Monday, January 30, 2012

February's Craftsy blocks

Jumping right into February already. Here are this month's blocks for the Craftsy block of the month (I don't know why Google turned it, but it doesn't matter enough to find out):

I am liking the way all four look together, but I'm going to have to add in some different colors to prevent this from becoming a halloween quilt. Huzzah for Tangerine Tango!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

And now for something completely different

For Child the Younger's birthday this week:

Rolling star blocks

I got a bit ahead of things on the Rolling Stars quilt-along, so all 18 of the blocks are finished. I used a length of grey for the background, because that's what I had in my stash, and 18 different bright tonals for the blocks. The star points around the center are navy with silver foil leaf print - probably left from a holiday collection, but plenty neutral for this project. I'm pretty sure I'll have enough of the navy and the grey to make all the setting blocks, but if not I'll just improvise something.

I really liked how the centers looked all squeezed together. Even though I don't usually make small blocks, I'm rather fond of the look of many small copies of the (mostly) same thing - it's like what Edward Tufte calls the "small multiples" technique of information display. Maybe occasionally looking at this in-progress photo will inspire me:
As much as I liked the unfinished centers, I did ultimately continue and finish them. Looking at them all up on the wall is a great opportunity for some color theory work - there are two or three of these shades that really look great with the warm, medium grey that I'm using as the background. I would not have considered using aqua or gold with gray, but both look fantastic. Who knew?

Free Motion Challenge

I was excited to find another useful online challenge to help direct this year's quilting: the Free Motion project has a new tutorial from a different quilt teacher every month. I signed up to do this because I need to learn to use my machine more confidently for more different tasks. I do a lot of good work with my walking foot, and I'm getting better at using my embroidery machine for quilting, but I am committed to mastering free-motion quilting as well. When I first joined the Newington Schoolhouse Quilters several years ago, one of the first meetings I attended was a free-motion quilter talking about her techniques and giving a great "you can do it too" pep talk -- the next week I tried exactly what she suggested and had a fair amount of success, although it was with my old, much smaller machine that was direly in need of a tune-up at the time. I feel like it's a shameful thing to feel like I should "need" a long-arm machine that costs as much as a car in order to turn out great-looking quilts, so the time was right for me to find this challenge.

I had wrestled my way through the triangles placemat with fair results, but it seemed like my thread broke more often than it should have. I keep my machine well-cleaned, it's operating smoothly, and I change needles very frequently. I finished the placemat feeling frustrated but determined, and went online to do some research, at which time I stumbled onto the FMQ challenge.
The video tutorial by Frances Moore was fun and inspiring; as soon as it was over I picked up a pencil and started doodling the leaf motif. I spent a few minutes putting together a 21-inch square to use for the FMQ project (one last hurrah for January's Rainbow Scrap challenge color - farewell to red!). My plan is to do the same thing with every month's color & motif and assemble them using my old favorite, the quilt-as-you-go assembly described by Marcia Hohn at the Quilter's Cache.
I set my machine to use the free-motion spring-activated feature, put in a 90/14 quilting needle, and threaded some Aurifil 50-wt for both the top and bobbin. I have no idea how long it took, but it came out great! I didn't have one single problem with thread breaking or popping off the tension hook. Even when I ran out of bobbin thread in the middle of the square, I had no trouble at all getting started back up and burying the threads to hide the join. I'm already thrilled with the results of this challenge!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Online projects

I need to figure out how to make those little checklists that show up on a blog sidebar to remind myself of all the online projects I've started. This is a year for Using The Stash, so I have found a bunch of good scrappy projects to work on (I cut a few dozen more tiny rectangles tonight), with a couple more artsy ones thrown in for good measure. I've already mentioned the Craftsy Block of the Month. I've got numerous things underway inspired by the Rainbow Scrap Challenge - dresden rings, a very scrappy simple quilt that I found in an old magazine (I'll try to scan in the picture sometime; here's the first photo:)...,
...the jelly roll quilts that I'll donate to charity, and also a set of placemats that I'm making so I can (a) practice new piecing techniques, (b) practice different free-motion quilting designs, and (c) have a nice set of placemats. Here's the first of those:
I tried a woven basket quilting pattern that I found at The Free Motion Quilting Project (a terrific resource!) but I was fighting with the thread and needle combo, so I gave up for tonight. I'll get some red Aurifil tomorrow and try again. The design looked decent, but the thread was a yucky hot mess:
I also found a pretty quilt-along to work on; I really like the 3-D star effect in this pattern. I got started today with all 72 of the teensy (they finish at 1.25 x 2.5") flying geese for the inner stars:

I also really like the sound of the Color Palette Challenge, but I doubt that I'll have time to participate in the January challenge. I will share the link and idea with my journal art group, however. I still have to sew a few things for my turning-8-year-old's birthday next week so another quilt challenge probably won't make my prioritization cut... Finally, for good measure, here's a pretty photo I took of my big hexes all stacked up and ready to package for a travelling project:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Out of the UFO pile...

Last year I wanted to try using cupcake liners for appliqueing (is that a verb?) circles; I started with a stack of animal skin prints, some nifty map fabric (Indiana Jones style), and two lovely jungle-esque batiks. I picked a very easy-but-striking pattern that I could assemble with a quilt-as-you-go technique, and which I've done numerous times before. The pieces of the top went together very quickly, maybe a couple of weekends. I started quilting a few of the sections, then got sidetracked by who knows what, and the whole thing ended up in The Bin of Doom for the rest of the year. This jumped out at me as real easy pickins when I started combing through said bin earlier this month. I quilted the last 11 blocks a few weekends ago (yay for NFL wildcard weekend!). It took another two weeks to cut all the skinny sashing pieces, trim each segment, hand-stitch down the strips on the back, and bind the whole thing. This is a big one - 72 x 90". I still have to make a label for the back, but I'm not certain of a good "name" for it yet, so let me know if you have any suggestions!

One thing I really love about this QAYG method is that you end up with a quilt that's very reversible. Here's the back:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hexes on deck

Here's a peek at one of my next projects. I think I have enough of these cut to make a decent lap-size quilt, probably about 55 x 72 if I did the math right. Each hex is 3" on a side. This should be enough hand-work to get me through at least a spring of lessons & travel!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fastest quilt top ever

Yesterday at my journal quilt meeting, Lisa told me about something called a "jelly roll race" which seemed fun. However, since the semester is now underway, I won't be able to play along when the ladies do this at the shop, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. The color of the month for the Rainbow Scrap challenge is still red, so I pulled out that bin and started cutting strips. Most were the full width of fabric, but I cut some shorter pieces too. Some were pink, some a little on the orange-y side, with a few novelty pieces thrown in too:

The first step was to sew all of these strips end to end. This didn't take too long, about 40 minutes until all the seams were trimmed down and pressed open. It was a fine heap of ribbons:

Next you fold this enormous length of ribbon end-to-end, then stitch it together along the lo-o-o-o-o-ng edge. This one seam took a full 25 minutes. From there, you repeat the fold-and-stitch process four more times. Here's what it looks like after the third pass...:

...and the fourth pass...:
Then, finally, after the fifth pass, voila! The fastest quilt top ever!

I didn't bother measuring the lengths of fabric that I started out with, and they weren't all full width-of-fabric cuts; whatever I started out with, my finished top is 45 x 64". This one is heading for my quilt chapter's charitable option for this year. It's a little small for their target size, but I think somebody will find it snuggle-worthy. I'll do a little simple quilting sometime in the next few weeks to get it finished up. I'm very excited that I'm moving so much fabric out of my bins and into (semi-)finished things!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Journaling

I haven't made a proper "journal quilt" for quite some time, but my group has its monthly meeting tonight. (This is my favorite day of the month - is that a poor reflection on me? Too bad.) Our (ostensible) topic for this month was "winter" which kind of had me stumped...until I remembered that I recently announced my intentions to do some Charley Harper re-creations this year. I pulled out the great holiday card that my bird-watching friend Taryn sent out this year, and here's what I came up with:

I am in love with this little beauty (and with Harper's artwork, in general)! The pieces are all fused and machine-stitched. The white fabrics all have just a tiny hint of sparkle - the snow on the birdbath is a scrap of snowflake felt, the snow on the leaves is from scraps of the wedding favors I made for my cousin's shower last year, and the surrounding background fabric is a chunk of fairy frost I had in the stash. I made the tiny little circle jump rings myself from some craft wire - that was the trickiest part, because I don't really have proper jewelry-making supplies, but it still worked. The snowflakes are cheap, round, plastic beads from a kit in my son's craft box, but I really liked their chunky effect on this little piece. Like all journal quilts, this one is 8.5 x 11". The best part is, it actually snowed today for the first time this year - huzzah for winter!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Low-Hanging Fruit

I've been digging into my incomprehensibly large bin of unfinished quilt tops and pulling out the easiest ones to finish. Here's a little one I made last year, third in a series using the smallest scraps left over from a larger quilt; most of the squares and half-square triangles are just under an inch. It's only about 18" square, so I just did a simple spiral to quilt it and it was finished in an afternoon. That's one less UFO around here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Scrappy Challenge

Since I've been on a scrap-reducing kick, I was happy to find the SuperScrappy blog, where the challenge is to focus on one color every month. January is red, a cheerful way to start the year. In addition to cutting more hexagons & 1.5 x 3" pieces from the small bits in the bottom of my bin of red fabrics, I also used the opportunity of Wild Card Weekend to make a red dresden ring and two simple blocks. These are a very fast way to end up with some rainbow bright quilts at the end of the year. (And I even figured out how to get the Rainbow Scrap Challenge "widget" onto this blog.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I was just starting to scout around for a good new block of the month project to work on when my cousin Tami posted a link a new one just getting started at Craftsy. Perfect! In honor of Pantone's pronouncement that Tangerine Tango is the color of the year (congratulations, TT - I'm sure there was some tough competition out there!), I pulled out some yardage of the perfect shade to use as my background fabric for this project. I don't think I have quite enough to use for sashing & borders, but that's fine by me. I'll improvise when we get to that point. I am concentrating this year on not "saving" great fabrics for some mysterious "perfect project" so I slashed right into some great pieces that I've had around for a while, and voila! January's blocks: