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.

April Achievements and May goals

I missed my usual retrospective post around the 21st of the month — the post itself has been drafted for a while, but the quilt I’m talking about was sold long ago and the only photos I have are prints from film, so I need to get the scanner working in order to have digitised images for the blog. I’m an Olympic-level procrastinator so it hasn’t happened yet … maybe next month.

Apart from that, though, I’ve been very productive.

AHQ goal: One quilt and one laundry bag. Almost done. I’ve finished the quilt and I’m working on the laundry bag — I don’t anticipate any problems in having them in the post by 06 May.

Personal goal: make the last two Hawaiian appliqué blocks. Not done. Now that I’ve found my bottle of fabric stiffener, however, they might just get done in the next few weeks.

En Bourgogne borders
En Bourgogne borders

FAL goal: Attach borders to En Bourgogne. Done. I’ve attached the two borders, basted it (with the help of my friend Sue) and started the quilting. I’m doing straight diagonals first, and then I’ll add some FMQ later on, just to ensure that every piece is quilted. It’s a large quilt, and the batting is a little denser than I had expected and not very easy to shift around so it’s slow going.

En Bourgogne being quilted
En Bourgogne being quilted

Additional work:

Shiny squirrel attack! The Sunday before Easter I had a rush of blood to the head and made up some stained glass blocks while I was watching the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (North American ice hockey, for those who don’t follow it) — once I got into a production line it was so fast that I decided to complete the lot over the next few days. There are 15 A blocks and 15 B blocks:

Oriental Stained Glass Blocks B & A
Oriental Stained Glass Blocks B & A

I still need to assemble the blocks and attach the border to the top and right side, but I’ll leave that until next week or the week after.

I also went up to see Jan-Maree just before Easter (she’s doing very well) and helped her to sew two tops for recipients. I discovered that I have been spoiled by my Janome 9400 — I didn’t want to take it up to Sydney (it’s very heavy) so I took my little Pfaff Passport 2.0 instead. Unfortunately the Pfaff doesn’t remind me to check the pressor foot so I managed to break two needles by trying to stitch zigzag on a straight-stitch foot. Luckily the machine continued to work but I think I’ll take it in for a service before it’s used again.

I haven’t done much hand work at all — my wrists and thumbs are recovering (slowly) from the overuse I subjected them to in March, but it will be a few more weeks before I can do more than half an hour of piecing at a time. I’m hoping that hand-quilting will be a different enough movement that it won’t aggravate them, but we’ll see. The weather is definitely cooling down at night so quilting season will be here soon and I want to get started on Pentastic (the quilt in the header).

May goals:
1. AHQ: Four laundry bags for Townsville.
2. Personal: Assemble the Oriental Stained Glass top.
3. FAL: Finish the quilting on En Bourgogne.

The perils of writing one’s own pattern

I had a little spare time this afternoon after finishing an Aussie Heroes quilt and I had black thread in the machine from the quilt’s binding, so I decided to make one of the Oriental Stained Glass blocks I had cut out. In the process, I discovered that I had somehow managed to add twice the seam allowance to the black sashing strips — they were supposed to be 1″ finished / 1.5″ cut, and that’s what it says on the spreadsheet and at the top of my notes page. However, further down, when I wrote the cutting instructions, I had somehow forgotten that and wrote that the strips were to be cut at 2″, finishing at 1.5″. Yikes.

83 two-inch strips of black fabric
83 @ 2-inch strips

See all those 83 strips? Every single one of them is half an inch too wide. I wasted more than a whole metre of fabric because I didn’t check my own work. So stupid. Still, the lengths are all correct and all of the oriental fabrics are cut the right size, so it’s not a complete disaster, just intensely frustrating.

There’s nothing for it but to trim all the sashes if I want to make this quilt — I decided to do it block by block as I sew them together rather than trying to do a lot at once.

Trimmings from Oriental Stained Glass Block A1

In spite of the mistake, I’m very pleased with how well the first block turned out:

Oriental Stained Glass Block A1
Oriental Stained Glass Block A1

My design inspiration was the Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob (which luckily survived the Craftsy/Bluprint purge) but I changed the proportions and designed an alternate block to increase the variety:

Oriental Stained Glass Block A design
Oriental Stained Glass Block A design
Oriental Stained Glass Block B design
Oriental Stained Glass Block B design

Even with the additional trimming (and a couple of unsewing sessions when I sewed the sashing to the wrong edge) it didn’t take long to make a block so I’ll try and do one a week until the top’s done, and then it may feature in a future Finish-A-Long post.

March Achievements and April goals

As usual, my monthly goals were divided into Aussie Heroes, Personal and the 2019 Finish-A-Long.

1. AHQ: make two quilts: Done. One was posted this morning, the other is in the wash and will be posted tomorrow. Pictures will be on the AHQ blog sometime.

2. Personal: none set for last month.

3. FAL: Bind the tumbling blocks mini: Almost done. I’ll post pictures and details later this week during the Q1 FAL round-up.

Additional work:

I finally got around to cutting the black sashing for my Oriental Stained Glass quilt (I cut the oriental fabrics in January). Vanima “helped”.

83 two-inch strips of black fabric
83 @ 2-inch strips
Sashing strips bagged
OSG sashing strips
Vanima lying on cutting table
Vanima “helping” me to cut fabric

I also finished tier 3 of the Penrose tile quilt I’m doing — I posted about that here. I’ve started work on the next section but I doubt I’ll get very far before the cold weather sets in and I can start quilting Penrose 1 (the quilt in the header).

Finally, I made 15 appliqué heart blocks and sent them off to New Zealand (details here).

April goals

1. AHQ: One quilt and bag for a recipient in the Middle East. I also want to make some laundry bags for Townsville — many ADF members lost their quilts and laundry bags along with everything else during the monsoon floods in January — we can’t replace everything but we are doing our best to get everyone a new laundry bag.

2. Personal: the final two (out of twenty) Hawaiian appliqué blocks.

3. FAL: to be determined (I think I know which project I’ll choose, but I might change my mind).

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.