Sunday, May 14, 2017

Simple Quilting With Hand Embroidery

It's amazing what a difference a little hand embroidery can make, even if, like me, your embroidery skills are very basic. And if the embroidery also serves as quilting, the whole piece won't take that much longer than machine quilting. Especially if  you're making something small.

As I've blogged about many times, I've been going through a major squares obsession - dealing out tiny colorful squares like cards from a deck, then arranging them in ways that give them movement. It's soooo therapeutic. Although I machine quilted most of the resulting pieces, I also hand embroidered some. Here's one - a modified hashtag/tic-tac-toe board. The squares are 1" (finished). This is how it looked before finishing:
 Below - after using embroidery floss to add "rice" stitching in the central areas, running stitches around the outside, and in the ditches...
A closeup of the rice stitches. (Learn more about it here.)
Rice and running stitches:

Imperfect is fine! I did the quilting/embroidery after the whole piece had been put together and pillowcase-turned.

 For the next piece, I did the embroidery through just the top layer and the batting. I don't necessarily recommend this approach.
Here's the batting side. The problem was all those knots around the edges. They got in the way when I stitched the right sides together (leaving a turning gap.)
In hindsight, I should have waited until it was turned outward, with the backing in place, before the embroidery.
The last step was to stitch a bit of hand-dyed lace trim around the edges....
...and put a button in the middle (of course.).

Just for comparison's sake, here's a machine quilted piece from this series.
I won't say the machine quilting is worse than the hand quilting (it's okay if you say it), but it is a very different mood. (The glass eyeball bead in the middle also helps set a different mood.) 
Whether hand or machine quilted, these pieces have made good gifts from the heart and the hands! (And the eyeballs.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Memorial Quilt from Tee Shirts, Button-Down Shirts, and a Bedsheet (or two)

One of the many helpful things a quilter can do in this world is comfort mourners with a quilt made from their loved one's garments. Last year, after my friend Wendy lost her father, and was going through the agony of sorting his possessions. I told her I would be honored to make a quilt from his clothing, if she wanted one. Not everyone does, but Wendy liked the idea. Here's the quilt I wound up making.

The first step for a quilt like this is to collect the clothing. Sometimes. if they ask, I help people go through their loved ones' closets; in this case, Wendy did it herself. She brought me a relatively small number of items, about 20 shirts, mostly button down and tees. There was a pair of jeans, some neckties, and a couple of bed sheets.

Back in my work room, before I start cutting or arranging, I light a candle, say a prayer, and have a chat with the deceased.
My next steps are to rough cut the garment fronts, lay them on the floor and figure out a preliminary layout. Then I press fusible interfacing to the back of the knit pieces to stabilize them. Fusing is a looooooong process.
The button-down shirts made from woven fabrics aren't stretchy, so they don't need interfacing. My first cut of those kinds of shirts looked something like this.
I strove to cut as far away from the buttons as possible. Knit shirts with buttons, on the other hand, do need interfacing. Here's how they look rough-cut with interfacing:
I usually arrange my tee shirt quilts in columns. I make it up as I go along, rearranging  for balance, cutting some shirts way down. The columns don't have to be the exact same width, but they do need to be the same length.

When necessary, I appliqué things to other things. Here a section of a Gold's Gym tee was appliquéd to the back of a button-down burgundy woven shirt. (And the crosshatched fabric to the left and below was a necktie.)

(Wendy's dad was a fitness buff, and that's one of the reasons Wendy became a stellar dancer and fitness professional. And because Wendy is such an outstanding trainer, I'm physically fit. So thank you Carl, your focus on health changed my life for the better!)

 Along the bottom of the quilt, and across the top, I created piano key stripes from shirt scraps and  neckties. I saved all the labels from the garments and appliquéd them on top of some of the keys. The back and the binding are made from a bedsheet (more on that later.)
Working on this quilt gave me a profound sense of calm. That had something to do with the many blues; but also I think to do with Wendy's dad.
One of the joys of a project like this is looking at outdated fashions. Remember teeny pockets? 
Carl had a special connection to the Philippines. 

To maintain the calm grid lines, I mostly stitched in the ditch, and also did straight vertical quilting lines about an inch to either side of the button plackets.
 There was one flannel shirt.
When the quilt was finished, I still had plenty of bedsheet material left. So I made Wendy a gigantic carry bag for the quilt.
 It bundles up into the pocket (my tutorial for making a magic pocket tote like this here.)
And there was still MORE bedsheet left, so what the heck, I tore it into strips, watched some tv, and crocheted this:
...A cheerful and fun basket for Wendy's family.

I loved making this project, and being helpful to Wendy. I never met Carl, but by the time I was finished, I felt like I knew him a little bit, and that he was okay with me cutting up his clothing!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

144 Buttons on the Wall: Probably Not a Pillow

Last year, I went through an intensive square period, cutting hundreds of little squares from solids or batiks, stitching them together, then (sometimes) adding embellishments. One of the pieces that came out of it is this.

Those are one inch squares. It's a wallhanging, but it could also serve as one of the world's most uncomfortable pillows. Another benefit: It cleared out much-needed space in my overflowing button boxes.

It started, as usual, like a game of solitaire. I made stacks of 1.5" batik scrap squares, then sorted them into color families, around the outside of a piece of posterboard. Then I started dealing squares from the piles to the center of the board.

Moving outward in concentric squares, I ran up and down color and value scales.
When I liked the arrangement, I gingerly carried my posterboard (don't trip!) to the sewing machine, and speed-pieced everything in position. Here's the top all sewn together: 
I added backing, batting, and did a simple pillowcase finish. Next I quilted in concentric squares, not quite in the ditch (next to the ditch?), with thick embroidery thread. 
All quilted. 
And then I sewed on a slew of buttons! Transparent buttons run all the way around the outer border, and colorful buttons are inside.
The middle of the middle: 
Earlier adventures with squares, include 25-36 piece small gifts; 24-scrap postcards, a heavily embellished 10" 100-square backwards wallhanging; and an indescribable 153-square backwards wallhanging. It's hip to be square! (I just wanted an excuse to write that!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curvy, Modern, Red, Improv Scrap Quilt

Here's a scrappy, wonky and smallish (34" x 42") modern-ish quilt that I finished last year. 
Yeah, that bottom edge. Ummmm....I'm not sure how that happened. Probably because the project was pure sewing therapy.

It all started with a pile of  Japanesque scraps leftover from a huge project. I cut them into strips, then freehand cut improvisational curves. Next, I sewed the strips together horizontally. Here's the basic idea from a similar project with floral prints: 
(Pretend they're Japanese-ish.) Next I cut out tall vertical rectangles from the horizontal strip sets, and surrounded them with a solid fabric, either yellow, blue, or white.  
I cut the outer edges of the frames into more improvisational curves.
And then made a larger solid blue sashing across the top and down the left hand edge of the blocks. 
If you haven't tried freehand cutting curves, it's easier than it looks, and adapts itself to many different kind of quilts - art, modern, baby, etc. It was pioneered in the early 1980s by Canadian quilter Marilyn Stewart Stoller (who wrote about it on her website, here.) She taught it to many others, including legendary quilter Nancy Crow. From there it spread, Alison Schwabe, Ricky Tims, Debbie Bowles, and the improvisational and modern quilt movements popularized it. Bowles'  book Cutting Curves from Straight Pieces was my launch pad for this quilt. (No financial affiliation, but this is a terrific book, especially for beginners).

A couple of years ago, I wrote up a tutorial about freehand curve cutting and sewing, but here is a simplified version of the highlights. First, line up your strips in the order you want them. They should be at least 2.5" high (imho), and bigger is easier.

Place the first two strips together on your cutting board....

And overlap the top of the lowest strip with the bottom of the upper strip by at least an inch. Cut a gentle wave through both layers. (If you're only cutting through one layer at any point, you're doing it wrong.)

Move them apart. Discard the narrow slivers created by the curves. Bring the main pieces to the sewing machine, offset the tops slightly, and start stitching. Go slowly, and keep adjusting the strips as you go to bring the right raw edges together. 

Your seam allowance will often be less than 1/4", and that's okay. Consistency isn't as important as it is for straight-line stitching. 
Press well to eliminate bumps. 

Once the first unit is created, add more strips the same way. 

Now you have a strip set to play with. So much fun! 
I did some improvisational quilting, with (left to right) feathers, leaf veins, different feathers, and diamond eyeballs. 
Want more detailed directions for improvisational curves?
- Brilliant Australian art quilter Alison Schwabe, who learned the technique from Nancy Crow, blogged excellent instructions here. She has a free 2-page guide on getting started which she will be happy to send to whoever asks for it. "With practice," she wrote me, "one can achieve some quite pronounced freehand curved piecing, not just gentle wavy strips." Examples are in her Colour Memories gallery, here.  Contact her at Alison(dot)schwabe(at)gmail(dot) if you want her guide,  or through her website, here.
- A helpful video from Ricky Tims, is here.
- Nina Marie Sayre's excellent tutorial is here.
-  Debbie Bowles' tutorial is here onYoutube.
- My blog post about an all-denim quilt I made this way, back in 2014, with a detailed tutorial, is  here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

English Paper Piecing Accidental Chanukah/Christmas Decor

Two weeks ago, I described my romantic hotel room rendezvous with English Paper Piecing. I used a simple pattern to make a bunch of kaleidoscopic stars that progressed veeerrrry sloooowwwwlly.

Back from our trip, I speeded things up, and made a bunch more blue-and-white star blocks, including the following....

With all that blue strewn around my sewing room, things were beginning to look a lot like Chanukah. I craved more color. So, just for fun, I dug this colorful and ancient Jennifer Sampou stripe from my stash,
I used my plastic locator template (details in my first EPP post) to find a good location to cut kaleidoscopic petals....
Traced the swirl onto the template with a waxy china maker (easy to erase), then drew close around the template onto the fabric, in pencil.
Cut out the shape from fabric leaving 1/2" seam allowances. (Over time, I've decided that, with EPP, 1/4" is too small, 3/8" is better, and 1/2" is best. Your mileage may vary.
 I glued the corners down and pressed them at the ironing board, which sets the glue immediately so you don't have to hold it down.
Then - don't tell Queen Elizabeth (the British invented EPP in the 1700's) - I zigzagged all the shapes together with invisible thread on my sewing machine.
 With the cardstock still inside....
Then pulled out the cardstock. As you can see, the machine stitching takes a toll on the templates (much more than hand sewing). I won't reuse these.
Backed it with felt, sandwiched rick-rack between the layers around the edges, did some decorative hand stitching with embroidery floss - there it is, a finished thing! 
That was so much fun I decided to do it again with a different ancient stripe from my stash.
 I cut the pattern pieces out of different areas from the stripe, again zig-zagged the pieces together, and here's what appeared:
 Added rickrack, and backed it with felt.
OK, by now I was sick of the same old hexagon-in-the-middle star. I decided to take my red "jewel" shapes, from the same Hoffman fabric, and point them inward. 
 Assemble in sets of three.
 Then joined the halves. I zigzagged over all the seams with a thick red thread.
It definitely needed more, so I nested blue/green hexagons in the concavities. Now it looked like a space station or a virus.
The back, after removing and tossing the machine-stitching-damaged paper templates.....
Diane Gilleland, author of my EPP bible, All Points Patchwork: English Paper Piecing Beyond the Hexagon for Quilts and Small Projectstold me I could straight stitch it onto felt. So I did, except I used two layers of felt for extra heft. I pinned first.
 Then all the way around with a straight stitch....
 And cut away the extra felt.
 The back.
Of course, it also needed some rickrack - doesn't everything?  So I picked a divine shade of green, strung it between the hexagons, tacking it in place with buttons. I couldn't decide on one button color, so I chose six.
OMG! It's an accidental Christmas wreath! I really had no idea until I started writing this blog post and looking at the photos! 

UPDATE: Insightful quilter Nili Marcia feels that it looks like a turtle with splayed limbs. Thanks, Nili....I think...

And so, happy Easter and Passover to all who celebrate. There are only 7 months until next Chanukah/Christmas! Have fun with these ideas! My original post that takes you through the steps of EPP is here. My second EPP post, about making polyhedra, is here.