Sunday, May 29, 2016

Denim & Dementia: Minding the Gap

Did you ever notice that the word "dementia" has "denim" in it? No, I'm sure you didn't, and neither did I, until I wrote this blog post.

This didn't start out to be a quilt about anything in particular, except fun with denim scraps. (For earlier fun, click "Denim" in the word cloud on the lower right of this page.) 

I began it the same way as my denim-and-lace piece from last week: With a raw-edge denim surface, on top of cotton batting, and a backing fabric. I pinned the layers together, then quilted them on a grid. 
Most of my denim stash comes from old jeans, but I happen to have this denim angel fabric, bought many years ago to cover a couch. I love the contemplation.
I put that little guy on the lower left, just above the pocket. Then I started playing with frayed cuff edges and thready seams.
How about a moon?
The shaggy cuff ends made me think of lace, and crochet. So I crocheted raggedy strips, using a hook that was too large for the crochet thread, so it would be full of holes. 

When that was finished, I decided the piece looked like an angel gazing upwards, at stratified heavens. So I crocheted little clouds, from grey crochet thread.
I suddenly realized the clouds also looked like brains. Brains with gaps.  

That's when it occurred to me that this might be a quilt about dementia, an issue I face every day because my mother has advanced dementia. Mom doesn't say a lot, but much of what she has been describing lately is a vision of heaven."Birds together, flying forever. Precious family, flying together. Flying together, forever. We are precious family, flying together." Sometimes it gives me goosebumps. Also, for the past year or so, she's been using the word "birds" as a substitute for "people."  Thus I added birds. 
I did a bit of  hand cross stitching in one segment of the skies. 

I changed from the two experimental flowers above, to a grouping of crochet and scrap flowers below.
Along the bottom, I crocheted an edging with dangling bobbles. 
Here's the finished piece. I used a jeans buttonhole to create a tab at the top for hanging. 
Turning loss into art is therapeutic. Doing it with old denim jeans in lovely shades of blue makes it even more soothing. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Denim and Lace Quilted Wallhanging, and the Endless Audition

A denim-and-lace collage is a delightful way to spend time. If you don't have any unwanted jeans, and/or lace scraps, they're all too easy to find at flea markets and thrift shops. Once you acquire a little lace and at least two pairs of jeans (more is better), let the good times roll!

Lay out a piece of  backing fabric, right side down (I used white muslin). Top it with cotton batting. My starting piece here is about 15" square. Arrange jeans strips on top.
Use the back of the denim to create more shades. I recommend against using part of a thick seam, as I did below center (I later regretted it - too thick, too conspicuous).
When everything was pinned down, I quilted a grid with white thread. Stop before each overlap, and if necessary, use a pointy tool (awl, seam ripper, long pin) to guide the leading edge of the next piece under the presser foot. If you don't do this, the foot will get stuck under a piece of denim, and you'll have to jiggle and curse and rip it out, which is extremely annoying. (Alternative: Methodically zig zag over every raw edge before proceeding any further.)

I used tape as my  guide to stitch straight lines from upper left to lower right. The tape also helped the seams slide under the presser foot. I moved the tape for each successive row.

Next, wavy lines from upper right to lower left. 
The back: 
Collect the lace scraps, and fire up the camera. Now comes the time sink. Playing with lace on denim is enthralling. Taking pictures of every option is annoying - I hate to stop for photography. But it's worth it. If you're anything like me, you'll wind up with a zillion possibilties and it will be EXTREMELY difficult to choose (or remember) just one

Digital images give me a good sense of how things actually look, as opposed to how I wish or imagine they look. It's especially helpful to pause the project for a few days before looking at the  photos again. 

What follows is an abbreviated slide show of my many experiments, which range from the horrible to the sublime...

Experiment 1: Vintage crocheted doily square in a square.

Experiment 2: Three lacy pieces.

 Experiment 3: Variegated ribbon yarn, with painted-lace flowers (leftover from a years-ago party.)

 Experiment 4: Intricate vintage sun doily

 Experiment 5: Angled strips

 Experiment 6: Garden with lace and homemade crochet.

 Experiment 7: Overgrown garden (aka "Throw everything at it and see what sticks!")

 Experiment 8: Sideways overgrown garden

 Experiment 9: Sideways overgrown garden with flowers

 Experiment 10: Dug up the dang garden, and went back to the first doily, now on point

Experiment 11: First doily with lone beanstalk.

 Experiment 12: First doily, with colored lace background.

After a digestion period, I looked at my images, and the best choice was obvious. 

Plopped the vintage crocheted doily in the middle, surrounded it with buttons, and tacked four unusual vintage lace pieces in the corners.

Next question: What will I do with it? This would have been a lovely memory piece if I'd used only my own family's jeans and laces. But as it is, they are the jeans and laces of strangers. I think this would make an interesting table mat, pillow, wallhanging, challah cover. Suggestions welcomed! Whatever it becomes, it was a ton of fun, and my many photos of the alternatives may provide fodder for future denim-and-lace projects.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hot Cross Wallhangings (or Potholders)

I had some leftover cross blocks from the quilt I showed you last week, and the week before, so I made some potholders/wall art! Here's number one:
And here's #2: 
 How easy are these to make? Sew easy! 
1. Construct a cross block, using any technique you like - my step-by-step procedure was toward the bottom of this tutorial two weeks ago.
2. Place it on batting (I use Warm'n'Natural) and cut the batting slightly bigger than the top. 

3. Cover the bottom with scrap fabric. I used white muslin. This layer not only creates a bit of extra insulation (if someone uses this as a potholder), but I also believe that it protects my feed dogs from being pounded with batting fibers during machine quilting. 

Next, I did something unusual -  I quilted through the top, batting, and scrap fabric back layer, and THEN added the backing cut from jeans, so I could have a usable pocket with no quilting stitches sealing it shut on the back. You'll see what I mean in a minute. 

Here: Cutting the scrap fabric backing to a tiny bit bigger than the upper two upper layers.
 The muslin backing. This won't show in the end.
4. Quilt the three layers as desired.
 The back. Say goodbye to it, alas.
5. Next, find a piece of denim - ideally with a pocket - that's large enough to cover the back. You may have to piece it. I wound adding two scraps to make the pocketed section completely cover the back. Try to keep that pocket as far away from edges as possible.

6. Stack the layers with the backing face-down on the table, and quilted top up, as shown. Pin or baste in position if desired.
 Optional: Straight stitch all the way around the outer edge, just a hair or two inside the cut edge.
 Trim excess:
 All trimmed!
 Back is good to go.
7. Bind! I suggest you NOT use denim double-fold binding. In my Blue Cross quilt, as explained last week, I learned that doubled denim is a pain to sew and way too thick to serve as binding. Your life will be more pleasant if you use cotton quilting fabric. Here I used a plaid homespun. 
 Easy! Rural! Cool! Now all you need is a yard sale/thrift shop to stock up on denim jeans!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Blue Cross Jeans Quilt, (Part II): Quilting Tips, Suspense, Fluffy Pets and a Baby Mid Arm

In last week's episode, the name of a health insurance company got stuck in my head, so I was compelled to make a quilt out of it. The name, of course, is "Blue Cross, Blue Shield." The tutorial  shows how I pieced the blocks and attached the pockets. 

When you last saw it, it wasn't quilted. But now it is: 
 I like the way the white thread comes into and out of view, depending on the shade of denim. Blue and white is so soothing. 

This was a historic quilt for me, because it's the first largish quilt (37" x 57") that I've done on my new baby, ie, my Babylock Tiara III (which, incidentally, is the same as the Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen). When I  my DH bought it a couple of months ago for my birthday, and the nice people from Kingdom Sewing set it up, it looked like this:
While quilting the Blue Cross quilt, it looked like this:

You may be asking: What the (bleep) are those purple poles? Aha! I deduce that you don't show dogs or cats! Neither do I! But those, I learned, are pet grooming arms. I bought them because - one never knows - one might someday adopt a pair of fluffy pets which - one never knows -  one might wish to blow-dry while freemotion quilting!

Just kidding! I added the grooming arms because Katie of Katie's Quilting Corner wrote a persuasive blog post stating that they could be used to reduce the weight of the quilt while freemotion quilting! [2021 update: Katie's post has vanished. On her recommendation, I purchased two Master Equipment Dog Grooming arms very much like the ones sold here. To place on the ends of the cord, I purchased heavy duty muslin clamps - you only need two, but I had to buy extra, here; and two  aluminum caribiner clip hooks to attach the clamps to the cord, here. My total cost was just under $100.)

In fact, overhead suspenders of some kind are all the rage in the quilt world, I learned from my new Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen Yahoo discussion group.

I'm pretty sure that quilting legend Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry is responsible for this trend - she has a fascinating DIY system hanging from her ceiling - her instructions (in PDF form) are here. More suspension ideas include:
  • The Jennoop system. (2021 update: I can't find this product for sale anywhere, and the website seems to be down - let me know if you find it!)
  • A repurposed garment hanging rack, here.
  • Leah Day's permanent ceiling system, which costs less than one grooming arm: See it here.
  • If you or a family members is good with PVC piping, you can figure something out, cheap.
  • 2021 UPDATE: A new product is the DIME Weightless Quilter Frame, which sits on the ground but extends above the table Sold various places including here, but I haven't tried it.)
We are not very hardware-handy in our home, so I sprung for the grooming arms (about $36 each). Although I was a skeptical, they worked beautifully. Clipping and unclipping the quilt for major position changes turns out to be MUCH easier than shlepping around the dead weight of a quilt on a table. Suspension also eliminated the need for me to surround my sewing table with vast mesas of similar-height tables.

If you don't have a mid arm like my new baby, you can still benefit from suspension. The systems work equally well with regular (aka 'domestic') sewing machines. If you have a different approach to suspension, I'd love to hear about it. And most importantly, if you use the same brand of dog arms that I did (from Master Aluminum, no financial affiliation), you can choose hot pink instead of purple. Hey, I didn't think of it til just now - I could have bought one in each color!

Back to the quilting details:  I cut the vines out of folded kraft paper, then adjusted them to fit the available spaces....
Once pinned in place, just because I'm lazy, I tried freemotion quilting around one - but, of course, the brown paper lifted up when the foot hit it. So I traced around the vine onto three more sheets of freezer paper - then cut out the shape, ironed those into position, and stitched around.
I would have much preferred to mark the quilt, but I have yet to find a marking pencils that shows up on denim. The blue washout pens are virtually invisible on denim, and my half-dozen motley crew of white marking pencils don't make a strong enough line. (Suggestions welcomed!)

For the back, I used a cotton sarong purchased in Thailand in the 1980s. .

I hated to trim off its lovely selvege, but it was too big for the back. So I  appliquéd a piece with identifying information to a lower corner. Thai is such a beautiful language! (Does anyone know if Emchit is the name of the company?)

Disregard the sausagey binding. Argh! Doubled denim, I learned, is heavy, thick, and hard like concrete, 2 1/2"  was not wide enough, and the handstiching was a lack of fun. I used strong buttonhole thread, but it may well break over time, given how ferociously it's straining towards freedom. In hindsight I should have bound the quilt with a regular quilters' cotton, or maybe just one layer of denim.

Although I love to kvetch, by the time I finished my quilt, I was counting my blessings. First, that I now have a mid arm - a luxury item for sure. Second, that I found lots of information about suspension systems. I think the suspension  made as much or even more of a difference in ease of quilting than the new machine (at a tiny fraction of the cost of a mid arm.)  And finally, gratitude to whoever invented pet grooming arms. Now all I need a pair of smallish fluffy pets who don't mind being groomed practically on top of a sewing machine.

The piecing and appliqué tutorial for this quilt, in Part I, is here.

UPDATE: My quilting friend Roz in Montreal just told me about a friend who quilts next to a set of bunk beds. When quilting a heavy quilt, she suspends bungee cords from the top bed's coils to hold up the quilt! Gotta love it!