Thursday, September 22, 2016

Angular Jungle

It's been a bit quiet here in blogland, but some slow progress is being made on both the quilt and shoulder fronts. I'm trying to keep my time at the sewing machine to easy 20 minute stints, with extra emphasis on perfect posture. For the past several weeks, I've set aside any free motion quilting and have been doing simple piecing to give my shoulder some rest and relaxation.

This quilt top is one of the results. The blocks are big, about 16", so they went together quickly and easily. The block centers are cut from a panel of cute but oddly shaped animals. Each part of the panel was edged in printed hourglass blocks; sort of a "cheater quilt" design. I chose solid-reading fabrics from my stash in the same colors for the bigger triangles.

The block design is called the Exploding Block, and I followed the simple instructions in this Missouri Star Quilt Co video. Basically, the inner square is sewn RST around the edges to an identically sized, contrasting square. Then the second square is cut using scissors to create the triangles. Repeat with a second contrasting square for the final big block. It was fun and fast, and the scissor work was a good break for my shoulder. However, this method cuts the points off each round of squares:

I wasn't too unhappy about the points until I pieced all the larger blocks together. You can see where the green triangle meets the yellow one that pointy points would look much better. Hmm, this is making me cranky. I suppose I could pick out the big seams and add sashing. That wouldn't bring back the points, but it wouldn't be so glaringly obvious at those center junctions.

It's more likely that I'll take a deep breath and let it go. After all, this quilt is full of fun animals (look at those happy tails on the lions!) and bright colors. I think it will keep a kid warm and amused and no one but us quilters will cluck over the points. Maybe I'll take Quilting Jet Girl's advice and "quilt the life into it!" I bring it up here to mostly remind myself not to use the Exploding Block in the future and warn you away from this method if nice points are a priority for you!

Angular Jungle is now waiting in the WIP file to be quilted sometime in the future. My fishy drunkard's path circles quilt, Ocean Portal, is higher priority for quilting, as it has been invited to go on a special trip in October. More about that later. I'll share a few peeks at a secret holiday gift quilt I've been piecing slowly these last couple of weeks, too. Sitting here at the computer typing is actually much less comfortable than sewing, so bear with me as I slowly delve into documentation.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lemons and lemonade

Back in June, I signed up to be a quilt top piecer for Heart Builders, the charity arm of Stash Builder Box (SBB). They send out a batch of fabric for free, the piecers sew a top and ship it back. The tops are then sent out to long arm quilters who finish the quilts and send them back. The quilts are then donated to various charities that serve needy children.

Piecers are encouraged to creatively use the free fabric and/or fabric from their own stash in any pattern or style quilt. I thought using the mystery fabrics would be an interesting change, a bit of a challenge. My main concern up front was the requirement that the tops be returned within 4-6 weeks, given how irregularly we receive our mail. But Stash Builder Box assured me that I could request fabric whenever I was ready and had a good address.

So in July, I requested my first batch of fabric. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Our mail forwarding service scans each piece of mail as it arrives, so I dutifully checked each day for something from SBB. Finally, in August, I got an email with an explanation. Apparently they were overwhelmed with volunteers to piece tops, and had fallen behind. For a charity, that's a great problem to have! Knowing that they weren't biting their nails waiting for my top, I stopped worrying.

On Tuesday, my fabric finally arrived, hooray! I ripped open the bag to find...nine fat eighths of the weirdest, ugliest, non-quilting cottons. Three jacquards, two woven plaids, two shiny woven metallics, and two very loosely woven pieces that I don't even know how to describe. Kind of a thin, easily snagged scarf material. Wha? The color selection was odd, too: fluorescent yellow, pale purple, blues and greens, and a muted orange/gray/turquoise mix. Hmm.

I knew I was going to have to add fabric from my own stash just to end up with a child sized blanket, but what on earth was going to make this mish mash into something *appealing* to a kid? It turns out that buried in the back of my collection of panels, I had one just odd enough to be the perfect match.

I ordered the panel over a year ago, based on photos of just a couple of the individual blocks. The panel was made by Studio E, which uses lovely cotton with a wonderful smooth, soft hand. When the panel arrived, it was indeed gorgeous base cotton, but I just couldn't get excited about using it. For one thing, the eight different block motifs seemed to have nothing in common: a flower garden, a car, a peacock, a hippo, a mermaid with yellow submarine, an owl, a patchwork puppy dog, and a spaceship with alien. And such odd colors: bright yellow, pale purple, blues and greens, and a muted orange...hey, wait! This might just work.

I sewed each of the weird donation fabrics into a nine patch with neutral, creamy white and laid those out in a 4x5 grid with the Studio E panel blocks. I think it actually turned out pretty cute. Perhaps some child's imagination will create a story to put all those odd elements together. Owl and Mermaid Explore Space! Peacock Gets Her First Driver's License!

Lessons learned:

1. I don't like using fabric that someone else chose. I thought the challenge would be fun, but I actually found it pretty frustrating.

2. There is definitely some truth in the saying, "If a fabric is ugly, it just means you haven't cut it up small enough yet." As I created the nine patches, the fabrics became more appealing to me.

3. Never underestimate the power of a consistent background and block design. Those simple nine patches created harmony and cohesion that really surprised me.

4. I'm really picky about what I consider cute and appropriate children's fabric. I spend many, many hours pouring over online listings to find what I want, so it shouldn't have surprised me that a random collection of fabric wouldn't float my boat. After all, I vigorously reject random collections all the time as not fitting into my design aesthetic.

5. This project feels unfinished to me. I kind of want to quilt it up myself, but I have a backlog of other UFOs so it makes sense to put it into SBB's system to get it quilted. It's good to know that they accept donations of tops, even if they don't send the initial fabrics. In the future I could potentially send SBB my own stash-created pieces if I decide not to do the quilting myself.

6. The shipping schedule for receiving fabrics from SBB probably isn't going to work for me. I'm going to ship this completed top to them, call this an interesting experiment, and be glad that they have plenty of other piecers. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Frugal fabric finds

I've been asked several times in the last few weeks how I find such great fabric bargains on eBay. The answer is a combination of some really good search terms and some favorite sellers who are clearing out their stash. 

While searching for the specific types of fabrics I'm interested in (bright, cute, kid-friendly) I often come across fabulous deals on other themes and colors. So while I'm going to keep most of my super secret squirrel methods to myself for now, I thought it would be fun to share some of my miscellaneous finds.

Note that these listings and prices are only valid today, and could be bid up higher or gone completely in the near future. I don't know anything about these sellers and certainly can't guarantee that the fabric is 100% cotton, or that it isn't faded or stinky, etc. But those are the risks I take all the time on eBay and I'm rarely disappointed. Rock bottom prices are worth a little risk, in my opinion!

I'll post a photo from the listing and the current price per yard, including shipping. I happened to be looking at Christmas fabrics today and saw some nice pieces. The great thing about holiday fabric is it really doesn't go out of style and doesn't usually look dated even if it has been sitting in someone's stash for years.

So without further ado, here are today's Frugal Fabric Finds:

5 yds blue Christmas fabric, currently $3.56/yd Same seller as above. Some pretty silver metallics in this batch.

5 more yds from same seller, currently $3.56/yd I liked the stripes in this batch. They are always useful for bindings. 

How about classic autumn colors? This seller has some fabric groupings for $1.50/yard or less right now! If I was in the market for these colors, I'd snap several of these listings right up.

Since it is often tricky for me to get from the boat to a local quilt shop, buying fabric online is a great resource for me. I'm also terribly unfashionable and don't mind past season, non-designer fabric lines. The idea of getting older fabric out of dark, forgotten closets and back into circulation at fire sale prices is pretty appealing, too. How about you? Do you ever buy "used" fabric on eBay, thrift shops or garage sales? 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Finish for a friend

Quilting has been sporadic here on Vector, but I'm happy to report that I managed to finish a piece. This is Balance, a comfort quilt for our friend G. 

We met G through boating, so I tried to take some boaty glamour shots of the quilt. Here it is draped across the Portuguese bridge. 

I flipped it up so you can see the nicely coordinating turquoise back. The structure in the upper right is the ramp that leads down to the dock from the downtown Chattanooga waterfront pier. That sucker creaks and groans every time another boat goes by.

A view with the water under the pier as backdrop. A local stand-up paddleboard rental company launches from here. Watching newbie SUPpers fall into the river is a daily form of entertainment.

A view from the back deck, across the Tennessee river. My physical therapist's office is just to the left of the tall white structure. I go to PT three or four times a week, and to be frank, it really sucks. I can see improvement in my shoulder in term of range of motion, but there has been little relief from the pain. Of course, that's often the nature of PT.

Fortunately, it doesn't hurt any worse when I sew. So I've been able to quilt a little each day, for about 20 minutes at a time. It's been keeping me sane, and gives poor Sean a break from my constant whining and crankiness. For Balance, I decided to quilt a different motif inside each color rectangle. I did fans inside the light grey ones.

Big flowers inside the reds and flowing lines inside the black and white.

Wavy crosshatch inside the greens and a watery back and forth motif inside the turquoises. Inside the central, darker black squares I simply echoed the edges. The non-white fabrics are unquilted so they move forward while the background recedes. Each section took about 20 minutes, so it worked out well for my little shoulder sanity breaks.

Here's a close up of the swirly backing fabric and the striped binding. I hope she likes it!

As I worked on Balance, I didn't have much energy to do much else like tidy up. So the stacks of fabric that Sue sent are still piled up on my cutting mat. All the cute, happy, brightly colored fishes kept catching my eye, so I decided I would make a fish quilt next. I've also wanted to learn how to do curved piecing, and chose a drunkard's path block. I combined the fishies with wavy line fabrics to represent water, and dotty fabric for bubbles.

The blocks are quite large, about 8", so the whole top went together pretty fast. Ironing is the one quilt task that bothers my shoulder a bit if I overdo it. Big simple blocks require less ironing; a good thing! This one is called Ocean Portal and will be a Project Linus donation. It's cheered me up, and I hope it will do the same for the young recipient.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Moving slowly

I've set up the Juki and started using it to quilt this gift piece. Right now I'm slowly stitching in the ditch around all the rectangles and will eventually fill in the cream background.

The Juki is performing very well. The mechanism is both stiffer and more solid than the Kenmore: it takes more effort to turn the hand wheel, but the whole machine is rock steady while running with the motor. The extra space through the harp is wonderful. I can rotate this whole lap quilt through it with ease. It seems to take more work to move the fabric under the embroidery foot, though, even with the presser foot pressure at the lowest setting.

However, that may be a function of my increasingly weak and painful shoulder. I have a rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder that is giving me fits. We've decided to spend a little more time here in Chattanooga so I can do some physical therapy. I don't think quilting is to blame for the injury, which hurts primarily when I lift my arm above shoulder height. While sewing doesn't hurt, it is tiring, so I'm dialing back how much I do each day to give my shoulder as much time and space as it needs to heal. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday stash

This week, a wonderful surprise arrived in the mail: a huge, 11+ pound box of fabric from Sue of Suebee's World! Sue and I discovered each other's blogs right around the time I was traveling through Columbus, MS. It turns out that Sue is moving to nearby Starkville, and when she found out that I sew for Project Linus, she offered to send me some kid's fabrics from her stash to lighten her moving load. 

What a fantastic batch of fabrics she sent me! Clockwise from the lower right, there are stacks of birds, cats and dogs, butterflies, fish, bright blenders, transportation fabrics, and large pieces for backings or backgrounds. What's amazing to me is that those are exactly the themes I collect for kids' quilts. I don't buy princesses, clowns, teddy bears, ice cream, or any number of other subjects, and Sue somehow knew just what I wanted.

Thank you so much, Sue! I can't wait to start using these fun, vibrant prints for Project Linus. I think I hear a Fish Bowl quilt calling my name...

The other fun item that arrived in the mail here in Chattanooga is a new-to-me Juki TL2010Q sewing machine. Wahoo! I've just finished reading the manual and am starting to test all the features on this baby. The Juki is a solid aluminum beast, and weighs about twice as much as The Little Kenmore That Could. The box weighed 40 pounds. The dock hand who carried it down to the boat was sorry he volunteered for the task, I think.

The Juki has several features that the Kenmore lacks that I hope will really simplify some of my quilting: a much bigger harp space for wrangling the bulk of a quilt, a thread cutter, knee lifter for the presser foot, and needle down/up selection. The last one is particularly nice: it automatically stops sewing with the needle in the fabric while doing free motion quilting, so I can re-position my hands without the quilt shifting out of place. The Juki only does straight stitches and free motion, so I'll be keeping the Kenmore for zig zag and other special stitches like button holes. Not that the Kenmore has many choices, but I'll need to use it for machine applique.

In other news, I finished piecing Scrappy Twist, sewing the final three seams using the Juki. Smooooth! Next on my to-do list: baste several WIPs and test out the Juki's free motion quilting chops. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Scrappy progress

I got quite a bit of piecing done on Scrappy Twist while we were still hooked up to power at the dock in Decatur. Here are six of the twelve blocks, hung up in front of our back door for the stained glass effect.

Three more are ready to be added. Backlit like this, it's harder to make out the individual fabrics, but I feel like I'm getting better at creating contrast. Most of the intersections where the squares overlap are distinct and not too "muddy."

The last three blocks are still sitting on the ironing board where I had to stop when my sewing room lacked sufficient air conditioning! We are underway each day on the Tennessee River now, and generally don't run the generator enough to cool that room down. The boat's main engine produces enough power to run the a/c in the pilot house, where we drive the boat all day. We'll be at a dock in Chattanooga later in the week, and I'll probably finish this top then.

The curtain rod holding the pieces in the top two photos used to be installed above our bed, just to display hanging quilts. However, the installation of the pilot house a/c required removing a nice wooden shelf. We wanted to keep the shelf, so Sean installed it above the bed where it now displays folded quilts. That meant the curtain rod needed to be moved, so into the salon/living room it went. Finding wall space on a boat big enough to display any part of a quilt is a real challenge! I'm a bit sad to have lost my large over-bed display area, but am happy with the tradeoff of having a good place to put up bits and pieces for taking photos.

The two bird pictures are just el cheapo canvas artwork from TJ Maxx, and cover some holes in the wall. Eventually I'll probably make a horizontal wall quilt for that space. It seems all my smaller quilts are vertical.

Linking up with Scraptastic Tuesday.