28 April, 2009

How Can You Tell I'm a Quilter?

With my return to work imminent I've been quilting up a storm and I've been trying to get the house in order. We still have no nanny, but the house is almost ready for a new person to be trying to get around. Seriously, why is it so hard to hire a nanny? We aren't crazy people. Maybe a little odd or uncoventional, but not crazy.

I digress.

One morning last week Smilosaurus and I were playing in her room while Hubby worked in the living room. While she was happily crawling around and exploring I started taking a few photos for my colour study (see the right sidebar there). I was struck by a grouping of books on her shelf. As I took a photo I also noticed the pile of books sitting on the floor, pulled off by the little one. It is my anal nature to want to organize things alphabetically. Alas, the girls aren't quite old enough to shelve things this way. Sing the Alphabet Song, but not put things in alphabetical order. What's an anal quilting mom to do? Organize by colour, obviously!

I tried this once with all of my own books and hated it. I was used to the conventional way and suddenly couldn't find anything. In the girl's room, however, I thought it would be perfect. And now I walk in and honestly I feel calmer. Order is nice, colour is even better. I did show my stash, right?

As you can see, we have a lot of books! There are some hand-me-downs and some books from Hubby and his sister's childhood. There are a lot of new books because I always ask for books as gifts when questioned. Plus I'm a sucker for sales on books and will buy more for us when I go in to buy for gifts. I should point out that there is also a pile on the nightstand and a basket in the living room where we rotate seasonally appropriate titles.

Could I pick a favourite? Aside from Curious George and The Three Little Pigs, The Monster is in love with this book.

I must admit, I am too. Rhythmic, urban, and unique it is fun to read. The book is Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie.

Share your favourite book with the Children's Book Parade over at 6 O'Clock Stitch.

27 April, 2009

Thirty and Three

Those new babies sure mess with your schedule.  I had every intention of posting this quilt in time for Amy's Quilt Festival, but I missed the deadline while busy cuddling my new nephew. So I'm out of the prize running, but still happy to share this quilt.

I actually finished this quilt a few months ago.  And I started it almost 4 years ago.  The second I finished the binding it was cuddled under.  In fact, I think Hubby is under it nearly every night after I head to bed.  And my mother-in-law spent a rough couple of nights on the couch and snuggled under over Easter weekend, but she would kill me if I shared that photo.

The design for this quilt came to me like many of my designs - when I'm bored at work.  My notebook for work is filled with doodles and sketches of quilt ideas.  I sat on this design, however, until I had a machine that could do the circles with machine applique.  Hubby bought that machine for me for my 30th birthday.  This was the first quilt I started with that machine (but not the first one finished)!  The colours were chosen to match our living room, which is orange and cerulean blue.

The quilt was professional quilted because a) it is king-sized and b) I really wanted circles and my skills are not good enough for that.  She did an amazing job on it with circles and concentric circles sprinkled across the quilt. 

On the back I added a few more circles, including the label.  The square in square fabric is Robert Kauffman.  I pieced the back because, well, I like a pieced back.  Rather than mimic the front I did some large square in square blocks.

Oh, and I should explain the name, Thirty and Three.  Thirty because that's what birthday it was when Hubby gave me the machine that allowed the quilt.  Three because it took a little more than three years to finish it.

25 April, 2009

Key Limes

The latest addition to our family arrived on Wednesday.  My sister had her first baby, a chubby little boy named Cain.  I am so behind on the quilt!  This is the start of it.  The browns and yellows on the left are the start of the triangle blocks that will be the background.  I started off thinking I would make a whole bunch of half-square triangles, but it didn't seem right.  When your quilt is inspired by key lime pie the half-square triangles seemed odd.  So I cut them into rectangles to make narrow, right-angle triangles.  And the greens will become... wait for it... appliqued circles.  Hey, it's for the key limes!

Yup, quilts inspired by food.  It was only a matter of time.

In truth, it is also a reminder of a time as a family in Mexico at Christmas.  My sister and I rekindled our relationship there and I thought this quilt would serve as a sweet reminder of us putting the past behind us and focusing on the future.  Oh, and the baby's room is yellow.  

23 April, 2009

Improv Sampler - Completed Top

So, would you hire me to teach you improvisational quilting?

My improv sampler is done - apologies for the crappy photo, Hubby was an unwilling partner as we photographed quilts yesterday.  And the quilt ended up much larger than my brain was thinking it was going to be.  Right now it is 76 inches square.  I think I should quilt it before I start pitching, what do you think?

This was the first time I used a solid white for the sashing.   I'm not sure why I resisted solids.  I do like the texture you get from a nice white-on-white, but the solid makes the blocks pop that much more.  Even better is that it is cheaper!

The colour scheme for this quilt came from one fabric alone.  It is a sweet print with birds and trees on it.  It actually was a scrap from a crib sheet that my mother-in-law made for my nephew, born almost two months ago.  I pulled the rest of the fabrics, other than the white, from my stash.  Each block contains that bird fabric as a way to tie it all together.  

Now, if only we could pin down a nanny and I could get out to stores and start pitching.  In the meantime, I'm plugging away on a baby quilt for the latest addition to the family, my nephew that was born today.  More on that this weekend.

21 April, 2009

Is it Earth Day Already?

For awhile there this environmentalist was feeling a little jaded.  Last summer I was gung-ho on green crafting, searching for gorgeous and environmentally friendly fabric, and actually using my scraps for something.  In truth, all I've done are a few dying experiments and a spreadsheet on energy and water use associated with quilting.  Beyond getting wrapped up in being a mom to two gorgeous babies, I simply got excited to quilt.  Oh, and that spreadsheet is on the old, old computer currently in storage.  

Having spent my entire professional career working on environmental issues (climate change, sustainability, and green energy) it kind of made me mad that it all seemed, well, trendy.  It was eco-this and green-that. Sure, it was  good to get so many of the issues in the public eye, but so much of it was greenwashing. I was just about to really burn out on it all when the economy went to pot and that news replaced anything environmental.  Hmm, not sure what's better.

I did, however, go through my posts and was reminded that I promised a shot of garbage. Okay, the exact waste from the construction of one baby quilt, not garbage.  This was absolutely everything leftover from the project.  Useful or not, it's all here.  The leftover spool was recycled. The thread and tiny bits of fabric were left outside for the squirrels as they built their nests.  I sorted through all the fabric scraps into useable and non-usable scraps.  There wasn't much in the way of batting scraps because I cut it from a much larger batt.  And yes, I threw out the rest of it - I don't do much other stuff in the way of crafting to even use it.

Since my tirade a year ago I do have to say that I've changed a little.  Maybe it's because I've done a lot of quilting in the last year?  Maybe some of that trendiness started affecting me.  Either way, I've been looking at my scraps with a keener eye.  And I've become more aware of waste from quilting before I even produce it:  I am even more careful when I cut, thinking about what the leftover pieces might be useful for (doll quilts!); and I cut all batts from one king size batt until their are no usable pieces (7 quilts from the last one!).  Now, to get back to that dying.

20 April, 2009

Improv Sampler - Building Blocks

If I wasn't so anxious to get to quilting while both the little ones are done I would figure out how to get all four of these photos as one image.  Oh, and I could have cropped them a little. No big whoop.  The truth is that I forgot to take photos of these blocks before I put the quilt top together. They are now in with the others, awaiting the border.  

And yes, I am adding borders to this quilt.  It's not normal for me and it isn't normal for most improvisational style quilts.  But I am using this quilt as a teaching sample.  Going in to traditional shops I thought I should try to pay homage to more traditional quilt construction. Perhaps that will make it less scary for people?  Change is often feared, and improv style construction is new and different.  But I'm hoping the sunny colours will draw people in and curiosity, at least, will get the better of most!

These blocks are true improvisations.  I started with the scraps from the other blocks and just started sewing pieces together.  As I got going I could see some different opportunities, so you see 4 very different blocks.  All of them were made at the same time, with the same scraps.   And such different results.  I love them all.  I'm really tempted to do an all strippy quilt now. Nothing but rows and rows of scrappy stripes.  Hmm, this whole process is giving me so many more ideas.  

Either I have to give up sleep or I need the girls to sleep a heck of a lot more!  That being said, we are having a gorgeous day and we've already been to the park.  A soccer game in front of the house is on the agenda for later.  As long as I keep them away from my nose.  Oh, did I mention I broke my nose last week?  Fun times.  Yeah, I'm off to sew and ignore everything else!

17 April, 2009

Improv Sampler - Wonky Log Cabins

It's been said before here - I'm not a huge fan of wonky log cabins.  But they are an excellent first step into improvisational quilting.  It takes one of the oldest patterns/techniques and turns it on its head.  No templates and no precision cutting.

Most of the time when you see a wonky log cabin they are set as individual blocks within a quilt.  This makes for very bold, graphic designs.  In my searching though, I would be curious to see what wonky log cabin blocks look like set in traditional log cabin settings.  Hmm... I might yet tackle the log cabin again.

I won't pass on a tutorial, but I will send you to this one.  I couldn't have said it better.  The important thing to remember with wonky log cabins, really in any improvisational technique, is to still remember basic sewing principles.  Use a consistent seam allowance (preferably 1/4 inch).  Trim your excess fabrics so you aren't left with a mess of extra fabric on the back of the block.  And square up your block at the end. 

One final tip with these wonky log cabins: Try to make your final logs at least 3/4 inch wide (finished).  Any narrower than that and you will have these teeny strips that get lost when you piece the blocks into a quilt.

We can thank Denyse Schmidt for providing the true inspiration for all of us on these wonky log cabins.  But they are some amazing examples of these modern quilts all over the place. Some of my favourites can be found here, here, and here.

15 April, 2009

Improv Sampler - Free-Piecing

Welcome to free piecing.  This technique is definitely about the process.  And sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  In other words, don't look too closely at that 'sun' block in the photo.

It does help to plan when you are doing free piecing, or at least have an idea of the general shape you want to finish with - a house, a flower, a star.  Quite often I actually make a sketch if my brain is baby addled and I can't figure out how the pieces should go together.  (I should share my sketches one day - if a quilt block could be a stick figure then I am an expert at drawing that!)

Free piecing in this context is about the process of cutting and piecing.  There are no templates and often no rulers when cutting.  Sewing is just one piece to the next.  You often start from the inside of the block and work out.  You have the be creative and improvise along the way.  For example, in the house block above I didn't cut a piece long enough to encompass the angle of the roof.  That means the roof doesn't overhang the house that much and the roof is smaller than intended.  Oh well.  I compensated by adding another strip of the background fabric to make the block big enough.  Problem solved.

This technique also works well in combination with freely cut applique pieces, like this artist.

10 April, 2009

Improv Sampler - Chopsticks

There really is more to improvisational quilting that wonky log cabins.  Of course, those are good too.  But this technique, which I call chopsticks, is the first step in some fun designs.

Start with a square that is roughly the size you want your finished block to be.  Or just start with a square in any size and see what happens.  Cut some strips of other fabrics, slightly longer than your square.

Slice your square on any angle - through the middle, close to the side, or even lop off a corner. Don't throw away either piece.  It is best to keep the pieces set-up as if you just cut them so you can remember how it all goes back together.

Pick up the piece on the left side and sew one of your strips to it, right sides together.  Open and press.

Pick up the remaining piece of your square and sew it to the edge of the strip, as if you were sewing the original square back together (but with the strip in between).  Open and press.

You can sew one strip or many.  The process is the same every time.  Start with the square, slice, re-sew, and press.  Your strips can be parallel, on an skewed angle, or even perpendicular, like this quilt.

Important tips for this technique:
- Don't start with a square that is exactly the finished size you want because you will lose bits as you re-sew.  Start larger and trim down.
- Try not to have strips less than 3/4 inch on the edges.
- Strongly contrasting fabrics work best, but you could get a subtle design with fabrics close in value or colour.

08 April, 2009

This basket has been and will become some more improvised blocks.  In my bid for teaching supremacy - okay, just one teaching job to start - I've been putting together class notes and a class sample.  After all, you can't pitch a class without showing what you'll do.

Generally I don't like samplers, but I did want to be able to demonstrate a few different improvisational  techniques.  By no means are they the only ways to tackle improv quilting, but they are a good way to break free from patterns.  These techniques are also about the process, not necessarily a final design result.  There is design and then there is improv.  One step at a time for breaking the pattern addiction.

Over the next week I'll share with you the finished blocks and ultimately the finished quilt top. That is, if I can find the time to finish all of it.  I've got 12 of the 16 blocks finished, but the last few days haven't been very productive with a sick Hubby and our anniversary.  And now the baby is sick so I'm not sure what naptime will bring.  We do what we can.

06 April, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Some days you just need to stay in bed.  Preferably snuggled under a quilt not attacked by a dog.  Today is one of those days.  Hubby was up all night in the bathroom, thus keeping me up. But gone are the days when we could just wallow in sickness and tiredness - toddlers and babies just don't get that.  So Hubby is wallowing in bed, trying to sip ginger ale and the girls and I are having a pajama day.  Oh, did I mention that it was our wedding anniversary?

Thankfully the damage on the quilt was not also done today.  It was actually attacked by one of the dogs a little over 5 years ago, on a day far worse.  I'd been reamed out at work, we were awaiting word from Hubby's parents about his dad's cancer surgery, it was the coldest day of the year, and the desk we picked up for my brother was damaged.  You know, one of those days where just one more thing going wrong will make you cry tears that you fear will never end?

We were pulling up to the house and I asked Hubby where the dogs were.  At the time they were generally outside dogs and couldn't fully be trusted in the house for long periods of time alone.  He assured me that he cleaned our room, closed the closets, and left them on their beds sleeping.  But I knew, I just knew, as I asked him, "But what about the quilt?"  I raced in the house and at first glance everything seemed fine - dogs were spazzing at our arrival and everything appeared intact.  Then Hubby found a crumple of wet batting in the dog bed, the intact dog bed.  Sure enough, a quick investigation found a chunk missing from our quilt. Commence Cheryl losing it.  I screamed, I punched the walls, I cried, and it took a few shots of vodka to settle my nerves.

When we arrived at the hospital the next morning we had a few more misadventures to share with my father-in-law.  He was more than an optimist, he always chose to not let things get to him and he had the ability to get everyone around him do the same thing.  Here we were whining about our ridiculous string of bad luck to a man diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was making us laugh.  And then he told me to just make the chewed section part of the quilt's history.  It wasn't ruined, this is just what happened one crappy day.

It's taken me over 5 years to fix this quilt, partially out of laziness, partially out of uncertainty on just how to do it, and partially because it serves as a vivid reminder of those precious days five years ago.  Our anniversary was looming and the quilt was in desperate need of a wash, so it seemed time to tackle it.  

Thankfully it was only this one section along the edge of the quilt that was chewed.  I decided that it was small enough (about 8 inches total) that it wouldn't wreck the remaining edge of the quilt (it's a king-size).  So I merely cut around the total chewed section in a relatively gradual curve, cut some bias binding, ripped out stitches of the old binding, and did my best to attach it all together.  I don't generally use bias bindings, and never continuous bindings, so it was quite the challenge for me.   It came out okay.  I'm not proud of the final connection of the new and existing binding, but overall it looks decent.

The next step is to actually put another label on the quilt, identifying the history.  This quilt was pieced together with blocks I got in a block shower from a whole bunch of on-line friends. At the time of our wedding I was heavily involved with the World Wide Quilting Page.  They got together and sent us blocks to make a wedding quilt.  Even Morgan enjoyed receiving all the blocks.  And this quilt has always been our summer quilt ever since.  One of these days the weather will warm up and we can retire the duvet for the summer and snuggle under this quilt again.  Happy Anniversary.

01 April, 2009

Doll Quilts Delivered

My first custom order of quilts has been delivered, and the recipient loves them.  This was the first time I've sold work, so it was stressful and quite exciting.  I know I love my quilts, but will other people?  I now feel free to share with you where they went.

Christina at Bamboletta makes the most beautiful hand made dolls.  Made from natural ingredients and customized for you and yours they are treasures.  Ever since I found them I've been culling our own doll collection so that I can get down to just one of hers.  The Monster will be getting one for her birthday this summer.  Please check out her stuff, it is simply beautiful.

She is also starting a store for doll related items, and that's where my quilts are going.  This opens the door for me as well.  I've decided to also take some custom orders for doll and baby quilts (for now).  I know I won't get rich doing this, but it is a nice compliment to things I love to do.