Thursday, September 29, 2016

From the Tennessee River to the Pacific Ocean

Ocean Portal is finished. This was my first curved piecing, a simple drunkard's path block set into dark and light circles. It sewed together quickly, since the blocks are quite large.

The big chunks of fabric make a nice way to showcase these super fun fish fabrics. Almost all of the fishes came from the batch of fabrics that Sue sent me; thanks again, Sue! I added several more that had either wavy lines or polka dots to look like ripply water and bubbles.

I love all the happy, smiling fishes in these fabrics. I like to think they will keep a kid busy and entertained. But my favorite is Mildy Anxious Octopus. Who among us adults hasn't felt like this little yellow guy?

I chose the circle layout for the blocks to look like big bubbles. It also reminded me of looking through the glass of an aquarium and led to the "portal" part of the name. By the way, the aquarium here in Chattanooga is very, very good. That's their super fast whizzy river gorge tour boat in the background. The aquarium is in two large, modern buildings. One houses salt water species and includes a penguin exhibit. The other contains the best display of fresh water fish I've ever seen. I've owned fresh water home aquariums for over 30 years, and it was so fun to see all the species from my tanks in the large, clean, beautiful displays in Chattanooga. Oh, and they have a river otter tank that is So. Much. Fun. Squirmy, wriggly, constantly in motion otters!

On the back of Ocean Portal, I used several left over blocks and the last bits of the fabric my friend Stephanie used for our "boat warming" gift quilt. You can see the quilting pattern pretty clearly in this photo. This is the "water and ice" motif from Lori Kennedy's blog. I really like the texture it gives. This was a good choice for quilting with my bad shoulder, too. The motif is long diagonal lines, which made it easy to stitch a single line across the quilt, then take a break. There's no need to keep track of where you're going and no way to end up with odd unquilted segments like sometimes happens with a stipple. Just start the next line a bit to one side of the last one and stitch across again.  Simple and meditative.

The binding is a swirly blue print that I attached completely by machine. That's my preferred method with Project Linus quilts. It's fast and durable. The binding is sewn onto the back first, so it ends up being the narrow finished side. 

The front is then edge stitched down. It needs to be a bit wider so that final row of stitching doesn't hit the binding on the back. I know not everyone loves this look, but the speed and simplicity of it work for me. And the new-to-me Juki rocks for binding work!

Project Linus provides these nice labels for us to use. They are heat sealed on the edges so they won't fray. 

Now to explain the "Pacific Ocean" part of the title of this post. Ocean Portal is going to be displayed in an art showcase in California! It's my first show and I'm very excited and honored to have been invited. Our financial investment company, Retirement Capital Strategies (RCS) is putting on a show of works by their clients in mid-October. They asked me to submit two pieces.  RCS donates to a number of local charities and they asked specifically for a Project Linus quilt to highlight the mission of this national organization with local chapters.

The other quilt I'm submitting for the show is this silk piece I finished back in April. It's the most "arty" quilt I've ever made, but I never gave it a name. It reminds me of exotic spices, so I'm going to call it "Berbere." Berbere is a spice mix used in many Ethiopian dishes. Sean and I first tasted Ethiopian food not far from the RCS office. 

In order to lay as flat as possible in the show display, I haven't washed Ocean Portal. (Berbere is a wall quilt and probably won't ever be machine washed.) I'll ask my friend Donna, who takes my quilt to the Project Linus chapter meetings, if she'll wash and dry it in her machines so it will be clean and soft for the child who needs it. I'll miss seeing and touching it in that post-dryer crinkly state.

While I don't consider myself an artist at all, more of a craftsperson with panache, I'm truly honored to participate in this event! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Goodies in the mail


It's been fairly busy here on Vector. Sean has been going great guns on boat projects: those are his wrench and safety glasses in the photo. I actually finished a quilt yesterday, but I'm still writing up the post for that. In the meantime, here are some of the fun things that arrived General Delivery here in Chattanooga. This bundle of five pink, red and purple fabrics are actually from four different lines but the colors coordinate perfectly. I bought them from a single eBay seller, so I'm guessing she handpicked them for a particular project that was never finished. I think the top heart fabric will make a great focal point for a fun, girly quilt.

These two celestial panels are edged in metallic gold and rather pretty. I have several other blue and gold pieces with star motifs to add to them for a nice quilt for an older child or teen. Lots of room for free motion quilting on that plain paler blue background. I might try some metallic thread for that!

These two Laurel Burch panels also have nice metallic accenting. Ms. Burch's work was always bright and quirky; I'm sorry that we lost such a talented artist. I watch for her fabrics and snap them up when I find reasonable prices. The bottom piece will be perfect for a newborn baby quilt, and I have secret plans for the top piece. I'll just hint that those dogs will be taking a big trip to the southern hemisphere!

Isn't this a fun group of cat fabrics? I had a bit of the top piece with the navy blue background and used it in my first Christmas quilt back in 2014. I never saw that design again, and figured it was long out of print. With no designer name or fabric line information, I had no way to search for it, either. But just last week I stumbled on this batch of six of the coordinating pieces and I'm so happy! The line is called "Purrfect Christmas" by Susan Winget for Benartex. There are six different scenes in the large panel, with Peace, Love, Joy and cats leaping through starry skies. I just love the squinty, happy kitty faces. This batch looks like it was leftover from someone else's quilt, but the pieces are large enough to be useful. I should be able to fill in the gaps with some nice red, navy and green blenders.

Speaking of navy and other blues, I bought this Aurifil thread set at about half off of retail prices. The collection is called "Tinsel" by Cheri Good. Don't all those blues look pretty next to the celestial fabric? I use Aurifil almost exclusively, and was getting low on neutral thread. This batch has some gray shades along with the blue, so those will be great for piecing. It also has one spool of black, which I was somehow lacking. I use very little black fabric but every sewing room needs black thread!

The last box I opened today had this poor stuffed bear crammed in, face down. Good thing he's soft and squishy enough to handle it.

It's a little known fact that Sean and I actually met at a motorcycle rally about 20 years ago. He had a big touring bike with a stuffed dog on the back seat, and soon I replaced my small motorcycle with a touring bike, too, so we could travel long distances together in comfort. My big new bike clearly needed a stuffed mascot, too. The bear on the left, Eddy, joined us around 1999 or 2000 and has been sitting on the back of my various two-wheeled vehicles for over 75,000 miles. About 10 years ago, we downsized to scooters, and our cheerful stuffed companions learned to travel shorter distances at lower speeds.  

On the boat, the scooters are "parked" on the upper deck, in full sunlight and exposed to lots of salt air. After so many years, Eddy was really starting to show his age. The soles of his feet are peeling, his fur is shedding, and he's gone completely gray. He told me not too long ago that he was ready to retire and pass along his duties to his son, Eddy Jr.

Eddy is a 1996 Lands' End holiday bear, made by Gund in just that one year. I would have never believed that I could track down another one, but the Internet makes just such a search possible. Lo and behold, I found Eddy Jr. in mint condition, ready to take over. Yes, those are the exact same model and color of stuffed bear. After at least 15 years and thousands of miles, I guess we all get a little shorter and grayer! Eddy Sr.'s red rugby shirt shredded years ago and was replaced with his little leather jacket. When it came time to move the jacket to Eddy Jr., I found the zipper was completely frozen, so I'm going to let the old dude keep it. Junior is happy to have the beanie helmet, but will have to earn a new jacket.

Eddy Sr. has passed the baton to Eddy Jr. and is officially retired. He's asked us to take the boat back to Florida soon so he can start looking at condos in senior communities. 

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 poring 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.