Retrospective: 1998 Castle Wall

Welcome to the sixth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

Castle Wall Hanging
Castle Wall Hanging

Size: 90 cm / 36″ square (approx)
Design: traditional blocks, in my own arrangement
Batting: unknown, low loft
Pieced: by hand (blocks) and machine (sashing and borders) July 1988
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) August 1998

In 1998 I underwent an operation that I knew would entail several weeks’ convalescence, during which time I would not be able to do anything that required upper body strength, incudling lifting or machine sewing. I decided to embark on a hand-piecing project, which resulted in this wall quilt.

The centre is a Castle Wall variation in burgundy, green and gold, with the colour placement emphasising the star shape. Sewing this together took me only a few days, so I did the Kaleidscope blocks as well. By the time I had finished the blocks I had recovered enough for light machine work (that is, capable of sewing, not of lifting the machine), so I got one of my friends to set up the machine and then I sewed the border strips and set the top together.

It was machine quilted by me, mostly in the ditch but with a star in the centre octagon (formed by extending the seam lines) and some free-motion work in the strips. The binding is attached by machine and sewn down by hand.

I never did get around to putting a tube on the back, so the Castle Wall wall hanging has never been hung. (!)

Lessons learned:
1. Plain strips are plain.
2. Free-motion quilting is difficult and I need to practise more.
3. Hand piecing is much more fun than I had anticipated.

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August Achievements and September Goals

September already! The days are getting lighter and warmer, and I’m hoping to enjoy at least four weeks of nice weather before it gets too hot and I start complaining about the heat. My poor friend in Queensland is already suffering 36°C — way too hot for this time of year.

August goals:
1. AHQ: 4 generic laundry bags. I got three done instead of four — they all had the same accent fabric so it was very easy to do them together. I’ll have to cut some more kits soon so that I can make up two or three in a day if I need them quickly. JM has put out a call for bags to go to Butterworth so I’ll send these off once I’ve done a few more.

Three generic laundry bags
Three generic laundry bags

2. Personal: I didn’t set one this month.

3. FAL: Complete the Blue Christmas top and start on the quilting. Well … I finalised the design and cut the fabric but I haven’t actually set a stitch in it yet. I still have five weeks or so until the finish is due so I need to make this a priority for September.

Blue Christmas all cut out
Blue Christmas all cut out

Other work:
I’ve resumed regular progress on my second Penrose quilt. My wrists are coping with two units per night so I’ll try keep it at that and not push it. I should finish this section by the end of the month, and then I have rosettes to do.

September Goals:

AHQ: Three more generic bags for RAAF Butterworth.

Personal: I really would like to get those last two Hawaiian blocks done. I keep looking at the two pieces of stiffened fabric that are ready for the design and telling myself that I could get them done in only one or two days, just as soon as I’ve traced the design.

FAL: No time to dilly dally on this one. Get the top done, quilt it and bind it before 10 September October.

Squirrel!

Am I working on the numerous UFOs languishing in project boxes? No. Am I assembling the Oriental Stained Glass top, or making the last two Hawaiian appliqué blocks? No. Am I working on my FAL project (the only one with a deadline)? No, not even that (although I have finalised the layout and written the cutting instructions for it).

Floral fabrics from 1990s
Floral fabrics from 1990s

Instead I’ve spent the last couple of days working out an Irish Chain pattern to use up some extremely old floral fabrics that have lain on the shelves for (at best guess) twenty years. I have been wanting to get these made up for a long time but couldn’t decide on a pattern that would allow them to blend without being too bland.

Quad Irish Chain 9-grid
Quad Irish Chain 9-grid
Quad Irish Chain 7-grid
Quad Irish Chain 7-grid

I looked at various chain types and eventually chose a quadruple chain, but made in a seven-grid block rather than a nine-grid block, so there is less open space in the alternate blocks.

I also decided to use two fabrics for the centre of the alternate block rather than just one (does that make it a quintuple chain?).

Greens from stash
Greens from stash

I wanted to make this entirely from stash, but I also wanted the centre of the chain to be a green solid or tone-on-tone. Unfortunately I only liked one green (second from right) of the ones I already had, and I didn’t have nearly enough of it.

I made a quick trip to the fabric shop and found a Makower print that reads as a solid. It’s a little brighter than I would have liked but no one had the slightly greyed green that features in the leaves of the two darker florals. Luckily it doesn’t stand out as particularly jarring when next to the florals. Vanima seems to like it, anyway.

Final palette
Final palette (with bonus Vanima)

There will also be a pink inner border and possibly some pink appliqué in the alternate blocks, but I’ll decide on that once the top is done.

Quad Irish Chain design
Quad Irish Chain design

Final dimensions will be roughly 80″ x 108″ — a long double quilt or a queen topper.

Retrospective: 1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Welcome to the fifth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

1998 Four Ts in a Maze
1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Size: 160 x 220 cm (63″ x 87″)
Design: Traditional blocks in an arrangement by Mary Ellen Hopkins
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: Hobbs Heirloom 100% Cotton
Backing: plain muslin
Pieced: 1998 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: 1998 by machine in monofilament

In 1998 I did a workshop at Truly Lois (a quilt shop in Canberra, now defunct) on quick-piecing techniques by Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of which was the “Four Ts in a Maze” pattern. The instructions said to bring two sets of three coordinating fabrics, so I made my choices in burgundy and green.

The block itself is a very simple rail fence with three fabrics per unit — the T pattern arises from the way the units are arranged. The blocks were cut and stitched together in only a few hours.

Once I had finished the maze section I had to work out how to finish the top — the maze is only 36″ x 60″ so borders were required. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on a detailed pieced border and my original plan was to use the dark burgundy print, of which I had about a metre and a half left. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to bring the top up to the size I wanted, so I bought an unrelated print that didn’t clash too badly and used it for a 3″ inner border and binding, and the burgundy as a 9″ outer border. It was machine-quilted by me using invisible thread — in-the-ditch for the centre section and parallel lines in the borders. It was bound in yet another multicoloured fabric.

When I had finished, I found that I really didn’t like it (I still don’t). In the maze section some of the fabrics blend too well, others are jarring. The border is far too plain in comparison with the central section and that one extra fabric sticks out like a sore thumb. Until I got my cats it was only ever used under something else, and most of the time it sat in the linen cupboard. Since the cats arrived, though, it sits on top of a box beside a window and has become one of Verya’s favourite spots.

Lessons learned:
1. I don’t have a problem with colour, I have a problem with contrast (I ought to try a colourwash quilt one day, I think I’d do well).
2. Don’t let your desire to finish quickly lead you into bad border choices.
3. Cats love ugly quilts.

July Achievements and August goals

July goals:

1. AHQ: One quilt … not quite finished. All the walking foot quilting has been done, but I had three strips 6″ wide so I decided to have yet another attempt at ruler work, using a crescent shape from the Westalee Janome sampler set I bought in January. I did manage to get the quilt to move this time (by using the medium setting and ramping the pressor foot height up to maximum) but even then the result was not good:

Ruler Work attempt
Ruler Work attempt

So this will be unpicked tomorrow and I’ll draw more straight lines that I can do with the walking foot. I should have it in the post by Friday Monday. Note: I honestly thought it was Tuesday today, not Thursday. Where did the week go?

The more attempts I make, the more I believe that the upgrade for the 9400 was not worth it. It’s a lot harder to move a quilt through a domestic sewing machine than it is to move a longarm machine over a quilt, and even with all the sticky patches I can’t stop the foot from shifting the ruler out of position. Honestly, I think I’d be better off practising my FMQ.

2. Personal: eh, not done (I’m not sure I’ll continue listing this goal as it’s almost never done).

3. FAL: still working on precise measurements for the Blue Christmas panel quit — I want to have as few seams as possible so I’m trying to work on placing the small panels in pairs rather than individually.

Additional Work:
I didn’t actually work on anything else this month but I did get two thank you letters this month from recipients of my quilts. One was physical, a lovely hand-made card:

Thank You card
Thank You card

The other was by email and included a picture of the quilt and also the laundry bag — I’m so grateful for that as I forgot to take a picture of the laundry bag myself before posting and it was a design I was particularly pleased with:

Camo Kitty Laundry Bag
Camo Kitty Laundry Bag

August goals:
1. AHQ: 4 generic laundry bags
2. Personal: Not setting one this month.
3. FAL: Complete the Blue Christmas top and start on the quilting

En Bourgogne — Glamour Shots

Today the weather was back to Canberra-normal (cold but sunny), which is a lot better than it was earlier in the week, so I took En Bourgogne out to Lake Burley Griffin for some glamour shots. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the lake itself — you’ll just have to accept that it was there behind me.

First, the obligatory flat shot. I held the camera as high as I could but it’s still at a bit of an angle:

En Bourgogne quilt on grass
En Bourgogne

If you look closely you can spot the two out-of-place blocks. If you can’t spot them, I’ve circled them in the next shot:

En Bourgogne quilt showing misplaced blocks
Misplaced blocks

I tried to take a couple of “artsy” pictures but it was pretty windy and the corners kept turning. This one was nice, though:

En Bourgogne on a park bench, with blossoming trees behind.
En Bourgogne Bench

You can see the blossom on the trees in the background — and it’s only half-way through winter! I couldn’t resist taking another couple of close-up photos as it was so beautiful:

Pink Blossom
Pink Blossom
White Blossom
White Blossom

I also caught a couple of black swans who came out of the lake and wandered across the grass. I didn’t want to get too close (they can be aggressive) but I got a couple of zoom shots:

Two swans at Lake Burley Griffin
Swans
One swan at Lake Burley Griffin
Swan

It was too cold to stay out for long so I packed up and came home. It was lovely to get a little sunshine, though, and it was a pretty good place to take photos so I’ll go back there later in the year.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q3 nomination

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Here is my nomination for Q3 of the 2019 Finish-A-Long. As usual I’m linking through Sew of Course in Ireland.

Blue and silver Christmas fabrics
Blue and silver Christmas fabrics

After the effort it took to get En Bourgogne quilted I really need a smaller project for this quarter, but all my unquilted tops are full size. I remembered a Christmas Tree panel I’ve had for several years and decided that now would be the time to quilt it. But … I can’t find it. I know I haven’t thrown it away (I never throw anything away) but it’s not in the shelf with the other panels, it’s not with the multi-coloured fabrics, it’s not in a project box and I simply can’t find it anywhere. Having set my mind on a panel for this quarter’s project, however, a panel I must have, so I took a quick trip up to Hobbysew.

To be honest, I didn’t really care for most of the tree panels I saw — too garish or too cutesy or too plain … just not what I wanted. 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, so there will be a blue and silver wall hanging done in time for Christmas this year. (Finding somewhere to hang it will be another matter — all my walls are covered in bookcases.)

I don’t know what the dimensions will be yet — I’m aiming for 50″ x 60″ or smaller, but we’ll see. As for the quilting, I’m going to do outline stitching of the main tree, and FMQ for the rest, with sparkly machine tacks here and there.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q2 Finish: En Bourgogne

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Here is my second FAL finish for the year. As usual I’m linking through Sandra of Sew Of Course in Ireland.

En Bourgogne top
En Bourgogne top

My nomination for this quarter was “En Bourgogne”, my version of Bonnie Hunter’s En Provence, done in caramel, brown, green and burgundy. I pieced and assembled the blocks in late 2017 but never got any further.

The main stumbling block between then and now was the difficulty in choosing fabrics for borders. I was a little concerned that creams and caramels would blend too much with the outer edges of the blocks, but I didn’t want to go much darker as it would be too heavy. Bonnie had added a border of neutral four-patches, so eventually I decided to stick with a light inner border but to use a fabric that hadn’t been in the blocks. I chose to cut up an old cream-on-cream pillow case which had been part of a Sheridan 100% cotton set I had given to my parents in the early 2000s. After they died and we were cleaning out the house, I couldn’t find the sheets but I did find the pillow cases. One portion of the fabric is slightly stained from hair oils and sweat but to me that’s a bonus, since it means a little part of my parents will be in the quilt forever — the fabric is perfectly clean and sound, and the stain gives the border an subtle ombre effect.

I auditioned about 25 brown and green fabrics for the second border:

En Bourgogne border tryouts
En Bourgogne border tryouts

I chose the medium green eucalyptus leaves fabric as it picked up on the greens in the quarter square triangles and was neither too bland nor too overwhelming. I think it came out well.

En Bourgogne borders
En Bourgogne borders

My big mistake for this quilt was misplacing two of the B blocks, which had centre and edge variations — I still don’t know how I managed to miss it but I put a centre block on the edge and an edge block in the centre. What’s more, I even photographed one of the errant blocks after doing the borders and still I didn’t pick it up. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the quilting that I noticed it, and by that time it would have been far too much work to fix it, so there it stays.

I had run out of Matilda’s Own cotton batting when the time came to baste this and my usual shop was out of stock so I opted for SewEasy 100% cotton instead. Unfortunately this is a much denser batting than Matilda’s Own and made the quilt a lot heavier than I had anticipated. It’s a sturdy batting and it certainly held up well to being pushed through the machine but the sheer weight of it means I probably won’t buy it again. It also has a polyester scrim, which I discovered when I came to iron out the creases on basting day — if I’d realised that beforehand I’d have thrown it in my tumble dryer with a couple of wet flannels. Ah well, I’ll know better next time.

Given the complexity of the pattern, I knew that there was no point in trying anything fancy for the quilting. The additional weight meant that it was going to be difficult to manoeuvre, even given the Janome 9400’s large harp space and my sewing table, so whatever I chose to do had to be simple and could not require frequent turning. With that in mind, I opted for a diagonal grid down the four-patches and the cream squares with additional FMQ.

For the tall triangle stars in block A I drew a 6.5″ circle and went around it with the feed dogs down (which is why the circles are a bit wobbly). I would much have preferred to do this with the walking foot, but the quilt is much too heavy for all that shifting.

As I wrote a few weeks ago I tried some ruler work on the B blocks but it was an abject failure. Instead I did FMQ diagonal lines through the corner units and a vague oval / leaf shape in the hourglass units for blocks B and C. I’m a firm believer in the adage “every piece needs a quilting line”, especially for quilts that will be used all the time.

Borders were quilted with the walking foot. I did my customary serpentine stitch in the first border and diamonds in the outer border.

Delhi by Jinny Beyer
Delhi by Jinny Beyer

Since the border was green, I chose brown for the binding. After auditioning several fabrics, I chose a Jinny Beyer fabric I’ve had for a couple of years — it’s mainly a pinky brown but there are subtle patches of yellow-green that pick up the border colours beautifully. I stitched it down using the HP2 walking foot, which produces a great edge.

Running out of thread
Running out of thread

Of course, things couldn’t go smoothly even for that very last step — I ran out of thread with a side and half to go. I had the same thread in a bobbin, but you can’t use a bobbin as a spool because the thread comes out backwards and is much more likely to shred. Instead, I wound the thread onto a second bobbin so that it was right way around and then finished the binding.

Bobbin re-winding
Bobbin re-winding

So, the quilt is finished. Well, actually, I still need to bury a few thread ends and sew the label on, but it’s quilted, bound and photographed. I don’t have room to lay it out and it’s too big for the curtain rail but I’ll try and get an outdoor photo sometime in the next few days, weather permitting.

En Bourgogne finished
En Bourgogne finished

Size: 230 x 230 cm (about 90″) square
Design: “En Provence” by Bonnie K Hunter
Fabric: scraps from the stash, all cotton
Batting: Sew Easy 100% cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP) October -November 2017 (blocks); April 2019 (borders)
Quilted: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP), April-July 2019
Bound: July 2019

Lessons learned:
1. Pressing to one side may make it easier to create quarter-square triangles, but it produces very bulky seam allowances.
2. It would be a good idea to take a photo of a layout before you stitch it together so you can pick up silly mistakes like swapping edge and middle blocks.
3. SewEasy cotton batting is denser than Matilda’s Own

June Achievements and July goals

June goals:

1. AHQ: I didn’t set a goal for Aussie Heros this month as I needed a break. Break is now over (see below).

2. Personal: Finish the last two Hawaiian Blocks. Still not done (I spent much of that break playing video games so quilting work fell a bit behind). Eh, maybe next month.

3. FAL: Finish the quilting on EB and bind it. Quilting is almost done; I just have the borders left to do, and they’ll be walking foot so fairly fast. The binding won’t take long either. I’ll talk about this in a few days when I post the Q2 finish.

En Bourgogne quilting
En Bourgogne quilting

Additional Work:

I went up to Sydney for a sewing day with JM and almost completed one top for her (I was working with blocks other people had done and some of them were a bit uneven, so they needed trimming and frames added to bring them up to the required size). No photos though.

My wrists are much improved and I finished the central stars for the next part of Flame Rose without any pain. The rest of the next section comprises 70 green and black units and I don’t anticipate being finished until September at the earliest. I’m determined not to make the same mistake I made in March so hand sewing is restricted to two hours per night.

July goals:
1. AHQ: One quilt, due date 29 July — I’ve already started this and it’s a fairly simple design so no problems are anticipated.
2. Personal: Is it worth nominating the Hawaiian blocks again?
3. FAL: Not sure yet but it definitely won’t be a full-size quilt. Probably a Christmas tree panel … but I still have a few days to make the decision.