Monday, April 26, 2010

Progress on Free Motion Quilting

I'm a free motion quilting newbie, doing free motion quilting on my first quilt. I'd intended that the first quilt be one that I would keep for myself, knowing that my initial attempt would be less than perfect (despite practice). However, it didn't work out that way. Instead my first attempt is on a quilt for a friend.
How did this happen? First off, I'm a slow quilt-maker. Due to time-constraints and the fact that I have a tendency to go off on tangents, it normally takes me about a year to complete one quilt from start to finish. Even knowing this, silly me, I volunteered to make not one, but two quilts for friends of mine, a couple, Robynn and Matt. I gave Robynn her quilt for her birthday earlier this year. (You can view it here.) I machine quilted it using straight-stitching, decorating it with stars and squares. All that turning--I swore never again!

In the meantime, I got a new sewing machine, a Juki TL-98Q, that is perfect for free motion quilting. So here I am now, ready to quilt Matt's quilt. I can't face any more straight-line quilting (unless the lines really are to be straight--no turning the quilt), and I don't feel like I should take the time to quilt another quilt before I do Matt's. After all, it's been nearly two years since I started the two quilts. So, I took a deep breath, and decided to free motion quilt. Just something simple.

I don't yet know how I'm going to quilt the other block in this two block quilt.

As expected, I'm running into the same problems that I expect confronts most new FM quilters. My stitch length changes from day to day and from minute to minute. I can go forwards and backwards better than I can go from side to side. I find that if I can go faster, the quilting looks a bit smoother, but I can also run into trouble much quicker too. All in all though, I'm not disappointed in this first attempt.

I've found that using gloves does help the process. If anyone has any other great tips, please don't hesitate to leave them in the comment section. I can use all the help I can get. :-)

And last, but not least, here is this week's bunch of completed New York Beauty blocks:
I'll be linking up for Sew & Tell Fridays at Amylouwho's. Drop by and check out what everyone else has been up to this week. :-)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hand-piecing Questions from a Friend Answered

When I published my blog article entitled Hand-piecing, a friend of mine, a very accomplished quilter, (whose blog, The Way I Sew It, can be viewed here) emailed me with a bunch of good questions on hand-piecing:

I'm so glad you posted this. It makes me want to try hand piecing something. Also, can you take a close up of your stitching? It looks so fine and straight. I can't click the picture to make it bigger. Just a running stitch, right? Doubled thread? Do you run your thread through beeswax so it doesn't knot? Do you use a thimble? How do your seams look pressed? I presume you must press to one side, not open? Is there a "right" number of stitches per inch for stability? Maybe you could do a followup post answering these and any other questions? :)

Her wish is my command (now that sounds hokey doesn't it?)! First off the picture. I hope Blogger will allow readers to click on the picture and make it larger. I've found that in some cases, it just doesn't go there. Screen doesn't change; pictures remain small. Maybe I did something to tick off the Blogger gods that day? I don't know.

Now to the questions:

1. Yes, it is just a running stitch. I thread the needle through the fabric 3 or 4 times at one time, however, there is no magic number. Others may be able to do more. This is just what feels comfortable to me.

2. I use a single thread, although I can't think of any reason why you couldn't use a double thread. I realize that machine-piecers will see hand-piecing as more fragile. And initially, it is--but it's not as fragile as you think. Once the hand-pieced top is quilted, those seams are held in place and are well-protected from stress by the quilting--whether it is hand-quilted or machine-quilted. Here is an example:

In this hand-quilted example, except for the center wreath area, I quilted right up next to the seams on either side. So those seams are held in place by the seam itself and two rows of quilting. Those seams ain't gonna move. :-) Even the wreath in the center of the block will stabilize the seams and prevent them from being susceptible to stress.

3. Beeswax. I have used it when my thread seems particularly prone to tangling, but often it's not necessary.

4. While I use a thimble for hand-quilting, I do not use it for hand-piecing.

5. I press my seams to the sides. I do understand the idea of pressing them open in certain cases where there is simply too much fabric joined in the center of a block or something along those lines, but I think the overlap of pressing the seams to the sides makes the block more solid, especially a hand-pieced block. This is just my opinion. I haven't done any tests or anything. ;-)

6. As for stitches per inch, I just went and measured, and my stitching comes out at about 8 stitches per inch. However, I won't swear that 8 is the "right" number. I've had success with that number, but it may be that 6 or 7 per inch would work too, and that if a quilter could manage 9 or 10, it might be better.

Hand-piecing really is a different animal from machine-piecing. Being totally "hand-crafted", each individual quilter will have her own way of approaching hand-piecing, and different tips and techniques. While yes, it is necessary to have a certain degree of integrity in the hand-pieced seams, there is no absolute right or wrong method.

If any other hand-piecers read this article, please leave any tips or techniques you'd like to share in the comment section. I'm always looking for new ideas, and maybe we can take the intimidation factor out of those who are curious to try hand-piecing, yet feeling a little daunted by it.

Hand-pieced New York Beauty Blocks

Last week, I said good-bye to hand-quilting since the temperature is getting too warm to hold a quilt in my lap. However, it's all good. Hand-quilting season gives way to hand-piecing season. I stitched together these New York Beauty blocks this week.

I enjoyed making the twin-sized New York Beauty (shown in the blog article here) so much, I decided to do it again--except that this one will be full-size.

Yes, I admit that it's a bit wild. Ahem. The only colors that are left out are the browns, yellows, oranges (except for coral), and neutrals. The quilt is heavy in turquoise, purple, mauve, pink, black, white, and blue-greens.

I estimate that I'll need 196 of these 7" blocks. I did 40 last summer (I don't know exactly when I started). So I'm off and running on it again. Ought to keep me entertained for awhile, don't you think?

(But I'm already cutting for a hand-pieced, scrappy Drunkard's Path. Yeah, crazy--I know.)

I'll be linking up for Sew & Tell Fridays at Amy's. Stop in and see what everyone else is doing.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Quilter Has to Eat

I'm not a person who loves to cook. On the other hand, I don't hate it either, because I do enjoy eating tasty food. My goal in the kitchen is to get in and back out in an hour's time, and that includes unloading the dishwasher. In my experience the best meals to meet that objective are those prepared in one pan, like the Mexican Cabbage Stir-fry shown above. (The original recipe came from Healthy Southwest Cooking, but I've tweaked it a bit.)

2.5 lbs ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1-2 Tbsp olive oil to sauté the turkey (or spray the pan with Pam)
1 lg tomato, chopped (or one can diced tomatoes)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
½ head of cabbage, shredded with knife
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin

Sour cream (optional)

In a 5 qt saucepan, brown the ground turkey together with onion, and garlic. Add oregano and cumin while browning. When turkey is browned, add the tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers. Cook until the veggies are done—approximately 20 minutes.

You can eat as is, top with sour cream, or put the mixture into a tortilla.

It's a large recipe, so smaller families are likely to have leftovers. In my house, leftovers are enjoyed at lunch the next day. However, I've also frozen this dish and whipped it out as "brand new" a couple of weeks later. It freezes well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Last of the Hand-quilting for the Season

For this week's finish, I got these two blocks hand-quilted (along with a bit of the border). I can usually do about 3 per week just sitting in front of the TV in the evening. This makes 48 out of 53 blocks done on this quilt. I started in November.

The pattern is called Lucky Star. I like it because it gives the illusion of curved pieces.

Hand-quilting season is about to come to an end. I can see the writing on the wall. The temperatures here in southern Nevada are warming enough that it will soon be too hot for me to hold the quilt in my lap. So it looks like this quilt will have to wait until next winter to get completely finished. The only good news about that, is that hand-quilting season gives way to hand-piecing season. :-)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


One of the most interesting aspects about quilting is that there are many techniques that can be used to reach that ultimate goal of the finished work of art--a work of art we so modestly refer to as a quilt. The various approaches include: machine-piecing and quilting (including free motion quilting), paper-piecing, applique, art quilting, rotary cutting, using templates, hand-piecing and hand-quilting. This blog is about hand-piecing.

I do both machine-piecing and hand-piecing. A quilter must approach hand-piecing with a different psychology. It's not about getting the quilt done ASAP. It can't be. A hand-pieced quilt takes time. It's about communing with our female pioneer ancestors; it's about enjoying the color and texture of each fabric; it's about the meditative quality of stitching each block together.

There are some practical aspects to hand-piecing as well. Being low tech, a hand-pieced quilt can go anywhere. Take your quilt block pieces, a needle, some thread, and scissors and you're good to go. Then when you need a little quiet time at your relative's house or in the hotel after a day out in and about, you've got a some quilting on hand that just fits the bill. Hand-piecing is also a form of quilting that can be done in front of the TV when you're hanging out at home with family watching a movie.

I've also found that I prefer to do smaller blocks and blocks with curves by hand. Every curved seam, no matter whether it is to be hand-pieced or machine-pieced must be pinned. When I'm using the machine, I'm going for speed. Stopping to pin just seems wrong. But when I'm in the slow mode of hand-piecing, stopping to pin just seems like part of the process.

When the seam is short enough, I can just about hand-piece the seam in the time it would take me to position it on the sewing machine and sew it together. On a seam that's an inch and half long, the sewing machine just isn't that much of an advantage.

To that end, I've started yet another hand-pieced quilt. These are examples of the blocks I've done so far. I've made forty just sitting in front of the TV in the evening with my family. This way, I've got both a hand-pieced project going AND a machine pieced project going. Maximizes my quilting time.

All of the quilts featured below have been hand-pieced. It is my preferred method of quilting.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sew and Tell Friday

This year, I'm pushing hard to lessen my quilting UFO pile. To that end, this week I dragged out the "Pansy Quilt". It is "finished" languishing in the closet. :-) The quilt came about due to a block exchange called "Your Pick". The block exchange got the "Your Pick" name because we each bought a focus fabric--in my case pansy fabric--and sent a piece to each of the participants. Each participant made a block with the focus fabric and sent the block back. I received some particularly beautiful blocks.

Like many of my projects, I got so far with it, and then got distracted. In this case, I have did get the 16 blocks sashed and joined together before going off on another tangent. So here's where I'm picking up.

At this point, I need to add some borders. I began auditioning borders, and decided the first border around would be 2" and green. I plan to add a 4" inch border of the same white on beige fabric that is in the sashing, and finally another 2" green border. (That big 4 inch white on beige border will give me lots of space to improve my FMQ skills. HA!)

The outermost border will be composed of 6" butterfly blocks like the ones below. I *think* I need 52 of them. So far I have 20 done.

So that's where I am this week. More of a start really than a finish.
I want to extend my thanks to Amy for hosting Sew and Tell Fridays. :-) This is my first Sew and Tell, and I'm excited to see what everyone else is doing.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Teddy Bear Quilt: A Team Effort

The Teddy Bear Quilt, made for my cousin who is due in July, was another team effort. My mom and I chose the fabrics together, and we both did part of the piecing and machine quilting. Once again, I am very pleased with the results of our joint effort.

We built the quilt around the Teddy Bear fabric panel. The other polka dot fabrics were complimentary fabrics created in the same fabric line. However, we added the yellow, green, and blue striped border fabric. The baby feet fabric in the center blocks came from a piece we'd had in our stash forever. It was nice to be able to use it.

Most of the quilting was done by stitching in the ditch. However, my mom cross-hatched the bear panels, and we tried to do something a little fancier in the outer border. I machine quilted the cord, and my mom put the baby feet in the corners. The quilted baby feet turned out particularly well, and honestly are my favorite part of the quilt.

Naturally, when I tried to take a picture of the back of the quilt, my quilt inspector had to give the quilt another going over. Either that, or he wants everyone to know whose boss. Ahem.