July 30, 2022

Quilt Concert: First Notes

Last summer, I joined a sew-along for the First Notes quilt, a pattern co-designed by Lissa and Cassandra. It caught my attention because it features all kinds of different block designs in different sizes, which isn't really something I've done before. My fabric choices were all from my stash, which may be why they're a little wild and crazy -- lots of Rifle Paper Co. florals plus blenders and crossed fingers that it would all make sense together in the end.

The sew-along pace was one block per week, released on Fridays, and that turned out to be a pretty good fit for my schedule. I made most of my blocks over the weekends and didn't feel rushed.

It's interesting to see the blocks individually first. In my finished quilt, all the florals kind of muddy the design a bit and you lose track of some of the blocks.

At the start of the series, Lissa and Cassandra provided a coloring sheet that turned out to be tremendously helpful for me. It helped me figure out what fabric I'd be putting where before I cut anything out, and then I used it frequently as a reference to make sure I was everything was in the right place.

Around this time, I wanted to see how things were starting to come together, so I put the blocks up on my design wall. Interesting!

Then it was back to making blocks, with some large ones and some small ones and some just filling in the gaps.

That pinwheel above, which is pretty small, is one of my favorites. I used that caramel-colored print in another project and was happy to incorporate it here, too. I never would have expected that color to be so useful, but now I keep an eye out for it to add to my stash. It's the perfect warm, not-brown blender.

And that's all of them! So how do they look all together? Like I said earlier, pretty wild, but it's good to push your boundaries every once in a while, right?

I used a bright navy solid for the backing (from my stash) and free motion quilted it myself using a variegated blue thread. I dealt with many, many thread breaks and was very close to losing my patience, but I persevered and got it done. It's not perfect, but it's finished. 

From the beginning, I knew I would donate this quilt to a child in need through Project Linus, so I look forward to dropping it off for distribution soon. I don't think I'll ever use quite so many busy prints all in the same quilt, but it was good experience.

June 30, 2022

Kingfisher Quilt


The Kingfisher Quilt began with a stitch-along co-hosted by Rachel of Stitched in Color in 2018. I've read Rachel's blog for many years, and this quilt design caught my eye because it combines English paper piecing (EPP) with traditional piecing in a nontraditional layout. I already had hexagon templates from an earlier EPP project, and I enjoy having some handwork and a portable project, so I decided to join in.

Making hexagon flowers -- or any EPP motif -- takes a fair amount of time, so it's helpful to use fabric that you really enjoy looking at and sewing with. I chose to make all my flowers out of Lizzy House prints that I'd collected, and I put a black or dark gray center in each one for some consistency. I tried not to double up on the Lizzy prints, but I think that happened anyway because I didn't have enough to choose from that were suitable for this project. I don't think the duplicates are noticeable in the finished quilt, though.

I took photos of the flowers as I finished them in batches, so I know that it took me three months (June to August 2018) to make all 46 flowers. I'm not sure what happened after that -- I must have gotten sidetracked by other, time-sensitive projects because I didn't start appliqueing the flowers onto their background diamonds until May 2019. I used a machine blanket stitch in coordinating thread to stitch each flower onto its background, tackling a few in the evening after work for a few weeks. The background is a mix of low-volume backgrounds -- one of my favorite ways to do a background. I have a lot of low-volumes in my stash because they're easy to buy on a whim, with no color-matching required and no need to have a particular project in mind, given their versatility. I think mixing them up is much more interesting than using just a solid background fabric, so when it works for a quilt pattern, this is what I like to do. (Note: Many of these background fabrics also appear in my Flowering Snowball Quilt, which made good use of the scraps and leftovers from this quilt!)

The peach Pearl Bracelets, green leaf and green and ivory constellation prints are all also by Lizzy House. I found the green leaf print in an Etsy shop by pure luck and bought a lot. It turns out I should have bought more because there wasn't enough to do the whole back of this quilt. So I added in the ivory constellation print to make up the difference. I decided to use a facing instead of a traditional binding on this to keep the front edge visually clean. I plan to hang it for display instead of use it, so the facing will hold up fine.

As for the quilting, it's a story in itself. Deciding on the right quilting for this project has been a challenge from the start. With the diamonds and the appliques and the borders -- I couldn't make up my mind what would look best, and I didn't see a lot of finished quilts that inspired me in terms of quilting. I decided to just quilt straight lines horizontally on my domestic machine, but I asked a friend with a longarm to baste it for me because it's too big for me to do it easily myself. So I had a basted quilt waiting ... and waiting to be quilted, and I just never felt like I wanted to get started on it. It sat for an embarrassingly long time before I decided to remove the basting stitches and send it to a local longarmer for an edge-to-edge design, just to get it done. Great -- progress, right?

I chose a simple geometric design and it was quilted. I picked it up and, well, was disappointed. The scale of the pantograph was really large, there was lots of empty/unquilted space, and you couldn't even see the design since it was so big. The longarmer agreed that it was quite large and offered to quilt it again for me if I would rip out the quilting. So I thought about it for a few days and decided that I would never be totally happy if I left it how it was. I sat at my dining table in the evenings for about a week watching a couple of shows on my iPad and ripping out the longarm quilting. The bright spot is that, if you have to rip out longarm stitches, this was probably the best design for it -- not dense and straight lines.

I returned the quilt top, batting and backing to the longarmer, and we agreed on a different design -- the same one that Rachel, the stitch-along co-host, had used on her quilt, in fact. It's still a little large and spread out for my taste, but I like it much better than the first time around. I think this quilt was just destined to be a challenge! And now I know to consider the quilting scale upfront.

May 29, 2022

Flowering Snowball Quilt


This curve-filled Flowering Snowball quilt began when I bought the pattern and templates from Stitch Supply Co. but then stashed it with my other patterns without really making a plan to start. I knew that I'd want to make it someday, but I wasn't motivated to make that someday happen any time soon.

Then my friend Kelly (@stitchykelly), whom I've known since we were literally babies, posted on Instagram that she was starting on this very same pattern. I responded, "I have that too! Should we make them together?" and that was that. I had a fat quarter bundle of Elizabeth Hartman's Berry Season waiting for the perfect project. This pattern allowed me to pull out a half dozen or so of my least favorite prints (mostly yellow and brown) and use the rest. For the background I turned to my admittedly extensive stash of low volume neutrals and scraps from another quilt in which I mixed them up as well.

I enjoyed cutting all the pieces -- a rotating mat and small rotary cutter are must-haves. The only thing I would have done differently is to put something with more contrast in the junction of the prints, where the little square is. Maybe something dark, and the same fabric in each block so it shows up better.

Piecing the curves went better than I expected. The pattern offers good tips and guidance for best results, like which direction to sew in and where to pin. This was the first time I didn't load up my curves with pins, and it still worked out great.

Keeping with the theme of this project, sewing the blocks together into the top went better than I expected, too. I didn't need to trim the blocks to size, and my seams matched up surprisingly well. This could just be luck, but I think good directions and attention to detail contributed, too.

One thing I struggled with was choosing a backing. I wasn't sure which direction to go in since there are so many small prints and motifs on the front. But this orchid stripe by Rashida Coleman-Hale turned out to be the perfect choice. I ordered a charm pack of this Adorned line first, just to make sure I was happy with the color. Then I found the yardage on sale and ordered a lot (more than I needed for this quilt) because I know I can use it again in the future. Bias striped binding is hard to resist, and once you've made bias binding, you might as well round the corners, so that's how those two things came to be. The quilting was done by a local long armer using the Dainty Lady Floral design by Urban Elementz.

Overall, I'm very happy with how this quilt turned out. I'm keeping it for myself because, well, it was a lot of work! (Also I usually only invest in longarm quilting when I'm keeping the quilt or giving it as a gift.)

April 26, 2022

Barn Block Mini Quilt: March

Waiting to pick up someone at the airport = perfect time for stitching

Last year I started making mini quilts in the style of barn blocks using patterns from designer This & That. You can see my first two here. Obviously I'm pretty far off schedule as far as the months go, but I'm still enjoying the projects, so I plan to keep working through my pattern (and fabric) stash. Mini quilts are satisfying because they take so much less time to complete than larger quilts, but working with small pieces is still challenging, so these have been pleasant skill builders for me.

One thing I really like about this block is that little border detail, with the squares in the corners. It's a nice variation on the standard, straight border. Very cute.

That busy print around the center and in the border had to go

This is the March block. After cutting everything out, I changed the fabric around the center square and border because my original choice was too busy and didn't provide enough visual contrast. I'm really happy with how these fabrics all came together -- all three of them are kind of unusual and hard to match and coordinate. I think I just got lucky that I had the right complements to make them all work.

Much better!

For the quilting, I decided to do this one all by hand. There are French knots, big stitch straight lines, little dashes and x's. It all adds texture without being too distracting, and I was able to dig into my late grandmother's box of embroidery floss to find some of the colors I needed.

March 27, 2022

Star Pop Quilt

This quilt was an energizing project to work on during the depths of winter -- it gave me summer vibes and brightened my sewing room up considerably. The pattern is from Emily Dennis of Quilty Love (available to purchase here), and I bought it pretty much as soon as it was released because it's layer cake-friendly. (Those are 10-inch precut squares, for anyone who doesn't know.) I have a few layer cakes in my fabric stash, and they can be a little tricky to use because, well, they're 10-inch squares and it doesn't seem like there are a lot of things to do with that. But this pattern proves that you can, in fact, do a lot. (You can see all of Emily's Star Pops here.) I made the throw size, which uses one layer cake.

I used a Tula Pink layer cake because I loved all the vibrant colors and prints. When I started this quilt, all the Star Pops I was seeing on Instagram featured one fabric (usually a neutral) in the stars. A few of the Tula Pink prints are on a white background, so I didn't want to put a white star next to those prints and have everything blend together. So I started to consider colored stars, and then I pulled out lots of solid fat quarters in colors that complemented the prints. It was a "use what you have" moment of inspiration, and I'm really happy with the result. And it was more fun and more interesting to sew all the different combinations. I did have to do a little planning, however, to ensure that I paired the solids with the right prints to make the overall pattern work. But that's what the coloring sheets that Emily provides with her pattern are for!

After cutting, I put everything up on my design wall, starting with the solids according to my star map and then filling in the gaps with the prints. It was tricky to position similar prints and colors away from each other, and there are a couple in the finished quilt that I probably would have shifted around, but overall it works.

As I sewed the half-square triangles with solids and prints, I was able to start assembling the stars on the blocks on the wall and see how the stars were coming together. This is usually my favorite part of the quilt process.

Another thing I like about this project is that it was very easy to work on in small chunks of time. I could sew some pieces, press HSTs or assemble a block or two and then walk away and come back to it later. So it's a good one if you have a day job and want to sew a little to relax in the evening but can't handle getting fully immersed every time.

Pretty soon I had a finished quilt top, and I decided to stick with the theme of bright colors and use my solids stash to make a pieced backing. I don't often love how my pieced backings turn out (sometimes there's just something not right about them), but I didn't overthink this one. And it turned out great. Maybe that's the lesson!

For the quilting, I decided to try a new-to-me design on my domestic machine, making short and tall loops across the quilt horizontally and using the blocks as my guide. I used bright orange thread, again keeping with the colorful theme. It shows up in some places more than others, but any thread was going to do that. So why not make it orange!

The binding was also made using solid scraps. I couldn't resist taking more photos than usual of this burst of color on my backyard fence.

(That maple tree started as a seed that landed in a potted plant on my parents' deck a few years ago. They let it grow there until it was finally big enough for its own pot, and after a few bigger pots, it finally made its way into my yard.)


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