Monday, January 23, 2017

Tutorial: Pressing directions for Missouri Star Co Hourglass/QSTs

I like the new "Quilt Snips" mini tutorials from the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Each one is about a minute long and quickly demonstrates a simple block. The music is kinda catchy, too.

Today I'm going to add some detailed pressing instructions for their "Super Quick Hourglass" block, which is a way to make four quarter square triangles (QSTs) from two four patches. Here's the video:



I first tried this hourglass block technique with similar fabrics as shown in the video, and made this pillow cover:


I learned a few things about how to press the seams to make it all sew together more smoothly with nice points. This week I'm making classic hourglass blocks, with only two different fabrics in each block instead of four, but the principle is exactly the same.


Sew pairs of squares together. Press toward the darker of the two fabrics.


Sew together two sets of pairs. My block is going to end up as a checkerboard, so the seams easily nest at this step. If you're sewing scrappy colors together, just line the two-patches up so the seams nest.

Notice in the photo above that the seam you can see is pressed down, or toward the camera. 


And notice in this photo, the seam you can see is pressed up, or away from the camera. It doesn't matter which way you sew your four patches, as long as it's consistent. In my case, I chose to always have the top blue (dark) patch go through the feed dogs first, so that seam was always pressed away from me.


Here is the back of the four patch, right after sewing and before pressing. The horizontal seam needs to be pressed, and we're going to "swirl" or "spin" the two halves of that seam. That means they won't be pressed toward the dark fabric; instead they will go toward the lighter fabric so all four seams now "rotate" clockwise.


In order to do that, the tiny little bit of overlapping seams in the middle need to come unstitched just a bit and open up. 

Here's a video by Ormond Beach Quilts that has a nice demonstration of spinning seams. She talks about doing it to minimize bulk, but we're doing it to make block construction easier.




Note that in her video, the seams swirl counterclockwise. After you've played with your four patch a little bit, it will be obvious which way the seam wants to go naturally. That "natural" direction depends on which way your seams were facing as they went through the sewing machine a few steps back. Either way is fine, as long as you're consistent. (Do you sense a theme here?) OK, back to our hourglass block. 


Here's the front of one of my finished four patches. The next step in the hourglass/QST block construction is to place two of these four patches right sides together and stitch around the perimeter.


If you've swirled all your seams the same way in your four patches, they will now nest perfectly when two of them are right sides together.


That will be true no matter which colors touch. In the photo above, two blue patches are touching instead of the alternating cream/blue/cream/blue, and the seams still nest. This works great when doing the scrappy multicolor blocks shown in the first video.


Here is what happens when you put a counterclockwise swirler with a clockwise spinner. The seams don't nest, oh no! What to do!?! Eh, not the end of the world. You can stitch up another four patch and pay closer attention to the pressing so it matches just this one block.

Or, you can sew it together without nesting seams on this one block, and it will just be a little harder to get pretty points. But at least you'll understand why this one didn't nest right.

The next step is stitching around the perimeter of the four patches. The video implies that you should literally sew all four sides of one block, then do all four sides of the next block, then the third block, etc. My next tip to make things go more smoothly is to sew one side of one block, let's call it the "east" side. Then chain stitch and sew the east side of the next block. Do the east side of multiple blocks, then cut the chains. Make sure you nest your seams up snugly each time. We did all that swirling stuff to make sure they nest, so nest 'em!

Next, sew the side directly opposite the first side you sewed, chain stitched each block in a group. So if you sewed the "east" side of each block first, now sew the "west" side. Then do the north and south sides. This stabilizes the blocks and makes it easier to line up each side smoothly. Remember to nest your seams! (Surely you didn't forget already?!)


Now you have a stack of blocks sewn so the right sides are completely enclosed inside. The next step is to cut them across each diagonal. I find it easier to lay the block in front of me on point, and make my first cut horizontally. This is a more awkward direction to cut, so I like to do it while the block is still one piece.


Without moving the two cut pieces, I carefully reposition my ruler to make the vertical cut. I'm better at lining things up this way, and less likely to bump the cut pieces out of position. Cutting through the swirled center seams takes a bit of finesse as there are quite a number of layers there.


Here are the resulting four triangles. Note that this is the very first time in the whole process that we see any triangles or bias edges at all. Nifty!


The center seam that we so carefully nested and swirled gets chopped up and leaves these little strange dog ear mini triangles. That's OK; we'll trim them away when we square up the block. And they already did their job of making the next set of seams nest nicely when stitching together the two four-patches.


Now press those triangles open and admire your perfect points right in the middle! Oooo, aaaaah! Those points come from the perfectly nested seams when you were sewing the east-west-north-south sides together, which in turn nested perfectly because you swirled the previous seam, which in turn happened because you paid attention to how the first two-patches were sewn together.


Trim your hourglass blocks to size. I use blue tape to mark where the center seams should be and trim evenly all around. (Please note that I didn't start with 5" charm squares like in the video so my final block size isn't the same as theirs.)


And here are some finished blocks. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. No rocket science here, but by paying just a little attention to the process early on, the blocks come together easily and cleanly.

As a newbie beginner quilter, I watched every single one of the longer Missouri Star Quilt Company videos. Jenny Doan has a relaxed, approachable style that makes quilting seem fun and easy. However, in order to achieve that breezy casualness, sometimes some key quilting techniques are glossed over. I understand that; you can't put every single thing in every single video. MSQC is trying to sell fabric by demonstrating, "Hey, look at this easy block! See Jenny sew it up lickety split into a beautiful quilt! You can do it, too!"

Jenny does talk about pressing in most of the videos, usually by just saying "press toward the dark fabric," but that isn't the whole story in this block. I hope I helped you make this fast, easy block better by adding just a few simple steps!


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sew Some Love Houses


Today I have two brand new things to share: this quilt, and a new link up from Kat & Cat Quilts. The link up is called "Sew Some Love" and is for sharing any project we are sewing for charity. I'm excited to be part of the first link party and to see what other crafty folks are creating to give away.


Over the holidays, my niece Lauren asked me if I would donate a quilt to a fund raiser that her sorority is having in March 2017. All the proceeds will benefit CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children), which provides legal advocacy for abused children near Walla Walla, WA. 


I've been eyeing the Hillside Houses pattern on Pretty Little Quilts and thought it would make a nice donation to a charity called CASA. Using only fabric that I already had in my stash, I pieced this quilt in blues, greens, and browns, with two bright red houses. All the roofs are solid gray, and the colors get lighter toward the top of the hill, as if the sun is rising on a bright, new day.


After Kat announced the new link up, I decided to name this quilt Sew Some Love Houses. Here are a few photos of it draped around our house, which is currently a boat in the swamps of Louisiana.


For the backing, I used a piece of basketball fabric that was *almost* but *not quite* big enough. Not enough basketballs? Fatten it up with butterflies, I always say. The basketball fabric is a really nice quality Robert Kaufman print that has been languishing in my stash for quite a while. Lauren's college is buried under snow right now, and I figured anyplace that wintry is probably full of basketball fans.


Here are a few of my favorite houses/blocks. Red bricks with curvy shingled roof.


Wood grain fabric and wood grain quilting.


Fun sky fabric. Partly cloudy with a chance of basketballs.


Faux Greek key roof pattern.


I made flanged binding out of a medium gray with a red inner stripe. I thought it kind of tied back to the two red houses in the middle. It's also a fancy-looking but very forgiving, all-machine-sewn binding technique.

This quilt wasn't my favorite thing to make, I must admit. I liked each combination of dark and light shade for individual houses, but wasn't thrilled with the overall look. It is so much bigger than most of my quilts (60"x75") that I couldn't step far enough back to see the overall effect, and I've been working on it a lot at night when the lighting was lousy. But things started to turn around when I decided to use the basketballs on the back and then started the quilting. It was slow going, but the addition of all that texture made me happy! And when Kat announced her link up, it reminded me that charity quilting is all about sharing the love.

I'll wash Sew Some Love Houses next week when we have access to more fresh water. The crinkling should be epic on this one after a spin through the washer and dryer. Then it will wing its way to Walla Walla, where hopefully someone will buy it in support of CASA's good works.

I'm also linking up to Free Motion Mavericks this week, since this was my biggest FMQ project to date, and with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop? because I'm happy it's finished!



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

More triangles and incoming stash

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I made a few more of the Y-seam pieced triangles. These are a bit bigger, about 7" tall, and were cut from 2.75" strips. Strips about a yard long yield two triangles.


This is the original fabric, a very traditional style border. There are really only three distinct "stripes": the cream with brown, the lighter blue with diamonds, and the darker blue with floral. There's a similarity to the resulting triangles that I think would be a bit bland if I cut any more of them. The previous set of triangles from the brightly colored fabric were more interesting to me. I think this technique will work best with lots of colors and a variety of stripe widths.

In other quilty news, we had our mail forwarded last week and received a big box full of small, squishy, happy packages. It's been over a month since our last delivery and I guess I must have been subconsciously ordered myself lots of Christmas gifts. I also received a pinwheel quilt pattern from Val's Quilting Studio; thanks, Val!


A fat quarter bundle of gorgeous emerald greens, plus some nice tonal yardage. That pale yellow butterfly fabric will make a good background. And of course, bright stripes are always useful.


A big batch of neutral fabrics: pale gray flowers/snowflakes/thingies, darker gray giraffe spots, black and white stripes and spots, plus two 6-yard pieces of marbled black and navy blue. Someone was having a sale right after the holidays, if I remember correctly.

I also picked up a couple of nice panel fabrics. 


Italian food theme. Yum!


Lurid, crazy-eyed kitties.


Celestial faces by Dan Miller. I love his designs.


A FQ bundle of Laurel Burch fishes and swirls in her signature bright colors. This is from the older "Ocean Songs" line so I only paid $6.50 for ten FQs. Sa-weet!


A nice cream and yellow rooster background, bigger bright chickens, and backyard songbirds. I've sort of been on a chicken fabric kick lately and have enough for a good sized quilt now. Wild bird prints always appeal to me, too, the more realistic the better. Chickens can be funky, though.


And finally, the gal on eBay who makes men's ties out of science fabric had another big batch of scraps for sale, so I scooped them up. The project I started with the last batch is still in progress and will be one of the next things I work on. 


That's after I finish my Hillside Houses lap quilt. I'm in the middle of the FMQ, and here's a single house sneak preview. The lighter fabric is printed with a wood grain, so I stitched a wood grain in the darker shadowed side of this house. There are 18 houses, each with two different fabrics for the house sides plus a gray roof. I decided to do different FMQ designs in each of those 54 sections, but ran out of ideas and motivation at around a dozen. Eh, that's plenty.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Scrappy play

I've been working on a couple of scrappy projects lately. One is the Hillside Houses Quilt Along from Pretty Little Quilts. Except, you know, it ended in 2015 so I'm a little late to the game and not really quilting "along." More like "quilting after." I've sewn up the entire top and it's ginormous for me: 60"x75". That makes it really hard to even take a photo since it's windy and cold outside and there's no place inside where I can spread it out and also get far enough away to take a pic. So. No further documentation on that for now. Stay tuned!


I made three blocks for the January/February block drive for Covered in Love. These are faded quarter log cabins. Kat asked for cool colors, and the blocks use 3.5" scraps. I have tons and tons of cool scraps, but I usually cut mine to 2.5" and 1.5" strips, so I was only able to squeak out three blocks. I hope the green one is cool enough...my lightest pieces for the cabin center are fairly yellow.


Another idea that's been percolating in my head is a triangle quilt made from striped fabric. I've seen quite a few interesting square HST blocks made with stripes, but not too many 60 degree triangles, probably because it requires sewing the dreaded Y-seams. There's so much online fear and loathing of Y-seams that I haven't tried to tackle them, but the time seems ripe. I found this Kaye Woods video tutorial, watched it twice, and took the plunge. It was actually kind of fun! 

The two triangles in the photo are about 5" tall, and made from the same piece of striped fabric. I didn't like the fabric, so it was great for experimenting. However, I love how the triangles turned out, but I ran out of this OOP fabric, darn it! Oh well, time to experiment with a few other stripes in my stash.

Lots of quilting folks are playing along with the Rainbow Scrap Challenge over at So Scrappy. Angela announces the color around the first of each month and everyone sews their own projects using that color. I'm not participating, but it's fun to read about. January's color is purple. Between digging through my scraps for cool colors for Kat, and seeing so much purple on other blogs, I caught the purple bug. (It's so much nicer than the sniffly, sneezy, miserable bug I caught over Christmas!)


Ever since Claudia posted photos of her Chunky Churndash quilt on Instagram, I've been wanting to make a scrappy one myself. It's a Quiltville free pattern, and uses lots of 2.5" and 1.5" pieces. These are my first few blocks, all from my purple scraps. The winter lighting is odd and makes them look quite blue in this photo, but they are most definitely purple. Eventually there will also be hourglass blocks, which make these little pieces look like they are on point. I'll probably do primarily cool color blocks rather than a rainbow.


We are currently in Madisonville, LA (Hi, Linda! I responded to your comment about living in Mandeville, but you're a no-reply commenter so I'm not sure if you saw it.) There's a really good pizza joint here and last night I saw this little painting of abstract sailboats on the wall of the restaurant. I thought this would make a fun quilt. I guess I have rainbows on the brain right now! What caught my eye was how the ripply "reflections" were so simply portrayed by streaking white through the colors. That would be fairly easy to do with fabric, too.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Antique quilts and gift followup

Janice, over at Color, Creating and Quilting, recently wrote about a vintage quilt top made by her husband's great grandmother. It's a cool piece, and it reminded me that I wanted to follow up on a story I posted back in September 2015. I'm going to repeat a bit of what I wrote then, so please bear with me if you've been following me that long.

While we were in Boston that fall, our friends Erin and Chris generously agreed to receive a big batch of our mail. As we unpacked the boxes in their living room in order to discard the cardboard, Erin asked about all my fabric and learned I was a quilter. She darted into their bedroom and returned with a pile of absolutely gorgeous antique quilt tops. All had been hand pieced by her great grandmother Mary LaVerne around 1910, but had never been finished into quilts. She asked me what I thought could be done with them, and I told her about professional quilt restoration experts. She had four bed tops and thought she could have them finished for herself and her sisters. 

She also had 23 orphaned quilt blocks, and I offered to stitch up a little lap quilt so we could see how durable and washable the pieces were. It was a fun project and I got to admire great grandma Mary LaVerne's meticulous handwork. The 100 year old fabric seemed to be in great shape, with very little fading or staining. Lovely!


Here is the finished lap quilt. Each block is a different pair of fabrics, sewn into half square triangles. This design is still used today; a true classic. I like the "oddball" ones, with the blue and gray chambray triangles instead of white or cream. I put the three remaining blocks on the back, with some new fabrics from my stash. Sewing all the layers together was a challenge; Mary's blocks were heavily starched and bent two of my sewing machine needles. But the quilting process started to soften them up and the quilt finished more pliable. But there was still ancient starch in it, which would attract modern bugs if left unwashed.

Most of my research into quilt restoration indicated that washing your antique quilt would RUIN IT BEYOND ALL RECOVERY. If you must clean it, you were supposed to soak it gently in the tub overnight, squeeze out the water by hand, repeat fifteen times, then lay it flat on your dining room floor on while dabbing it with pristine lint-free tea towels. I was very discouraged at the doom and gloom (not to mention the tedious work) of all this, until I stumbled on the blog of Tim Latimer. He has purchased many, many antique quilt tops, finished them and then tossed them in his home washing machine and dryer. He uses Dawn dishwashing liquid because it binds the dye. His extensive experience shows that the new quilting strengthens and stabilizes the vintage stitching and they clean up beautifully. His photos don't lie, and as a bonus, his cute little dog Teddy poses on the quilts for most of the pictures.

So with Tim as my inspiration, we washed Erin's 100 year old lap quilt. It came out great: soft, sweet smelling, and not a spot of red dye migrated to any other part of the quilt. Success! Armed with this victory, Erin decided to move forward with getting the larger pieced finished so they could be used and loved. 

In September of this year, Erin took the four large, completed tops to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA for their monthly "Documentation Day." There they dated each quilt, took photos, and added the pieces to their archives. Neat!

Here is Erin's description of the process: 
What a blast!  All went well and the five ladies clad in museum aprons and white gloves examined each quilt, photographed them and estimated their age (two at 1890 and two at 1900).  They are now catalogued with the museum and I will send along a documentation with each finished quilt when delivered at Christmas.  Both quilts had a combination of hand and machine sewing with a few ad hoc improvisations to even out square size.  [The long armer] is now ready to finish the quilts after the museum inspection.  
One detail emerged from the fabric history...It is that gold/cheddar orange fabric was used in some quilts to show support for McKinley and his gold standard (full story below).  The interesting thing about that is that Mary LaVerne's husband was a "Democratic Leader" as noted in his short obituary of 1916.  Well, the museum ladies said that the cheddar squares might be myth. But maybe Mary LaVerne and her husband disagreed on politics...or the gold standard stance...or someone else made the quilt (two of the four quilts have the cheddar squares). Mary LaVerne's quilts have only four or six squares in the cheddar color on the entire quilt... Interesting any way you slice it.
Erin then had the four quilts quilted and bound professionally and here they are:


Aren't they wonderful? And to think they were pieced at least 115 years ago, by a relative she had never met! She is so happy with the results and I'm tickled pink that I was able to get the ball rolling by telling her about the phalanx of folks who could help her get these finished.

Erin and Chris kept the pink and white one in the back left of the photo, and surprised her sisters and mother with the other three for Christmas. Here's one on her Mom's bed in California. I think it looks fantastic and surprisingly modern in the room with the soft yellow walls. See the diagonal line of cheddar pieces?


As I was admiring this photo, I realized that the last Project Linus quilt top that I pieced used this exact same pattern of four patches and larger squares. Talk about classic! I think I must have been channeling Mary LaVerne that week.

And speaking of relatives, I'll end this post with a photo of my nephew Andrew and his gorgeous fiancee Sarah. I was able to give them their engagement place mats in Houston right after Christmas. They seemed quite pleased with the gift. Sarah is going to be a great addition to the family. She's smart, funny, and organized. She even whipped out thank you notes for everyone within several hours of the party! My kinda gal.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday decor


I finished this funky table runner last week and finally got it washed now that we're in a marina with plenty of water for the washing machine. It needed to shrink just a smidge to fit fully within the fiddles (edges) of our dining table. 


Here's the back, a fun ornament fabric fattened up with a bright tonal green poinsettia blender. I actually pieced this runner two years ago and used it to test an alternative batting idea. I used a piece of white fleece in the sandwich and then did quite a bit of FMQ before I discovered that the back had shifted significantly. It was a Festive Holiday Medley of Giant Puckers on the back, and I had a Festive Holiday Medley of Cursing when I realized how much ripping I'd need to do. Lesson learned: fleece is waaaaaay too slippery to use as batting. I chucked the whole thing in a corner until I rediscovered this summer. At that point, I was more in a rippy mood (do you ever get that way? when stitch ripping actually is kinda fun?) I ripped and ironed and re-basted and tucked away again until I was ready for some walking foot quilting and here we are today. It's not my best work, but it's great as a table runner/cloth because it hides a multitude of dinner splotches and spills.

A few more photos of our holiday boat decor:


Aft port corner of the saloon with "Trim the Tall Tree" paper pieced wall hanging made by me in 2014, and ceramic tree made by Sean's grandmother many many years ago. The breakable tree can only be out if we're in a marina where the boat doesn't move much.


Pillow cover made with this perfectly nautical little panel of a Christmas tree in a red row boat. Stitched up last year.


Artificial garland with multi color lights, hanging from the ceiling hand rail that runs down the middle of the saloon. It's well secured and out of the way, so it stays up in all sorts of sea conditions. It is amazingly lifelike, right down to shedding needles every time you look at it cross-eyed.


The garland is decorated with unbreakable small shiny balls and birds, like this green sequinned hummingbird. I like how they seem to flutter through the branches above my head.
 

This peacock is made with real feathers, and peers down from his garlandy perch. See his tail?


This is my last post before Christmas (and it was actually written last week.) We have guests aboard all this week and I've had to dismantle my quilting studio in order to turn it back into the guest stateroom. This sad photo is my Juki, all bundled up and ready to head off to the spa for routine maintenance. That way it will be out from underfoot and then clean and shiny for sewing in the new year.

Immediately after our guests leave, we will be driving to my brother's house in Houston where my entire family is gathering this year. It's the first, and possibly only, time we'll all be together, so it's worth the long drive with the cat in a rental car. The big family party will include my Mom, Dad, Stepmom, brother, sister in law, all of my adult neices, nephews, their partners and my one and only grand nephew. He just celebrated his first birthday and we'll be meeting him for the very first time.


Whatever holiday you celebrate in the coming weeks--Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, or just a few days off work--may quilts, peace and laughter find you here in the shortest days of the year. Thank you for joining me on my quilting odyssey; your presence and kind comments make me happy!