Monthly Archives: January 2013

Getting Snippy

The January meeting of my modern quilt guild featured scissors. You could say we were at the cutting edge. Groan. At any rate, we were tasked with bringing in our favorite cutting implements.  I thought this would be a somewhat boring topic, but it turned out to be really interesting.

Who knew there were old wives tales about sharpening scissors?  The group consensus was a mild “it works somewhat” for sharpening rotary cutter blades with aluminum foil. (You run the blade over folded up foil until the foil is in shreds.)  For sharpening scissors yourself a whetstone is best, and some scissors’ manufacturers sell one created for their products.  Apparently some members have their scissors sharpened by a guy at a local farmers’ market.  So look for him at the seasonal Highland Square open air market.

Many folks felt Gingher scissors were the gold standard and they’d last a lifetime.  One darling Gingher thread clipper provoked much scissor envy.

thread snippers

However, many members expressed satisfaction with Fiskers shears and applique scissors.  They work for right and left handers and the spring action reduces hand fatigue when you’re cutting for a long time.  One person put in a strong recommendation for Karen Kay Buckley scissors for their sharpness and tiny serrated edges that grip the fabric.

As to rotary cutters, the newer version of Olfa cutters with a more ergonomic handle was preferred.  Folks were intrigued by the specialty blades available for pinking and waves.

pinking blade

I know it’s fun to cut wavy edges on fabric for fused applique.  Just be careful of your ruler’s edge, unless you want it all nicked up.  Oh, that reminds me of a tip from Laura Wasilowski about these fancy blades.  Turn over your cutting mat to the blank side when you use them as they can take little divits out of the mat.

Then, after objective talk about the merits of various cutters, the group turned its attention to scissors as decorative objects, and boy is there a lot of scissors lust out there.  Scissors with handles lined in hot pink, scissors with large polka dots, shiny scissors, teeny scissors – all were objects of someone’s desire.

Gingher scissors

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Are You Angular or Curvy?

As I dive into quilting my shamefully large pile of quilt tops I’ve been studying how other, much more talented quilters, handle their free motion quilting designs.  Now, I decided that the only way I was going to become competent at free motion quilting was to actually do it on an actual top (as opposed to sample squares.)  However, I thought it best to have some idea what I wanted my quilting design to be before lowering my feed dogs.  So I’ve been looking at lots of pictures.

As I looked at examples of free motion quilting I noticed two distinct kinds of designs – curvy/swoopy and angular.  Both kinds are used on modern quilts, but curvy seemed to be the norm for traditional quilts.  And art quilts often seemed to use quilting as a sketch on top of the cloth, with little or no pattern to the lines.

I recall that about ten years ago free motion quilting was often just meandering or stippling over the whole quilt surface. But the minimum expected level of quilting has sure stepped up since then. Heirloom free motion quilting came along with stitching every quarter inch.  Certainly the “best of show” quilts at national shows seem to have no surface left unquilted, but I don’t know if that’s still the standard for “regular” quilters.

terri doyle elise campbell patts

And more recently boxy, angled designs have shown up on modern quilts, with the negative space broken up with different quilting patterns.  Angela Walters, whose work is shown below, is a well-known longarm quilter who seems especially sensitive to the different quilting designs needed for modern quilts.


Another well known modern quilter, Elizabeth Hartman, also uses a lot of angular designs in her free motion.


And, here’s how Wanda Hanson of Exuberant Color handled quilting to complete her design.  There’s nothing show-offy here, but the quilting lines enhance the flowers and give depth to the background by providing a horizon line.

Wanda quilt

And courses in free motion quilting are popping up everywhere for both in-person and online presentations.  I’ve tried a few online classes, which have certainly given me tips, but I just have to practice to improve.  I think I’m now up to the barely competent level, having finally learned to recognize the sound my sewing machine makes when it’s at the sweet spot.  Did I mention how much I hate to rip out stitches?  I’ve started applying the “stand five feet away” rule to my stitching.  It looks better then.

As for the compulsion for intricate free motion quilting, it’s great for show pieces, but not so good for quilts meant to be used.  All that stitching can make a quilt feel stiff, not cuddly.  Also, in some cases the stitching upstages the quilt design rather than enhancing it.  I realize this may simply be my rationalization for being bad at free motion quilting, but I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about my lousy stitching.  I’ll still try to improve as it’s painful to watch people wince when they look at my uneven stitches, but the self-inflicted beatings will cease.


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Circling Around

In between bouts of actually quilting some tops that have been draped forlornly over a bannister for some months, I began planning my slivered circle quilt.  A few posts ago I featured a silk table runner made with a technique Lisa O’Neill calls sliver quilting.  Originally I planned to make a version of the cover project, but got side tracked by that silk.

Now I’m ready to tackle the circles.

SliverQuilts-book-and-blocksFirst up is my fabric selection, of course.  I have two striped fabrics that I think will work well for the inserts, but for the rest have gotten tripped up by my habit of buying mostly only half yard lengths of fabric.

sliver candidates

For each complete circle I need four fabric arcs. My original plan was to construct four circles, but turn the inner arcs towards each other so it would seem as if a center circle overlapped four partial circles. To have this plan work I need at least two different fabrics – one for the central circle and one for all the partial circles. And actually I would need to make five circles since the middle one would be made from different fabric than the others. The hitch in this plan is that I don’t have enough of any fabric that works with the stripes to make twelve arcs – three arcs for each of the partial circles.

arc candidates

Of the possibilities I’ve pulled from my stash, I have enough of the cerise and the mottled yellow (which is darker than the picture shows) for two circles from each, I think.  I could get only four arcs, enough for one complete circle, out of each of the middle fabrics.  And I haven’t a clue what to use for the inner and outer sections, the non-arc bits, of each block.  Well, I’ll worry about that once I have the arcs constructed.  I might have to break down and visit a fabric store.


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My Stars

As I noted before, I’ve been making Amy Ellis’ Dancing Stars paper pieced pattern, which I converted for freezer paper piecing.  Twenty-five of those suckers are now done, and I think I’m done making them.  Amy’s directions say 25 stars makes up a baby quilt that’s 34 inches square, so that’s what I’ll have – once I have a baby to give the quilt to.  Oh, one other minor detail is that I’ll need to sew the blocks together, quilt and bind the resulting product.


Since I have no more of the ash gray fabric I thought of using a gender stereotypical color for the edge triangles.  But then I’ll need to know the baby’s sex.  What a great excuse to set aside this project.  Really, it’s been fine, but now that I’m efficient at making the block I’m bored with it for now.  Maybe I’ll get a second wind at a future time and make more blocks.


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My Back Pages

This week I dug through my quilts to prepare a trunk show for my quilt guild. The show has been billed as my journey from traditional to art quilts. We’ll see if the show actually happens as the past few January meetings have been canceled due to blizzards.

Weather issues aside, it’s been strange to look over the work I’ve done since the mid-1990s.  I have a few pieces done before then, but those were the days it took me 2 years or so to finish a quilt.  I can’t review all the quilts I’ve made as I’ve given away a fair number,  mostly the more traditional ones.  It takes someone with oddball taste to actually prefer an art quilt over what most folks, especially family members, think of as a quilt.

I started quilting to produce gifts for my family when I was very short on money but long on time and fabric.  My first efforts were hand quilted pillows that featured various traditional quilt blocks copied from library quilting books.  I used cardboard templates and scissors, and never realized that it wasn’t done to cut off triangle points. My aspirational book was Michael James’ The Quiltmaker’s Handbook.  I loved his quilts – what great curves! – but couldn’t see me doing all that painstaking work.

Once I got a job (and some money) I put aside quilting until around 1987 when I made a bed sized log cabin quilt in a class. That was my first exposure to a rotary cutter.  The teacher wouldn’t let us use hers, but cut all our strips herself.


Quilting got set aside again after my son was born, but I decided to make him a quilted wall hanging in the early 1990s, and I really haven’t stopped making quilts since.  My production has stepped up since 2000, which I attribute to making quilty friends and joining a guild.  Of course, retiring helped too.


My first several quilts were more or less faithful reproductions of patterns from books.  Once I had made a few quilts I started changing up the patterns to better suit the fabric I had available or my patience with what I found to be a boring block.


After that log cabin bed quilt class I didn’t take another class until I learned to hand quilt (the right way) from Jane Hall.  Books were my usual guides. I did have a childhood with a grandmother and mother who sewed, so dealing with fabric and a sewing machine was already in my skill set.  I have mixed feelings about classes.  Often classes are geared to making a specific pattern and turn into sewathons.  I’ve found the most useful classes to be techniques oriented, and have enjoyed online classes through Quilt University and Craftsy.  However, I understand that classes to make a specific pattern are going to be more popular (and sell more fabric and gadgets) so quilt shops offer more of them.

So, how did I get from traditional quilts to contemporary/art quilts?  I didn’t wake up one day and think, I’m now an art quilter.  Honestly, it happened because I grew really bored with making the same block over and over to produce a quilt.  First, I got tired of using only 4 or 5 fabrics in a quilt.  I became enamored with scrap quilts.


Next came designing block combinations with graph paper and colored pencils.  I love to color.  Then, I started sewing scraps together with no pattern to make new cloth.  And that was fun.  But I had to make some sense of that new cloth, and that’s when I began working without a net.

Autumn Whispers

Yes, I still make quilts (mostly blocks) from a pattern, especially for paper piecing.  No, I don’t think I’ll make any more bed quilts.  Five is enough. I’m enjoying quilting more than I ever did.  I’ve learned what delights me – color mostly, as well as the lure of the “that looks interesting; let’s play with it.”  It’s great if other people like what I make, but I do this stuff for myself.

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New Year, New Project

I’m going to tackle one of my quilting resolutions this month, though I started the project in December (of 2012, of course. Was there any doubt in your mind?)  Along the lines of slow food I’m going to try slow quilting.  By this I mean carefully considering a project, planning it, drawing it out, and then sewing it.  Please stop laughing.

A friend lent me Gloria Loughman’s Quilted Symphony and I’ve been itching to try her planned approach.  All the shapes are drawn on stabilizer and freezer paper, appliqued/paper pieced individually, and then sewn together.  It’s a bit similar to Vikki Pignatelli’s technique, but strikes me as less improvisational.  As you can see from the picture below, Gloria’s technique is curves friendly.

So when I came across this picture of a mosaic I thought it would be adaptable for a quilt – lots of curved lines, different textures, room for embellishment, etc.


My first step, the only one I’ve done so far, was to trace a picture of the mosaic, grid it, and then expand the drawing using a larger grid. Pre-photo copier days this was about the lowest cost method to enlarge a picture.

mosaic-gridNext, I gridded a piece of plain wrapping paper to the size I want my finished quilt to be.  Then, I carefully drew my design to the larger scale, using the positioning on my original grid.  For my next step I’ll go over my pencil lines with black marker, though I think I’ll mark the bits to be appliqued with red marker.  After that I’ll be in terra incognita as I try to create patterns from the individual pieces.  And of course I’ll have the fun of creating unique fabrics for the pieces.  I can see this will be a long term project.


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Pressing Matters

An iron is the unsung work horse of a quilter.  Alas, it gets no respect though it’s used in every step of making a quilt from pressing fabric yardage to making binding.  And I haven’t even mentioned fusing, setting fabric paint, or blocking a finished quilt.  Ever since my mother’s old Sunbeam iron gave up the ghost I haven’t been able to establish a long-term monogamous relationship with another iron.

Last week my Rowenta travel iron snapped (I mean that literally as the handle would no longer stay in place) and I went shopping for a replacement.  First I looked at online reviews and found very few irons have been well received.  They spit, leak, stop heating up, etc.  And many of the poorly reviewed irons were Rowentas, which are not cheap.  While I liked my travel iron, I noticed it was leaking and generally less hot than when it was new 3 years ago.

Since I had a 20% off coupon from a home goods store I decided to confine my shopping there.  One iron on their website stood out for good reviews – a Black and Decker Digital Advantage iron which was rated 4.5 stars.  And it cost $40.  Let’s see, at 20% off that comes to $32, same price as the Rowenta travel iron. Sold.

I’ve been using it for 4 days now and so far have been delighted with it.  It holds lots of water (tap water, yeah) for steam and you can see how much water is left.  You can set the steam level.  It dings to let you know when it’s reached the temperature you set it at.  It does have an auto shutoff, but that kicks in at 10 minutes.  And yes, it also dings when it shuts itself off.

So far, so good.  It’s early days for this relationship.  I’ll let you know if it continues to go smoothly.


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Teeny Triangles

I like to work on two different types of projects at the same time – one that’s experimental and one that’s more defined. Why? Because I can turn to the latter when I get stuck on the former.  I just started Dancing Stars from Amy’s Creative Side with the pattern and fabric placement  already set. All I’m changing is the fabrics used. Amy uses traditional paper piecing, which means you have to rip out the paper once you’ve sewn on top of it.  I’ve decided to use freezer paper piecing, and have modified the pattern accordingly. In a previous post I described how I do this method.  I’ve also modified the size of some of the fabric pieces to use less fabric.  It took me a while to figure out why the directions called for 4 inch fabric squares when it looked like you’d need only a 2.5 by 4 inch piece.  The light dawned when I sewed my first block.  My solution was to cut fabric pieces on an angle to match the pattern.  I’m sure this makes no sense unless you’re actually making this pattern yourself.

So far I’ve chosen a background fabric – ash gray, because it’s the lightest solid I have a yard of, and about 20 or so bright fabrics for those bitty triangles.  I also have lots of solid white, so I’m good there.  The pattern can be made in several sizes, from doll quilt to queen, but I’m not sure yet what size I’ll end up with.  It will certainly be no larger than a throw.


I’ve gotten the freezer paper cut and labeled and prepped enough fabric for about 20 blocks.


Here are the four strips sewn, but not yet trimmed.


And the first block is sewn together.  Based on this first block I’ve trimmed off the seam allowance from my freezer paper so I can keep the paper on the fabric when I sew the strips together.  Otherwise, I need to remove the paper before that step.  And that affects accuracy.

Hmmm, I just tried sewing together the second block with the freezer paper on and found the results were no more accurate.  So I’ll remove the freezer papers after I sew each strip.   I’m heading back to my sewing room to dance with the stars.



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I Hereby Resolve…

Because of this blog I’m putting my quilting resolutions in writing for the first time.  It certainly seems harder than just having some vague notions.  I may regret doing this, but here goes…

In 2013 I will:

Actually use the fabric I’ve been hoarding for many years.  Here’s just some of my choices.  I think the blue one was purchased in 2006.


Figure out some way to use the African fabrics I bought at a quilt show.


At least develop a quilting plan for my big “art quilt”.  This was done at Nancy Crow’s barn in 2011 and it’s high time I moved on with it.


Continue dyeing fabric, and expand into resists.  A subset of this resolution is to use the “pretty” fabric I dyed in 2012. I’ve had no problem cutting up the ugly stuff, which actually has proved to me there is no ugly fabric, given the right context. It’s all a function of what you put it next to.  Think of the pretty girls you knew who always had a less attractive friend with them at bars, etc., to make them look even better.

yellow-orange overdye

Actually do a whole quilt in free motion quilting (I even have a top to use for this.)

Actually put zippers on my pillows.  Because I usually make quilted pillows under time constraints and have ugly memories of my ham-handedness at zipper insertion, I just do an overlap closing.  However, this tutorial makes putting a zipper in a snap, or so I’m told.

Work through a quilt from an actual photo or design rather than throwing fabric together on the design wall.  Is it cheating if I already have one in mind?

OK, that’s seven resolutions.  I think I’ll stop before I dig myself too deep a hole.

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