Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Hidden Away Treasure

We found this quilt when we were beginning to clean out my grandparent's house. It was tucked safely away in a closet. In all the times I'd visited my grandparents, I'd never seen this quilt. I knew that my grandmother hadn't made it, because although she was a talented woman, quilting was not among her interests. A little research revealed the only quilter in my grandmother's family was her sister, Grace Sawhill, 17 years her senior and deceased for many years (since the early 1970's). We are assuming that she is the maker of this beautiful quilt.
The quilt is hand-quilted, although I believe it was machine-pieced. The binding was made by turning over a bit of the backing onto the front.

I'm afraid the photo simply doesn't do justice to her tiny stitches.

Ever since this quilt came into my possession, I've used it at the foot of my bed every winter. The binding is starting to fray. One part of me says that as a vintage quilt, I should quit using it and try to preserve it. However, I can't help but wonder how many years my grandmother "saved" this quilt, and because of that never got the chance to enjoy it. My philosophy about newer quilts is that they should be well-loved and used until they wear out. I'll admit though, I'm a bit puzzled about what should be done with this lovely treasure.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Quilt Inspectors, You Gotta Love 'Em

There is no quilt police, but there are quilt inspectors. Mine happens is black, furry, and of the feline variety. His name is Charley. He takes his work very seriously, inspecting partially completed tops, work laid aside for the moment like the quilt being hand-quilted below, individual blocks, pieces of fabric, and of course completed quilts.
His favorite technique is laying on the item in question, even if I'm in the middle of trying to work on it. Kind of like the little prince and the pea. Or perhaps seeing if he looks good on it. (He does look rather good on that purple backing, doesn't he?)

Then there's the ever-popular diving under the quilt top or even a mere block. Charley's inspections always take precedence over my appraisal of the work. Just ask him.

He inspects guitar cases too.

Since Charley was 4 months old, he's worn soft paws over his claws to protect our household items from his natural tendency to scratch. It's worked fairly well until recently. He was always a bit fidgety about the process of putting on the soft paws, but tolerated them well. Now, at the age of 5 1/2 years, he's suddenly developed a full aversion to having the soft paws put on, although he still tolerates them well once the process is done. I don't know why, but the simple answer is that he IS a cat.Not wanting to fight with Charley every few days over soft paw application (with 10 claws to keep covered, it seems we've got to re-do one or two every week), it was time to look into other alternatives.

I've got to give a big thanks to the quilters on the rec.crafts.textiles.quilting newsgroup. The majority of them have a quilt inspector of one pursuasion or another, so I knew I'd get lots of good help when I posted my questions. I was not disappointed. I now have a plan.

First of all, it seems the number one, all around, terrific cat scratcher is the cardboard cat scratcher. Tried to buy one locally, but had no luck, so I co-opted my dad into helping make one. He's been cutting the strips and I'm rolling them into a circle. It's not much to look at, but it ought to be effective. At approximately 9 inches in diameter, we're probably about half done at this point. Since this homemade variety needs to be able to stand on its own (no external container to hold it), it needs to be large enough to give it some weight.

Next, we'll work on other cat scratching venues--perhaps more cardboard scratchers, and some kind of posts. I'd like to have several cat scratchers around so Charley has no excuse to use the furniture.

The third part of the plan is the double-sided sticky tape. I'll apply it to any place on the furniture Charley can't resist. Here's where I've got to give a special thanks to Sherry in Oklahoma for sending me a sample to try. Thanks Sherry!

Hopefully, when this transition is complete, Charley will be happier and so will I. After all, it's important to keep our quilt inspectors in top form.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Quilt with Tailored Corners

I count myself lucky because my mom is my quilting buddy. Kind of like having a tiny ready-made quilt guild at home. She has her projects, I have my projects, and then we have our projects. Yep, the sewing room is an interesting place in our house.

This king-size blue and yellow quilt with tailored corners was our very first collaboration. Quilting together is both fun and challenging because our styles are very different. My mom prefers making more color controlled, formal quilts, and me..., well I'm a scrappy quilter at heart. So we compromised. The quilt would be blue and yellow--color controlled--but we could use different blues and yellows in each block. I think the formula was very effective.

Being king-size posed some problems for us. First and foremost was that there was simply no way we were going to be able to get a king-sized bedspread through our little Kenmore when it came time to quilt it. So we decided to make it in four separate pieces: the top, the two sides, and the bottom.

With this decision came the realization that we could make the quilt with tailored corners. We'd both admired comforters made with tailored corners in a hotel where we once stayed, and liked how it kept the large comforters in place on the beds. So since we were making the quilt in pieces anyway, we decided to give it a shot.

Here's how we did it:

1. Construct quilt top, 2 sides, and bottom side.
2. Sandwich and quilt all four pieces separately. Leave ample backing extended beyond each piece.
3. Prepare to seam together the top and one side, by leaving ample backing on one piece and trimming the backing flush with the batting and top on the other piece.
4. With right sides together seam the top and the side.
5. Using the extra backing, fold under the raw edge, then whip it down over the raw seam on the back of the quilt.
6. Repeat with the other side and the bottom side.
7. Voila! :-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Reluctant Semi Free Motion Quilter

Ahhh, the best laid plans. I received a lovely border stencil for Christmas. Thought it would be just the perfect thing for doing the final border on the baby quilt. Just one problem. No matter what I tried, the markings I used just didn't show up on the blue polka dotted cloth. I tried a white quilt marking pencil, and the marks disappeared into the white polka dots. I tried regular pencil and still a no go. I considered my pink quilt marking pencil, but I had a bad experience once where the pink didn't completely wash out.

So I adopted an idea from my mom. I drew the stencil on to paper and attached it to the quilt, machine quilting the lines on the paper.

Still, the method wasn't perfect. Somehow my mom has the patience and ability to do this by straight-stitching. Me? I couldn't see well enough to follow the lines using the regular stitching foot so I switched to the smallest free motion quilting foot I had.

Now, I could see very well, but I discovered that when using the free motion quilting foot on my beloved Juki, whether I dropped the feed dogs or not, I was in fact free motion quilting. The free motion foot doesn't fit tight enough to be used for regular stitching. Big deep breath. I took the plunge and started to follow the lines.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as full free motion quilting since I am in fact following a pattern as opposed to visualizing and going where that vision leads. However, it is proving to be a very good learning tool. I don't have to think about where I'm going; I just have to concentrate on moving the quilt properly. And it's working! I'm getting better.

Actually, I'd planned to practice on something inconsequential before diving in to free motion quilting, but it came down to giving it a shot or giving up on putting that beautiful corded quilting pattern on the baby quilt. I decided to give it a shot, knowing I could always rip it out. I'm glad I did.

Now to remove the paper pattern.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pin Basting--Like a Teenager With Too Many Piercings

Basting. It's my least favorite part of the quilting process. Consequently, I tend to gravitate toward the method that is the quickest--spray basting. Since I've never found a way to control the fumes and the mess, I spray baste outside. Unfortunately, that leaves me at the mercy of the weather. Ever try to find a day in spring with no wind?

Enter pin basting, my second choice. Actually, it is a pretty good basting method too. Not as fast as spray basting, especially if the quilt is large, unlike the featured baby quilt, but faster than thread basting. No fumes. No waiting for the weather to cooperate. So what's not to like?

I discovered when pin basting this baby quilt, what I don't like is the look. Yep, like a teenager with too many piercings. I can't see the beautiful kid, because I'm staring at the 5 silver rings protruding from his lip. (I'm not against piercing per se, but like anything, it can be overdone.)

You're probably thinking that's weird. After all, in quilting, the pins do eventually come out. Very true. However, so much of my enjoyment of quilting is the texture and color of the fabrics, and how they play together in the quilt design. Somehow with my quilt full of pins, all I can see is the darn pins!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Learning Quilt

Even though I've been quilting for 15 years and consider myself an experienced quilter, I've come to the realization that really isn't true. I'm an experienced hand-piecer and hand-quilter, but I'm still somewhat of a newbie when it comes to machine piecing, and especially machine quilting. This quilt proved to be a learning experience in so many ways.

First lesson: When blocks of two different patterns are to be joined together side by side, be absolutely sure they work up to be the same size. Did I check this before I started? Nope! These blocks aren't markedly different in size, but it's enough to make putting them together and machine quilting them less than optimal. The Kansas Star block, the block that resembles more of an X than a star, is a teensy bit bigger than the Time and Tide block, which strongly resembles a star. (Who thinks up these names anyway?) Yes, I fudged them together during the piecing, and thought I was in the clear. I failed to forsee that the bigger block would be "puffier" during the quilting process.

Second lesson: Have the right sewing machine for the job. I began machine quilting this quilt on my trusty Kenmore. The Kenmore is a great machine for piecing, but not so much for machine quilting. The small harp proved to be an issue for this 62 X 74 inch quilt. Also, the motor wasn't geared low enough. When I slowed down to the speed I needed to go for accuracy, the motor wanted to stall out. Enter the Juki TL-98Q with its large harp and motor that is able to slow to the crawl I sometimes need, or do 1500 stitches per minute. Huge difference!

Third lesson: I must not let my mind wander when stitching in the ditch. This was the first time I've ever stitched in the ditch. I love this technique! It's great for doing the primary anchoring when beginning the quilting. And when used around certain elements in a block, it can really make those elements "pop". However, if I start to think about what I'm going to fix for supper, doing errands, or even just another quilting project, all of a sudden I'm no longer stitching in the ditch; I'm stitching on the curb.

Fourth lesson: I will never again do stars, squares or other various and sundry shapes with straight line quilting. Turning the quilt, even with the ample harp space of the Juki, is a major chore. My shoulders wear out quickly. I will learn to do free motion quilting or my straight line quilting will be straight lines. Period.

The good news is that the quilt is done. The bad news is that because I had so much trouble with it, I see all of its flaws. The quilt is for a dear a friend, and I wanted it to be perfect. Sometimes we just have to suck it up.