Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Miscellaneous Block Parade

Right here, right now:  backlog of completed quilt blocks.

I have made several blocks over the past months (true confession, almost a year); many of them have passed thru my hands and on to others.  This is just me pausing to take note of what got done, what learning took place, and where are they now?

Guild Block, paper-pieced

This block was finished last fall; my quilt guild is doing a different kind of BoM this year.  Made from stash (woot!) in a 12" version that is paper-pieced.  Called New Star, this original block design is from Marcia Hohn's Quilter's Cache.  I was not able to get the paper-piecing templates to print out at the correct size, so I ended up re-drafting them on Carol Doak specialty newsprint.  (Drafting a paper-piece pattern is definitely a new skill for me.)  I really like this block, but won't say I'm a huge fan of paper-piecing that requires lots of repetition.

Challenge Block: pink + gray

You might think, "Pink + gray blocks? Sounds kinda modern."  But you would be mistaken.  Much like the yellow + gray challenge from Quilt Retreat two years ago, the crowd that attends this particular retreat skews toward the traditional: calicos, reproduction fabrics, muddy colors, and well-known block patterns.
 Can you guess, from the challenge blocks here, which one(s) might be mine?  As always, I use the challenge parameters to try something new.  This time, I used a foundation muslin to make the traditional Grandmother's Fan block.  This was only my 2nd time making curved seams, and using the pre-marked muslin under the fabrics was like having training wheels for the circular piecing.  I chose to put a single 6" fan on point within the 12" finished block.  The extra negative space makes it feel more modern.
I also added a couple gray quarter-circles in the corners: just a bit more practice with those curved seams!

Block of the Moment: Kaffe Fassett pinwheels

At the end of 2016 I joined a 2nd local quilt guild, in nearby Alameda.  They offer a Block of the Moment, since it is not a monthly occurrence.  If you purchase the fabric pack and bring back completed blocks the following month, you are in the drawing to win all the blocks.  I picked up this pack because of the cute Kaffe Fassett fabrics.  The instructions make a pair of blocks, with pinwheels spinning in opposite directions.  Didn't win, but here are my charming blocks!

Block of the Moment:  scottie dog

C'mon, have you seen any basic pieced block so darn adorable?  This appears to be a slight variation on the 10" scottie dog block available from Quilter's Cache.  Super simple, just squares and half-square triangles.  CUTE!

Class Sample: drunkard's path variation

One side-effect of teaching a block-of-the-month class is that I end up with all sorts of samples.  We made Drunkard's Path blocks this spring in the Circles BoM group.  Some Japanese fabric scraps given to me in January made the step-outs I used when teaching the class.  Afterwards, I put them together with squares in a pattern called Ornament, from the book A Quilter's Mixology: Shaking Up Curved Piecing by Angela Pingel.  No current plans for this block, but it is lovely, don'cha think?

Challenge Block: blue & white

Most recent block completion was another Quilt Retreat challenge.  I used the opportunity to try out a single block from the pattern Urban Nine-Patch, using the Quick Curve Ruler (QCR) by Sew Kind of Wonderful.  I had not tried the QCR yet, although I own three different patterns that use it.  And I knew, from watching my sewing sisters struggle with the Urban Nine Patch, that this particular pattern might be a bit challenging.  Why not make a single block (which just happened to finish at the required 12" square) and try out the technique before committing to an entire quilt?

Wellll, it took me most of a day   Seriously, like 6 hours to make One. Single. Block.  Good news: I made the block entirely from stash.  Also, it was not difficult to use the QCR.  But, God Almighty, what a complicated pattern.  I might attempt a table runner or something, but no Urban Nine-Patch quilt will be coming from me.  Lesson learned.

Eye Candy: my sewing buddy Lou pulled out the Urban Nine Patch she had been hiding all weekend to have her moment in the spotlight during Show & Tell on the final day of retreat.  Isn't it stunning?!  All the more so because I saw how much work goes into each individual block.

Thar you have it: six miscellaneous blocks, only one of which is still in my possession.  But every one of them taught me lessons and improved my skills.  What new things have you learned lately?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Goals from March? Yes, please

My Finish-it February March blog post had me setting goals to complete 5 tasks.  Chosen out of the 32(!) pesky projects hiding in every corner of the sewing room.  How did I do?  Glad you asked...

Goals for March as seen in hindsight

1.  Finish nerdy t-shirt Pop-up  Done!
The Boy received this in the mail just last week--after it spent several weeks decorating the shop.  I have made three of these t-shirt Pop-ups, pattern & springform from the Fat Quarter Gypsy folks.  They are a great way to display a t-shirt (or three), and make something useful in the process.  I have several more in the dreaming phase, but no plans to actually work on any of them this summer.

2.  Finish kimono wallhanging  Rethinking...
Wallhanging (left) and Placemats

After having this incomplete sample hanging in the shop, I realized that I didn't love the fabric combination.  I am getting the feeling that I often make poor fabric choices when it comes to value.  Have you heard the quote, "Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work?"  I removed it as a class sample as soon as I could; this wallhanging is in time-out until I can figure a new fabric combo that I actually love.

3.  Finish kimono placemat  Done
So, my "least important" March goal was completed?  Why yes, I used the more attractive kimono placemat as the class sample to advertise my April class, after abandoning the ugly "not catchy" wallhanging.

4.  Finish blocks for Circles Block of the Month  Done
Finished this in May!  One advantage of not posting at the end of March, I guess.  Stay tuned for the flimsy this summer (and maybe even a completed quilt in 2017).

Improv circle block: my first ever improv curve
5.  Finish Grandmother's fan pillow  Ha!
So darn close to being done: just need to put a back on it and stuff that pillow form inside.  And yet, this one just sits...  Not even on the ToDo list for summer.

The good news is: I got things done!  I will not abandon my list-making and goal-setting, even when I go astray or let things stay on the list for months at a time.  Things happen, projects get sewn, and life goes on.

Some of us just choose to put our goals out there in public.  How about you?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Finish-It February Redux

Back by popular demand: Finish-it February has morphed into Finish-it March. Doesn't quite have the same alliterative ring to it, but I am committed.  It's gonna happen.

The impetus for this?  I counted the WIPs/UFOs that were littering overtaking my sewing room at the end of January.  The count: 32.
Sew very messy: needs a Tidy Fairy
32?  Whaaat??  Something is definitely out of whack.  New projects keep joining the party--except that after so many move in, it's really not much of a party.  More like a horror movie.

PiGS = Projects in Grocery Sacks

So Sweetie came up with the suggestion, "How about if you declare a Finish-It February?"  Great idea!  There were some February finishes (I'll blog about them, really I will), but there is certainly room for more.  I think this calls for a written plan:

Goals for March

1.  Finish nerdy t-shirt Pop-up
Bitten by the recycling/up-cycling bug, I've been so enamored of all-things t-shirt.  But unfortunately, not much more than one t-shirt baby quilt has gotten finished.

2.  Finish kimono wallhanging
Started in September when I was getting ready to teach an Intro to Paper Piecing class.  Gonna teach again in April--let's get that class sample done, eh?

3.  Finish kimono placemat
This item is least important for March... as long as I actually get the kimono wallhanging to the flimsy stage.

4.  Finish blocks for Circles Block of the Month
Only 5 months left in this 12-month adventure!  This goal is about having class samples ready; no need to get the quilt top made this month.  I have high hopes.

5.  Finish Grandmother's fan pillow
So darn close to being done: just need to put a back on it and stuff that pillow form inside.

There you go: a modest list.  I think this represents a welcome maturing of my ability to set realistic goals.  And yet...

I'm so tempted to work on other things.  Prime example: there's a new pattern in my cubby at work... But having this list to refer back to will be so helpful as the month progresses.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

First 2017 finish: t-shirt baby quilt

Huzzah, a finish!  And made entirely from stash (well, except for the t-shirts)

The challenge 

A request from October 2016 was to make a t-shirt quilt for a baby whose mother works at Mills College.  These were the two t-shirts I was given to work with.  And oh, by the way, could I possibly make the quilt entirely out of stash?  Why yes, I'll accept that challenge!

First things first: Mills colors are blue and gold.  And these t-shirts were decidedly NOT blue.  Or gold.  What to do?  Start with the back.

I had one yard of a blue ombre stripe.  Needed it to be bigger, so I inserted a slim strip of the delightful multicolor fabric (I think it has a nice blue-and-gold overall feel) and the long-stashed gold-with-blue stripe.  (Long stash = made a baby hat from this; said baby is now 26)  Proud to say that I used up ALL of the blue stripe and the gold stripe.  Only crumbs left.

For the front, I found a pattern I liked called Fractal, from the book Quilt Lab: The Creative Side of Science by Alexandra Winston.  Although Fractal is not a pattern for a t-shirt quilt, I saw potential in the oversized squares and rectangles.  I adapted the overall scale to be able to use 15" square t-shirts in the corners, with the intention of putting my purple and green lovelies just so.  Then I searched my stash for blue fabric to fill in the large empty spaces.

Blue fabric.  Um...yeah.  Not really a blue person.  Probably can't tell from the photo above, but my only large swaths of blue are really quite navy.  Sweetie looked at the mock-up on my design wall and reminded me that, "Mills colors are blue and gold.  I'm not seeing that.  And what's with the bandana fabric?" 

Indeed: stash, that's what's up with the red bandana print.  Hmph!

However, I am a resourceful person quilter.  I knew where to get some t-shirts that feel more "Mills".  Collected a big selection--not entirely blue and gold, but enough that I felt confident I could work something out.

the finished quilt front

I fussed.  And I fused.  Have you ever made a t-shirt quilt?  Most of the front is exclusively t-shirts--and they all have to be stabilized with fusible interfacing in order to behave.  And in a baby quilt, behaving is important for the usability and longevity of the gift.

Ended up using more of the multi-color fabric from the back: replaced the red bandana bits, and tied together both front and back with binding.

The quilting shows up better on the back.  I used my walking foot to replicate the concentric circles that were shown in the quilt from the book.

I'm pretty proud of my efforts here.  I didn't make it to the baby shower (but the quilt did).  The mother-to-be was delighted, so that's a definite win.

1.  A finish
2.  Entirely from stash (counting this as a 2-yard stashbust)
3.  Done on-time for its intended recipient

Do you like the restriction of having to use only stash in a project?  Or do you chafe and feel like your creativity gets stifled?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stabilizing Satin Stitching

Block of the Month for February consisted of two interlocking circles of fused applique.  I was
determined to finish the edges of said applique with satin stitching.  I think in the past I have used mostly zigzag stitch for this; satin stitch is merely a more closely spaced version of zigzag.

But I had heard that satin stitching requires a stabilizer--you know, a backing to help all those closely placed stitches stay nice and neat.  A perfect opportunity to learn new things play!

What kind of stabilizer works the best?*

*For my machine; using my particular threads; your mileage may vary

The contenders

  • Advertised stabilizers: Pellon E-Z Stitch, Sulky Totally Stable, Therm-o-Web Stitch n Sew
  • Other "frugal" materials: freezer paper, paper towels, backing paper from Wonder Under

A note on threads & needles

I tried my six different stabilizer samples using three different threads.  Each thread was paired with a specific bobbin thread (following advice I read somewhere to use lighter weight thread in the bobbin when satin stitching). 
  • My regular cotton piecing thread: Presencia 50 wt; bobbin: Presencia 60 wt (just slightly thinner).
  • A hefty cotton topstitching thread: Sulky Blendables in 12 wt (this brand also comes in 30 wt); bobbin: Presencia 50 wt cotton
  • Shiny, specialty thread: Sulky Rayon 40 wt; bobbin: Coats & Clark polyester

Needle:  Schmetz Topstitching machine needle, size 90/14 was used throughout.  That thing is a workhorse; color me impressed.


I read lots of advice on setting up for machine satin stitch before I tried my hand at it.  Recommendations that stood out to me:
  • Use thicker thread; thinner thread as a bobbin
  • Use the correct needle for your thread; a size 90/14 is often recommended even when using your usual piecing/sewing thread
  • Loosen upper thread tension a bit
  • Consider using an embroidery foot for your sewing machine, if one is available
  • Release presser foot tension, if you have that option
  • Go slowly, especially if you have tight curves or corners to navigate
  • Pivot frequently along tight curves (not an issue for my samples)
  • Try not to pull or tug on the fabric; let the feed dogs do the work

Practice, practice practice

For each combination of stabilizer and thread, I stitched a bit on an extra chunk of fabric that used the same fusible applique method as my BOM block.  I did this to check that the tension setting, stitch length and width appeared to still be working.

My machine recommended stitch length of 0.3-0.5 mm; I found that 0.4 mm worked best for all my samples.

Recommended stitch width was 2-5 mm; I used widths of 3.4-3.8.  If I were outlining a complicated design, I might choose narrower width for lesser details or super-curvy edges.

After each test, I checked for puckering, fabric distortion, and ease of removal of the stabilizer product.  When I had a combination I liked, I went ahead and stitched on the actual blocks for my project.  I knew I wanted to use at least two different threads in the finished block.


I have to keep in mind that I was only outlining gentle curves, so I didn't put each product to a rigorous stress test.  Even so, I noticed some differences in how well the feed dogs reacted, how well the fabric remained un-distorted, and how "stabilized" I felt the block to be during the stitching process.

Fewer differences were evident in the ability to cleanly tear away each product.  (Again, not a lot of details, curves and tiny points/valleys to really test this feature.)

And, most surprisingly, not a lot of difference in the appearance of the actual stitching.  Every product gave me a lovely satin stitch.

Pellon E-Z Stitch:  my feed dogs didn't love it, and it was one of the two products that would worry me most for tearing away from intricate designs.  On the positive side, no real distortion of my curve, as it felt like the product "gripped" my fabric the best of those needing to be pinned in place.

Sulky Totally Stable:  my favorite!  Maybe this was an unfair grouping of products--Totally Stable actually adheres to the fabric (via a quick touch of the iron); most of the others rely on pins.  Regardless, this product performed well; thumbs up from my feed dogs, from keeping the block distortion-free, easy release of the fusing from the fabric and easy tear away from the stitching.  It also appears to be re-usable (except where the stitching was), making it somewhat economical.  But I don't consider it to be too expensive of a product anyway.

Therm-o-Web Stitch n Sew:  my second favorite!  Although it has to be pinned into place, Stitch n Sew adheres well to the fabric, flows nicely under the feed dogs, keeps the distortion at bay, and also tears away nicely.

Trying out the "frugal" options
Freezer paper:  although it adheres to fabric, I have always found the stiffness of Freezer Paper to be a problem when I need to maneuver my work.  For use as a stabilizer, I wouldn't choose it.

Paper towels:  this product actually gave me the most problem with distortion.  And I doubt its ability to tear away from the stitching easily--which threatens further distortion.  Thumbs down.

Backing paper from Wonder Under:  why not?  Re-use of a product that would otherwise go straight into the trash?  Not too bad, as long as your pinning is thorough.  Was a tiny bit slippery under my feed dogs, but otherwise acceptable.  And the price was right.

Thanks for playing along!  I have some new knowledge under my belt, and I will feel confident if when I next try some satin stitching.  Really digging this year's Block of the Month at my shop.

Close-up: flashy Sulky Rayon (in turquoise) and modest Presencia cotton

Saturday, February 18, 2017


...In which I realize that my recent efforts to document both my process/progress and my finishes on all things sewn and crafted have completely fallen off the planet.

I'm afraid that some things have gotten finished and sent off to eager recipients without even having been photographed at all.

This simply won't do.

I must take the time to celebrate my finishes!  The neverending pile of WIPs, which keeps getting overrun by the new and shiny ideas tap-dancing on the edges of my consciousness, will always be present and pressing on my attention.

All the more reason to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

I am hereby giving notice that I will share my finishes here--even those that were finished some time ago.  Thank you for bearing with me.

Have you neglected to celebrate a finish?  Hunt for the picture you took of it, and show it off!  Tell me about it in the comments, and I'll come over to help you toot your horn.