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!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fashionably late - and a new Quilt Show fashion?

I'd just about abandoned the idea of writing a wrap-up post on the Sydney Quilt and Craft Show when this arrived in my Inbox. 

Well (I thought to myself) if it's not too late for a sophisticated soul like Molli Sparkle to do a post on  how he made and used his cute mini quilt / sash at the show, then who am I, a card-carrying member of the glitterati, to beat myself up over being just a tad late to the party?

I've been itching to cut into my FQ bundle of Emma Jean Jansen's Terra Australis, but I'm waiting till Terra Australis 2 is released shortly and I can add some of her extra colours to my fabric palette. 

For now, however, I gave that itch a little scratch by snipping off some teensy weensy pieces of said Terra Australis to foundation paper piece a name tag with my Instagram handle so any of the Sydney quilters I 'play' with on Instagram but haven't met in real life might identify me and say 'hi'.

The 'wing span' of each of those flying geese is approximately 1/4 inch, so I can safely say I still have oodles of my special fabric left.

My name tag worked! Apart from catching up with old friends like Jen, Sel, Michelle, Lissa Jane, Heather, Lisa, a couple of Sues (and more), the lovely Louisa and Lorena recognized me too, as did the delightful Molli, seen here helping our group of three Di's and a Sue take a #selfiewithsparkle

Sue Miller, of Fabric Garden, the 'fabric enabler' from whom I bought my Terra Australis bundle, had plenty to tempt us, and Di B, Sue M and I happily scrambled to sign up for her 6 month Mini Quilt Club using patterns by Julie Herman (Jaybird quilts). We also came home with Jaybird Quilts' Hex 'n' More rulers in both the full size and the mini. Sue's stall was an absolute delight!

A few new fat quarters from here and there might ... (ahem) ... have come home with me too.

Helen Godden had me dreaming of owning a Sweet Sixteen quilter after her fabulous demonstration, but unless I win the lottery that won't be happening any time soon.

And with next year's St Luke's fundraising stall already on my mind I bought patterns from Cameron - James Designs to make the adorable Digby the Dog and Stripes the Cat. It was so hard to choose from this wall of cuties!

I didn't receive permission from Paddington Patchworker Isabella Klompe to share her quilt until after I had done my previous post on Quilt Show favourites, so here it is now, a pretty fantasy in black and white.

And did I mention fashion? Here's the selvedge skirt I made to wear on the first day.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then my friend Linda, who inspired me, can take a big, deep bow. 

Her Name Dropper skirt, which she made to wear to the AQS Quilt Show at Paducah earlier this year, was A line, but I felt a straight, pencil skirt might look better on me.

Before I started I sorted my obscenely large collection of selvedges into colour piles. I'd decided on a rainbow colour scheme, with the full spectrum running across both the front and the back.


In a similar fĂ shion to Linda I sewed selvages together, end to end, to get strips of each colour long enough to reach from waistline to hem. When I use selvedges I like to leave at least half an inch of coloured fabric attached.

From my commercial straight skirt pattern I cut 3 base pieces from some neutral yardage that had been in my cupboard for ages. Since it was going to be covered up the pattern wasn't important as long as it was pale enough not to show through.

I started from the side edges, working in, covering the base fabric with selvages. To help keep my strips relatively straight up and down I pressed a seam down the centre of the front piece, and used my tape measure to measure and pin one selvedge at a time all the way down before machining.

For the two back skirt pieces I used the centre back edge as a guide to keep my selvedges straight, until the base pieces were completely covered with selvedges.

I sewed as close as possible to the neat edge of the selvedge, being careful to cover and catch the raw edge of the previously sewn selvedge underneath.

Once all three skirt pieces were covered I turned them to the reverse side and trimmed off the excess selvedges to make them the exact size and shape of the pattern pieces. Then I sewed darts, inserted the back zip and finished the skirt following the pattern instructions, with just one variation - I left the waist of the skirt without a band attached, and simply trimmed off the hem edge to a suitable length. Then I bound both the waistline and the bottom edge of the skirt using a nice black Japanese fabric whose origin escapes me right now.

In keeping with the selvedge theme, when Di B and I went back the next day I wore the selvedge Stable Bag that I made last year. Selvedge overload? Quite possibly!

Let me leave you with one final colourful pic from the quilt show, the brilliant sunset we enjoyed as we waited at Glebe Island, footsore and happily weary, for the ferry to take us home.