Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Moving forward...slowly

Post delayed by technical hitch - couldn't find where the latest photos had been hidden...  Rather a hotch-potch of things going on the past ten days, so let's start with a finish:

I finally made a cover for my Bernina sewing machine using the leftover pieced triangles from my Hexagon honeycomb quilt (posted here).  I do have a hard case for my Bernina but since the machine is set up almost all the time, the case doesn't get used.  Now I have a cover, at least the poor thing won't get quite so dusty.  So glad to use up the last few bits from that project and move on to the next thing....

I assembled this Double Irish Chain top from blocks I pieced a few weeks ago while piecing the Anvil blocks posted about here.  Having had to cut into the Fig Tree Buttercup Layer Cake and Jelly Roll because I needed a few more Anvil blocks, I felt I should use up the remaining fabric quickly.  So 2 1/2" strips became 2 1/2" squares and 10" squares were chopped up too, letting me enjoy a few hours of randomly chain piecing them all back together again - hooray!

The background fabric is Kona Solid  in Snow from Simply Solids, my new favourite neutral for a clean, fresh look that isn't too bright a white.

The blocks are 10" finished, making the quilt top 70" square, and, yes, I do have a backing already to hand. Next week if I have a clear space of more than about 20 minutes (this week has been impossible) I will layer and start cross hatching this one: utility quilting for a very traditional quilt.

Alongside these two new projects with new (-ish) fabric, I felt I should tackle an old UFO.  So I dragged out the bag of bits from a class I did in 1998 (!!!!) with Sharon Chambers at The Quilt Room.  From a book by  Margaret J. Miller called Strips that Sizzle, the idea was that I would get to grips with ideas about colour and value.  Well, I have to say that it was all a bit beyond me then, but I really loved cutting up lots of different fabrics in two colour families and stitching the strips back together again.  Sound familiar?  

I discovered that I had actually made quite a few blocks (82 to be precise) in teal/navy and shades of fuchsia pink, and that I had a small amount of extra fabric tucked away in the bag.  I was reluctant to bin it - but the stitching was pretty ragged ...

So I grabbed my trusty Bloc_loc square ruler and trimmed all 82 blocks down to 5" square- very satisfying, to see the pile of trimmings and the apparently pristine (if you don't look at the backs) pile of squares.  I set the squares out on a design wall in a barn raising layout (copied from my favourite quilt from the very many in the book) and then found I was short of 18 blocks for the required 10 x 10 block setting.

I fiddled about and pieced a few more from all the scraps, and then decided that what it needed was a pieced border in the blues and greens (a design decision driven by having run out of the pinks by this stage...).

So, in between everything else, and when I should have been doing many other things, I have enjoyed playing about with strips, and been entertained by my choice of fabrics from the old days!  Hope to show you more next week.

 Finally, a few shots of Spring flowers in my garden: you can see I love purple and blue!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Getting it all together

After a lot of piecing on different projects over the past month or so, I felt it was time to start getting it all together before the garden starts to claim more of my time from quiltmaking.

Part of the reason I love piecing so much, I think, is because it is easy to fit a little piecing into half an hour or so here and there in a busy day.  Machine piecing often has a meditative quality, especially if you are making something scrappy or repetitive (with lots of similar units) which doesn't require too many decisions.  Putting the pieces together I tend to put off because it is all about making decisions, especially a scrappy quilt, because of the need to get the colours balanced through the quilt top.

Decisions about balance really require a design wall which I don't have, so I finally decided I couldn't keep putting off otherwise I would have even more pieces and piles of uncompleted blocks than I already do.  I unrolled a wadding and pinned it to the long curtains at my sitting room window.  Instant design wall - though I have had the curtains closed all week while I make my decisions: it looks a bit odd especially as it has been such lovely sunny weather, but needs must.

 Result: I have not only assembled my 25 Crazy Squares (I think the pattern is officially called Crazies Squared) blocks from last post into a huge (77" square) top with scrappy borders, but I have also joined the Anvil blocks last glimpsed here into a top measuring about 54" square.  It always surprises me how long it actually takes to join the blocks and add borders to a quilt top: all the pressing and measuring to keep it square and true.  It is not the most glamorous aspect of quiltmaking, but so worth taking time over.

I don't have a decent photo of the whole top, I'm afraid - I was limited to hanging it on the washing line and it would have trailed on the ground if I had tried to get all the blocks into the picture.

Yes, the blue really is that intense and the red is very rich-looking.  I have had the fabrics for ages so I am delighted to have got them into a quilt top at last.

I even found the perfect green fabric in my stash for backing, and a lovely red Moda dot for the binding, when I get that far.

I am also pleased with the Anvil quilt top, which is very different in mood.  I started this quilt to use up some HSTs I had left from another quilt made with Fig Tree fabrics, but of course decided to make it bigger so cut into a Layer Cake and Jelly Roll of Buttercup, a much more recent line.  The neutral for the sashing and setting triangles I found in my stash and there was just enough.

I love the pop of the red and the cool of the light blue in the generally soft and smudgy mix of colours.

I used up all the odd HSTs so some blocks are quite a mixture!

I made the HSTs with Thangles paper foundations (2" finished) which I love as they are so accurate.  So my points aren't bad, and I chose to insert the narrow sashing (1" finished) so that I would not have to fight with the seam allowances, as I would have done if I had set the blocks edge to edge.

 And I had just the fabric for the backing in my stash...

I have a couple more tops almost at this stage which I will blog about next week, as I won't be doing the quilting just yet on any of them.  It may be a while before there are any actual finishes to report.
Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Album Quilt and Crazy Squares

I had a bit of a week last week for a variety of reasons, but I did manage to machine quilt this Album Quilt which I finished piecing a little while ago.  I had been putting off laying it out as it measures 70" x 96" - I find the laying out of a big quilt the worst bit, though I am so much happier since discovering 505 spray: I think spray basting is fantastic, I really, really prefer it to safety pins.

Anyway it turned out not to be as bad as I had feared (isn't that so often the way?), and even though I found a few wrinkles in one area once I got into the quilting, I was able to separate the layers, adjust and restick; so in the end it was pretty much pucker-free.

I only did a simple cross-hatch, with the lines in one direction crossing one set of squares and the lines in the other direction crossing the remaining squares: no square is unquilted, but none has two lines of stitching, as I felt this would be too dense.

Easy to mark, easy to quilt.  Lovely Aurifil 30 wt thread in just the right shade of greeny gold, with a slightly lighter shade underneath, went through the Juki like a dream.

The fabrics are mostly reproduction-type fabrics from Jo Morton, collected years ago and finally liberated from the stash.  The gold sashing was cut from borders intended for another quilt which I decided late in the day weren't right: I had just enough with a bit of creative fiddling.

Backing was an extra-wide Moda from stash - have I told you my cunning plan?  To make quilts to fit the backings I already have.  I've got to reduce my stash somehow....

I also had a day off on Friday, away from all the everyday stuff, making blocks from a Buggy Barn pattern, Crazy Squares.  Having made precise squares in squares recently for my Indigo Dreams quilt, it was nice to make some which did not have to be so exact.

The other lovely thing about the Buggy Barn style of quilt is that you cut all the pieces before you start using a master pattern, and then you switch and shuffle the fabric stack.  This means that you get the fabrics appearing in different places without having to agonise over what goes where.

Putting it all back together again was just stitching by numbers and it was very relaxing not to have to think too hard about what came next, with the added fun of seeing how the different fabrics looked together in each block.  I made 25 large blocks in a couple of days and now just have to lay them out and sew them together for a BIG quilt - and 25 fat quarters no longer lurking in my stash - hooray!  Not sure that I have a backing for this one, however....

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Civil War Journals quilt

In August 2012 at the Festival of Quilts at NEC, I signed up for a twelve-part Block of the Month programme to make this quilt in Marcus Civil War reproduction fabrics.  The patterns were from Homestead Hearth and the BOM kits were sent out by Pat and Mark at Totally Patched in Worcestershire.

I was fairly good at keeping up with the monthly blocks until I got to Months 7 and 8.  They each have a LOT of little pieces.

I had been pretty happy with my accuracy on the previous months' blocks so rather than making a test block I just steamrollered through, chain piecing as I went (what a surprise!), only to find that my blocks for both months were all half an inch too big.

I was so horrified that I put them to one side and did other stuff for a while, but eventually I knew I had to address the problem.  I could not immediately see where the inaccuracy lay but I decided that it might help to identify the sizes of the individual components of the block, the flying geese and half square triangles, and see what size they should be before they were joined together.  The block pattern did not give this information but I was able to work it out from the size of the cut pieces.  Then, having disassembled a block into pieced sections, I measured the sections and found that I was consistently 1/8" out.  Over the whole 9" block comprising 78 pieces (!), this small error added up to a whopping 1/2".

Because the blocks butt edge to edge without sashing and with many of the piecing lines lining up, there was absolutely no wriggle room when it came to joining the blocks.  There was nothing for it but to take all 28 blocks apart into their original pieces (remember 78 pieces in each Month 7 block and a mere 57 in every Month 8 block, 28 blocks in all - yes, of course I want your sympathy) and re-stitch them correctly.  I measured at every stage as I re-stitched: no point re-making the flying geese if they weren't perfect this time because they would make the section of the block they were joined to incorrect again.

  • What did I learn from the experience?  That a scanty seam allowance can cause just as many problems as one which is too generous: a too big block is as bad as a too small one.
  • That the more pieces there are in a block the more critical it is to have the piecing as close to perfect as possible.  And that I shouldn't rush through complex piecing the way I can with simpler designs...
  • That it is surprisingly satisfying to face a problem, tackle it with head and hands, and sort it out.
  • But that patterns which give sizes of individual parts of a block are much more helpful, so you can check as you go, rather than get a nasty surprise at the end of the process.

I must admit this does not feel like a recent finish as I completed all of the piecing before Christmas 2013, not too far behind my 12 month target, and sent the quilt off for longarm quilting early in January.  However I did finish hand stitching the binding yesterday.  I do feel justified in having it longarm quilted as it is such a big quilt (84" x 102") and there are MASSES of seams, and I am really pleased with the result.

So that's three large quilts all longarmed and bound since the beginning of the year - I guess that's my highlight for the year so far, so I'm linking to Lily's Quilts today and the small blog meet hosted by Lynne whose quilts I always admire.

Time for me to get on and quilt a few of my completed (smaller) quilt tops myself, as well as playing with piecing.  I hope to report some progress next Friday.  Have a good week.