Tuesday, November 26, 2019

English Paper Pieced Table Topper

Here's a colorful table topper, made with a wild range of fabrics - some have been in my stash for 20+ years, and some are hot new Kaffe, Westminster and Tula Pink prints. It's 23" across the center.

It's English Paper Pieced (EPP), with the help of acrylic templates from Sewing By Sarah. One example from the 12 piece set:
(Full disclosure - I was paid a lump sum for the design and directions for this tabletopper. Sewing by Sarah also distributes my free guide to EPP, which you can download here. I do NOT receive a percentage of sales for any of these items.)

My table topper has the traditional "Seven Sisters" arrangement, with six hexagon blocks circling a seventh. I hand-stitched a couple of them with regular thread; I stitched the rest by machine using monofilament invisible thread on top. EPP by machine is much MUCH faster than doing it by hand.

1. First, a traditional star (made with Kaffe Fasset prints):
2. Next, the identical block layout, but with values manipulated so you see three cubes instead of a star. And speaking of seeing, the eyeballs are a way-cool Tula Pink print. The black + color fabric is an oldie from my stash. 
3. The block below also creates an illusion of floating cubes, two of them.

4. This block looks more complicated than it is, because I used busy large-scale prints, cut from 5" charm squares, for the three interior hexagons: 

4. More trendy prints: 

5. In this block, the busy colorful print is from the 1970s, but the outer white diamonds are brand new. The green fabric is in-between, age-wise; I think I bought it in the 90s. 

7. For the last block, I manipulated values - light on top, dark below, medium to the side - to create the illusion of a single cube. 
Along with those six hexagon blocks, I made some random blocks, for an undetermined future project.  A pentagon-shaped block: 
I call this "Star Hive;" a modified six-pointed star with little floral viruses nesting in the nooks, and three tiny eyeball points. 

Acrylic rotary cutting templates are very helpful if you want to fussy-cut pieces, like the flowers in the block above. You can mark the top of the template with a waxy crayon or china marker, tracing prominent designs in the fabric, so you can easily locate and cut more identical pieces. 
Everything outside the seam allowance won't show in the finished block.
The basting papers can't be made from the rotary cutting templates. The booklet I wrote to go with them includes full size diagrams to download and print, like this one.

Cut the diagram apart and there are your basting papers. You can stitch-baste the fabric over the paper templates by hand, on planes, trains, and dentist offices, for example. But when I'm home, I glue-baste at the ironing board, saving an immense amount of time. Place the template-cut fabric on the back of a paper template, and use little dabs of temporary school glue to fold, press and hold the edges inward.
In this photo, I laid out the paper templates for the surrounding pieces (I had to use blue cardstock  because I lost one printed template.)
Here's a triangular plastic template that I used to audition locations, just before cutting. (I used blue painter's tape to make my own notes about size.)

The finished block: 
It has 10 sides.. I don't know how to fit 10-sided blocks together, but this can be appliquéd to a background! Here's another 10-sided block, which features matzoh fabric. (There's always room for matzoh!)
Stitched to a background (and pressed well!) Yes, you saw this wedding gift before
If you're interested in learning more about the Sewing by Sarah acrylic template set, it's here. My free downloadable EPP guide is here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

City of Chicago, Modern Quilt Style

I've been working on this quilt on and off, for a year, and it was one of my most challenging. Rather than just pleasing myself, I also had to please an equally delightful but entirely different person - someone I've admired for years - who has high standards in everything she does. I was thrilled when she commissioned me to make a quilt that would remind her of the Chicago she grew up in.
The finished piece measures about 63" x 70" 
We began with her list of two dozen meaningful landmarks. Over the months, I worked my way down that list, brainstorming ways to render them. 

Starting on the lower right, there's the Art Institute with its guardian lions (My daughter, who is wonderful at drawing, sketched the lions for me, and I interpreted them in raw-edge applique). I added banners advertising Chagall and Picasso exhibits. The building's not pink in real life; with accurate colors, the buildings would run together, and the quilt would be mostly neutrals (Which would be nice in a different way)!
Below it is a Goldenrod Ice Cream truck. Online, I learned that this historic local brand was way ahead of its time, incorporating fresh fruit chunks long before Ben and Jerry! (Unfortunately, Goldenrod is no longer in business, or else I would have ordered a lot of it while making this quilt.)

Beyond the truck are the two towers of Marina City, unusual condos that Chicagoans call the "corncob" buildings:
Photo by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23086033
It took me a lot of experimenting to come up with a way to capture them. After three different fails,  it occurred to me to study actual corn.
That inspired the solution! Each oval is a separate piece of fabric, wrapped and fused around "kernels" of Decor Bond interfacing, and machine appliqued in place.
In the lower left corner is Wrigley Field, with its iconic sign. The stadium is paper foundation pieced.

I made the sign by drawing it in CorelDraw, my computer graphics program. It takes time to find fonts resembling those on the real sign. My finished drawing:

I printed the image backwards, onto the non-glue side of an 8.5" x 11" piece of Decor-Bond fusible interfacing. Decor Bond is stiff enough to go through my printer safely (usually). Once printed, I fused the interfacing to the back of red fabric. From the back, I stitched around and inside each letter. The white or yellow bobbin thread shows on front.

Above Wrigley Field is Water Tower Place, a stone castle plus sleek skyscraper containing a mall (neither is really orange). While making this quilt, I listened to Michelle Obama's memoirs, and I was tickled when she mentioned that she frequented this mall in high school!

To the left of Water Tower place is the tall criss-cross Hancock Tower. (In real life, it's all black.)
The Navy Pier, plus ferris wheel, is adjacent. Like Wrigley Field, this building is foundation paper pieced. I hand-embroidered the fireworks.

Then comes the glassy, curved Lake Point Tower; it's not really purple but it is dark and reflective. The building's curve is done with bargello piecing. There's a sailboat next to it;  the "L" (elevated) train is below, and a Wendella tour boat is under the train's bridge.
In the upper right corner is the historic Chicago Theatre. I machine-embroidered the marque the same way as the Wrigley sign, from the back. Next is the historic Grant Park band shell, no longer standing. I appliqued a fabric orchestra onto it. Above it, the pixellated form represents the Cloud Gate sculpture - the reflective sculpture that Chicagoans call "The Bean."
Underneath is the former Marshall Fields department store (today Macy's), with its iconic clock...
Below, the monumental Picasso sculpture on Daley Plaza (left), and on the far right, the Crain Communications building (formerly known as Smurfit-Stone), with a distinctive slanted  roof.
The center of the quilt has the Wrigley Building. In real life, this white building has hundreds of identical little windows - no fun to piece. But it is a LOT of fun to shop for prints that do the job! I picked a white with tiny pink diamonds. 
And more! This quilt is sixth in a series of modern cityscape quilts. I've done Los Angeles (one  is here), New York (twice) and fantasyland (1 1/2 times, including the image under my blog header). I've also taught and spoken to quilters about them.  They're endlessly educational; and using mostly "modern" improvisational techniques makes them fun and doable by mortals! I'm thinking of writing my next book about these quilts, but to summarize the main point: Make it up as you go. If it's terrible, try, try again.

PS Look what I just found! Photographer shows Chicago's architectural  "quilts"  https://petapixel.com/2017/05/29/photographer-captures-chicagos-skyline-urban-quilt/

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Why I Love Leftovers, When to English Paper Piece Squares (Rarely), and Why I Still Like Facebook

If I bake a cake, I know there won't be any leftovers. My DH and I, unfortunately, share a sweet tooth - we'll eat the whole thing in 1-2 sittings. So I don't bake.

That gives me more time to quilt. And one of the great joys of quilting is knowing that there are going to be lots of yummy, color-coordinated, high-fiber, calorie-free leftovers, with a shelf life much longer than anything involving butter!

Here's my newest leftover quilt - a trifle about 22" square.

It's the direct descendant of this large (about 70" high) English Paper Pieced concoction, made a couple of years ago.

(Even as we speak, this quilt is hanging at the Houston IQF show, a bucket list dream for me!) See the small squares between each hexagon star? And the triangle points? I made and auditioned many more than I used. When the quilt was done, I packed away about 30 extra 4" squares and triangles, with edges folded and lightly glued around cardstock.

Alongside them, I stored a stack of circles, ovals and other shapes, all fused to and wrapped around pieces of Decor Bond interfacing, prepared for, but never used in the original quilt.

And there they sat, until last week, when I needed scrap therapy. I decided to stitch all the squares together. 

I didn't want to unwrap them from the cardstock, press out the folds and trim to correct size. Instead, I did something that normally doesn't make a lot of sense - I machine English Paper Pieced them together (With squares alone, EPP takes longer, is more complicated, and is no more accurate than traditional piecing.) 

If you've never done machine English Paper Piecing, here's how it works.  Lay the pieces side by side, good side up, and use a tight wide stitch to bring edges together. (I start and end with a few back-and-forth straight stitches on one side.) 
Tips for machine EPP:

- Use thin, strong thread on top and bottom, to minimize showing. Threads like DecoBob, InvisaFil, and Bottom Line are good choices.
- Monofilament "invisible" thread shows least, but it does create a shine. And it's not quite as strong as other threads; when it comes time to rip out cardstock templates, some stitches may break. That's why it's important to choose the narrowest, closest zigzag - almost a satin stitch - that you can stitch accurately.

Here's how my squares looked after stitching with monofilament.
Time to remove the cardstock. For this stage, a ball-tip stylus aka embossing stylus is a big help. I use a largish size ball tip, at least 1.5-2 cm. 
I rub the stylus end up against the stitching, which helps tear the cardstock. Then the stylus helps me pry out its edges. 
Using my midarm, I straight stitch appliqued everything in position. 
With my regular sewing machine, I did a serpentine stitch with variegated thread between the squares; it covers the monofilament stitching and adds bumpy texture. 
I liked it quiet, with no embellishment; but auditioned other options, like buttons on all the squares:
How about buttons on the triangles, too?
Or maybe buttons between triangles?
Help! I was stuck! So I consulted with a couple hundred of my best strangers and friends. Yes, I'm talking about Facebook - I know it's evil in so many ways, but I still love it because my associates there are so wonderful, interesting and funny! I posted the photos with and without buttons, and invited people to vote. 75 people and/or Russian bots weighed in! Results: 

No buttons: About 6 people voted for this option. 
Yes buttons (to different degrees): about 68 "people"/entities. 
Many offered specific embellishment suggestions, including:
  • Just a few buttons, not on every square (Sandra, Paula)
  • Buttons plus beaded trim (Saraj, awesome quilter)
  • Buttons plus maybe some crazy quilting?(Randi, world-class embroiderer. Easy enough for her to say.)
  • Buttons with sparkly thread (Cecelia)
  • Buttons on the triangles only (Cheryl, genius quilt designer, and others agreed)
  • "You know what I think!" (Christy, awesome sewer and button collector/dealer)
  • "Buttons in random places, out of the norm: stacked, sewn from holes outward, small clusters of teeny-tiny baby buttons, with beads in or across the holes, etc. Ha! Can you tell I love the button thing?" (Jeanie, fabulous fiber artist and handbag maker.) 
  • Zippers or Velcro (Gary, non-quilter - I told him about Jamie,)
  • Multicolored zipper pulls (Jamie, the queen of zippers and other hardware on quilts!)
  • "Buttons, cabachons, rivolis, crystals, beads and clay pieces" (Phyllis, who uses all these things exquisitely!) (I had to look up rivoli.)
  • And finally, my friend Heather, a knitter and thoughtful person, who dresses tastefully, and has an elegant, artistic home. She suggested that, instead of buttons, I should use decapitated Barbie heads. 
Mark Zuckerberg did not weigh in, unless he used a false identity. So I tested the suggestions, and then decided to  put buttons to all the squares, AND to add 36 more navy buttons to the corners. These rounded the squares into near-octagons! (Counting each 1/4 button as an angled "side".)
The navy buttons also give the triangles an arrow shape, 
...which goes well with the arrows quilted into the borders. 
Just for good measure, I took Randi's suggestions to do a little embroidery. (My hand embroidery is a whole lot more "primitive" than hers. I should have sent it to her.)
Below, a weeping button (It's weeping over that incompetently turned angle at 3 o'clock.) 
I am so grateful to my friends for their perspectives and pushing me creatively! If you're inspired to make a quilt like this, I have two suggestions: 1. Don't English Paper Piece the squares together. It takes much longer than traditional piecing. And 2. Start saving up Barbie heads now.