Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tips Learned from Practicing FMQ

The community outreach program in one of the guilds I belong to has an appealing approach to quilt donations. No one quilter makes a gift quilt from start to finish. Some members assemble quilt kits, some members piece, some members layer and pin, others quilt, and others bind. I like this process because I can rotate what I do and it prevents me from becoming too attached to any one quilt since I am invested in only a part of its making. I have been layering and pinning once a month and tried using the Kwik Klip to close pins. It saves the fingertips. But this month I took home a layered, pinned sandwich from guild to quilt at home on my sit down HQ-16. Normally I spray baste my quilts using 505, so this would be different for me. The pins were not onerous to remove, but after this experience I think I still slightly prefer the baste method especially for smallish quilts. Once I get stitchin' it is enough for me to concentrate on repositioning my hands without introducing stitch glitches much less removing those safety pins.

The fabric selections and piecing pattern of the outreach quilt were not my choices and so I would be really stretched to contemplate what FMQ patterns would work. Quilting it would give me practice with my FMQ and allow me to try out designs that I would like to learn but may not have an appropriate quilt on which to place them. On this top, I decided to try pebbles as free form. I also planned to try clamshells as ruler work since I do have that design in mind for a quilt of my own. The sashings ...? Well I would figure them out when I got to them. Here is what I learned, highlighted.

I am so glad I took the time to do this. I learned not to be afraid with random pebbles and how to vary their size to fit a space. I learned if I need to travel to fill in a space with a smaller circle it looks better to retrace a path along the arcs of the circles. I aimed to maintain the majority of the pebbles a consistent size by visualizing and repeating to myself "quarters, quarters, quarters" – the metal monetary kind, not the fat fabric quarters. I tried to concentrate on a tangential stitching path where the circles joined. I veered off these ideal goals often enough though, that my "mistakes" in the jungle print and beige and green block portion of the quilt look like design features – sort of.

Here are Leah Day's pebbles. Mine are not quite as tidy as hers but they are passable. In retrospect they do, in a way, fit in with a jungle stream bed type vibe. I think this pebble pattern is more forgiving than I initially anticipated. I will not be so timid to use it in the future. It does require a lot of path retracing and therefore more thread. I was not aware of that until this experiment.

The fabrics on the top are busy enough that my less-than-perfect attempts will be camouflaged. A bright yellow print with exotic birds hides a multitude of sins and it is so cheery to work on. I chose to place 3" clamshells in the narrower bands and 4" clamshells in the wider bands and used this multi-clamshell ruler from HandiQuilter.

For the clamshell ruler work, I learned how best to hold the ruler to prevent slippage. I'd put two fingers, one from each hand, up in the half circle portion of the clamshell ruler. Sandpaper grippers on the back surface of the ruler were a must to give just the right amount of grab. I also learned how to fudge the shape when the width or height did not happen to be a integral number of repeats. I'd pause my stitching at the peak of the half circle, where it is relatively flat, and then slide the ruler tangentially to either widen the clamshell or narrow it. Since the peak is so flat in terms of the direction of travel, these adjustments are barely noticeable. Horizontal spacing adjustments would show up more at the crevices in the valleys between the clamshells if I overlapped or left spaces between the arcs at these points. The following photo shows the 4" clamshells in the center portion of the quilt. Vertical adjustments perpendicular to the rows of clamshells were a bit trickier. For the most part, I must confess, I was just plain lucky here, although I did lower the ruler so the dome fell below a top edge of the clamshell quilted area by ~¼". Then I strayed a bit out from the arc on the ruler edge near the crevices so the points fell where I wanted them.

I did learn another valuable lesson. Those sandpaper grippers on the back are necessary to prevent ruler slippage on the fabric. But they scratched up the slippery overlay on Heidi's work table (my sit-down HQ-16) when I did clamshells near the edge and the ruler overhung the fabric. The situation is easily solved by having a fabric underneath the quilt top where the table surface is exposed beyond the edge of the quilt but for now I have to live with a bit of damage. Were I more experienced, I most likely would have felt the friction difference as I sewed. I pointed out the scratched arcs to my husband and he commented philosophically, "That shows you are finally using your machine!" I have been slow to become fearless with FMQ-ing. I will live with the scratches for a while and see if they cause any gliding or sliding obstructions or snag on the backing. So far I have not noticed any problems. I worked upward from the bottom of the quilt, where the table top was exposed to the Handi Grips, so I think if there were any issues, they would have arisen by now. A replacement HQ Sweet Sixteen Table Overlay would cost about $90 (plus tax and shipping). I could cover just this small portion with a 100% Teflon Supreme Slider.

I cannot blame the Handi Grips. I really like them since they are the few ones on the market that are clear when applied and do not interrupt the field of view looking through the ruler. A little goes a long way. I only apply a ¼" wide rectangle in a few strategic locations on the ruler back. I will just be more careful with their potency. This minor mishap also strengthens the recommended convention of assuring the backing and batting extend 4" to 6" beyond the quilting area. Sit-down longarms do not really need this much free border since there are no rollers to contend with; but here is a situation where that fabric buffer would have provided protection to my work surface.

For the sashing section out of dog bone fabric I initially considered just sewing parallel lines using my Pfaff with its even feed feature and the feed dogs engaged; but where would be the skill growth in that? Also, although easier if done on a domestic with auto-feed, straight lines might look out of place since nothing else on the top was straight stitching. In the dog bone section I began to practice what I nick name my ribbon candy undulations. They have rounded ends and a narrow mid-section like the contours of a bone.

A couple of uneven blips in my execution provided inspiration. If the loop end had a small central dip, the undulations began to resemble the ends of a dog bone. I was hooked on the look and proceeded with that variation. In the following photo, the top line of sashing is how I started out without the bone indentation. I also got better at my spacing and smoothness by the bottom row where the path is more half-bonelike.

I learned that the slant angle in traversing from bone end to bone end is important in maintaining the smooth flow and appearance. It is finally sinking. Practice all you want on paper before you stitch, but nothing can substitute for the fabric – how you hold it, how you angle it, how fast you move it.

This top is such a cacophony of colors and prints, that picking a binding fabric was a challenge. There was not quite enough of the backing fabric left – the birds among the curving branches against the  yellow backdrop – to make binding. I could have passed this stage on to another guild member but I wanted the satisfaction of finding a fabric for the binding that was more quirky than a safe solid would be. I found this stripe in my stash. Believe it or not, I think it has ALL the colors of this top, from the burgundy bones to the green jungle prints, from the jewel-toned exotic birds to the primary-colored domestics kitties.  It even has teeny tiny birdies on it and tropical huts. Serendipity. I added an ⅛" flange insert to give a bit of separation from the binding and the quilt edges. I auditioned a solid black but it seemed too harsh. The white dots on the black seem to soften the effect and reinforce the fact that this quilt does not take itself too seriously. Uncannily, there are also black stripes with white dots in them on the binding fabric. More serendipity. Nobody will probably notice these tiny details, but I get a real kick out of discovering them. It is like a reassurance that some things were just meant to be. The phrase "meant to be" reminds me of the chorus in the 1961 Elvis Presley song which is now running non-stop through my head. I Can't Help Falling in Love with You can be heard on YouTube. For me right now, "you" in the song refers to quilting.

Like the river flows, surely to the sea,
Darling so it goes, some things are meant to be
So take my hand, take my whole life, too.
For I can't help falling in love with you.

Here is the binding as seen on the quilt front. The flange insert provides a buffer that allows the binding to play well with the bright yellow bird print at the top and bottom edges as well as the burgundy bone print at the side edges. 

From the back of the quilt there is no black spotted flange. Gee, "black spotted flange" sounds like another species of animal, doesn't it? The binding holds it own and complements the backing fabric.
The clamshells at the top and bottom are the 3" size. I did not push them too near the top because I did not want to risk having them eclipsed by the binding.

I am not revealing the entire quilt, just these snippets, because, quite frankly, the quilt is not mine to share. Only my lessons learned and the reward of the FMQ experience were appropriate topics for my blog. Someone else will attach the guild label. Another person will present this "menagerie" quilt to its new owner. I couldn't help myself. I had to give it a temporary name. I hope whoever receives this quilt enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed experimenting on it and growing from it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pre-Thanksgiving Color and Stitchery

What are you thankful for at Thanksgiving? Many things of course. But for me, from the vantage point of my quilting world perspective, I need to add to that list the rich colors and textures of the holiday. I love pumpkins in many shapes and types and here is the variety I have on my hearth for tomorrow. From left to right there is the rough woven straw, the crisp plaid cotton fabric, the nubby cable knit, the gathered silky smooth velvet, and bright, slick, hammered copper.

My younger son Alex absolutely loves a lighted tree so yesterday I assembled our 6' tall pre-lit Walmart tree and placed just a few gold ornaments on it to represent the tones of Thanksgiving. Last year was the first time we did not have a freshly cut live tree and I was a bit wistful that purchasing an artificial tree would signal us letting go of a "real" tree tradition. However, being able to erect this tree in less than 30 minutes, when the inspiration struck me, has a lot of benefits. Alex can double his holiday enjoyment. Alex is a special needs adult, but one of the perks of his situation is that he continues to enjoy typical childlike pleasures. (You can see Alex enjoying his birthday quilt in my post for May 26, 2014.) I do not want to rush Christmas, so I will wait to add the red and other bright ornaments later, in a week or so. For now, we have lights and golden hues for Thanksgiving.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, I enjoy setting a pretty table more than I enjoy the cooking part of things – and much, much, more than dealing with the cleanup and all those turkey leftovers. Here are some plates I bought at T.J.Maxx several years ago. The pattern is Royal Turkey by Maxcera but I did not know that was anything special at the time. I just liked them with their scrolls and ripply edges and bright orange-reds. I love that although there is a turkey, the colors are not just browns. The painted fruits brighten up the plates, too, as if that striking border were not enough!

The burgundy tablecloth underneath that plate was also a discount store find many years ago, but this is the first time I have used it.The quilters out there may enjoy the embroidered and appliquéd leaves at the edges and corners. Those leaves are what attracted me to it when I bought it. The low price for such detail was a pretty good incentive, also.

Since there will be only four of us tomorrow at a table big enough for six or eight, I draped a table runner crosswise at one end. I'd picked up the leaves runner at an antique store. Again I was drawn in by appreciation for the stitchery. Those tea light holders shaped like leaves were a random find at a dollar store. My son will have a blast blowing out the tea lights and having us relight them repeatedly for him. It is gratifying to watch that such a small thing gives him such great pleasure.

I love dragging bits of items from my closets, collected a various random times, and putting them together in a fun way. After gathering it all together, this is what the table will look like, pre-food. Tomorrow I will add a few red carnations in the individual mini-vases or tuck them  in with the gold utensils at each place. Those mini-vases hold pumpkins, leaves, and candy corn stick decorations within.

Shortly after taking a quilting class in fall 2014 at Alden Lane's Quilting in the Garden I bought those stick decorations at their Christmas shop. The whimsical candy corns make me smile. The pumpkins may have faces on them making them Jack O'Lanterns but I still think they add to the ambience and friendly tone of the Thanksgiving table.

My son's mini-vase is customized more to his taste. Those Tootsie Rolls pops remain true to the red, orange, and brown color scheme.

There is no food yet, but our dog Daphne is practicing for her food coma tomorrow.

Hopefully there will be moderation for us, and not a food coma. This is the first time ever that for a Thanksgiving at home, I will not be cooking. We are buying a holiday feast from a local restaurant. A single adult friend will be joining my husband and son and me. Not cooking gave me time to do this fussy table decor stuff that I love.

I am thankful that tomorrow promises to be a low-key day for us to relax and count our blessings; catch the Macy's Day parade on TV... watch a little football... blow out a few candles... do a jigsaw puzzle. I am blogging today instead of frantically baking. Whooo, knows? Maybe we will do it again this way next year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Easy Sewing but Challenging Cutting

In my previous post I was berating my lack of self discipline because I started to sew before cutting out all the pieces from my Poppy Bella Bird kit from the Fat Quarter Shop. In retrospect though, I am glad I intermingled the fussy cutting with the straightforward sewing. I got to enjoy tweaking and twiddling those branches of the tree print to fit in the center of block. I was pleased that I managed to sneak in a little bird on several of the tree branch blocks.

In placing the blocks on the design wall as I constructed them, I discovered that the blocks with the horizontal centers are offset vertically as they march across the row. I liked that this up and down meandering adds yet a bit more whimsy and sprinkling of visual interest. This deceptively simple (and free) pattern keeps surprising me. I like it. I may do it again with other large scale and directional fabrics.

The mini-print with the little birds though, titled Tipu, kept playing tricks on me. Since some block centers are landscape-oriented and some block centers are portrait-oriented, cutting out the framing rectangles from the tipu print is not a straightforward as one might think. In retrospect I should have slipped into dressmaker mode and marked pieces as either cross grain or with the grain and how many of each. That is how 20-20 hindsight works.

The pattern instructions were not exceedingly helpful by stating "This fabric is directional so arrange the templates the way you want the birds." Go figure.

I'd procrastinated on cutting rectangles B, C, D, and E from the diagonal mini-print because I wanted to be correct on the orientation of each. As it turned out, careful as I was, I cut one of the five sets incorrectly anyway - the birds were sideways because I erred in the center orientation - vertical versus horizontal - on one of the five blocks. Luckily, I was able to cut a correctly oriented B out of sideways E and a correctly oriented D out of a sideways C, having only to re-cut a new C and a new E. Fortunately I had enough fabric to re-cut one C, and one E.

But those tipus were not through messing with me yet. One block with a birdie border has a grey beads center. I call them beads but I have also seen this print called Pebbles or Beaded Chain. I was quite proud of my method to have the tilt of the grey beads echo the line of the mini-print. I laid the tipu print over the bead print and made sure the tilt angles were the same. Then by placing the template on top, I knew how to orient cutting out the center section A.

The alignment was spot on. I did a very good job if I do say so myself.

But I did the wrong thing the right way. Pride cometh before a fall. When I stood back and looked at the block and how it played with the other blocks it was off ... way off. The rows of beads seemed to jar my eye because they climbed too steeply. They should have been in concert with the 45° diagonal of the quilt layout as a whole and not with the angle of the orange birdies in the mini-print. I had to re-cut the center of the upper rightmost block. The pattern instructions had said only to "Cut so the stripes are going diagonal"  but had not been specific as to what angle. I did not assume diagonal was a true bias, as perhaps I should have.

On my second attempt, I aligned those rows of beads with the 45° lines on the cutting mat and bottom edge of the block center along the horizontal. The pattern instructions only said to cut that central section at an angle but was non-specific as to what angle. I ripped out those four seams but I was able to use the tipu pieces again. Yes, they are the same ones I had to re-cut due to the wrong orientation.

I reframed the final block with the tipu print corrected oriented and the beaded center correctly tilted. It was much more eye-pleasing to me especially after I'd assembled the twenty blocks of the quilt. I admit the difference in that upper right block is not all that obvious in the comparison photo; but leaving it the way I had it originally would have really bothered me.

How could something so tiny and cute - those little "tipus" - have caused so much mischief? I looked up the word tipu in the wiktionary and it is defined as

The tipu on the fabric reminded me of the little sandpipers I see scurrying along the seashore. This little chick does not have a reputation for being particularly impish. My "oops" were all of my own doing. I did learn though, that the etymology of the word is Finnish which should come as no surprise. The fabric designer, Lotta Jansdotter, was born in Åland a small group of islands in the archipelago between Sweden and Finland.

Now I need to decide on a backing fabric. I prefer my quilt backs to be of one fabric to the extent that I can. I also like for them to be a surprise on the reverse side of a quilt and not necessarily come from the same fabric line as the front. To that effect I keep my eye out for end of bolt and 50% off fabrics that I can use as backings. Sometimes I have a candidate that works, but often I do not. Does this mean I should stop buying sale and clearance fabric on speculation as potential backing? Or does it mean that I should buy more so that my chances of getting a match are greater? Those were rhetorical questions. I think I will most likely rationalize a reason to buy the fabric no matter what the laws of probability advise me to do. Buying is an illogical, emotional response .

Here is a fabric I am considering for the back – only considering at this point.  It is indeed pink, not orange, but the greys and whites are the same tonality and it has the same level of graphic impact. It also has birds like the front. Do I venture outside my comfort zone? This choice would certainly be playful and unexpected. Halloween has just passed. Would this be a treat or a trick? I have two yards and could save it for a dress for a granddaughter but frankly I think the scale is too big for a little girl size piece of apparel.

The alternatives for a backing are finding a grey (may be too dull and boring), or an orange (may be very bright), or a white (definitely is pretty impractical). The binding fabric is decided. It is the deep charcoal dots and it would go with both the Jansdotter fabrics and the pink bird print. Here is how the pink bird graphic, the pieced top, and the charcoal dot binding would play together. I have to sleep on this one before I decide and commit. I also need to come up with a name for the quilt.

I'd titled this post Easy Sewing but Challenging Cutting. The cutting was all straight lines but was only challenging because I'd used stripes and directional prints. But that is what leads to the charm of this top. Maybe I am a glutton for punishment but I want to make this free pattern by Jean Katherine Smith again with another combination of stripes and large scale focus fabrics. It has very few seams to match and a big impact. As simple as it was, it also made me think... which is a good thing!  For now I am linking up to this week's Freshly Pieced's Works In Progress. I see she has a post about knitting. Funny, how at this time of year that is where my yen is drifting also.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Caving in and Starting Something New

Aah! I am back quilting in my sewing room again after what seemed like a long absence. I have two sandwiched quilts of my own to FMQ and one I promised to do for a community outreach project, but I wanted to start something new. So I did. A while back I'd bought a kit from the Fat Quarter Shop to make a quilt out of Lotta Jansdotter's fabric line from Windham Fabrics called the Bella Collection. Here are the fabrics that came in that kit.

At the time, I thought I wanted to make the quilt in a blue palette rather than an orange one, and so I bought fabrics to substitute out in the kit. Here is the blue colorway. I probably bought the kit on sale in a weak moment. Any money I may have saved on the "sale" kit was re-invested into the blue fabrics. I do not know what I was thinking about with that weird mustardy gold dot. Maybe I just intended it for another project in the future. It is quite a unique color so I am sure I will find someplace that it absolutely has to go to complete the look but certainly not in this quilt.

The pattern came in the kit from the Fat Quarter Shop. I was not aware of it at the time, but a pdf of the pattern itself is a free download from Windham Fabrics. It is titled Bella's Bird and the kit colorway was dubbed poppy.

The construction of this top is very straight forward, just uneven log cabin type blocks with all straight seaming and rectangular pieces. What lends interest to this top is the directionality in which the fabrics, particularly the quasi-stripes, are cut. Looking back at the fabrics from the kit, four of the nine behave as stripes. Two of the fabrics, the branches and the itty-bitty birdies, are directional. Although I cut everything with a rotary cutter and ruler without any templates, I found it useful to make myself to-scale pieces of paper to track what I was cutting. I was careful to put the direction of writing on the pieces in the direction each will go into the quilt.

Then, as I cut out the pieces, I stacked them under the associated size "template".

I decided to go with the orange colorway after all, instead of the blue. The blue leaned a bit toward teal and I am a bit more of a true-blue rather than turquoise-esque kinda gal in my decor. Besides, orange was on my brain from Halloween and we'd just bought this piece of wall art. I think the grey tones and bold orange accent will coordinate with the quilt. Maybe birds do not make you think of streetcars but they are related. Think of city streets. Think of downtown San Francisco or New York. Think of pigeons. Stop thinking about what pigeons leave behind! Do not go there - it will sully my vision.

This itty-bitty birdie fabric, called Tipu, is printed on the diagonal so I am pausing in writing this post and scratching my head a bit to get the orientation correct. Note this fabric is three years old; printed in the selvage is © 2012. I rationalized that it was OK to start a new project because one of my 2015 quilting resolutions was to complete kits I have in my stash.

I wanted to see how those bold grey dots and orange leaves (on the left) looked worked up as block centers so I put off fussy cutting the little birdies and elegant tree branch fabrics (on the right). Prints on the diagonal always have me exercising a few more brain cells to get the orientation just as I want it. I will cut those when I am fresher.

The bold grey dots and orange leaves, really drifted as they were printed. Across the width of the fabric, the double row of orange leaves meandered down to the level of the double row of grey dots. I had to cut each center block individually if I wanted fairly consistent centers.

My "templates" and already cut centers came in handy in deciding where to place rectangle to cut out. In order to get eight centers, I wound up cutting four strips parallel to the selvage.

Then I could shift my template up or down along that strip to quasi-center a row of orange leaves for either a vertical rectangle or a horizontal rectangle. It is a good thing that the Fat Quarter Shop is generous in putting together their kit fabrics. I had a bit more than the pattern called for, and so I could be flexible.

I usually do all my cutting out at once, and then sew assembly-line style. When I don't, I am often annoyed with myself that I have to stop the momentum of sewing to cut out more. This self- knowledge does little to change my actions, though. I guess I have no self-discipline whatsoever. Sigh. I will be a bit put out when I go to continue sewing tomorrow or the next day and have to cut out first. Here are four blocks I have sewn up because I was too impatient to complete my cutting out. The orange leaves still have a free-form wandering feel but they are pretty much centered in the block. The other four blocks will have two other framing fabrics.

My lack of self-discipline also extends to completing some home decor items hovering on my to do list. Double sigh. So I am blogging instead, and linking up to this week's WIP at Freshly Pieced. I often like to quote Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind, "I'll think about it tomorrow." Today I had fun playing hooky and working on what I wanted to.