Friday, January 31, 2014

Improv Piecing - It's Not For Everyone

As a relatively new quilter, I am still learning big lessons with each and every project that I make. Some lessons deal with the mechanics of quilting, like fabric, thread types, and fun tools of the trade. Other, sometimes bigger lessons, are about me as a quilter and what I like and dislike, what works for me and what doesn't. As I noted earlier, making scrappy log cabins didn't sit well with me so I remade them.

I finished my Accuracy Quilt back in October but I still didn't have a backing for it and it's almost February. Until now. I finally finished piecing it yesterday and I can't begin to tell you how painful it was for me. When making the quilt top the biggest thing I learned on that project is that I'm more accurate when I press my seams open. The biggest thing I learned with the back - I HATE improv piecing. Okay, hate is a strong word - let's just say that I'm not very good at it and it caused me way more stress than it probably should have. In my everyday life, I like order. I guess it makes sense that I like order in my quilts. Lesson learned!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Story Behind the Quilt

In a matter of weeks I finished up the Brown Bear quilt that I've been working on. I'm so proud of this quilt and almost wish I could keep it for myself but it's for a very special person - my son's preschool teacher. When I mentioned this to someone recently, she was a bit surprised that I would spend so much time and effort to make something so beautiful and costly for someone I hardly know.

Under different circumstances I might have agreed and knitted a cute little baby hat like I've done in the past. But not this time. This time is different because in the last few months we've learned that my 3 year old son has autism, dyspraxia, and sensory processing disorders. This past fall he started school in a 5-day-a-week intervention preschool program, one that specializes in working with preschoolers who are behind developmentally in an effort to get them up to speed in time for kindergarten. In that time we've witnessed him communicating more, even having short conversations with us. When he picked up a pen and drew a circle on a notepad, it brought me to tears. I don't take for granted the impact that a great teacher or mentor can have on a child. We still have a long way to go and no idea where this journey will take us but there are good people - special people - who are there to help us. THAT is why I chose to make this.

On my son's first day of school, I walked into his classroom and saw that it was decorated in pictures and posters of Eric Carle's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" which is why I chose the Andover fabrics. It just made sense. Here's a photo of the label and the back:


Instead of adding the label after the quilt was done, I used the method that Kelly, from My Quilt Infatuation, shows in her tutorial. After much debating (on my part) I've decided I'm going to wash this quilt before I gift it, mainly because I'm dying to see what it looks like all soft and crinkly. Now I just have to wait until March!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Finished Sew Along Project

Earlier this month I decided to participate in the 2014 Sewalong hosted by Caroline from the SewCanShe blog. It was a straighforward challenge - make a project of your choosing with mini log cabin blocks. I decided to make a little mat for my teapot using green and cream fabrics and little elephants in the center.

As with every project I make, I learn a bit more with what I like and don't like. I like log cabin blocks, but I don't like them this small. I guess I'm a bit more traditional in that I prefer fewer fabrics. Just not a fan of the scrappy log cabin, probably because it messes with my internal need for symmetry. Here's what I'm talking about. Here is a picture of my first blocks:

Not having the same color on 2 sides really bothered me so I scrapped these and redid them using fewer fabrics and matching "legs." I also decided to make it smaller, using only 4 of the blocks for the mat. With the remaining two, I made a couple of matching coasters. Here's the finished project:

For the quilting I outlined the elephant blocks and in the cream area of the mat I quilted a center flower that feathered out to the ends. In the green areas I just did some loops. For the coasters, I just did some loops and ribbon candy. I'm much happier with these!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Neat Trick for Insuring a Quarter-Inch Seam

I have a quarter-inch quilting presser foot for my sewing machine but I don't really like it. It is the type that has a guide attached to it:

It's not always accurate since the guide is a bit flexible. Also, the guide catches on exposed threads and can unravel them. This is particularly frustrating if I'm working with a fabric that frays easily. The other challenge with this presser foot is if I'm trying to sew across the center of a piece of fabric, like when sewing diagonally on a charm square to make half square triangles. I have to swap out presser feet.

A few weeks ago I learned about the Qtools Sewing Edge. It's a removable strip that you can put on your sewing machine to act as a guide for your fabric so that you'll get a nice quarter-inch seam (or scant quarter-inch depending upon where you place it). I thought it was a clever tool since it had a natural stickiness and could be easily moved. It reminded me of those car dashboard sticky pads that used to be popular before phones used bluetooth technology. That's when I realized that my husband had one that he didn't use anymore so I asked him if I could have it. Here's what I'm talking about:

I used my rotary cutter to square up the left edge (it had the slightest curve to it) but decided that it was a bit big for my sewing machine so I cut a small strip off the top like this:

I then positioned it on my sewing machine and tested my seam allowance on a scrap of fabric and voila! A perfect scant quarter inch seam!

I might end up making this into 2 strips - a small one to be placed on just the metal plate and one that will go on the white plastic part. I can't access the drawer that holds my presser feet unless I lift up the mat.

If you have one of these lying around definitely try this trick, you won't regret it!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

To Wash or Not to Wash... That is the Question

I know there is the great debate on whether or not to prewash fabrics before cutting and sewing them into a quilt. This is NOT that question. I'm lazy and take my chances and don't prewash my fabrics.

No, my question has to do with a completed quilt this is going to be a gift for someone else. During the past year I've made a lot of smaller quilted gifts - placemats, table runners, and mug rugs. This evening I finished my 3rd quilt. Many of you more experienced quilters are probably laughing since you've probably lost count of the number of quilts you made - but for me the Brown Bear quilt is only the 3rd one I've made. And it's a special gift for someone (more on that in another post). Having never gifted a quilt to someone before, I'm not sure if I wash it first myself so that it crinkles up nicely or if I let them wash it. Regardless of who washes it, a couple of color catchers will be accompanying it through the washing machine just to be safe.

So, should I wash my quilt before I gift it or not?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Knowing When to Admit Defeat

Okay, maybe defeat sounds a bit extremist. Perhaps the better title for this post would be "Knowing When to Change Tactics." After auditioning a few different free motion patterns I decided on this scroll-work pattern:

Sorry, not the greatest quality but you get the idea.
Try as I might, I couldn't reproduce this pattern without marking it out. Okay, I could roll with that. Then came the road block. No matter what I used, nothing would show up on that metallic fabric. I tried disappearing marker, frixion pens, chalk, white fabric pencil, and soap slivers. Just couldn't see the markings well enough in order to quilt it. I was almost ready to scrap this pattern and opt for straight line quilting when I remembered reading about Glad Press'n Seal.

Besides being a great tool to audition what a pattern will look like on a quilt top before using thread, did you know that you can actually quilt right through Press'n Seal? I did a search online and found some other quilters who've done it with great success. The main concerns that I'd read were the possibility of your pen markings transferring to fabric and removing the press'n seal from corners. I tested out a few different marking tools to see what worked best and opted for a bright pink frixion pen. It dried quickly and I could even wipe it away with a damp paper towel if I needed to re-mark something.

After trying it out on a section of my quilt I felt that this was the best route to go. Yes, it was a little tricky removing the wrap from the corners of the quilting but nothing that bad. You just have to take your time. It's similar to removing paper-piecing but since there's a bit of stretch to this stuff, you have to be a bit gentler with your stitches. I had no issues with any of the pen markings transferring to my fabric. I don't think I could have seen it on the blue fabric but it would have easily shown up on the yellow cornerstones. Here's what it looked like before I removed the wrap:

I was going to add the figure eight portion of the design free hand but I think it might be too busy so I'm going to leave it as it is. Now all I have left to do is the striped border. In keeping with the more simplistic theme, I'm going to quilt piano keys about every 2nd stripe and put a feather in each of the square corners. With any luck, I'll have this finished and bound in a few days!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New Tools, New Challenges

This past summer when I was participating in the Aiming For Accuracy Quilt Along, I won these new quilting gloves, by Marcia Baraldi.

I've always used these tight fitting garden gloves whenever I quilted and really loved the control they gave me when moving the quilt during free motion quilting. What I didn't like about using my garden gloves is that I had to remove them every time I started/stopped to pull my threads through the quilt.

I've been using these new gloves for the last few days, determined to get used to them. What made these new gloves so appealing is also what makes them so challenging. Yes, it left my fingers open so that I could work with the threads and not have to remove the gloves but it made me realize that I primarily use my fingers when manipulating the quilt sandwich through the machine. I've had to readjust how I handle the quilt, leveraging more pressure on my palms and the heel of my palm, not my fingertips. It's getting easier, but it's not second nature. Not yet anyways, but I'm guessing it will be by the time I'm done with this quilt.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Winner Time!

Thanks to those who entered my recent Great Wolf Giveaway. In all honesty, it was a very late giveaway. It was originally supposed to be done during the holidays but since I had surgery and a 6 week long recovery, they told me to just hold it later once I was feeling better. Still, the treats are still yummy even after the holidays and the $50 gift card will be a nice after-holiday bonus!

So, without further adieu, the winner is...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations Shannon! I'll be contacting you via email.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Getting Down to Business

Now that my sewing space is all set and ready to go it's time to get down to business. I have a basic game plan for quilting my Brown Bear quilt. I'm outlining each of the animals and stippling around them so they stand out. I'm also outlining/boxing the words that encircle the animals.

I want to do some sort of scroll work for the sashing & cornerstones but I'm not quite sure yet. As for the striped border - I have no idea! Hopefully inspiration will strike when the time comes.

New & Improved Table Layout

I basted my Brown Bear quilt yesterday morning so that I could begin quilting it. This is the largest quilt I've tried quilting myself (44" x 60") and I knew that I needed to do some furniture rearranging if I was going to quilt this thing on my Baby Lock Symphony. Here is what my set up used to look like:

Well, almost. I actually had my sewing machine on a smaller office table with this larger table right in front of it. The problem with this layout though is that the bulk of my quilt would be hanging off the table and/or hitting my table lamp. So I shifted some things around and here's what it looks like now:

There's more table space to the left of my machine, and now I can cut and press without having to cross around to the other side of the table. I don't know why I didn't figure this out sooner! Time to start quilting!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Now Comes The Hard Part

I'm so excited - I finished the Brown Bear quilt top this evening! Of course, I didn't want to wait until there's better lighting tomorrow to post a picture so this one will have to do.

There were a few "firsts" with this quilt. I've never made a quilt that had cornerstones and at first I wasn't sure of the best way to piece them in order to get all of the seams to line up, but I figured it out. This was also the first time that I purchased fabric online specifically for a project. I knew exactly what I was getting with the Brown Bear panel but the green and blue fabrics were purchases solely off of images online. The green fabric was exactly what I wanted and matched perfectly. The blue fabric, however, was another matter. The colors matched but I couldn't tell from the online images that it had a metallic sheen to it. It was my own mistake, it clearly stated that it was a metallic in the description so I wasn't quite sure what to do. I needed to get this completed soon so I just decided to use it and hope for the best. I think it turned out okay but I think it made me a bit wary to purchase fabric online in the future.

I had gone to my local quilt shop in the hopes of finding the striped border fabric but they only carried a few of the Hungry Caterpillar fabrics. I did find some fabric that I wanted to use for the backing - it's a blue blender from Timeless Treasures. If I'd found that before I'd started, I would have used it in place of the metallic blue. Oh well, no use fretting over it now because I have bigger things to worry about like how I should quilt this. That's always the hardest part for me right now. I've never done a quilt with an all-over quilting design and I don't think this is the quilt to try it on. If I just did a meander over the entire thing I could be done in a few days but I don't want to quilt over the white of blocks. I know I want to outline them so that leaves the question of what to do with all the borders and the cornerstones. I hope inspiration strikes soon!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Post Holiday Blues? How About A Sweet Giveaway!

By the end of December I'm usually ready to get back to the normal routine of things but there's always a part of me that misses the soft glow where the Christmas tree used to be lit, or sneaking one more holiday cookie after dinner, or enjoying family time at Great Wolf Lodge's Snowland experience. What's that, you ask? Well I'll tell you. During the holidays Great Wolf transforms all of their lodges into a winter wonderland complete with decorations, visits from Santa, and even a life-sized Gingerbread House where you can dine inside!

Unfortunately, Snowland has ended at Great Wolf but that doesn't mean you have to wait until next December to get a little taste of it - they have to get rid of all the goodies that made up those awesome Gingerbread Houses somehow! Okay, maybe what was actually on the houses shouldn't be eaten at this point, but Great Wolf Lodge has set aside some yummy treats for one of my lucky readers to win. In addition to all of that gingerbread, the houses were decorated with all sorts of yummy holiday PEEPS®! Yes, you read that correctly - PEEPS® - they're not just for Easter anymore folks! Here is what's up for grabs:

      • PEEPS® Gingerbread Flavored Marshmallow Gingerbread Men
      • PEEPS® Marshmallow Snowmen
      • PEEPS® Candy Cane Flavored Marshmallow, Dipped in Chocolate
      • PEEPS® Rainbow Pop
      • PEEPS® Milk Chocolate Covered Mint Marshmallow
      • PEEPS® Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Marshmallow

No Great Wolf Giveaway would be complete without an adorable Wolf Pup Plush and to sweeten the deal even more, they'll be tossing in a $50 Great Wolf Lodge Gift Card that you can use on your next stay!

Entering the giveaway is easy. Simply use the Rafflecopter below for a possible 2 entries. Open to U.S. residents only. The winner will randomly be chosen on January 17th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Brown bear, brown bear NOW what do you see?

I see a quilt top looking at me! Okay, not an entire quilt top. I still need to put on the 2 borders, but I'm getting close!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

I see cute little blocks looking at me!

Fabric Hoarder

No, not me. This little guy. He's trying his best to convince me that he's "helping" but I know better. As I sew he slowly keeps pulling my pretty little blocks and tucking them under his paws. And I thought I had a fabric problem!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Sewalong Fabric Selection

It didn't take long for me to decide on a project for the log cabin Sewalong. I got an adorable teapot for Christmas that I absolutely love (thanks Kristen & Joe)! Since I use it every day it never gets put away so I want to make a placemat for it to sit out on the kitchen counter. Here are the fabrics I've chosen for the project. I'm hoping there's enough contrast between the greens and tans. I plan to fussy-cut the little elephants in the center square of each log cabin block. They're just so cute! Can't wait to get started!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Playing Around in EQ7

The learning curve is huge for EQ7 and unfortunately there aren't any sort of formal classes you can take to speed up the learning. They have some basic videos included within the software and I've found some helpful videos online but I still have a lot to learn.  Here is the Christmas tree skirt that I was finally able to create. I had to basically draw the entire thing from scratch - I can't believe that they don't have a basic half square triangle block in the block library! (note: if someone knows if there IS one, please please, tell me where to find it!)

The other frustrating thing is that you can't keep the same block (the HST for example) with multiple color variations in your project. Basically that means that I had to create a HST block with the red/green and put those into all the right places and then modify the block to change the colors to green/red or green/gray etc. Creating this would have gone so much faster if I could have put the same block with different color variations into my project sketchbook all at once and then plugged it into the quilt layout.

Also, leave it to me to start with a project that isn't a traditional shape. I couldn't figure out how to create an octagonal quilt so the software thinks that this is a 8x8 rectangular quilt. The nice thing about getting this drawn in the program is that it gives me approximate yardage for each fabric. I just have to ignore the yardage info for the non-existent corner blocks.

Here is another quilt layout I was playing with - it's the one I intend to use for the Brown Bear baby quilt. This was SO much easier to do with the software. Quick too. Again, I like this because it gave me an estimate as to how much yardage I would need for each fabric. The various animals from the Brown Bear panel will go into each of the blank blocks.


Thursday, January 02, 2014

The 2014 New Year Sewalong

Wouldn't you know it, it's the first of the new year and I'm already adding more things to my list of projects I want to make this year. I've always thought log cabin quilt blocks were so cute and versatile and Caroline over at Sew Can She is hosting a sewalong that is too good to pass up. It's a project of your choosing using mini log cabin blocks that you'll make throughout the month of January. I think I'd like to make some placemats for our kitchen table and maybe a special placemat for my adorable tea pot that my brother's family got me for Christmas.

So if you're feeling up to, why not join me? It's already shaping up to be a fun group of quilters.

 photo coversquare_zps5d0586a6.jpg

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 Review

Rather than make a long post about 2013, I revised one of my tabs to show the various finishes that happened in 2013. I made a pretty good dent in being crafty, even if it was a lot of smaller projects. The only thing that's not included in those projects was the one that took up the most of my time this year - my Aiming of Accuracy Quilt. The top is done but since I haven't quilted it, I'm not considering it a true finish. But here's a picture of it, since it's worth including in my work for 2013.

Happy New Year & Best Wishes for a Quilty New Year!