Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Halloween

It's that time of year again when pumpkins glow, leaves are flying in the air and rustling in the wind as winter approaches. 
Quite a few years ago while quilting on this lovely hand dyed sateen, above, I came back to my machine and discovered many small Dracula type bats looking at me.  I had not noticed them when I washed/pressed the fabric, or cut it and layered it, or even when quilting the feathers, but all of a sudden..........there they were! 
I had to make a decision whether to quilt background over them, or give them their space.  Not wanting to tempt fate, I decided to outline quilt them and let them have their fun emerging from the bottom feathers with glee and ghoulishness, ha.  I named the small quilt "Batzbelow" in their honor and so far all is well.  They stay in the quilt, stored in the back room.
Last week we got a new furnace and AC unit as our old ones were starting to fail with metal fatigue and old age, much like me I think.  Oliver had a hard day, lots of banging and clanging, new duct work, two efficient competent guys going up and down noisy stairs and in and out of the house all day. 
He worried for about a week now that they were either a) still in the basement waiting to spring a surprise on him, or b) across the street working on the new roof over there.  Everything is now quiet, toasty warm, fabulous.  Even my fingers are warm!  Oliver's toe pads and nose are PINK.  High efficiency heat is VERY nice! 
Can't wait to try the new AC that is 5' tall (really) and the highest efficiency rating and cooling capacity sized for our house that we could get.  I hope next summer I will be cool and dry and calm and fabulous instead of hot and sweaty and grouchy and no energy.  That is yet to be seen of course.
Hope you are enjoying the turn of seasons.  Below, a photo of "Joy Remembered," a quilt I made last year for the AAQI Celebrity Auction.  This year's quilt, "Return to Provence," will be available in this same auction in November.  Please visit to see all the quilts made by fantastic people to help raise funds to fight this terrible disease.   I'll post some photos of it this week so you can think about it before the auction ends. 
Detail "Joy Remembered"
Have fun this Halloween, and if you are like me you better not buy Reese's peanut butter cups for the trick or treaters as there will be leftovers and they are not to be resisted.
Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day,

Monday, October 7, 2013

Log Cabin Grid

Here is another example of a large marked on-point grid, quilted, and then one by one each square filled in with a log cabin spiral. 
It is done with the same idea as Celtic Bubbles - one unit at a time, carefully concentrating to keep things fairly even as you quilt straight lines and resolve them to the very center, lock in stitches, and cut thread.  It's a wonderful texture to use because it is simple to mark the large grid, and the rest is freehand. 
My lines aren't all straight, spacing isn't all perfect, but I like the effect and this was fun to do, but definitely a bit challenging if you are a beginner.
Because the overall grid is quilted first, and then the interior portions done one by one, it does take some time, but with designs like this one I believe the extra care and time is worth it if you use this judiciously. 
By that I mean no huge expanses of this (unless you LOVE doing it and can do it well and quickly), but here and there in a quilt as a perfect space filler that gives structure, a linear look to offset many curvy designs, or in a special place, such as in a basket, a vase or urn, the big center of a pieced block, parts of a landscape, etc. 
For quilting on a home sewing machine, keep the squares no larger than 3" and fill them in with the design.  This grid was 1 3/4" marked, but 2" works well too.  That way you are moving the quilt under the needle for short lines, easy to do, easy to keep those lines straight.  The spacing was a scant 1/4", easy to visualize as we use it all the time in piecing quilts.
When quilting the logs, look a bit ahead of the needle, keeping that space between the line you have already quilted and the one you are now quilting in your vision and keep that "puff" smooth and even.  Look at the space between the lines, not the lines, to get an even well-spaced design
Don't turn your quilt while quilting this.  Learn to quilt away from yourself, to the east and west as well as towards yourself.  If you try to do this design in a large quilt, even a wall quilt, you cannot turn it in the machine every time the line you are doing changes direction.   
Avoid running the machine too fast when doing this kind of work or stitches will get too small, as mine tended to do.  Your hands are going slower to do this, so stitches will pile up quickly as you concentrate on the lines, and quilt more slowly.
When you "run into" a design, ditch, another line of quilting (above in photo the echo lines around the leaves), stitch on the line to where you need to be to resume the line design.  This can get confusing sometimes, so if you don't know where to go, stop, look at the design, see where you need to go, maybe even place a dot or mark to help you judge where the next line will be.  This "layering" takes practice and a good eye to do smoothly, so it looks as if the grid design is continuing under the main design. 
Sometimes when you get to the final part in the center you will get more of a rectangle there instead of a little square.  Fine!  It's a rectangle and will add interest to the squares in the other places.  But think "why" did it happen.  Usually it is because the spacing of the logs of this design were not similar, so work on your consistency. 
Yes, I had rectangles too.  It happens.  :-)
Be sure and warm up first.  Practice some straight lines, square tops and bottoms as you stitch over to begin the next parallel line.  One stitch in place at a corner keeps it nice and sharp rather than curved corners.  You do not want curves in this design.
If you need to stop and breathe, or adjust hands, try doing it at a corner in the design, needle down.  When you begin quilting again, go slowly or raise the needle to the "up" position so you do not create a wobble when you resume quilting.  Do the lines in one smooth motion, looking to the end point and going to it. 
It's always ok to stop at a corner and take a moment, even a second or two, then proceed.
Tip!  The main grid is quilted "on point" or at a 45-degree angle to prevent distortion.  If you mark it on the grain you will run into distorted squares, fabric pleats, difficult times for sure.  Trust me on this.
Give this design a try.  It can be the focal point (done in contrast thread or shiny thread), or a background.  It would look wonderful as the final border on a quilt, a 5" border or the outside portion of a border.  It definitely would stabilize the border and keep it smooth and flat, and give a great linear frame to the entire quilt.
Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Autumn Leaves already?

Every year about this time the leaves turn glorious shades and begin falling, and I begin a quilt project inspired by the colors around me.  Above, detail from "Shadows of Umbria," made "just for me" one autumn, because I simply had to dig into my fabric and work with these colors.  I always do.
It has been so long since I've posted that I almost forgot I had a blog, but today I have some spare time and decided to check in and see what's going on in Blogland. 

I've been enjoying retirement, although it seems life is as busy as ever, but no travel deadlines for me now, no packing stacks of quilts, samples, and handouts.  Life is at my pace and that is good.  I'm keeping up with quilting, what is going on, new machines, fabrics, styles, people.  And every now and then Oliver and I spend some time at the machine doing a bit of quilting too.
Oliver turned 4 in August, and we celebrated with a bowl of fresh guacamole which he loved helping to prepare (he adores fresh veggies, especially sweet corn this year, the silk, of course).  His godfather visited and brought him a playstation that he uses many times every day and loves it. 
And adventures he has had!  He made his escape from the house for an entire hour one day by figuring out a way to slither through the opening in the sliding patio door.  I came down to see him OUTSIDE, looking IN!  He couldn't get back in on his own, and how he squeezed himself into that opening I'll never know, but now that has been revised and I believe he will stay in the house from now on.  I had a few new grey hairs from that little escapade, and perhaps his innards are slightly compressed too.
I visited Bigsby's Sewing Center in Elm Grove to see what's new, and had a great time with Riley, their saved kitten, now a large sweet cat, who showed me how to work an IPad.  He has a game where he chases the pink mouse and he even knows how to swipe the screen to go to the next game.  Ah, cats.  Smarter than we knew.
Recently I held a small class for two professional quilter friends and it was wonderful to experience teaching again.  We quilted, laughed, shared and had two good days at our machines.  During that time there were many things that came to mind about quilting and I will list some of them here for you to consider too:
I know this is something you have heard over and over, but clean and oil your machine (if oiling is appropriate for your brand/model) frequently if you quilt or sew often - I do it every 3 or 4 hours.  After a big project, be sure and do this thoroughly.  The bobbin area is especially important, get rid of lint and gunk, shine a light in there, and gently get all the lint, threads, "stuff" out.  Clean thread guides on top too.  Then add a drop of oil where metal rotates around metal in the bobbin/hook area, slowly run the machine to distribute it, and remove excess.  Quilt or sew a bit on a sample to work out any excess. 
Above, using my microbrush (or a cotton swab, and a brush is good too) to clean the hook area.  After all lint and gunk is removed I add a drop of fresh sewing machine oil here.  Note the warning on the machine telling operator to close the door!  I have to remind those in my classes to do this all the time.  Just shut this door and things will be good.
If you hear strange noises in the machine or suddenly your tension is not right and no matter what you do can't be adjusted, you might have something damaged in the bobbin area.  Stop; don't continue quilting if a noise alerts you or if stitches look bad.
In our class we discovered a metal part on the bobbin case had been damaged on an older Bernina.  Once it had been repaired the machine worked perfectly.  Many quilters have an extra bobbin case on hand or perhaps one comes with the machine and you can try that to see if it solves the problem.
Bobbins can become damaged or bent through use, over time.  Try a new one, wind it, see how that works before you assume the worst.
Don't always blame your skill level or inexperience for something that isn't working right on your machine.  It can be something very tiny, maybe that you can't see, that could be causing the problem.  Many times the simply re-threading top and bottom of machine, checking to make sure the bobbin is in correctly and wound correctly, cleaning in the bobbin area, all might fix the problem.  Replace the needle, try another spool of thread if you have one, a new bobbin wound with fresh thread.  All these things are tiny tiny problems but added up can cause huge issues with free motion machine quilting.
When you are shopping and see new exciting products, make sure they can be used in the way you plan.  That gorgeous thread might not work in the top of the machine, only the bobbin if at all.  What needle will work best with it?  Ask the people at the store for advice; a specialty quilt/sewing store will have trained people to help you. 
We had fallen in love with an assortment of threads, but Rosemary said it did not work well in the machine even though it would thread ok, the "twist" of the thread caused problems.  So we put that back and looked for other delightful choices.
Try something new with your quilting.  Set yourself a challenge to research and come up with a new technique or design that you can add to your next project.  This not only adds interest to the finished quilt, but keeps you interested in your quilting.  It's so much fun to draw something, figure out how to quilt it, make some samples, practice it until you are proficient, and use it in a real quilt. 
We tried some grid-based designs, zentangle ideas, freehand florals.  You need more than loopy backgrounds for quilting designs; some focal point motifs are important too.  Many floral designs can be done with some sketched in guidelines or a starting point, then add  freehand petals, details, leaves, echoes.
Below, a grid-based background I tried around a feather.  It appears to be on-grain squares, but in reality it is on-point squares stitched first, then each filled, one at a time, with a log cabin style spiral technique.  It was a bit tedious, went faster the more I did, and I love the finished look, so definitely will be adding this to my projects.

I hope you are taking some time for October's bright blue skies, and autumn leaves if you have them where you live.  It is one of the highlights of living in Wisconsin, the vistas of color as you make the turn in the road and see nature's glory for a fleeting time each fall.  Even a bright red leaf fallen on the sidewalk is a chance to marvel at color, composition, design. 
Enjoy, and keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day.