Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh Frabjous Day! From UFO to Modern Quilt!

You know how you buy a stylish dress or shirt; stop wearing it when it's out of style; can't bear to throw it away because you loved it and/or it cost a lot of money and/or you are a hoarder; and then, 20 years later, you open your closet, take a look at it, and realize - oh frabjous day! -  that's it's totally in style again? (Whether it still fits is a different matter.)

That's kind of the story with this quilt. It was one of my first scrap quilts - before I had a lot of scraps. Those I did have were mostly solids. I started quilting with Eleanor Burns' Amish Quilt in a Day, a book which offers the classic Amish look of black set against multiple colors. I substituted purple for the black. So after I'd made maybe a half-dozen quilts, most involving tremendous amounts of purple, I decided to do something with the scraps. This concoction was the result.

Between about 1995, which is my estimate of about when I constructed the top, and last week, when I finally sandwiched and started quilting it, it sat in the dark on my UFO shelf. Every couple of years I would pull it out and contemplate. I liked the way it looked like a doorway, with light seeping in around the edges, surrounded by inexplicable triangles. I disliked all those solid fabrics, some remarkably ugly. The wonkiness bugged me. It contains every beginner mistake in the world: some selvages included(?!); and the fabric isn't all good quality. The uneven triangular partial log cabin blocks set on point along the outer edge are an inexplicable act of chutzpah. The measurements are about 37" (at the widest points) x 72".  What kind of a quilt is that?

When I pulled it out a couple of months ago, I was struck by how "modern" it looks.  With the modern quilt movement, wonkiness is in, so are solids, and improvisational piecing with no matched points. This quilt fits the bill. Hooray, I'm suddenly modern!

Last week, I pressed it, added backing and batting, and then did  a stitch in the ditch with invisible thread throughout. I'm not liking the pillowy effect, and thinking of maybe going over the whole thing with a closely-spaced diagonal machine quilting....or big stitch sashiko-style diagonal quilting....or what? Suggestions welcomed!

I don't know if I could make something this improvised again -  not without a LOT of planning!

UPDATE 2/2013: I decided on a quilting design and finished quilting this piece here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Quilting Conversationals with Kids

This is the kind of quilts I make with kids; I've done it at synagogue 'mitzvah days,' most recently, with my daughter's Girl Scout troop. It's a great way to use up novelty and conversational prints!
Since they are beginners, I don't want to hand rotary cutters to them the very first day. So there is a lot of prep work for me.  I precut 8" squares from a wild assortment of conversational prints, and let the girls pick the 25 squares they wanted to use.

I had the girls organize themselves into 3 2-4 member teams, and  gave each team a large piece of flannel to serve as their design wall (big enough to hold all the squares -  a 5 x 5 grid for a nice sized baby quilt).

I talked to them a little about different ways to organize their blocks: contrasting lights with darks, putting similar "themed" fabrics together (put the cats in one row, dogs in another, etc.) Or just do what you enjoy.
I had the girls arrange the squares however they chose on their piece of flannels.

I had three sewing machines set up and ready for each team.

Once their quilts were arranged on their large flannel, I taught the kids chain piecing: How to flip verticle row 2 on top of vertical row 1, and stitch down the raw edge, without cutting the thread between blocks. Same for flipping vertical row 3 onto vertical row 2, etc.

This kind of chain piecing is the main thing I learned from my very first quilt book,  Eleanor Burns' now out-of-print 'Amish Quilt in a Day', and it never ceases to strike me as miraculous.

Once the tops are done, I show them how to make a sandwich: Batting on bottom, quilt backing fabric good side up on the batting, and finally, quilt front, good side down, against the backing. Pin all the way around, then stitch most of the way around, (ideally, with a walking foot), leaving at 10" hole for turning.

Finally, they "birth" the quilts by turning them good side out. Stitch up the hole by machine, and then they make ties at regular intervals with colorful embroidery thread.

You wind up with a colorful, fascinating quilt that gives the makers a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and is sure to stimulate and delight any child!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Political Campaign Wear

My friend Marian and I have been very busy for the last month. We're making election bags! We've made about two dozen so far, and have raised over $600 for our preferred candidate. All proceeds are being donated to the campaign. And they're such fun to make!

It especially helps if you have a friend like Marian, a school psychologist by day, talented artist at all times. She created our stencils.

For the following bag, Marian stencilled a Presidential bust onto a sturdy khaki remnant. She painted the stencil in a a gradation, from blue to red.

[Image removed].

I stitched on the blue denim sides and bottom. 

For the strap, I upcycled a leather belt. On the buckle side, I stitched securely through a button . I removed the belt's prong (using pliers), to avoid accidental impalement. (which might defeat the purpose of the bag;  we want people sufficiently intact to vote). 

On the other side, I placed buttons on top of two of the preexisting holes, and stitched through those. 

At first, the front looked like this. The button's a lovely vintage leather, but overall this side cried out for more.  

So I used an elaborate brocade fabric (from an upholstery sample book.) The triangular flap is more blue denim, and the buttons are vintage  -  a large leather button on the top flap, a small khaki plastic button on the small flap.

I finished the interior edges with a zig-zag stitching over the raw edges. (Alas, I don't own a serger.)

Unlined, easy, fun - and best of all, I am happy to say, it went to a very appreciative person! Feel free to borrow these ideas to support YOUR favorite candidate(s)!

If you want to see more of  the election-wear we've created -- tees as well as totes -- go to Email me (at cathy[dot]perlmutter[at]gmail[dot]com if you want to order something.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bonsai! A Tree Tutorial

Do you have a favorite neighborhood tree? Here's mine. I call it my Dr. Seuss tree. 

The owners trim it a couple of times a year, so the foliage forms unnatural (and to me, hilarious) green globules. It has a spindly, torturous trunk, like a bonsai, or Harry Potter's Whomping Willow. Come holiday season, the owners hang white globe lights from it, enhancing the otherworldly effect. Year round, it makes me smile.

After years of threatening to make a quilt out of it, I finally did.  It was a very fast and easy project. It would make an ideal present for someone who has an interesting tree on their property!

There are a tremendous number of ways to turn photos into quilts, and entire books have been written on the subject. For this tree, I used a very simple freezer paper raw edge applique approach. This tutorial is aimed at tree images, but would work about the same way for anything else that you might want to portray.

You will need:

  • A tree. The simpler the tree, the simpler the quilt!
  • A camera
  • Tracing paper, 1-2 pieces, 8.5" x 11"
  • Freezer paper - the larger/wider the better (or,you can press smaller pieces together to make a large piece, but that's less desirable)
  • Paper-backed fusible web, large enough to cover the tree, twice. 
  • Scissors for paper, and scissors for fabric. (Quilt veterans know that paper can dull fabric scissors)
  • Iron
  • Thick or folded over towel, bigger than your desired quilt size. 
  • Fabric for trunk and branches (I used a batik brown)
  • Fabric  for the foliage (I used a bright green batik)
  • Fabric for the background "sky" (I used yellow batik)
  • Fabric for the ground. (I used dark green batik)
  • More fabrics: For borders (I used lavender, and a blue-and-orange batik)

1. Take lots of pictures of your tree; overall shots from different angles if possible, plus some closeups of the trunk, interesting branches, and maybe the roots. (Here's one of my detail shots).

(1 1/2.: For Photoshop and other photo manipulation whizzes only: Select an overall shot you like best; apply a filter that gives you a good outline of the tree and its main features; print it out on paper, and go to step 4)

2. For people who are not photo program whizzes: Go through your overall tree shots  and find the one you like best. Print it so it fills a piece of 8 1/2" x 11 1/2" paper. Color or greyscale is fine.

3. Tape the photograph to desk and tape tracing paper over it.  With a pencil, trace the drawing, simplifying details and joining sections when possible.

4. Tape your new tracing to a light box or window, and tape regular paper on top of it. Trace again, simplifying even further. Decide also whether you want background details. (I made an executive decision to leave out the stoplight and the house.) Go over all the lines you want to keep with a dark marker or pen.

5.  Bring the refined tracing, with dark lines (on tracing or regular paper) to a copy shop, and have them enlarge it to the size you want. (You can, of course, do this at home by scanning the drawing, "tiling" the pages, printing sections out on your computer, and then taping the pages together - but it's a hassle and less precise than photocopying, sizing, and printing on one sheet of paper. And the photocopying is cheap. I think I paid about $7).

6. Now you have a large master page. Don't cut it up! (the shadow lines at the base of the trunk were not for applique, but rather for quilting guidance).  (Mine is folded up because it's been in a file folder for a while, but yours should be nice and smooth!)

7. Number each of the foliage sections. No need to number trunk or branch pieces.  (But if you're making something other than a tree, you should number each section.)

8. Put the large master page on a light box or window. Tape freezer paper over it.

9. Ignoring the trunk and branches, trace all the foliage pieces onto freezer paper. As you trace each section, write that piece's number on it, and draw an arrow showing "up."  (Do this before you cut anything out).  To save freezer paper, you can shift the top large freezer paper piece after tracing each foliage piece.

Treat adjacent pieces that touch each other or overlap as a single large piece; draw the boundaries, but don't cut them apart.

(Once you have all our foliage pieces drawn (some of which are joined), marked, and cut out, they might look something like the photo below. But don't cut them out yet; leave the drawings on the freezer paper for now).

(In the picture directly above, you can see where five spheres are really just one piece, with drawn but not cut boundaries.)

10. Remove the piece of  freezer paper with the foliage shapes from the master pattern and set it aside.

11. Place a fresh piece of freezer paper to cover your tree master pattern. Tape it securely. Trace the trunk and all the branches, using your imagination and judgement to join the branches to each other so the branches and trunk are all one unit. (The photo below shows the trunk/branch pattern cut out, but don't cut it out yet. Just draw it and leave it on your large sheet of freezer paper).

12. Draw pencil lines to mark where foliage crosses the trunk/branches. Write the foliage piece number on the trunk where it intersects.

13.  Seize a piece of trunk/branches fabric (let's say brown) that's slightly larger than your cut out one-piece trunk/branches unit. Apply paper-backed fusible web to the back of the brown fabric. Don't remove the paper yet.

14. Press the piece of  freezer paper onto which you traced  the trunk/branch pattern onto the front of the brown fabric.

15. Remove the paper backing from the fusible side of the brown fabric. Cut on the line, through the freezer paper and brown fabric.

16. Cut background fabric to the size you want. If you like, add 'ground' to the bottom of the background fabric, for the tree to stand on. You can piece the ground in, or applique it on. (I appliqued the dark green fabric).

17. Lay the towel on a large flat surface; and lay the background on top of it. The towel must be a little larger than the background, and thick enough to protect your surface from heat.

18. Place the trunk/branch unit (with the freezer paper still on it) into the position you want on the background fabric.

19. Gently peel the freezer paper away from the trunk/branch fabric, gently smoothing the fabric down as you go.

20. Once the unit is in place, press VERY lightly, for like a couple of seconds, with an up and down motion. We're not ready to set things permanently, and may loosen and cut away some portions of the branches later.

20. Back a large piece of the foliage fabric (mine is a medium green) with paper-backed fusible web. Don't remove the paper backing yet
19. Press the freezer paper foliage segments onto your foliage fabric(s).

20. Remove  paper backing, but leave the numbered freezer paper pieces on top of the foliage areas.

21. Cut out all the foliage pieces, cutting through the freezer paper and the green fabric at the same time. (It's also okay if you've already cut out the foliage pieces from the freezer paper.)

22. One by one, place the foliage pieces on top of the tree/branch unit. Use the set-aside freezer paper tree pattern, as well as the large master pattern, to help you place each foliage piece correctly. Once each piece is in position, remove the freezer paper.

OPTION: As you place each foliage piece, you can clip away some of the branch underneath, so you can see the branch going under on one side, and coming up on the other side, but there won't be a branch crossing all the way underneath. This is most desirable for large foliage segments. For small foliage segments, just leave the branch underneath.

23. Once all the foliage and branches are in the right place, press everything firmly and permanently in place, in accordance with the directions that came with the fusible web (you may need to use steam).

24. Stitch down all the raw edges.  Start by stitching the tree/branch raw edges. A small zig zag in brown thread did the job for me.

Stitch around the foliage pieces with a zig-zag or other wide stitch I used a three-step zig-zag that jutted out a LOT from each foliage sphere - that gave the tree the slightly shaggy look it had when the picture was taken (it was needing a new haircut).

Where multiple foliage pieces were joined, I stitched around each piece's outline as if they were seperate pieces, so the thread created illusionary boundaries. In the photo below, the seven spheres on the upper right are outlined, even though they're actually only one piece of fabric.

25. After all the pieces are secured, add borders as desired, batting and backing, and quilt. The detail shots I took of the tree came in handy, here, to help me figure out a quilting pattern for the tree.

Timesaving shortcut: Layer the background, batting, and backing, and THEN press and stitch the tree pieces in place, so you'll be doing applique and quilting at the same time.

Let me know if you have any questions, and do send pics of your results!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Double Addiction

Along with a fabric addiction, I grapple daily with my coffee addiction (Well, maybe grapple isn't the right word - "revel" would be more accurate.) I bet most quilters bear this euphoric double addiction, and the fabric companies know it. They produce a LOT of coffee-themed fabric. When I  started quilting (and fabric shopping), my motto was 'Collect 'em all!' 

Over time, I became better able to limit myself , if not in the number of cups I drink each day, at least in the number of coffee fabrics I purchased. Some are better than others in terms of  fun and wow factor. I especially like it when the cups (and other coffee miscellanea, like pots, coffee bags, French presses, scones) are large and have clear outlines (no overlap), so I can use them in applique well as quilting.

The photograph above is a closeup of one of the very first coffee quilts I ever made. Here's the whole quilt, followed by some details. It measures about 16" x 20". 

I went to town with the embellishment. The cups emanate brown 'steam' stitching, topped with brown or gold seed beads. The borders have more seed beads, at regular intervals. The light background is hand quilted with gold and green threads. 

Here's part of the bottom border: 

I'm having a little trouble remembering what I was thinking with those borders. First, because the border prints are total non-sequiters: goldfish, peacock feathers, flowers, a pear, a turnip? Maybe I drank so much coffee that day that I didn't have the patience to do a thorough search for fabrics that might actually relate to the theme. At least the colors work. There is one  print (shown directly above) with a double-faced Picasso-like figure looking distraught. That choice DOES make sense: It's how I feel when I don't get my fix. 

Another mystery: the odd jutting tabs from the center of the top and bottom border. As I recall, constructing the quilt, some of the fabric was jutting out on bottom, and I was about to cut it off when I decided I liked it! So I made a matching tab on top! It's a perfect example of how beginners, which I was at the time, can be much more creative than old hands; most of my current borders are distressingly straight.

Have I whetted your appetite for coffee fabrics? (if not for distorted Picassoesque facial fabrics?) When I'm searching for any conversational fabric (aka novelty fabric), I go to one of these places: 

Excuse me, now, I need another cup. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Yet another Reason to Drive Quickly to the Fabric Store

Never thought of this: Pimp your ride!  Use your favorite fabric to redo your car's interior!

I'm thinking about a Kaffe Fassett car interior....A cosmic interior... robots...sewing...argh! Too many choices! (And no financial affiliation with any of these fabric vendors).

And what, you may ask, about covering a car's exterior with great fabric or quilts? It's been done - repeatedly! Delightful roundup on Kay Sorensen's site.

Outdoing all of these examples in sheer quantity of automotive embellishment, there's Dalton Stevens, the button king. His embellished vehicle has to be seen to be believed....

(Thanks to Craft, for tipping me off to the car interior).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Who was Tippecanoe?

It's campaign season, which can also be silly season, depending on how much of a sense of humor you can  maintain on issues like health insurance and climate change that are really, when you think about them, matters of life and death. 

My co-conspirators and I are making tote bags to raise money for our preferred candidate. In a fit of primitivism, and with apologies to Mr. Eastwood, I couldn't resist having a little fun with the invisible-partner debate.
I used a thick cotton duck canvas for the bag's body and the chair and letters.  

I  like interesting selvages as embellishment. The letters in "Vote" were cut at the top of the selvage, which gave each letter a lovely, stable, brush haircut. 

Everything was cut free hand (I know, it's hard to believe this wasn 't meticulously plotted), and glue-sticked in place. I zig-zagged all of the edges down. 

The only print/regular weight fabric is the pocket, a VIP Cranston fabric that I bought around the time of the 2008 election. (Surfing the web, I've found more of this fabric for sale, but no sign of Romney fabric. Omen?)

At a campaign event, a lovely person bought the bag as her present for her 17-year old daughter. The proceeds will be donated to the campaign. I like to think that the purse will be looked at and wondered over in years to come, just like, as a child, I wondered over "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too." What the heck does a chair have to do with the 44th President of the United States? Maybe the teenager's grandchildren will be doing web research to figure it out. Maybe they'll come upon this page! Doctoral theses will ensue.

Are you making campaign art? I'd love to see it, regardless of which candidates you support!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vacuuming with Elvis

I love fabric with "stuff" on it - fauna, flora, money, manatees, cupcakes, cocktails, archery equipment, the kitchen sink, really - nouns of all descriptions. To me, these "conversational" fabrics (also called novelty fabrics) are like an artists' paints; the more I collect, the more my quilts can say.

This quilt was made for a friend who collects Middle Eastern carpets. She has a beautiful assortment on the walls as well as the floors. And she takes very good care of them (Shoes off in the house is rule #1!) 

I came across the brown/red/gold carpet fabric that's used below, left, and knew I had to make her something from it. 

As a tribute to her diligent carpet maintenance, I added a vacuuming lady. I hand-quilted the on-point squares behind her, as if she is vacuuming the pattern onto her carpeting. 

I liked that, but realized it needed a bit more.

So I dug out my Elvis fabric, and cut an Elvis head from it.  From the same fabric as the vacuuming lady, I cut out an old-fashioned radio.   

(Here's an overview of this wonderful vintagy fabric:)

With the additions, it looks like this:

Elvis croons as she works herself into a meditative trance (and a corner). Wow, vacuuming can be a lot like machine quilting! It almost makes me want to start vacuuming my house.


Have you ever vacuumed 'quilting lines' into your rugs?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Leah Day Labor Day Sale - NOT a Paid Endorsement!

I swear this is not a paid advertisement!

When I first saw Leah Day's 'Free Motion Quilting Project' blog (, I was confused.

Here was a VERY young lady (25 when she started in 2009, but she looks like a 6th grader), offering up free little videos for making a wide assortment of free motion designs - that is, designs that you don't need to draw out first, but that you can stitch (after a little or a lot of practice) on your machine.

I looked at some of her videos. I looked at some more. But wait, there were more. In fact, there were hundreds of them, and she was determined to make hundreds more. Each design had its own webpage, with a free little video showing how the design unspools, and clear photos.

I realized that I had a lot to learn from the kid.

Plus, she has a more-than-generous sharing policy. From the copyright section of her book:

“Attention, quilters, artists and other crafters: Please feel free to use the designs in this book in your quilts, artwork, craft projects,etc.  These designs were created to be used and shared to make the world a more beautiful place."
It doesn't get much easier than that.

You never have to send Leah a cent to learn her designs. You can watch the videos, totally free, on her website, as many as you want for as long as you want. Sign up for her free newsletter and see her new designs as soon as they emerge.

But after a while, it may occur to you that it would be really great to have a book that you can flip through more easily to find the kind of design you what you want.

Yesterday, I got an email that the '365 Free Motion Quilting Designs' ebook is onsale for half price, through Labor Day! At $18, it's a  steal. On paper it's $55, and I think that's well worth it too.

Do yourself a favor and look around at Leah's website: Start here: Check out her videos. You may eventually buy her book, or not. 

She is so generous with her talent. I really don't get any commissions from her! Enjoy!