Sunday, May 28, 2017

English Paper Piecing 3-D Adventure with Alex Anderson's Pomegranates

Those of you who are longtime quilters know the name Alex Anderson. She’s the author of more than 30 quilt books, hosted "Simply Quilts" on television, and now is co-host, with Ricky Tims, of the delightful Internet quilt show, The Quilt Show! (

Alex is also a fabric designer, with a longtime affection for pomegranates. The rich Jewish symbolism of the pomegranate - learning, good deeds, fertility, joy - was an inspiration for her new fabric collection called Mirage. Here's one of the spectacular fabrics from that collection, by RJR Fabrics:
By coincidence, I'm the president of a non-profit needlework organization called the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, so when I learned about the collection, it felt like serendipity. I contacted Alex (having written for her magazine in the past). I proposed a challenge for our members, hoping maybe we could get a discounted rate on some fat quarters.

Well, we got a discount, alright - Alex and RJR Fabrics - thank you, Demetria Hayward - shipped to my door a free, heavy, 5-feet-long 45+ yard roll of this festive fabric to share with our members who wanted to play! 

I waltz/wrestled that roll through my house, to the sewing room in the back, and tore, mailed and/or handed out 1-yard pieces to 45 or so of our members who requested them. They flew out about a month ago, and I can't wait to see what people come up with!

Because I am currently obsessed with English Paper Piecing (EPP), the first thing I did with my yard was make two stuffed stars, using cardstock templates. In the first star below, which I will call the "chiselled star," I left the templates in place permanently, to create facets:
The next photo shows the contours better:

The back has another cardstock layer and is also contoured. There's stuffing in-between to hold the cardstock in position.

For the second star, I removed the cardstock before finishing, so it has a rounder look. We'll call this the chubby star:

 The back has this hanging system:
It started with this star-shaped cardstock templates that I happened to have lying around (I used it for the blue and gold fancy EPP quilt blocks described in this post.) I cut the pieces apart - a hexagon in the center, with six "jewels" surrounding it.
Picked a flower (actually I think that's a pomegranate cross section?) to serve as the center:
Centered the hexagon template on it...

Cut it out about a half-inch all the way around, and basted the back....

Then addressed the six jewels. For the roundish star, I punched a hole to make the templates easier to remove:

For the contoured star, where the cardstock will be permanent, I didn't punch a hole - I drew a midline, pushing hard on a ballpoint pen.
 And folded.
 Placed the template (contoured or not) on top of a flower:
Basted the edges to the back, and here's the front: 
The star points weren't identical, but they were similar. 
Stitched the jewels all the way around the hexagon center, then stitched from the center piece outward six times.
At this stage, it can be used as a flat applique! But not for long.

I made a backing template. This is just the outline of the entire star on cardstock. For a chubby star, the back template looks like this.
For the chiselled star, I drew lines from point to point, pressing hard on the pen.
 Fold back along all those lines (I messed up at the top, I fixed it.)
 Next drew lines from concave angle to concave angle....
 And folded FORWARD on those lines.
 The goal:
Pinned it to the wrong side of the backing fabric. (If it's contoured, place the pen lines side against the back of the fabric.)
Cut about 3/8" all the way around. At each convex angle, clipped inward to about 1/8" from the paper template (where the white arrow is pointing). 
Trimmed and clipped all the way around. At the ironing board, glue sticked the seam allowances inward. Used liberal amounts of glue for the chiselled star. Use glue sparingly for the chubby star. Here's how the back of the chiselled star looked with clipped curves and fully glue basted. 
Here's what the inside will look like - permanently. 
And next is the chubby star front and back. The cardstock on the reverse side.
Placed the two sides wrong sides together and start stitching - a whipstitch or a ladder stitch works well.  Yes, the points and inner angles are tricky - you'll be using your needle to push the seam allowances inside - it's a lot like needle-turn applique.  You'll get there! 
About halfway around, for the chubby star, I pulled out all the templates. When I had just one star point left unsewn, I stuffed it, stitched the hole closed, and done!
For the chiselled star, I stuffed the area between the front and the back templates - and then stitch up the opening. 

As an afterthought, I stitched beads to the center of the chubby star. 
What to do with these ornaments? I think they'd make festive hangings for Sukkoth, Chanukah, and other holidays! The chubby star also works as a pincushion!

If  you want to learn more about the Mirage collection, here’s a video of Alex describing the inspiration, and showing off some the lovely coordinates. The collection can also be viewed on the RJR website, here. To purchase, contact a shop called Once Upon a Quilt in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. There's no shopping cart on their website, but you can call Lisa, the owner, at 954-987-8827 and ask for the coordinates you want from those pictured on the RJR site. Lisa's shop hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Saturday, 9:30 am to 4 pm. 

For more information about the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, and our many fun and creative projects, check us out at 

After finishing the stars, I still had quite a bit of my one yard of pomegranate fabric left over. So there are still more projects come!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Simple Quilting With Hand Embroidery

It's amazing what a difference a little hand embroidery can make, even if, like me, your embroidery skills are very basic. And if the embroidery also serves as quilting, the whole piece won't take that much longer than machine quilting. Especially if  you're making something small.

As I've blogged about many times, I've been going through a major squares obsession - dealing out tiny colorful squares like cards from a deck, then arranging them in ways that give them movement. It's soooo therapeutic. Although I machine quilted most of the resulting pieces, I also hand embroidered some. Here's one - a modified hashtag/tic-tac-toe board. The squares are 1" (finished). This is how it looked before finishing:
 Below - after using embroidery floss to add "rice" stitching in the central areas, running stitches around the outside, and in the ditches...
A closeup of the rice stitches. (Learn more about it here.)
Rice and running stitches:

Imperfect is fine! I did the quilting/embroidery after the whole piece had been put together and pillowcase-turned.

 For the next piece, I did the embroidery through just the top layer and the batting. I don't necessarily recommend this approach.
Here's the batting side. The problem was all those knots around the edges. They got in the way when I stitched the right sides together (leaving a turning gap.)
In hindsight, I should have waited until it was turned outward, with the backing in place, before the embroidery.
The last step was to stitch a bit of hand-dyed lace trim around the edges....
...and put a button in the middle (of course.).

Just for comparison's sake, here's a machine quilted piece from this series.
I won't say the machine quilting is worse than the hand quilting (it's okay if you say it), but it is a very different mood. (The glass eyeball bead in the middle also helps set a different mood.) 
Whether hand or machine quilted, these pieces have made good gifts from the heart and the hands! (And the eyeballs.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Memorial Quilt from Tee Shirts, Button-Down Shirts, and a Bedsheet (or two)

One of the many helpful things a quilter can do in this world is comfort mourners with a quilt made from their loved one's garments. Last year, after my friend Wendy lost her father, and was going through the agony of sorting his possessions. I told her I would be honored to make a quilt from his clothing, if she wanted one. Not everyone does, but Wendy liked the idea. Here's the quilt I wound up making.

The first step for a quilt like this is to collect the clothing. Sometimes. if they ask, I help people go through their loved ones' closets; in this case, Wendy did it herself. She brought me a relatively small number of items, about 20 shirts, mostly button down and tees. There was a pair of jeans, some neckties, and a couple of bed sheets.

Back in my work room, before I start cutting or arranging, I light a candle, say a prayer, and have a chat with the deceased.
My next steps are to rough cut the garment fronts, lay them on the floor and figure out a preliminary layout. Then I press fusible interfacing to the back of the knit pieces to stabilize them. Fusing is a looooooong process.
The button-down shirts made from woven fabrics aren't stretchy, so they don't need interfacing. My first cut of those kinds of shirts looked something like this.
I strove to cut as far away from the buttons as possible. Knit shirts with buttons, on the other hand, do need interfacing. Here's how they look rough-cut with interfacing:
I usually arrange my tee shirt quilts in columns. I make it up as I go along, rearranging  for balance, cutting some shirts way down. The columns don't have to be the exact same width, but they do need to be the same length.

When necessary, I appliqué things to other things. Here a section of a Gold's Gym tee was appliquéd to the back of a button-down burgundy woven shirt. (And the crosshatched fabric to the left and below was a necktie.)

(Wendy's dad was a fitness buff, and that's one of the reasons Wendy became a stellar dancer and fitness professional. And because Wendy is such an outstanding trainer, I'm physically fit. So thank you Carl, your focus on health changed my life for the better!)

 Along the bottom of the quilt, and across the top, I created piano key stripes from shirt scraps and  neckties. I saved all the labels from the garments and appliquéd them on top of some of the keys. The back and the binding are made from a bedsheet (more on that later.)
Working on this quilt gave me a profound sense of calm. That had something to do with the many blues; but also I think to do with Wendy's dad.
One of the joys of a project like this is looking at outdated fashions. Remember teeny pockets? 
Carl had a special connection to the Philippines. 

To maintain the calm grid lines, I mostly stitched in the ditch, and also did straight vertical quilting lines about an inch to either side of the button plackets.
 There was one flannel shirt.
When the quilt was finished, I still had plenty of bedsheet material left. So I made Wendy a gigantic carry bag for the quilt.
 It bundles up into the pocket (my tutorial for making a magic pocket tote like this here.)
And there was still MORE bedsheet left, so what the heck, I tore it into strips, watched some tv, and crocheted this:
...A cheerful and fun basket for Wendy's family.

I loved making this project, and being helpful to Wendy. I never met Carl, but by the time I was finished, I felt like I knew him a little bit, and that he was okay with me cutting up his clothing!