Monday, July 25, 2022

Dicey 80s Fashion Makes Noble Upcycled Baby Quilt

If you were conscious in the 1980s, you may remember men's plaid shirts with epaulets. Epaulets are fabric strips on top of  shoulders, originally associated with military uniforms. An approximate example is below, for sale on etsy here

My DH (that's not him above), along with millions of American men, wore them when they were in style, and then perhaps a bit longer. In 1993, when I was pregnant with our first baby I came up with a compassionate retirement plan for those shirts. I turned them into a baby quilt for our firstborn. Here it is.

I was obsessed at the time with creating folded effects with piecing - it's in the quilt's outer borders, on top of the next photo. 

(I learned how to do this from Cheryl Greider Bradkin's excellent 1992 book, Basic Seminole Patchwork, which I still refer to often.)

I'm not sure how I pulled off the 8-pointed star. 
After the baby grew bigger than the quilt, I hung it (the quilt) over our mantlepiece, and there it sat for about 25 years. Two weeks ago, I took it down and was happy to discover that I'd documented its history in a label on the back. (Identifying details are whited-out to protect the innocent.) 
It says: "[Son's full name], born [birth date] came home from the hospital the next day, wrapped in this quilt made by his mother [name] from old shirts of his father [name]. Made with love. Pasadena, CA, 1994."

Our mantlepiece gets no direct sun, so it was in remarkably good shape; the colors and fabrics had held up well. I washed it, and photographed it for the first time with a telephone. (When I first photographed it in 1993, I used a "camera" filled with "film," which went into the  "mail," resulting in "photos" on "paper" put into "albums," where they were never seen again.) 

Last week, I shipped the quilt off to my son and daughter-in-law, who are expecting their first baby - my first grandchild - in a week.

The morals of this story are:  

1. Label your quilt! In the blink of an eye, your baby will have a baby, and you'll want to remember all the details of the former's quilt when you give it to the latter. I'm going to make an additional label for this quilt, to record the new baby's name and birth date.

2. Dicey fashions make wonderful quilts, and when your loved ones get mad at you for mutilating their clothing, point out that you have also upcycled and immortalized it!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Another Week, Another "Everything in the World" Baby Quilt!

I have a theory that Covid and/or the vaccine got a lot of people pregnant - I can hardly keep up with the baby onslaught! The last two posts showed some of my recent baby quilts, and here's the front of my newest:

Long before "gender-fluid" was a common phrase, I debated with myself about how girly or (why isn't boyly a word?) to make a baby quilt when the biologial sex was known.

And nowadays, of course, I'm even more conscious of stereotyping. There's a whole lot more girly fabric in the quilt world, than the boyish kind, and I'd like to use it! My solution for this particular quilt - knowing the baby is a biological girl - was to make the front as gender-balanced as I could. 

And then I threw a Kaffe Fasset pink party on the back! (Kaffe's a guy, so that balances it out.)

The front is built from 4" blocks, 12 across by 16 high - which adds up to a staggering 192 different fabrics. How do you acquire 192 fabrics? See the end of this post. How do you organize and sew them? I always start by creating thematically-linked 9-patches.

For example, there's a "people" block on the left, and a nature block on the right.

Can you see RGB and Harry Potter? There are also some child Olympians and an Egyptian princess. The nature includes a cactus, pansies, and autumn leaves. 

Here's part of two 9-patches with some of my favorite creature fabrics. (I don't happen to own any Mickey Mouse fabric, but I do own Minnie).

Next, below, a sports-and-games block, plus the 2nd vertical column on the left, which is all food (and not in 9-patch form).  I scored that woman golfer fabric on the upper right 200 years ago, at Michael Levine's in downtown Los Angeles. The bicycle fabric was bought in the last couple of weeks from Remainders in Pasadena CA, a wonderful arts-and-crafts community upcycling shop. The row across the bottom shows part of the music-themed 9-patch.
And speaking of games, in the outer rounds, I played completely different games. The second horizontal row across is all black-and-white images. I am on a personal mission to teach babies about typewriters. This one looks like the one my Dad used. 
To the right of the typewriter, there are keyboard letters (to help the kid figure it out), and punctuation next to that. On the typewriter's left, there's an alphabet block, and  then hands spelling out sign language letters. 
In the outermost border round, mostly solid color blocks alternate with additional black-and-white prints. 

If you want to make a quilt like this, with just 4" blocks, it's extremely simple. 

1. Spend 30 years as a fabriholic with a driver's license. Ideally some of those years should be pre-1998, before you could order fabric online, when you had to go to every quilt shop you could whenever possible, and buy virtually everything, because you knew you would never see that fabric again.

2. When you're creatively blocked or need a little exercise, cut all your family-friendly fabrics (and solid colors, and black-and-white fabrics) into 4" squares. Let these pile up.

3. When anyone declares a pregnancy, sew your squares together into 9-patches, and then join those into a quilt.

So easy! (Except maybe the time travel!)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

My First Tumbler Quilt! (Not Tumbling Blocks)

First, in case you are as confused as I was, a "Tumbler" quilt is  completely different from a "Tumbling Blocks" quilt! 

"Tumbling Blocks" are made from 60 degree triangles and diamonds, and wind up with a 3D effect. They're great fun to look at, but technically can be a bear to make. I don't even remember how I pulled off the blocks below, from a Tokyo-themed quilt I made in the 90s, called "Sushi in the Sky with Diamonds." 

I must have had a much higher tolerance for mitering in those days. On that same quilt, I also threw on some hollow tumbling blocks, carrying little passengers cut from Japanese fabric. 

But in three decades of quilting I never made a much easier-looking "Tumbler" quilt, whose patches are shaped like - guess what kind of glassware? 

Until now! Here it is. Made as part of my emergency response to the massive baby tsunami happening among my family and friends since the Covid era began.

What made this quilt possible was a wonderful craft thrift shop, Remainders, in Pasadena, California, which has every kind of fiber art notion from the past 50 years. Remainders sells them at such reasonable prices that if I don't like it, I just donate it back to them to sell again! It's like a lending library of sewing stuff!

Specifically, I found this:

It's Marti Michell's "One-derful One-Patch Templates" They're $23 new at Joanns, but half that price at other retailers (which makes the price only a few dollars more than I paid at Remainders.) 

You may ask, "Why would I need to buy a Tumbler template when I can perfectly well cut a tumbler shape out of a Cheerios Box?" And I asked myself the same question. Then I tried it, and my newly-educated answer is, "This template rocks!" 

First, it's thick acrylic, so unlike a cereal box, you won't trim it with each piece you cut. Second and more mysteriously compelling: The template has these two little jogs in the lower outer corners, on the wider end. Look closely at that bottom right edge in the photo above - the template is not quite straight there. 

When you cut the shape with these slight extra angles, they piece together much more cleanly than if they didn't have the extra angles. If you understand why, please explain it to me!

UPDATE! Several alert readers have explained it to me - Tumblers have strange little dog ears. Reader mary greene (who doesn't capitalize her name) sent me to this tutorial by Nancy Zieman. If you scroll down to the section titled "Construction," the third photo below that subtitle, you see the tiny dog ear on the bottom right that's created if you don't have a shaped template. Because Michell's template has you trim that first, the pieces' alignment is less confusing! By the way, mary has a hilarious blog, where her favorite post is "Two Dog Shirts for 50 Cents," here

I also found many of the fabrics for this quilt from Remainders,  of course supplemented them with pieces from my own exhaustive, exhausting, library of novelty prints.  

I debated whether to include popcorn (upper left in photo below), since it's a baby choking hazard, but hopefully by the time the baby is old enough to comprehend a picture of popcorn, they will be old enough to safely eat some. Also, the parents could lie and claim they're floating yellow teddy bears.

Every baby quilt should include mooses (above left).
Below, the back. I like putting fabrics that I don't have the heart to cut up into small pieces on the back.
I decided to give the back an astrophysics, fish and pet theme. 

My great debate with myself with this quilt was whether to leave the sides zig-zag, or cut the edges even, thereby losing half of each outer side row. And speaking of pets, my grand-cat assisted me in scrutinizing this important issue closely.

I finally decided to leave the zigzag sides. I cut the binding from bias. At the four corners, I turned the bias the exact same way as for a regular 90 degree corner. And for the gentle ins and outs on the sides, there was no need to take the quilt out of the machine. Just stop on each outermost and innermost point, needle down, and swivel to the next direction, turning the bias along with the rest of the quilt. It's surprisingly easy! 

Tumbler quilts do take a little more time than square-based baby quilts - but with a sturdy-yet-mysterious Marti Michell template, they're relatively fast and a lot of fun. (No financial affiliation). I'll hold onto my new favorite template for a while and see what babies come along next! 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Are You Experiencing a Baby Tsunami?

I don't know about your world, but in mine, there's a monumental Covid baby boom.

It's apparent that young adults didn't have anything better to do nine months ago - after making sourdough, resin art, beer and kombucha. They finally said, "What the heck!"

My favorite kind of quilt to make for potential and extant babies is an "Everything in the World" quilt. The theory behind this quilt is that, while all the baby experts say parents should talk to their babies constantly, they don't tell them what to say. "Aren't you a cutie-pie?" and "That's an excellent poop!" gets old quick. So this quilt is designed to spark conversation. Here are two, hot off the machine.

Each quilt has 108 different fabrics. I cut four inch squares for these quilts all year long,  Whenever I pull a kid-friendly novelty fabric out for any reason, I cut a couple of squares from it.

Then, when someone has a baby, I go through the squares and sew them into nine-patches. My nine-patches usually have theme: dogs and cats; imaginary or anthropomorphic animals (animals golfing, fishing, etc); humans; household objects; transportation; healthy food; junk food; holidays (Halloween; Chanukah, Passover, Christmas); things that fly (mythological or real); things that float in water, etc. 

Below, you can see a "Humanity" themed 9-patch. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the center. (I found the RGB fabric at Joann's online, not in stores). A Dutch fabric brought to me from Holland is in the upper left, Tokyo-themed fabric is in the lower right; there are lips, hands, and eyes (the latter are from a Halloween fabric, and they glow in the dark.)

Next, the top row is things that fly (including Harry Potter and cows-in-nursery-rhymes, ladybugs, Mighty Mouse,), and Animals, Other, are under that.  The anteater fabric on pink is my absolute favorite these days. 

Hopefully, this next patch will spark much nutrition education for the baby.

Sometimes my categories puzzle even me. The next one was supposed to be a "household items" nine patch, so why did I throw in a robot? (Lost in Space? Roomba?) Also, what baby born in 2021 will experience vinyl records? (Hopefully at Grandma's house). Let alone stamps, as the US post office teeters.
The next segment shows my Jewish studies nine-patch (bottom-center, see the matzoh?), surrounded on the left by sea life (Yellow submarine with Paul, shell, rubber ducky, octopus, kayak), sports (above the sea life); food-related (radishes, forks, citrus, pasta, middle top); random animals on the upper right (zebra, lizards, festive penguins); and more household objects on the lower right (chair, fireplace, thread spools, whistle, keyboard, cowboy hats - just the important stuff.)

To assist parents even further, I throw in most of my black-and-white prints, especially in the border/outermost round of squares, even if they're not necessarily juvenile prints. My own experiments with my babies has proven to my satisfaction that babies really do like looking at black-and-white patterns - I've literally seen them stop crying when presented with some of my better black-and-white fabrics. It's gravy if these fabrics have to be explained at length. The borders that you can see below include dalmations, crowns (as in royalty), screws, dice (they're never too young to be taught about Las Vegas), tree trunks, etc.

For a fabriholic like me, however, there's one flaw in this system - some fabrics are just too wonderful to cut up. Like this amazing Tula Pink fabric. The unicorns are huge, I only had a fat-quarter, and a 4" square wouldn't have the impact that a giant piece has. 

So this fabric got to star in its own baby quilt. While it won't give the baby a LOT to talk about, it will hopefully fall in love with the beautiful rendering. 

And I put a collection of black-and-white 4" squares on the back, in case the mother must sedate the baby quickly. The center was yet another fabric that I didn't want to cut up. 
So tell me - is there a baby boom in your world, too?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Photoshop Your Quilt into Different Quilts

My big idea was to create a building under construction, based on some of my New York City photos, especially of the building on the left.

To capture the sense of looking directly inside rooms, I drafted a foundation paper piecing patterns. It's constructed in strips. Here are the top portions of two of the strips. 

And here's what it looked like, all sewn up. It didn't give as much of a sense of space as I'd hoped.  

It's very small - most  pieces are an inch or less - so there was no obvious way to slice it apart, to turn it into something else. 

But while doing routine editing of the image in Photoshop, I decided to play with some of the filters. I am not great at Photoshop, but I do know how to click on things, in this case, the menu items under "Filter Gallery".  

First, "glowing edges." To my surprise, this image gave MORE of a sense of a building under construction than the fabric version! It also bears a strong resemblance to my original foundation pattern!
I'm titling the next experiment, "Jaws 1". I see circling sharks. Unfortunately, I didn't write down the command I used. I also have no idea how one could make this in fabric, except maybe through extremely intricate applique. 

Here's what the "pinch" command produced: 

"Polar coordinates":
Here: "Shear" 
This looks like rick-rack.
"Zigzag" command: Jaws 2: The sharks are speeding up.
Jaws 3: The sharks are going so fast that they are exuding global  centrifugal forces, causing tsunamis.
This came from the "stained glass" command. This design could be replicated precisely, with English Paper Piecing, but you'd have to number every paper piece, and add arrows showing which end is up. Cutting and sewing the pieces together would take years. 
However, the program allows you to reduce the number of cells, which creates something very doable.
To that image, I added Glowing Edges. How cool is this? It looks like a modern stained glass quilt.

"Extrude": Looks like a helicopter view of a city of LEGO skyscrapers. 

My favorite - "spherize" - because the results look so real.
Adding "glowing edges," a potential pattern emerges. 
There is one easy way to make any and all of the "impossible" quilts: Print them onto fabric, from your home printer, or through a service like, and then quilt it! 

More ways to play with your photos of quilts, and then transfer them to fabric to create a new quilt, is in a 2014 blog post, here . My experience with miniaturizing and printing entire quilts via Spoonflower is here.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Capitol Crochet, Part II: The Insurrection

In my last post, I showed off a very happy 2021 inauguration crochet scene, here. To recap the highlights, I made a whole lot of jubilant and competent people, diligently wearing masks (except when called upon to speak or sing.)

Plus a Capitol building:

When I showed it off on Facebook, friends asked me if I would do the insurrection next. No way, I thought. Crochet, almost by definition, makes sweet and adorable objects. How could you  crochet murderous cruelty and delusion?

But I couldn't let the idea go. In the late 70s/early 80s,, I lived in Washington DC, part of that time in a townhouse on Capitol Hill. Every morning, I walked to the Capitol, down the front steps, across the mall, and up to my office. Since then, I've had great affection for the Capitol, and for the visitors from far-flung places who I'd see touristing (verb?) on the mall. So the January 6 insurrection, defiling a place I loved, hit me hard.

After debating with myself for a while, I gave it a shot. (No pun intended)

There's a Hitler worshipper, His hat says "Abuse," which could stand for what he was doing to Capitol police officers, or what happened to him in his childhood, or both. 

There's KKK bat guy.
Boxcutter guy.

Hairy backpack man. I couldn't bear to embroider a real swastika, so I did it wrong.
The nail in his backpack could give you tetanus.
He's best friends with hairy bullet vest guy, and they brought a ladder.
Bullet vest closeups. I bought the empty casings on ebay years ago, for a different social statement crochet project. (It involved a yarn gun). 
Vest guy believes he is a Christian. 
Knitting needle guy stabs the dome. 
Gallows guy. The hat says "hate." 
They all need help; some need prison. Here's the lineup. If you recognize any of them, call a psychiatrist and/or the FBI. 

I don't really know what to do with this installation, or the inauguration one. Ideas are welcomed. I think of it as a psychotherapy play set, which will allow me (and its eventual owners) to play out our hopes and fears surrounding the very strange month in American history, January 2021

Revisit the Inauguration crochet here