Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sewing with my Sister

My sister was out from North Carolina, visiting me in California for just over a week. Of course we did sewing stuff. We visited and bought fabric at the American Jane Fabrics Open House Friday 8/26/16. On the following Monday we went through my stash and pulled some fabric combinations to make pillowcases for her grandkids. My sister made these three pillowcases. The one on the left and the one in the center were from fabrics in my stash. The one on the right is from fabrics my sister brought with her. Seeing these three completed projects side by side prompted a discussion of the different fabric requirements when selecting directional fabric for pillowcases. Depending on the cross-grain or along-the-grain orientation of the print, the main body of the pillowcase requires ¾ yard or 1¼ yards of fabric. The cats and bicycles needed 1¼ yards each. The hot air balloons needed ¾ yard.

My sister had brought with her the hot air balloon fabric along with the arching turquoise material for the band and the orange pin dot material for the accent flange. She oriented the hot air balloons to rise above the turquoise "clouds" in the band beneath.  She planned to assemble the pillowcase while visiting.

The mauve and black mini-print band on the cat print pillowcase is an odd color that seemed to pick up the purplish tones of the kitty print; the rust accent strip brought out their eyes and the insides of their ears.

The stripes on the band she coordinated with the bicycle print was fortuitously the same combination of hues as in the bicycles. The same was true of the purple paint speckled insert flange. It was invigorating to rearrange my stash and find new fabric combinations containing color coordinates as yet undiscovered. The granddaughter who is to get this pillowcase has just gotten a new bike.

During her selection process, I had fabrics scattered over counter tops and beds and pretty much all horizontal surfaces inside and within about a 20 foot perimeter of my sewing room. Not all of it was selection focused; most of it was just showing her what I had so we could ogle it together. I did not think to take pictures of the mess. Instead I took the opportunity to organize, label, and refold most of it while she was sewing. It is ironic but I just realized that we used none of the fabric purchased just three days earlier. I like to imagine fabric to be like fine wine; it needs to ripen on the shelf before use. Here is my yardage sorted by length and neatly piled.

There is still more fabric in other places. My fat quarters and my half-yard lengths are in two twelve-drawer kitchen units from Ikea. I have some one yard pieces and extra long lengths on my sewing machine cabinet. Above the cabinet is a decorative chalet-shaped shelving unit my husband built the first year we were married, over forty years ago. It stored my collection of owls then and was called the "Hoot House". Its color scheme and what it holds has changed over the years from owls to mini-houses, and now to quilting notebooks and fat quarter bundles I still can not bear to break up just yet. I think I need more shelving. Another interpretation could be I need less fabric.

While she was here, my sister tried out some free motion quilting on my HQ-16 sit-down longarm. We had a blast giggling about her first squiggles using the machine for the first time. I think she became hooked though, and practiced different designs over and over. She was a quick study and I think if the visit had been longer, she would have been FMQing circles around me in no time.

Maxine just left to go back home today. We had a lot of fun together during her visit. I will miss having her here. To lift my spirits I will visit Let's Bee Social #140.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Purchases at American Jane Open House

Yesterday I went to an American Jane fabric Open House with my sister and a quilter friend. We had a blast and spent about two hours there. The Open Houses are held quarterly and the last time I went to one of these was in June. Whenever I go fabric shopping, I catalog my purchases to share with my daughter. This is my requisite post..

I stocked up on the basic blenders designed by Sandy Klop that I love. I reach for her versatile designs quite often. I am currently using her blue checks in my Whirligigs in progress and so picked up some to backfill in my stash. I had used up my brown Pezzy print in a seaside themed pillowcase August 17 and my orange Pezzy print in my orange and grey quilt August 10 and so replenished them as well.  Every time I see a striped fabric I pick it up for future use as well and I liked these three bold ones in green, yellow, and blue. Each of these cuts was ½ yard.

I also bought a stack of ½ yard cuts of teeny tiny mini grid in navy, red, yellow, light blue, pink and green.

I bought ½ yard each of these 4-in-1 fabrics in both orange and green. I love that each has two dot sizes and two check sizes within one width of fabric.  The fabric is folded along the cross grain to show all four print options within one length of yardage. The cute narrow tape measure dividers are a fun bonus.

One yard of this alphabet fabric offers all the letters of the alphabet both in upper and lower case. There are two capital A's and ten small a's. My guess is that the quantity of each of the other letters was decided by their average frequency of use because the count varies among the letters.

My impulse purchase that I have no particular plan for was a set of one dozen strips in this lovely turquoisey-teal blend. I have been wanting to try out this basket pattern from Aunties Two I'd bought while in Oklahoma, so this may be a good candidate with a few additions from my stash.

I also bought ½ yard of this connect the dots fabric - just for fun - to incorporate as a few scattered squares in a child's quilt.

My sister sews but she does not quilt. Her purchases were mostly in 1¼ to 1½ lengths, oriented toward grandchildren clothing. This daisy fabric is destined for sundresses with yellow trim for two granddaughters.

The connect the dot prints is for a grandson who is hooked on the past time.

The fun part of shopping with others is seeing what they buy and then oohing and aahing over their choices. The somewhat disadvantageous part of shopping with friends and family is that you each finish shopping at slightly different times and then check out separately. "Don't rush," we say to each other. "I will just look around a bit more."  The result is that each of us made multiple trips to the register, finding more must-haves while waiting. On my third and final trip to the register I caved and bought a kit. A sample had been made up and it was gorgeous. It was a Dresden plate pattern all in blues and both my sister and my friend agreed it would match my living room couch perfectly.  The photo does not really do the colors justice. I hesitated in its purchase only because I really and honestly could not remember if it would be my second and final kit of 2016 or if I had already reached my self-appointed quota of two only. Alas, when I came home and referred to the kit count on my blog, I was reminded it was indeed my third kit of the year and I had broken my promise to myself. Guess I better sew it up quick so the evidence is gone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Surprisingly Multipurpose Tool

Some finicky threads, metallics for example, do not like to have an extra twist introduced into them when un-spooling. A couple months ago, I was using a variegated cotton thread and I have heard that sometimes, because of the variations introduced by the different colors of the dye, variegated threads can also be a bit more prone to breakage. Since my spool was a straight-wound, I felt it should be dispensed from the side, not from the top, as cross-wound cones are. Superior Threads has a great discussion on this topic at

I bought a horizontal thread spool holder for my HQ16 Heidi so I would be prepared and ward off any breakage issues. When not in use, the holder can be pivoted up and out of the way so it does not interfere with the thread path spooling off from the top of the more conventional vertical spindle. It worked very well for its designed use.

When I was working on a later project FMQ-ing my orange and gray quilt, every time I got up from the machine I would lose one of my tools – be it my thread clips, my ruler, or very often one or both of my gloves – I would invariably spend precious quilting time searching. Sigh. Often I feel I spend as much time looking for stuff as I do quilting. This time (one of many) I could not find one of my gloves. I looked here and there. I looked high and low. Looking low finally paid off. I found my globe clinging to one of the legs of my chair.

Then I had an idea. I found an alternate use for that horizontal thread holder. When pivoted vertically, it made the perfect perch for my gloves. I would take them off, turn the cuff of one over the cuff of the other, and place them over the thread post. Perfect.

Note directly in front of the gloves, I also found the perfect location for my thread clips. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Some tools are more versatile than you realize. It is always a good feeling to be able to multipurpose something you just bought. Now where did that ruler go... ? It is probably hiding within the folds of the quilt. I had it just a minute ago... Oh well. Guess I will go be social at Let's Bee Social #139.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pillowcase Talk

After I complete a long-term project I like to do a short, quickly completed item for instant gratification. I sewed up a pair of sepia toned pillowcases. The soft subdued hues were an about face from the bright orange and large graphic fabric of the quilt I just completed in my previous post. My favorite part about making pillowcases is selecting the three fabrics.

I am in love with the postcards print focal fabric. It is by British artist Faye Whittaker for Elizabeth's Studio. This postcard print was one of my finds in search of her seaside fabrics for a master bedroom update. I love the fabric designs of Elizabeth's Studio but can usually only get yardage at quilt and craft shows. I spoke with a vendor and learned that the supplier requires a large minimum amount of purchase so is prohibitive for small local shops to carry. I bought 4 yards of this as a discontinued design on eBay - not enough for curtains but enough for two king-size pillowcases with 1¾ yards leftover. A closeup reveals checks, stars, stripes, and geometric borders all gathered informally and whimsically. The images of the children are so adorable. Seeing them from the back view only gives a sense of undisturbed intimacy - almost in a "fly-on-the-wall" kind of sense.

The pillowcase band is made from Sandy Klop's Pezzy Print. It is strongly graphic but used in just the right dosage I find this line of hers to be very versatile. I have it is a whole array of colors. The accent band is a funky itty bitty wavy stripe by Becky & Me fabrics. I had only a fat quarter but two strips off that can easily be pieced for an accent band if you do not have a strip the whole width of fabric. I especially enjoy combining fabrics not from the same coordinated fabric line.

Here is one of the completed pillows. Looks like all that is missing from being at the beach is sand between the sheets. I used the assembly method where the side seam is sewn and then the contrast band is topstitched on as the final step, rather than a method where a sandwich of all three parts, body, band and accent are sewn first and the side seam of the pillowcase is sewn last. For those interested, I compare these two methods in my post for April 1, 2015 titled PillowcaseMethods...

When making a pair of pillowcases out of a directional fabric, note there is a handedness to the them. Since I want the print to be upright and the band to be toward the outer edge of the mattress, I needed to be aware of whether I added the band to the left or the right side of the focal print.

My husband looked at my accomplishment and wisecracked, "Hmm... looks like we need some new pillows." He is so right. I had not noticed until he pointed it out. They are quite bumpy and lumpy having been agitated in the washer and fluffed in the dryer many, many, countless times. I consider myself quite organized and write the month and year of purchase on the label of our pillows. Then I ignore it! Dare I admit it? These said Nov '07. Perhaps I've been giving the good ones to the guests...? For now I will go check out Let's Bee Social #138 and then I am off to the store to buy NEW pillows.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Orange and Grey Completion

When I left off in my previous post I was trying to decide the FMQ pattern for my charcoal dotted fabric, orange weave fabric, and grey large scale floral fabric. I wanted the charcoal dotted fabric to receded into the background when used as a block frame. The dominant opinion of other quilters was to do pebbles on the charcoal fabric. Two suggestions were to play with the size of the pebbles or perhaps experiment with the thread color.

I tentatively agreed but knew I was terrible at pebbling, even more wary of doing it in a contrasting thread. I practiced pebbles of different sizes and came to the conclusion that circles a bit smaller than the size of the ½" hopper foot would be a good scale. I auditioned a charcoal grey thread, a variegated grey thread, and white thread. White was what I had used throughout the rest of the top. My charcoal grey was too steely blue. The white would look like scribbles. The variegated had a decent chance of being tolerable and hiding flaws. This viewpoint was not a convincing one to entice me to do pebbles.

I slept on it and then I had an inspiration. Why was I trying to repeat of pattern of the dots if I wanted them to recede? Maybe I should echo the flowing form of tree branches. I liked that idea. I did not practice and went ahead and did it before I changed my mind. When it is right you just feel it. I very often overanalyze, but this time I went with my gut. Besides I had been itching to use that new ruler I'd bought. I stayed with white thread. I would have had to test that grey variegated one and I wanted to just charge ahead. Frankly, I was sick of thinking about it.

I used the shallow waveform side of a Handiquilter Ruler Wave C.  I purposely did not center the waveform on the block side in order to get that swirl sensation and I shifted the ruler at right angles to the curve to get parallel curves about ¼" apart. The ruler is 8" long and my blocks are 10" square. I stopped it at each seam. That way, only on the longest of the four sides, did I need to shift the ruler along the curve to extend the stitching line to 10". I also learned from my struggles with the birdie mini print border. This time I consistently held the ruler horizontal and stitched above it. Since I always started at the inner edge of the block frame and worked toward the outer edge, it made sense. I maintained the ruler in the same orientation relative to my hopper foot.  When I did a different side, I rotated the quilt 90°. I did not try to use the ruler sideways or upside down without rotating the quilt.

The same wavy framing enhances a landscape format tree as well as a portrait format tree. It echoes the undulating branches and ignores the spots. I think it gives the effect of sweeping winds in a snowstorm.

The wavy lines do show up as texture on the back as well.

For the large grey floral print, I experimented to see what I would get with outline quilting. I echoed each flower, then echoed it again, and again, and again until I had these interesting little pond-like ripples of FMQ with flowers puffing up as islands among them. If the flowers were the large ones, I spiral stitched in their white center. If the flowers were small, I left the centers unstitched so the flower would free to puff up without restraint. On the outer orange weave framing, I looped back and forth like a ribbon stitch at about 1/4" or less spacing. It barely shows but the texture is great. It really feels like a basket.

That basket weave  FMQ shows up more than just texture on the back where it is against the orange polka dot. This frame is around one of the tulip and ball centered blocks. 

There were four blocks remaining and these had the birdie border and just a big blob of that blender type orange weave in the center – not a great focal point like the trees or flowers or beads or tulips or balls. Someone suggested I FMQ in a contrasting grey thread. I really liked that idea and left a local HQ16 club meeting thinking that is what I would do. A friend suggested stitching a flower shape like was in the large floral print. I liked that idea too and searched through my brain for how I would copy it and mark it on the quilt top. Then I had second thoughts. Would grey thread look weird since everywhere else was white? Would it be a big effort and then not show up? 

Aha! I had a light bulb moment. I had some scraps. I would appliqué one of those flowers or perhaps some of those grey beads or balls on the orange weave centers. But would appliqué be in keeping with the modern clean lines of this quilt? Probably yes if I kept it simple. I told my husband my plan. He said bluntly, "But you hate appliqué!" And he is absolutely right. I love the look, but dread doing it, and so I generally keep it to a minimum. I was fast approaching the point where I was ready to have the quilt finished and hardly wanted to take on a technique that ranked pretty low on my fondness level. 

So I decided to adapt a texturing FMQ technique I had seen in the 2015 opportunity quilt  of the Diablo Valley Quilters' guild. By densely quilting alternate squares, a checkerboard-like image emerges in the background.

I did the same thing in my central woven blocks. I divided the rectangle into three by four smaller areas and then densely ribbon stitched in alternate ones. I aligned the stitch direction with the longer length of the rectangular center. The following photo shows a block that has been already quilted. The stitching lines are barely visible I hinted where they are with the blue lines on three of the six quilted squares. Use your imagination or zoom in on your computer to see the other three.

But the overall effect is like one of those pin image relief games or displays in a museum.

Can you see the bulges in these orange weave blocks where there is no quilting? The flower puffs are also visible in blocks where that fabric is a frame.

Throughout the FMQ on this quilt I have been a bit disappointed that the quilting has not shown up. Several friends with good ideas had suggestions. I like using bamboo batting because of its drape. Perhaps using a double layer of batting would give it more loft? It is too late now, but perhaps using a second layer of batting, only in the inner rectangles kind of like trapunto, would have given me more of the effect I wanted. Then we discussed thread. I typically use Essential Thread by Connecting Threads, a relatively inexpensive but very serviceable cotton thread. I have been very happy with it. It does not cause excess lint in my HQ16 and it does not break readily. When I started this quilt I was out of white thread. Yes. I know. How can a quilter be out of white thread? I found a spool of white thread by Aurofil amongst samples I had acquired from various shows, shops, etc. I had heard the brand name and that it is pricey but supposed to be very good. There was nothing wrong with this thread but I failed to notice – rather let's be frank –  I failed to look at the thread weight. It was  Aurofil's 50 weight 2 ply thread. The manufacture on its website described the best machine quilting use for this thread as follows:

Use for very detailed machine quilting with a lot of back tracking such as feathers and heavy background quilting. Perfect for quilting that creates texture when you don’t necessarily want to see the quilting lines. Use the same thread in the bobbin and a Sharp/Microtex, quilting or even denim needles 80/12.

The thread had performed exactly as advertised. I had just identified another major area to grow and learn in my quilting experience. Beside batting, thread selection is another set of data to record for my quilts. I need to record the thread so I can learn what to use to get the effect I want. I did not remember until I was looking for thread to attach my binding that I remembered I had been out of white and had substituted for my normal Essential Thread, a 50 weight 3-ply cotton thread. It is double mercerized which gives it a satin lustrous finish. Could that third ply or satin-like finish have made the difference in visibility? Hmmm... that is another factor for me to consider in the future.

All that was left to do was labels and binding. I made my traditional grosgrain ribbon labels, one with the quilt name and one with my name and year and placed one on each lower corner of the back. I do wish I had thought up a more clever name for this quilt. But I didn't. So here it is. Orange and Grey. Ho-hum but concise.

The entire back of the quilt looks like its name – orange and grey.

I'd bound the quilt with ⅜" binding in the charcoal grey dot fabric. Here is the completed quilt from the front. It measures 40" x 50".  It has not been washed yet but after understanding a bit more about the characteristics of the thread I used, I do not hold out much hope that it will puff up. Oh, well. Live and learn.

A closeup of the center six blocks does reveal some three-dimensionality. I am not sure quite why, but I have a special fondness for the frames on the blocks bordered with the tiny bird print - maybe because they have texture and its pattern does show up. The orange weave and the charcoal dots you have to feel to appreciate. They are tactiley pleasing but did not turn out like "flexible cardboard", a description coined by my daughter. I think my favorite blocks though, are the trees. If I get inspired I can always go back and FMQ densely behind the tulips, balls, and leaves, with more of the 50 weight 2 ply Aurofil cotton. I could fill in the white of the stripes so they stand our more, also. But for now I am counting this as a completion!

I've listed the past posts that document the creation of this quilt.

November 4, 2015         Caving In and Starting Something New
November 11, 2015       Easy Sewing but Challenging Cutting
July 27, 2016                 Resurrection of the Orange and Grey
August 3, 2016              FMQ-ing the Orange and Grey
August 10, 2016            Orange and Grey Completion (this post)

Now I will join up to Let's Bee Social #137 and revel in my finish.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FMQ-ing the Orange and Grey

In my previous post for July 27, I'd begun to plan the FMQ on my Orange and Grey quilt. I pretty much stuck with as much of the plan as I had settled on. I outline quilted the central portions of each block echoing the large scale patterns of trees, leaves and spheres. For those blocks with a striped frame, I paralleled the line direction outward.

I was undecided on how to do blocks framed with the birdie fabric. I chose parallel lines alternately spaced either ¼" or ¾" apart. Sounds simple enough but on four out of five of these blocks I managed to mess up the spacing on at least one side. Look at the top right band. The spacing is ¼", ½", ¼".

Here is the framing corrected to ¼", ¾", ¼". Since overall texture is the goal, the difference does stand out from a distance even if up close the measurements look similar. The ¾" is pretty much the birdie height and so complements the print. I am pretty sure those few residual perforation marks from the picked out stitches will steam out.

Why did I keep messing up? I finally figured it out – I think. The ruler has alternating solid and dashed lines. Since I was using white thread and my stitch length was about the size of the dashes, I kept mistaking a stitching line with a ruler guideline. Once I recognized this confusion and knew to watch for it, I did better. Also another help was that I gave myself permission to turn the quilt instead of trying to sew up-down and also left-right.  I could then stitch on a consistent side of the ruler, working my way from the inner seam edge of the frame to the outer perimeter. My poor brain could not handle sewing above or below or to the left or the right of the ruler, along with deciding the correct guideline to align.

For comparison, the incorrectly sewn frame is on the left, and the correctly spaced one is on the right.

Here is completed block done consistently and "correctly".  Having alternating channel widths lends textural interest. I reminds me of a flat fell seam on jeans  – without the seam and without the jeans.

It is hard to see the quilting lines in the next photo, even though I tried to take it at a steep light angle. My husband wonders why I fuss so much on what he says you cannot see. He has learned my lingo though. "Maybe it will puff up after it is washed," he concedes to please me. I learned that if I concentrated on going just outside the line I am following, by maybe an ⅛" or so, slight wobbles and glitches are not as visible and there is more room for the colored portion to pop out from the white background. And, yes, thank goodness my quilting is better than my drawing.

Next up I have to pick a quilting pattern for the orange mega-weave print and the charcoal dots. I have auditioned quite a few options but have yet to downselect. I think the quilting on those fabrics should have a closer stitch density since they are not very interesting just on their own. I want them to recede around the central rectangle. I did try out a feather on the dots and it really does not show up. Here are some other choices. A meander, show on the top and right side, just might do the trick, but the loops on the bottom side I think fall short of the effect I want.

It is relatively simple but I like these ribbon lines. I just wonder if it is too much like the other frames with stripes.

I do think this gentle wavy line with sporadic leaves is appealing. I suspect though, like the feather I tried, it just won't show up. Anything is visible with that bold red marker, but with a fine line of white thread...? That is another story.

I am leaning toward the meander amongst the dots, dense enough to cause the frame to recede. Aah, more decisions. That is indeed a difficult part of FMQ for me. I will now visit Let's Bee Social #136 and see if others have their two cents to add.