Thursday, April 20, 2017

Outside my Comfort Zone

I repeatedly hear that you have to work outside your comfort zone to grow. I bought a Kaffe Fassett kit titled Hedge Maze on sale from Craftsy because I wanted to experiment with combining cacophonous fabric prints. Plus I also love blue. Plus it was 50% off. The first thing that I got comfortable with was the pronunciation of the designer's name. I learned from an online episode of Alex Anderson's The Quilt Show that his name rhymes with "safe asset". That is where my comfort ended for quite a while.

Each fabric in the kit was undeniably gorgeous. True, there were a couple not too much to my taste. Frankly, (H) was a bit too khaki colored for my pure-tone bent and (A) seemed very much like an old lady's floral, like the chintz she would have on her overstuffed parlor chair. But, I knew if I only had fabrics I adored there would be no contrast and the quilt would be dull. I could feel the mental muscles that expand my comfort zone getting overstretched as I willed myself to accept these outlanders. Several of the prints were a large scale and it nearly killed me to cut them up - especially (G). At least the finished square size was 6" so they were not chopped up too tiny - but still far beyond what was my comfort level.

Where fabric yardages permitted I allowed myself to fussy cut some of the larger prints. Notice that when I gave it a chance and could focus on the central bloom, the "chintz chair fabric" (A) grew in its appeal. I found that if I allowed a gap between my cuts, I could quasi-center the blooms.

Even though I knew each of these squares would next be cut on a diagonal, I maximized the amount of bloom that would peek out along the seam line.

I did not have sufficient yardage to do the same for the blue colorway of the large blooms (B), but I was able to maximize the amount of the flower I could keep out of the scrap pile accumulating on my sewing room floor.

I know, the "cutting with gay abandon" segment of this kit experiment was fading fast.

I started assembling the quilt, from the center outward per the instructions. As fate would have it, what happens to be dead center but the two fabrics I liked the least! Here the "chintz chair cover" in a somewhat pleasant background hue of mint green (A) was slammed up next to that awful khaki (H). At least the khaki was relieved and uplifted by those lovely white button blooms. On the corner blue blocks (B), the generous portion of the large blooms fell on only two of the four. Perhaps I should have picked more carefully. But wasn't part of this kit experiment to be impromptu? I lamented to my husband, "This is UGLY!" He encouraged me to stick with it.

I moved on to the next round. The color palette of the hourglass blocks, (C) and (D), was more pleasing to me but in my opinion, these blocks still did not overcome that ghastly center. I continued to forge ahead with my supportive husband urging me to give it a chance.

I added HSTs where a navy trellis design (E) was paired with (gag) a pastel zig-zag (I). "Well, there is contrast," I comforted myself, but I just could not stand that those zig-zags went both horizontal and vertical. It seemed to throw off the radial symmetry. Kaffe Fassett says that a guideline for using a myriad of colors is that there still needs to be a balance. I know that there can be balance without symmetry but those four triangles of zig-zag kept glaring at me and taunting me.

I went a few rounds further adding the royal blue trellis (F) and the vine with large peony blossoms (G). The suggested technique of making HSTs was not my usual routine. It had me draw two parallel lines each ¼" on either side of the central diagonal of the square. Though not necessarily out of my comfort zone, it was admittedly venturing into my less-skilled zone because of being unpracticed. I rarely draw lines on my fabric. When I drew these lines on the fabric bias, I inadvertently stretched it as I neared at the corners and my line drifted. I normally rely on lines drawn once on flat surface leading into the needle of my sewing machine. But the nearly 7" squares covered those lines at the start and were too big for my method of comfort. I stitched along the drawn line and when my guides became visible I switched to following those penciled in on a hard surface.

I got better as I went along. But gosh, it was so hard for me afterward to slice that lovely fabric (G) apart down the middle. But I did. Definitely outside my comfort zone.

I scattered those pink peony blossoms to be as balanced as I could. I was unable to leave it to total randomness. Hmm, adding that same "ugly" khaki at the outer edges did seem to calm down and welcome that central khaki. But those pale zig-zags ... aaargh!  I still could not stand them.

I was considering subbing those zig-zags out for another fabric, but that would be compromising the fabric pedigree of the kit. Fortunately I had enough fabric that I went back and cut some zig zag triangles on the bias, undid four seams, and inserted them. There. Much better. I can live with this. It is a suitable compromise between fabric pedigree and personal preference.

I completed the four outer corners of the quilt pretty much as instructed. The jewel-toned colors of the pansy print (J) ricocheted me back into my comfort zone for a bit and I found the light introduced by the pale trellis fabric (K) to be refreshing. Giving in to the desire to tweak, I fussy cut those eight aqua triangles with coral flowers (L) to centrally located a bloom. The navy trellis border was a striking finishing touch. And you know what? I liked it. After all my grousing, I truly liked it. Maybe there is something to this "out of your comfort" zone theory. Or perhaps, oddly enough, as I relaxed with the final corners, perchance my tastes had grown just a tad.

For those curious, getting the lighting adequate for a photo was tricky. I had two of my floor Ott Lamps directed at the quilt and a high strength Tensor light off to the left out of the photo shining up and bouncing light off the white ceiling. The quilt measures 63½" x 63½" before quilting and binding. The piecing took me about a week. Part of that relatively short time scale (for me at least) was the large square size. Part of that, also, was the fear that if I did not keep forging ahead, I would quit at a stage where I did not like it and never resume working on the top again. Now all that is left is to name and finish it. I plan to keep this one! My husband really likes it, too!

So how did I do reaching outside my comfort zone? Not bad. I took a few baby steps. Going with a kit was a good idea because it was not so freeform as to be intimidating. But despite my griping about some of the fabrics taken alone, I do admit I never would have selected them, they really do play well together, and I actually do like the end result. I look at this top and see a few blocks I would have interchanged had I not been struggling to relinquish control, but I begrudgingly admit the overall effect is really pretty. However, I may still try to buy some of that vine and peony fabric (G) if I can find it so I can not cut it up. Sharing my foibles now with Let's Bee Social #173...

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lil' Super Heroes

Last month I purchased a two panel set of super heroes. I did not notice until I searched the internet for a good photo that the panels were being promoted as a Lil Super Hero Towel Set (designed for Moda by Stacy Iest Hsu). I did wonder at the extra heavy hand of the fabric when I started to work on the project and was a bit surprised when I noticed all four edges were turned under and stitched down but I forged ahead, regardless.

I cut out all the pieces, avoiding breaking the border or cutting through any of the comments such as swoop or whoosh. I may use them elsewhere. Lil' Super Boy comes with a cape and a dog and an adorable cowlick at the top of this head. Ya gotta love the lightning bolt on his cape.

The boy doll is about 14" tall. I elected to stuff the dog instead of making him up as the finger puppet option.

I cut out the girl super hero (super heroine?) again avoiding breaking the border or slicing through any interspersed commentary. There was not as many words for Lil' Super Girl. (And they say girls talk too much!) Lil' Super Girl comes with a shield and she too sports a lightning bolt on her pink cape.

She too was about 14" tall.

The fabric of these figures was a heavy broadcloth type material - appropriate for a towel, now that I realize that was the intended use. I realized later the panel was indeed being marketed as a towel. That extra thickness and stiffness made it a really a bear to turn after having sewn right sides together. With 20-20 hindsight I might have pursued turning the edges under and just top stitching the front and back together - much as you would a needle turn appliqué. The instructions printed on the panel led me to believe the construction should be like any other panel of this type. Trust me. The turning was really, really difficult. I expected stuffing the long thin arms and legs to be a real challenge but that part was a real piece of cake - especially after struggling so with the turning. I found the perfect tool for punching the stuffing down. It was a  "Hera"™ Marker by Clover. The blade could be rotated and angled to best advantage to push the stuffing where I wanted it, and the curved blade was ideal for working out the seam allowance.

The opposite end of the "Hera"™ Marker was sharply pointed. I dropped the cover from a seam ripper over the end to protect myself from accidentally jabbing my palm as I worked.

As I struggled to turn each doll right side out, I did poke through at a couple places near the neck and ear of each doll on one side but they were easily stitched closed. I was pleased that I managed to keep that cowlick on the top of the boy's head intact and sticking out.

These were mailed off to my granddaughter and grandson for Easter. They did come out cute, even if while sewing them I wondered if they were like Superman, so impermeable as to be dubbed "Man of Steel".

Happy Easter! I hope my own super grandkids get a super kick out of their own personal super heroes. Linking up to share the super-ness with my online friends at Let's Bee Social #172.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Lion and the Lamb

During a "custom" shop hop with a friend in mid-March, I bought this panel by In The Beginning Fabrics intending to make a pillow out of it. Here it is laid out along my counter top, already split in two. I originally planned that one side of the pillow would be the lion and the other side, the lamb.

The panel is titled Spring by Julie Paschkis and brings to my mind the old saying that March "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb". I decided the pillow would be for my granddaughter Vivian. I loved all the girly swirly scrolls and thought the pink, green, and black color scheme would go with the bedding in her "big girl bed".

I could have made just one pillow, one side a lion and the other side a lamb but then what if Vivian wanted the animals on the pillow to play with each other? She could not do that if they were on opposite sides. I decided to use the panel as fronts only and and make two pillows. I would back them with polka dots. If there are any of my genes in her little body, my granddaughter has got to love polka dots. The lion panel had mostly green and the lamb panel was scattered with pink flowers so I chose green polka dots for the lion and pink polka dots for the lamb pillow. Sometimes unlined cotton fabric on a pillow tends to wrinkle, so I decided to back them with a square of bamboo batting and a flannel backing.

I wanted them to have a bit of texture so I decided to quilt a grid on each between the dots. Even though this approach required multiple turning, I chose to quilt the backs on my Pfaff with the feed dogs engaged. I had to go to a meeting and thought I could knock this out beforehand, but alas it took longer than I anticipated and I had to complete it when I returned home.

I decide to time myself when I did the pink one. Fifteen minutes into it I had the grid completed to only half density. Turns out quilting each of those 20" x20" backs took 30 minutes and one bobbin of thread each. Who'd have thought ... ?

Quilting the animal panels was not as mindless as the grid and I had to decide a quilting density. I prepared each panel the same way as the polka dots, with layers squares of bamboo batting and flannel and then used Heidi, my HQ Sweet Sixteen sit down longarm, to free motion the curvy lines on the pillow fronts. Not wanting to go overboard, I chose to outline only the lion and the two clouds so they would puff up a bit. Using black thread, the stitching lines do not show readily but I like that the texture is there. I also accented the central vein on the leaves and the wavy spine in the border, but left the dandelions and small pink flowers untouched.

I could not resist playing with the daisies on two of the lion's legs. They positively begged to be accented.

And how could I ignore this curlicue on the lion's rump?

The stitching is much more visible on the flannel backing.  My skill level is passable but not flawless, so fortunately any unsteadiness or glitches will be on the inside of the pillow and therefore not visible.

On the lamb panel, I planned to outline only the large items: the sun, leaves, cloud, sun, bushes and hills. I wanted to do the lamb with loops but was unsure if I could pull it off. For reference, the following photo is of the unbacked lamb panel before quilting.

I practiced making little loops. They were not perfectly formed but then neither are the curls in a sheep's coat. I practiced until I determined a size that was large enough for me to produce with being too erratic and until I could make loops a uniform size even if they were not uniform in shape.

I was glad I stretched my comfort zone to try loops. The panel had printed the lamb outline as mini-scallops but I think my loop version spiced it up a bit. The outline has a nice nubby feel to it, too, just right for a toddler's chubby finger to trace.

I outlined the large pink flowers only.

The backing shows off the quilting better.

I inserted a zipper at the base of each pillow. The contrasting colored long stitch length lines were just guides to help me press under the correct amount for the zipper insertion. I removed them later. I was also fussy enough that I sewed the black pillow front side of the zipper with black thread and the polka dot back of the pillow with ivory thread.

I was proud that I also remembered to open the zipper at least somewhat before I sewed the other three edges together. After one time trying to unzip a zipper from the wrong side when it is closed and there is no tab to grip I learned my lesson. Here are the completed pillows from the polka dot side – green for the lion, pink for the lamb.

Here is the pillow front with the lion.

Here is the pillow front with the lamb.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Vivian. Hope you like and have fun with your pillows.

Now that my granddaughter and her mom (who faithfully reads my blog) have seen the pillows, I can publish this post and share it with my online friends at Let's Bee Social #171.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Mateo Festival Purchases

Saturday I went with my husband to Bay Area Quilt, Craft, and Sewing Festival held at the San Mateo County Event Center. This is an annual outing for my husband and me and traditionally I report to my daughter via my blog about what I bought. My goals this time were to be practical and not too frivolous in any purchases, to avoid buying kits, and mainly to enjoy the drive and the day with my husband. I met all my goals.

These plaids and stripes are intended for use as bindings. I bought one yard of each. The plaids have so many colors I think they will be versatile enough to serve as bindings on a selection of quilts. The stripes however surprised me when I got home and opened them to fold in my habitual way. The stripes run at right angles to the selvage not parallel to it! Normally I cut my bindings across the width of the fabric and this makes stripes radiate outward from the quilt top. I am guessing I can cut these along the length of the fabric and get the same effect. I know fabric is less stretchy along the grain than across the grain but I hope this does not affect binding.

Since apparently I am into stripes for binding, I bought these navy/white and black/white options. (I do pause momentarily to wonder where all these quilts are coming from that I am going to bind.) Not to worry. Stripes are flexible enough I can use them elsewhere as blender pieces. They will also go well with florals or other novelty prints. The navy one on the right is diagonally striped so I do think I will try to reserve it for binding without having to fussy cut bias binding to get the same effect. I got ½ yard of that and a full yard of the black/white pinstripe.

This knitting sheep fabric was my one concession to moderate frivolity. The coral and lime and aqua color scheme caught my eye first. Then when I saw they were sheep knitting, I caved and bought one yard. I might just whip up a drawstring bag to store the yarn of whatever my current knitting project is.

I collect fabric license plates from stores I frequent, whether I go there personally or see them at a show. I do not sew them into a quilt. I line them up marching along the wall at the ceiling line of my sewing room. One per store though, and that is it. I do not buy a plate yearly per store though I recently earned that the plates for a shop can change each year. This one tickled me since it is so true for me with needles and thread of late. I do buy from the Rabbit Hole Quilt Shop when they are present at a show I attend.

I got this silicone iron rest plate to see if my Rowenta iron will leak less when resuming pressing after a brief pause. Out of habit through the years I orient my iron upright when it is not in my hands in use. It shuts itself off as the safety feature now require it to do, so when I rotate it to resume ironing, the condensed steam leaks out. Perhaps if I rest it in the flat rather than upright position it will leak less when it is set for steam. This modified habit will be hard to establish for me. I hope the leakage is a position issue of my Rowenta and not a problem with the iron. It does not leak while I am using it – only after it resumes after a safety imposed shut-off.

Although I could easily make these pillows without a pattern, I liked the idea of them each being made with 2½" charm pack squares.  I do not buy those itty bitty charm packs but I do have quite a bit of partial strips from  2½" wide jelly rolls that I would like to dice into squares and use up. I also have some 5" charm packs that I could quarter and use. Each pillow is 16" square so four or six (or more) of them could work up quickly into a cute scrap quilt. Maybe perhaps I could make each 16" block in a different colorway ?

The final purchase was at my husband's urging. Our son has a bunny rabbit and tends to poke unwanted objects and his fingers between the wires of its cage. This blue vinyl mesh may discourage this behavior while still giving the bunny adequate ventilation. The roll of mesh came with a free tote bag pattern so why not give it a try?

The show did not have as many vendors as usual and was more sparsely attended than the norm. But its low key tone and my goals were in sync. The weather cooperated by being a beautiful sunny day. My husband and I had  pleasant afternoon.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sharing a Granny Square Legacy

My kids were fortunate to have two very talented and prolific grandmothers. Their paternal grandma crocheted and their maternal grandma knitted. This week I worked on seeing that the granny square baby blankets crocheted by my husband's mother would find a good home rather than withering away in a bin in our attic.  My husband said, and rightfully so, that we were doing the afghans and his mom a disservice by letting them linger, unused due to sentimentality. He especially pushed that I part with them so that another mother and baby somewhere could make good use of them. It was difficult for me but I was willing to see them go if I knew they were going to a good home, where they would be appreciated, even if they got beaten up in the process. This photo with my daughter and her grandma the crocheter was taken in about 1982.

I suggested that we use the upcoming quilt show of my guild as a vehicle for disbursing the baby afghans. After checking with the guild member in charge of the market place at our upcoming guild show, my husband and I agreed on the following plan. I was told baby items tend to sell quickly. What could be sold at the show would be sold. After all, if people are willing to pay money for something they must want it. All the proceeds from the sales would go toward the fabrication of community outreach quilts for the ill, aged, and underprivileged. Those that did not sell would be donated to a local charity or hospital program that helps out moms and babes in need.

I unfolded each crocheted item and smoothed it out for one last look. Even though they had been meticulously cared for, I checked for holes or stains, then measured each and photographed it. Only one had a small stain and two had some tears that I will see if I can repair. I held those three back from among the ones being given away. Here are the ones that were in pristine condition and very serviceable. They are folded in fourths and the center of the blanket is in the lower right corner. I let my own children select from them what they wanted as a legacy keepsake for their kids from their great grandmother. They were very much on board with giving away the generous supply.

These went to my daughter's family – one per child and one favorite. The mint green and white one is being deployed in the baby carriage beneath the orange clown in the photo of my ~2 month old daughter taken in 1980.

These went to my son's family – one per child and potential future children.

My son and his older sister would often snuggle side by side beneath one of the larger afghans. This was one of the ones I set aside because it was in need of repair - not surprising after a such a lot of lovin'. It had been set on point and diagonal granny square triangles along the edges are not as sturdy when tugged and stretched. This photo is from ~1984. It is a bit faded; the yarn was a variegated pastel.

These will be sold or given away.

By placing these lovingly handcrafted afghans in my blog, I can still see them – even better and oftener than when they were in the attic. This larger family afghan is still in use in our household about 35 years later. By the way, the brown stuffed dog was a favorite named Huck. Huck is short for Hugs and Kisses. My daughter also had a smaller version she named Tiny Baby Hucklet.

Sometimes we just need to stop the frenzied creation of our own projects and appreciate the works of those who came years before us. There will be time for me to get back to my quilting but for now, I feel good about devoting the time and effort deploying our plan to redistribute these treasures. Thank you for walking down memory lane with me. I will also share these reminisces with my online quilting community at this week's Let's Bee Social #168.