The impetus for this post came from a magazine I subscribe to, Sew News. The current issue has an article entitled “Piece Out” on page 40 about improvisational piecing. I love this for several reasons: 1) I don’t like to waste fabric, 2) I like free-form designs, and 3) I want to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth from subscribing to publications.
Very early in my artistic history, I felt pressure to conform to other people’s ideas of what art should look like. In elementary school art class, we were told to stick little torn pieces of tissue paper on a piece of card stock with paste to make (the teacher hoped) a colorful mosaic-like picture. When I was finished with the assignment, my picture had blobs of white and maroon tissue paper. Everyone else’s had various combinations of the primary colors. The teacher said I must not have listened to the directions. Probably so. I was embarrassed. But at the time, I was really into arranging those white and maroon pieces of tissue paper on a page.
Anyway, the Sew News article shows 2 improvisational quilting projects: a zipper pouch and a pillow. In both, the maker had sewn together strips of fabric, then accented the white or light-colored pieces with sashiki-style rows of hand-stitching in a complementary color of thread. They looked super cool and fun to make. And, I had one lone little pillow form lying around that was just begging to be covered.
So here is my take on improvisational quilting:
First, I sewed together some leftover strips of fabric, ironing the seam allowances on the wrong side toward the darker strip as I pieced. I decided to put a machine-embroidery motif on the front. This one is from Urban Threads Letter Perfect Alphabet.
The opening in the back of the pillow is envelope style, so I added batting and backing to two sections of the pieced fabric, right side of backing fabric facing the right side of the pieced fabric with the batting under it. I sewed the envelope edges together, then turned and pressed them.
I decided that this pillow might benefit from having pink piping around the edges. For sewing on Wright’s piping, I like to use a piping foot.
I sewed the piping around the edge of the front piece, clipped the corners a little bit, then pinned the two envelope pieces on to the front, the longer one in front of the shorter one, with both right sides facing the right side of the front panel, to sew around the edge again, right where the stitching was from sewing the piping on. I just stitched over it from the other side, leaving an opening for turning inside-out. Once turned, I hand-stitched the opening closed very close to the piping.
Another interesting thing to make out of leftover pieces of fabric is a yo-yo. I added a couple of different sizes of yo-yo’s for embellishment, even a heart-shaped one in honor of Valentine’s Day next week. The little gizmos for making yo-yo’s consist of a plastic plate tightly fitting inside a tray. You can find various sizes and shapes from tiny to Jumbo, and in flower, heart, and clover shapes. They are made by Clover, and each kit costs about $5-$10 apiece.
Here’s what the back looks like:
For some odd reason, I could NOT edit these last few iPhone photos to get them to come out rotated once to the right!
“And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” [Matthew 8:20]
Speaking of places in which to lay your head, this project is finally done:
I looked in the fabric stash, and of course I had a suitable remnant just the ideal size to make two of these for our recliners in the TV room. Bright red, already quilted cotton and a green plaid little piece of cotton with a coordinating red stripe. Instead of trying to machine embroider the quilted fabric, I decided to stitch the Santa motif onto a thin piece of red fabric I found, that had slits all over it from something. Maybe it was involved in a knife fight? Or someone at the fabric store opened a box of bolts with a razor blade and slashed it? Or the fabric has been in the stash so long it just shredded from age?
It is a pretty close color match to the quilted cotton, so I just appliquéd it on with a satin stitch. And, I was able to use the mirroring function on the Viking to make two opposite-facing images of the Santa motif, which I bought from Embroidery Library.
I cut the plaid fabric into 5-inch-wide strips, sewed all the pieces into one long strip, then folded the strip in half and pressed it. The idea was to make it like bias binding, except I didn’t cut it on the bias, but rather, the straight grain. I knew better: bias would have been ideal, but I’m too lazy to want to try to cut fabric at the perfect 45 degree angle. Too many opportunities for it to get screwed up, and I’m done when it comes to dealing with more holiday stress! Then I folded each loooooong end of the binding strip under about 1/2″ and pressed them under.
Next step, after binding, was sewing on some Velcro strips to attach the headrests to the backs of the chairs. The sticky-back strip will go on the chairs.
Meanwhile, although it’s chilly outside, gorgeous flowers are blooming in the yard.
Feeling very thankful for this time, this season, this holiday! What is it like in your winter wonderland? What is making you happy?
So far, almost every day since the beginning of October, the temperature has gone up to at least 80° F. But the nights are cooler. Which means I want to have enough blankets on hand.
Blankets are passive accessories until late at night when one is freezing in bed–then they turn into proactive warriors, intent on guarding and protecting you from the enemy.
This is my latest theme quilt for a grandkid who plays music:
The center panel features a big appliqué of a cello (eyeballed and cut) and some musical note appliqués cut using Accuquilt templates, ironed on to the fabric using Pellon Wonder-Under, then machine-sewn around the edges with a satin stitch. I chose colors for the note appliqués, from some American Made brand cotton fat quarters, that matched up with the colorful musical notes on a black background in the fabric I planned to use as the nearest border.
I used a solid black cotton fabric backing, the kind you can buy at Joann’s that is already 108″ wide so you won’t have to piece it for a large-size quilt. And I bound the edges with black Wright’s satin blanket binding, because I accidentally ordered WAY MORE than I needed for a previous project:
Buffalo-check plaid is very popular this year. I made one of these in blue also, both with matching satiny-fabric backings because–they love it, it is ideal woobie-fabric.
Last step was washing before using, with this:
Best as a precaution to keep those fabric dyes from bleeding onto each other. I’m not worried about the American Made Cotton bleeding, but some other fabrics–you don’t know.
We’ve been taking a break from blogging and vlogging, and it sure gives me a different perspective on life!
Changes in lifestyle–such as living through the aftermath of a hurricane, losing your vision, retiring from a high-paced career, or getting sick–can take a toll on the ol’ creative process.
Documenting our every creation adds a level of stress to each project. I like blogging; it’s Show and Tell for the Digital Age. But not having to immortalize an item via posting it, can sure be freeing. If the project does not live on in my [limiting] descriptive words, it still lives on as what it is: a creative accomplishment, a spark of ideas, a sense of wonderment, a nod for practical uses, shared audacity that might elicit a smile.
Here’s the latest, a quilt that finally assembled itself once I got on board with it…
I don’t think it would have come about if I hadn’t weeded out the fabric stash. I had a lot of fabric in there that was given to me, or that I had scooped up because it was cheap or free, and I didn’t really like it, I just kept it around “in case.” Well, that stuff was weighing down on me like a ton of bricks, creating obligations that I didn’t want to have. I had been thinking in terms of clothes I wanted to make, and it suddenly occurred to me, I hate most of the clothes I’ve made. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them. All the time and effort and angst I put into apparel sewing, and with lousy results! I’m over it! Stage One was a giveaway, now I’m waiting for Stage Two, the Yard Sale, and then Stage Three will be jettisoning the remaining cargo to the local Thrift Shop or Goodwill. And I’ll be free! [wait, not stone-free, I’m keeping all the quilting cottons, of course.}
It is lying on top of a king-size bed, so it is pretty massive, the biggest quilt I’ve made from scratch, so far. The backing is 108″ wide cotton fabric from JoAnn’s, one large sheet of fabric with no seams down the center. The binding is a discontinued color of Wright’s Quilt Binding: I bought three 3-yard packages of it on clearance and I used all of it but maybe 6 inches. Whew! It looks gray in the picture but it’s actually a grayish light blue-green color.
Thanks to Google, I was able to quickly find out that the French word for quilt is courtepoint. I have to admit, I’ve never ever seen or heard the word courtepoint before! Not that I have much of a working vocabulary for French anyway; my formal training in French words is limited to 2 years at Herndon High School back in the seventies…“Où est Phillipe? Il est a là piscine….”
But I have a family member who majored in French at the University of Florida. In fact, her grandfather was a French scholar and chairman of the languages department. Owing that French words and being a gator are dear to her heart, I designed a lap quilt around those two elements.
The design is based on the chants they make you do when you go to a football game. “Orange!” “Blue!” “Orange!” Blue!” et cetera. So in French it would be “L’Orange! Le Bleu!” Not exactly rocket science here, but… we’re talking…college football. Then, I added “Allez Gators!” Get it? The standard greeting in Gainesville, if you come across anyone who is dressed in orange and blue, no matter what the occasion, is “Go Gators!”
The stripes in the quilt were made after the manner of Edyta Sitar’s Mix ‘N Match Inspired Scrappy Quilting class from Craftsy. Fabric is cut into strips, then pieced together, then cut into the desired shapes: in this quilt, the shapes were cut from the Rick-rack template on an Accuquilt Go! Big cutting machine. And the green gator was just a freehand sketch.
Sitar has a recommended mix for this type of assembly, with 5 types of fabrics that blend well with colors, including a large print, a small print, a polka dot, a stripe,,,but I used fabrics that match up with the gator licensed collegiate fabric. Florida has a distinctive paprika-colored orange and a royal blue; you wouldn’t want to end up with, say, a Tennessee orange which has more yellow, or the Auburn orange and blue, which is burnt orange and navy blue. Totally different orange and blue. Oh, yes, there’s more to college football rivalry than prowess on the field, you have to get the true colors right. There’s room for some creativity, but one must uphold the standards, as set forth here.
Ah, for the lettering…I could have used one of the cool Rivermill machine embroidery appliqué templates, but the problem there, is getting the individual letters sewn onto the quilt top one by one, with a pleasing amount of space in between each letter. If you’ve ever done calligraphy, using a Speedball pen and ink guidelines book, you’ll recall that every letter has a standard dimension, and the spaces between the letters are not the same. When you are appliquéing letters on a background fabric using machine embroidery, you’d have to know the exact dimensions of each letter and how far apart to space them. I thought it would be easier to just draw out the letters, then attach Wunder-under to the back of the lettering and glue it onto the fabric before satin-stitching around the edges. Easier said than done! Wunder-under consists of a piece of paper that has glue on both sides, one side having an additional backing paper. The idea is to iron it on to a piece of fabric, then peel off the backing, exposing the glue on the other side, then flipping the appliqué over and ironing that side down to another fabric. But to use that “easy” procedure, you’d have to draw the word backwards on to the Wonder-under first, which is something that the left-brained aspect of me, was unable to pull off.
So what I ended up doing, was sketching the word on the back of the Wunder-under, the crinkly, textured side that has the first application of glue to be ironed on, then ironing it onto the wrong side of the fabric, then cutting out around the sketched letters with embroidery scissors and an X-acto knife, then peeling off the backing of the Wunder-under and ironing it down to the quilt top.
After all the appliqué pieces were backed with the adhesive sheets and ironed onto the quilt top, I stitched around them with zig-zag or satin stitching to anchor them down. Then I starched both top and backing (both fabrics being white cotton), and quilted them together in random stipple stitching with orange thread, with a layer of poly-cotton batting in between. I sent off for some pre-wound orange bobbins on Amazon from a dealer who had originally bought them from Superior Threads, and I had no trouble with tension. Then I squared up the edges and applied a binding strip 2 1/4 inches wide, also cut with an Accuquilt die. I bet it would have looked great with rick-rack shaped edges, but I was chasing a deadline at this point, so straight edges it was.
Happy holidays, and though they didn’t even get a bowl game this year, Go Gators!
Decorating for the holidays: I’m all for simplifying!
Last year, the kittens were less than a year old at Christmas, and we knew that if we brought an 8- or 10-foot tree into the house, it would get crazy in here. This year, Ponyboy has beefed up to about 16 lbs and when the three cats go racing around the living, dining room, and kitchen, he can be a formidable projectile. So we don’t think we’re ready to go back to a real tree, and got the plywood cat-loving tree we made previously, down from the attic.
The coffee table needed some bright color…lucky for me, I had a cache of remnants that would fit the bill.
I started out with a whiteish piece of fabric, which I thought might work for a center square to machine embroider something on. I ended up giving this Urban Threads design a go: it’s a dirigible-driven sleigh for a steam-punk Santa. Then I squared up the fabric to the design, trimming the block to about 9 inches.
Of all the suitable remnants I had lying around in the hoard, I chose a bright red glitter cotton one, a polyester plaid shot through with gold metallic threads, and a polyester shiny metallic green fabric with diamond-patterned raised stitching.
For the lining or backing…I thought something gold would be good–preferably something I had in the stash that was already wide enough so I wouldn’t have to piece it. I brought out several…
Jackpot, of course I picked the one that was wide enough. I pinned it, right sides together, to the pieced and stitched top, sewed around the perimeter, leaving a fist-size opening, then turned the inside out and pressed the edges. Then I stitched around the edge of the finished square.
On the wall above the mantel in back, is what Skip calls…the Family “Palm” Tree.
Been busy and my little projects are humble! But I’ve had other things to do.
This red satin (polyester) comforter was old and the batting inside had gotten all bunched up. I was going to throw it away, but the top of it was really a very savory huge piece of fabric. The bottom layer was a nasty old threadbare rag covered with fabric pills; if the skin of my foot ever accidentally touched the backing during the night, I would wake up recoiling in disgust. (My feet are very sensitive to substandard fabric!)
While shopping at JoAnn’s, I spotted a bolt of that extra-wide (108″) fabric that can be used as backings for large quilts, without having a seam. So I slashed the quasimodo comforter, removed the hump of bunched up batting and the nasty backing, and replaced both with something new. I thought of my grandmother, who told me that when she was young (in the Great Depression) they would cut the worn bedsheets down the middle and then re-sew them with the outer sides now seamed together in the middle. Waste not, want not!
For quilting, I loaded it up on the king-size Grace frame, and I mostly traced over the embroidery on the satin top, and experimented a little with the Qnique. I didn’t care about making it perfect.
I still haven’t mastered getting the bobbin tension right with the Qnique.
If you look closely at the quilted back of this table runner, you can see the ugly bobbin stitches.
This Fourth of July table runner was made from a cute little remnant, a remnant piece of fusible fleece for batting, and a collection of red, white and blue remnants die cut into tumbler shapes with an Accuquilt template. Binding is Wright’s double fold bias tape.
I got this little circle-making attachment in an after-holiday sale at A-1 Sewing, our local Husqvarna Viking store, and I’ve been trying to get some projects going, so I can make use of it.
First off, I used it to decorate some window coverings for a superadobe building. (If you want to see more about this particular building, go to this PlenitudPR website under the heading “Bio-construction.”)
You may see this photo and think, “But that looks like a pillow, not a curtain!” True! The proprietors (who happen to be very dear to us) mentioned that their superadobe house could sure use some window coverings, that the windows to be covered were like portholes, about 12 inches in diameter and some were more oval-shaped than round.
They were currently using pillows to stuff in the windows. We came up with some options that did not work, then a few that were more useable.
This was the first attempt: it looked like a big circular potholder. I used white blackout fabric for one side, batting in the middle, and fabric on the other side, and edged it with double-fold bias binding, with a little strap for pulling it out. Unfortunately, you can see here that it was not quite big enough to plug the hole.
For the second attempt, I tried out a new design, sketched here:
The diameter was increased to about 26 inches, the center circle was padded and sewn around, and the outer circle was supposed to slide into the cylinder of the wall thickness to be held in place. But again, this design didn’t work well, although they were able to fold it a certain way to keep it from falling out, so it was somewhat useable, see it in the next pics:
The third attempt included the brown dragonfly “pillow” shape shown above. Since they were already using pillows, and that worked…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? I increased the diameter to about 16 inches and added a lot more fleece padding. Since the diameter was larger than was usable for the circle-making gizmo (maximum diameter for that is 10 inches), I did snap it on anyway and sew some circular designs in the centers of the covers, to quilt the fabric and batting layers together in the middle. The attachment comes with templates to make circles, 4-petal flower shapes, or 6-petal flower shapes.
And I should be glad to mention that PlenitudPR is an organization that teaches and promotes sustainable living, so we kept that in mind and used fabric remnants for our window covers, and thus kept those leftover pieces of fabric from potentially clogging the landfill.
In a previous post, I referred to the multitude of quilt tops I had ready for quilting.
Since I got the Qnique and Grace Frame, I may have quilted about 5 or 10 items. I hoped to have acquired expert status with this set up by now, but it hasn’t been like riding a bicycle. The brain and muscle memories haven’t automatically renewed every time I tried a new project. Each project has its own set of peculiarities!
Since most of the pile (seven of them) consisted of table runners, I thought maybe I could pin several of them up to the Grace Frame, and quilt them all at the same time, and see how it went.
This frame is supposed to accommodate fabric to make a king-size quilt. I was able to comfortably fit 5 of the 7 table runners across the width, with a little space in between each. The backing is pinned (with the right side facing down) onto the first (top, furthest back) leader cloth, and to the second (center) leader cloth. I have marked on each leader cloth a mid-point. Normally I would fold the fabric of the top, bottom, and batting in half and pin that half-way point to the mid-point on the corresponding leader cloths. To match up the mid-points on all these separate fronts and backs of the table runners, I just counted the marks on the top leader cloths and lined them up with the marks on the bottom leader cloths. I realized later, that not all of the table runners were the exact same length, so that was one major problem with this set up!
A while back I bought 2 big rolls of batting on sale, anticipating that I would be making a whole bunch of quilts. I use one of them most of the time, for the smaller baby quilts and lap quilts. I can position the roll on the floor in front of the frame, and just roll out the batting up onto the frame as I am rolling out the fabric to be quilted. The one end of the batting layer is pinned to the backing, and then the quilt top is pinned to those two layers, forming the quilt sandwich. I actually purchased a fourth rail for the Grace frame, onto which the batting roll can be wound. One of these days I will find that fourth rail and install it. The second of the two batting rolls is for larger-sized quilts. The batting is folded double, and then wound onto the cardboard roll. So it doesn’t conveniently unwind from the roll like the first one does. You have to unroll the estimated length of batting, cut it off, and then unfold the large section of batting in half, and pin it to the backing.
One thing I enjoy about the Qnique and Grace Frame set up is that pinning the fabric layers to the frame takes significantly less time than pinning the layers of a quilt for quilting on a home sewing machine. You pin the selvedge edge of the backing to Leader #1, then the opposite end to Leader #2, then roll it up on the rails, smoothing it out with your hands. No need for fifty-thousand pins with the little foam bobbers, or safety pins, or clips. However, in this case, since all the table runners were not the same length, and there were so many separate edges above and underneath the batting layer, a bit of mayhem ensued.
All five pieces were conjoined in the batting layer, as seen above. But when the ruler base attached to the throat plate of the Qnique slid across to continue quilting the top next to it, it sometimes slipped the backing layer of its neighbor (underneath the throat plate) out of alignment, which wasn’t easily seen from the top side. And because all the tops and bottoms were of slightly different dimensions, some of the backing layers had a bit of slack, which wasn’t easily seen from the top, and which resulted in a few big puckers.
DH (Skip) suggested that next time, I sew the edges of each runner together prior to quilting them on the frame. I don’t like that idea, because I feel that the seam ripper should be used for ripping out undesirable stitches that occur by accident, not on purpose. But, if I ever do 5 at a time again, it might be worth a try to see if sewing them together causes less shifting of layers.
After the quilting, and cutting out the separate runners, and truing up the edges, I found that I would need to rip and redo several areas of quilting, due to puckers, overlaps, and other unsightly mistakes. In a couple of spots, when I slid the Qnique over to the next runner, the hopping foot got entangled in the edge of the top fabric and had to be cut loose with scissors. Sheesh.
The worst shifting and puckering occurred in the inner three table runners. The outer two turned out with the least amount of rework needed, perhaps because the bungee clips which hold the fabric taut, are attached to the two outside runners. This is the reason for DH’s suggestion that all the lengthwise edges be seamed together for quilting, so that the tops and bottoms are one continuous piece of fabric during the quilting step. But I also feel that these errors can be chalked up to overall unfamiliarity with the process. Perhaps they could be prevented in the future by smoothing all the fabric pieces, exercising extreme vigilance of the under layer, and perhaps installing the fourth rail and rolling the batting on it, thereby keeping the batting layer more taut and uniformly stretched out during quilting.
Next pass, I pinned up the last two table runners to the frame. These, too, were of slightly different lengths, so one of them had some slack in it during the quilting step.
I pinned them up closer together, practically touching, but I didn’t sew the edges together. I ended up with a couple of minor puckers and overlaps. But the one with the pink backing, because of its additional length compared to the other one, had about a 5-inch space at the end that couldn’t be passed over with the machine, because its neighbor was already at the end of its quiltable area.
So this last little bit, as well as several areas on the previously mentioned runners that had to be picked out and re-quilted, were done on the Brother SC9500 with the free-motion hopping foot installed. BTW, that Brother is an awesome little machine, and very affordable!
I did manage to get all the quilts (3) and table runners (7) finished, reworked if necessary, and bound. Here are a few pics of the finished items.
The last one is not bound yet, because I couldn’t find anything in the stash right away that would make it “pop.” But the cats love it already. This is a slippery, satiny fabric that is possibly meant to represent snowy winter camouflage. For a backing, I used a silvery hologram-looking knit fabric. I love all of the camo remnants!
Skip, who is somewhat tone deaf, was trying to tell me about the famous Halloween Song that they always sang when he was a youngster.
“You know, the song “On October 31?” he said.
” No, I’ve never heard of it.” I said.
“You know, this one…” and he started singing it. It went like this.
“Oh, yes, that one. I didn’t know it actually had words.” I said. “It’s from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg, right?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Same famous melody, two totally different contexts!
“Music Time” at Meade Heights Elementary School in Ft. Meade, Maryland in the mid-60’s, was sitting in the same seats in our classroom and listening to LP’s played on a portable record player. There were no visuals. Perhaps, as first or second or third graders, the teacher would have us draw what we felt when we heard the music. But I was never introduced to those lyrics that were well-known to Skip. Wonder if it was a regional thing?
Thinking, on the last day of October, how quickly this month evaporated, and that soon it will be gone altogether.
Other October things:
Lately, October has been the month of Breast Cancer Awareness, and every year we have more friends and relatives to whom we dedicate our service and consideration. Here’s hoping for a cure!
As for crafting, it’s been a few weeks of machine embroidery on dish towels and future table runners. Designs from Embroidery Library.
Kokka is a Japanese fabric company. Every once in a while I’ll go to a sewing expo somewhere and find a vendor who has Kokka fabrics–usually in 1/2-yard packages that cost about as much as a yard of other fabrics, but they are so darn cool!
The red and green dish towels were machine embroidered on packaged sewn dish towels from JoAnn Fabric. They are sturdy cotton with a loop on one corner for hanging. The beige dish towels were also pre-made, but I forgot where they came from. The others were sewn from fabric. The table runner is a Realtree cotton duck cloth fabric remnant from JoAnn’s.
Happy October 31 everyone!
Using current technology to create 19th Century crafts