Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring!


Easter Eggs by Joan Coats

From snow and cold to wind, sun, and springtime so fast my head is spinning!  Happy Spring to everyone, hope your Easter weekend is wonderful.  We are loving NO snow, getting around easily, spring coats....whoever thought it would feel so good to put on a light pretty spring jacket?  I thought I was doomed to live in my puffer parka forever.  Argh......!

I haven't been quilting, as "other things" took over my life recently.  Some eye problems which are doing better now, lunches with friends, getting new smart phones and learning how to use them while trying to activate them, not a recommended procedure.  However, I now know my little sweet phone so well, and am glad I finally took the plunge and feel like an adult with my slim cool phone tucked in my purse.  It is truly amazing what it can do.

Then......we got rid of our phone land line!  It was scary, but it is very freeing not to have that phone ringing all day, early in the a.m., during meals, during evenings, during showers, drove me crazy.  It is blissfully quiet now, and if you must contact me, please use my usual email:  dianequilter@sbcglobal.net 

I did have to figure out and hook up our new high-speed internet, but that went well too.  I also had to face the spaghetti of cables and wires and confusion behind our tv when the DVR from our cable company just decided to quit working right and wouldn't record.  

Detective work on my part indicated our DVD player sitting beneath the cable DVR was not working, but it was all looped together in a maze of scary cordage.  I mapped out all the connections, drew a picture, pulled cables out of the DVD player, re-hooked pertinent cables to the DVR and tv using common sense, and voila, it worked perfectly!  Whew......needed some coffee and chocolate after that day.

It has been stressful but I feel the demands of modern day technology either require someone in your life who does it for you, professionals coming in and doing it and making you feel like the old folks on the sofa, or learning how to do it yourself.  I chose the latter and am happy everything is perking along fine.


Oliver helped us do the taxes one weekend, sat on the calculator, rummaged and messed up the stacks of papers, and finally left to take a power nap upstairs in peace and quiet while we added, listed stuff, and double checked.  He is so handsome and gets sweeter every day.  He goes in for his yearly vaccination this week so we're not looking forward to that.  

And......we celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary, photo below.  I lost all our wedding photos in a house catastrophe over 20 years ago, but last year we got my mother-in-law's photo of us with her other two children, framed and on her dresser her entire life.   I dug it out of the cupboard recently as it was so faded I didn't want any more light on it, opened the frame to take a photo with my new phone (fantastic camera and I can edit right on the camera.....who knew???), and there, stuck behind the photo she displayed, was one of my husband Alan and me, faded but not too bad.  


It was 1969 and Edwardian style was in.  I had very short dyed dark brown hair after a swimming pool in college turned my light hair a pea soup green.  The large cabbage ribbon thing on my head covered most of it!  The sleeves and bodice were sheer, and there was a lovely lace applique down the entire center to the hem, with tiny buttons.  How young we were, hard to believe we didn't even know it. 


I just finished making this plate of deviled eggs for our grazing day of eating, as we are going out for Easter dinner tomorrow.  The card is from a friend who sends me pretty postcards every now and then in the mail, brightening my day each time.  This one was left on the counter and I discovered the rabbit's eye was missing after Oliver checked it out.  I found it down in the grassy stuff on the card, which fortunately was not eaten.  

Hope all of you are enjoying spring, getting out to spend time at quilt events, and doing some quilting.  I hope to get back to my quilting soon and will post some updates on my adventure into working with feed dogs.

Keep quilting!  It is the most relaxing meditative thing I have ever done....happy spring,
Diane


Monday, February 16, 2015

A Winter's Pace


The days are cold, snow covers the landscape, and the light has changed, coming in at different angles and illuminating old favorites in a new way.  It's ok to slow down one's pace, linger with coffee a bit longer, have lunch with a friend, work on no-pressure projects or explore new ideas in your work.

I have been playing at my machine and trying new techniques for fun on these long bright afternoons where it is good to be cozy and warm in my upstairs room, music playing, machine on and back in action.  I have re-discovered feed dogs, thick lustrous embroidery threads,  and programmed stitches!  

Years ago I included some broderie perse on one of my quilts, October Morning, a Delectable Mountains pattern with a good central spot that cried out for this vintage technique.  I vaguely remember learning how to use my machine, digging out the right foot, adjusting the stitch and tension to get the look I wanted for the fused raw edge applique, and enjoying it very much.



"October Morning" 1999






Now I wanted to try something more modern so I have been using ancient fusible web that was still where I left it in 1999 and watching my needle zig where I wanted it to zag, and saying "oh no!" out loud.  Ah, the joys of trying to figure it all out.

I winged it at first (how does fusible web work???), then consulted my personal quilt book library and read how various authors recommend doing this.  I have lots of info now from art quilts to very traditional formal work, and hope to try some new things tomorrow.  I have enjoyed rediscovering how to do this and who knows where it may lead.  Broderie Perse?  Coneflowers?  Tiny circles?  One thing I know is I must buy some fresh fusible web before doing anything more.

Meanwhile, my bit of advice is if you never try something you will never really for sure know if you do like it or not, if you can do it or not, if it has some promise for wiling away an afternoon or two......and to include it in a future quilt, or not.

Hope you had a chocolate or flower-filled Valentine's Day.....and I have so loved hearing from so many of you in comments or emails.  It's good to be back.




Keep quilting, your work gets better every day,
Diane

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Celtic Bubbles as Background


I have been practicing Celtic Bubbles around a flower I quilted several years ago to see if I liked making this design smaller to use as a background, rather than as a design in itself with the lines spaced farther apart in each spiral.  

Here you see how the design nestles around the large simple shapes of the flower, and it wasn't too hard to do.  The ruler gives you a guide as to the size of the quilting, the flower, and the background spacing which is a scant 1/8".  It is time consuming, but then so are tiny bubbles or pebbles, stippling, little bananas, any closely spaced background technique.  

When I taught this design I always suggested beginning with a scant 1/4" spacing, something your brain is so good at estimating from doing piecing, and continue with this spacing until you have mastered the technique.  It is by far the easiest spacing for almost everyone, and the easiest to do on a home machine with limited space.  

When you feel confident, then try some bubbles with decreased spacing, or make them larger, whatever is your inclination.  Keep in mind it is far easier to quilt large circles, with more space between the lines of stitching, on a longarm machine than a home machine.  It is easier for me to go smaller on my home machine than bigger, always.  So keep that in mind.  However, some quilters naturally tend towards larger designs and spacing, some do better small scale.

What I like about doing these spirals is they begin in the center and are so controlled as you quilt.  I never felt like things were getting away from me, but I could go fairly fast too the bigger the spiral became.  Doing the same shape/technique over and over really helps you improve quickly and gain confidence.  It goes faster than you would think and stays interesting for you, never boring.



One reason I find it fun to do is that each spiral shape has to bump into something already quilted and you have to resolve the design so it looks layered, looks as if it is peeking out from behind the flower, feather, another spiral, etc.  It isn't hard to do this, but takes control to slow down as you approach a line of stitching, stitch over it to get to the point where the next round of the spiral should appear.  

This control makes the design look very precise and intricate, gives it the "wow" factor.  If you are sloppy and just mush things in or miss your travel stitching the design becomes just lines and stitches and you lose the clarity of the floating spirals all layered in the background.

For the tutorial on Celtic Bubbles please see this earlier blog post.

Some things I discovered:
  • If there are little nooks and crannies, long skinny spaces, odd spaces where it would be exceedingly difficult to add arcs or continue the spiral design, simply fill these with echo quilting, small bubbles or pebbles, tiny stippling.  As I echo the focal point quilting (here, the flower) I filled in some of these odd areas as I went.  The last echo of the design will be with the color thread used for the Celtic Bubbles so traveling will not show.
  • Begin at the center of each spiral, being careful not to start too far from another bubble or something you'll bump into.  If you do start too far away, the spiral will become very large indeed, and more difficult to do, and will stand out from the others.  However if you want larger and fewer spirals, the farther away you start one from a completed one, the bigger it will become.
  • Speed is important to keep your control.  I begin with a nice even slower speed to establish the circle shape, then speed up the machine to keep up with my hands as they go faster to keep the big smooth circles going well.  If you speed up your hands to make the larger arcs, the stitches will get way too big if you don't speed the machine too.  If stitches start out very small and get very large by the last circle it means your machine was not keeping up with your hands.  Work on it and it will become natural to speed up the machine to keep up with your hand movement so you get smooth spirals from the center all the way out.
  • I seem to do my Celtic Bubbles counterclockwise.  I don't know what that means......!  But, it just feels natural.
  • You can gradate the sizing of these and begin with larger ones, with greater spacing, then slowly decrease their size and the spacing.  This would give you a more artistic effect, perfect for pictorial quilts or art quilts.  Experiment!  Try different thread colors on your fabric to see what looks best before you commit.
I hope you give these a try and learn to love doing them as I do.  I wouldn't fill vast spaces with tiny ones, but these work so well in a small area to set off quilting or applique.  

It's a sunny cold day here in Wisconsin, with more snow from overnight, and Oliver is sleeping on the bed near me with spiked fur on the top of his head from the faucet water running off his head as he drank.  I usually remember to smooth it down, but it has dried into hard spikes, the punk cat look.  He is such a sweetie.

Keep quilting!  A little bit every day is a very good thing.
Diane


Friday, January 30, 2015

Libby's Log Cabin


If you love this quilt and would like a chance to help with Libby Lehman's medical expenses you can make a donation to her medical fund and be entered in the February 13th drawing for this quilt.   Marianne Fons made this classic and beautiful log cabin quilt to help raise funds for Libby and will pull the winning entry out of a hat!  

Please go to the page on the Moda website  http://blog.modafabrics.com/category/fabrics/  to read Libby's story and see the all the details.  It's a great way to use our love of quilting and show our love for Libby.


"Libby's Log Cabin" by Marianne Fons, 60" x 75"

Thanks again for all your wonderful comments since I started posting again on my blog, and I hope to post more quilting info soon.  Meanwhile.....

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day!
Diane

Monday, January 26, 2015

Practice


Prototype for mini quilt "Return to Provence"

I have been quilting a little every day.  I am practicing, warming up, getting back in routine. Sometimes it seems impossible to get it all right, the way it used to be, but it is coming along nicely. 

The sample, above, was an unfinished prototype to try out design, fabric, threads for a mini quilt I made for the AAQI online auction almost two years ago, the last quilt I made, made with silk fabric and quilted with silk and metallic/silk threads.  I found this unfinished prototype after many hours of practicing, and decided to try and complete it, see if my "new" quilting looked good enough to merge with my previous quilting.

Happy to say Yes!  My quilting blended in perfectly, I had no trouble at all replicating the designs, scale, and quality from two years ago.  I am ready for a new project, and have been digging through books, fabrics, sketches made, samples quilted, notes here and there.  I will begin with something small on fabric I love.  I am still deciding.

While I was practicing and it all came back to me I realized that many of you have to do this often.  You are interrupted in projects, you have illness or injury or moves or crises that keep you from quilting.  Maybe you have long fabulous vacations or travels where you never even think of a sewing machine, but want to pick up with quilting when you can.  

First, be assured it does come back, and it comes back fast.  I had stiff sore fingers and hands briefly at the beginning, and sore shoulders from sitting with tense muscles as I was so not relaxed.  But, each day I relaxed more, muscles were better and more limber, and everything fell into place.  I have to use my left hand for a few things due to a bad right thumb, but now I am used to that too.  

Some things that I discovered while practicing:

  • Muscle memory is a wonderful thing.  Even if years go by, your body will remember how to quilt, your brain knows what to do, it simply needs you doing it to get it back.  Repetition, correcting errors, then repeating it the right way until it flows easily and is natural.
  • Use the right needle!  I started quilting and didn't realize I had done some alterations on jeans or something, or sewn on a knit fabric, and had a #80 Universal needle in the machine, not my usual #60 Microtex Sharp.  I was having no end of ugly quilting until I realized that oops, needed a better needle.  I was practicing at first with #50 Aurifil cotton thread on a muslin sandwich with wool batt, and cotton batt in the other half from some sample done for a class.  I used a #70 Sharp needle and it looked a ZILLION times BETTER, and as a result of my work looking better all due to the right needle, my quilting improved and I relaxed.
  • Cleaning and oiling the machine was necessary even though I hadn't used it for awhile.  It made a happy purr after all this, and I sewed on some folded cotton and used feed dogs to warm it up before I tried quilting.  
  • Work up to the hard stuff.  Start practicing with some simple wavy lines, echo them, or do a motif you can do in your sleep.  Then add some challenges, like trying to fit the background motif around an actual design.  
  • Play with thread colors, use some pretty fabrics for practice, and the correct tension and needle.  This all makes a huge difference; if your work looks nice as you practice, it makes you a better quilter.
  • I had to slow down the motor speed on my zippy Bernina.  I usually don't, and love its power and responsiveness, but because I was so out of practice I needed to shut it down to 3/4 power so I didn't tromp on the foot pedal and quilt 50 stitches, in one spot, in one second.  Sometimes even now when beginning to quilt each day I will slow the motor and later when I am warmed up put it back to full power and rely on my foot to get the speed right and be IN CONTROL.
  • I almost forgot to add The Slider so my quilt moved easily under the needle.  I didn't use it the first few days and kept thinking that this was harder than I remembered, my stitches weren't even, and it jerked and stuck when I tried to move the quilt.  Whoa, put the Slider on, and everything was easy again, like moving the quilt on ice.
  • When I was quilting the muslin sandwich for awhile I thought there was something wrong with my machine, the noise was so loud when the needle went through the quilt.  Then I noticed I was quilting in the area with the cotton batt, not the wool batt.  It was noisy, the puff of the design was very low and flat, and it was stiff and more difficult to move.  Oh yes, now I remembered why I like wool batt.
  • I am glad I have lots and lots of samples to look at, things I've quilted for classes, articles, myself just to see how something would look.  It really helps to have something to see to get ideas going again.  Inspiration is all around you.
  •  
  • Don't be afraid to make something again, something you made once and loved, but try the same pattern or motif in a different color or fabric.  I might make the mini quilt design part of a larger quilt with a chintz border.  It's something I've always wanted to make, something to see and enjoy hanging on a wall in my home.  And then too I'd love to replicate some of the quilts I no longer have, like "Blossom's Journey," below.  I love Trip Around the World and I love the border quilting, so much fun to do, very extemporaneous.

Border Detail, "Blossom's Journey"

Meanwhile.....Oliver needed brushing!  He was shedding like crazy, and I found a round hairbrush I had tried for blow drying my hair but it pulled way too much of my hair out, ouch.  I had to cut that brush out of my hair, ugh.  

Oliver loves being brushed, so after a few days with this brush it was filled with Oliver fur, and I carefully used a comb to remove it from the brush.  Gosh it looks just like a great little quilt batt, so I saved it and may add more and give it a try.  I shall make Pioneer style Quilt Batt from Oliver!  It's softer than wool and we'll see about loft, but very lightweight, like down.  And of course I know it is washable...........!


It is snowing hard here in Wisconsin today, and we are snug and warm at home, time to turn on the machine and see how my quilting is today.  I shall have to plan a trip to a quilt shop for the sort of Chintz I need and then begin my new project.  I hope the NE storm isn't as bad as they say it will be, and you all stay safe from its danger.  

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!
Diane





Monday, January 12, 2015

Is It Really 2015?


Washing Dishes with Oliver

Can I really have missed most of 2014 due to one stressful event after another?  Seems to be the case, but I hope to get back to my favorite pursuits in 2015; I have missed quilting and everyone I spent time with in my classes and travels.  My very best wishes to all of you and hope this will be a fresh and great start for you as well.

My days have become filled with routine, and mornings are devoted to washing dishes in the morning light, cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, checking email, all with Oliver's help.  He loves to get right down in the sink, have a long drink from the faucet, then oversee everything that goes on.  He seems to think two retirees are pretty exciting most of the time, but every now and then gives me that look, wondering why we don't have some action around here!

On New Year's I put away Christmas, the sun came out briefly, and Oliver and I cleaned and bagged and swept and dusted.  Oliver loved it, everything was different and new, even old familiar things were in different places.   We added spots of color and soft white everywhere, so much fun.



He checks out the kitchen island, below, to make sure he still has his fresh grass next to the brightly colored pottery.  He is looking at all this as if it still should be the familiar Christmas tree and is very wary.  Of course, he tried to put his head in the blue pitcher.........

He did not nap all day, so that evening fell into an exhausted sleep on the couch, content and happy with all we accomplished.


And then there is quilting and what has become of it; Oliver misses the excitement of the forbidden territory of my sewing room, and I miss it too.  Alas, due to health problems and injuries I haven't quilted in a long long time.  

I didn't know if I still could quilt, but a week ago it was time to find out.  I spent several days cleaning my sewing room, clearing it out of "stuff" piled everywhere, put all new things on the walls, re-set the clock to the correct time, hung a 2015 quilt calendar, put a new cover on the ironing board, swept the floors that still need washing, and looked around.  I felt like a quilter again.  It was time to oil my machines and see if they still worked.  

Everything I did, all the things I organized and went through, brought back memories of my quilting and teaching days.  I found so many lovely gifts from my students and friends, and yes I keep and treasure all of them.  Below are just a few that were on the top of the piles of things to be sorted, all lovely and special to me.


There will be a major recycling day for me with all the old papers, handouts, magazines, etc., that I have no need of now, but in my mind I was remembering all the wonderful classes, the events, the quilters I have met and worked with over the years.  Ah, nostalgia, sweet but sad at the same time.

My machines worked fine, but definitely needed some TLC.  I swabbed, oiled, cleaned, and then ran them with straight stitching and cotton thread for a long time, mindless row after row of beautiful stitching.  

It felt good to settle into my familiar chair, hear the hum of the motor, notice the light scent of sewing machine oil.  I had the lights on and the warm pools of light made the room so comforting, a haven on an icy winter day.  I knew the next day I would drop feed dogs and give some FMQ a whirl, see if I could still do it, just go for it.  

"Tres rusty" is how I would describe my quilting skills, but oh my, it all came back so quickly it was amazing.  I had to stop so that I wouldn't have sore muscles or eyes, but I wanted to keep on quilting some samples I had layered.  I did easy things, difficult things, fun designs, demanding work, just to get my brain awake again and the coordination back.  I will write more about what I discovered doing this free motion quilting in a future post soon.

I have quilted each day since then, and yes my hands ached from injuries and problems I've had over the past year or so, but each day they are better.  I know if I want to make a quilt it will be a long process, as I must pace myself.  But that is fine; I have no deadlines, it is just for me.  My work looks as good as ever, even better because now I am not rushed, am more careful and enjoy the slower pace.

Oliver is so happy, he has checked out all the nooks and boxes, stacks of fabric and old quilts, and now he has developed a nice routine that involves circling the room, sitting on a stool by the window to check the outdoors, then curling up on some quilts in an extra chair and napping away as I do this and that.  He is no longer the naughty kitten attacking the thread as it went through the machine, but he still must be watched out of the corner of my eye.  He is a dignified but unpredictable 5-year-old.

When we are done for the day, it is time to make some homemade pizza, try a new dough recipe, and fill the house with spicy aromas until it is time to pop it out of the oven and enjoy the deliciousness of all the flavors and textures.  I had fresh spinach and artichokes, and the next one had fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella too.  So yummy, even Oliver tried some melted cheese.....



More on quilting to come, meanwhile know I am still here, just not teaching or traveling right now, and send you my very best wishes for the New Year and for your own quilting!
Diane.....and Oliver

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day America!


It's the Fourth of July in America, and we celebrate Independence Day with flags, fireworks, barbecues and picnics, family gatherings, and quilts.....!  Since the beginning of this country flag quilts or patriotic themed quilts have been created.  The history of our country is intertwined with the history of quilting, and today these quilts are as popular as ever.  



And instead of fireworks, this postcard arrived!  It is from Carolyn in South Africa, and it is an explosion of gorgeous feathers and colors, stunning.  Carolyn, I hope you make a quilt using these colors; the feather in real life looks almost illuminated; you made some beautiful color choices with fabric and threads.  

When I get these in the mail I see them outdoors first by the mailbox and I can't even begin to tell all of you how spectacular they look, and how they take my breath away.  Thank you all for working so hard and sending me these beautiful "mini quilts"!

Happy 4th to all my quilting friends, enjoy the day.
Diane