Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quilt Delights

There's nothing quite so delicious as spending a cold rainy day inside, toasty and warm, sewing quilts with good friends - and yesterday morning was a gourmet day for St Mark's Quilters.

We missed our other regulars, Liz (on a super-exciting holiday), Moo, Gail, Sophie, Susan, Helen and Cath, but those who braved the rain showers brought along finished Blankets of Love sweet enough to warm a grieving parent's heart.

Margaret has been making the most of a Peter Rabbit panel, combining fussy cuts with coordinating plain fabrics to make them go further. Those tiny tossed rainbow hearts around the border work a treat too.

Margaret's our queen of quilt-as-you-go. Tiny strips from bigger projects are never wasted in her hands, and this month she stitched them into another rhapsody in blue..

I can usually pick a quilt Gillian's made by the fancy serpentine stitched quilting she likes to use, as well as her favourite gelato pastels. Love this!

This next one, also by Gillian, gave me an 'ear worm' for the rest of the day. Remember Ernie singing 'Rubber Duckie' in the bath on Sesame Street? There's your ear worm (You're welcome!).

Barb had us in cuteness overload with these donkeys in gingham PJs smiling in their sleep. She's added a bunch of Peter Rabbits around the border as well, because too much cuteness is just never enough where baby quilts are concerned.

Di B has been spreading her wings and trying foundation paper piecing. Stunning work! The amazing circular geese at the centre of this block are from a pattern by Jeli Quilts (Kelly Liddle) available on Craftsy as a downloadable PDF.

Remember the workshop last month, when Di B showed us how to use foundation paper piecing to stitch a mini braid quilt? Well, four of us have finished, and here are our results.

This first one is by Di B in her trademark blue, white and yellow.

Di C preferred to tweak the basic pattern and use her mini braids to frame a flower fairy panel.

In a little surprise, her Blanket of Love is reversible, with a different flower fairy panel in the middle.

Rather than staggering her braid pieces, Barb chose to assemble hers in more of a chevron pattern, crisp and pretty. How about those panda bears!

Finally, here's my version, in rainbow ombré braids. Di B and I are in a little group on Instagram currently trying to sharpen our free motion quilting skills by doing 10 minutes' practice a day and posting a photo of our work, warts and all :-( So I decided to use this quilt as a practice piece for quilting feathers.

Of course there were plenty of other works-in-progress but I'll share these next month when, hopefully, they will be all finished. You have some treats in store!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Just a mini...

I've fallen in love with mini quilts, and I blame thank the lovely Sue Miller of Fabric Garden and the super talented Julie Herman aka Jaybird Quilts

With my quilting buddies, Di B and Sue M, I signed up, through Fabric Garden, for the 6 month Jaybird Mini Quilt Club at the Sydney Craft and Quilt Fair in July, and the postman brings us a different Jaybird mini quilt pattern every month.

To add to the fun, the three of us get together for a full day once a month to sew our minis, each using our own fabric. It's amazing how different one pattern can look when three friends put their own stamp on it. I'll show you what I mean a little later in this post.

For July's pattern, the Mini Radio Way Quilt, I decided to keep the white frames but use a rainbow of fabrics in a colour wash effect across the quilt, so my first step was to draw up a grid and plan the hues for each block. Overthinking? Quite possibly :-)

Next I went to my scrap bin, pulled fabrics in every colour of the rainbow, rotary cut them into 1 and a 1/2 inch wide strips and stacked them in colour groups. I love playing with fabrics!

Following my sketched plan, I crosscut my strips and arranged them into blocks. This was where it started to become exciting!

Once I had also cut all my white framing strips I was ready to label each group with masking tape and pack them into plastic bags to take to our sewing day. Obsessive? me?

With the thinking part done, I could relax and enjoy all  the fun, laughter and chatter that's inevitable when we get together.

As I sewed each block, those masking tape labels went right back on so I could keep track of my overall scheme.

This little quilt, once assembled, had quite a radiance, almost like sunshine, so I decided to quilt it in concentric circles.

As a guide I drew the first few rings with a compass because these were quite tight curves that I needed to free motion quilt, but once I had moved out a bit to where my curves were gentler I used my walking foot and its space guide to keep me on track. 

For the first time I used Aurifil invisible thread for the top quilting, and Aurifil white Mako 50 in the bobbin. The invisible thread worked like a dream, and although I anticipated tension issues there were absolutely none! 

I was very happy with the result, which was just as I had envisaged. It's not often I can say that ;-)

For the binding I decided that no single colour was going to do it justice, so I used red, green, blue and purple, in unequal quadrants, to stay within the rainbow theme.

In the Bible the rainbow symbolizes God's faithfulness, and as I mark off the second anniversary of Boak's death this week it seems no-so-coincidental that I should find myself playing around with rainbows. After all, it's only because God has faithfully held me close that I've managed all the fresh challenges I've faced.

Here, as promised, are our three finished, but unquilted, Radio Way quilts. The top right is Sue's, which she has made a little larger by adding extra blocks, and this will become a Blanket of Love for RPA Newborn Care. The one on the bottom is Di B's, a delicious creation that somehow reminds me of lollies!

We have more five months of Jaybird mini quilt making, and I can't wait to share them with you. Hope you're ready!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On seeing the light

Light. Lately, it seems, I either have too little or too much!

This is the year I've decided to make a serious effort to improve my free motion quilting skills, and I thought I'd show you two products that I'm finding really helpful.

First is an Ecolux LED light strip. Some of my quilting friends have been using these for a while now to boost their machine's lighting, but I needed time to justify the outlay to my inner Scrooge.

You could never call me an early adopter LOL. 

I finally bought my 6 light strip from Sewing Buddies at last month's Sydney Quilt Show, and I love it.

Look at the difference it's made to my Bernina 1230! 

On the left you can see light provided by the Bernina's own built-in lighting, and on the right the difference this little strip of lights makes, installed under the throat of the machine, a nice white light shining vertically on my work.

But wait, there's more! 

For those times when I need to shed even more light on the situation I have this nifty little LED folding lamp, another great purchase from last month's Sydney Quilt Show.

In the pic below, the third view is how my workspace looks with all three light sources applied. I love how, with this neat little USB rechargeable LED lamp strategically positioned I have virtually no shadows cast on my work, which has got to be a plus. 

It's cordless and folds into a really flat little unit for taking to classes or stitch-and-sew sessions.

Ah, wouldn't it be wonderful if the small matter of lighting my work area was all that stood between quilting mediocrity and quilting excellence? Ha! 

Or if I could just harness the light from the afternoon sun that beams a little too brightly into my apartment at this time of the year.

Its rays shine right through the length of my apartment, hitting the back wall of my kitchen, and for a few weeks in late winter it's potentially quite damaging to my furniture coverings and carpet. Besides, nobody wants to wear sunglasses to use the kitchen.

Possible solution #1

Draw the vertical blinds and angle them so I can still see the view.

This helps a little, but all those vertical shadows make me feel like I'm in gaol.

Possible solution #2

Completely close the vertical blinds.

No sun, but now my kitchen is plunged into a Stygian gloom and I have to turn the lights on at 3 in the afternoon.

Fortunately I've finally found a solution that works. 

When I moved here I bought a nifty half umbrella, perfect for my balcony. It's just like a proper market umbrella, but with one flat side so that it takes up less room.

Recently I picked up  2 meters of shade cloth from Bunnings in the same sand colour as the umbrella, and hemmed the long sides.

Then I sewed Velcro tape to the flat side of the umbrella and to the shade cloth. Now I can have my doors open for fresh air, but my furniture is shielded from the worst of the damaging rays during those couple of hours each afternoon when the sun is low, and the shade shield is removable.

Two light solutions that are working for me!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lifting the fog on making a mini braid quilt

A few months ago Di B made a really pretty mini braid quilt, in a Blanket of Love size, and after some persuasion she agreed to demonstrate, at St Mark's Quilters yesterday, how to create those intricate looking braids.

 Having always thought I'd like to make a braid quilt, but putting it in the 'too hard' basket, I looked forward to having the process demystified.

Coincidentally, Sydneysiders woke to a literal fog yesterday morning. No ferries were running on the Harbour in this pea-souper, and planes were being diverted from landing at Sydney Airport.

This was my view of the city. A forest of high-rise towers was out there somewhere, but I couldn't see the forest beyond those trees ;-)


Di's instructions for our little lesson were to bring around half an icecream container of scraps cut into 1 inch wide strips, but I sorted mine into pink, blue, green and yellow, and graded them from dark to light. I had a plan ;-)

The secret to these particular mini braids, with 'strands' that  finished a tiny half an inch wide, lay in using foundation papers. 

If you're not familiar with this, it's a technique where the fabrics are laid on one side of the pre-printed paper and the stitching is done along the marked lines, following a numbered order, on the other side.

There were more than a few tiny cries of anguish from around the room, and some 'frog stitching' (rippit,rippit) until we each managed to find our rhythm and began building up some very pretty braids.

In the picture below, clockwise from top right, are braids-in-progress by Di C, Gail, Gillian and Barb.

I think you'll agree that, as techniques go, it looks a little messy, and it takes a little imagination to envisage the end result. It's not until all those 'strands' (in this case, 48 of them) have been stitched to the foundation paper that it can be turned to the back and all those raggedy edges trimmed off using a ruler and rotary cutter. 

Here's my first braid once I'd finished and  trimmed it.


Di B sewed along with us too, making another braid quilt out of left overs from her first. This pattern is just wonderful for quilters like us who feel we have to squirrel away every tiny scrap!

The final step, before you can use those pretties, is to remove the paper, and there are a couple of techniques you can use before you start that might make this easier.

* Set your machine to use a very short stitch. This makes it much easier to tear the paper along those stitching lines. Of course it makes for extra stress if you need to do any unpicking. Ask me how I know.

* My friend Sue M likes to use a Hera marker (from Clover) and a ruler to score along the stitching lines on her foundation paper before she starts. If you have the patience to do this (I didn't) take care that you're not too heavy handed as you can weaken the paper.

* Another friend Perdita 'sewed' along the lines before starting, using her machine without her needle threaded. You can see the perforations in my photo of her braid below. I think the key here is, again, not to weaken the paper too much, so using a longer stitch length would be helpful.

As usual there was plenty happening at St Mark's Quilters. 

Michaela popped in to see us with a finished kindy quilt and some very cute show-and-tell, a Cat in the Hat themed kindy quilt just waiting for the binding to be stitched down.

Susie stitched away at her machine and finished a pretty fairy tale pink Blanket of Love.

Gail arrived with this soft little Blanket of Love all finished.

Barb had two cute Blankets of Love finished.

And Perdita arrived with three lovely Blankets of Love tucked under her arm!

It's great to see quilters like Perdita becoming more confident as they sharpen their free motion quilting skills with these manageable little quilts.

And I mustn't forget to say we had fun!