Healing Hearts for Christchurch

Helen Thomas at Angels in Gumboots is coordinating a drive for heart blocks to make quilts for the families affected by the shooting ten days ago. I grabbed a bunch of green fabrics and made up 15 appliqué blocks over the weekend. They’ll go into the post tomorrow or Wednesday. If you are interested in contributing, the info is here.

Heart blocks for Christchurch
Heart blocks for Christchurch

In other news, my Janome 9400 pitched a fit last night while I was quilting a border and has gone in for repairs. I don’t know exactly how it happened but the bobbin holder was pulled right out of its position and had a gouge out of one side (the needle, strangely enough, remained intact). I was doing a serpentine stitch at the time and none of my other Janomes has the same stitch which is annoying. The Pfaff has one that is similar but not identical, so I’ll use that and hope that the recipient doesn’t mind that one border isn’t quite the same.

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Happy Worldwide Quilting Day!

Worldwide Quilting Day logo

I didn’t do any actual quilting today but I did do a fair amount of piecing, both by machine and by hand. The machine work was for an Aussie Hero quilt so no pictures. The hand work was finishing tier 3 on my second Penrose tiling quilt, Flame Rose.

I finished tier 2 on 30 October last year. This is the central portion of the quilt.

Fiamma Tier 2 rose
Flame Rose centre, 2018-10-30

Today I finished tier 3. The picture below shows only one “petal” — there are five altogether, arranged around the centre portion. It looks a lot darker than the centre because it’s photographed at night and on cream, whereas the centre was shot in the day and on white.

Flame Rose Tier 3 2019-03-16
Flame Rose Tier 3 2019-03-16

I’m actually impressed that I managed to get so much done in only four and a half months. I have to admit, though, that my wrists are not happy so I’m going to try and take it a little more slowly for the next section. There’s no more yellow/orange/red in the top, the next part is green, and then there will be some browns in the corners. I’m not sure how much I’ll get done before it’s time to switch to actual quilting once the weather cools down, but it doesn’t really matter anyway — this is a personal project with no deadline so it will take as long as it takes.

February Achievements and March Goals

I had three goals for February:

Homeless 3 web

AHQ: Finish and bind three AHQ quilts. These were used for demonstrations in the HandiQuilter booth at the Sydney Craft & Quilt Fair last year, so were partially quilted. When I saw them at Jan-Maree’s place a couple of months ago I offered to finish the quilting and bind them, so that they can be given to a charity for the homeless. I finished two and gave them to JM when I saw her earlier in the month, but forgot to take any pictures. This is the third. There is actually a fourth one as well but it’s a bit different and more difficult so I’ll talk about that another time.

Personal: Cut black sashing for oriental stained glass quilt; put borders on another quilt. Not done. There was no deadline for these items and I was busy with other stuff so no regrets — they’ll keep.

Ruler foot problems 1
Ruler foot problems 2

FAL: Ruler work on the tumbling blocks mini. Not done. I’m having trouble getting the ruler foot to work properly on the Janome 9400 — the presser foot doesn’t lift at all while in ruler mode (I knew it wouldn’t move as much as the normal FMQ foot but I expected it to move a little bit), so I’m having great difficulty moving the quilt underneath and the fabric just bunches up. I’ve adjusted the pressor foot height to its highest point and the pressure to its lowest, so I don’t know what else I can do to get it to work. I think I’ll have to take it back into the shop, which is really inconvenient as I have more work to do this month (see below).

Additional work:

I finished my personal January goal (bind two minis) a little late and posted the quilts here.

I also completed another AHQ quilt (the landscape for which I was making the string blocks). The original due date was 11 March, so I was going to make this my AHQ goal for next month. However, I finished the quilt very early and I’m just finishing off the laundry bag now so it’ll be posted on Monday. Meanwhile, the AHQ request list grew rather large so I picked up two requests on 25 February that have a due date of 01 April, and they will be my March goals instead.

Here are some of the string blocks in the quilt (I can’t show the whole thing, sorry).

Strip blocks in AHQ quilt

As always, I worked on the Flame Rose quilt most evenings. I’m still on track for finishing the tier 3 rose in April.

March goals
AHQ: Make two quilts (one Navy, one Army)
Personal: I’m not setting one this month as I have two military quilts to do.
FAL: Bind the tumbling blocks mini (even if I have to finish the quilting with a walking foot).

Retrospective: 1988-1990 Autumn Mood

Welcome to the second in my series of posts showing quilts I completed in years gone by.

Quilt in dark green and brown, 80 by 80 inches

Size: 203 x 203 cm (80″ x 80″)
Design: traditional Duck and Ducklings and Shoo-Fly blocks in my own arrangement
Fabric: cotton
Batting: polyester high loft (from a roll, unknown brand)
Backing: cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome Combi) May 1988
Quilted: by hand 1989/90
Bound: September 1990

This was the second top I pieced, and the first quilt I finished (for a rather odd definition of finished).

In 1988 I decided to have a second attempt at machine piecing. I chose the Duck and Duckling pattern, made cardboard templates and cut out all the pieces with scissors. I made 13 brown blocks, sewing them together using the presser foot of my sewing machine as a guide. The green blocks were supposed to be Duck and Duckling as well, but I didn’t like cutting out and sewing all those small triangles so used the simpler Shoo-Fly block instead.

Unfortunately, I still hadn’t worked out that the presser foot on my Janome Combi was approximately 5/16″ from the needle (and the needle position was not adjustable on that machine). Consequently, when it came to setting all the blocks together with sashing, it was extremely difficult, since the block edges were short by quite a lot in the corners. Not wanting to trim the blocks and lose my triangle points, I adjusted the seam allowance instead, from 1/4″ at the centre of each edge down to around 1/16″ at the corners (I reinforced them with nail polish). Despite this problem, I finished the top and it doesn’t look too bad, though some of the triangle points still aren’t where they are supposed to be.

I was living in southern Victoria at the time, in an old and poorly heated building, so of course I wanted the quilt to be warm. I bought the thickest off-the-roll polyester batting I could find, not realising that batting this thick is supposed to be tied, not quilted. I basted the three layers together and started to hand-quilt, in a bastard cross between in-the-ditch and outline. The thickness of the batting meant that I got only three stitches to the inch. By the time I had finished quilting the blocks I was exhausted and had no energy to contemplate quilting the borders. I bound the edges, put safety pins in the border and used it like that for the next twenty-five years (obviously it was never washed during that period).

Some of the seams are starting to give way, and some of the hand quilting is coming undone. I’ll get around to repairing it one day.

Lessons learned:
1. Know your equipment!!
2. Know what techniques are suited to each type of batting.
3. Quilts are very resilient even when shoddily made.

My First Ever String Blocks!

I’m not one to do more work than I need to, so I’ve never seen the need to create a block from five fabrics when one patterned fabric will do. However, I ended up needing them this week for my current Aussie Hero Quilt.

The request was for a landscape, and I decided on a pixelated design rather than trying to make it look realistic. All Aussie Hero quilts are around 42″ x 70″ (bunk size, plus it means only one length of backing fabric) so I tried a couple of grids to see what the optimal size would be for my pixels — the smaller the pixel square, the better the landscape detail, but also the more work it will take. I ended up deciding on a 3″ square as the base. While squares are fine for most of the picture (grass and trees) with some half-square triangles for the boundaries, I needed finer striations to represent mountain rocks, and I found that most of my darkish blue fabrics (for water) were solids. String blocks were a necessity for the mountain, and I figured I might as well make some for the sea, so I set to work, using an old Ikea instruction sheet as my base paper.* I only did six in each group, and combined with busier fabrics, HSTs and maybe even a few Y-squares or QST, there should be enough variety to please the eye.

3-inch string blocks for mountains
Mountain Blocks
3-inch string blocks for sea
Sea Blocks

*I know Bonnie Hunter recommends phone book paper but
a. Telstra stopped issuing phone books here about three years ago;
b. Our phone books definitely had smudgey ink; and
c. I buy so much from Ikea that I have multiple copies of each instruction guide and the paper is soft.

Three Workshop Minis

I finally got around to binding the other mini which was part of my personal goal for January, so here is the story that goes with them. They are very old UFOs, dating back to the mid-1990s when I did a lot of workshops and classes. These three are notable because they are all two-fers — that is, they served twice, first as piecing samples and then as machine quilting samples.

Miniature Rail Fence in green and pink
Miniature Rail Fence

The rail fence was from a strip piecing class. As usual, my fabric choices were mediocre but my piecing was quite good. In the quilting class this was used for free-form walking-foot quilting on cotton batting. It lay very flat, which I liked, so I bound it soon after the class and used it as a table topper for several years. Dimensions: 21″ x 30″ (53 cm x 76 cm)

small nine-patch quilt in orange and brown, with a green border
Brown 9-patch mini

The nine-patch/single Irish chain was another strip-piecing sample. It was quilted in straight diagonal lines with the walking foot, on wool batting. It was a little wavy and sat in a box until I decided in January to bind it and use it as a pet bed. Obviously I had none of the original fabrics left (I had used up all my ditsies in a couple of scrap projects in 1998-2000) and I had no solids that were compatible, so I chose a brown floral with a background shade very close to the dark brown in the nine-patches. Dimensions: 18″ (46 cm) square.

Miniature quilt exploded square design, in magenta and plum
Magenta mini

The magenta economy block was a foundation piecing sample. I was very pleased with the way the blocks turned out, and, as you can see, my fabric selection was much better than previous efforts (some of you may recognise the Rainbow Connection and Jinny Beyer fabrics). It was quilted in the ditch using monofilament thread on polyester batting. There are a few snarls on the back but they don’t show from the front. This also languished in a box, and when I was sorting through projects I noted that the batting was becoming very tattered from handling, which contributed to my decision to bind it and the accompanying nine-patch. I confess that I was rather surprised to note that condition of the polyester was so much worse than the wool, since they had been quilted on the same day and handling had been pretty much the same for both projects.

Magenta mini, showing cut in backing fabric
magenta mini tape
Magenta mini, showing repaired cut
magenta mini repaired
magenta mini, showing backing turned to front
magenta mini backing

This was almost a three-fer because I wanted to try bringing the backing over to use as binding. As I was trimming the front I noted two cuts in the backing fabric — I repaired them with fusible webbing and a scrap of cotton voile, but when I turned the backing to the front the colour clashed violently with the top so instead I trimmed it all off and chose a plum tone-on-tone to do a traditional binding. It’s a little narrower on the front than I normally do, but then the top is so small that my usual 3/8″ or 1/2″ binding would have looked much too big. In retrospect I should have used single layer binding rather than folded, but I guess that’s another learning opportunity (and I’m certainly not going to take it all off and replace it). Dimensions: 15″ (38 cm) square.

Lessons learned:
1. Finished is better than perfect, and definitely better than sitting in a project box.
2. Walking foot quilting doesn’t have to be all straight lines.
3. Cotton batting lies flattest.
4. Wool batting appears to be more resilient than polyester.
5. Minis may look better with single-layer binding rather than double.

January’s Achievements and February’s Goals

A cold front came through last night and the temperature is delightfully cool today. If it were winter I’d be thinking of putting on a light jumper or cardigan but I’m enjoying the novelty of being slight too cold (it’s 22° C inside, if you’re wondering what feels cold to this Aussie). I hadn’t realised how poorly I was sleeping when it was hot, but I certainly feel a lot brighter and more rested today.

January’s achievements:

AHQ goal: I finished the bag and quilt and sent them off to the Middle East. With luck they might have arrived now.

small nine-patch quilt in orange and brown, with a green border
Brown 9-patch mini

Personal goal: this was to bind two minis leftover from workshops I did a long time ago. I finished one, shown above, but not the other — I should get the second one done soon and then I’ll talk about them both later in the month.

The heat prevented me from sewing as much as I usually do, but I did get a head start on my February AHQ goal, which is to finish quilting and add binding to some ex-demo quilts.

Oriental fabrics cut for a stained glass quilt
oriental fabrics

I also cut up a lot of my oriental fabric stash in preparation for a stained glass quilt. Once I’ve cut the black sashing strips I’ll be able to start putting blocks together. Somehow, I thought that this would use up a much higher proportion of the oriental stash than it did … Silly me, I should have known better. I guess I’ll just have to make a few more quilts!

Finally, I finished the SID quilting on the tumbling blocks quilt that is my Finish-A-Long Q1 goal. I should be able to get the ruler work portion done this month.

In hand work (which barely qualifies as work because it’s so relaxing) I’m still piecing the Flame Rose quilt. I’m up to the third level of the design which requires 365 diamonds so that will take me a while. I estimate that I’ll finish this section around the time that the weather changes in April, and then I’ll be able to start quilting Pentastic (the quilt in the header).

February’s goals:

AHQ: bind three ex-demo quilts.
Personal: cut black sashing for the stained glass quilt; put borders on another quilt top.
FAL: ruler work quilting on the tumbling blocks mini.

Retrospective: 1988-1998 The Rail Fence Quilt

Welcome to the first in a more-or-less monthly series covering quilts I’ve made in previous years. I’ll include a photo or two, the story of how the quilt came to be made, the misadventures on the way, and the lessons learned. This entry is about my very first attempt at quiltmaking.

Rail fence quilt in cream, purple and green.

Length: 210 cm / 83″
Width: 165 cm / 65″
Design: traditional rail fence
Pieced: by machine (Janome Combi)
Batting: polyester, I think
Backing: cotton sheet
Quilted: longarm pantograph by Dianne Neumann, ACT

After a long background in embroidery and dressmaking I decided to make a quilt. I saw a magazine with an illustration of a rail fence quilt and decided that it was a good beginner project.  I bought four coordinating fabrics in purple and cream and began the quilt top.  I didn’t anticipate any difficulty, as I had been making my own clothes for many years.

In 1988, strip piecing was in its infancy and rotary cutters were not yet a standard part of every quilter’s equipment.  The directions in the magazine said to cut the fabric using the template provided, so that is what I did.  I made a cardboard template, cut out 240 rectangles with my scissors and sewed them together on my trusty sewing machine.  I also followed their instructions to use the presser foot as a guide for the seam allowance — unfortunately, I didn’t realise that the distance from the needle to the edge of the presser foot on my machine was not a quarter inch, as everyone said it would be, but closer to 5/16 of an inch.  Consequently each unit of four rectangles did not make a 6 1/2″ square but a rectangle roughly 6 1/4″ x 6 1/2″, and when I put them together to make the rail fence pattern I ended up with a horribly uneven and lumpy mess.

Yes, I could have taken everything apart and re-sewn it, but there was a complicating factor: instead of a straight stitch I had used an overlocking stitch (dressmaker, remember?).  It would have taken an enormous amount of time and effort to undo everything, and I couldn’t face it.  Instead I hid the top in a box and it remained there for ten years (through five removals). I wish now that I had taken a picture of it because it was so awful, but I was too ashamed (and didn’t want to waste valuable film frames — no digital cameras in those days!).

During the next few years I did more workshops and classes, and discovered strip piecing and Seminole patterns.  I used the remaining purple and cream fabrics to sew strip sets but never got around to cutting them up into squares.

In 1998 I finally pulled out the lumpy mess from the back of the cupboard and painstakingly took it apart so that I had 60 supposed-to-be-square units.  Then — using the rotary cutter and square rulers I had bought in the intervening decade — I trimmed the units so that they were 6″ square and set them back together using a 1/4″ seam allowance.  You can see that the two outer rectangles in each unit are slightly narrower than the inner two, but the difference isn’t enough to be jarring.  This time the top was beautifully flat, though at 33″ x 55″ it was very small.

I considered using the strip sets to make additional rail fence units, but they had been sewn with a proper quarter-inch allowance, so cutting them down to the same size would have produced very narrow outer rectangles.  Instead I made a Seminole border.  I still had some fabric left over in two of the colours so I made a checked border as well.  I bought a dark green fabric to use as sashing around all the borders and to give the eyes a rest from all that purple.  I set everything together and was happy with the resulting top.

Because the top was so busy I didn’t want to spend the time to hand-quilt it, and I wasn’t very confident in my machine quilting, so I had it quilted on a long-arm pantograph machine by Dianne Neumann of Truly Lois in Hall, ACT.  From memory it cost around $180 (more than the usual pantograph cost at the time because the borders were done separately).  It’s by no means a masterpiece, but I think it came out quite well considering how it started.

Lessons learned:
1.  Know your equipment.
2.  Use the best technique available on the day.
3.  Even a horrible mess can be salvaged with a bit of effort.