Sunday, October 19, 2014

How To Keep Them on the Farm, After They've Done Improvisational Strip Piecing?

Does this line ring a bell? "How do you keep them down on the farm, after they've seen Paris?" (with Paris pronounced "pareeeeee")?

It was one of my mother's favorite things to say, relevant to so many situations.Thanks to the Intertubes, I now know it was a post-World War I hit song, in 1919, nearly a decade before my mother was born. (This song has its own Wikipedia page!)

The question came to mind because I've been doing SO much improvising lately - cutting things up and stitching them down with no fusible web and only the loosest of plans. Back in mt early days of quilting, I worried that once I experienced freedom, I'd never go back to the old fashioned methods.

And as it turned out, my apprehensions were correct. Especially in the last couple of months, when I've been playing with freehand cut squares, more squares, even more squares, and marshmallows,

And most recently, mostly-solid strips left over from the squares and marshmallows.

I began this project by laying the strips  modelled after the traditional strippy courthouse steps quilt block.
I experimented with running a cut-out zig zag through it (made for and rejected from another improv project). 
Now how to glue those strips down to get them under a sewing machine?
Not brain surgery! Decided the black background needed to be larger, so I popped the whole thing on a larger square of black felt. (Can't tell where the fabric ends and the felt begins). Freemotion quilted  with a stipple in variegated thread. Move veerrry slowly or the foot might get caught under a strip (it happened a few times) and you have to cut it out. 
Tried wrapping it around a 6" square 1" deep wrapped canvas block.

Meh! I'm not feeling it.
What about sewing the two side seams together, sewing the bottom together, and boxing it, to make a vase?

Taa daaa! OK, it's not elegant, but it's the perfect size to insulate a water bottle; and with a heavy glass jar inside, it's a funky flower vase! Now if only I could get myself to Paree!

Update: Shared on Nina Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Fridays. Check it out for more art quilting!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Quilter Walks into a Thrift Shop....(Or: How to Make a Gift Pillow with Fabric that's Trouble)

A quilter walked into a thrift shop. Have you heard this one? The ending is always different.

In this particular case, in early summer, I walked into a thrift shop and found a bunch of fabric rolls, one of which unrolled to become this:
The moment I looked at it, I knew three things: This fabric was fabulous. This fabric was trouble. And the fabric was for Maya.

Who is Maya? Maya is a  New Jersey 13-year-old who I only know well through Facebook, alas, because she lives across the country. She celebrated her bat mitzvah in March, and I was unable to attend. Does she deserve trouble? No, she does not. And the fabric was obviously trouble because it's a light organza, something I don't have a lot of experience stitching. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that it immediately became obvious that the glitter sheds.

I mean it seriously sheds. It's like a Husky in a heat wave. Everywhere this fabric goes, glitter flies. It needs a personal roomba.

And yet. And yet. Butterflies  Maya had sent me a bat mitzvah invitation with this on it.

 Maya lost her dad on 9/11, when she was an infant. I know he is with them in spirit, symbolized by the butterfly. When I set eyes on that fabric, there was a small insistent voice - probably mine, who knows? -  saying loudly "This is PERFECT for Maya's Bat Mitzvah pillow."

So I brought the fabric home to my sewing room - bedazzling it for a long time.

Of course, I did not want to burden Maya, or her beautiful mother Karen, with excessive vacuuming. So I decided that, for the pillow's central panel, I would sew  two pieces right sides together. You can still see the butterflies from the outside though not so much in the photo.
I scanned the bat mitzvah invitation and downloaded two gorgeous photos from the event (lifted from Facebook). I printed them onto photo sheets - my favorite is EQ Printables Cotton Satin, It comes on a backing, and you simply feed it through the printer, peel it off, rinse it, and it's good to go. The quality is beautiful, and the ink becomes permanent. I stitched those photos to my inside-out organza butterfly square. Taking my cue from the bat mitzvah girl and her mother's outfits, I surrounded the panel by light and then dark blue dupioni silk. The top is 24" square.
For the bow, I made a long tube of the organza fabric, again stitching it right sides together, again, to avoid shedding. I then tied it into a bow and attached it with a discreet safety pin, in case Maya wants to remove it. 

 I decided to create the pillow back from blue quilters cotton.  using images and colors suggested by the photos. There are rocks and waters, inspired by the waterfall photo, 
Hebrew letters, gold keys on blue (another thrift shop find!),  3-D stars printed on fabric...
...and fun abstract shapes, especially on a Klimt-like fabric. The top flap panel is about 22" long, and underneath it is another underlapped blue panel flap on the bottom, about 8" high. There's fireworks fabric toward the top, and just below it, I appliqued a scan of the silver butterfly. 
I went to the fabric store and bought a pillow form to the correct size (use the 50% off coupon from JoAnn - pillowforms are pricey!); then I went to the box store and bought a 24" x 24" x 6" box. Shipped the whole thing off,,,and was gratified a few days later to get a phone call from Maya! She loved it! Yay!!!!

I still have about 3 yards of this sparkly butterfly fabric left. It's stuffed into my shelves, tied up safely in a plastic grocery bag (newly illegal in my city/state.) 
(The bag is therefore now a rare collectible and not for sale.) Can you see the 62-odd bits of glitter on my arm after I packed up that bag? Not that I'm complaining. I'll just sit here in the dark as these little metal squares dig their way into my veins and eyeballs. Has anyone ever died from a glitter overdose?
I no longer have any butterfly-related bar or bat mitzvahs on my event horizon. So if you're interested in owning some of this unique fabric, shoot me an email. If you pay postage, it's yours. With the money you save, I suggest you buy a quality vacuum cleaner. You're going to need it. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unhinged by Pumpkins, from Fabric Scraps or Crochet

They're orange! They've got delicious roastable seeds! Their guts smell like my childhood! Did I mention that they're orange? 

Let's name it: Pumpkin Madness.

Halloween is upon us, and has been since August, according to my supermarket, but these fabric pumpkins are so easy and quick to make that you can wait another 26 1/2 days to start. 
Look familiar? I posted how-to's last year, in this post.
26 1/2 days is also more than enough time to learn how to crochet and then make these:
Of course, the crocheted kind don't smell as good as real pumpkin guts, but any day now I predict someone will market prettified 'pumpkin-spice' scented yarn. (Kill me then, or send royalties.)  

The crocheted spider has a pin attached to its underside, so you can unpin it from the pumpkin, and wear it on yourself.

You saw the next one before.  Since then, I've added black vintage buttons.
This one started as a spiral at the bottom:
Right side up:
The next one is tiny; the base is 2" high, with a removable 2" high lid.
Virtually all of these pumpkins are single crochet (worked in spirals), but for the next one, I did alternating 'around the post' double crochets for the central portion (the first and last couple of rounds are regular scs and dcs). For the middle rows, I alternated front post double crochet with back post dc, which gives it a bumpy, gourd-like texture (How I love bumpy pumpkins and their corresponding quilts). My local teen cut the face from felt, and hot-glued it in place.
 She also made a yarn hinge, so the cap doesn't lose the pumpkin, or vice versa.
Unhinged tops and bottoms can be mixed and matched. 
Vintage black buttons make everything better. These little baskets/amigurumi are fast enough to make as gifts, and large enough to hold a handful or two of candy. Or a small kale leaf.  

Sorry I don't have a pattern for these. I got the main concept for the yarn-wrapped ones here; and for the ridged one from Planet June's donation-ware pattern. The rest are just spheres - easy, fun, and fast gifts! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marshmallows and Solid Fabrics Cure Lots of Things

In our last several installments, in a daringly unoriginal yet effective attempt to have fun, I cut out squares and rectangles, centered them on other squares and rectangles, and zig-zag stitched them down.
As you can well imagine, after three weeks of this,  (123) I became flippin' sick of squares. So I decided to cut corners, make freeform ovals, gluestick and zig-zag stitch those down, arranging them in a linear rather than a centered fashion, overlapping as I moved up. Here's where that got me:

Cute, no? At first I titled it Cairns. But these are hardly somber Celtic stacks. In fact, the more I looked, the more I thought: S'mores.
This particular  quilt is only about 20" wide, but I think on a larger scale, a bunch of s'more stacks could be a good concept for a baby quilt. 

And speaking of babies, by the time I was finished, I was also getting sick of my solid collection. which hadn't been refreshed since the Clinton Administration (Mazel tov, Chelsea!). 

So I treated myself to a trip to the LQS, where - talk about your cost-effective psychotherapy - I made myself a thrilling little pile of sparkling lush new Kona solids. I limited myself to eight and bought a quarter-yard of each. Thus, at about $7 bucks a yard. I exited the store having spent less than $30, temporarily cured of most psychosomatic complaints. See if it works for you. (Or do it vicariously through this picture. Instructions: Stare at it for 10 seconds. Close your eyes. Sip a fruity sangria.)
Do you feel better yet? I sure do! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts Made Me Do It: Stacked Squares with Modern Solids

In our last two installments (1, 2) , I used scrap batik fabrics to make a couple of these:
(Wrapped around a stretched canvas & frame backing, to amp the wall-power.) 

I mentioned that this highly therapeutic 'stacked squares' game could be as easily played with solids, for a modern quilt'look. Thanks to Ken Burn's insanely interesting Roosevelts documentary, I found the time to make a solid version. 

First, I cut out and experimented with a mess of blocks: (and I do mean mess). 
Made nine appealing ones. Put them on a congenial 13" square of fabric (blue green in my case ) and backed it with Warm'n'Natural batting (but no backing fabric until later). Find threads in the relevant colors (or close) and zig-zag around the edges (not quite a satin stitch). 
I haven't yet stitched around the central purple-with-white-polka-dot strip because I'm not sure I want to keep it. Before and after the stitching steps, there are SO many ways to play. I experimented with these strips.
Kind of looks like a Xmas package.That might be good, depending on who you're giving it to. Wouldn't it be fun to wrap the fabric strips all the way around to the back of the stretched canvas?
I also tested curly borders:
Meh. I left the borders unadorned, added a grey backing fabric, and finished the edges with a zig-zag satin stitch over embroidery thread, aka a corded edging.  

I used a variegated thread and a serpentine zig-zag to make the two vertical and two horizonal lines that run down the alleys between the blocks.

Finally, on Friday night, I was watching how Franklin and Eleanor handled the beginning of World War II - it was quite stressful - whenever WWII documentaries are on TV, why do I always find myself looking for pictures of my mother in Poland being hustled off to a concentration camp? - so I decided to cut tiny rectangles and attach them with just a stitch or two, or a French knot, of embroidery floss:
I may take them off. Although they got me through most of the war, I'm not completely sold. 
This project could turn into so many things - a pillow, tote bag,  artsy wallhanging, potholder, children's class project, Roosevelt memorial tower & vase cover..,
, you name it! For details on how to construct (glue stick and scissors are required) go to my first post on the subject, two weeks ago. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Increase Your Quilts' Self-Esteem With Stretched Canvas

In our last installment, I performed the following 12-step highly-effective in-home psychotherapy:

1-11. Cut out colorful batik squares, rectangles, and strips, and stack them on top of each other. Use a few dots from a school glue stitck to affix. (For a 'modern quilt,' use solids instead of batiks, and a newer glue stick.)

12. Zig-zag around all the edges.

That's pretty much it. Oh, you should quilt it. Embellishment is then an option. I decided to go for it:

Old metal stag button:
Glass "evil eye" protection bead.....

Pen spring, with seed beads threaded through....
 Tiny dice from a Vegas rosary, so there's already a hole, plus faux pearl:

The final size was 15" x 15" After embellishment, I fooled around with mounting it on a 12" x 12" stretched canvas that happened to be lying around the house....
...Something I've never done before. Several people wrote to me with excellent suggestions. I'm especially grateful to Bethany Garner, a Canadian quilter who makes stunning art quilts and a fantastic blog at She explained her technique, developed by another awesome art quilter, Cathy Breedyk Law, whose art quilt blog is here. The technique (too long to relate here) involves cutting squares out of the corners of the quilt, minus a seam allowance, then stitching the cut edges together (like boxing corners on a purse). Bethany answered many of my questions and I will definitely try it in the future. But I didn't want to cut into this particular quilt. 

So instead I very carefully tucked in the corners, like wrapping a gift. My thumbtacks weren't very strong, so I wound up using mostly a staple gun.
It's not perfect, but still, wow!  I can't stop looking at how slick this is! DH says I can add 400% to the price (but I'm not selling this one).

However, speaking of sales, I was so pleased with it - and I have a community gallery auction coming up - so I decided to make another one to sell:
Instead of zig-zag stitching around each fabric, like in the first piece, I quilted a grid over the whole thing with gold metallic thread. (Embellishment came after that). The cut edges remain raw. 

The backing canvas is 12" x 12" so I made this quilt the same size, to avoid wrapping.  I painted the stretched canvas to match (painting the front of the canvas was unnecessary, but I did it anyway). Here's the first coat:

After a couple of coats, I stitched the quilt onto the front through the back, with strong silamide beading thread: 

Here's the back:
(Ignore that paint thing on the lower left.) A curved needle didn't work at all. I wound up stitching through the back, through the quilt, under the outer edges of the appliqued squares on the front. I don't know how I would have done this if the edges of the squares had been stitched down. How does one sew so the stitches don't show from the front? 

I'm calling this piece "Earth, Wind, and Fire" because of the wild diversity of embellishments. There's a teardrop-shaped dichroic glass bead:
 A silver plated branch:
A lightly-toasted wooden button: 
Four lapis stone cubes: 
 A metal charm and a sequin:
An 'evil eye' glass bead: 
African rolled copper beads: 
 And another one of these.  
And more. Wouldn't this be a great project to do with kids?

This second piece will be sold at the SPACE auction, coming up on October 5. Now I'm collecting stretched canvases for future quilts (cheap at Big Lots and Tuesday Morning, but limited sizes there) - this new-to-me presentation has changed my quilting/life forever! It definitely makes a small quilt look less like a shmata/potholder and more like capital-a Art!