Small Project

My big machine is still in the shop — I presume that they have had to order parts. I’m chugging along with maple leaf blocks but I’ve already made one post about that. Instead I have a new project to show you.

Table topper completed
Table topper completed

I’ve been watching a lot of quilting and other needlecraft videos lately and on Saturday I came across Emma Jones’ video on The Perfect Quilt Project, so I decided to try it out.

Table topper fabric
Table topper fabric

I pulled a length of border fabric from the stash and something suitable for the backing. I already had a set of hexagon templates so I picked one with 3″ sides as the inner (6″ point to point) and 3½” sides as the outer (7″ point to point), which I thought would give me a half-inch seam allowance all around.

first hexagon
First hexagon

The geometry of hexagons, however, means that the seam allowance was only 3/8″, and with the thickness of the batting it left me a turnover of only a generous 1/8″ inch. Of course I had cut all seven backing hexagons at once before realising this. Still, I went ahead with the first one, using my iron and some PVA glue to help secure the turnover.

hexagon 1 finished
Hexagon 1 finished

The result wasn’t great — not only was I battling with the small seam allowance, but the batting was quite dense and not easily compressed (it was an offcut from the batting I used for En Bourgogne in 2019).

Hexagon zigzag
Hexagon zigzag

I used a zigzag stitch to secure the edge on the remaining hexagons which helped considerably but the small turnover was still tricky. I also noted that the corners were a little upturned (something I will have to be very careful about in future).

Hexagons 2 & 3 finished
Hexagons 2 & 3 finished
Table topper reverse
Table topper reverse

I discovered about halfway through stitching it that I had assembled one of the hexagons with the backing fabric reversed. Since I had already decided by then that this was going to be a standalone piece I didn’t bother to undo it but left it as a testament to poor planning.

Table topper completed
Table topper completed

The seven hexagons were assembled by whip stitch without any further issues, and in spite of all the problems I like the finished result. I’m not one for quilted decorations but this would make a lovely table topper or centrepiece.

I may try this method again — it’s very portable. To be honest, though, I don’t think it will ever give a result that is as flat and smooth as a top quilted all at once.

Lessons learned:
1. Bind-as-you-go hexagons need a backing that is cut at least ¾” bigger in side length (or 1½” point-to-point length if you are using Matilda’s Own templates). A difference of 1″ is better if you have thick batting.
2. Zig-zag stitches around the edge of the fabric and batting make the turnover much easier.
3. Glue-basting is much better than pin-basting for this technique.

Just Pfaffing Around

It is a delicious joy to be able to use that title — I love puns!

Pfaff Passport 2.0
Pfaff Passport 2.0

With my big machine still in the shop, I’ve turned to my Pfaff Passport 2.0 to continue sewing. The big quilt is set aside for the moment (the Pfaff is not strong enough for quilting) and instead I’m making maple leaf blocks for a quilt destined for my cousin Jo (sister of Suzy, for whom I’m making the Hawaiian appliqué quilt). The pinkish light comes from a red LED strip which reduces eye strain and the quilt to the left is the one I was working on when the Janome 9400 jammed. As you can see, the machine doesn’t fit the sewing table but I make do.

Ten Maple Leaf blocks
Ten Maple Leaf blocks

Just a few of the blocks I’ve done so far — I’ve done about half of the 42 I need and I should be able to get the rest done in the next week or two.

Maple Leaf blocks
Maple Leaf blocks

Although the leaf outline is the same for all blocks, I’m using three different piecing designs. The first is “Autumn Splendor” by Bea Yurkerwich, published in Quiltmaker back in 1993 — it’s become extremely popular in the years since then and I’ve always wanted to make one.

Maple Leaf 1
Maple Leaf 1

I started out using black thread top and bottom but found after my first block that the thread really showed in the centre, and I had several very light fabrics where it would show even more. On the other hand I was afraid that light thread would show up when sewing black pieces together.

Maple Leaf 2
Maple Leaf 2

Consequently I used this design, based on a pattern from My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe, for the very light fabrics because it has the fewest black/black seams. It goes together quite well and the light thread doesn’t show too badly between the black pieces.

Maple Leaf 3
Maple Leaf 3

The third design is one I worked out myself (although someone else may well have done it before me) because I wanted a design that radiated out from the stem as real leaves do. It looks great but it’s by far the worst of the three to sew — I find Y seams are difficult by machine, even when stopping points are marked. It also has the thickest build-up of seams, and all the diagonals mean that it’s the least square block when finished. I only had to unpick and re-sew one of the Y seams though, so that wasn’t too bad. Thank heavens for steam irons!

Since the Quiltmaker block is the easiest to sew (who would have guessed?!), most of the remaining blocks will be done in that pattern.

Batik Fabric Pull

Now that I’ve got over the Omicron booster I had last week and I can contemplate working a sewing machine without unduly risking life and limb, it’s time to get back to sewing. While temporarily incapacitated I started pulling fabric for the next quilt on my list — autumnal leaves for my cousin Jo. It should not have been a surprise to me that I have around a hundred batik fabrics but somehow it was.

batik selection 1
batik selection 1

After excluding all the teals, blues and blue-violets I was left with an array of around 70.

batik selection 2
batik selection 2

I left them on the cutting table for a couple of days while I thought about things and eventually selected the 42 I’ll use for the leaves.

The background fabric will be Emma Louise in black, just like the Hawaiian appliqué quilt for my other cousin, Suzy. It’s a gorgeous matte shade and will make the colours sparkle like jewels, even the darker ones.

Alone Again …

Well, not really. But my Janome 9400 is in the shop again after an unfortunate incident over the weekend involving my huge oriental stained glass quilt and a titanium needle, resulting in a very jammed bobbin holder, although to be fair it’s quite possible that the bobbin jam preceded the needle breakage. It’s been used a lot over the last fortnight but it’s only two months since it was serviced and I was a bit bummed about paying $150 minimum to get it repaired again until the receptionist told me that it was still under warranty from the service, so that’s good news.

As you can see, it is well and truly jammed (sorry about the focus). I tried to lift it out with my fingers but it wasn’t moving at all so I decided to err on the side of caution and leave it for the technician to get it out.

I don’t have all that much left to do on the quilt but I was hoping to have it finished ready for photographs on Friday 21st and that’s not going to happen now. Ah well, worse things happen at sea, as my mother used to say (and as an ex-Navy person myself I can vouch for that).

In the meantime, me, my Pfaff and I will be making some maple leaf blocks and maybe adding borders to another of my ancient WIPs.

Am I the happiest quilter in the country? I think I am.

If anyone had told me a few weeks ago that I would be able to match fabric from twenty years ago I would have fallen over laughing … but that is exactly what has happened, and I honestly do think I’m the happiest quilter in the country.

Serenity (detail)
Serenity (detail)

In 2003 I made the blocks for this top, and in 2016 I put them together. Then the project stalled, because it needed borders and that was problematic, to say the least. I had less than a half-metre of each of the three fabrics left, which wasn’t even enough for a 2″ border. The teal fabric had been purchased in 1992, the pink in the late 1990s and the purple in 2003, so I didn’t think I had a hope of matching any one of them.

Black Amethyst at Benartex
Black Amethyst at Benartex

The thing is, though, that the purple fabric was Fossil Fern by Benartex. I knew that the range had been enormously popular when it was released and I’d seen a couple of bolts here and there in the years since, but only in pale or multicolours, never in the dark purple. About a week ago I was idly browsing the web and got the idea to search for Fossil Fern fabrics, hoping to find a little Etsy store that might have a yard or two in a colour that wouldn’t clash too badly. To my great surprise and delight, however, I found that Benartex has re-released it (or perhaps had never stopped making it) and, better yet, they still run the same colourways. I found a store in Victoria (A Little Patch of Country) that had the shade I wanted (Black Amethyst), ordered it over the weekend and picked it up today.

Look at this — the new fabric is slightly brighter than the old fabric but it’s very close and when it’s separated by the inner border (a grey-purple) I don’t think it will be obvious. (It’s been raining for a week and the cloud cover is pretty heavy today so the colours are a little bluer in the photos than in real life, but I think the comparisons are still valid.)

I guess the happiest quilter in the country had better get to work … :)

Queen’s Tile Quilt (a thirty-two-year journey)

Queen’s Tile quilt

Size: 184 cm x 215 cm (73″ x 85″)
Design: Queen’s Tile by Sharon Prettyman (Quiltmaker #14 Fall/Winter 1988) / Celtic Squares by Nancy Dudley (Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine #212 May 1989)
Fabric: cottons
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 1990 (blocks) and 2009 (borders)
Machines: Janome Combi 10 (blocks); Janome Memory Craft 8000 (borders); Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400QCP (quilting and binding)
Basted: August 2022
Quilted and Bound: September 2022

In 1990 I made my third attempt at piecing. By this time I had identified the problem with my slightly-more-than-a-quarter-inch presser foot and had marked the quarter-inch line on my machine. I was also a subscriber to Quilters Newsletter Magazine and Quiltmaker so I was more knowledgeable about the process of machine piecing.

Queen's Tile and Celtic Square patterns
Queen’s Tile and Celtic Square patterns

Two very similar patterns had appeared within a few months of each other: “Queen’s Tile” in Quiltmaker #14 (Fall/Winter 1988) and “Celtic Squares” in Quilters Newsletter Magazine #212 (May 1989). In both cases it was a relatively simple block that produced a complex interlocking squares design. I decided to use the simpler corner pieces from Celtic Squares but used differing colours for centres and corners as Queen’s Tile did.

I was still living in Victoria at the time, in an area that has very cold, very damp winters. While I knew that this quilt would have to have a thinner batting than Autumn Mood I still wanted it to look warm, so I chose red, orange and yellow as the main colours, with grey to provide contrast. Although the block pattern was identical throughout, I varied the colour of the central square. The pattern was for a queen size quilt with 64 blocks but I was in a single bed so I reduced the number of blocks to 30 (35 would have produced much better proportions). When the top was assembled I realised I didn’t like the orange I had chosen for the centre squares (an apricot which turned out to look insipid) or the black in the corner blocks (too stark) and I had used two different red prints in the corners where one would have provided a more even background. If I had used a single fabric for both the centres and the corners (as Celtic Squares recommended) then the interlocking squares would have floated, but that didn’t register with me at the time. Consequently, this top, like the rail fence, was put in a cupboard for many years.

Queens Tile top
Queens Tile top

In 2009 I decided that I would live with the imperfect colour choices, and added the grey and seminole borders. The top after that stage was 72″ x 84″ — too small for the queen bed I was using by then (the photograph shows it on the sofa bed in the spare room).

Queen's Tile border plan
Queen’s Tile border plan

I thought about adding a 6″ red border to bring the final dimensions up to 84″ x 96″ (a small queen or large double quilt), but I didn’t have enough of the original red fabric and I didn’t want to add yet another colour. It went back into the cupboard instead.

Queen's Tile backing fabric
Queen’s Tile backing fabric

In July 2022 I decided that it had been a UFO for far too long and its size would be sufficient for a single or, indeed, for the double loft bed I’d been using for a few years. I found a suitable wide fabric at Hobbysew and basted it at the end of August with the help of my sewing friend Sue. I started quilting as soon as I got my Janome 9400 machine back after a service (it had broken a needle on a previous project and it always needs the timing tweaked when that happens).

Queen's Tile Free-motion quilting
Queen’s Tile Free-motion quilting

The quilting isn’t complicated, although it did involve far too much turning. I matched colours except for the orange squares and the seminole border, where I used clear monofilament with red Invisafil in the bobbin (my machine did not like it at all, even with the tension adjusted, but we managed to finish). All the straight lines were done with the VD walking foot that is a half-inch wide and so is perfect for quarter-inch outlines. The interlocking squares and the borders had outline quilting, while the centre squares had simple diamonds. For the print fabrics I decided to practise my FMQ and did scrolls (very badly, but they’re barely visible against the print). All told the quilting took me about twenty hours over ten days, with many more hours watching a DVD while I knotted and buried the threads (approximately 400 of them).

Queen's Tile quilting from the back
Queen’s Tile quilting from the back

This is the quilting as seen from the back. It doesn’t look too bad but I wish I could have been more consistent in scroll sizing and stitch length. There are bits everywhere but that’s because it wasn’t meant to be a blog photo — I was checking for any remaining loose thread ends and the light happened to be at the right angle to show the quilting.

Queen's Tile border and binding
Queen’s Tile border and binding

I used off-cuts from the backing as the binding. I had intended to bring the backing over to the front as the binding so basted it with a generous 3″ border from the edges, but of course I promptly forgot that and trimmed the excess batting and fabric off as usual before starting to quilt. Then I managed to attach the label to a side of the quilt rather than the bottom, but no one will see that when it’s in use so I’m not re-doing it.

Verya burrowing
Verya burrowing

Cat tax: another view of Verya burrowing into the quilt from a couple of weeks ago when I was still tying off threads.

Queen's Tile outdoors
Queen’s Tile outdoor shot

Here is the photo taken at my sewing friend’s place on Friday — it was very windy but you get a good idea of the size and the colours. The safety pin was a marker for the block with the best FMQ, shown above, which I had totally forgotten about until my friend told me she could see it.

So, after a long, long journey of thirty-two years, Queen’s Tile is no longer a work in progress but a finished quilt.

The funny thing is that it’s technically terrible — no seam is straight (and some are puckered); no block is square; the designs don’t line up; the pressing was awful and every yellow piece has dark threads showing underneath. And you know what? — NONE OF THAT MATTERS. It’s a quilt. It’s finished. I don’t care if coffee gets spilled on it or it drops on the floor or the cats poke holes in it. It won’t be “kept for best” — it will be used until it falls to pieces, and that’s really what makes a quilt a quilt.

Lessons Learned:
1. When using blocks set side-by-side, think about the pattern as a whole, not just within each block.
2. Fabric suggestions in the pattern aren’t always the best options (except when they are).
3. Think carefully about the final dimensions before finalising the number and layout of central blocks.
4. Unless the quilt is square the borders affect the width proportionately more than the length.
5. Finished is better than perfect!

One last note: I placed the last stitches in the quilt while watching the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It struck me that the colours of the quilt are very close to those of the royal standard — completely unintentional, of course, but sadly apposite. The title is also a reference to royalty, but to the House of Hohenzollern rather than Windsor.

Blue Christmas – Additional Photos

I took this quilt up to my sewing friend’s place yesterday and she assisted me in getting a couple more photos.

Blue Christmas indoors
Blue Christmas indoors

This is the “straightest” photo I’ve been able to get — I’m holding it up at the corners. It’s yellowish because it was inside.

Blue Christmas outdoors
Blue Christmas outdoors

This is the most colour-accurate shot but it was extremely windy and there was no way it would hang straight at all. As you can see, I have added two five-pointed stars in the top corners of the main panel and I’ll add others over the next couple of months — I still have twelve weeks until Christmas, after all.

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas quilt

Size: 137 x 170 cm (54″ x 67″)
Design: Robert Kaufman panels in my own arrangement
Fabric: 100% cotton
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400 QCP
Pieced: September 2019
Quilted: 2019 and 2022
Bound: September 2022

This began life as a Finish-A-Long project back in June 2019. After finishing En Bourgogne I wanted a smallish project and decided on a Christmas Tree wall quilt. I didn’t really care for most of the tree panels I saw — too garish or too cutesy or too plain — but then I saw a couple of blue and silver tree panels and I realised that blue is a much better colour for Australia, being cooler and lighter. I also found two sets of small panels and some coordinating silver and grey fabrics.
Blue Christmas fabrics
It took me six weeks to get a layout finalised. My initial plan was to use all 16 small panels around the tree, in pairs to cut down on the number of seams. That plan was soon discarded because the spacing between the panels was 3/4″ between horizontal pairs and and 2″ between vertical pairs and it would have looked bizarre.
Blue Christmas layout long version
The second plan was to use the small panels with sashing between them. The small panels are 9.75″ and the tree panel was 23″ across (22.5″ finished) so I needed 3″ vertical sashing to make the measurements fit. With four panels across the top and six down the sides, 3″ sashing made the whole quilt 54 x 79″ — the width was acceptable but the length was too long, and it would require an extra few inches be added to the panel. Reducing the horizontal sashing to 2.5″ and then 2″ didn’t help much and made the quilt look unbalanced.
Blue Christmas layout short version
In the end I decided to discard two of the small panels down the sides and use 3″ sashing both vertically and horizontally. This brought the measurements to 54″ x 67″ — a little bigger than I wanted at the start, but manageable.
Blue Christmas cut pieces
When I finally got around to cutting out the panels and the sashing strips I was disappointed to find that not a single one of the panels was actually square — if you look closely at the finished quilt you can see some slivers of blue and silver panel sashing visible around the edges.
Blue Christmas backing fabric
Once I actually started sewing, the top was put together in a single day and then I procrastinated again while trying to find a fabric to use as a backing. Because this was destined to be a wall hanging the backing fabric had to be on the warp grain, which meant I needed at least 142″ (3.6 metres) of fabric. I didn’t have enough for two complete lengths in any blue or grey print fabrics so I ended up using a 2.5 metre length of a navy print and piecing the extension — not ideal, but it was better than going out to buy more fabric just for a backing.

Quilting started out well. I completed the walking foot lines along the sashes and the silver-on-white panels and started free-motion quilting on the main panel but then for some reason it stalled — it’s so long ago I can’t remember why. The quilt was set aside for three years until I picked it up again last week. My FMQ skills had deteriorated in the interval but I was in a “get it finished any way you can” mood so I completed the quilting around the ornaments and did pseudo-pebbles in the blue panels.
Blue Christmas sleeve and binding
For the sleeve I used an offcut from the backing and for the binding I used a medium grey Kona solid which went better with the quilt than any of my blues.
Blue Christmas quilt
All in all I’m fairly happy with how it turned out — the ornaments on the tree look amazingly three-dimensional (they’re not, really) and it will look great on the wall in December. I wasn’t going to add quilting in the background because it’s not a bed quilt and won’t be handled much, but having seen the wrinkles in the centre panel I think I’ll add a few five-pointed stars to hold the layers in place.

Lessons Learned:
1. Panels are weird sizes and never, ever square.
2. No matter how much fabric you have, you never have exactly what you need.
3. I need to do more FMQ practice.