Monday, November 25, 2013

The Big Chill

Last week, the weather took a cold turn and the temperatures where I live have plummeted. Tomorrow they are calling for a N'oreaster which will likely impact many holiday travelers. We decided a while back to stay home for Thanksgiving. We have spent the last few on the road with family and I was in the mood to cook and feast and enjoy leftovers.

Today I shopped for the holiday meals and had fun carefully selecting the items I wanted to make. It was a big cart of goodies, things like chestnuts and fresh cranberries that I only buy in November. Tomorrow I will plan the meal and find the recipes I want to use while enjoying my morning Joe.

But I digress. What I wanted to write about tonight is how the cold weather affects my quilting. I have discovered after quilting for 35+ years now, that when the weather turns chilly, I quilt more. A lot more than in the warmer months. I believe this is probably true of many quilters. This seems to be the case supported by the large number of show and tell items that were at last Thursday's Modern Guild meeting. The items were fabulous and very inspiring. I love the stories that are told for most of them, what inspired the maker to start the quilt, when they have imposed the deadline to complete them and who will receive the quilt and why. There were many new quilters in the group, a large number of visitors came and many shared their items with us.

While I do create and make quilts year round, I seem to hunker down and be more productive with my sewing arts when the weather turns cold. I guess this makes me a cold weather person. Maybe it's because the basement is warm being that the furnace and gas dryer are there. I know my laundry gets done sooner in the winter months than in summer. Could it be that since the garden doesn't need tending, I have more time to create in cloth? Maybe. Perhaps I've just gotten into a good routine that allows me the discipline to spend more time creating. And there is always the possibility that the increase in catalogs arriving in my mailbox serve to inspire me to finish things.

Do you find that you craft, quilt, knit, create more on a seasonal basis and if so how in what ways? I'd love to hear from you on how the weather, season or temperatures impact your creative nature.

comments and feedback welcomed. Happy Thanksgivika to all!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Going around in Circles!

I decided earlier this week that I wanted to really try and use some of my Accuquilt cutter dies to create a modern quilt. I had found some fat quarter bundles on clearance which of course I picked up and was determined to use. I wanted to try something that would not require a bunch of ironing of fusible, because I felt this makes the quilt top too stiff. I needed to organize all my Accuquilt dies anyway and take an inventory of what I had in my collection.

What I found was an amazing array of circles in various sizes in many of the GO! dies. I pulled all of them out along with the corresponding cutting mats I needed to be able to cut. I took them along with the cutter and fabric to the table where I sit and cut out pieces. I confess that I do this in my living room on the coffee table. That way I can watch TV and be a cut up at the same time! I grabbed a big zip loc bag and started out with the dies that only had circles in them. I quickly lost track of how many circles I cut out of the various bright fabrics. Then I used the other hidden circles in those mixed dies that were various sizes from 1/2" in diameter all the way up to 5". I cut everything from the smallest to the largest 8" circles that I could from the clearance fat quarter bundles. I let the fabric tell me which sizes to cut. No specific planning.

I also found in my stash a nice background fabric. Its a neutral beige with an interesting swirl in a brown color printed on it. I thought it would be perfect for the negative spaces in the quilt. I cut this up into strips using my ruler, rotary cutter and mat. I made the strips wide enough to be able to applique the circles upon and leave some margin on the outside.

Then I sorted the various circles into piles where the largest circles were on the bottom and the sizes get smaller with each layer. I pinned these with a big pin to hold them together and then headed to the sewing machine. Before beginning to sew, I pressed the background fabric as well as each circle, folding them wrong sides together to make registration marks that I could use to center each circle on the background and within themselves. By folding them so the wrong sides are together, very little pinning was required to applique them down.

With regular black thread, I used the buttonhole stitch to sew the circles down, one by one, without interfacing or turning the edges. I love my Bernina 380 because it has a button to adjust the speed and this went pretty quickly once I did a few. The smaller circles required me to adjust the buttonhole stitch size and go very slowly, but even with the 1/2 inch wide circles, it worked and I was pleased with the results.

Once I had a number of circle blocks completed, I put them on the design wall to look at them and arrange them. Keep in mind that I had not planned this quilt, I just sewed and let the quilt design itself.

I decided the quilt needed a center circle motif and I needed two more small circle sets to finish it. I finished those pinned them up and then it was improvisational piecing time. I only had started with 2 yards of background fabric and I wanted to use as much of it as I could, leaving negative spaces that are relevant to a modern design. I played around with the circles and decided that the center vertical line was key, so I pieced that together first. I added background fabric to it as much as needed to make it balanced, but not crowded. I then hung that from my magnet strip to keep an eye on the size.

Next I worked on the left and right middle sections of the quilts, staying in the vertical rows and ensure that these sections with the largest circle sections were "right-sized'. It wasn't too hard, and it went together pretty quickly. Finally I had the outermost rows to complete. I originally thought I would put the medium sized circles in the middle and place the tiny circles in each corner, as I had four of them. However, it appeared to not want to go together this way and I ended up with the smallest circle sets above and below the medium circle sets but inside them. This left me with large background sections to piece in and I realized this quilt knew what it was doing all on its own. Being a long-arm quilter, I love the opportunity to have good negative space to fill with fancy stitches.

I trimmed and decided that I had just enough of the background fabric to add a small strip (2" wide) to each outer edge. I didn't want borders, but felt that using the leftover fabric to add more negative space would be best, and then I wouldn't have leftovers to deal with. We will have plenty of leftovers next week after Thanksgiving!

Here is the end result. I really love this totally original design. I can't wait to quilt it.

Comments, questions and feedback welcome.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Magic Binding - so Easy and it looks great too!

Last weekend I was at a local quilt show and came across a vendor that had a large bin of 3 yard fabric cuts at $6 a yard. I looked through the bin and found two pieces that made it home with me.

One of them was an orange and yellow harlequin print and I thought it would make the perfect accent fabric for my latest quilt finish. The quilt itself is a Halloween tumblers quilt, which I had cut out, pieced and finished the top awhile back, but had never gotten around to quilting. I decided in October that 2013 was the year to finish it (it was only an UFO for 1 year). I managed to plug through long arming it with bats, and pumpkins and a spiderweb pattern in the various areas. It was off the machine and trimmed up and ready to be slept under on October 30th this year.

We actually slept under it on both Mischief Night and Halloween without the binding! It was warm and fun and some of the fabrics glow in the dark so they lit up the room for a few minutes until we fell asleep.

After I got the harlequin fabric home, I decided it was time to make the binding and really finish the quilt for show and tell at guild. While I typically employ the use of hand applied bias binding for my show quilts, this time I made the MAGIC Binding, also known as the Piping or Flange Binding. Essentially, this binding is made up of two long straight cut pieces. The actual quilt binding strip pieces are cut at 1.5" in width for the length you need to bind the quilt plus about 10 inches.

The accent or flange strips are cut a bit wider at 1.75". Again, you need to measure your quilt and cut the same number of strips of each. The same fabrics are then sewn end to end into one long strip of 1.5" and 1.75" respectively. I prefer to use the mitered seam join (45 degree angle) to reduce the bulk in the binding keeping it consistent.

Once the strips are sewn and the seams ironed open and flat, then you join the two strip sets into one using a 1/4 inch seam allowance (right sides together of course!). I like to use my favorite old molefoam trick on the machine bed to keep the seam perfectly even. This was key on this binding because it was long as the quilt is actually king sized.

Press the seam gently the lengthwise of the strip and ensure the seam is nice and straight. Press the wrong sides together of the strip matching the unsewn edges and press. The result will be a nice, perfect binding that has a little 1/4 inch accent piece where the strips were joined. This accent piece creates the flange accent.

Now here is the fun part, you add the binding to the back of the quilt. The accent fabric, the larger of the colors, is actually facing up, your primary binding fabric is facing down and is the smaller of the colors. This way when you sew it to the back of the quilt, the accent color ends up on the inside of the added binding, magically becoming the flange and giving you a place to sew by machine the binding. I use matching threads when attaching the binding to the quilt for the first go around.

I use invisible thread in both the bobbin and top stitches when finishing the binding after it is applied to the back. Once sewn the backing and the invisible thread is loaded in your machine and bobbin, bring the binding around to the front and sew in the ditch on the front between the two colors. Pinning the binding may help you sew straight, but be sure to remove pins instead of sewing over them.

When you get to the corner, its easy to make mitered corners. Sew to the edge, back up a few stitches, tuck the other side in and turn your stitching line.

If you take your time, sew with care, the binding will form mitered corners on both the front and back as shown in the pictures above. Below shows what the edges look like.

I really love the way the yellow and lighter orange colors in the harlequin fabric pull out the colors in the pumpkins of the backing and binding fabric. This binding is fast, fun and since its completely done by machine, its easy and the results are quite pleasing to the eye.

Questions, feedback welcomed!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tea for Two

I have been using some of my time to make small quilts that I can potentially sell. These two are my latest. I call them my "Tea for Two" quilts.

They are paper pieced teacups stacked atop each other. I enjoyed making them and plan to make more small quilts like this to sell until the long arm quilting business builds to a sustainable level. They go pretty fast and its great opportunity share my love for quilting with others.

It is interesting how a little self marketing has brought me potential customers to make quilts for in a short period of time. I went to a local guild show last Friday and handed out business cards. I receive a number of inquiries already based on those cards. In addition, I used Facebook to tell my FB friends that I was now available to quilt for others and the inquiries starting flowing in from around the country. This is very exciting for me.

I have been reluctant to take on making T-shirt quilts in the past. However, I now have a potential deal to make three of them for a dear friend from high-school. One for each of her children. I know these quilts are very popular with non-quilters and there is some money to be made at creating these memory quilts. So, I guess I'll take them on and learn a few lessons along the way. It will be a challenge for me, and I am sure rewarding at the same time.

I continue to make my fabric covered clothesline baskets. Most recently, I purchased a big box of fat piping and began wrapping that to make baskets. The results are pretty cool and I think they look different than the skinny clothesline variety. They are harder to sew because they are so thick but I have found a way that works and I just need to take my time to make them of the quality that someone would be willing to purchase.

These FAT piping baskets make a much larger basket. I hope my customers will love them as much as I do. I am still making and finishing regular clothes baskets as well in all shapes and sizes and colors.

Feedback welcome!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Celebrations - Take the time to do this as often as you can.

This past Friday, my parents celebrated 60 years of marriage. Our entire family, all generations and pets included celebrated this momentous occasion with them together.

In preparation for the party, I reviewed and scanned tons of family photos and digitized them so they could easily be loaded up into an electronic picture frame for the happy couple to enjoy and share. My sister and I went in on the endeavor together. We set the photos up by decade chapters starting with baby photographs of my parents from the 1930s and all the way until this year. It was really a lot of fun, going through hundreds of pictures, many of which I had never seen or did not remember seeing before. While it took quite a long time to accomplish this, it was well worth the effort. My sister had a bunch of slide reels from over the years and she took those and found some real gems of pictures in them.

While we weren't able to put every family photo on the frame just yet, we recovered and digitized approximately 300 photos both black and white and color ones. Not all of the photos we had were good enough quality to be included, but I felt that both of us did an excellent job of selecting a wide variety of pictures and poses that captured our family life over the last 60 years.

We presented the photo frame to my parents at their anniversary luncheon. Along with the family, were several couples that they are friends with now at the new retirement home and a few ladies that are also their pals. We had champagne, cake, wine, delicious food and loads of laughs. The photos played in the background and everyone enjoyed seeing some really old photos of my beautiful parents along with some photos of us as kids and adults.

The best part of the day was having my siblings, our pets, along with our parents together for two days of celebration. We told stories, and we laughed a lot. We treated my parents to a lovely dinner at Clyde's Farm in Ashburn, the food was amazing and everyone was stuffed when we left the place. On Saturday, after we had the afternoon luncheon party, we retired to my parents apartment and watched the photo show together, discussing each picture and who was in them. Although many of them have passed on, its fun to see their faces again, how they dressed and remarkably how much family traits have been passed on to us and to our children. I know that my parents and my siblings and their spouses, enjoyed seeing some of those old photos again or for the first time. It made the event truly remarkable and I was proud that we pulled it off so successfully!

Here is the part where I beg each of you to be sure to take the time to celebrate every moment possible. Take those photos, raise a glass, make that toast. Don't worry if you aren't photogenic or dressed to the nines. Just snap the photos and share them. Your family and future generations will enjoy these moments long after you are gone and its important to ensure they are captured as often as possible. My family isn't that great at taking photos regularly. I hereby vow to try and always have my camera with them to snap those moments, make those memories and ensure that we have them to share in the future.

Not only did my parents end up with a great present they can enjoy every day, my brother and sister also ended up with many digital photos that they can also enjoy any time they want. I know I will enjoy having them myself to enjoy and share whenever I want.