Friday, January 27, 2012

A Fish Story, Part 1...

You just never know what's swimming in your fabric stash until you try one of these playful fabric fish! Quilting friend Joanne used to say she "felt a fish coming on", meaning that she had the urge to dive in (pardon the pun) and get creative with fabrics to make a fish collage quilt. I didn't quite get it until she explained the process and I saw some of her results. So I decided to give it a try. Right away I understood why making just one of these could never be enough. It's a very free and creative approach to fabrics. You begin to see them differently and to combine them in unexpected ways to come up with a different fish every time... like snow flakes, no two are alike!

Once the fish itself was, ahem, hatched, then it was time to choose background and border fabrics. I was drawn to purchase the border fabric on this one, but had no idea where to use it. Until this project... the border makes me think of water, and currents. And the colors go nicely with the fish. This wall-quilt project is also ideal for practicing my free-motion quilting skills and I enjoyed combining designs in the piece.

 Once I got into the swim of it, (pardon the pun) I began to see fish everywhere. All shapes, all sizes, all manner of materials. I began to observe the shapes and snap photos of them when I could. Shortly after working on my first fish, we ate out at The Blue Water Grill in Melrose, FL. We've been there several times before, but this time, in addition to an excellent meal, I took a closer look at the wonderful collection of stained glass sea life the restaurant owner has on display. Hope you enjoy a peek at some of them here. Aren't they something?

The photo above shows the fish at the beginning when I was cutting up and auditioning some of the dozen or so fabrics that compose the colorful fellow. So, the first fish is done, the second one is underway, and yet another smaller-scale one is being worked into a fabric post card. My sewing room is drowning (again, pardon the pun) in all of the fabric scraps. But I won't let that stop me when I feel a fish coming on!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Treasure Trove in a Cardboard Box...

This vibrant Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt top was among the pieces packed into a box and overlooked by family members when settling an estate. When it was eventually discovered, one of the family gave the box to her cousin, my quilting friend, Claudia. And Claudia brought the box to our quilting group for us to see and enjoy! To have the opportunity to pore over old quilts and blocks like these is such a treat. Nearly everything in the box (all uncompleted projects) was hand-pieced, which is a study in itself. But examining the fabrics and wondering about the quilter's fabric choices provided endless and enjoyable discussion. We all agreed that this quiltmaker had a sylish color sense. Her quilt tops were bright and happy.

Look at this GFG unit and the use of the check and plaid with the small floral print at the center of the flower. Some of the units were consistent in the use of matching fabrics in each successive ring of hexagons. You can see several more units that "match" in the photo above.

But there are just as many units that are random and more haphazard incorporated into the quilt top. I count 14 fabrics used in the hexagons at right. And there's that same pink floral at the center. I like the quiltmaker's "no rhyme or reason" approach to combining the pieces for her quilt. It adds to the carefree, make-do feel. Plus the choice of red for the "path" between units is unique. I'm not sure I've seen it used, or at least if I have, it's been infrequent.

Also inside the box were stacks and stacks of pieced blocks, many with a complex pattern like the ones below. The little LeMoyne Star blocks at the very bottom of the photo are only 5" or 6" square.

I plan to do some research to find the names of the other blocks. Most look familiar, but I can't quite come up with the names. However, the block with the four fan units in the corners... that's a new one to me. I don't think I've seen it used in a quilt before. Very pretty, and it just shows how versatile pieced units like fans can be... they can stand alone in Fan blocks, become Wheels or Plates, or form a different block design like this one. I have a copy of Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns that I haven't cracked open in awhile. I'll let you know what I learn, and will show more of these  tops and blocks in upcoming posts. What a delightful box of treasures!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ruffles and Flourishes...

This might look a little scary, but actually it's not a live thing. It's a knitted boa scarf. I haven't knit anything in many years, but at a quilt show this fall I saw a vendor selling the pretty ruffle yarn to make these. Everyone was wearing them, and they looked so soft and appealing that I thought, "I'm sure I could do that!" And it couldn't have been easier. Just 5 stitches across, straight knitting till the skein was gone or the scarf was as long as I wanted it. It's done on bamboo round needles. The yarn is interesting in that it is called "rail" yarn. That means I was knitting into the narrow band that carried the fullest part of the yarn, not into the yarn itself. So it formed lovely soft ruffles as I went.

And here are the flourishes. I went into a thrift shop and spotted these two pretty necklaces for just a few dollars. The one at the top has a handy magnifying lens on it. The other one has a handy clip on it. Seeing these two elements reminded me of some sewing tools I bought long ago to add to a chatelaine... but never did. What if I combined the necklaces and the sewing tools?

 At left are the gold-toned tools. There's a seam ripper inside one of them. The other has a needle threader and a needle case. I'm not sure I'll use the needle threader. Those don't last very long with me, and I doubt I could replace it in the tool. But still... they're pretty and I'd like to do something with them. They've been in the sewing room for many years just gathering dust. I visited them occasionally, and wondered how to use them. So here is my "new" necklace. It has the lens, the clip, and the sewing tools all together in one place. And it's fancy, so that's the flourish. Heavy and a bit clanky, but definitely a flourish! I may add a Clover thread cutter to it, or a small pair of scissors, a charm or two. Time will tell.

But the best news about this little combo is it encourages me to think that at least some of that "stuff" I keep in the sewing room does indeed find a useful home someday! That's very good news, because there's lots more stuff to plow through.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Deconstructed Crazy Quilt...

If you love how fabrics combine and play off each other, then a project like this one may appeal to you as much as it did me! It's called a "deconstructed Crazy Quilt" according to our book study of "Fabric Embellishing- The Basics and Beyond" by Ruth Chandler, et. al.  The authors have videos and support materials on their own book study site also. This method is easier than a traditional Crazy Quilt (which also merited a chapter of the book, and will have its own blog post here later) in that shapes are cut from fabrics already backed with fusible web. Then they are juxtaposed on a foundation fabric or batting as your muse directs, and can be overlapped as needed. There is no need to make shapes fit the space or to trim to fit as in the traditional method.

The thing I like best about this design approach is the opportunity to use a lot of decorator fabrics, sheers, and other glitzy fabrics. Because they're stabilized by the fusible product, they're very easy to handle. The biggest precaution is to use a pressing cloth because some of these fabrics can melt, curl or otherwise become distorted from the heat of the iron. And the heat is needed in order to activate the adhesive of the fusible. The pressing cloth solves those concerns. The piece shown above still needs to be stitched using various machine decorative stitches.  

Of course I couldn't stop with just one, and I had a bin full of bright fabrics with fusible web already adehered. So I decided to slice and dice them to make a couple of post cards. The one shown above is done in a complementary color scheme, using orange and blue- opposites on the color wheel. These postcards are great small projects to create as color studies of warm and cool colors, and to try out various color harmonies. And they're great for practicing free-motion machine skills.

I did this post card in an analagous color scheme- a range of colors next to each other on the color wheel. In this case, fuchsia, purples, to blues. The surface stitching is done in a variegated metallic and rayon thread. According to color theory, complementary color schemes are vibrant and energized due to the high contrast, while analagous ones are restful and serene. My little post cards seem to bear that out.

As I worked on these pieces, it reminded me of the technique used in the class project in Carol Taylor's Arc-I-Texture class. The background was constructed in a similar way, but the pieces were fitted together more carefully, and all of the edges were couched. You can see it in this post.

At our meeting of the book study group, Kay had this fun piece to share. It makes use of a tie-dye look satin and a vibrant flannel fabric. Don't you love how she couched the seams and then knotted the trims for even more surface interest. What a creative idea. And how about those feathers!! The envy of many birds. She stitched them right into the seams.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Quilt Block Fun...

Have you visited Craftsy? It's an online community with the motto of "Learn it.. Make it". You'll find projects, online video classes, and special deals on supplies like jelly rolls and charm squares. It's not just quilting either... there are classes for knitting, crochet, clothing and costume making, and more. One of the latest offerings is a free Craftsy Block-of-the-Month class featuring instructor Amy Gibson. You just need to sign up on the Craftsy site and then enroll in the free class. The Asterisk block above, and the Wonky Pound Sign below are the two 12" blocks for January- the "slash" blocks.

The videos are comprehensive, and divided into easy-to-reference chapters. You can watch along while you make the block; or watch and then review as needed when you are ready to cut and sew. At the end of the series, participants will have 20 blocks with which to make a quilt. Amy is a delightful quilter and instructor, and there is a forum where students can post photos of the blocks they are making. That's always a plus because it's inspiring and fun to see what fabrics others are using, and how they may vary the blocks. There are class materials you can print out that have the block patterns, too. I'm trying to avoid over-using my printer though (it seems to have an unquenchable thirst for inks), so my goal is to make the blocks with the videos only.  

Fabric requirements are based on using fat quarter bundles, or you can use assorted fabrics from your stash. I found this Free Spirit "California Dreaming" fat quarter bundle on eBay, and the vendor was super prompt, so I was ready to jump into this project quickly. But the bundle I purchased has only the 16 fabrics seen in the photo above, and in the two blocks I've completed. More will be needed. I'm combing the shelves to see if I have some compatible prints to use with these. I think the two pictured below, in the background along with one of the Free Spirit prints, will do, don't you? However, I did a major purge of my fabrics recently, so I believe shopping is still in order! I seem to have an unquenchable thirst for fabric. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Quilter's Challenge... The Long, Skinny Point

I had to sharpen up my piecing skills this week when I needed to make several blocks from my favorite block pattern. I like stars, and chose this Sun Ray block. However, it has long skinny points that require some careful cutting, stitching, and pressing to allow for a 1/4" seam around the block edges and still preserve a sharp point.

While I prefer rotary cutting, I knew that using this method for the Sun Ray block would be chancy. So I decided to make this sample unit, just to see how well it would work. Nope... can't go this route! This will never do. Two different lengths of the points... how on earth did that happen?

So I resorted to a method I have not used in a long time.... I made templates. They provided the accuracy and consistent results I was looking for. And once I had the pattern pieces drawn, I glued them to heavy cardboard. That allowed me to place them under my ruler and still cut the pieces with the rotary cutter. The templates even had the points shaped for easy matching and no trimming, so they saved a little time there. All in all, I think I had given templates a bad rap... there are piecing tasks for which they are the best solution. I was happy with the blocks I made.

This Tennessee Waltz quilt is also composed of blocks with long skinny points. I made this one several years ago using a book by Eleanor Burns. With her method, I sewed larger units, and then trimmed them to the proper size, which also ensured sharp points. This is the queen-size quilt we use on our bed during the winter months.

And it's been one year since Lily the cat came to reside here. She was a foundling on a bike trail and once we saw her, we just could not leave her behind all alone. She seems to like it here just fine! You can see how much she's grown from her kittenhood by looking at this post.

But I'm the only one who witnesses Lily's "other side". She can get a bit wild as you can see when she "helped" me to put away the Christmas decorations by beating me to the storage tote. See that garland with Lily right next to it? See that loose flower ripped from the garland? Lily's handiwork. But no one believes me because by the time they see her, she's looking very innocent, fast asleep on a quilt ... where else??