Not all my own work

When I was down in Alexandra the other day, mum gave me an old piece of appliqué she’s had for ages, and asked it I could quilt it and turn it into a cushion cover for her.  So that’s what I spent yesterday afternoon doing (in between writing that ridiculously long blog post).

Stupidly, I forgot to take a before photo, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with photos of the finished object (you can just use your imagination for the before shot – it looked like this, but flat, and with no binding):

I wanted the appliqué to really stand out, so I used the same technique as with the skeleton, stitching in the ditch around the main elements, and then using a really dense quilting pattern for the background (possibly too dense – it’s a bit stiff for a cushion cover, really, but I wanted to keep the scale of the quilting really small to be in fitting with the size of the piece).  I found a scrap of super-high loft batting to use, so the flowers really puff out:

I even managed to find some fabric in my stash that matched the colours in the flowers almost perfectly, so I could give it a nice colourful binding to frame the picture.  I reckon it turned out pretty good.

It’s a bit of a weird shape for a cushion (which is why it looks a bit strange here – I didn’t have a cushion the right size to fit it, so I just stuffed it quickly with an old towel for the photo), but the fabric was too small to square up, and adding extra borders on the sides would have looked strange, so it’ll just have to be a rectangular cushion.  I think it looks ok, anyway.

And it means that for once I’m showing off a completed project (even if most of the work on it was done by someone else), instead of a work in progress!

Hope you like it mum!  I’ll try and remember to take it into work tomorrow so I can post it to you.

Preparing and repairing

I spent the afternoon basting the little squares quilt, so hopefully I’ll be able to start quilting it tomorrow.  I’m so looking forward to quilting this one, both because I just love the colours so much so I want to see it finished, and also because I’ve been planning out how to quilt it.  I’ve got an idea for a design that responds to the geometry of it (rather than just using an all-over design like I’ve used in other quilts), and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

I had to do a little bit of repair work before I could baste it.  One of the Oakshott squares had a tiny tear in the fabric, which I hadn’t noticed until I came to sew all the sections together (by which time it was too late to change the design to not use that piece).  I put some interfacing on the back to hold it together, and did my best to adjust the seams so that most of it would end up in the seam allowance, but it was still reasonably obvious, and looked like it might fray over time.

Luckily though, I happened to have some thread that matched the colour almost exactly, so I was able to do a bit of tight zig-zagging to cover the rip.  It’s still visible, of course, but I don’t think it will be all that noticeable when you look at the quilt as a whole, and it will protect it from fraying.

Spare half hours

Ages ago I asked Deb Robertson how she manages to produce so many quilts while juggling work and children, and she told me she makes a lot of use of those spare half hours at the beginning and end of the day, when you can sew a few seams, or cut a few pieces, even if you don’t have time to do much more.

Now that I’ve got the new sewing table, it’s a lot easier to leave a project set up mid-process, without it being in the way, so I decided I’d give her approach a try.  So in the evenings this week (I’m not organised enough in the mornings to find spare time to sit at a sewing machine!) I’ve been sitting down with the aim of just making a little bit of progress (rather than my usual approach of thinking of the project as a whole (or even each major step of it) as being something that needs to be completed all at once, so therefore needs a huge chunk of spare time to work on).

And it’s amazing how much I got done.  Ok, so a couple of those evenings I got so engrossed in what I was doing that I stayed up way past my bedtime, but given that I was out two nights this week, I think I did pretty well:

That’s 341 sets of three little squares (it was supposed to be 339, but I mis-counted at some stage so did a couple extra by accident), all cut and sewn together.  Ok, so I sewed a lot of them by making strip sets then cutting them up, which sped up the process a bit, but that’s still pretty impressive, I reckon!

Now I’ve just got to sew the sets together to get nine-patches (which is exactly what it sounds like: a square block of nine patchwork squares), and I’ll have all my blocks ready to start laying out the quilt design.

I may end up spending more than half an hour working on it this afternoon, though – I’m too impatient to see how it’s going to look!

Quilts in progress report

(With apologies for the terrible photographs – I keep forgetting that the lighting in the study in winter isn’t particularly conducive to getting colour-accurate photos.  On the plus side, I have managed to reinstall decent photo-editing software, so at least I could crop and resize them without too much pain…)

The jelly roll race quilt is quilted! Although the quilting doesn’t actually show up all that well in the photo. It looks pretty good in person though. So all I need to do is the binding, and it’ll be finished.

It’s the first biggish quilt I’ve quilted on my new table, and it’s definitely a lot easier moving a big quilt around on the machine when everything’s at the same level. Of course, because nothing is ever simple in my life, I’ve now run into a problem with the thread shredding when I quilt in a particular direction, which I’ve read can either be a sign there’s damage to the throat plate or the bobbin holder of my machine, or it can just be caused by using the wrong size needle. I really really hope it’s just the needle – if not, the sewing machine might be taking another trip back to the repair shop… (or I could just never quilt anything in that direction – might make curves a bit tricky, of course)

I also finished putting together the top for the Three Dudes quilt. Well, sort of finished it – I can’t decide whether I want to add a border to it or not. It looks a bit unfinished without a border, but if I do put a border on, I’m not sure what fabric to use (ideally, I’d use one of the fabrics in the quilt, but I can’t find anyone in NZ selling that fabric line, and the postage for buying it from overseas would be ridiculous). This is the disadvantage of using precuts for a quilt – if you add in some random other fabric that’s not from that fabric line, it’s really obvious.

This has been a really complainy sort of blog post, hasn’t it?


This new quilt is definitely slower going than the jelly roll race one (mainly because the seams have to be pretty accurate for it to work properly), but I am making progress.  I spent a couple of hours this afternoon sewing the squares I’d cut out back together again:

And then this evening I cut them up again:

The resulting block looks a bit weird at the moment, but just wait. It’ll get better once they’re sewn back together (again…)

A quick photo before it rains again

I finished off the binding on Monday night, but pretty much every evening this week that I’ve been home before dark it’s been too wet to hang the quilt on the line so I could photograph it (and I really wanted to take the photo outside in natural light). It’s supposed to rain again this morning, but while it’s daylight and the rain is still holding off, I dashed out for a quick photo.

I’m pretty pleased with how this quilt turned out, considering it was just supposed to be a practice run at making a really big quilt (it’s big enough to use on my queen-size bed (which I actually did on Monday night, when we had a sudden cold snap, and I couldn’t be bothered swapping out my summer-weight duvet for the winter one, so I just threw the just-finished quilt over the top for a bit of extra warmth), though, because it’s square, not quite long enough to go over the pillows).  The quilting isn’t perfect (and there’s quite a few wrinkles on the back, because of my struggles to find somewhere to lay it out flat to baste it – I’ve since found instructions for a better way to baste big quilts using a table, so I might try that next time), but the overall effect is pretty good, so I’m happy enough with it (and even happier that the things I learnt will mean I do a better job next time, which was the whole point of making a practice quilt).

What I’m most proud of is the border.  The main design of the quilt came out of some experimenting I was doing with snowballing pinwheels.  The block that emerged was (to me) reminiscent of a flower, so I decided to make a “Flower Garden” quilt, with a field of flowers on a green background.  As I was making the blocks, I decided the off-cuts from the snowballing were too interesting to throw away, so I played round with them and came up with the zig-zaggy triangles border pattern, which is my favourite part of the whole quilt (though I also quite like the negative space between the flowers – I might have to experiment with that a bit more in another quilt…)

So there you have it: my first ever designed-it-entirely-myself-totally-from-scratch quilt.  And my first finished big quilt.

1 hour and 49 minutes

Didn’t manage to get it done in the promised under an hour (it was actually closer to two), but I did get it done.

Most of that time was taken sewing the first very long seam (when you fold the super-long strip in half and sew down the entire length), and in untangling the knots it kept trying to tie itself into, but each subsequent seam got faster – both because they halve in length each time, and because the strips are getting wider so more manageable.

It’s definitely not a design for a control freak – once you start sewing you’ve got no control on where the different strips end up (though with a bit of calculation you could probably predict what would end up where, and plan the order of the strips accordingly), so sometimes you end up with the same or very similar fabrics next to each other, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But that’s the point – it’s supposed to end up looking totally random.

There is some order in the chaos, though.  Because I used a jelly roll, all the strips were the same length, which meant my connecting triangles ended up in clusters.  I think if I made another one, I’d deliberately cut the strips different lengths, just to see what happened.

The red triangles don’t pop as much as I’d hoped, but that might just be the terrible lighting – it’s been a dark, rainy day today, so it was very dull when I took the photo. They’ll probably look different on a brighter day.

So now I’ve just got to quilt it…

Preparing to race

While I was working on my thesis last year, with no real free time to do anything properly crafty, I kept myself sane by channelling my creative urges into watching quilting tutorials on YouTube and keeping a notebook of all the ideas I wanted to try out one day.  And, when that wasn’t enough, by buying fabric, as a kind of promise to myself that I really would get to the end of my thesis, and be able to make all the things.

Mostly the fabric I bought was from the on-line retailer equivalent of remnant bins: “grab bags” of assorted off-cuts – a great way to build a stash of fabric, but with no pretence of being a curated collection.  Which is cool, because quilting comes from a tradition of using scraps, and I love the way disparate scraps can come together to make something beautiful.  And it’s fun having a random collection of fabric and picking and choosing from it until you get a set of fabrics that work well together.

Most of the tutorials I watched online, though, have a different approach to fabric – they mostly rely heavily on pre-cuts – a set of fabric pieces cut from a single designer’s line of fabrics, so that every piece is guaranteed to go with every other piece.  Pre-cuts come in a few different sizes which represent commonly-used pieces used in making quilt blocks – there’s jelly rolls, which are 2.5 inch wide strips, layer cakes, which are 10 inch squares, and charm packs, which are 5 inch squares.  Normally you get one or two pieces of each fabric design from the line in each pre-cut set.

Pre-cuts do make for beautiful quilts, but they’re also expensive.  Much more expensive than just buying scraps.  But a couple of months ago, I stumbled across a fabric shop in Australia that was having a clearance sale, and had reduced some of their pre-cuts cheap enough (even allowing for the shipping to NZ) that I decided it was worth buying a few, just so I could try out some of the ideas I’d seen.  Of course, being a clearance sale, the selection wasn’t great, but I managed to find two jelly rolls and three layer cakes that looked like they might have potential.

They’ve been sitting in my fabric stash since then, and I’ve been itching to play with them.  Today the temptation got too much, so I decided to use one of the jelly rolls to make a “jelly roll race” quilt.  It’s a quilt design that’s all over the internet, because it supposedly lets you sew a whole quilt top in under an hour (although really, it takes most people a couple of hours in total, because there’s a bit of prep work involved before you get to the actual “race” bit).

I decided to go a little bit fancier than the standard jelly roll race, which normally just involves sewing all the strips end to end, and then sewing the resulting giant strip together until it turns into a quilt.  I thought the fabrics in my jelly roll were a bit too dull, so I decided I wanted to brighten them up by adding pops of bright red throughout the quilt.  That meant my prep work ended up taking a few hours, because I decided I wanted red triangles – little squares would have been faster, but I thought triangles would look more dynamic (which seems fitting for a race quilt :-) ).

I didn’t get as far as the actual race part today, but I did get my giant strip all prepped, complete with red triangles, so tomorrow I’ll be able to see if it really does go together in under an hour.  At the moment it just looks like a giant tangle of fabric, but hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll have a quilt top to show you.

How about now?

Or now?

In case you’re still puzzled, it’s supposed to be a hedgehog (based loosely on this one, but simplified and a lot smaller).  It’s destined to be a very mini quilt for Heidi, my other supervisor (not the one I made the baby quilt for), who loves hedgehogs, so her office is decorated with hedgehogs her students have given to her over the years.  So I thought seeing as I made a baby quilt for Lynn, I’d make a wee hedgehog quilt for Heidi that she can hang on the wall in her office.

I’m reasonably pleased with how it turned out.  A few of the seams don’t quite match up, because there’s no quarter inch mark on my sewing machine, so I have to just guesstimate it (and I use metric for everything except sewing, so how big a quarter inch is doesn’t come naturally to me), which is difficult with patterns like this that require total accuracy to work properly.  I’ve figured out that a quarter inch is about a millimetre less than the width of the presser foot, so I can get reasonably close, but for something like this with lots of little pieces, the inaccuracies quickly add up.  But hopefully once it’s quilted, the wibbles won’t be as noticeable.

Oh, and the green face is because more realistic colours were too boring :-)  I was originally going to use shades of brown, but then I found the leaf fabric, which was just so perfect for the background, so I couldn’t use browns for the actual hedgehog without him disappearing completely.  So instead I picked out colours from the leaves, that would pop out a bit more.  I think I succeeded :-)