Saturday, March 31, 2007

Show you my sewing room?!?!

The topic of the week for the Stashbusters blog ring is showing our sewing rooms. I have browsed through some really beautiful studios on other blogs and hope that those quilters really appreciate their space. Our house is very small - less than 1,000 sq. feet and there are four of us living space is very limited. Before we had children, I had an entire room for my quilting... and it was great, because I had just started quilting and didn't have much stuff!
And now...well, I wouldn't exactly say I had a quilting room. My space is in the basement, with an unfinished ceiling, a cement floor and very poor insulation. I have a little space heater to help keep me warm in the winter. I share my quilting room (which is about 10' by 12') with the washing machine, dryer, laundry tub, hot water heater and small freezer. And from time to time, the sewer backs up which puts sewage in the middle of my quilting area....I kid you not!
So I love to look at books of other quilters studios and dream about what I might someday have. One of the best studios I have seen is in this book by Judy Murrah. There are some fun little projects in this book to inspire quilters, but mostly I enjoyed the photography of her studio....lots of natural light, extremely well organized, lots of storage shelves, large ironing and cutting tables, and a huge design wall.
But back to my little space is a mess and I couldn't possibly bring myself to show it to you. I will show you my favorite cupboard that my sister-in-law gave me. I have some of my quilting magazines, albums full of quilt photos, quilt books, and my little jam jar collection of tiny bits of fabrics are on the bottom shelf. There is another cupboard to the left of this one and you can just see the corner of the table where my sewing machine sits. My husband built a cutting table that is hinged to the wall and can lift up when I need to get something out of the freezer....that works well.
Even though my space is small and the conditions are trying sometimes, I take pride in the fact that I have continued to make quilts and enjoy my hobby no matter what. My biggest problem is to carve out space in my schedule to actually get downstairs to enjoy time in my little quilting (laundry) room.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Running around the ring!

This afternoon I was having a cup of tea and "running around the ring", as I like to call it. It's the only aerobic exercise I might call it "virtual exercise"!! I go through all the Stashbuster sites, clicking on "next" at each site, and reading all the new postings. (And for all you Stashbuster bloggers, it would make it quicker for us to run around the ring, if you put your Stashbuster link near the top of your blog, so we don't have to scroll up and down looking for it!)
This is a whole new past time that I really enjoy. However, today, while "exercising", I almost forgot to pick up my son after school! I think I better keep my "running around the ring" activities to late at night when the only thing I could be late for... is sleeping!
The weather here is improving slowly and I took this photo yesterday of the neighbour's crocuses (or should I say crocusi??)that are struggling to survive in this cold, but snow-free (at the moment) environment. Surely spring is right around the corner!?! One of the good things that happened this week is that a friend of mine (Judy) was reading my blog (from Feb. 22) and was inspired to get out her scrap basket and start a new project. Not only did she start a scrap quilt, she actually finished this quilt and then sent me two photos. She didn't use the connecting corners technique, but instead designed her own paper piecing pattern, and made a larger block size...and here is her beautiful quilt! On the right is a close up where you can see her incredible quilting. And, also good news is that blogging has improved my computer skills to the point that I could receive her emailed photos, change them from bitmaps to jpegs (and I even know what that means!!), resize and post them to my blog...I impress myself!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Abstract Mini

This week I have been working (in tiny blocks of time) on my next abstract mini quilt. It is not getting along with me very well, and I am fighting with my ideas on the theme versus my love of quilting a piece to death! I'll give more details when it's finished.
But in the meantime, here is the one I made for the January topic of "Family". I started with 4 circles of tulle to represent the people in my family. In overlapping the tulle I was thinking about the ways in which we influence each other. Then I thought the colours weren't strong enough so I painted with wax pastels on top of the tulle. I used too much water which made some of the colours run...but I still liked it, so I carried on. I quilted a free motion spiral in the circles and then a zigzag stitch around each circle to hold the edges of the tulle down. I liked how that turned out, thinking that it looked like cogs turning in a (sometimes well oiled!) machine - working together. I continued the zigzag quilting to the outside using a new varigated Rayon thread by Coats, to represent the energy of the family and our hope to influence the outside world in a positive way. I added a few beads because it looked a little plain, and well, I just couldn't help myself! In the centre is one of my favorite finds...a radiating sun medallion, clear heart beads in the centre of the circles and bugle beads in arrows around the outside.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Paper Piecing Class

Last week was a hectic and busy week for me, and I am looking forward to a more relaxed pace in the week ahead. Saturday morning I taught a quilt class that had been postponed from earlier in the month when the weather was so bad (snow, ice, roads closed) that we couldn't get in/out of town. It was fitting that our project had a wintery theme...snowmen! We were using the pattern by Wendy Vosters - with her permission. Here are three of the students with their first block - Susan, Sylvia, and Karen. Next month they will bring back their finished quilt tops, so I will post a photo in April.
In the afternoon was more paper piecing, using one of the books by Carol Doak, a pioneer in this technique. I forgot to take a photo in all the excitement, but I will try to remember next month.
Today I am hoping to have some time to finish up the borders on my second mystery quilt, and to work on another abstract theme mini.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mystery tips

I love mystery quilts and have probably sewn more than 20 of these quilts over the years.
As a result, I have formulated a few ideas on what makes a good one and thought I'd share them with my fellow blog readers. These are my top five important elements of mystery quilting:
1) Fabric Choice - always pick fabrics you love to make a mystery quilt. If you love your fabrics, you will enjoy sewing any design. The quilts in which I have tried to use up leftover junk, haven't turned out as well. Most are still UFO's. The exception of course is if it is a scrap quilt...then anything goes! The blocks on the left are from one of my previous mysteries...from the quilt my son has on his bed tonight. I started this quilt by selecting the musical note fabric that I really liked, and bought enough of it for the blocks, borders, and backing.
2) Value - the most important piece of information you need when selecting your fabrics is the value. The fabrics must be according to the values specified by the mystery writer for the quilt to produce the desired design. Varying from the value recommendations will likely produce a "muddy" quilt. For this quilt, I used colours from the musical note fabric and selected the required amount of darks, mediums and lights.
3) Pattern Designer - use a trusted pattern designer. I have heard horror stories of designers who disappeared in the middle of a mystery (only to leave the quilters with lots of pieces and no plan), and I have heard of patterns where lots of mistakes have been made and the quilters have ended up trying to remake the entire top. Writers like Deb Kaffunger (Quiltaholics), Debbie Caffrey, Billie Lauder, and Linda Worland (PaperPanache) are reliable designers who stand behind their designs and write great patterns. The quilt on the right is one of Debbie Caffrey's older designs.
4) Expectations - you need to have realistic expectations of the outcome. It's a surprise... so you never know what you will get. If you have specific ideas of what you like in terms of quilt designs, mysteries aren't for you!
5) Following directions - you must be able to read and follow directions exactly as the writer outlines. Usually they are very specific and most questions can be answered by reading the directions carefully.
Last weekend I started to sew the mystery at Quiltaholics and today I finally finished the small size top. I had to fix three big mistakes that I made late at night while rushing to finish. I had to rotate one block and take off two entire borders. The outside dark borders are only 1 1/2" so they are somewhat wobbly after being unsewn and resewn. I really thought seriously about leaving in the mistakes, but decided that since I really like this quilt, I wanted to feel happy every time I looked at it and not think..."geez I made so many mistakes in that"! Now I love my finished quilt and can't wait to quilt and hang it! I also have the blocks together for my medium size and am working on putting on the borders...carefully and reading the instructions so I don't have to do it twice!


Although guild meeting was last week, I just got around to clearing out my guild bag this week. And guess what I found?!?! A present! Now many times in life does that happen?!?!
After my recent quilting retreat, I made up a blog with some narrative and about 70 photos that I had taken over the 3 days. And one of the quilters from the retreat gave me a gift, which she made especially for me, to thank me for making the blog! I had admired Jackie's scissor chain at the retreat...she calls them Point Protectors - "beaded baubles to protect your scissors". She had her scissors on a chain around her neck and had one of these attached to the scissors. Besides ensuring you don't get stabbed by your scissors, it is also a way to make sure someone doesn't accidently take your scissors because it makes them easily identifiable. The loop goes around the scissor handle and the pink cone goes over the point. Now I need to go shopping for a really pretty pair of gold scissors to match my new protector!!!! Thanks so much for the surprise and the lovely card Jackie!
And...another exciting thing to tell you is that Linda from Paper Panache, one of my favorite websites, has listed my blog on her site! Check it out...she has lots of easy, free patterns, many complex patterns that you can order, and my favorite thing...a free paper pieced mystery.
If you are a confident paper piecer, you will really enjoy her mysteries. I posted two of her previous mysteries in my Feb. 8th and Feb. 10th posts. I will post the next one when she takes the pattern down, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for you. Aren't surprises the best?!?
That is one of the reasons I love mystery quilts so much. I am still working away on my two quilts from last weekend's mystery...unsewing my mistakes on the small quilt that I pieced late at night, when I clearly should have been sleeping instead of sewing, and putting together the medium size top. If I don't get called in to work today, I'll have a photo to show you soon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Miniature Class - 1st day of Spring!

Today was one of my monthly miniature quilt classes and as always, the students brought back the projects they started last month. In February's class they worked on creating unique quilts using squares as the only design unit. They selected their colours and fabrics, cut whatever size of squares they preferred to work with, ranging from 1" to 2", and then worked on designing a quilt. As you can see from the varied results, each quilter did something completely different with their design. Some students even had time to quilt and bead their projects..aren't these quilts just wonderful?!?!
Today is the first day of spring on our calendar. Even the chipmunks came out today to see what was going on! We get very excited here when the snow starts to melt and the creatures start to come out of hibernation! I spotted this little one and took a quick photo of her, which turned out quite well even though it was taken through the window and between the blinds!
And, other "I hope winter is over" news...I saw my first robin this week! This always makes me feel happy and remember that spring is indeed coming. On the right is an older mini quilt that I call "Birdhouse Blues" with paper pieced house blocks. It is 5 1/2" x 6" and I still love that birdpoop fabric on the bottom of the quilt!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Finished Mystery

I have finally finished my small mystery quilt from the Quiltaholics website. I decided that I wasn't going to bed until I had it was finished. And when I say "finished", you know I mean only the quilt top...not the entire quilt, with quilting and binding, right??? It was lots of fun to sew because Deb writes her mysteries in such a way that you can't figure it out until the last step what you are making. I think she is calling this design "motion". I am not loving the orange fabric as I think it jumps out too much, but I really loved those green and blue fabrics. I might have to buy more of those! The dark dots gave me some trouble, but it all worked out okay in the end.
Oh no...I spotted a mistake! Are you kidding me?!?! Yep....that's a mistake! I don't believe it! Well...I'm still calling it "finished" even though I'll have to fix it tomorrow....UGH!
And I am way behind on the medium size, but this is what the blocks look like. I like how the colours are working together, but I'm for sure not going to make the small 4 patch border for this size. It was very fiddley and this fabric isn't as stable as the batiks, so I'm going to make a plain border and use those 4 patches that I have already sewn for something else.
Thanks to Deb Kaffunger for all the great mysteries she has written. I think I have sewn 8 of her designs so far, 5 are finished (as in quilted and bound) and 3 are UFO's. Mostly I find I stop at the border stage if I don't do it on the mystery quilt weekend....that's the job I like the least.
That was a fun weekend! Now I better get focused because it's a very busy week ahead...4 quilt classes to teach, 3 12 hour on call shifts, one 4 hour meeting (about a new prophylactic HIV program we are starting...I'll have to really use all my brain cells to remember this new complex protocol), and one class to teach at the university (non-quilting = non-fun).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy National Quilting Day!

It was a great day for me....I sewed for the entire day! I worked on the Quiltaholic mystery quilt being offered this weekend. Here is the fruit of my labour. The blocks on the right are the batik fabrics for a small quilt, and the blocks on the left are the donated fabrics for a medium quilt. It doesn't look like much right now, but by this time tomorrow, it's going to be two fantastic looking quilt tops! Stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2007

National Quilting Day

Did you know that Saturday is National Quilting Day? It is also St. Patrick's Day, which is a big celebration at our house. For supper I am making green pasta, ceasar salad, and green cake for dessert. Other foods I had made over the years include green mashed potatoes, asparagus soup, and chicken chili with lots of green food colouring. There is something very appealing to my children about eating an entire green meal!
And because it is National Quilting Day I am treating myself to a relaxing day of sewing the new mystery quilt at Quiltaholics. In honour of St. Patrick I am including one green fabric! On the right are the batik fabrics I have picked out for a small sized quilt for myself. I purchased only the bright blue and the orange fabrics, to go with the dots, the yellow and the lime green from my stash. I will piece the binding and backing from whatever is left over after sewing the quilt top.
I also had to buy these beautiful threads for the quilting. This is my favorite quilting thread at the moment... Premium Sulky 30wt. It goes through my machine like butter, and comes in wonderful varigated colours.
And on the left are the fabrics that I have selected from the quilt guild's donated fabrics, which I will make into a charity quilt for the Pediatric Sexual Assault Unit at the hospital. I am making this in the medium size but two of the pieces are a little less than the required amounts, so I really have to be careful not to make any mistakes. I may end up piecing some bits to make all the units...we'll have to see how it goes. The pink fabric is a huge piece and will probably be enough for the backing and binding too.
I have oiled my sewing machine, wound up some bobbins and cleared off the cutting table. I have all the pieces cut out and can't wait for tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stashbuster group & UFO confession

I am happy to tell you that I have been accepted as a member of the "Stashbusters" webring...see the little Stashbuster's box on the right? If you click on 'list' you can visit lots of wonderful quilting blogs. I recommend making a big pot of tea before you start so you can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the quilting rooms, stashes, and projects of many interesting quilters from around the world.
The Stashbusters are discussing their oldest UFO's, so I am going to humiliate myself by confessing that my oldest UFO is my very first quilting project, started in 1990 at a "Quilt-in-a-day" class. Not knowing a thing about quilting, I thought I would make the quilt that day. I did make the quilt TOP in one day, but who knew there where other things you had to do?!?!?! So I borrowed a book from the library on how to finish a quilt, and followed the instructions from hand basting on the floor (never to be done by me again!) to hand quilting. Here I am on my hands and knees, hand basting this thing!I have been working on it every winter since then. Every year my daughter asks if I think I might finish it this winter and I say something not committal. It's not likely going to be this year either! My guild UFO group has called it my "Quilt-in-a-decade" project, but it's almost two decades now!
Why is it still a UFO? Well, I don't like the fabrics/colours any more and I'm not thrilled with how the quilting has turned out, and now that I am an experienced quilter, I notice so many mistakes. Also, because hand quilting takes me a long time. I am slow at it and although I enjoy it and find it relaxing, if I am going to do handwork these days, I prefer to do beading.
What are my plans to finish it? I'll keep working away at it. I could do some hand work at night when my family watches the TV, but I'm in the middle of a fun beading project, so I'd rather do that. I'll keep trying to force myself to finish...I am so close. I just need to do the straight bar quilting on the last border. Here is a close up of the ribbon quilt pattern in the second border, which I enjoyed working on.
The last many UFO's do you have? I honestly don't know and don't think I should humiliate myself further by even guessing, since I'm sure it is over 100! I have them hidden all over the house! It's a terrible secret, but true...don't tell anyone!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Abstract Quilt

About a year and a half ago I made a mini quilt for the abstract challenge group exploring the topic of "fire". I used a "mind Mapping" technique from Lily Kern's journal class. I wanted to pursue the idea of words as fire, that singe and destroy people, putting negativity and toxins into the universe. This is the design I came up with, with the shape on the left symbolizing a mouth, and the radiating triangles representing verbal fire. I called this quilt "Ready, Aim, Fire".
It has received some attention when it has been displayed in shows and was chosen by the Centre for the Arts for their publicity advertising the quilt show at the gallery in May 2007.

Here is my quilt (bottom right) on their 2007 exhibition flyer.

It was an honour to have my little quilt chosen for this purpose, to be able to promote the concept of quilts as "art", and to have quilts included as part of the gallery exhibitions.
Very exciting!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sewing scraps

Last year I took this photo while visiting my quilting friend Judy. She is a prolific and talented quilter, but she doesn't love scraps like I do, so she generously shares them with me. We had a fun afternoon sorting through her scrap basket. Isn't this a wonderful looking pile?!? I must admit to having received quite a few wonderful scrap bags from this friend. But now it is catching up with me. My desire to have the fabric has outgrown my space to store it, and this has motivated me to get working on some scrap projects.
One of these projects is a "quilt-as-you-go" scrap quilt, with purple fabrics for the backing, and on the front, half the block is light and half is dark scraps. I started working on it at the quilt retreat (see March 2nd entry for a photo of some of the blocks) and I have had a hard time putting it away since then. Every night this week, when I had a bit of time to sew, I have been working on these blocks. I now have 30 blocks trimmed and ready to sew together, which is not nearly enough to make a decent size quilt. I am enjoying working on it however, I must put it away as I have some other projects for which I have deadlines looming, and really have to get to work on those.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Retreat Hazards

I should warn you that there are some negative aspects about going to a quilting retreat. The longest lasting problem is sleep deprivation. I was exhausted from all the laughing, staying up late at night sewing more blocks, giggling with my roommates until the wee hours of the morning, and then the early morning risings - because I don't want to miss out on any of the fun! I am still catching up on my lost sleep. I was lucky that friday was a "snow day", which meant that my children didn't have to go to school, and my quilting classes were cancelled, so we didn't have to get up early...and I could catch up on some much needed sleep.
A second problem is that the scenery is so pretty out in the country, that it is tempting to spend lots of time staring out the window. It was such beautiful winter weather, snowing gently for most of the time. On the right is a photo of the path to the dining can see the snow flakes falling on the way to supper.

Many of the quilters enjoyed going for peaceful walks on the trails. Here are two anonymous walkers! It was cold!
But if you spend lots of time enjoying the weather, you have less time to sew! So much fun to be had, and so little time!
The third problem is that I was so inspired by the projects of everyone around me that I have an uncontrollable urge to go fabric shopping, and to start new projects. This is a problem because I am working on reducing my UFO pile, not increasing it! Fortunately for me, I am too busy right now to find time to go shopping, but I have started a list and can't wait to buy some new batiks.
The fourth issue for me is that I feel so happy and relaxed when I'm at the retreat. Here I am sewing my "quilt-as-you-go" blocks on the last day, surrounded by my scrap fabrics, sitting in the sun, listening to the laughter and conversation of quilting friends....really, does it get any better than this?!?!
So why is that a problem, you ask???
Because the re-entry into my regular life is brutal! It's a shock to the system to feel so happy, calm and relaxed and then to have to hit the ground running when I get to walk, food to cook, house to clean, my paid job to catch up with, the children to pick up, homework to supervise....back to my reality. It's a tough transition.
But I have made progress on my quilting endeavours and have lots of wonderful memories with quilting friends from my retreat days.
So I will happily endure these challenges...when are we going again?!?!?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Retreat Fun

I am back from my 3 day quilting retreat. I sure had a great time at the retreat...did lots of laughing, visited with old friends, enjoyed yummy food (for which I didn't have to plan, shop, cook or do any dishes!!) and revelled in the seemingly endless time for sewing. I always learn a few new tips and get re-energized about quilting when I see all the beautiful projects that everyone else is working on.
I brought a pile of teal scraps and fat quarters that were donated to the charity quilt program at the guild. I don't have any teal fabric in my stash and have never made anything in teal, so I thought this would be a good challenge for myself. The first evening I cut the 2 1/2" strips to make the scrappy bargello quilt on the Quiltville website and started to piece the strip sets. This is a photo of me sewing the second strip set....the first pieced panel is behind me on the design wall. That was a fairly boring job, but made fun by the other quilters comraderie and encouragement. I didn't have enough fabric to make the pattern as shown on the website which has 4 panels, and I had to do some piecing together to get enough squares to make it 3 panels. It turned out okay, but by the second day I was really
hating teal even more!

When that top was finished I got out an old UFO, which is a small quilt for the Memory Quilts program at the guild. I had pieced it years ago, and it was quilted by Ruthanne Finnegan. After I sewed the binding on, I hung it on the design wall with a note asking if someone was willing to hand sew the binding down. Miraculously it was a finished quilt within the hour! Don't you just love binding fairies?!?! The finished quilt is on the right.
Then I had a real change of gears and opened up a new miniature paper piecing pattern, which was a gift from my retreat roommate. She thought it would be a challenge for me and she was right! It is a Carolina Lily pattern on pre-printed tissue paper. I have done tons of paper piecing and usually really enjoy it, but this was quite a challenge. I have never sewn on tissue paper before and it was quite fragile....ripping easily. And the seam matching was difficult. I had to sew a main seam twice, and even then it didn't quite match up. I'll try to fix it with a green marker! The pattern had 24 blocks in it, and since the first one took 3 hours, I'm guessing I won't be making all 24 blocks!!
After supper on the second day, I took out the guild Blocks of the Month from October, which were blue 9 patch blocks with a white centre. I cut the blocks into 4 equal pieces, an idea which I first saw on the Quilted Forest website for a mystery quilt. Then we had a chance to play around with possible block layouts on the design wall. By the time all the blocks were ready (one had to be re-sewn to be the proper size and two new blocks were made to make the number of rows we wanted) it was getting late, so I selected the layout that had the fewest number of seams to match, and the easiest construction requiring the least amount of brain power....which was the bottom right layout. A big thank you to Barb for all her late night help with the unsewing, and seam pressing.
On the morning of the third day, I started a quilt-as-you-go project to try and make a dent in one of my scrap bins. I used 6 1/2" pieces of leftover batting, a variety purple pieces for the backings, and made one half of the block dark scraps and the other half light scraps. I only got 14 blocks finished before it was time to pack up and go home. I'm not sure I like the black and white pieces as they really jump out at you...I might remove those. But it is looking like a happy quilt and will be a good demo piece for the guild "newbie day" demo.
So those are all the projects I worked on at retreat. My next blog entry will be on the downside of quilting retreats....believe it or not, it's not all good!