Saturday, January 17, 2015

Utility Sewing

I have been doing a lot of what I would call utility sewing. Our guild's quilt show is coming up in about eight weeks. I have entered eight quilts and every single one needs a hanging sleeve. One needs a bit more quilting and the binding as well. And then, there are two large quilts that just went off to the longarmer this week. I have been promised that they will be done in plenty of time for me to add binding, hanging sleeves, and labels in time for the show.

Last year I put together blocks made by elementary school children. I mentor one day a week in a public school. The project was led by the school's art teacher and was inspired by the book, "Sweet Clara's Freedom Quilt." This week I finally got it quilted and bound.The story is about a young slave girl who sews a quilt with secret map blocks that will aid slaves escaping to freedom. Quilt historians have pooh-poohed this idea and really, if you have ever seen one of the rare extant slave quilts, you will see why. Roughly made from homespun fabrics that resemble slightly refined burlap,  they are utilitarian through and through. There is no historical evidence whatsoever to support this fantasy. Nonetheless, here is the quilt with blocks designed by the students.

I have also been working on putting "The Puzzler" together. My small group of quilting buddies made the blocks for this quilt over a year's time. Each block has a bit of the inspiration fabric in it that we all used to get us started. The quilt show registrar has said that we need more quilts for the show and I was trying to get this finished in time. But don't like to be rushed, because then I just throw stuff together and regret it later, so this will probably not be in the show.

I gave up making the blocks on time at some point, and needed three more out of the 12 in the pattern. One has been made, but I still need to make three more. They are two of the three blocks in the next row, so work has been halted on the layout until they get made. Peeking out from behind the Puzzler blocks on the lower left is a bit of  Grand Illusion, Bonnie Hunter's 2014 mystery quilt, which has been put on the back burner while working on more pressing things.

I am auditioning border fabrics and the strip on the right is "Big Blooms" by Kaffe Fassett in the brown colorway. I really like it for this project, but wish it had a bit of turquoise in it. Maybe more fabric hunting is in store for me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

One Blue Zebra

This quilt is intended for a friend's grandson. However, after it was finished, I liked it enough to consider showing it in our guild's March quilt show. Little John will have to wait a little bit longer. The fabrics are from the line OrigamiOasis and the pattern is "Starry Migration" by The yellow print with zebras is meant to be fussy cut so as to show only yellow zebras, but I snuck in one blue one, hence the name of the quilt.

I quilted it all over in a 2" square grid with white thread. I had recently seen a video with Katherine Redford about machine quilting with a domestic home sewing machine. One of the techniques featured involved quilting in a spiral. Redofrd advises doing this only after initially quilting in a grid because the circular nature of the quilting can cause the piece to distort. Since the 2" grid was already done, I added a number of the spirals over the grid with yellow thread. The finished size of this quilt is 41" x 53" and I wouldn't recommend trying this with anything much larger because you have to continually turn the quilt around in circles under your needle. This was doable but I wouldn't want to tackle it with anything larger unless you have a pretty large opening to the right of your needle. Some of the new, really large machines would handle a bigger piece. I have a Bernina 560 and this worked well with it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grand Illusion Reveal!

Bonnie posted the reveal of her 2014 mystery quilt, Grand Illusion, at midnight last night. I was able to piece together three of the blocks (two are shown here) plus several of the sashing strips. I had worked out that the 2 x 4 green, white, and black blocks were probably going to be sashing, but the rest was a complete question mark in my mind until the reveal. This is a very happy quilt and the sewing and construction this year is easier than last year's mystery. When you see the overall scheme, the black patches provide a lot of movement in the quilt, almost as though they are handing off one block to the next. Overall I am pleased with the fabrics I have chosen and no complaints about the colors either, as I stayed with Bonnie's suggestions.

UPDATE: This is as far as I got, so this is what I am posting at Bonnie's Monday Link-Up. Click on over and see what her other homies have been up to. Some people have not only finished sewing the quilt top together, but they have quilted their Grand Illusion as well!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For the Birds

Our guild show is coming up in March 2015. I made this small piece in response to one of the challenges set for the show. It's titled "Out on a Limb" and is a huge drawing of a tree trunk with outstretched limbs. The drawing was partitioned off into sections and each section was assigned a season and time of day. The one I selected is Winter Night and as you can see, it is the very end of the branch. We were allowed to interpret our section however we chose using whatever techniques we chose, the only requirement being that the branch had to start and end exactly as drawn on our individual section so that when all the pieces are placed side by side the continuity of the tree branch is preserved.

I used several techniques on my piece. The sky was constructed using fabric weaving and was constructed on a piece of fusible batting. When the woven piece was finished to my satisfaction, it was ironed to the fusible, stabilizing it. The snow was made using Victoria Findlay Wolfe's made fabric technique. She was a guest speaker and artist at our guild earlier this year and I was eager to incorporate what I learned from her into this little challenge project. The cardinal and tree branch were done with fusible machine applique. At first the red bird did not show up to advantage against the dark blue of the sky background. Therefore, I fused the entire bird to a piece of sparkly silver Fairy Frost fabric. What I learned in doing this is that fusible adhesive does not adhere hardly at all to the heavily frosted surface of this fabric. That made it necessary to sew all around the edge of pieces to make sure they didn't fall off.

I used a pillowcase, knife edge finish as I did not relish trying to get a binding in dark blue and white to match up with the background sections of the piece. I fused a strip of Wonder Under to the wrong side of the backing, then cut a slit so that I could turn the piece inside out without having to whip stitch the opening closed on the edge. I am a good hand sewer, but I never think those whip stitched openings ever look really, really good.

After the backing was sewn on and the quilt turned inside out, I pulled off the paper from the Wonder Under and pressed the backing to the batting. This really helped in keeping the piece together while  quilting it. I quilted it using some decorative stitches and metallic thread. Lastly I embellished it with paillette stars in the night sky and iridescent sequins on the tree branch to suggest frosty snow. In addition to the metallic thread and sequins, there are quite a few fabrics that are sliver metallic or shimmery. I think the overall effect I wanted to achieve - of a sparkly, cold, snowy winter night - was accomplished.

Things I learned along the way:

1.While the knife edge pillowcase technique was supposed to save me time and hassle by not having to deal with a two color binding, it presented its own set of issues. One of them is the fact that with no binding to be sewn on to cover up the edges of the quilted lines, each and every thread had to be threaded onto a needle, pulled to the back, tied off, and buried. There were a lot of those to do.

2. With the amount of quilting the piece distorted and the edges are not straight (the cropping I did prior to uploading the photo corrects that in the picture) and are a bit wavy especially on the right hand side. This was exacerbated by the woven fabric night sky and the made-fabric snow which have all kinds of wonky seams.  You can't square up the quilt after quilting when using this technique, so it is definitely something to consider with this method.

3. If you are going to torture yourself with metallic thread, use a metallic needle. Enough said.

4. I need to learn to use a thimble. As calloused as my fingers are from making 2,000 hexies this year, the skin is not thick enough to push a needle through several layers of fabric backed with fusible and with fusible batting underneath that. Some of my DNA now lives in this little quilt.

5. Fairy Frost fabric does not fuse well.

By the way, the little caption above the cardinal reads "Winter is for the birds." Oh yeah, I also forgot to give the bird an eye. He will have one - done with silver and black Sharpies. The finished size is 24" x 16".

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Argyle Christmas, which I made last year, is now quilted although this photo is just of the unquilted top. It is a pattern from "Simply Modern Christmas" by Cindy Lammon, shown below. Bonnie Hunter is hosting a Christmas Party Link Up over at Quiltville. Take a look!

This is as far as I got with Alex Anderson's Christmas Lights pattern last year. It's still sitting on the floor under the design wall, waiting to be taken out of  "time out."

And much as I would like to take credit for this beauty, I have to give credit to Hattie Thompson, a guild member, who made this Christmas sampler quilt and showed it off to us last year. The pattern ran over most of the year in one of the quilt magazines several years back. It was either McCall's or American Patchwork and Quilting. It is just stunning and she did a beautiful job!

I will be wrapping presents and baking off one last batch of Christmas cookies today. What about you?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Grand Illusion Clue # 4

Bonnie promised us an easy clue this week and it was. I was done in record time (for me), finishing up on Saturday evening. We had to make 80 more of the broken dishes blocks, very similar to the ones made in step 1. There were 80 pink and aqua half square triangle blocks made in step 1 which were used to kick start this week's blocks. I know these look alike, but trust me, they aren't. There are 40 each of two different colorations of this block. No amount of twisting and turning, flipping or flopping of one block will make it the same as the alternate colorway. They are also different in color from clue #1 blocks, which have no white or neutral squares. See everyone's progress here.

My cookie baking is proceeding apace with these cookies being completed so far: Springerle, chocolate chip (Toll House recipe, natch), peanut butter, sugar, Red Velvet, spritz (tinted red and green), and Russian Teacakes. In the fridge chilling for tomorrow's baking is the dough for gingerbread cookies. 

Oh, and I almost forgot, Redneck cookies. That is not the original name for them but rather what I decided to call them. I think they are called Cracker Dream Cookies which is an even more offensive name unless you know that Ritz crackers are one of the ingredients. No baking is actually involved. One Ritz cracker is spread with marshmallow creme, and another with peanut butter. They are sandwiched together, dipped into melted chocolate, and finished off with sprinkles. I am hoping that the salty/sweet/crunchy/creamy combo will be a hit because they are awfully messy to make.

I have already decided that Red Velvet cookies will not be getting a reprise next year. They were only selected because they looked so nice and bright red in the Yummly photo and I thought they would make a nice addition to the cookie tray. See the photo. Despite the extraordinary amount of red food coloring (5 tsp.), this cookie doesn't really look much different than chocolate crinkle cookies. Maybe if you reduced the amount of cocoa powder from 1/4 c. to 2 tbsp. you might get a redder color. Anyway, they do not have an outstanding taste and they aren't red, so they have been crossed off any future cookie list.

A cookie really has to be outstanding to make my keeper list. They have to taste really good, look appealing, have a sensible number of ingredients, and not require a Cordon Bleu certificate to make. After the gingerbread cookies are finished, the cookie kitchen will be closed. I might still make an old-fashioned buttermilk fudge recipe that one of my guild members posted the other day. We will see.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Grand Illusion Clue #3

I am working away on clue 3 of Bonnie Hunter's Grand Illusion mystery quilt. This week we are making a kind of double four patch block. There is a lot of speculation flying around cyberspace as to the function of these blocks in the final quilt. I have heard several people mention that they think the blocks will be in the border. Bonnie likes pieced sashing, however, so that is definitely also a possibility, I prefer just to go with the flow, make the blocks, and wait and see where everything fits in with the final reveal.

Bonnie warned us to make a practice strip and double check the finished size to ensure proper sized blocks - much like making a swatch when knitting to check your gauge (which I always hate to do). I did it this time and lo and behold I wasn't as accurate as I thought. So I made a couple of minor adjustments to my seam width to get the blocks to come out to the right size, which is 6.5" x 3.5" unfinished. To see everyone's progress, click here.

I haven't gotten as far along as I would have liked. Friday I couldn't sew at all because it was my mother's 92nd birthday and I wanted to spend some time with her. Our guild Christmas party was Friday evening and that required some last minute preparations on my part as program chair. And I can't honestly say what happened on Saturday, although I did manage to get 36 blocks finished (120 are needed), which is as far as I have gotten. Today, between grocery shopping, cookie dough making, skyping with a friend in Germany, Christmas letter writing, and card addressing - not to mention making acorn squash soup for dinner - the day just flew by without one minute for sewing. I'll get there by Friday, though. just have to have a couple of days uninterrupted.


Not such a great photo, but this is one tray of Springerle cookies from my efforts today. For those of you not familiar with this southern German specialty, it is an old style cookie, anise flavored and imprinted with wooden molds. You can't really see that very well in the photograph. They have to dry overnight and in the morning they will be baked in a low oven (275-300 degrees). The cookies will spring up (hence the name) in a certain way. I will post another photo after they are baked. My brother-in-law, whose grandmother was of German descent, loves them as I do. He will get the majority of what I make, as all but six will go to him as a Christmas present.

They are particularly good with a cup of strong tea. I have molds that I bought while a student in Germany 40 years ago and a good friend gifted me her mother's wooden molds after her mother's death. You can still buy the molds today, of course, but as the good ones are still hand carved, they are pricey. Here's a link to some really spectacular ones: the Springerle Baker.

Last, but certainly not least, welcome aboard to Rhoda and Carla, new followers. I am also finding new and interesting blogs to follow through Bonnie's Monday Mystery Link-ups!