I was so, so wrong

Do you ever spend six months working on a quilt project only to find that one of your basic assumptions was wrong?

I started my hexagon quilt last November and since I tend to plan everything out in Excel I used the grid to work out how many hexagons I would need. I know that when you are calculating how many blocks are in a given top the formula is the same as the one for square blocks on point — that is, xy + (x-1)(y-1). Unfortunately, calculating how many rings you need to make for a top is NOT the same for hexagons as it is for squares or diamonds. Surprisingly enough, the first ring is 6 blocks, not 4, and it goes up by 6 for each ring. Also you can’t fit as many hexagon rings into a top of a given size as you can square blocks.

In my previous calculations I believed that I would need 14 “rings”, plus the centre block, giving me a total of 365 blocks. However, I recently found some hexagon grids online and plotted the layout using the correct grid, and the result is very, very different. If I stick to the plan of applying each flower to a 3″ hexagon (finished size 6″ point to point, 5.25″ side to side), then I have two options, both of which give me a quilt top measuring roughly 75″ x 85″. [NB: each hexagon here represents the background square — the colours are just to help visualise the larger structure.]

Hexagon quilt plan 1
Hexagon quilt plan 1

The first option has each hexagon flower arranged vertically (points at north and south) with the rings oriented horizontally. This would require 257 blocks in 6 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top size would be roughly 74″ x 87″.

Hexagon quilt plan 2
Hexagon quilt plan 2

The second option has the hexagon flowers arranged horizontally (points at east and west) with the rings oriented vertically. This option has 281 blocks in 8 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top would be roughly 78″ x 89″.

Both options 1 and 2 could be made either as a complete top to be quilted, or as a “bind as you go” project (subject to finding backing fabrics that aren’t too jarring).

Virtual hexagon
Virtual hexagon

There is, however, a third option. If I attach a grey hexagon at each V in the flower, I get a “virtual” hexagon measuring 3″ on a side — the same as the appliqué block. I would need the same 281 flowers as for Option 2 but only a small fraction of the background fabrics. Placement of grey hexagons for the larger rings would require attention to detail so as not to get the fabrics in the wrong position, but it’s doable. It would mean a lot more hand sewing but that’s not a disincentive *g*.

Hmm … decision, decisions.

At the rate I’m sewing (wrists permitting) I should achieve 281 hexagon flowers by the end of July. That gives me nearly two months to think things over.

Jewel Box Door Quilt (a squirrel project)

Jewel Box Door Quilt detail

Size: 26″ x 74″ (66 x 188 cm)
Design: Traditional
Fabric: 100% cotton batiks (various manufacturers) and Emma Louise black solid
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 23-25 May 2023
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400 QCP
Basted: 26 May 2023
Quilted: 27 May 2023
Bound: 28 May 2023

The house I’m moving to in Tasmania was built c. 1910, with hardwood floors and two fireplaces. I love it but it has one significant drawback — all the bedroom doors have glass panels which let the light in. Consequently, I decided to make a quilt to cover the one in my door (I have a feeling I’ll be making more of them for my cousins once my machines are down there).

I needed a quick and easy pattern, one that was adaptable to the door’s dimensions. After reviewing various alternatives, I settled on the Jewel Box block in a 6″ size (unit size 1½”). Four blocks across and twelve blocks down give 24″ x 72″, and I added a 1″ border for the final dimensions. This pattern also made it very easy to quilt in straight diagonal lines.
Batik fabrics
I picked out 48 of my batiks and cut one 4″ x 8″ rectangle from each colour, sub-cutting it into one 4″ square and two 2″ x 4″ rectangles. I also cut 4″ and 2″ strips from the solid black. For once I actually cut the backing and border strips before the blocks so I have borders on the warp grain, which is important for a hanging quilt.
Four-patch construction
I put the batik and black squares together and sewed either side of a drawn line to get the half-square triangles. Instead of cutting individual black rectangles for the four-patch units I used a technique I’ve seen online (I can’t remember which channel) where I sewed the 2″ x 4″ batik rectangles to the 2″ strips. I pressed them, cut each rectangle apart, drew a line down the middle and stitched a scant quarter inch from the line. I re-cut them, pressed them and trimmed the excess black fabric.

Once I had my HST blocks sewn I played around with layout, since it was a lot easier to do it with 4″ squares than with the completed blocks.
First layout
I wanted a value gradient from light at the top to dark at the bottom. My first attempt wasn’t too bad, but when I checked the black and white version I found that it needed several adjustments. Unfortunately when I started making those adjustments I ended up with very similar colours next to each other, which I did not want.
Second layout

My second attempt also used a value gradient but this time I worked on the diagonal, from top left to bottom right, with colour groups also in diagonal lines. This worked much better. There are some anomalies in the bottom rows but I had fewer colour options by that stage and I ended up making only one change (I swapped blocks 3 and 4 in the bottom row). Once the layout was settled, I did the rest of the sewing, pressing and trimming (so much trimming!).
Rows upside down
I tried really hard to keep all the blocks in their proper places as I assembled them and put them together, but after I had pinned the rows I realised that I’d webbed each row upside down, so the value gradient runs from top right to bottom left and the long diagonal lines of colour aren’t as clear as I had intended. My wrists hurt and I was on a deadline so I didn’t re-do it, and now that I’ve got used to it I think it may look better this way rather than having long lines of the same colour running along the four-patch blocks.

I added a narrow black border (I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like attaching bindings directly to blocks — it’s too hard to coordinate all those points) and took it to my sewing friend’s place for basting. I managed to cut my backing an inch too short so we basted what we could and I added a strip to the bottom before quilting. Borders, backing and binding are all the Emma Louise black solid so it wasn’t much of a problem, except that I obviously wasn’t paying attention when cutting the backing.
Quilting detail
Quilting was simple diagonal lines done with the walking foot. I used the same black Rasant thread I’d used for construction along the black diagonals, and then two different Gütermann 30 wt cotton variegated threads for the coloured diagonals. To be honest I wasn’t very happy with the end result of the variegated thread for two reasons. Firstly, the thread is loosely spun and the thread ends unravelled very fast once cut, making burying threads a challenge requiring a large darning needle. Secondly, I think it takes the viewer’s attention away from the colours of the fabric. With so many different colours, though, the only viable alternative was monofilament and I’ve never been able to get the tension right, no matter what thread was in the bobbin. I was pleased to note that my in-the-ditch quilting is getting better, although there is still room for improvement.
Hanging sleeves and corner triangles
I added a hanging sleeve to the quilt, but split it to allow the weight to be carried on three hooks as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get over-the-door hooks and might have to use Command hooks which have low weight limits (not that this quilt weighs much, but the hooks may have to cope with cats hanging on by their claws). I added triangles to the bottom corners so that I could insert another dowel to prevent the quilt from moving too much.
Border and binding
Binding was attached to the back and pulled around to the front. Would you believe I used the lint roller not even five minutes previously? Those cotton fibres are worse than craft glitter.
Jewel Box Door Quilt
This has to be one of the fastest quilts I’ve ever made. I settled on the design on Sunday 21 May and would have started cutting except that my rotary blade was blunt. I bought new blades on Monday and did almost all of the cutting that day. Tuesday and Wednesday saw me sewing the block units; Thursday I completed the blocks and assembled the top; Friday was basting day at my sewing friend Sue’s house (hence the deadline); Saturday was quilting and Sunday 29 May was binding. I did my best to pace myself, doing a little at a time with rests in between, but my wrists are not happy so it will be several days before I can resume work on hexagons.

A final thought: my usual practice is to press seams open and then use lots of pins, but it does take about three times longer than pressing to one side and nesting. Since I was working to a deadline I opted to press to one side and I didn’t even spin the seams. This didn’t matter much for the HST units because I always cut large and then trim to size, but my four-patch units were all a bit small — sometimes more than 1/8″ too small — because my pressor foot and the way I position the fabric under the foot is calibrated for open seams. My seam intersections are a lot bulkier, too, but my machine powered through (luckily I was using a 90/14 needle — I think a smaller needle might have had difficulty). I’m not fussed about seams pulling apart, though, because this quilt isn’t going to be handled much and the quilting is quite close — every piece is quilted and no point is more than 1″ away from a quilting line.

Overall I love how well the pattern turned out and I would happily make another Jewel Box quilt if the opportunity arises.

Lessons Learned:
1. Measure twice, cut once!!!
2. Value gradients work better on the diagonal.
3. Pressing to one side vs pressing open has a significant effect on unit size.
4. If you are webbing your quilt from top to bottom you need to have the right-most blocks at the top of each pile or you’ll get everything back to front.
5. I don’t like 100% cotton thread for quilting, especially when it’s thick.

April’s Hexagons

Lots and lots of blue, with occasional other colours to maintain my sanity.

I have done a few more that haven’t been photographed yet so I am over the halfway point. Thanks to my sewing friend Sue I’m being supplied with additional cardboard for templates so I can leave them all basted until the end, which will make arranging them in value order much easier. I have also found a box that is just the right size for storing them.

More hexagons

Here is my latest batch of hexagon flowers. I was going to wait until the end of the month but then I realised I’d have four sets instead of three and I don’t like the way WordPress arranges four (or five) images in a gallery. You’d think that it would be easy to make the computer arrange a set of four as 2 x 2, but apparently not.

I’m not all that keen on using striped or geometric fabrics for hexagon flowers, but the two in the centre set (hexagons 141 and 143) work quite well.

I’m also amused by how neatly the values approach a normal distibution — I convert the images to black and white and assign a value from 1 (very light) to 5 (very dark) to each flower. After 153 hexagons the distribution is 15 – 37 – 45 – 36 – 14. Depending on how things look at the end I may take out a few of the very lightest and acquire some more very dark, otherwise the quilt will appear to have mostly light and medium fabrics with one or two rows of very dark around the edge, as the diagram shows.

Hexagon quilt layout
Hexagon quilt layout

Borders of Serenity

Serenity (borders)
Serenity (borders)

I finally got around to putting the borders on Serenity. As you can see, the greyish purple isn’t an exact match for the colour in the teal print, and the Black Amethyst fossil fern in the outer border is slightly brighter than the fabric in the blocks, but it works well enough.

That’s as far as it’s going to get for a while. I have a very specific vision for the quilting which will take a long time and require a very large table, so it will be some months until I can get started. I do have the thread, though – a gold Rasant that is slightly brighter/yellower than the tan I used in Koi to Neru and which I hope will pick up the gold accents in the fabric.

First hexagon applied

Centre hexagon on background fabric
Centre hexagon on background fabric

I decided to do a “proof of concept” trial, using what will be the centre hexagon in the quilt. Although for most fabrics I will be cutting actual hexagons, I decided to do squares for the centre five, since I only need one WOF.

The trial was successful, for the most part.

Firstly, my “finished” size of 3.5″ frames the flower nicely and doesn’t leave too much space around the outside, while the cut size fits into a block of 8″ x 7.5″. I may even consider dropping to a finished size of 3″, since there will be double the spacing between flowers once the large hexagons are assembled.

Secondly, I will need to be more careful with registration marks — I finger-pressed creases to show the centre lines vertically and horizontally, but as you can see the hexagon slipped a little, probably while I was pinning it prior to glue-basting. I will have to use a chalk marker on future blocks.

Thirdly, I was concerned that the seam allowances would be very noticeable under all the light flowers, but on this block they aren’t visible at all in natural light and only faintly discernible with the flash. I know that there will be some flowers in thinner fabrics where I will need a light interfacing to hide the seam allowances, but I won’t need it for all of them.

Fourthly, there isn’t a lot of fraying after hand appliqué. I will be storing cut hexagons in ziploc bags but it’s good to know that I don’t have to cut an extra-wide seam allowance which would require trimming prior to stitching the blocks together.

For those interested in fabrics, the silver/white is an offcut from the Blue Christmas quilt panel, and the background is Moda Grunge in classic gray.

More Hexagons

I’ve been a bit slow the last couple of weeks due to other commitments, but here are 36 more hexagons to bring the total to 108 (I need 365).

I don’t know why the gallery tool always has to make one image larger instead of arranging them 2 x 2 — I’ll have to try and remember to upload in sets of three in future.

As you can see from the images, I have exhausted the scrap drawers and am now working my way through the colour drawers, so there will be less colour variation within sets from now on.

I’ve also bought a couple more blacks so now I have the required 14 (actually 13, since rings 1 and 2 will use the same fabric). I still like the idea of arranging the hexagons with lights in the middle and darks around the edge, so I took the black fabrics and tried to arrange them in value order. It was interesting to compare the fabrics as they are versus how they look in black and white — some of them appear slightly blue under the flash (I also had some that had a brownish tone but I removed them completely).

Black fabrics - Colour v Black and White
Black fabrics – Colour v Black and White

Ignore the large smudge at upper left — I have cleaned the camera lens since then.

It took a few tries, checking with the camera, but this is the probable order (except that I will swap 4 and 5):

Hexagon backing fabrics
Hexagon backing fabrics

The fabric marked X is lovely but I don’t have enough of it so if I use it at all it will be for borders and / or binding.

Koi to Neru (Sleeping with the Fishes)

Koi to Neru (Sleeping with the Fishes)

Size: 232 cm x 278 cm (92″ x 110″)
Design: Based on “Stained Glass Quilt Designed by Bob”, modified by me
Fabric: all cotton, various designs and manufacturers
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400QCP
Batting: Matilda’s Own 60%wool / 40% polyester
Backing: Kennard & Kennard digital print 212, 108″ wide
Cut: January & March 2019
Pieced: April 2019.
Top assembled & basted: September 2022
Quilted: October 2022 and January 2023
Bound: January 2023

I’ve been attracted to bright, gold-accented oriental-style fabrics for many years — the Hoffman Antique Kimono fabric that I used for Serenity (still a WIP) was one of the first I bought, and at the time I thought it was the most beautiful fabric I’d ever seen. Since then I’ve bought more at almost every opportunity. Sometimes I was sensible and bought a pack of fat quarters, sometimes I let myself buy two or three metres. Some of them are authentic Japanese fabrics, but most are the faux-oriental designs by Hoffman, Kaufman, Benartex et al.

Obviously I was looking for a pattern that would show them to their best advantage, and that meant large pieces. On the other hand, some of the fabrics were quite small-scale and would appear dull in a large piece. Eventually I decided on a stained glass block which could accommodate all scales.
Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob
My pattern inspiration was the “Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob” which used to be on Craftsy/Bluprint but has since disappeared.
Block designs A and B
I changed the proportions to make an 18″ block and then designed an alternate block to allow for smaller fabric designs. I later found out that my altered proportions made the quilt very close to the Asian Scrappy Road design by Nancy Scott.

When I eventually hauled the orientals out of the cubby (which was full to overflowing) I found that I had 87 different fabrics … and that didn’t include the panels! I divided them into large, medium and small scale designs, and made sure that the square pieces were cut from the appropriate scale design. The rectangles were cut from the rest of the strips, taking care to ensure that horizontal and vertical rectangles were cut in the correct orientation. I decided not to use a few of the fabrics that were too white but I definitely used over 80.
KTN fabrics cut
It took me four days to cut them all, mainly because it was during the heatwave in early January 2019 and I could only stay in the sewing room for a half-hour at a time before I started dripping sweat on the rulers. Naturally, after finishing the cutting I found that the fabric pile looked no smaller than when I’d started. All the purple, pink and teal fabrics went into the Serenity 2 project box; the green, orange and brown fabrics went to the Autumn Leaves project box; and I used some of the red leftovers in an Aussie Heroes quilt which featured a dragon panel. I’ll have to think of something for the blues.
KTN sashing strips
KTN block and sash trimmings
The black sashing fabric is Emma Louise cotton (also from Japan), and all the strips were cut on 27 March 2019 (the wrong width — I ended up having to trim every single one). It’s a lovely matte black, very soft and easy to handle.
KTN blocks B &A
The blocks were sewn in April 2019. I then found that I had assembled some of the blocks incorrectly, but I would have had to take them completely apart to fix them and I’m too lazy for that. Instead I worked out how to arrange the blocks in a way that minimised the impact of the error.
KTN fabric detail
It was interesting to see that most of the real Japanese fabrics appear a little dull in comparison with the American fabrics and they never have metallic pigments — they only use gold in silk, never in cotton. They do, however, use textured weaves which add variety to the feel of the quilt. In the above picture, both fabrics at bottom right are Japanese — you can see the texture in the purple one. All the fabrics along the top are American, with gold accents.

Like many of my quilting projects it was on hold for a few years while I concentrated on doll dressmaking. Eventually, in July 2022, I took the blocks up to a friend’s place and we spent an hour laying them out.
KTN layout
I knew that there would be some clashes of colour and some places where the same fabric occurred very close together in different blocks, but after several rearrangements and a few photos we settled on a final layout with most of the lighter fabrics at the top and most of the fishes at the bottom (for some reason my friend Sue was not at all comfortable with the thought of fish designs at neck level). The layout photo is courtesy of Sue’s phone camera.
KTN top at Sue's (upside down)
Assembly of the top was delayed for a couple of months while my machine went for a service but then it was back to Sue’s for basting, which was a combination of spray adhesive and safety pins.
KTN backing fabric
I found a multicoloured wide backing fabric that went well with the colours on the front, so I didn’t have to do any piecing on the back.
Batting test
Since many of the fabrics are quite dark I considered using a charcoal wool/polyester batt — I had one in queen size (95″ x 108″) — but I had to discard that idea for two reasons: firstly, there are a couple of fabrics where grey or white under the fabric made a big difference; and, secondly, my quilt top ended up being 92″ x 110″ which was too large for that batt (like an idiot, I’d only added up the block sizes and left out the border). As chance had it, I had one king size batt in the stash which I bought for Pentastic but hadn’t used and since I’m never likely to make a quilt this size again I figured I’d use it for this one. It was my first time using a wool batt and I was very happy with how it handled. I was expecting a lot more bearding but there wasn’t much at all, and it didn’t create as much “fluff” on the surface as a cotton batt does.
KTN quilting detail front  KTN quilting detail back
I knew that the size of the quilt would make it heavy so it needed a lot of quilting to support it. I also knew that the top is too busy for any complex quilting design to be visible, so I decided on a very simple triple diagonal grid, worked in a tan Rasant thread that looks gold when it’s stitched but isn’t as fragile as a rayon or metallic thread. On the back I used another Rasant thread in dark brown. I had done about 90% of it when the machine crashed with a bobbin jam and had to go back to the service centre so completion was delayed by a few weeks.
KTN quilting goof
The quilting looks fantastic from a distance but I know how many wobbles there are in those supposedly straight lines. There are one or two more visible goofs (as shown above) but not many. The quilting took about 20 hours and I went through at least 15 bobbins, possibly more.
KTN binding
For the binding I used more Emma Louise black — I toyed with the idea of using a gold-on-black fabric but I knew that the gold would wear off very quickly and it wouldn’t contribute anything to the design. The binding was attached at the back and stitched down by machine on the front, because our January sewing day was moved up a fortnight and I didn’t have time to do the binding by hand (I can only do a little at a time because of my hand issues, and I’d rather spend my hand-sewing time doing hexagons).
KTN full picture
I took the quilt to Sue’s place for photography — we had hoped to use her Hills Hoist but it didn’t go high enough. Her husband brought out two stepladders and he and I held the quilt up while Sue operated the camera. The shot isn’t perfect but our situation was perilous — as most of you know (or should know) the highest point on a stepladder, be it the top step or a guide pole, should never be lower than your waist. I was on the second top step with no guide pole, and my balance isn’t great at the best of times. I wish Keith had gone up another step (he’s holding the right side on the picture, the one that’s drooping) but while I can take risks with my own safety I can’t tell others to do the same.

If you’re wondering where the “incorrect” blocks are, they start at bottom left and go diagonally up to second top on the right. If you can follow that line without losing track you’re better than I am.

Finally, I had to find a better name for the quilt than “Oriental Stained Glass” which was its working title for four years. Given the number of koi fish in the fabrics I eventually decided on 鯉と寝る (Koi to Neru) which is a near translation of “Sleeping with the Fishes”. Yes, my sense of humour is that weird.

A few more detail pictures:
KTN detail 2
KTN detail 3
KTN detail 4
(Apologies for the spider webs in the background — it’s been so wet I haven’t cleaned the balcony in a long time.)

Lessons Learned:
1. Measure twice, cut once!
2. Have a block diagram beside your machine when compiling complex blocks (especially if you are making two similar but not identical blocks).
3. Massive quilts are a massive pain to handle.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone! Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Yule and/or Solstice if that is more appropriate for you.

I haven’t been able to do much lately — I do have the Janome 9400 back at last but I haven’t been able to set it up due to a plumbing incident that left my sewing room carpet saturated. The carpet is finally dry but I need to do a lot of re-organisation before I can start machine sewing again.

In the meantime, I have some more hand-sewn hexagon flowers:

I figure I’m about 20% of the way through — I need 365 of them for my quilt and I have 74 so far. I’ll need about 1800 more papers, but I can reclaim some if I start sewing flowers to large background hexagons soon. I want the lightest flowers in the centre and the darkest around the edges, and I was toying with the idea of a similar gradient in the background fabrics — white in the centre, moving through progressively darker shades of grey to the black edges. Now I think it would be better to have all of them on black, just lots of different black fabrics so that I can leave the final arrangement of flowers until the end. I may change my mind again, of course. I have plenty of templates for the moment and a punch that can make more so I’m not desperate to reclaim papers at the moment.

We are expecting a lovely day tomorrow — my city will be sunny with a top temperature of about 30°C. To all those in the northern hemisphere struggling with the cold, I hope that you can stay safe and as warm as possible.