Sunday, October 13, 2019

Giving Orphans a Home: (Almost) Enough Blocks

Welcome to part two of Giving Orphans a Home. Today I'm going to share a few techniques for dealing with a big batch of orphan blocks that are almost, but not quite, enough for a full quilt.

This is Grandpa's Plaid Shirts. When I saw all the blocks for this quilt together in a big ziplock baggie, I knew it was one of the first ones I would tackle. I just love all the soft plaids, flannels and homespuns! These nine blocks are each a nine patch of sub-blocks, and came to me in a combination of completed big blocks and a pile of sub-blocks.

Here's one of the blocks that came to me completed: nine four patches set on point. If you look at the finished quilt, you can see there were also finished big blocks made up of all flying geese, all rail fence, and all whatever that block is in the far right of the middle row. (Anybody know the name of that one?)

Also in the baggie were a bunch of sub-blocks, but fewer than nine of each: windmills, pinwheels, broken dishes, four patches, nine patches, and more. I think the intent was for there to be 12 big blocks, each made of a single style sub-block, and someone gave up two-thirds of the way there.

What to do? One option was to try to make more of each sub-block type until I had nine each of 12 types. But I have almost no plaids in my stash and wanted to get this quilt finished quickly. I decided the plaids were busy enough that no one would really notice if a big block was made of, say, four windmills and five broken dishes. So I started combining all the little pieces together, figuring as long as some symmetry was maintained, it would be JUST FINE. And you know what? It IS! It isn't as quite as big, but at 60"x60" is a good size for Covered in Love. And it's a finished quilt, ready to comfort a family rather than muttering and mumbling pieces in a ziplock baggie.

The cream sashing, which was a yardage donation to Covered in Love, plus some pale blue cornerstones, corrals each block into just enough scrappy plaid goodness, allowing me to use every single sub-block. I was short just one. A gold star if you can find the chunky churn dash in "close enough" fabrics!

And because this is the first time the quilt has been documented on my blog, here are a few more details. I quilted it with a simple loose stipple and bound it in the same light blue plaid as the cornerstones. 

The back is a combination of a pretty blue swirly paisley that was donated to Covered in Love, and a panel chock full of fish. I thought that might appeal to the kind of guy who wore plaid shirts. The fish fabric was given to me by Cynthia of Quilting is More Fun than Housework.

Next up is Snowballs and Chicken Panels. Those are my DH's chicken feet underneath. This one is an example of how to use a panel or two (or four!) to fatten up a group of blocks that aren't enough for an entire quilt.

Approximately 120 finished snowball blocks were donated to CiL. Each one was either a dark center with light corners, or a light center with dark corners. They were beautifully made, very evenly sized and all the corners were properly pressed to the dark fabric. I knew stitching them together would go so smoothly! In addition, a big batch of centers and precut corner triangles were donated. For a brief moment, I considered finishing up the rest of the snowballs. Then I sat down and had a cool beverage until that thought went away. I KNEW my snowballs wouldn't be as precise and it just sounded....tedious. Surely 120 was enough for an entire quilt? That's so many blocks! But at 4.5" finished block size, it wasn't going to be enough for a CiL quilt.

Chickens to the rescue! This panel is called Three French Hens, and it has the same sort of old-fashioned, farm house vibe of the scrappy snowball fabrics. By using a combination of trimming the panels and adding skinny borders in light blue, I made them equal to five snowballs in width, and three in height. This allowed me to use all the premade snowballs plus only a handful more of my own.

And as I predicted, those snowballs were super easy to sew into rows and columns. I do love the way the center section looks with the alternating dark and light blocks, and maybe someday I'll make an entire quilt of this style. But for today, they are playing with chickens and hopefully bringing a little comfort.

The back and binding on this one used up the last of the blue plaid from Grandpa's Plaid Shirts. Once I start cutting up yardage, I'm often motivated to just use it up completely. Does that happen to you? 

So the plaid blocks became a complete quilt by combining them differently and reducing the size from the original design. And the snowballs got plumped up with some fun panels. Another option that always works is to add simple borders. If there had been a few more snowballs, I might have just added a few rounds of coordinating blenders as inner borders and a nice floral outer border. 

Adding top and bottom rows of different blocks can also stretch a set of "not quite enough" blocks. For a great example of this, check out Cathy's bright, happy flimsy here.

Have you used any of these techniques to stretch some orphan blocks? Let me know in the comments!

The next installment of Giving Orphans a Home will explore some medallion style options. And if you missed it, here's the introduction of this series.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Giving Orphans a Home: Introduction and Simple Sashing

Welcome to a new series here called "Giving Orphans a Home." As you may know, one of my favorite charities is Covered in Love. CiL was started by Kat of Kat & Cat Quilts, and provides comfort quilts to patients who pass away in the hospital.

Hundreds of quilts have made their way into the arms of grieving families, providing a quilty hug during a difficult time. Those quilts come to Kat in several different forms: as completely finished pieces, as flimsies, and as individual blocks. Blocks can be part of Kat's regular block drives, or from her quilting bees, or donated from a contributor's own batch of left over blocks.

As you can imagine, after a couple of years of receiving these "orphaned" blocks, Kat has quite a collection! They are all sizes, colors and designs. Fabrics range from muted reproductions to solids and blenders to the latest angular modern design. What they all share, though, is a desire to go to work in a Covered in Love quilt. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Trustees of Covered in Love.)

I've been working away in my little studio for several months, playing with a huge, 10 lb batch of these orphan blocks. I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned. Maybe it will help you tackle your own batch of orphans.

First, I'd like to set some ground rules:

1. All Orphans Are Beautiful

Blocks end up in the orphanage for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps the quilter made too many for a project. Of course she/he would choose the very best blocks to go into their own project! The ones left behind might be the ones that aren't quite the right size. Or the ones with less than ideal contrast. Or the ones with a piece sewn in backwards. Maybe a point was chopped off. Or the block was distorted by ironing and isn't square anymore.

On the other hand, maybe the orphan was a test block, a one-of-a-kind experiment. It could be a perfect block, but lonely! Maybe the quilter made many very nice blocks, but lost interest in the project. Or really loves to piece blocks but isn't so keen on putting together flimsies.

Maybe they made almost enough blocks, but ran out of the coordinating fabrics. We've all been there, right? The point is that I will probably never know the history of the block, so I try not to assume that there's anything wrong with these blocks at all. Not my taste? Someone loves these colors! Odd size? Maybe the quilter makes ALL her blocks 8 1/8" x 7 7/8"! Very avant-garde!

A good orphan block quilt is like a choir. Not every voice can be a soloist. But combining these blocks with other, friendly orphans allows them to blend and make beautiful music. And even a few clunky harmonies can be charming, if performed with enthusiasm or a bit of distracting dancing!

So if you look at one of my finished quilts and think, "Huh. I can see why THAT block was donated," remember that each block is beautiful in its own way. On the other hand, if you look at one of my quilts and think, "Huh. That's one ugly quilt," blame my design skills, not the blocks!

2. All Orphans Are Useful

OK, so we've established that they are all lovely and they just need some friends to help them soar. How do you get 8 1/8" blocks to play nicely with 8.5" ones? After all, we need a relatively flat, square finished quilt.

My assumption is that the block maker wanted this block to end up in a quilt. So I figure that each block is willing to undergo a certain amount of surgery to make the cut, so to speak. The following actions do not harm the blocks: Trimming down, even if points are lost. Adding uneven borders to make into a square. Giving up on a technique/shape, such as cutting Dresdens into a circle. Changing the shape completely, such as cutting squares into triangles or vice versa. Repeat: No Blocks Were Harmed in the Making of These Quilts.

And never forget that the back of the quilt plays an important role, too! Some blocks are natural introverts and would rather snooze quietly on the reverse side.

3. All Orphans Are Respected

And finally, it's important to remember that these blocks were donated to Covered in Love. Not just any charity, but that specific one. So out of respect for that, I keep these orphans separated from the rest of my stash. I can ADD to these blocks, but not subtract. Kat also sent me yardage to use for backings, and that is also used only for CiL quilts.

There are a few, minor exceptions to this rule. Small trimmings from the backings do get folded into my own stash of random strings. I will sadly discard blocks that are obviously stained or have rips/holes in the fabric. And if I've made my best effort to use a block, but botched it completely, it might get thrown away. I accidentally sliced one block in half because it was hiding under something else. It didn't lend itself to repair, so I gave myself permission to scrap it completely. Sorry, anonymous block donor! I'll try not to do that again!

OK! Now that all that introductory stuff is out of the way, let's look at one of the most straight-forward ways to put orphans together.

Simple Sashing

I've shared these two quilts before here on the blog, so they might look familiar. (Click here and here to read more about them.) For each one, I had enough blocks of similar size, color, and theme to put them into a simple grid layout. I used sashing and cornerstones (sometimes called the "Puss in the Corner" block design) to bring each square block to the same size. 

This autumnal quilt plays nicely together because half the blocks are the printed "cheater" panels that look like fancy applique. They anchor the design so the other, more random blocks, can fill in the other spaces. I also chose muted reds for many of the sashing/cornerstone pieces and the binding for blending purposes.

For these diverse patriotic stars, I added an inner stop border and a scrappy squares outer border to bring the whole quilt up to a good size for CiL. The red inner border kind of corrals all the diversity and helps the eye see that each block contains a bit of red. Even though each star is quite different, their colors and starry essence gives them cohesion.

For the next installment of Giving Orphans a Home, I'll share some brand new quilts and another design technique. I hope you'll come back and visit!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Many Mendotas

Today I have a big batch of small finishes to share. My online quilt guild, Sunshine, stitched up tons of simple blocks over the last year or so. Finishing at 10"x10", the block is an offset bordered square with a 5" center.

The blocks were sewn into tops at a retreat in Mendota, MN back in June. Since I sadly couldn't attend the retreat, I put together my own blocks at home, and also committed to quilting and binding five of the retreat tops.

Each of these quilts will be donated to one of Sunshine's two sponsored charities: Wrap A Smile and Quilts Beyond Borders.

The "Mendota" block is so simple and versatile that I am still cutting pieces to make more! It's a great way to use novelty fabrics, either as the framed center or as the surrounding borders.

These little quilts, either 40" x 50" or 40" x 60", piece and quilt up really quickly. The 40" dimension makes it easy to use width of fabric chunks for the backings. I try to always document the backings, because sometimes that is all that shows in photos we receive from the charities. It's always a thrill for someone in Sunshine to spot a quilt they made, wrapped around a tiny child!

This blue/green one and the black/white/gray one above were made completely by me.

I love this camping fabric! See the woodpecker on the picnic table?

This backing features bugs on teal and silver metallic stars on blue.

This one and the ones that follow below were made at the Mendota retreat and sent to me to finish. I love all the bright birds and butterflies! I quilted this one in casual back-and-forth squiggles in each block.

The backing was also provided to me, and features abstract pink cat heads and blue/pink zigzags.

Happy amphibians! I guess the birds in the next block can't see that there's a froggy snack just above them.

It was dark and gloomy the day I finished this one. But the fabrics are mostly happy sea critters. I like the clean blue and white color scheme.

So I added my own jaunty nautical backing on it after quilting in a soft, loose stipple. The binding is tiny red, white and blue anchors. 

Penguins count as sea critters, right? 

It passed inspection by Angel, who says both fish and penguins are delicious.

This one is a bit more random, and it was fun to peer at other people's fabrics as I quilted it up. The backing features more of the pink cat heads plus a pretty blue and pink floral. Alas, that photo didn't turn out at all. I've been really struggling with getting pictures lately.


This is the only photo that is even a little scenic, if you consider a glimpse of the Illinois River past our dinghy scenic. 

Here's a more comprehensive shot of the cute Mendota retreat quilt. Even though it is red and green, it isn't Christmas-y at all. Lots of really fun novelties peeking out: jelly beans and soccer balls, farms and foxes.

I put a big chunk of yellow plaid on the back to play down the red/green, and found a cute stripe in red/blue/green/yellow for the binding. The little fairies on red were a gift from Rose of Something Rose Made fame. The quilting is alternating straight and curved lines done with the walking foot. Nice to do something other than stippling every once in a while!

This final quilt was also made at the retreat, but features elephant blocks in myriad colors. Aren't they cute? The dark blue plaid is a flannel, so this one is super soft.

I backed them with seagulls and lighthouses. Perhaps the elephants were on a seaside holiday? I can't remember, but the elephants will never forget.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Bahama Dreaming

AKA: Yes, The Water Really Is That Color. This quilt was a long time in the making, but found its forever home quickly.

Back in late 2017, Liz of Savor Every Stitch introduced her pattern called Haphazard. Made entirely of half square triangles, the design is generated by computer code on her website.  Each iteration of the code, and therefore the resulting layout, is unique. I loved this nerdy, techy idea and filed it away in my quilty bucket list. 

Several month later, we were cruising the Bahamas. As usual, we marveled at the variety of brilliant blue waters around us. I thought, "I wonder if I can capture this in a quilt?" Even now, I have to look at my photos to convince myself that those colors really DO exist in nature!

After pulling fabrics that reflected the gorgeous water around us, I remembered Haphazard, and I ran the program until this layout called my name. The top pieced up quickly and easily and I even had some fun "ship in a bottle" fabric for the backing. Top and back sat quietly folded together for a long time.

If you've ever seen any of Liz's quilts, you know she is an expert free motion quilter. I knew that to truly honor her pattern I would need to step up my FMQ game. So the quilt sat for many, many months as a flimsy, until I felt ready to tackle the extensive quilting.

When I heard recently that my dear friend Bear was gravely ill, I knew it was time to pour heart, soul, and embroidery foot into this piece. I started with the cream background areas, adding dense fillers in many designs. Bear is an amazingly multi-talented person. So as I stitched, I concentrated on all the curly, swirly, swoopy, doopy wonderful ways that he is.

Wishbone pathways dance their way across the quilt.

Swirls fill this dance hall square.

And swirl chains in move through this odd shape.

Water meandering and curve echoes kiss at one point.

Pebbles, flowers, paisleys, squiggles...I threw in everything I had. I wanted abundance and exuberance, joy and music in this quilting!

And when the dense background was finished, I pulled out all my blue, green, gray and turquoise threads and started on the beautiful blue water triangles. But this time, I wanted simpler, more open lines. Dot to dot triangles. Big, smooth feathers.

These are the blue healing waters, and I want them to to flow unimpeded, bringing hopes of peace and strength to Bear's life. 

In the smallest triangle, very close to the center, I quilted a bas relief heart by surrounding it with dense matchstick stitching. Because love persists even when we are far apart. I can't be physically with Bear right now, but he has this token of my support and care.

Sean and I wrapped the quilt around ourselves to give it one final infusion of love, then mailed it to California. It has been keeping Bear warm for several weeks now and I know he feels the love inside it! XOXO