Thursday, February 4, 2021

Hexie Quilt Top

I finished a quilt.  It is made up of large hexagons and was fairly straight forward to put together.
 I didn't plan this quilt ahead of time.  I was cutting some 3 inch strips for another project and decided that I could cut an extra 2 inch strip and use them for a project later.  I wasn't sure what would become of them but it wasn't long before I had decided to make hexagons.  My other top was on hold as I waited for some background fabric to arrive, so I went ahead and made them up. I chose to hand quilt it. I like look and feel of hand quilting on a finished project, and I also really enjoy the process of handwork. This quilt is bright and happy. It will make a very sweet gift for someone, although since I made it on a whim I don't have a recipient in mind. I hope it finds a happy home soon.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Half Square Triangles and Scraps

Scraps are kind of a big issue with quilters.  I know I'm not alone when I sometimes feel buried in them.  I've done lots of looking online and I even have some books on scrap quilting, because as much as I hate to throw them away, I struggle to make the most of them.  In my scrap bins, fabric looks sad.  I know there is tons of fabric in there, and I even like a lot of it, but it is so much harder to use because when I go looking for a piece it has to be both big enough and the right color.  Then it needs to be individually cut.  Last year, I took the bins to my daughter's middle school where I ran a quilt club.  We worked on half square triangle projects, and they used my scraps for the fabric.  I was sure that would shrink my scraps, but by March, when school went remote, 13 kids had used the bins, and I couldn't see a dent in the fabric.  When I got the bins back home I decided it was time to be purposeful about using scraps in my quilt tops.  After all, I really enjoy making my own thing.  I don't tend to buy entire lines of fabric because I prefer to mix lines and come up with my own combinations.  I like to put fabric together in my own way, tweak patterns or sometimes just make my own.  And I don't have to churn out a quilt or two a week to support my family.  Fast or easy quilts don't necessarily excite me.  I quilt because it brings me joy.  So if it takes me extra time to cut out fabric and find a home for it within a quilt top, that's okay.

To this end, I started making a few quilts before my kids finished school last spring with an aim of making some scrap heavy quilts. I chose a couple of scrap quilts I've seen around online.  I wanted to give a quilt to my youngest son's kindergarten teacher to thank her for the excellent care she took of him and his class, both in person and remotely.

I also made a half square triangle quilt. Because I have more blue scraps than any other, it seemed like a good idea to start there.  That and the fact that most people consider orange (my go-to color) to be nice as an accent at best.  Anyway, I found a layout for a half square triangle quilt that I really liked on pinterest, and cut a bunch of my blue scraps into squares.  The other half of the squares were cut from a white fabric, I think from Hawthorne Threads.  I made up 100 half square triangles and put the top together.  Then I decided to practice machine quilting the white portions of the quilt.

For the quilting design I tried using my environment as a jumping off point. We go with our kids to the beach to tidepool when there are few enough people to stay safely distanced.  Between this and reading Pagoo with my kids, an excellent book by HC Hollings about a hermit crab and life in the tide pools, my mind was really stuck at the beach.  I tried to quilt the purple muscles that cluster together on the rocks into the white diamonds on the quilt.  It does look cool, but my daughter told me she thought I was going for peacock feathers, so although I'm happy with it, I don't know if I can say I nailed it.  When I was finished with the white parts, I had to make a decision about the blue fabric.  I probably didn't need to quilt it, but I felt that it would be better with some quilting in it.  My first thought was to do a bit more machine quilting, but I really enjoy the look and feel of hand quilting, so I went with that.  Overall, I'm happy with the finished project.  Plus, this did cut back on some of my bigger scraps.   This quilt was gifted to my daughter's violin teacher for Christmas. She has been Paolina's teacher since 2013, until she switched instruments -- she's now working on the stand-up bass. We wanted to thank her for her many years of work with our daughter. Good teachers are more than just people who deliver content to students. We will always value her, both for her skill and her care.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Word Search Quilt

Over last summer, fall and winter I worked on and completed a quilt for my youngest son.  He had an old quilt on his bed, one that I made in college with reproduction 20s fabrics.  I no longer like those fabrics and found them to be totally ridiculous on my 5 year old's bed.  Since he was/is learning to read, I thought it would be fun to make him a word search quilt that he could interact with and find hidden words and messages.  Some of the words are really beyond him still, like creature or astute, but there are others in there that are perfect, like his name and boy, poop or Mommy loves me.  I spent quite a bit of time during the summer and fall hand appliquéing all the letters to fabric.  I used Kona black for the letters, chose a font from my computer, enlarged it and then made templates of the entire alphabet.  Then I cut squares from all the low volume, whitish fabric I had for the background squares. I made a drawing of what I wanted the finished project would look like, and then made a list of how many of each letter I needed to stitch.  I started with words I wanted to make and then filled in all the letters around them.  I did lose at least one word, silly, when my boys came into the sewing room and rearranged my letters for me while they were waiting on the wall to be stitched together.  By the time I realized what had happened, it was really too late.  I chose to let it go.  The only unpicking I did was a set of letters that spelled SOB.  I just couldn't let that go.

When I had all the letters finished, I machine pieced them together, added a couple of borders to make it big enough for his twin bed.  I looked at several different backing options, a few of which I really liked.

Ultimately, I went with the owls.  I just thought he would really enjoy them.  Once basted, I hand quilted it using valdani size 12 cotton thread.  The thread was a variegated grey-blue, and most of it was pretty light.  Using a big stitch really makes for a fast hand quilt.  I like the look of it and it feels great.

I made a pillow in the same style for one of my daughters and hand quilted it with a tradtitional small stitch.  Comparatively, it took much longer to complete, but I thought it also quilted up beautifully, so either are good options.

This spring as part of our distance learning I sent a picture of the quilt to my son's teacher.  I think she had them working on word searches and thought she'd enjoy it.  She sent it to the entire kindergarten class and had them find as many words as they could as one of the their daily activities.  Miles chose to do his on his actual quilt.  We had fun.

The only thing I would do really differently if I were to make this quilt again, is to change the words.  He's already on to other things.  This year he's into nature in a big way.  We've been watching our caterpillars eat our plants and turn into butterflies.  We've been watching and identifying the birds in our backyard.  We've counted lizards and learned about them, and watched the moon and the tides.  He no longer wants to play the piano, but would rather take violin lessons, and at 6 he can do so much more than he could just a year ago.  But I guess that's the nature of childhood and parenthood.  The quilt captures a moment in his childhood.  I could make him several more on his way to manhood and each would be a different quilt.

I originally planned to make two quilts, one for each of my sons.  However, after much deliberation, my older son has requested something completely different.  He would like me to make him a platypus quilt.  Something with a big platypus in the middle, either pieced or appliquéd, with a green background and lots of other animals on the sides.  I haven't begun the work for that quilt yet.  I thought maybe something in the style of Elizabeth Hartman, but lately I've really been more excited about mixing pieced work with applique.  So maybe I'll do some piecing in between or around appliquéd animals?  Drafting that will take some energy and time.  I have some other projects to finish up before taking on this new project.  

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Old Maid's Puzzle Blocks

Two of my kids used to go to a Waldorf school in our area.  There are so many things I love about it, especially the Waldorf approach to learning and being human.  It spoke to my children, but it also spoke to me. At Waldorf schools, they immerse themselves in a thing until they are done.  They allow themselves the time to understand a concept on many different levels.  To let it really seep in.  By the time a study is complete, my kids knew the thing in their guts;  it had become a part of them.

Frequently, I heard ideas sprinkled throughout my interactions with the community that rang true, especially from their teachers.  Mostly it reinforced what I already believed, but occasionally there was a message tucked into a conversation that I needed for myself.  One time, when I was talking with a teacher about kids finishing projects, she said it was like a muscle.  You finish one project, and you are better able to begin and see the next project through to its finish.  Basically, it's a good practice.  I have no problem with this concept.  I believe in it.  But sometimes I hit an obstacle trying to put it into practice.

Right now, as I (and every other parent around the world) homeschool my children for an unknown amount of time, I am revisiting some of these valuable lessons and asking myself important questions.  How do I want my children and myself to spend each day?  What is the right balance between work and play?  What makes an experience valuable and how do I make sure that my family is nourished, body and soul, through this time?  As I navigate my way through assigned work and "enrichment" offered by the public school system, I am startled by the stark difference between it and the Waldorf community.  One is a "do it all" approach and one is methodical and slow.  What is right for my family and how do I find a balance that keeps my children tapped into their school community while being true to the things I believe have value?  Like all people who embrace the Waldorf philosophy around the world, I limit technology at my home, so online curriculums are hard for me to embrace.  I believe young children should have tactile learning experiences without much screen time.  So I have begun building projects based on the learning my children need to be doing.  Reading practice, math practice- yes.  But also projects that let them think about the natural world, how things work, and art, and writing. Games that make us laugh and help us be together.  And puzzles.  I love puzzles.

My kids found this guy in our house.
We think we found him in our insect ID book.

We are making gardens and studying backyard birds.  We are looking into building birdhouses and how to attract specific species of birds to our yard.  We are drawing pictures and thinking about flight.  We are reading fantasy books and writing about what we see each day.  Each day we try to dig a little deeper, find out something more or just take time to see our surroundings.  We need to water our garden, make our food, engage our bodies and our brains.  And right now, that's a lot of work.

Miles is working on an oriole study.
But I am also thinking about myself.  I find so much pleasure in quilting.  It brings me peace, and grounds me.  It connects me to the moment, but also to the past and future.  I delight in texture and color.  I love the finish, but I really love the process.  I like to make quilts from patterns and from my head.  I have so many ideas that I sometimes have trouble staying with a project all the way through to its finish.  I suspect I'm not alone in this.  As a result, I have a pile of WIPs that have been neglected for a long time.  Some of them have been waiting years to be finished, but somewhere along the way they were set aside, and if not abandoned all together, they have certainly been neglected.  I haven't lost interest, I just hit a road block in each of them.  I see that I haven't embraced the practice of taking a project to its finish.  That's not to say I haven't finished anything.  In fact, I've been fairly productive.  But I also have plenty of room to grow in this area.

Now that I have some time at home, I'm really going to try to tackle those projects, or at least some of them.   I picked out a few projects to start.  I have three main pieces to complete.  One is a traditional Old Maid's Puzzle quilt.  I pieced several blocks from Anna Maria Horner's Luminous (maybe 2) line.  I almost never make an entire quilt from one collection of fabric.  It just isn't for me generally. In fact, I never buy an entire line of fabric.  But in this case, I bought it thinking that I had a use for it and then when I found I didn't, I thought I could repurpose it.  I wanted to keep the collection together because I loved the drape of the fabric.  I have a shot cotton quilt that is my favorite, and I felt that this would be a similar feel.  I did a sample block out of Kona cotton, just to test it out, and found it was a lot of piecing, but nothing difficult.  And then I started working with the woven fabric. All the points were difficult to get right.  The fabric slides around and as pretty as it is, I found it was not really fun to piece.  I got through seven of the sixteen blocks, put it away, and only pulled it out when I was moving my sewing room a few weeks ago.  I decided to complete a block a day, and planned to have it be a 64" square throw.  Then my daughter decided she really liked it and would like it on her bed.  She sleeps on a top bunk, so the quilt doesn't need to be generously sized.  Too big and the bed is difficult to make.  So I thought I could add one more row of blocks to the bottom and it would be perfect.  Unfortunately, I didn't have enough of any one piece of fabric to make that work.  So I came up with a second idea.  I would cut pieces out of my scraps to make 4"x5" rectangles and piece 2 rows of them as a border for the top and bottom.  But, as I worked on that, she didn't like it.  I checked in with the rest of my family, who didn't like it, and then I texted pictures out to my extended family, who didn't like it...

So, now I'm stuck again.  But this time, I need to come up with a solution.  I'm giving myself a few days to ponder my options, and then I will face this problem again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Setting Up a Quilt Frame

About 25 years ago, my mom took me to meet some Amish quilt makers in Lancaster Pennsylvania.  She has never quilted, but I was already hooked and she did her best to nourish and encourage my passion.  I didn’t know any hand quilters and was struggling to figure out how it worked.  So, we went to Lancaster, where my mom had a connection to some kind women and we chatted with them about their quilts.  While we were chatting with one quilt maker, her husband came home and somehow we decided that I needed a quilt frame.  The husband asked us to come back in the morning and when we did he had a miniature quilt frame that he had built during the night.  I remember him saying that we couldn’t bring a full size frame back with us on the plane, but we could take the model and show it to a carpenter who could make it for me.  And that is what we did.  

When I got it, I set it up and used it a bit.  But then I put it away in favor of hand held frames and it stayed in my mom’s garage until I moved back to California a few years ago.  Since then it has lived in my garage.  But a few months ago I took it out and put it in my living room.  It has held many quilt tops since then, but more as a hanger, as I thought about setting up the frame.

The problem is that I forgot how to get a quilt onto it.  I remembered bits and pieces of the process, but not all of it.  I tried looking online, but there is nothing that quite matches the frame I have, especially since it is not a commercial frame.  Anyway, here is what I’ve done.

We started with a bare frame.  Then we attached scrap pieces of canvas that were cut to the size of the poles and stapled them to the frame, allowing a little overhang to try to make it easier to pin a quilt to it later.

Once that was done we had to measure the quilt we wanted to put on the frame.  Then we adjusted the bottom of the frame to be the same size as the quilt top.  That was difficult because the holes don't seem to match up well to many different sizes.  After working at it for a bit we were able to get it close enough to attach the quilt on the top.  

We needed to pin both long sides of the frame to the quilt so that we could turn the quilt and access the middle.  This was a pretty big pain and I would worry more on a quilt that wasn't already partially quilted and basted.  Once we got it attached, we clamped one side down and had some of our kids hold the frame (it's on wheels, which is great for moving it, but not handy when you are manipulating the quilt onto the frame) while we pulled tight the other end and then rolled the quilt toward the middle.  Once we had it close enough we clamped it down and I gave it a try.  It was pretty good, but in the end, we rolled both sides a bit more so that I could actually reach the middle of the quilt.  It is really hard to quilt and reach and I feel like it would get painful, so it works best to be able to easily reach to the middle or the edge of the quilted section.  

After setting it up, both of my daughters gave it a try and we had fun working for a little while.  Then we tilted the quilt up and pushed it against the wall so that we could have dinner.  

We did this a couple of days ago and I have been enjoying it and using it throughout the day.  I do love how it can be moved around the room and stowed against the wall when not in use.  I think it helps to protect the quilt and also is really practical with a busy family in the house.  

Here is a list of adjustments we plan to make and questions I have about getting it on the frame...
-I'd like to be able to hold it steady while quilting.  We are going to add a peg to the sides to accomplish this.  
-We also need brakes on the wheels to keep it from moving unintentionally.
-I'd like to get more positions drilled into the bottom of the frame so that it is easier to adjust it to the correct size for the quilt I need.
-We are getting some different clamps to make it easier to attach the frame at the corners and also some clamps that will help hold the quilt onto the sides instead of pinning there.  It is difficult to get the pins in because of the width of the wood.  

-My biggest question is about adding the quilt to the frame.  I don't think I need to baste it in the future, but I'm not sure.  Also, I'm wondering how to keep all the layers smooth while the turning happens.  I think there is probably a way to do this, but right now I think I will have to lay everything on the floor, flat, attach the layers together to the side of the frame and start turning.  I'm not sure if this will work though, because I think it may bunch up the bottom at the middle. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Quilt Finish: Blue Strings

It took much longer to finish this quilt than I originally anticiapted.  First because I decided to hand quilt it and second because I bumped my niece's birthday quilt ahead of it and decided to hand quilt that one as well.  I've also had a few different projects that I've been trying to keep up with, so there have been plenty of distractions, but I did finally finish this project.  And it is a pleasure to have it on my bed.

Actually, it has been on my bed for a bit now, beginning right in the middle of a heat wave.  I finished up the binding poolside at my brother's house.  We spent some time there this summer working on our swimming skills, burning off extra energy, having fun and staying cool.

I really do like this quilt.  As I mentioned before, I saw the idea online somewhere, I think it was maybe a post from the MQG? Anyway, it works for my bed because it is clean, but not plain.  All the blues mixed together do have energy, but it doesn't feel busy.  Maybe that's because of the solids.  It also has great texture, just like Scarlet's quilt.

I worry that it will be torn up, with all the use/abuse it gets from my kids all over it.  Every night, they take a detour into our room and jump right on the bed instead of going to the bathroom to get washed up.  And then there's the reading.  On the one hand, I love that we lounge on a lovely quilt, on the other, it will shorten the quilt's life.  I knew this when I made it though, and I made it to be used, so I am doing what I can to accept this and enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Scarlet's Irish Chain

Over Christmas my (then 4 year old) niece Scarlet informed me that she was moving out of her mom's bed and into her own.  So she needed a quilt.  We talked about what she had in mind and she told me she'd like it to be red, of course, and also purple and yellow.

One of my favorite things about my own kids is their intrepid ideas when it comes to color. Sometimes, they end of with a hot mess, and sometimes their color combinations are refreshing or exciting.  But I'm always inspired by the way they go after it and come up with something interesting.  Which is exactly what I loved about Scarlet's order.  

I liked the idea of an irish chain for this project because it can be chain pieced quickly and still look great, and I knew I could get all of her colors in without much trouble.  When I talked with my sister about the quilt, she told me the only way she could see me going wrong was for the quilt to be too tame.  Scarlet likes colors, and they need to be bright!

I wasn't happy with the beginning work on this project, which was the chained pieced portion, so I ultimately decided to go the long route and cut and place each individual piece.  Doing this allowed me to bring in more fabrics.  I had a bunch of different yellows, reds, purples and oranges in my stash, so I felt that this would be a great way to use some of these up without having to go buy a bunch more.  I also cut up and used some of my daughters' old Peek skirts that I was saving for special projects, which makes it a bit more special for me.  This solved the need to buy more fabric, but made the project considerably more time consuming.  

Before starting the project I had intended to machine quilt it.  I kept that plan right up to the moment when I needed to begin the quilting part and realized I didn't want to do that.  Instead, I opted for a variety of celtic designs on the larger blocks, taken from a book I bought about 25 years ago while visiting Ireland, and then to finish the chain blocks with the same little xs I have been using for my blue strings quilt.

Scarlet had a birthday in April and I wanted to get the project finished as my birthday gift to her, so it really started to take up most of my sewing time for a couple of months.  In the end, I finally finished it, a bit late, but in enough time for my mom to take to her when she went for the birth of Scarlet's baby sister in late May.  

This is not my favorite quilt, aesthetically speaking.  I do love the texture.  The little quilted xs make it extra soft.  And it is made with much love.  I backed it with a red flannel that I thought would be cozy for her in the Wisconsin winters.  But despite the quilt lacking appeal for me personally, she loves it.  It is apparently just what she had in mind.  I tried to send progress pictures to her along the way to get her opinions and make sure we were heading in the right direction.  I wish that I could have been there to give it to her personally, but I love that she loves it.  And I love that she knew to come right to me for this quilt.