Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stash serendipity and a finish

Let's start with the finish. This baby quilt is done and ready to be sent off to welcome little Brooklyn Faith in Nebraska! She is the brand new daughter of my stepmother's nephew and his wife. 

Earlier this month when we were visiting California, I asked my stepmom what colors and/or theme new mama-to-be April had chosen for the nursery. The answer was turquoise chevrons with touches of pink and purple. Oh, and maybe there were owls on some of the decorations. 

I knew I had exactly the right fabric: this super cute panel featuring owls, and their friends the hedgehog, the little birdie, and the fox. 

I pieced the chevrons out of coordinating fabrics from my stash, and used a tonal white on cream floral background. The back is pieced with pale turquoise polka dots and a subtle, small chevron print. A darker turquoise binding ties it all together.

I free motion quilted this cute little baby blanket with an overall flower motif that echoes the background fabric. You can see the pretty background fabric in this photo, too. I admit I was pretty darned proud that I was able to pull together this quilt completely from items in my stash. My Dad and Stepmom will be visiting the new baby next week and will have a chance to see this quilt in person, which is also really fun.

In stash accumulation news, I received this big batch last week. The stack on the left contains some brown and gold silk dupioni and some cotton/linen blends. In the last several months, I've tried quilting with both of those types of fabrics and really liked the results, so I decided to keep my eyes peeled for good deals. The linen blends in those citrusy solids will make an interesting piece, I think.

The middle and right hand stacks are all from the same eBay seller. The listing that originally caught my eye contained the solid-reading purples and a couple of nice metallics. With shipping, the price came to around $4 per yard. When I find a seller who is listing largish (2+ yards) pieces at those kinds of prices, I look at their other listings to see if combining the shipping on multiple listings will net even better per yard prices. Sure enough, this seller had some other interesting batches and I loaded up. My net cost came down to closer to $2 per yard and I'm happy with that!

These kinds of mixed lots often contain "weird" fabrics that I would have never given a second glance to in a quilt shop. I'll unpack them and think, "Huh. What will I ever use that for? Maybe I'll resell that later." And yet, they all seem to work their way into some project or another, when I least expect it.

One of the lots contained the four black and white fabrics. I have almost nothing in black and white, as it doesn't usually speak to me as kid-friendly for Project Linus. However, I often admire other quilter's work in black and white, so I added them to my shopping cart. Someday I'll find them useful.

The day after my order arrived, Kat announced the August Covered in Love blocks: disappearing nine patches in black and white with one bright accent color. Woo hoo, I now have EXACTLY the right fabric for those! I sewed up five blocks for her and put them in the mail today. 

Whooooo would have guessed stash serendipity would happen so quickly?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cleaning up and catching up

Yesterday I started on a gift baby quilt for a family member. When I found out that the nursery was decorated in chevron shapes and owls in turquoise with touches of pink and purple, I knew I had just the right fabrics in my stash.

I cut up this panel to remove some of the dark brown edging, which I think makes the design too heavy. I'll sash around all the pieces with off white, and add pink and turquoise chevrons made of half square triangles along the top and bottom.

I also worked on the Pretzel Twist top a little bit, and did some design work on a Christmas quilt. But I kept having to move piles of disorganized fabric from surface to surface and this afternoon I reached my limit of tolerance for the chaos. 

I have a large bag of trimmings, tiny scraps and pieces of batting too small to use. It sits next to the cutting mat so I can toss in little bits as I sweep them off the bed. That bag has gotten quite full, so I sewed up these four pillow covers and stuffed them to make pet bedding. I make the covers out of fabrics that aren't quilt friendly. The kangaroo print is a very thick canvas, the white with maroon dots is a polyester blend, and the brown one on the bottom is a strange, slippery mystery blend of synthetics that the seller claimed was silk. (Nope.) The local no-kill animal shelter said they could use the beds, so I'm happy to donate these. I also had two ratty old bed pillows that I deconstructed and added to the fillings. One turned out to be feather-filled and it made quite a mess! Most of the bag of trimmings is now gone, and about half the cover material, so that cleared up some space in my quilt studio.

I also refolded and put away a bunch of fabric I had pulled for various projects, plus my last batch of eBay orders. Hiding at the bottom of a pile was this red and white orphaned Christmas star, so I emailed Kat and asked if she thought it would be OK for her July star blocks. Her request was for red, white and/or blue stars and I wasn't sure if this one represented the wrong holiday, but she said to send it in and someone would be surprised. I made this star in the fall of 2014, and boy howdy was my piecing bad back then! Lumpy seams, wonky squares, and uneven points. It's good to know I've made progress since then.

Now my sewing space is neat and tidy and I can return to the owl quilt. The baby is due soon, so I'm hoping to finish it within a week.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mountain View, CA

We spent the last week in California, visiting friends and family, and giving away quilts. It was a great visit, but jam-packed and a bit exhausting. I'm glad to be back on the boat.

My husband and I met in the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived there for 20 years, so it's a familiar place. However, I only started quilting in 2014 after moving aboard the boat, and never paid any attention to quilt shops when I lived there. On this visit, I had an opportunity to stop by one of the local shops, Eddie's Quilting Bee. It is located exactly three blocks from a little house I rented in 1988!

They had a very nice selection of novelty and children's prints. They also had lots of pretty batiks and the wonderful, saturated bright colors that I love to work with. Ironically, though, I bought two gray-based neutrals and a funky muted fish print, all from the sale table. I just can't resist a bargain, I guess. 

I brought five quilts to California: three for Project Linus and two as gifts for friends.

A few days before our trip, I received a batch of fabric in the mail that included several pretty purples and a gray Essex linen. It immediately reminded me of my friend Linda, who has a beautiful home decorated in a sleek modern style with touches of purple as accents. I thought I'd make her something modern, but wondered if I really had enough time before the trip. I had recently come across a Nancy Zieman pattern called "Windchimes." It's sewn up in columns of various widths and pieces up very quickly. I hunkered down and worked on this quilt for three solid days so I could present it to Linda in person.

I quilted it with swirls and horizontal waves to look like wind blowing through the chimes.

Here it is on the bed in our hotel room. It isn't huge, just a lap size, but I was happy with how it turned out. The only patterned fabric is a neat antique map design with metallic silver accents. I love how the cottons feel so smooth next to the nubby Essex linen.

The back is pieced with left overs cut to make the 45-degree angles of the windchimes, plus a few more purples and grays. I named the quilt "Fair Winds." In the boating world, the best wish you can make for a friend is "fair winds and following seas," which means a smooth and pleasant journey. This is my wish for Linda and John, that friendship and love are the winds that bolster them. They seemed to really like their quilt, so I'm really glad I was able to give it in person.

This quilt, which was finished many months ago, was given to my friend Marjorie. I squirreled it away so I could surprise her with it in person. It is a sixteen patch, and among my all-time favorite quilts. I just love how the symmetry of the squares play against the romantic florals and little birds. The fabric was a jelly roll of a line called "Vienna Garden," and I named the quilt "Marmona Garden" after their neighborhood.

This photo from before the binding was sewn on shows the colors a bit better. It contains pinks, burgundies, greens and soft yellows, with just a splash of orange for some interest. Marjorie laid it on the back of their burgundy easy chair and it coordinated very nicely.

The quilting is a simple cross hatch through the center of each square, but that gave it a nice, snuggly softness. You can see it a bit on this rather bad photo of the back. The back was pieced with some cream and pale green left over fabrics: a good unobtrusive backing.

And finally, I had three Project Linus quilts to deliver to Donna, who will take them to the next chapter meeting in Alameda. All three have been written about before on the blog: Cat Family Portrait, Animal ABCs, and Charming Cupcakes. I brought them along to several of the visits we had with friends and family, to show them off. Most of our CA crew have never seen my quilts in person so I seared their eyeballs with my luridly bright children's quilts! I'm going to say the show-and-tell was a success, since one friend wanted to keep Animal ABCs, and another asked to commission a quilt using the remaining cat fabric from Family Portrait. 

Each quilt showcases a different quilting technique, so I had a little spiel I did about free motion quilting, turning a fabric soft baby book into a quilt, flannel vs. smooth cottons, etc. The third or fourth time, Sean did the talk himself, which was just too funny! He's really been paying attention...who knew? He's more than just a pretty pair of feet at the bottom of my photos!

Best of all, though, was when I handed off the three little quilts to Donna. Because she's also a quilter, it was so much fun to "talk shop" with her, and to see her lovely home with the gorgeous views of San Francisco. My Mom and I spent the afternoon with Donna and had such a fun visit. Now I have a mental picture of what her sewing and crafting spaces look like, and I got to see a couple of her super cute receiving blankets, too. Wouldn't you know it, though: we were eating home baked cookies and laughing and talking so much that I didn't get a single photo!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Animal ABCs finish

Animal ABCs has been quilted, bound and washed. It's ready to be donated to Project Linus and cheer up a little girl or boy. The top was completed back in March, so this one was long overdue!

I bound it using prepackaged 2" wide satin blanket binding in this pretty variegated rainbow colorway. Instead of sewing it on the standard way, which makes a very wide binding, I doubled it up and used a half inch seam allowance, sewing onto the back then folding over to the front. The binding on the back is 0.5" wide.

Here it is on the front, which ended up about 0.75" wide. Leaving it 2" would have covered too much of the edges of the quilt blocks. I machine stitched it to the front very close to the binding edge.

I did wavy line quilting on this one because I wanted a quick finish with nice texture. I installed my walking foot and did a single wavy line, which puckered and pulled and fought me, no matter how slowly and carefully I tried. Ugh! I decided to try using my free motion foot instead. Perfect! Each line went twice as fast, and ten times more smoothly. No puckers at all, and only a few bobbles as I moved my hands. That's it; from now on I'm doing all my wavy quilting with the FMQ foot! (Not to be confused with Sean's feet, which I decided not to crop out of the photo.)

This shot of the back shows the quilting a little better, plus those cute circus animal butts! The fact that they are all wearing formal tail coats makes me smile. I think I have enough of this fabric for one more quilt back, plus the eBay seller has another chunk of it at a great price. I should go snap that up.

Gratuitous "tossed casually over a patio chair" shot. I'll never be a world class quilt blogger, because I have no patience or talent for taking decent photos. I'd rather spend my energy quilting!

Some of the animals on this fabric were a bit unusual: vampire bat, iguana, jelly fish, newt! I wonder if it was made in Australia? Each animal, no matter how poisonous or dangerous, is drawn in a happy, harmless style, though. The dizzy, cross-eyed bat is one of my favorites.

Quail has a bit of an attitude. Note the eye roll. 

Now I have three little quilts ready for Project Linus: Cat Family Portrait, Charming Cupcakes, and Animal ABCs. I'll be bringing these with me to California next week. I'll hand them off to Donna, my friend who takes them to the meetings. I've never actually attended a meeting, but the Alameda chapter graciously allowed me to join as their "member at large." Living full-time on the boat means we're never anywhere long enough to join geographically-based groups, especially ones that only meet monthly or quarterly. So having a chapter accept me in absentia is wonderful! Donna emails me to report that the Alameda PL ladies enjoy my quilts, and they've all been so supportive of my quilting journey. It really means a lot to me to hear that feedback!

Linking up with Finish It Up Friday over on Crazy Mom Quilts.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Florence, AL

We have docked at a marina here along the Tennessee river, which means unlimited air conditioning. And that means I can sew anytime the mood strikes, hurrah! I immediately launched into making this month's blocks for Covered in Love. Kat asked for any type of star block in any combination of red, white, and blue.

Since I have never made a quarter square triangle before, I decided to try a couple of old fashioned star blocks that use the shape. The one on the left is an Ohio Star, and the two others are Spinning Stars. The patterns have been around for such a long time that they are probably known by other names, too.

The dark blue fabric in the corners of the middle star is really gorgeous in person. Unfortunately, I only had a small scrap and wish there had been enough to use where the small white triangles are so the star would be completely surrounded by the blue. It will be fine in a big quilt filled with many different scrappy stars, though.

I've also been plugging away at the Pretzel Twist pattern, which I'm going to call Twist N Scrap. I've known a lot of pretzels, and this, sir, is no pretzel. So far, so good on the polyester blend background fabric.

This quilt is a bit tricky without a design wall. Ideally, I'd sew all the little subsections of each block that contain a single color piece and the background pieces. Then they would be placed on a design wall and arranged to make the interlocking squares, being careful to not end up with the wrong colors in the corners where the squares "run off" the edges of the quilt. However, there is no place in the boat where I can lay out everything and work on it over the course of many days. I use the bed as a design wall and that only works until bedtime! I can roll up the tablecloth I use to stick the blocks to, and put that back in the quilt room for the night, but that's a marginal solution with larger blocks and won't work well at all for lots of really little pieces. They'd just be a jumble when I unroll it.

So I'm sewing the size blocks you see in the photo: one full color square with four interlinked corner squares. Just have to take it slow and think about where each next color is going and whether it will eventually be a full square or a "run off" partial square.

I'll probably set the whole thing aside in the next few days and try to finish one of my Project Linus WIPs. My PL chapter is in Alameda County, California and I usually ship them. We'll be flying to the West Coast to visit family and friends and I'm bringing two PL quilts with me. Maybe I can make that three, or even four. Ambitious, but all things are possible with sufficient air conditioning!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bay Springs Lake, MS

I started piecing the Pretzel Twist top. First I cut all the scrappy strips and neatly piled them up. Then I pulled out the tiny heart background fabric yardage and cut off a chunk so I could iron it easily.

Instead of gliding easily over the fabric like it should on 100% cotton, the iron had that slight "stickiness" and distinctive smell of a polyester blend.

Oops. That's not what I wanted. I try to only buy 100% cotton.

Since I buy most of my fabrics used, I do occasionally end up with some odd pieces that weren't properly identified. I've mostly learned to pass on anything listed as a cotton blend, or at least to ask the seller if they know for sure that the fabric is all cotton. This one slipped through the system, darn it!

The general consensus in the quilting world is that "good" quilts "should" be 100% cotton, so in the past I've gotten rid of anything containing any polyester. But I really had my heart set on using this heart print. What to do, what to do? I hit Google and started researching online.

The main reasons to avoid polyester blends seem to be:

1. It doesn't breathe as well as cotton so the quilt will be "hot."
2. It doesn't shrink so the quilt won't crinkle up properly.
3. It doesn't hold a crease like cotton, so it will harder to press quilt blocks properly.
4. It doesn't stretch along the grain as much as cotton, so there isn't as much leeway in piecing blocks.
5. It's significantly stronger than cotton so it will tear the cotton seams apart somehow.

Hmm, interesting. In my limited experience:

1. There are lots of polyester blend battings on the market, offered by all the reputable batting companies. Surely the batting has a much more dramatic affect on how warm a quilt is?
2. I have mixed pre-washed, pre-shrunk cottons with unwashed, unshrunk cottons in the same quilt with absolutely no mis-matched crinkling, so I suspect a poly blend would also work fine. Crinkliness seems to be much more affected by the density of the quilting design. I've also used poly batting, which doesn't shrink much, with no crinkle issues.
3. Poly does iron differently (see stickiness and smell above), so block pressing is something I'd have to try for myself.
4. Accurate piecing should mitigate most issues with lack of stretch.
5. The relative strengths of the two materials seems to be a complete nonissue to me. If you're yanking on your quilt so much that the seams split or the cotton tears, blaming the polyester content is disingenuous. That kind of force will part the weakest link, so don't abuse your quilts.

What I also found online that is the sites that clearly stated that polyester blends should not be used were usually sites that were selling cotton fabrics. On forums where quilters actually asked each other about different fabrics, many people said they had successfully used polyester blends in their quilts for years. In fact, they said those quilts wore better and washed up brighter, without fading over time.

So clearly, the answer is that I need to try it for myself. And as you can see from the top photo, I cut up some tiny heart background pieces and started sewing. This is a scrap quilt, so if it really turns out badly I won't have sacrificed much.

Isn't it a sweet little print? The fabric is actually quite thin and smooth, like fine shirting material. It's almost impossible to tell which is the right side. When I work with batiks, I also have trouble telling right from wrong side, so I just don't sweat it, and that's what I'm doing here.

So far, the piecing is going just fine. Each unit being sewn together has at least once chunk of 100% cotton, so there's a little give and stretch. It is definitely true that the poly blend isn't holding a crease as well, but this block only has a few seams that need to match, so we'll see how that plays out when joining blocks later. For now, I'm just concentrating on how I need to press the ones that allow any block to join to any other block properly.


In other news, we passed through the 4th tallest lock in the United States, the Jamie Whitten. It was kind of eerie to be at the bottom of this dark canyon before being lifted over 80 feet back into the sunlight!