Tuesday, 19 April 2016

365 Challenge mini blocks

Hi everyone, I hope you are having a productive time sewing as we roll into Spring here.  I have been really busy gardening; if the borders aren't under control by the end of this month it will be too late to do anything more and I will regret it all summer!  I love this time of year, when it is all just about to kick off: in a couple more weeks there won't be any bare earth to be seen.

Apart from the garden and all the other stuff that has to be fitted in to daily life, I have started, belatedly, on the 365 Challenge (only three and a half months behind), and have been madly trying to catch up in the evenings.

If you haven't heard of it (I hadn't till about a month ago) a very clever lady from Australia called Kathy started this challenge on 1st January 2016. The idea is that you make one block a day every day for a year. Each day there is a new traditional block pattern to be downloaded. At the end of the year you have a large sampler quilt. Here is the link if you would like to have a more detailed look at what is involved.

I got interested because I had some fun making the Moda Sampler Block Shuffle, though I haven't laid out and joined the blocks yet, let alone quilted it. Should I really be starting something new?  I think we all know the answer to that! I have decided that maybe sampler quilts aren't so bad after all.

I did consider making the Splendid Sampler which lasts a year also, but I am a piecer at heart and didn't much want to make the applique and embroidered blocks.  Then I saw my friend Sylvia's little blocks for the 365 Challenge and was immediately sold on this project.  Sylvia had seen the ones made by her sister-in-law in Holland where the idea has really taken off among quilt groups.

So for the past month I have been downloading the daily block patterns.  Just a word of warning: at some point soon the  earliest patterns will be removed, so if you fancy joining in you should go over to the website sharpish, though Kathy has said she will be running  the challenge again next year.  I get the block patterns emailed to my inbox as I'm not on Facebook, but I understand there are several active Facebook groups (including ones in French and Italian) if you like to see what other people are making on a daily basis, and you can access the patterns that way too.

Last week I finally had a little time to make a start, and I am totally addicted!  Here are some of the blocks I have made so far:

The blocks are graded in order of difficulty and often Kathy will introduce a new technique and start again with easier blocks, grading up as you progress in complexity and in the number of pieces in the block.  So it is a good way to try new techniques and develop precision piecing skills.  Because here is the downside, the punch to the solar plexus: these blocks finish at only 3" square, yes, I do mean THREE INCHES SQUARE! So the little squares in the four-patches below finish at half an inch.

Deep breaths, don't panic, it is not as bad a s it seems. Surprisingly you do get used to working with such titchy pieces and your accuracy will improve. In fact, I fully expect to find that the 6" blocks, which I anticipate we will move on to shortly, will seem quite large, not to say positively gross!

Sorry about the not terribly good photos - I just wanted to give you a flavour of the variety of blocks. They are just roughly pinned up and I haven't even tidied up some of the loose threads.  But I am quite pleased with most of my points.  Kathy gives lots of helpful hints for oversizing and trimming to help with this.

The other fun thing has been using relatively low contrast fabrics; mine are all in different blues. Sometimes it seems as though the piecing and more complex geometry is hardly visible, which may seem to be a bit of a waste, but actually I think it is rather clever and the low contrast draws you in and makes you really look at the piecing.  The reason the blocks are all in darkish shades of blue is because they will form the inner frame of the quilt and they need to be a strong contrast with the rest of the quilt.

So most evenings over the past two weeks have found me spending a couple of hours catching up with past block patterns.  I have now managed to do the whole of January and February (not counting the inner medallion which is 28 and 29 Feb) plus the first week of March.  I can make about 7 blocks a night. It depends on the complexity of the blocks and sometimes I jump about so I have a mix of simpler and more complex blocks each night.  I'm not sure I will ever get to the stage of making one each day; I think I would prefer to have a mini-blitz once a week when I have caught up.

If you decide to join in, my top tip would be to cut a few strips in various widths and shades and have those handy so you can mix and match your fabrics within each block.  That will help to scatter colour and value through the quilt.  I have managed to use mostly fabrics from my stash but I was lacking in very dark navy so I did buy about seven long quarters. This is what my dining room table looks like most of the time now!

Because the blocks are not very big a little fabric goes a long way, but you do need a sufficient variety to be able to maintain interest. I have just decided to throw in a little dark brown to break up the blue just a little.

The other suggestion I'd like to make is regarding pressing.  I sometimes think that as patchworkers we spend as much time at the ironing board as we do at the sewing machine, and certainly it would be hard to make a quilt well without an iron.  However, for these little blocks I did not want to have to keep hopping up and down to the ironing board to press lots of very short seams seams, so I have tried finger pressing and that has worked well.  It has speeded the process of making the block and also, I feel, avoided the possibility of distortion.  I do not press till the very end of the process.

I also have chosen to finger press many of the seams open rather than to one side.  This means more careful pinning to match rather than butt seams, but it has helped to distribute bulk within very small areas.  I know that Kathy in her intro recommends pressing to one side  and I would normally agree, but I feel that with such small blocks with so many pieces it is better to press at least some of the seams open.  Here is an example of the front and back of one of the more complex blocks:

Enough from me for now: I am off to France on Thursday to Pour l'Amour du Fil quilt show.  Hope to take lots of photos to share with you next week!  Have fun yourselves, whatever you are up to.
A bientot,

Friday, 8 April 2016

Jelly Roll Race 3.0 - a finished top

Hi everybody, how was your week?  I've been madly trying to catch up with paperwork but I just HAD to get something sewn.

I should be layering and quilting - I have a stack of tops waiting to be properly finished,

but I didn't have enough time and the table was piled with papers, and, let's face it, who really likes layering and basting, even spray basting....

I have had a jelly roll set to one side for an age with some plain grey and about a metre of a grey/aqua spot which I bought on a whim but which seemed meant for the jelly roll. I tried to tell myself that making this top would be using up the fabric, getting it out of the stash - that's got to be a good thing, hasn't it?

Anyway here is the finished top.  It measures 65" x 74" finished, a really good size. The inner section is approx. 52"  x 64", and I added an inner border of 1 1/2" (cut 2") and an outer border of 4 1/2" (cut 5") as that was the maximum I could cut from the fabric I had available.

The pattern is from this tutorial by Missouri Star Quilt Company and it is the third of their Jelly Roll Race patterns.

I particularly like the use of triangles to break up the straight lines, and the fact that the triangles occur randomly throughout the top and face in different directions. It did take a bit of time to join the jelly roll strips with the triangle pieces, it would have been quicker to simply join the strips end to end, but I really like the finished result.

How long did the top take to make? I am afraid I didn't get around to timing myself, but I joined the strips with the triangles one evening, stitched the strips together into the middle portion of the top the next evening - this stage was really quick as there are only about eight long seams - and added the borders the next evening.  Perhaps six hours or so?  Not a marathon anyway.

If you are looking for a quick charity or gift quilt with no fabric wasted and minimal cutting, this ticks all the boxes.  You could cut your own 2 1/2" strips rather than using a pre-cut jelly roll, and if you use a scrap saver system such as the one Bonnie Hunter describes here, you probably already have a stash of your own pre-cut strips to dive into!

You have to be prepared to accept the quirky random nature if the layout though: you can't choose which fabric goes next to which except at the beginning - it is the randomness which is liberating, just go with the flow.  I made sure that I varied the order in which I pieced the strips together but that still gave me no control over which fabric ended up next to which in the finished top.  Relax, if you liked the fabric to start with it will be a great quilt.  Control is over-rated!

I had hoped to get on and quilt this one without delay but it turns out the fabric I had tucked away for backing is a little too bright for the slightly 'off' colours and I will have to go shopping - what a shame! 

The jelly roll was pb&j by Basic Grey for Moda.  I love the big florals but don't expect I'll be able to track any of them down now.  I really should buy larger quantities when I have the chance, but since I often buy fabric on impulse and with no idea what I am going to make, it is tricky.  Are you an organised shopper, I wonder?

Have a great weekend.  Gardening is on the agenda if the showers stay away - lots to do here
as Spring starts to get into gear.

Linking to Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday. I think I should make a few smaller quilts that I actually finish...

Friday, 1 April 2016

Japanese pincushion: boro and sashiko

Gosh, what a rush the past few weeks have been: I have just got back from moving my daughter north for her new job and new flat in a new city.  I shall miss having her at home, though not the early morning/late night trips to the railway station.  Younger son back for university hols so my husband and I are not quite empty nesters - three weeks to go...  

And three weeks till I go on a quilting jolly to the French quilt show organised by Quiltmania in Nantes, Pour l'Amour du Fil.  Much more about that in later posts, I hope.

For today though, I am looking back about three weeks to a lovely day I had with sewing friends Mary, Sylvia and Helen.  We had a mini workshop round Mary's kitchen table, hand stitching under Helen's guidance a piece of sashiko and a boro-inspired piece to make a double sided pincushion.

Helen has lived in Japan and she brought along wonderful fabrics and threads to inspire us and the most amazing Japanese patchwork books.  The time flew past as we stitched and chatted, refreshed by a delicious lunch Mary had prepared.  It was bliss to take time out and enter a different zone, a more peaceful place where we concentrated only on the next stitch.

I had done sashiko before, some years ago, and very much enjoyed it; although it looks simple - and very elegant in the crisp contrast of white thread on plain indigo fabric - the discipline of trying to make the stitches even and not to cross threads is surprisingly challenging.

I had never tried to imitate boro before and I don't think I have done a particularly brilliant job, but I did enough to get a feel for what it is/was: the patching of worn out cloth with precious scraps, all stitched together, sometimes with decorative stitches but usually with a simple running stitch.  The resulting textured collage is admired now as art but grew out of necessity, at a time when cloth was so precious it was never thrown away, but continually repaired.

Helen was able to show us some beautiful examples of boro pieces she had bought; it was quite moving to handle the cloth and feel perhaps a small connection to the women of the past who had patched on the small pieces to strengthen and repair the garment.  It made me think of my husband's grandmother who loved to darn the family's socks, another uncommon activity nowadays.

Here is a little article which tells you more about boro: if you are interested you can find lots of examples of boro on the internet and Pinterest.

As you have probably gathered if you have looked at my blog over the past couple of years, I am pretty much wedded to my sewing machine and rotary cutter; I don't do much hand sewing other than the bindings on my quilts or the occasional hand quilting project, which often takes years to finish.  But I so enjoyed our slow sewing day and the companionship of like-minded friends.

Having said that, it has taken me three weeks to actually get around to finishing off the little pincushion so I can show it to you today.  And I hardly had anything left to do, shameful really that I had delayed, because the truth is that it doesn't actually take all that long to make something lovely by hand - I just think it does.  So thank you Helen and Mary for a memorable day, and a pincushion to remind me to do some slow sewing now and then.

The pincushion measures 4" square and the two finished pieces of fabric are simply whipstitched together around the edge.  The tiny flowers are made from kimono silk by nimbler fingers than mine and measure just 1/4" across. All the materials were a very generous gift from Helen, who has collected so many small treasures on her travels and was so kind to share them with us.

Linking today to Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday.  I am hoping to be back on track with some more finishes before too long - I haven't quilted my Scrap Vortex quilt yet - though the garden has now woken up....

Hope you have a productive weekend, whatever you choose to do.