Friday, November 30, 2007

November Journal Quilt

On the surface, there's not much about this month's journal quilt that would indicate a tie to the monthly calendar theme of Faith. However, the quotation that goes with it may shed some light: "No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green which it wakes into existence needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted to the sower to live to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith..." - Albert Schweitzer. And so I hope it is with this piece - begun in faith that somewhere down the line, the seeds of ideas sewn here will grow and blossom months from now and be worth this trial.

The harvest theme seemed the perfect place to start my experimentation with the palette suggested by the dry grass and ferns along the bike trail punctuated by white berries and red rosehips (see this post). Here is where I began pulling fabrics to match those colors.

At this point I didn't have a design or pattern in mind. By the time I decided to work with it in the journal quilt, I was tired from a trip, preoccupied with my dog's health, and not in much of a mood to work up an elaborate design. Crazy piecing with my scraps seemed a simple approach to see how these colors might work together.

Here's the fabric I worked with. Notice some are leftover strip sets from other projects. Scissors and a rotary cutter would do the cutting, finger pressing the ironing.

I started by cutting a small triangle and randomly sewing fabric around it, trimming as I went.

Some got white triangle, some red. I soon realized that there wasn't enough white and started adding slices from a strip set that had white in it.

Because I wasn't foundation piecing, my blocks were coming out odd sizes. Eventually, I had to decide on a size and square them up as any other method of fitting them together would have been more work than I wanted at the moment. If I were to do this again, I'd do more placement planning and not have block divisions.

To make this fit the journal dimension, I ended up making 4 different sizes of blocks. I played a bit with arrangement, but again, was frustrated by the limitations the random placement had created.

Here's the back - lots of seams with this kind of work. At first I tried pressing seams open, but that soon became a liability; pressing seams to the outside for the most part worked best.

I was at a bit of a loss as to how to quilt it, thinking I'd mimic the plant stems and branches with wavy crossing lines in brown. I fused Decor Bond to my batting, then spray basted the top to the batting so I could quilt this with a walking foot and not worry about shifting.

Since I finished this it has grown on me, but initially, I wasn't that happy with the outcome. The red does not pop like I thought it would, and I wished there was more of it. (This could have been remedied with red garnet stitch quilting or addition of beads, but I wasn't willing to put in the extra time). That's probably why I opted for this bright red binding, which is just 1/8" wide. I also wish I'd cut the starter triangles larger - again, not enough pop for my money.

If nothing else, this was instructional: I have since thought of better designs to work with. Well, maybe not better, but ones more suited to my style and need for a little more control. I can see the potential of this color palette with the red accent. I think this is a seed worth planting and now I just have to have faith and patience about where it will grow from here. Mostly I am pleased that I didn't let my unexpected inspiration from a few weeks ago fade away or be pushed to the bottom of my priorities untried.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Work Resumes...

...on the baby quilt. If you look closely at the photo, you can see snow outside my window - 6 inches that arrived Monday night. Today was brilliant with sunshine, making the studio a warm and inviting place to be, Robert Palmer the artist of choice blaring from the CD player. It's been nearly two weeks since I worked on this quilt what with the holiday preparations, trip and pet health issues. Oh, yes, and some journal quilting (results to be posted next).

Actually, I think the break was good, allowing me to approach this with fresh eyes. I'm becoming more creative in scrounging more binding, seeing how it doesn't have to be different fabric from what's in the blocks. There's still plenty of work to do, and this is not the final arrangement, but at least I can start to see the beginnings of some interesting lines. As I mentioned before, I knew this wouldn't be a quick quilt to make, but I do think this construction technique is making an exceedingly sturdy quilt, one that will be able to take the wear and tear and washing that a baby quilt will be subjected to.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Judi's October Journal Quilt

It's journal quilt time again, but before I show you what I've been working on for November, I wanted to share my journal partner's journal quilt from October. It's another recreation in fabric of a photo (see below) - one Judi took while hiking near her new home in Oregon. I didn't get a lot of details about her process, but she mentioned that the new technique she tried was using a water soluble stabilizer laid over the top of the finished top with no hooping. She drew her quilting lines right on it, quilted away, then soaked the piece to remove the stabilizer. Her only disappointment was a slight bit of color bleeding from the green hand dyed fabric. So if you decide to use water soluble anything, you really need to be sure all your fabrics are colorfast.

She's thinking she'll probably frame this rather than finish it out like a traditional quilt. I think both the original photo and the quilt are fabulous!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Home Again

This piece of redwork started life as a sample for one of the last classes I taught over two years ago. I fell in love with patterns in the book "The Quilted Cross" and developed a multi-technique learning class using it as the text. I'm not that keen on redwork, but I liked the four designs, everyone was buzzing about redwork at the time, and I'd done enough embroidery in the past for me to feel competent to include it as one component of the class.

At one time, I planned to work the various demo blocks from the class into a sampler quilt and donate it for raffle. More blocks needed to be made and a plan devised for making their various sizes work together. Too many other things had higher priority and so the blocks and fabric were relegated to the "when I have time" bin. All except this piece of redwork. It is small enough to carry around for odd moments, and since I almost always bring along some handwork when I travel, I didn't think it would take very long for it to get completed.

Unfortunately, I didn't find that I enjoyed working on it very much. I found the use of one stitch and one color thread to be tedious and boring (and yet I don't find hand quilting the same stitch with the same color thread boring). I also found that when I traveled, I wasn't quite so apt to pull out handwork in free moments. I guess I was learning at last to relax, and the redwork went in and out of luggage with nary a stitch being added for quite a while. In the meantime, it would sit on the end table by the couch and irritate me every time I spotted it.

So although my trip to spend a few days with friends was brief, I was determined to finish this while we sat talking. I was quite pleased to get something "productive" done while away from home. My new plan is to finish out the various blocks in smaller projects over time and NOT make the other three redwork crosses. This one will get a border and some quilting, hopefully before December 16 so that it can be included in an auction fundraiser. Those deadlines are sure helpful motivation.

I was also pleased to happen upon a calendar store while we were out shopping. The kind of calendar I'm inclined to hang in the studio changes each year, and has been getting harder and harder to decide upon. It was much easier when I could just pick up a quilting calendar, but these don't fit what I'm doing these days. I was delighted to find this one on fractal designs. Several quilt artists have been playing with these (check here and here for starters), and although they fascinate me, I don't think it is something I'll be pursuing. They sure provide inspiration though.

Oh, and thank you for the comments about my poor puppy. The trip was a little rough on her but she perked right up once home. The harness confuses her a bit - she can't tell when she's hooked up to the lead so just stands there patiently waiting even though I'm ready to go! If you have a dog of your own, you might be interested in this quiz (which my lovely did quite well on):

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

If Looks Could Kill

What I thought was a lingering inner ear problem with my dog turned out to be a neck problem instead. I was sternly instructed to go buy a harness for her to wear when I walk her on a lead, and so I did. I couldn't believe it when I spotted the one in my signature teal color. Sorry Jesse, but I couldn't resist. As you can see, she is less than thrilled with my choice. Look, dog, you're not the only long suffering one here...

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers. I'll be back in a few days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Being Domestic...

...and getting ready for a brief trip. And dealing with additional canine health issues. Sheesh. So have had to neglect the studio. I'm not happy with taking this break. On the other hand, I've been enjoying some time in the kitchen to make jam of the raspberries patiently waiting in the freezer, chutney from apples picked weeks ago, banana bread for a church open house. Dog hair has been vacuumed up, bathrooms cleaned, some laundry done, this and that taken care of inside and out. Tomorrow I make pie to take as my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner with friends, and figure out what I have to pack.

We're experiencing another cold snap, but missed getting the predicted snow. The slough is iced over so you won't be seeing any scenes like the one above for awhile. I couldn't figure out what I was seeing at first, then realized the ducks were upending themselves to feed. I am easily amused, as you already know.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slow going...

...but I persevere. I knew this wasn't going to be a "quick" quilt but I did think I'd be farther along by now. In fact, I was quite disappointed at the end of yesterday, thinking I'd at least have all the binding sewn on and be ready to do joins and top stitching today.

I found that I really can't effectively "assembly line sew" because I'm making design decisions as I go, arranging blocks as I did cut-outs and choosing binding accordingly. Couldn't grab a stack and sew one after the other. Consequently, there was a lot of "aerobic quilting" going on yesterday and today, getting up and down, up and down as I sewed a piece, got up to return it to its place and grab the next. The legs sure felt it today! I also caught myself getting tired of doing the same type of sewing, so switched to joining the bound cut-outs to the other side of their block. Today I began by top-stitching the top binding down over the join. Then it was back to cutting and sewing on binding.

I also thought I'd have all the binding cut out yesterday, but this is a bit like the fishes and the loaves in reverse. The more I cut, the more I seemed to need. The more I sewed on, the more cut-outs I felt I needed to make, (and subsequently, the more binding I needed). I'm scrounging again, and by this afternoon, caught myself pulling short discards out of a pile and piecing them to make lengths long enough. Of course, this would all be easier (and faster) if I weren't trying to make do, trying to use up what's on hand. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. But I have to admit to feeling virtuous when I work this way instead of running out and buying exactly what I might need in fabric.

I still like this method, by the way, but am glad I'm not making a big quilt. The actual sewing goes quite easily without much concentration, and I found myself wishing I had some company while I sewed. This is the perfect sort of sewing project to do with others around. Cindy, LeAnn, Judi...where are you when I need you??? In lieu of that, I loaded up the CD player with motivational music. Yesterday was a mix of some older ones I haven't listened to for awhile. Today was really quite fun listening to all five of my Leon Redbone discs, one after another. It was hard to restrain myself from getting up and dancing around the room!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quilting Marathon

I've been working diligently to get my 20 blocks quilted. I was able to quilt half yesterday and the rest today after scrounging a bit more batting. I've used 4 different channel quilting variations, two of which you see above: the wavy vertical one and arcs or fans echoing the fan shape of the cut-outs I'll be making. Not shown is wide straight channels with a zigzagging line through the center of each based on the design in one of the fabrics, and wavy channels running diagonally across the block.

I tried that last one in sort of a "what if" mode, afraid that sewing across the stretchy direction would distort the block or cause puckers. It didn't. Best of all, I found I really liked the undulating pattern it created, something that I think may be the answer to finishing out an idea with a painted piece of fabric. I'd folded the fabric and applied paint, but it didn't seep into the fabric like I thought it would. A faint grid is visible but all in all, it's pretty boring without the right quilting to bring it alive. So I'd set it aside, unhappy that my only quilting ideas were for more straight grid lines. This, I think, is what I'm looking for to jazz it up.

Would I have come up with this if I hadn't been playing around with this pattern for a baby quilt? Something tells me I would not have. This is why I try not to discount using patterns entirely, or to think a non-quiltart project like this is taking me away from the "real" work I should be doing. I try to learn something from everything I do or try, and sometimes not having to fiddle with measurements and basic design can free up the mind to discover wonderful things.

I'm trying hard not to over-think this project, by the way, but the control freak in me finds it hard to be totally random. I've included fabric that at first made me wince to see it against the others, but which I hope in the end will make the quilt more interesting. I tried not to over-match when pairing up my squares, but I couldn't totally allow any old one to end up with any other. It has been somewhat the same with the quilting. Some fabrics don't matter much whether the yellow or the green thread shows up on it. Where I used a fabric more than once, I tried to make sure it wasn't always quilted with the same color. Other fabrics seemed to call out for one color or the other. So I controlled that just a bit.

Next step is doing the cut-outs which surely will challenge me since there are many decisions to be made here: 3 sizes of quarter circles to choose from, the option of making more than one cut-out in a block, and then choosing the binding that will cover the joins. Stay loose, I'm telling myself.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Testing and a Scavenger Hunt

The dog is much improved, and I've made progress on the baby quilt for the new grand-niece. The sample block went together well. As I mentioned in my response to the creativity questions in the last post, I do sometimes revert to using someone else's pattern, and that is what I'm doing here. I wanted to try a method by Sheila Murphy as explained in the spring issue of American Quilter. She calls it the "quilt, cut, flip, and reattach" method of making drunkard path blocks. Essentially, it's a twist on "quilt as you go", and I have to admit there's a great attraction to any method that allows you to do the quilting in small sections. When you're done, you're done, is how I look at it, although there's always the chance a method like this will take more time than if you'd just done it the old fashioned way. Here's how my sample block went.

You start by layering a backing square, a batting square and a top square - all cut at 11" - and quilting it any way you want. I decided to put on my walking foot and do a variety of channel quilting - this first one with wavy lines spaced the width of the foot.

With cotton batting, you can just about get away with no basting, although I added a few straight pins for security. I'm using Superior King Tut thread, green #988 in the top and yellow #982 in the bobbin.

Next, you cut an arc using one of several size templates. I used construction paper weight graph paper and a sharpie pen to draw the cutting line, then cut with scissors. If you had a proper template, this could be cut with a rotary cutter.

Now you flip the cut out section to expose the "back".

Before reattaching the two sections, bias binding is sewn to both front and back of the cut-out in one step. The author implies this can be done without pinning, but I preferred to keep the three pieces aligned with a little help. One binding is slightly wider than the other.

Now the two sections of the block are butted together and held in place with some sort of bridging stitch. She suggests dropping the feeddogs and doing a looping darning stitch, but would allow folks like me to keep our feeddogs up and employ a simple zigzag stitch. To keep the sections from shifting during stitching, she suggests using drafting tape across the join. Drafting tape apparently is less sticky than masking or painter's tape, but of course, I had none on hand. Instead, I'd bought some Duck brand Perfect Release painter's tape which is meant for more delicate surfaces. I'm guessing it would be very similar to the drafting tape and worked fine for me. You pull it off before sewing over the section it is holding in place, and it can be reused a number of times before it loses its grip.

Now the top binding can be finger-pressed into place covering the join and top-stitched down.

And finally, the bottom binding gets the same treatment. Because it is slightly wider than the top binding, the bobbin threads provides a little echo quilting near the edge of the top binding. I was a bit surprised that she would not have you stitch through both bindings at the same time, but perhaps that would be more difficult to pull off than I think.

Now that I know this method works, I can see that with assembly line sewing of the different steps, it should go quite quickly. The original quilt has 64 blocks; my smaller version will have 20. Even so, I ran into a snag finding enough fabric on hand for the 40 11" squares I would need. So much of my fabric is fat quarters, not regular yardage, and to my chagrin, I could only get one square out of each of them, although I have enough left for some of the binding strips. This took me on an archaeological dig into every nook and cranny where I've stored fabric, and then some boxes with fabric set aside for specific projects. Oh, my...I ran across one ancient collection for which I had no recollection of why it'd been grouped and stored, that is until I found some paper pieced house blocks tucked in the middle. I truly pity the poor person who must deal with all this after I'm gone! I was successful though in coming up with enough pink and green fabric to make my 20 blocks. Next step...marathon quilting!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

An Unexpected Distraction

I had planned an ambitious day in the studio, getting to work on the quilt for my new niece. Instead, I was up half the night with Jesse, seen here regally guarding her property. Last night, she was trying to stand up and failing. It looked like a balance problem, but at her ripe old age of 13, I can never be sure that this isn't it. For someone who is not a morning person, it was quite something to be up calling the emergency number for the vet at 5:45, then dressed and out the door with her by 6:30. To my brother, who sees me as this independent, strong woman of pioneer stock, this time you may be right. Who knew I could actually heft nearly 60 pounds of dog and carry her out to the car? Fortunately, I panicked unnecessarily; her problem is indeed one of balance - an inner ear problem that is making her world spin and for which there is no pill or procedure; it will clear up on its own in about a week. In the meantime, the vet gave her a sedative, and yes, there is one thing worse than a staggering, falling down dog; a drugged staggering, falling down dog. She slept most of the morning, then became clingy like a sick child. So while I got the parts for a sample block cut out, that's all I got done. The rest of my day was spent catnapping or consoling a very confused dog. I'm hoping things will go better tomorrow.

In the meantime, Sally (Feather on a Wire) has tagged me, and it is an interesting one. May as well get something productive done today!

1. When did you start and make craft?

I think I was 4 or 5 when I dug out a scrap of fabric, a needle and some floss and tried my hand at embroidery. I've been trying out different crafts ever since.

2. Why did you start creating?

I'm not sure. My mom never felt she was any good at that sort of thing, although she did the obligatory tea towels and sewed some clothing. It wasn't like she was showing me how to do things. I just got interested, and if the supplies were hanging around, I'd give it a go. My aunt gave me a little instruction on knitting, but I pretty much taught myself everything else from pamphlets or magazines. Maybe it was partly because my brothers were quite a bit older than me and we didn't live close to anyone, so there weren't other kids to play with. So I made my own entertainment. Still doing that today.

3. Why do you create?

I get a great deal of personal satisfaction in making my own things, figuring out how to do things, having something different from what everyone is buying in the stores. The process is usually my focus more so than the end product, so I'm usually not in a big rush to get something done. Trying new things, figuring out how to make something work, the exhilaration when I'm successful, those are some of the reasons I create. My head has always been full of ideas sparked by what I'm seeing around me. I also create because part of the process, the hand work usually, has a calming effect on me. Whatever problems I may be having in my life, they seem to fly from my head once I take needle and thread in hand, and start the repetitive process of stitching.

4. What do you create?

Mostly quilts for quite a while now, but I am getting back into knitting and crocheting a bit now too. Just simple things like scarves and shawls. My most recent experimentations with quilts seem to be taking me away from an actual quilt. Machine embroidery, or just plain stitching without batting is starting to interest me.

5. How has this changed since you began crafting?

I used to only use patterns, never designing my own, but often personalizing with a change of color. I didn't have the confidence or could see how to design my own sweaters, for instance. I tried just about everything: knitting, crochet, embroidery, crewel work, cross stitch, needlepoint, rug hooking. But once I got into quilting, I found I could design, and patterns were only a jumping off point for me. Now I feel guilty if I use a pattern in any way, although I occasionally do. The majority of my work now is original designs. I so fell in love with quilting, that I eventually dropped all the other needlecrafts to concentrate on quilting. I suppose something else that has changed is that I no longer create things to either keep or give away. I'm now selling some of my creations.

Thanks, Sally, for giving me a chance to think about these things. It's all part and parcel of my creative journey. Now for the lucky ones I get to tag: Nikki, Pat, Felicity, Margaret, Anne.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Here's something that caught my attention on the bike trail recently. I don't know what plant the white berries are from, but there are bunches of them. I thought it was interesting the way they popped off the tan backdrop - sort of the taupe palette thing I've read about lately. I know quite a few quilters who like to work in this monochromatic color scheme. But I must admit, I was thinking it might be a little blah for an art quilt. Then I noticed little pops of red around the central cluster of white berries. These were a surprise and I thought they were just what a piece would need to add interest to an otherwise neutral palette. They add more than just an accent, I think. They add something unexpected. I thought about how Joen Wolfrom teaches that every thing you need to know about color you can learn from observing nature.

So I brought a sample of each color home and proceeded to match them to fabric in my stash. The white berry (sitting on the brown fabric at the bottom) turned out not to be white after all, not even cream really. It has a slight greenish tint to it. The rose hip is my very favorite shade of red. And the dried-up fern plays to my love of brown neutrals. I think I'm going to try something abstract, but I haven't quite settled on how to approach it yet.

In the meantime, today heralds the arrival of a grandniece. Yikes, that makes me feel old. I just realized I've been thinking of this baby as a niece, but in fact, her father is my nephew. No matter, there aren't many females on this side of the family, so we welcome her heartily. And of course, a girly pink quilt is in order! This is actually a pretty poor picture of a variety of pinks I pulled from my stash today. I noticed that the little girl's mother has decorated with green and yellow accents, different from my thought of adding purple to the pink. I really liked the way it looked so have a few laid out here too.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I'm in that wonderful stage between projects. All decisions and work is done and I'm contemplating what to dive into next. In the meantime, I'm puttering: sorting and filing and putting away all that has been strewn about the studio while the last project was in progress; catching up on everyday life chores, like laundry, vacuuming, clearing off tables. The stacks really accumulate and can get quite scary! No end to the little things that get set aside but eventually need attending to. This downtime from creating is actually a very creative time. I find with the pressure off, the intensity of focus on completing a project gone, my subconscious is percolating with new ideas and letting them bubble to the surface. Like I need new ideas, but there they are and I'm not going to set them aside this time.

I'm also catching up on my reading, another endless source of inspiration for me. The picture above comes from a Smithsonian Magazine article about Singapore. When I turned the page, I wasn't sure what I was looking at, but the image knocked my socks off. Those shapes and colors! They didn't look like they could possibly be of anything real. But on closer inspection, I could see that this is a nighttime shot of loading docks. Now, I don't intend to reproduce this picture, but it is giving me ideas about color combinations if nothing else.

Also grabbing my attention: has added me to their mailing list and I received my first catalog in the mail yesterday. Oh, my - there is an awful lot of decent art out there, and poring over the catalog is a mini lesson in color and design theory. I find it much easier to study the pieces in catalog form than on the web. I'll keep this one for future reference.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I absolutely hate taking pictures of my finished quilts. I don't have the right set up really. There's no place in my house, no clear wall space with good enough light where I can get far enough away for the bigger ones, no portable design wall to pin it to. I'm too cheap to invest in the kind of lighting to properly take the indoor shots. And setting up outside is often a crap shoot. Even if I manage a time when the sun isn't beating down or my best area in the shade, then there's wind to contend with. I've ditched the use of my old Canon TX now that slides are rarely called for, but rue the fact that I didn't get a digital camera with "real" lenses. I'm constantly contending with dark areas at the corner of my shots and distortions curving my otherwise straight quilt edges. I also find that some colors do not translate accurately in the digital medium. However, the great advantage to digital is that you know the shortcomings of your shots immediately, and can keep trying.

So I've been dragging my feet about taking the final really good pictures of the angel quilt, knowing I'd have to set up outside to do it, and also knowing how time consuming it would be. I have a quilt display stand and a grey cloth to use as a backdrop, but it is such a pain to set up. And it is getting pretty chilly, even when the sun peaks out. I put it off yesterday, hoping today might be a better day. Actually, it was - overcast and mostly calm, but very cold. I almost avoided it again, trying to convince myself that I could get shots after hanging it in the church tomorrow. But no, the lighting is even worse there, I fear, so I sucked it up.

It helped that I allowed myself to cheat. As you can see, I hung it on the outside of the shed in my backyard. I know I can Photoshop the background out of my pics, so all I needed was something with a bit of contrast and that I could push my push pins into to rest the dowel on. Then it was set up the camera on a tripod and experiment with the various settings while my fingers froze. I shouldn't have bothered; the auto setting gave as good if not better shots as any of my manual settings. The pictures came out pretty good, the colors true, and they are high enough resolution to meet any need, although I don't plan on sending this around anywhere.

Thanks for the positive comments. Wanda reminded me that I meant to tell you how big this quilt is. I have named it, "Angel of the Rock" and it is 30 inches wide by 36 inches long. The label has lots of information on it, including inspiration for the design and quotations from the dedication service of the new location of my church (my reason for making it). I printed it on muslin using my dot matrix printer. That ink is permanent once heat set. I used to struggle with keeping my label edges square since I'd iron under the raw edges by eye. Then I had one of those "duh" moments, and started using a ruler to pencil in the turn line so that I had the perfect guide. I also realized I could use basting glue instead of pins to hold it in place, which makes the hand sewing much easier.

Now, on to other things!