Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Near the Buttahatchee River

I just realized that I never shared the nice prize I won by participating in the Hands2Help charity quilt event. Aren't these pretty autumnal leaf fabrics? Five fat quarters. No information printed on the selvedge, but the colors are very crisp and they have a nice hand.

I generally sort my fabrics by color, but have a separate bin just for fall color/themed pieces. The muted oranges, browns, and golds don't tend to play nicely with my brighter kid-friendly fabrics. These leafy prints kind of cross that line, though, don't they? The purple is especially vibrant and I love it!

The final numbers for Hands2Help were very impressive: 198 quilts sewn and donated by 106 volunteers! Sarah managed to find enough sponsors so that everyone received a nice prize, too. I was certainly tickled to get my leafy goodies.

Covered in Love, one of the H2H beneficiaries and where I donated my two quilts, also passed a major milestone recently. Kat says she has been able to provide over 100 quilts to families who have lost loved ones in the hospital, and the H2H quilts pushed her over that mark. That's pretty darned tootin' great, especially considering it's really just Kat doing the lion's share of the work. Atta girl, Kat!!

In other donation news, I filled out an application to be a quilt top piecer for Heart Builders, and was accepted this week. This is the charity arm of Stash Builder Box, and they work with various groups that support children in need. They provide the fabric and the sewists can create any pattern we want. The pieced top is then shipped back and another volunteer quilts it. They require a 4-6 week turn-around, but I can request fabric on my schedule so I'll know when it's coming. I need to be ready with a good receiving address for that. I'm looking forward to seeing what fabric they send! We can also to add to it from our stash, and I suspect I will do that.

Between sewing Kat's monthly blocks for Covered in Love, piecing tops only for Heart Builders, and creating finished quilts for Project Linus, I'll have a nice variety of things I can be working on at any given moment. Life is good.

And yes, there really is a Buttahatchee River. I could have picked any number of watery landmarks (watermarks?) for today's post title, but my inner 12 year old just had to go with that one!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Columbus, MS

Let's Go To The Races quilt top is finished. True to its name, this was a speedy project! Now it will go into my pile to be quilted after we're at a dock for a while. It will probably get an all-over type quilting design; maybe I can figure out a flame motif.

While we were cruising slowly upriver yesterday, I brought my bin of 2.5" strip scraps up to the pilothouse and sorted them by color. Then I pulled out ones that were at least 36" long.

Ever since I saw this photo of Fons and Porter's Pretzel Twist, I've wanted to make it. The bright pile of scrap strips should work well. I have the perfect background: cream with tiny pink hearts. It's actually a pretty simple design, and I was able to easily figure it out just from the photos. (But you can follow the link above if you want to purchase it; I just happen to really enjoy reverse engineering!)  The challenge will be in laying it out so that there's plenty of contrast at each point where the squares interlock. Should be fun!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tombigbee River

I am slowly piecing another Project Linus quilt while my WIPs whimper quietly in the corner. It's just too darned hot to even think about cutting batting, basting and handling an entire quilt sandwich. I'll stick with small pieces of fabric for a while.

About six months ago, I bought a group of novelty fabric samples on eBay. The focal fabrics for Charming Cupcakes came from that batch, as did many of the fabrics in Scrappy Chili Peppers. There were also quite a number of racing themed fabrics, and that's what I'm using for this latest quilt, called Let's Go To The Races!

Some of the race cars are sort of cartoon-like, and others are fairly realistic. There are checkered flags, flames, and monster trucks. While I don't usually purchase anything with a black background for kids' quilts, the bright primary colors of the cars and trucks look great against the black.

The fabrics were part of a traveling quilt shop salesperson's samples, and so were cut 13" wide, with lengths varying from about 6" to about 20". They were stapled together so that the shortest pieces were on top and the longer ones peeked out below. I wanted to use as much of each fabric as possible and settled on cutting 5"x12" rectangles. Almost all the prints are directional, and this wide format block captures a sense of the cars moving sideways, I think.

The pattern is a version of Shadow Boxes, or Missouri Star's Illusions. Offset strips of gray make it look like the block is "floating" above the yellow background. Here I've laid out my first two test blocks to show how that will look. The illusion works best when there are more blocks. It will have 24 blocks, three across and eight down. That should make a nice size quilt for a young race fan.

This is a really simple pattern: nothing but long strips and straight sewing. All the sashing and shadows are the same, so there's nothing to keep track of. I can sew one piece or 20 without losing track of where I am. A good fit for highlighting the fun racing fabrics while keeping my time in the sewing room short and sweet.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mobile, AL

Oof, it's hot here. I haven't been getting a lot of sewing done because we've been at a dock with no power outlets. That means we have to run the generator for air conditioning, and we try not to do that 24/7. The generator is great for charging the batteries, which only takes about 2 hours per day to do. Any additional time running just to make cool air means a hot, noisy engine room and shorter intervals between oil changes and other maintenance. So if it's breezy and comfortable out on deck, that's where we hang out, not in the stuffy below-decks quilt room.

It's taking me a while to get used to this new schedule. I'm used to wandering downstairs when the muse strikes, and sewing for a few minutes or a few hours. Now I need to sew when the a/c is on, and it isn't always when I'm in the mood! But I did manage to get all my scraps sorted and put away, so the whole room is feeling more streamlined and clutter-free.

While we were in Pensacola and had a good delivery address at the marina, I ordered some marine fabric from Half of the pillow covers up on the flybridge are getting faded, so I ordered more of the higher quality Sunbrella upholstery fabric to re-do those. In addition, I got three yards of black Phifertex to make exterior window covers.

Phifertex and Textilene are two brands of similar materials. They are vinyl-coated polyester and are commonly used in the mesh seating on "sling" style patio furniture. Think strong, thick, durable, and plasticky. The weave is fine enough to provide good shade while being open enough to see through in bright light. Our boat came with a set of covers custom made to fit most, but not all, of the windows and that snap into place.

If you look at the boat photo at the top of the blog, you'll see the front three windows have covers. You'll also see that there are three windows in the back under a fairly deep overhang. The sun only hits those in the early morning and late afternoon and we have good interior blinds to cover them. But now that we're in such hot weather we decided we really needed exterior covers for them. 

These back windows are identical on both side of the boat, so I figured I could make a single cover that could be moved from one side to the other as needed. When we're at anchor, the direction of the wind and the current determines which way the boat faces, so on any given day the morning sun could come in any window.  

Even though the outer two panes are trapezoidal, I didn't try to match those angles and sewed up a large rectangle to completely cover all three panes. Once the cover is in place, you can't see the panes anyway. And there's no way to see both sides of the boat at once to compare window shapes. 

Here is the finished cover, snapped in place on the port side. The other window that needed a cover is the one on the left side of the photo, which is above the galley sink. With no shading overhang, that one really takes the full brunt of the sun so I wonder why it never had a cover to begin with.

The big cover is made from a single piece of Phifertex, 108" long by 40" tall, with 1.25" hems on all four edges. That's a really, really, really big piece of really, really unwieldy fabric. I cut it to size in the quilt room by unrolling a bit, then cutting, then rolling the cut piece, then unrolling some more to cut. The stuff doesn't fold well, doesn't take a crease, and is impossible to mark with pen or pencil. I started wrestling with it while the a/c was off, but that lasted about 5 minutes before I cried uncle. Once the room cooled down, the material got even stiffer and harder to work with, but my attitude improved. Getting all that stiff, recalcitrant fabric through the sewing machine was not for the faint of heart, either. Fortunately, it sews pretty easily with a heavy duty needle and UV resistant thread. The Little Kenmore That Could just chug-chug-chugged through all the seams, even up to six thicknesses at once. The biggest issue during the sewing, besides just wrangling the giant piece into position, was that the very thick UV thread tended to jam to bobbin. 

The material comes 54" wide off the bolt, so I cut up the remaining skinny strip and pieced the galley window cover.

This photo shows the lapped seams I used to join the pieces. Phifertex doesn't ravel, so this was really just to get the sections to lie flat. There's no way to iron this stuff so I'm glad these were fairly short (34") chunks. I had a spool of white, UV resistant polyester thread. I like the contrast with the black covers.

Here's a corner that shows the nice stainless steel snaps we used. I had to buy a snap installation tool from Sailrite since stainless snaps are really tough and need a special hardened tool. Sean installed the snaps, punching holes through the corners of the covers for the female part, and drilling holes into the boat to screw in the male part. I assisted by holding the vacuum cleaner under the drill to catch metal shavings, and handing him tools as he balanced precariously on the boat railing to drill the upper holes. I swear that man has prehensile toes, the way he gripped that railing. Fear of falling in the Mobile River will motivate a man's toes, it seems.

Here's the galley cover snapped in place. The camera flash reveals the curved shape of the window frame underneath. Without the flash, the covers look opaque and provide a lot of privacy during the day. At night, the lights inside the boat are easy to see, so we use our interior blinds for privacy.

All in all, this was a satisfying project. This afternoon we moved to an anchorage, and the covers really helped keep the boat cooler. These two covers would have cost at least $300 to have made. I paid about $60 in materials plus the $30 tool and they looks just like the professionally sewn ones that came with the boat. But I'm glad to have marine sewing behind me for a while. To celebrate, I cut up some quilting cotton for the next Project Linus quilt (spoiler alert: race car theme!) and it felt like gossamer butterfly wings and unicorn farts compared to the Phifertex.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pensacola, FL

I am merrily sewing away while Sean is in Virginia again dealing with the bus for sale. For more about that subject, you can read his post on the travel blog. Since he flew this time, we needed a place with an airport to leave me, the cat, and the boat. Pensacola had decent flights, so here I am.

I made some decisions about the Dragonfly quilt, but left it set aside in my growing pile of WIPs (Works in Progess.) They hang on a spring loaded curtain rod placed between two of the cabinets in my studio. Can this actually be called a pile if its hanging? Maybe it's a drape of WIPs? In any case, that's three quilt tops and two quilt backings there, ready to be sandwiched, basted, then quilted.

But I'm in a piecing mood, not a quilting mood, so I started yet another quilt top. It actually sort of makes sense to do this now while the boat is in a marina with constant power and constant air conditioning. Piecing requires a lot of back and forth between sewing, ironing, and the "design wall." Which in my case is the "design bed," since there isn't a single wall on the boat big enough to use for that purpose!

This is another gift quilt. The focal fabrics are all from a Makower UK line of Asian-inspired designs, called "Kimono." I thought they'd play nicely together in a pattern called Natural Beauty designed by Lori Mason and available free from American Patchwork and Quilting. Here's the cover photo from the pattern:

The pattern is written to use certain fabrics in a precise order so that the thin lines (purple and orange in the pattern photo) line up in a certain way. But since I'm sewing from my stash, I didn't have an exact one-to-one correspondence for the pattern fabrics and would need to use smaller amounts of more fabrics. I'd also need to cut up enough pieces to start laying it all out on the bed to see what worked. 

I wanted to use black as the background, rather than the cream in the pattern. Actually, I really like the cream, but all I have is a fairly pure white that didn't work at all with the Asian fabrics. My perfect cream fabric happens to have distinctive silhouettes of dogs on it; not a good thematic match.

Ew, that didn't work well at all. Hmm. How about this rusty orangey fabric as the background?

Better, but that color is kind of an acquired taste and I'm not sure the recipient will like it. (By the way, the lighting is TERRIBLE in the master stateroom and my cell phone photos just make it worse. You'll have to trust me that this color actually did work, because it looks like dog barf in the photo.) 

Next I tried a brighter red, with some of the border fabric alongside to hide the underlying bed quilt.

Wrong bright red for these fabrics, and too Christmassy anyway. Even though the focal fabrics have red and green in them, they don't scream Christmas until big chunks of red and green sit side by side. Aha! That's the problem: the green fabric.

Mo' better. Replacing the green with a neutral makes the black background work much better. There was too little contrast between the black and the green. Back into the stash to find another gold/beige/tan/cream neutral. I have a tub full of neutrals but alas, nothing that was right. Drat! I could have sworn I had a nice sort of wood-grained looking gold-y-ish fabric.

Oh, there it is, peeking out of the scrap pile from Hades. This is a shot of the bathroom counter in the quilt studio, where I've been tossing scraps and recent purchases that need to be folded and put away. Guess it's been awhile since the "put away" part of the process has happened. 

Now I could start sewing in earnest. Lots of squares and rectangles in this quilt that meet at their corners. In order for it to look crisp and nice, all the seams needed to be carefully nested. I had an Aha! moment on seam nesting today. Usually, I just press and nest the seam right along the stitch line with one finger, like this:

But today I started nesting the seam with more fingers, along three or four inches, like this:

Actually, I use a couple fingers of my right hand, too, but they were taking the photo. Lining up more of the seam made everything feed better through the machine and less likely to slip on the corners. So that worked much better. Probably most quilters already know that trick, but I had never heard of it before.

And here's the (probably) finished quilt top:

It may get a thin outer border of the same black background. The size is good as-is, though. I had to stand out on the port side deck and take the photo through an open window to get far enough away to fit the whole thing in the frame using my cell phone camera.

The actual sewing went pretty quickly on this one. Probably more time was spent pondering patterns, layouts, and the sorry state of the "to be put away" pile. I guess that's my next task!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Choctawhatchee Bay

I finished piecing the Disappearing Four Patch top using all dragonfly fabrics. I've only been able to sew while the air conditioning is running. It's just too hot in my little quilt room otherwise, and waaaaaay too hot if I'm using the iron!

The top is 42"x42", which is a great size for a baby quilt. Unfortunately, I had it in my mind to give it to an adult friend. Hmm. I'm going to set it aside for a while and think about whether I want to expand it or not. I could certainly add borders, which would keep it square. Or I could add top and bottom rows of something fun like pieced bird blocks. Or, I could go a completely different direction for my friend's quilt and donate this one to Project Linus.

Linking up with Oh, Scrap because every fabric is different. I bought them as a group of precut 4.5" squares, but it's clear they were never part of a single fabric line. They were carefully collected by someone with a love for dragonflies. That eclecticness gives the piece a nice, scrappy look.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Waiting for Colin

We are sitting in a marina in St. Marks, FL while Tropical Storm Colin creeps up on us. Meanwhile, I have a batch of dragonfly fabric squares that I'm sewing into Disappearing Four Patch blocks.

Start with a four patch:

Slice it into nine pieces:

Rotate every piece except the corners 180 degrees:

Sew them back together:

I bought these squares of dragonflies as a precut collection on eBay. The seller clearly had been gathering the fabrics for years. There were 72 squares in every color of the rainbow, each with at least one dragonfly showing. I'm thinking I'll probably assemble them in rainbow order to give the finished quilt some cohesion.

The Disappearing Four Patch block shows its structure best when there is some contrast between the two non-background squares. In this one, there is enough difference between the light blue and the medium blue to show how the squares sort of overlap in the center of the block:

However, in order to put the finished quilt in rainbow order, I need to have blocks where the two focal fabrics are close to each other on the color wheel. That way the finished block will have a clear place in the rainbow. Two green fabrics make a green block, but where would a purple/yellow block go?

I spent quite a bit of time going back and forth between wanting to punch up the contrast in each block and wanting to make sure the finished quilt wouldn't just muddle into color chaos. I'm not sure I made the right choice yet!

The tricky part of this block turns out to be how to iron the seams. There are lots of little junctions between the white background and the various colors of fabric. In order to keep those corners crisp, it's best to nest the seams at every stage of sewing. That includes the stage where each block is sewn to another block.

There are two layouts for joining the blocks together. Alternating the larger white and focal fabric squares looks like this:

Rotating two of those block so that all the focal corners (and then all the white corners) meet up looks like this:

I haven't decided which layout I want to use, and I want the seams to nest between blocks no matter what I choose. Hmm. Topologically, that doesn't really work out well! After a lot of head scratching, middle-of-the-night pondering, and failed sample blocks, I came up with a solution. Here's the back of a block:

It turns out that if all the outside seams are pressed so that they rotate in one direction, any block layout will have nested seams at all the intersections. Hooray! In the photo above, the seams on the side with the yellow pencil are all pressed upward. The ones on the side with the brown pencil all go left. Opposite the yellow pencil they go down, and opposite the brown pencil they go right. So the seams flow around the back of the block counter clockwise.

That sounds good, but as you can see it actually looks a bit ugly. I was able to open three of the intersections and "swirl" the seams into submission, but two places still just had to get squashed down strangely. Fortunately, the fronts of the blocks look okay and I've been pretty happy with my points.

It's all too easy to start sewing things in a slightly different order and end up with a block where the final seams flow clockwise instead. So I have to force myself to only assemble two blocks at a time, laying all the pieces out carefully in a particular order at each stage and not jumping ahead.

I'm about half way through making the blocks. Next time I should have some layout photos to share.