Retrospective: 1992 Double Irish Chain

Welcome to the third in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives. I apologise for the quality of the photos — they are scans of old film prints. [And thereby hangs a tale — I had to find the laptop that has the software to run the scanner, then charge it (because I haven’t used that particular laptop in months), then I had to connect the power and USB cords to the scanner, which took much huffing and puffing and scrabbling under the desk, and then after I scanned the prints and edited the scans I found that all my huffing and puffing had managed to dislodge the power cord for the router … cue more huffing and puffing and trying to work out which cord is the router (they are all labelled, but the ink had faded on some of them — time for a re-do) and then waiting for the internet connection to re-establish. Phew!!]

1992 Irish Chain quilt
1992 Irish Chain quilt

Size: 30″ x 80″ (approximate)
Design: traditional Double Irish Chain
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think)
Pieced: by machine December 1991 (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: by hand, early 1992
Bound: July 1992

Just before Christmas 1991 I bought the brand new Janome MemoryCraft 8000 sewing machine — it was the first domestic sewing machine with embroidery function and I was completely in love with it. I made several Christmas-themed napkins for the family and decorated some T-shirts and pillow cases. I also started a machine embroidery/appliqué quilt that never got further than a few blocks, but that’s a story for another day.

I was in the RAN at the time, with another long overseas deployment coming up. I wanted a hand-sewing project to keep myself occupied as well as a bunk-size quilt to brighten up my cabin. I found black, pink and grey fabrics that coordinated, and I sewed the top together without any issues (quarter-inch seams are easy with an adjustable needle position!). I bought backing, batting and a tapestry frame that was wide enough for the quilt and took it all back to the ship with me.

It didn’t take me long to quilt it — a few weeks at most. I did basic diagonal lines through the grey squares and border, and a simple eight-petal flower in the pink squares. I used a blue pencil to mark the flowers which was hard to see at times and one of the petals ended up being a lot larger than its fellows (I can’t find it in the photo so it probably wasn’t as glaring an error as I thought it was).

1992 Irish Chain quilt (detail)
1992 Irish Chain quilt (detail)

I can’t remember if I bound it prior to or after the quilting, but I’m fairly certain I attached the binding by machine and stitched it down by hand, and I have a note that says it was completed in July 1992. Of course, shortly thereafter I was posted to a different ship where the bunks were wider and the quilt barely covered the mattress, but I still appreciated having something colourful in the cabin. On leaving that ship in December 1992 I decided that it wasn’t worth taking it home (it was much too narrow for a normal single bed) so I sold it for $25 to one of the stewards who had often admired it — my one and only quilt sale. I hope it had a long and useful life.

Now that I make quilts for other service people it amuses me to fake an old woman’s quavering voice and say “In my young day I had to make my own bunk quilt!”

Lessons learned:
1. Use a quilting marker that will remain visible until washed.
2. A tapestry frame makes a perfectly adequate quilting frame for a narrow quilt (or portion thereof).

2019 Finish-A-Long Q1 Finish

finishalong logo 125px

Welcome to my first completed project for the 2019 FAL. I’m linking up through Sew Of Course in Ireland.

I only nominated one project in January: this 25-year-old tumbling blocks miniature.

tumbling blocks top

Stream pattern by Sara Nephew
Stream pattern by Sara Nephew

Piecing was done in 1994 in a workshop with Sara Nephew at the Australasian Quilt Convention. This particular design is called “Stream”, and features three different heights for the blocks, making a sinuous curve rather than a straight line.

I did all the in-the-ditch stitching with MonoPoly clear thread in the needle and Invisafil 100 wt polyester in the bobbin, and had no issues once I’d adjusted the bobbin tension. I intended to practice my ruler quilting using the same threads, but unfortunately I had significant problems with the ruler foot not permitting any fabric movement. I’m not sure if it was connected to the timing issues I discovered last week but I don’t think so. When I have some free time I’ll make up another sandwich and see what I can do with normal thread.

Fabric bunched up in front of the ruler foot
Ruler foot problems 1

I eventually decided to do a little more quilting in the largest blocks with the walking foot, which went well but I don’t need any more walking foot practice. I also considered doing free motion quilting in the “top” diamonds, to hide the seam allowance, but I ran out of time due to issues with another quilt. There’s enough quilting to hold all the layers together and it’s destined to cover the cutting mat or to cushion cat bottoms, so I decided that enough was enough and put the binding on.

Tumbling Blocks binding front
Tumbling Blocks binding front

As you can see, matching points with binding is not a skill I have mastered yet (which is why I usually add a border, even it’s only a narrow one). To be fair, though, my piecing wasn’t exactly great either, and seams were pressed to one side rather than open, resulting in some bulky intersections and a rather less-than-square top. If I had pieced it this year I think I would have done a better job.

Tumbling Blocks mini back
Tumbling Blocks mini back

The backing is a very old Cranston VIP print, roughly the same age as the top. I didn’t set the top squarely on the backing, as you can see, but then the top isn’t quite square anyway so I’m not fussed. I didn’t have any of the original dark green solid left, but I had another that works well, and in fact is an almost exact match for the green in the backing fabric.

Tumbling Blocks binding back
Tumbling Blocks binding back

The binding was stitched down by hand using Superior Threads Kimono 100 wt silk thread. I love using this thread for appliqué and binding — it seems to melt into the fabric and is barely visible even in close-up.

Tumbling Blocks mini finished
Tumbling Blocks mini finished

Name: Tumbling Blocks
Size: 80 x 80 cm (31.5″ x 31.5″)
Design: Stream (tumbling blocks variation) by Sara Nephew
Fabric: Cotton
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 1994 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: January-March 2019 by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP)
Bound: April 2019

Lessons Learned:
1. Seam allowances matter!
2. Pressing to one side causes too much variation in thickness and contributes to uneven edges.
3. It’s hard to attach a binding to a pieced edge.

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.

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.

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.