Sunday, April 24, 2016

Party in the Borders: A Precut-Friendly Half-Modern Quilt Tutorial

Hot off the sewing machine! A quilt that, in the center, is disciplined, measured, pretty ordinary - pretty print, ordinary layout.
So I threw a party in the borders...
Yes, thanks to borders, you too can be modern and traditional in the same quilt! Calm and explosive! 90 degrees and 37! You get the idea!

This hybrid can be achieved with 2-3 sets of precuts:
1. A stack of print squares - I used 6", but any size works
2. A roll of  colorful strips, at least 2" wide
3. Plenty of white fabric (precut strips or yardage)

My squares were from Terrie Mangat's Bee's Knees line, (Terrie is a fiber artist whose work I have long admired.)
  One of  my favorite squares, closeup: 
(Swoon. Disregard thread bits.) They're so great that, of course, I couldn't cut them up. With this strategy, I didn't have to.

Purchase a set of strips, or cut your own. For an earlier blog post, I showed off my economical home-made "jelly roll" consisting of 2" strips. (The roll-your-own tutorial is here.)
If you buy a roll, they'll be 2 1/2" strips (and they'll have pinked edges, so they won't shed threads like mine.)

I  cut those strips down to 6” (i.e. same length as the squares). I needed 58 strip segments for 24 print squares. Those strips become the sashing. I cut 35 white squares to 2" x 2" (2 1/2" for purchased strips). These are the sashing corners. 

I arranged the print squares, the sashing strips, and the white squares on my design wall. Once satisfied with the color placement, I started sewing things together. 
Next, I tested well-behaved grey-and-white borders, over on the left.
Meh. I needed to cut loose. Here are some of the improvisational blocks I wound up creating. 
And there they are in the quilt.

For the corners, I made the same  blocks, but with a reversed color scheme: 

The Border Tutorial Starts Here, Plus a Rant

Would you like to make these fun and explosive border blocks? The easiest way by far - the method that saves the most time and fabric - would be to start with a white square, then fuse and stitch down the colorful triangles and squares. If you're a normal person and/or are experiencing a fabric shortage, I strongly suggest you go that route. 

But if you're a quilt geek with a plump stash, why would you ever take the easy way out, when you can work so much harder and use up so much more fabric? 

Here's the rant: Improvisational piecing sounds like you’re going to throw a party in your sewing room, ignore rulers, slosh cocktails perilously close to the feed dogs, and deliberately cut off-kilter shapes with scissors in your non-dominant hand, while dancing to Lady Gaga.

Indeed, cutting and sewing unusual angles starts out liberating. But as the quilt grows, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. You've been warned! (End rant.)

Begin with a bunch of more-or-less 2” strips from white fabrics. (If' using precuts, 2 1/2" works in all these directions.)

Then hand-cut colorful squares from precut solid color strips, making them a little wonky.

Surround the uneven central square with white strips, then cut at an angle. It should have four sides but doesn't have to be a perfect square (like this one). 
Set this aside.

Next, freehand cut more colorful squares from the precut strips, and cut those squares in half on the diagonal, to create triangles like the pink ones below.

Surround the triangles with the white strips, which will eat up a phenomenal amount of the white fabric. Start by sewing one edge of the triangles to a white strip. Leave enough space between them so that when you trim them, you can cut all the way to the edge. 

Add a strip to the next side, log cabin style. 
Press open, then trim the excess: 
Add the third side and stitch. 
Open and trim. 
Make two of those triangles for each border block. Set them aside.

Now back to the center of the border blocks. Fetch that wonky-cut square that you surrounded with white strips. Add another piece (I used yellow for clarity) to one side. 
Add one of the triangles cut from the colorful strips to one edge.  That's the lavender triangle below. 
Flip the triangle open. Stitch a strip to the next side. Below, I'm lining it up to make sure it's long enough. Stitch the new strip face down to the purple triangle and yellow strip underneath.
Once sewn, flip open and trim as shown. 
Straighten the side edge even with the edge of the central square. 
Add a strip to the right side: 
Stitch and flip open: 
Trim off that top edge and the side. 
Now it looks like this: 
Repeat the procedure on the opposite side, until you have something like this: 
Add the triangular assemblies to both sides: 
Stitch the three units together: 
Trim each of the four edges straight, but resist that urge to square them up!
If it's lopsided, you did it right! Keep it that way! I know, it's so hard!

For the grey barriers between border blocks, piece a long 6"wide  strip with white strips on top and bottom, then cut them down to about 2" wide:
Slightly trim along one edge so that one end is narrower than the other. 
Stitch it to one side of a border block, placing it so that its wider end is next to the narrowest end of the block: 
(See how the wider end of the grey strip lines up with the narrower south end of the block?)

You could now sew that block to the grey strip. But by eyeballing my border sizes - and then, yes, measuring carefully - I discovered I needed to insert a plain white strip to both sides of each grey strip. 

Make the corner blocks the same way, except reverse the colors.
Make a row, flipping the grey strips consecutively, to create a more or less straight row of blocks for each border. Next comes the moment of truth, and you may have to do some cruel chopping, or insertion of white strips, to make it fit. You will find yourself measuring as diligently as you would for traditional piecing.
Once you've joined a bunch of squares that are long enough for a side, you must cut at least one edge straight - the edge that will meet the central design. It's up to you whether you also want the outer edge straight or wonky. I finally cut the outer edges straight.
To make the binding, I threw some more of my colored 2" strips up on the design wall, and interspersed them with white strips of randomly varied widths.
Stitched, then cut across to create the binding strips:  
The more you know what you are doing, the harder it is to be wonky. When I was first making these blocks I managed to surround a square with FIVE triangles instead of four. I can’t even remember how I did this. 
But as I made more of them, I stopped making mistakes like this. My blocks became less entertaining and more regular. Creating random variations on the spot requires constant vigilance! If you work at it hard enough, with meticulous attention to detail, you will succeed in appearing careless! Or not. Or maybe just in the borders.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Happy Passover! Decorate your Local (or Distant) Baby!

Passover starts tomorrow night!  If you happen to have a baby in your life, and some trompe-l'oeil matzoh fabric in your stash (I buy it here), this project will take you less than an hour

It's a bib for my 4-month-old grand-nephew Noah, who I haven't met yet, because he lives on the other side of the country  According to his grandparents (my in-laws) little Noah is the smartest, sweetest, best-behaved baby ever! Plus, of course the cutest. Wouldn't any baby look great in this?

On the other side, Chanukah fabric:
And that project was so fast that I made Noah a second bib, with chicks on one side... (I wasn't seeking an Easter theme, it just happened)...
...and non-denominational dolphins on the reverse....
I use velcro to close the back.

Realistic matzoh fabric is a source of unending laughter and inspiration for me. Here are 25 more things I've made from matzoh fabric. Hope they inspire you! And wishing all who celebrate a creative and sweet Passover!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cosmic Coasters: Turn Space Photography into Mini-Quilts

Here's a project idea for the astronomy enthusiast in your life: Make quilted stuff with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) photography!

The great thing for quilters about NASA photographs is that they are not only stunningly beautiful, but they are also in the public domain, with minimal copyright issues, and no need to request permission.

That's what I learned 9 years ago, when I transferred a whole bunch of NASA photos onto fabric, including these iconic images:

I know it was 9 years, because it was the year of my son's bar mitzvah, and he's now about to graduate college. A science kid, he had asked for space images on his tallit (aka prayer shawl). So I printed a slew of them onto fabric printer sheets (I like EQ Printables Premium Cotton Satin, no affiliation), then appliquéd them to the tallit.

I came across my stack of the leftovers by accident in January. Most were about 4" square or rectangular. Within a couple of hours, I had sandwiched four of them with a batik fabric backing and cotton batting, Stitched them right sides together, left a gap, turned them right side out, topstitched the edges, and done! Almost as fast as the speed of light! (Unscientific exaggeration.)

But how many coasters does one household need? Especially since the wood on my coffee table is already stained with more rings than Saturn (unscientific estimate), which in turn are covered with books, magazines, fabric, notions, seam rippers, quilting experiments, lunch, etc. 

At the time, I was improvisationally building batik log cabins, then backing and finishing each one separately. I freemotion quilted the resulting pieces. By proximity, these pieces started to look like space photography, too, 

The quiltlets from both these projects wound up in a small cleared space on the aforementioned coffee table in my sewing room (aka the sewing table in my coffee room.), So I started integrating them.
As it happens, DH is an astrophysicist, and I own almost enough black buttons to fill a galaxy (not really), so I seized the opportunity to add buttons symbolizing black holes e.g. DH could hang this in his office rather trying to find some space on our home walls, which are almost as cluttered as the coffee table. I placed  black buttons in the corners....
There was still plenty of undecorated space, and I have this cool old fabric depicting swirly, non-realistic glass marbles (which I also used in last week's Gazing Ball quilt). 
...So I  added some of that to the mix.... 
And how can you render space without a cow jumping over it?

Below is where I ended up. I tacked down the corners with a strong black thread, added the buttons, appliquéd the marbles by machine with invisible thread, and lost the cow.
Mission accomplished!  And speaking of missions if you want to make your own quilted project from space photography, go to There's a lot to look at, but I suggest you start at the lower right box headlined "Mission Galleries." There you'll find fantastic images, not only of space, but also of the earth from space, and much, much more.

UPDATE, 4/11: Here's an amazing quilt from fiber artist Anne Munoz, interpreting the first image on the top of this post through batik and freemotion quilting:
UPDATE 4/11: Shared on Nina Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Fridays! See lots of fiber goodies at