Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A critical mass of quilts

Another few months have passed, so it's time for another quilt round up. Let's start with quilts that celebrate the season.

This pillow cover was finished a couple days ago. I just couldn't resist this fabric with a Christmas tree in a little red row boat. While there is quite a bit of nautical quilting fabric, and many metric tons of Christmas quilting fabric, the intersection of those two themes is vanishingly small. And what little exists showcases sailboats and lighthouses, so this is a rare find. Unfortunately, it's very low grade fabric, a bit stiff and nasty, but should be fine for a pillow used for a few weeks a year.

The pinwheels at the bottom are pieced out of scraps of other Christmas fabric, with snowflakes and festive swirls. Did you know pinwheel blocks can spin both clockwise and counter-clockwise, and you need to keep track of exactly how you're sewing them together? Me neither, so the backwards one ended on the back.

This lap quilt is pieced with hexagons and triangles, where the hexagons are "fussy cut." That means that the large flowers were (mostly) centered in the hexagon rather than just randomly placed. I guess if I was fussier, my fussy cuts would be perfectly centered. However, with the wild assortment of holiday fabrics in this quilt, a bit of fudging is hardly noticed. In fact, this quilt ended up being so lurid that we call it the Christmas Vomit quilt. It's okay, I'm keeping it for myself.

So all my Christmas themed items are what's fondly called "selfish sewing" in the quilt community: stuff you greedily keep for yourself.

But I'm not an ogre; I did make a few things to give away.

This little table topper was a gift for our friends Rod and Pauline. They really took us under their wings when we were brand new boaters and gave us tons of great advice. We've had some super fun evenings with them, drinking too much and telling tall tales, so I pieced this out of fabric with a wine theme: grapevines and corks and bottles.

I learned how to make this picture quilt in a class called "Accidental Landscapes."  It will be a gift for someone who doesn't read the blog (I think). I took the class at the Houston International Quilt Festival in October.

This lap quilt was made for a dear friend's mother. She has lost a lot of her mobility and spends quite a bit of time in a wheelchair now. My friend said her mom loved blues and deep burgundy. I had the perfect blue batiks in my stash.

While researching how big a wheelchair quilt should be, I learned that many people consider it quite helpful to be able to tie the blanket to the arms of the chair. This keeps it from slipping into the wheels or sliding off altogether. I used some pretty burgundy fabric to bind the quilt and make the removable ties. This type of quilt is similar in size to baby quilts and is a good fit for my small sewing space, so I may be making more of these in the future.

And speaking of babies and their quilts...

Amory Lloyd Gross, our first grand nephew, was born on December 13th. Baby Amory and his mother Charis (my niece) are healthy and happy and all the relatives are just tickled pink. As in pink elephants. Actually, grey and yellow elephants, to match the new nursery.

I made this fun, modern baby quilt using a free pattern from Sew Fresh Quilts and quilted it with wavy lines. Charis keeps a Pinterest board of nursery decorating ideas and when I saw this pattern I knew she would love it. All the baby elephants are following their mothers except the one in the middle who holds Mama's trunk with his own.

The back is a super soft, thick flannel that should withstand many, many years of being snuggled, dragged around, spit up upon, and washed.

Of course, this isn't the only baby quilt I've working on. No, this is only the most tasteful one.

Cartoon cats, surrounded by purple ladybug sashing, sitting on a sea of pink and purple flowers, with lime green binding? Yep.

These goofy cat faces just make me happy! More wavy line quilting on this one.

How about jungle animals in saturated colors, set in tilted blocks on a blue sky background? Every fabric needs to be different, of course. I designed my own free motion quilting pattern for this one in the shape of clouds.

Thank you, Rainbow Zebra, for your wise advice. Sean certainly dared to be different when I asked him to hold up the quilt for photos. "Now show me the back."

Smart alek.

This one is all dog and cat fabrics. They are supposed to be in the shape of big "plus" signs, but that gets a bit lost in the busyness. While I think I did a good job choosing a variety of colors, I should have chosen a wider variety of scales. All the motifs are about the same size, so your eye sees the spottiness of the fabrics even more than the color.

I still have so much to learn when it comes to design theory! Even though my style is happily lurid, there must be some method in the madness or it ends up being too chaotic. But I feel like I'm starting to hit my stride with the Project Linus quilts for kids. I firmly believe that the colors and fabrics that make me happy will be warmly received, but I want to keep getting better at my unique style.

This one is called a rag quilt. The seams are exposed and naturally fray as the blanket is washed and used. It is made of soft flannel pieces and was fun to do...once. All those exposed seams have to be carefully snipped with scissors every half inch. So. Much. Snipping. And the frayed bits filled our washer and dryer with fuzz that then ended up all over the boat. If I make another one, I'll go to the laundromat!

Look at these dog faces! I'm dying with the cuteness!

Here's the whole shebang. The dog fabric was oddly shaped scrap chunks that I trimmed down into squares, making sure each square had at least one face on it. I was left with quite a number of dog butts. Somewhere out there is a nine year old boy who would enjoy a quilt made of nothing except dog butts, but I'm not going there.

This is an I-Spy quilt. Each square of fabric is different: stars, bugs, shoes, tools, animals, vehicles, etc. It can be used to play the I-Spy game. "I Spy, with my little eye, something red that begins with the letter L." When you find the ladybug or the lips, you win that round! Lots of fun doo dads to look at on this one. I bought the variety squares already cut, but was a bit disappointed in the quality of the fabric, so now I'm accumulating my own I-Spy fabrics for the next one.

I buy the vast majority of my fabrics on eBay, so I do occasionally get some duds. It's hard to judge fabric quality from photos alone, but I'm getting better at it. I also try to visit local quilt shops (LQS) in the towns we can reach by boat. I appreciate being able to see and feel the fabric in person at the LQS, so I try to buy a little bit at each one.

I got a smokin' deal on this very nice alphabet fabric, perfect for quilt backs. The brand is Moda, one of the best manufacturers, and the theme is timeless unless kids stop needing to learn their ABCs. Who cares that it is from a line that came out in 2008?

After months of scouring eBay for heavily discounted fabric, I have enough now to be able to sew quite a few quilts without any further shopping. "Quite a few" being a very, very large number. Possibly Avogadro's Number. This condition is known as STABLE: STash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy. I'm going to try not to buy any more fabric in 2016. Ahem.

This last quilt is a special one. If I need to ask an eBay seller a question about their fabric, I usually mention that I will be using it for Project Linus. Some sellers have been quite generous, contributing to the charity by offering me extra fabric or discounted shipping. 

The lady who was selling this cute train fabric told me that her daughter had received a hand made blanket in the hospital years ago. She said, "I'm going to send this to you for free. All I ask is that you send me a photo of the finished quilt."

She also sent the coordinating fabric for the back, no charge.

When the fabric arrived, she had included a note. It said that her daughter Amy had died at age 23 and that this was a gift in her honor. I can only assume that whatever hospitalized her as a child eventually took her life. I simply cannot imagine the depths of pain this family must have gone through. I was so, so touched at her generosity, and I named this quilt "Amy's Trains." Thank you, Amy's Mom. I hope it gives comfort to another child and helps in some small way. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Changing my quilting course

It's quilt update time! I know you've all been waiting with bated breath to see my next batch of projects. No? Well, at least this will be a change of pace from photos of lighthouses. However, there seems to be a preponderance of pictures of Sean's nose and kneecaps in this post. You've been warned.

This first piece is called "Jade Star," and it was a gift for my stepmother and father. The pattern is called Star Surround, and most of the fabrics are from a line of pretty Asian-inspired designs by Hoffman. Many of them have metallic accents. I started it last summer as their 35th wedding anniversary gift; jade is a traditional gift for that celebration. It took me almost a full year to finish it, but I squeaked through barely a month before their 36th anniversary!

I'm usually pretty good about finishing projects, but this one was put away, out of sight, out of mind, for a long time. All the fabric was cut and the four big stars sewn together while we were in the yard in Deltaville last summer. At one point during the yard work, I came down into the staterooms to find a yard worker grinding away in a bilge without sufficient drop cloths. To my horror, a thin layer of brown dust was on everything including all my unfinished quilt bits! My worst fear was that the dust was actually tiny bits of steel, which would rust and stain the fabric when it got wet. 

While large uncut pieces of fabric can be prewashed before starting a quilt, once the little squares and triangles are cut washing is a very bad idea as they will shrink and distort. Only a finished quilt can be safely run through the washing machine. So there was no way to find out if the quilt was ruined except to continue to put many more hours into it and then wash it. At the time, I just didn't have the heart to continue. I shook the dust off as best I could, put all the partially sewn pieces into a plastic tub with desiccant gel packs, and sealed it up.

After working on lots of other projects for six or seven months, and in the peaceful calm mental state induced by blue Bahamian waters, I opened up the tub to finish the lap quilt. It didn't start to darken or stain in that high humidity environment, so I started to have some hope that the brown dust was actually bits of brown paint and not rust. Sure enough, when I finally washed it, it cleaned up beautifully. I packed it off to my parents and breathed a sigh of relief.

This summer, we visited our dear friends the Feldis family on Long Island. I have been "Auntie Louise" to their two daughters since the girls were born and now they are growing up so fast! The younger girl has started her freshman year in college this fall and the top pillow in the above photo shows the fun purple bedding she chose for her dorm room. When she asked me to make some matching throw pillow covers, I was quite touched. I tried a technique called "Cathedral Windows" to create the diamond shapes in the two smaller pillows. It mimics the curved diamond shapes in the main bedding. She sent me photos of her dorm room with the pillows proudly displayed, and this old auntie got a little teary.

Here's a strangely lit photo of a table runner I made for the matriarch of the Feldis clan. We've visited her Long Island summer home three times now, and she's always been so welcoming and gracious that I wanted to thank her with something beach-themed for the house. The fabrics are all muted golds and purples, with sea shells, plovers, stars, and pebbles to represent the rocky Long Island Sound shoreline.

This lap quilt was a gift for my friend Alfred. The pattern is Bonneville, modified to minimize the waste when cutting from a layer cake (a precut fabric product; basically, 10" squares of each fabric.) The fabrics are a line of coordinating batiks in black, brown, gray, and blue. They reminded me of the rocks and sky in the deserts of the American southwest, where he spends much of his time camping. 

Sean mentioned in his last post that I had a quilt adventure while in Boston. Our friends Erin and Chris generously allowed us to fill their foyer with forwarded mail boxes. The two photos above show only a portion of the fabric delivered to their door. As we unpacked the boxes to discard the cardboard, Erin 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 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 showed me 23 orphaned quilt blocks, and I admired great grandma Mary's meticulous handwork. The 100 year old fabric seemed to be in great shape, with very little fading or staining. Lovely!

I didn't know much about antique quilts, so I started doing some research. The next time we saw Chris and Erin, I asked her if I could try piecing together the orphan blocks into a small lap quilt. I couldn't promise that it would turn out, but at least she would still have the four large pieces and maybe we would learn something about how the fabric withstood being sewn and then washed after all these years. She eagerly agreed, and I plunged in.

Most of my fabric is fairly bright colors, but I did have a few muted dark blues, ochres and oranges that coordinated well with the older blocks. 20 out of the 23 pieces were close in size so I made a 4x5 arrangement with navy blue star sashing in between. Between my stars and the red and white stripes in some of Mary's blocks, I felt like Betsy Ross.

And here is the finished 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, since they were not the same size as the ones on the front and wouldn't fit into the rectangular grid easily. The other fabrics on the back are all modern, as is the cotton batting in the middle. 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 quite pliable.

Erin was absolutely thrilled with the quilt and I had a blast making it! We could have left it like that, but we both decided that it really needed to be washed. Between the musty smell, and the way old starch can attract bugs, we decided together to run it through her washing machine and hope the red dyes wouldn't run. 

Most of my research into quilt restoration indicated that washing your antique quilt would RUIN IT BEYOND ALL RECOVERY. If you must clean it, 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 bind 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 quilt. It came out great: soft, sweet smelling, and not a spot of red dye migrated to any other part of the quilt. Mary may have died in 1933, but her beautiful handwork has been preserved in a way that is useful and strong. This was a neat project! I'm grateful that Erin trusted me to experiment.

These two pieces are quilt blocks, not completed quilts. A woman in Texas asked the quilting community on Instagram for 15" square blocks made out of scraps in a single color with one white accent piece. She wanted to make comforting quilts for families who lost loved ones during the floods in Texas this year. I made eight blocks altogether and mailed them in. With the help of scores of quilters, she made 51 beautiful quilts and donated them. You can see some of them here.

And speaking of donations and comforting quilts, the title of this post is "Changing my quilting course." While I will continue to sew gift quilts for friends and family, I'm heading in a new direction. (No, it isn't quilt restoration. Erin was very laid back about her family heirloom, but I can imagine how emotionally fraught that project could be with someone more, um, high strung.)

As most of you know, Sean and I were Red Cross volunteers for many years. We loved being able to give back through that respected charitable organization, and it was a great match with our skills and our mobile RV lifestyle. Now that we're on Vector full-time, that kind of volunteer work is logistically much harder. So we've been keeping ourselves open to new volunteering opportunities.

Enter Project Linus. This nationally active group donates blankets to children, to "provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need." I have joined a PL chapter in Alameda County, CA and have started making quilts for kids. 

Why Alameda? Well, it's a bit tricky for me to attend chapter meetings since we are constantly on the move. Just getting the quilts into the right hands is often going to involve shipping them. A dear friend of my Mom's, Donna, is very active in the Alameda chapter, and she agreed to bring my quilts to the meetings there. The first time she did so, the entire chapter voted unanimously to accept me as a member, so I'm feeling very welcomed and appreciated! The plan moving forward is that I will ship batches of quilts to my Mom, who will have a chance to admire them (what mother doesn't appreciate her daughter's crafty work?) and then she'll take them to Donna. 

Making kid-friendly quilts is such a delight! We're encouraged to use bright, cheerful fabrics and designs. Blankets (not just quilts) are needed for children from preemie babies to teenagers, so a variety of sizes and styles is useful. And most of those sizes are small enough to be a good fit for making on my domestic sewing machine in a cramped boat stateroom.

Here are a few of the Project Linus quilts I've finished so far. This one is about 36" square, in cheerful purple, lime and turquoise floral fabrics. The back is blue butterflies on cream. This size is good for a baby quilt.

This one is a little larger and would be appropriate for a toddler or young child. The fabrics are all bright colored fishes and sea horses, with swirly blue ocean fabric in between. The yellow edging is satin blanket binding, the first time I've ever used that. 

This fun, bright owl blanket is a single piece of fabric printed with the cheerful birds. I sewed it to a piece of cream colored fleece for the back, and then stitched around the outside of each owl, so it is super soft and snuggly. I've started to purchase other single piece panels to take advantage of big, bold designs like this. Sean and I both wanted to keep this one!

Quilts for boys are harder to come by, since many available fabrics are a bit girly. So I set out to make a more masculine, yet fun, boy quilt. The patterned squares are all dog themed: bones, balls, frisbees, words like "Woof!" and "Here, boy!" plus dogs running, panting, and smiling. All in nice greens and browns, like the grass and trees in the dog park.

This little quilt is a pattern called "Wonky Stars." I thought the rainbow colors were so cheerful. The aqua border has tiny purple, orange, blue and green fish on it, and each fish is smiling. I hope this brings a smile to a child's face, too.

I have four or five more children's quilts in progress, but I'll wait until they are finished to share them. One is a gift for the newest member of the Hornor and Gross families, whom we are expecting to greet this fall. But the design is a secret and my lips are sealed!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Projects by the yard

And now for something completely different. It turns out that having an offline hobby has been quite useful on a boat, where connectivity is not guaranteed. So without futher ado, here is a photo essay of how I've been filling my time while Sean is fixing the black tank, chart plotter, BBQ grill, and stuffing box.

Baby quilt for a dear friend's great grandchild. I just finished this today. The last step of making a quilt is sewing on the binding, or outer edge. This is best done by hand, and is a great thing to do while trawlering slowly across a shallow Bahamian bank. My eyeballs are getting old enough that I need to do my hand sewing during day light hours.

New cockpit chair covers. Not a quilting project, but I think they turned out pretty spiffy.

Sewing machine cover. I tend to buy bird-themed fabric whenever I see it, so I used some of my bird stash. The sewing machine sits under the furthest forward portlight, and tends to get a bit of salty spray on it. Best to keep it covered, I think.

Wall hanging for salon. At this stage the background had been quilted, but not the bird panels. And of course, the binding hadn't been sewn on.

Wall hanging for guest stateroom (to cover ugly holes from previous TV installation). Look! Bird fabric. What a surprise. This is the top half; the bottom features two blue jays. I have about eight more panels of this fabric, with chickdees, finches, cardinals, etc. There is an enormous range of quality when it comes to quilting fabric content and design. I'm always looking for bird designs that are realistic (not cartoony), crisply printed, have a soft feel and aren't in bizarre colors. Not always easy to find.

Lightweight bedspread for master stateroom. This isn't quilted, but is just two layers of cotton for hot weather. The fabric is twelve squares of furoshiki, which is used in Japan to wrap gifts instead of paper. Each panel shows a black and white tuxedo cat in an outdoor setting at different times of the year/day. I like to think of them as depictions of our sweet George in cat heaven.

A gift lap quilt. The recipient is an occasional blog reader, so I won't say anything more at this point.

Hexagonal table topper for cockpit. The el cheapo table and chairs that we purchased at Home Depot back in 2013 are holding up well: the wood is sturdy and the brass hardware is not corroding. However, the "teak" finish seems to be just brown paint, and is fading and flaking, so covering it up a bit has helped. I actually prefer the back of this little quilt, and often use it upside down. The backing fabric has wrens flying through fields of chrysanthemums.

Gift lap quilt for a sick friend in Japan. There are some gorgeous blue fabrics in this, featuring butterflies, leaves, and metallic accents. It's such a pleasure to sew with quality materials.

Gift lap quilt for dear friends in California. They have very pampered, beloved cats who have claimed the quilt as their own. I love the colors and groovy patterns on this quilt, but the darn thing fought me every inch of the way because  I made a poor choice on the backing fabric. There was a lot of cursing and hurling of sewing tools during the making of this one!

Christmas table topper, featuring birds in wreaths: partridge, cardinal, jay. I really like the non-traditional turquoise in this one. The backing fabric is rainbow cats by Laurel Burch! So fun.

Gift table topper for another dear friend, made with wine themed fabric.

Christmas wall hanging, a gift for my Mom. She drapes it over the back of her love seat for a perfect fit. The bows on the packages are made from satin ribbon, so it's three dimensional.

A little Christmas themed thingy. About the size of a placemat. This small project was used to practice free motion quilting, the swirly stitching pattern on the gray background which is made by pushing the fabric manually rather than letting the sewing machine move in straight lines. There are five more coordinating panels of this fabric, so I'll probably make more next Christmas. 

Rough piecing for Christmas tree wall hanging. This was also finished using free motion quilting, but I never took a photo of the completed project.

Table topper for salon dining table. Made from beautiful hexagons of Japanese themed fabric that were a birthday gift from Stephanie and her Mom Sandy. The dark blue fabric around the outer border features dragons. For a change of pace, the back of this two-sided piece is bright, lurid, modern fabric in a wonky non-symmetic design. 

Rough piecing of pillow covers for master stateroom. Again, I never took final photos, but we use these on the bed every day. They coordinate surprisingly well with the "George in Heaven" bedspread!

Table topper for pilot house table. The soft wood of this table was getting scratched by my computer, so it needed a cover. I just love the blue fabric with the little birds on it. The back of this piece is a different bird fabric, in bright primary colors, and I flip it back and forth as the mood strikes.

"Rally Flag" lap quilt that I made for Sean. The lighter colored flags at the top are made from fabric that has pink, green and blue scooters on it. Making this little quilt is when I discovered that my husband loves bright colors. Who knew?

Rough piecing for antimacassar for Sean's leather chair.

TV cover, with octagonal medallions of Japanese fabric.

Falling leaves table topper for salon dining table and/or salon wall hanging.

Tessellating tails cat wall hanging in UCLA colors for our niece. There are four cats, but the contrast isn't great on the bottom cat. Now her sister is heading off to college, and has asked me to make pillow covers for her new dorm bedding, so that's my next project.

I also have several other gifts in progress that I'm keeping a secret for now. Since we will be having guests aboard Vector in about a week, I need to start cleaning up my sewing stuff and getting the guest room back into shape for their visit. Quilting generates an amazing amount of "spoo:" threads, batting fuzz, tiny fabric scraps, and lint. Time to break out the vacuum cleaner and get all that out of the carpet!