua fabric is really wobbly and drifted wide. I think that area may be a do-over, but not until all are finished at least once! Then I may re-evaluate that decision depending on how difficult it is to find those stray lines. The green thread does kind of blend into the aqua fabric...

This past Sunday I went with my husband and younger son to an Antique Fair in Petaluma CA. Look at the great desk I bought, made from an awesome Vintage Singer treadle base. It has been extracted from the back seat of the car where I rode 90 minutes with it plastered to my left hip. So far it has made it only as far as the inside of the garage. But I have plans for it! More in a future post.

For now, I am hooking up to today's Freshly Pieced post for WIP Wednesday.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Craftwork Aboard a Battleship

My husband cheerfully accompanies me to many a quilt show. So, when we were in the Southern California area last weekend and he wanted to tour the battleship USS Iowa docked at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, I went along. He thought I might be bored out of my gourd knowing how I react to the WW-II documentaries he loves to watch and I thought he might be correct. But turnabout is fair play, and I went along willingly as navigator and companion.

I actually enjoyed the tour. It was self-guided and self-paced with docents stationed along the way to answer questions. The posted tour guides also added anecdotal stories, many of them from their own naval experiences. The tour was estimated to take 1½ - 2 hours but we spent just over 3 hours on board. As we climbed up the gangway, we were greeted at the top by a docent standing behind a podium. On the front of that podium was a huge, podium-width, finely detailed and lavishly embroidered badge. Someone had designed and made that emblem. Seeing and admiring that badge prompted me to spice up my experience on the tour by looking for other craftwork aboard the USS Iowa. And I found it. Hence this post.

At the start of our tour we were alerted to watch for numbered posters with a picture of a dog to draw our attention to points of interest along the route. This was no ordinary dog.  He was Victory the Dog  - M1C (Mascot First Class), affectionately nicknamed Vicky for short.  The story of his sojourn on the ship can be found at I was drawn to the uniform that obviously was custom made for him. It too had finely embroidered details.

Next on our tour was the galley and dining area for the ship's crew. My eye was drawn to the macramé-like rope work on the posts. It is not macramé and is more correctly referred to as "fancywork". It is created by shipmen with a desire and the talent to produce it. Crewmen needed only request permission from the captain and they would be commissioned on small projects assigned as a means to decorate and thus honor the ship. There was much pride in this fancywork. I found this link with a bit  of background indicating this pride at

Here is a close up of one of the copper clad posts in the galley. At first I thought a section of it was a plastic molded surface, but it is actually rope. After the banded area had been up for a while and began to show a bit of soiling, it was painted over, giving it that glossy, molded look.

Here is a pole at another part of the galley that had not been painted. The grain and twist of the silky rope adornment and the intricacy of the knotting is more evident.

I googled images for "navy fancywork" and found many more examples of a craft I never knew existed but is quite prevalent in the military. Even in a stringent war environment there apparently is room for the comfort and peace that crafting brings. Columns on the outside decks were similarly adorned to those indoors and painted red. This one was banded in the middle. In the background is a smaller diameter post banded for a larger percentage of its length.

Here is a closeup of that pole in the background. Note the two color spiral accenting.

And here is another pole, covered its entire height, also color accented.

On the floor in the entry to the gun turrets was a reproduction of the embroidered badge for the USS Iowa recreated as an inlay in the floor tiles.

When I researched the image I found that there were four battleships of the same naval architecture design as the USS Iowa, BB-61. They were called the Iowa class battleships or the Dreadnoughts, BB-61, BB-62, BB-63 and BB-64, and had been built in the early 1940s. They each had a signature badge of their own.

Upon entering one of the gun turrets, this is a typical view the firing team would see... 

... and here is the chair where they sat while performing their duties. Note the stitching detail in the leather.

Here is a closeup of the stitching. It is simple but I think it shows a caring and dignity.

Note the appliqued star detail in the chair of another gun turret.

I do not know the significance of the direction the eagle points. I think, but am not 100% certain, that two chairs in each turret were mirror images of each other.

Upon exiting the turret, there was another inlaid image in the tile floor. 

The tour included views of the living quarters. My supposition is that craft items had been prevalent there, too, as they had been in the public areas, but were most likely of a personal nature and had been removed by the crew members as they left. 

I learned much more on this tour: the impressive power and range of 16 inch diameter barrel guns, the skill and expertise of the highly trained team who achieved a rapid 30 second load and fire sequence time, the impressive 33 knot top speed of the USS Iowa under full power even with a length comparable to Titanic but with a steel hull 18 inch thick at points, the decks skillfully crafted of exotic teak wood so as best to withstand the heat and humidity of the tropical Pacific. The designers, builders, and crew undoubtedly and deservedly took great pride in these facts. My husband will most likely remember and cite them readily and easily months from now. I may forget these facts, but I will remember images of military men taking time to honor and adorn the great and mighty ship on which they served.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Learning Experience

I had to do a bit of un-sewing on my Simple Gifts quilt. In the photo there is a double trail of needle size holes from two lines of parallel stitching I needed to remove. The trail extends from the side of the right loop of the bow, down the right side of the package, ending mid-way where the point of the seam ripper is. Why take out the stitiching? Was I being exceedingly fussy? No, the lines were fairly equidistant and pretty straight and quasi-parallel, actually a bit better than average on this quilt. Why then? Because I was exceedingly clutsy.

Here is the reverse side of the quilt. Apparently the upper corner of the quilt was flipped under as I merrily FMQ'd along on my HQSS sit down longarm. I should have heard the sound difference since I was now sewing through two tops, two battings and two backings; but, no, I was blissfully unaware. I was very focused on getting that ruler work just so. I am just lucky there was not more I needed to undo.

If (when) I was going to make a mistake(s), at least there were several redeeming features to this one. First, since the "accident" was near an edge, I could separate the two adjacent backing layers and slice very carefully at the stitches between them, kind of like the "skinning a quilt" technique. Second, I am glad I was brave enough to sew with a contrasting thread on the front. A contrasting thread color may show up errors more readily, but it also made it much easier to see when I needed to pick out those those errant threads. Third, my FMQ has improved enough that my stitches were not teeny tiny; they were a reasonable size to pick out.  This was vastly different from the 16 hours I spent picking out circles around dots in my son's birthday quilt last spring. My FMQ struggles with the Monkey Quilt can be seen in my post for May 14, 2014. My takeaway from this experience is that a good sign of improvement is not only if quilting begins to look better, but also if mistakes become fewer and easier to fix. Yay for goof ups! Small-ish ones that is.

While folks were off in Chicago for Sewtopia, I was off in Southern California celebrating the combined April birthdays of my son and his daughter. He turned 32 and she turned 1!  It looks my granddaughter is learning, too – about chocolate cupcakes. Mmmm, good!

Because of the fun time I had with them, I do not have more sewing to share for now, but I am sure the folks at this week's Freshly Pieced Works in Progress have lots. I am linking up there to check it out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Productivity Follows Inspiration

After my post yesterday about my visits to preview parties, HQ clubs, stores, and guild quilt shows, I spent the weekend and early part of this week being productive. My projects were not major ones, but I got a real sense of accomplishment at completing them while still making progress on my longer term goals.

First up was an apron panel I bought at the Country Store of the show of the Guild of Quilters of Contra Costa County. I think this may be the shortest residence time of any item in my stash - bought one day and sewn the next. I checked out the selvage and this fabric dates back to 2001. I wish the woman who donated it to her guild's show could see that it was put to good use after sitting in her stash for fourteen years or so.

The fabric is a loose weave, somewhat course, like a good linen dish towel. I am guessing it will be cool to wear and soften beautifully in the wash.

The front pocket is a really cute can of soup that is pattern-matched to disappear into the front of the apron. I am glad I took the time to change thread color from cream to red at the top corners to promote the camouflage effect. Look closely. There really is a pocket on there.

Here is the finished apron. Perhaps the woman who donated it will read my blog and feel pleased that her guild is $5 richer, that it was sold to such a grateful quilter, and that it did not linger in someone else's stash for another 1½ decades.

I also made up two grey whale burp cloths from some whale flannel I recently bought  and some striped flannel bought this week at the Cotton Patch specifically to go with it. As usual I made them up as a complementary pair, swapping the fabrics used on the back and edges. 

I really liked this stripe because it has the bright orange, turquoise, and blue I associate with Caribbean happiness, yet it has the perfect grey to go with the whales. I was having difficulty pairing something whimsical with the grey of the whales. Finding the right grey is not as easy as one would think.

My favorite accomplishment of the week was assembling not one, but two, tops for strip quilt kits that had been sitting in my stash for years. One of my 2015 goals is to reduce the quantity of pre-purchased kits in my stash accumulated from impulse bargain overbuying. Once I was on a roll and established a sewing and ironing rhythm, these went together like a dream in one evening and part of the next morning.

I may have overbought but I still think these fabrics are incredible playful and appealing. I am glad I did not refrain from buying these kits. I mean, who could resist the wide-open eyes on these barnyard buddies? The fabric line is Barnyard II by Blank Quilting circa 2009. Each strip is different and features cows, sheep, pigs, horses, or a combination of them plus this pastoral scene I show in the next photo.

By comparison, these next wild critters may seem somewhat shy and retiring scattered about in their soft color scheme, a far cry from the bold statement of the previous domestic animals. The manufacturer is Riley Blake and the designer is Doohikey Designs circa 2012. I do not know if there is an environment where hippos, owls, frogs, hedgehogs, toucans, and other bird species co-exist with mushrooms, stars, and trees printed with polka dots, stripes, and other graphics, but it sure would be an imaginative world to live in.

I am looking forward to practicing my FMQ on these two strip quilt tops with my HQ16. The top assemblies were super speedy. The strip widths were pre-cut, the sequence was pre-ordained and I elected not to tweak and vary anything, just press forward efficiently. My time invested in piecing was minimal so I welcome the opportunity to be experimental in my FMQ efforts. I fully intended to do some curvy continuous motion free-form pattern as a break from the strict straight line ruler work of my Simple Gifts quilt. I am going to try very, very, hard to avoid the temptation of quilting around every little, itty-bitty animal or leaf!

Even with these small projects, I continued to plug away and make progress on Simple Gifts. There are thirty blocks configured in six columns of five each. Two left columns have a lime green background, two middle columns have a red background, and two right columns have an aqua background. I am using green thread and started out on the two left columns where the thread matches. The two green columns are now complete. As I improve, I am moving on to the columns where the green thread will contrast. Here is a red block. My straight lines are not perfect but they are getting better. But this ruler work is s-l-o-o-o-w going.

When my bobbin ran out and I had to change it, I oiled the machine. After that, I quilted on a practice sandwich to make sure there was no excess oil and that I had rethreaded properly. Sheesh! What a relief and joy to swish that sandwich around in an unfettered, sweeping manner after meticulously slaving away on all that stitch in the ditch and parallel straight line work I have been carefully carving away at! I am pleased with my HQ16 purchase. It is luxury to be able take a break by switching back and forth between FMQing and piecing without fussing with a bunch of tension settings and dropping and raising feed dogs. I am happy I am the proud owner of both a sit-down long arm and my domestic Pfaff.

I am hooking up to see what are the works in progress of others this week at Freshly Pieced.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Quilty Week

Last Tuesday night I went to a Class Preview Party for In Between Stitches, my local shop. This quarter's event was an even more fun affair since Melissa, one of the two co-owners is expecting a baby the end of April. She elected not to know the gender so both pink and blue balloons abounded. The presenters wore pink or blue tops with an inflated balloons stuffed beneath in the appropriate position. When one of the presenter's balloons popped she cried out "Oh, no, my water broke!" to peals of laughter. The audience took sides cheering for their guess of gender. Note cards were passed out for all to add tidbits of advice to make the final month more bearable. There is an large paper mâché egg in the window of the shop and it will be marked with a crack when Melissa goes into labor. We were instructed to pass by and observe it as least twice daily this month.

But the evening was not total chaos. Many upcoming classes for quilts and techniques and friendship clubs were described with samples displayed around the perimeter of the community room of a local spa and retreat house.  I really like this framed nine-patch pattern. It is simple but the framing really sets it off and it has such a masculine feel to it. I am on the wait list for the pattern. I'd most likely be able to figured it out without the pattern but I feel that creativity should be rewarded and that the designer should be supported. Often these patterns that, on the surface, seem obvious, include a speed or streamlined assembly technique that surprises me and that I can add to my arsenal of tricks.

Thursday morning I went to a meeting of the HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen Club at the Cotton Patch classroom in Lafayette, about 30 miles northwest of me. The group of ten or so ladies was a delight and I learned so much in the exchange of tips and quilt handling and flow patterns for continuous motion FMQ. There is no charge for the club. The Cotton Patch is very generous with their customer support. The club was well worth it and I made some new friends. At the Cotton Patch store I bought an HQ ruler and some ruler grips. I have already tried out the adhesive grips on the VersaTool I am using for the straight line quilting on my Simple Gifts quilt in progress and they make a big difference. I bought the large Quilt and Sew Ruler because of a tip I learned in the class. Because fabric is soft and cushy, a flexible rule is better for marking quilt tops since it can conform to the surface. Some folks also mark on the top before it is sandwiched with the batting and backing so the surface is not so plush.

On my way home I stopped at Wooden Gate Quilts in Danville, a shop about 20 miles northwest of me. I struck up a lively conversation with a customer who is member of the Diablo Valley Quilters and will be attending one of their monthly meetings tomorrow night. Looks like there may be more quilting friendships in my future. I caved and bought 2 one-yard cuts of this cheddar colored house fabric that called to me from the clearance bin. I think with some gray or coral or white sashing it can be pressed into service as pretty quilt backing.

On Friday my husband and I took a car ride to a quaint part of Fremont called the Niles district about 17 miles southwest of us to just browse the antique stores there. I zotted in to a quilt store Color Me Quilts on the main street. There I bought this awesomely cute woodland animals fabric that called to me from the clearance rack. My, those clearance racks and bins have loud voices! It seems like I am drawn to yellow of late. This too would make a great quilt back. I can also see it as a large block or a strip quilt so the fabric is not cut up too much. It speaks "baby boy" to me.

I also got two fat quarters that seemed like they would be versatile. The orange is such a soft sherbet orange tint that the webs appear fluffy-soft and not spider-creepy. I liked the blue stripe for its potential as narrow framing for quilt blocks, run perpendicular to the side of the block.

Between my Tuesday preview party, my Thursday HQ16 club, the Thursday quilt store conversation, and the quilt store visit during our Friday outing, I'd heard multiple times about a guild's quilt show the upcoming weekend in Concord about 30 miles north of me. So my husband and I went to a quilt show on Saturday hosted by the Guild of Quilters of Contra Costa County. This show was great and very much to my taste. Sometimes if I go to very modern shows or very artsy shows I am impressed with the craftsmanship, but do not necessarily want the end item for my own home. Here are some images of quilts I particularly liked.

I thought the FMQ on this was just stunning. I liked the fan detail in the corners, the great space planing for the swirls, and the precise even loops in the border.

Here is a view of the entire quilt.

These free floating lanterns were so colorful and I liked the way their outline was repeated in the cream negative space.

This one may just have been my favorite. It has it all –  embroidery, Dear Jane blocks, piecing, curved piecing, applique, sit down long arm quilted feathers, domestic machine grid quilting, and Christmas.

This collection of Dear Jane blocks was impressive.

This quilt of leaves had a beautiful blend of applique and precision piecing and a gorgeous color palette.

In the Country Store associated with the show I bought a crocheted hat, a book on curved piecing, and this Campbell soup apron panel, all at great bargain prices. I thought the apron panel was just too darn cheerful to leave behind.

While I was in line waiting to pay at the guild's Country Store, my husband snuck back to the Thimble Creek vendor booth and bought the Sleepy Hollow pattern for me as a surprise. I'd been admiring it for several recent quilt shows we've attended but was reluctant to buy it because of the cost. It is not like I have a shortage of patterns at home, after all. He knew I was still struggling with my decision to pass it by once again. He wanted to put an end to my angst. What a guy!

Instead of the Halloween gray/orange color combination, my plan is to make a quilt for our bed in a palette that reminds me of seaside cottages - blues, sea foam greens, soft corals, sand -  to fit in with our beach themed bedroom. I would like to incorporate this sepia fabric from my stash either as a broad border, or backing to a quilt made from the Sleepy Hollow pattern.

Speaking of sleepy, even husbands of quilters have their limits. Frank is patiently waiting for me so we can leave. The show ended a very pleasant quilting immersion week for me and I came away from the experiences of the past several days renewed and inspired and feeling very welcomed and loved.