Sunday, December 25, 2016

Quick Quilted Holiday Haikus

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukkah! Happy Kwanza! Happy Winter! Whatever you celebrate (or not), I hope you will have time to do some creative sewing over the vacation. Here's my idea du jour, and the results can serve as last-minute holiday gifts: Cut out 16 to 25 tiny scrap squares and make art.

As noted last week, I'm on a ferocious square kick. That blog post showed a 100-square creation that I displayed backwards. Here are 150 more squares, sorted into six separate pieces:
Each tiny small square is cut to 1.5", and finishes at 1". So each of the 5-patch arrangements above are 5" x 5" finished.  

Making these is like writing haikus. Play! This game works as well for solids as well as batiks.

I embellished these little pieces with embroidery floss, buttons and/or machine quilting.  I've already given away most of  them away as gifts/holiday ornaments/small wallhangings. If you start with larger squares, they work as potholders, table runners, and pillows. Just for fun, name them, like haikus.

Sunflower, before embellishment:

...and after lots of seed stitching and a mother of pearl button:
Shibori Blues, before: 
...and after buttons and yellow French knots:
Opposites Distract, before: 
...and after: 
 Too Pale, before:
...and after (even paler): 

Lilac Bush, before:
...and after heavy hand embellishment. This one gave me carpal tunnel. Seriously:
Pink Eye, after even more carpal tunnel aggravation: worth it after even more hand stitching:
All together, after embellishment:
Below are a couple more that are a bit different.  First, Purple Sunset, before. This one is only four squares (and inches) per side:
...and after cross stitching and a mother-of-pearl button.
Next: Underwater.  I forgot to take a "before" picture. It's 6 x 6 squares, and it's machine quilted.
Below, Red Square, also six by six. I didn't add embellishment, just a little stitch-in-the-ditch machine quilting. 
Nothing could be easier than sewing squares, yet I still manage to misalign them. If my squares were teeth, an orthodontist would get rich. But once you embellish them, nobody will care that the seams don't match perfectly (I tell myself)! So it's okay to drink high-quality eggnog while sewing! Or possibly hot chocolate mixed with spiced wine? (No kidding!) (Brush teeth frequently or you will enrich your dentist, too.)

Have fun with this idea! Send pictures!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

100 Backwards Scraps on the Wall

Hot off the spools! Looks complicated, but it's really a simple 100-square scrap project. Plus, 100 tiny random embellishments. It measures 10" x 10".

It all started a couple of months ago, when Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine (MQU), announced that, in honor of its tenth birthday, it was holding a 10" x 10"  challenge. Cleverly doing the math, I came up with 100, so I cut about 100 1.5" squares from batiks. (A 1.5" square will finish at 1" when stitched.)

Next, sorted them by hue (blue, green, red, orange, pink, yellow). Then I sorted those from lightest to darkest. Made a circle on a large piece of  posterboard.
Next, I dealt out the pieces, starting from the center,
...until I had a 10 square x 10 square grid.  Below is the first arrangement. These aren't stitched  in this photo, just laid down. Disable the ceiling fan! Don't let the cats in!

Little did I know that this activity would quickly turn into an obsession, resulting in cutting thousands  of squares, sorting, then laying out color runs up and down the value scale,  to create what I shall call "art quilt color studies" [aka "incredibly basic quilts that even your 5 year old could make."]

I was guided mostly by instinct and the mathematical intuition that the colors I have the most of (blues, purples, greens), should go in the outer rings, while those colors that I have the least (yellows and reds, in my case) of should go in the middle. Luckily, that worked out well aesthetically.

Brought this to the sewing machine and speed-stitched the grid together, first stitching down the vertical seams, at which point it looked like this.
 Then the horizontal seams. Here it is all stitched together.
That was okay, but I soon found myself fascinated by the back. By now I was working on a few other similar pieces. I initially pressed all the seams in the same direction, as mandated by the quilt police.   (This is a different one.)
From the front, the seam allowances facing in the same direction made huge ridges that seem more visible on tiny squares.  So just for the heck of it, I tried snipping the threads between squares, then pressing the seams open, something I rarely do because it's a pain in the neck.
Whoa! Now THAT was cool! Suddenly, cute little cubbies appeared - each color square moves to the background, topped by vertical flaps on either side, and horizontal flaps on top and bottom.
Just like my kids' cubbies in preschool, calling out to be filled with clean underwear, these little boxes cried out for something...beads...buttons.....the works!

What's more, the neatly-aligned squares on the front become zig-zags on the back, due to the flipping of seams, giving the whole piece a sort of unfocused Monet waterlily look! How did I miss that all these years?

I fell so deeply in love with the back-with-vertical-seams-pressed-open that I decided to make it the permanent front. I added batting and backing and did a pillowcase turn, with the back of the top facing forward. (The horizontal seams stay flipped.)

I wanted to fill the cubbies immediately,  but embellishment would require hand-sewing, and this challenge was - remember? - for a magazine with "machine quilting" in the title. So I held off.

Furthermore, the challenge rules said the number ten had to appear on it somewhere. I rubber stamped the numbers 1-10 and letters A-J on little bits of fabric and stitched them in position.

And that's what I submitted to MQU. In my heart, I knew it wasn't finished, and MQU must have sensed it, it too. As soon as the magazine announced the winners (not moi), I will admit to a pang of wounded pride, but that was immediately outweighed by excitement! Now I could fill those cubbies!  I ran for my junk embellishment boxes and strong beading thread, and went to town.

I picked things that more-or-less blended with their background color, to give the eyes extra exercise. When it was done, I had 100 things stitched to a backwards quilt that was only 10" x 10". And I had a fabulous time doing it.

Plus, if anyone wants to locate something on the quilt, I could simply say to them, "The leaping rabbit golden glass button is located in Square C-7!"  and "The Hebrew letter shin is in F-6!" It's like finding Waldo, but on a (nonlinear) grid!

I wasn't done with arranging squares into mini-quilts and other items, not by a long shot. Nor was I done with backwards. Something even bigger and stranger was still to come. (Update: Read the sequel here.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Quirky Upcycled Holiday Pincushion Decor

Below are two easy, environmentally-correct tablescape/home decor ideas for Chanukah and for Christmas that you can make really fast (except the second one). A craft magazine turned down both of these rabid brainstorms, and you are about to see why.

For Chanukah:

For Christmas and many other holidays or no occasion at all:

Yes, they are festive pincushion constructions! Both require sewing leftovers, including empty spools, bits of embroidery floss, and fabric scraps. Plus plastic lids, ranging from 1" wide to 6" or more.

First, for Chanukah:

Menorah Pincushion

Each pin serves as a candle.  Too cute, right? You will need:
  • 10 empty thread spools - they don't have to be exactly alike - mixing adds charm
  • 9  1" diameter caps from bottles, milk, juice cartons, etc., in blue and white
  • A couple of yards of embroidery thread in blues and white
  • Small amounts of polka-dot fabric - about  4" square per pincushion 
  • Small amounts of silver lamé - also about 4" square per pincushion
  • A yellow measuring tape (or any color you like, but yellow does look great against blue). Use a piece, or the whole tape (depending on the length of your table) 
  • 9 yellow flower-headed pins
  • Glue that works on plastic. I used Liquid Fusion. Ultra-strong double-sided tape works, and I suspect a glue gun would work, too. 
First, wrap the 9 spools with embroidery thread (or yarn). Layer different shades. Be whimsical! Be messy, it adds character! Use a drop of glue at the beginning and end to make it stick. You can also leave some spools bare.
The rainbow spool on the far right will be saved for our Christmas tower, but of course you can use it in your menorah if you want a rainbow theme! Consider sparkly metallic threads, too!

Make a test arrangement of your spools. Stack two  or more spools to be the "shammes," the head candle. Glue them together.

To make the pincushions: Cut the polka dot and silver fabrics into nine 3 1/2" circles (for 1" caps). (Start with a 3 1/2" square, then round it off to make a circle. The circles don't have to be perfect. Use a larger circle for a larger cap, of course.)

Using strong thread, do a running stitch around the circumference of the circle, about a quarter of an inch in. No need to fold raw edges in. Here's the wrong side. End with the two thread ends on the RIGHT side of the fabric (unlike this picture).

Pull the threads from the outside until your circle is half closed.

Mash a wad of polyester stuffing inside:

Pull tight to make sure you have the right amount of stuffing. Trial and error will show you much you need. Once it's good, pull the threads tight for the last time, tie off, and clip threads.

Put some glue inside a 1" cap, and stuff the cushion down into it.
 Glue each lid on top of each spool. Finally, insert pins to represent candles. Arrange everything thusly: 

 Glue the lids to the top of the spools.

When Chanukah comes, light and unlight the candles by removing and replacing pins.

I think you could really go to town with this idea if you stacked each candle holder even higher. For added stability, you may want to permanently glue the spools onto the measuring tape - or not! I didn't, I stored the pieces in a plastic bag, and the measuring tape returns to my sewing table when the holiday's over.

Christmas/All Occasion Spool Tree/Thimble Display Tower 
For the past year, this has served as decor and thimble storage in my studio. You can make it Christmassy with color choice and accessories.


(What are those little dolls with pins sticking out of their heads above you may be asking? They were flea market finds gifted to me by my friend Noelle - they're tiny vintage pinholders! I tried googling this - where they came from, possible age - but I couldn't find a thing. Can someone help me out?)

Like the menorah project above, you need a strong glue that holds plastic. I use Liquid Fusion, and it held up well for about a year before the glue started breaking off. Strong glue dots, or a  glue gun, would probably work, too.

The basic principal of this project is to use large jar lids - 4" - 6" - to hold smaller 1" caps in position. Some of the small caps will become pincushions, and some will hold thimbles (or other tiny stuff).

Decide how many levels you want. Warning: The higher it goes, the less stable it is. I wouldn't go any higher than 5 levels, and shorter is better.

Wrap colorful embroidery thread around the number of spools you need. Important: For the base, use at least three same-height spools. The picture below makes it look like two are under the base, but there's a third one hiding down there. Four is even better.

Choose large lids. as many as you need. The large red lid below came from an organic raisin box. Flip a large lid wrong side up. Arrange and glue small 1" caps in any formation you like. The photo shows 7, but you can use fewer. Balance the weight, and leave room in the middle for the spool. Not every large lid needs small caps.
In the photo below, the blue ridged lid, from a peanut butter jar, is only about 3" across. So it didn't have room to hold any smaller lids. The blue lid is also useful because it has a high rim. That gives extra room to glue smaller lids (the orange and green ones) to its exterior. 

Build your tower, gluing each spool and each lid in place as you go, and balancing the weight. This is tricky, and kids will need help with it.

Make little pincushion puffs as described in the menorah directions above.  I didn't glue the thimbles in place, just rested them, so they can be swapped out.

Since finishing it, I've put a few more little things in it, including some jacks, a dollhouse miniature sewing machine, and this tiny fake Amy Vanderbilt book of etiquette.
I think it would look really awesome with tinsel artistically draped over it - or maybe wrapped around the spools. 

And if these ideas seem vaguely familiar, and you're a longtime reader of this blog, you might remember the grandmother of this idea, a tower-o-stuff that I entered into a two person craft challenge in 2013 and lost! (But I had a gas!)
 This wasn't for any particular holiday, just fun.

 (More about constructing this tower on my blog post here.)

Have fun with these ideas! Wishing everyone a happy, healthy winter holiday season!

Bonus Project

Yesterday afternoon my friend Linda unexpectedly came over with two half-finished dreidel bags, asking for help from my handy glue gun. These are not what you're thinking, small bags to hold dreidels and chocolate coins. Rather, they are large (about 18" high, 13" wide) felt bags that are the functional equivalent of Christmas stockings.

Linda explains that her aunt invented them, and Linda adapted the custom. She made them at the request of her college-age son, for him and his roomate. For the lining, she selected fabrics adjusted to their interests. Below, her son's bag has race cars and Jerusalem fabric inside:

And her son's roomate, who hails from Texas, got cows and tractors inside. Linda stuffed them with candy, Hot Wheels, and other treats.

What holiday decor have you created?