Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blockade Quilt update, and taking stock

Ever feel like your hand quilting is weighing you down?
Who, me?
Yep, she's the reason I'm often found reading blogs or writing posts, or even stitching at all hours of the night.  Our 18-year old kitty who only recently found her voice and isn't afraid to use it, especially at night ... sigh ...  She's also a quilt-hog!

The hand quilting on the Blockade quilt is going much slower than I'd like, early morning hours notwithstanding.  But we are progressing, however slowly, and the blocks are now about 2/3 quilted. So looking forward to getting on to the borders where the quilting will should go a bit more quickly, hopefully with way less rotations of the hoop.

Curiosity got the best of me the other day and I decided to attempt a listing of every quilt I've made or worked on since starting my first quilt some 35+ years ago.  Mind you, there were years that went by with nary a quilt in progress, in fact the vast majority of completions have been in the last five or six years, most since I retired.  But, I was happily surprised at the following tally:
   Quilts completed entirely by me (includes wall quilts, but majority are crib or bed quilts:  47
   Group quilts participated in:  5
   Vintage tops made by others, quilted by me:  3 to date
   Quilts in progress:  4 (soon to be 5, fabrics for the next one awaiting their turn on the cutting/work table)
Many, but not all of my completed quilts are shown in the various page links found just above the header photo.

Big family gathering heading our way tomorrow for a couple days, followed by some dear friends from Oregon, then another family visit the first week in August.  Adding to the mix a family emergency that will require a big chunk of time over the next few weeks, and quilting and blog time will be mostly curtailed for the time being.  Life is always full of surprises it seems.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thread Matters!

Two or three years ago I found a vintage quilt top on eBay that needed rescuing.  Loved the sweet embroidered pansy blocks -
the setting and border fabrics not so much -
The top was queen size, with twelve 18-inch blocks, one of which was inexplicably not of the same pansy pattern, and not even embroidered(!), but was set right into the center top row nonetheless.

But that wasn't all.  Oh no.  Though the eleven remaining pansy blocks are beautifully and skillfully embroidered, the machine sewn sashings and borders were rippled and pulled by an uneven thread tension, or so I thought.  Clearly, pressing was not going to resolve these seams and the puckers were not going to quilt out.   And there was that unmatching block to deal with.  Unfortunately(?) I apparently never took a photo of the entire top, but you get the idea.

Not many choices other than take the entire top apart.  So, this spring, during episodes of NCIS and Person of Interest, my trusty seam ripper and I slowly began disassembling the top.  And we found the reason for the unintended rippling of the seams.  Unmatched threads.  Yep, the bobbin thread was apparently an all polyester thread while the upper thread a heavier weight, more evenly spun cotton. The thread differences while clearly visible to the naked eye, show up even more spectacularly under the microscope:
The differences are dramatic, no?  Amazing how that larger more evenly spun cotton thread remained smooth while the much smaller diameter poly thread is all kinked - these photos were taken shortly after the threads were removed from the fabrics. Here's a closer view:
This vintage top did not appear to have ever been washed, and I have no idea when it might have been constructed, but can only imagine how any future shrinkage of the cotton thread from washing the completed quilt might have made the seams even worse than they already were.  I've always been leery of using mismatched threads for machine work, and this is a great example of why it pays to match your threads, or at least use threads that have been tested and proven to play well together.

Anyway, the longer I toiled over unstitching this tarnished gem, the more I came to the realization that putting it back together with those dull, unimaginative fabrics used originally was not going to happen in my lifetime.  At the very least, that solid purple needed to be replaced, it is a thin slippery polyester while the embroidered blocks and the calicoes are all cotton.  That, plus these pansies are just crying out to be framed with a bit more spirit, with some brighter fabrics that will help bring out the embroidery colors, not let the whole thing fade into a monotonous nothingness, while still retaining some of the vintage spirit of the original maker's top.  After a few hours reacquainting myself with the contents of the long-packed stash bins, and some of the scrap piles, we have a first run at some possible additions for sashing, borders. maybe even a swagged outer border should ambition/inspiration strike (thanks to an older 2010 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting).

Anything seems possible right now, though I'll still need to find a few suitable small medium pink scraps (currently scarce in this girl's stash) and maybe a tiny bit of deep yellow to highlight the yellow in the pansy embroideries to add to the auditioning pile.  Right now this stack is going back to the the bin to mellow for awhile and see if these fabrics really want to play nice together.  Though I will say at this point, this top went from 'never gonna get done' to 'wow, maybe I can do this' as soon as those old border fabrics disappeared into the bottom of the bin.  This could be fun.  Or angst - only time will tell ...

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Getting back in the swing of things

After nearly a week of NO stitching whatsoever, the Blockade quilt is finally back in the hoop and there's another basket block laid out next to the machine ready for stitching.  All's well with the world, at least for the next week and half til the next onslaught of company arrives and everything gets packed up and put away again for the duration!

Some of the kids and grandkids, and grand-dogs have been with us for the past week, and the good times ensued.  The enthusiasm of youngsters is so contagious as they explore new things, like hand-crank sewing machines!  Here's our just-turned-seven year old grandson intently stitching his 4 inch squares together.
He persisted and stitched four rows of squares together before they left for home, and took all his work home so he could show his friends.  Would love to be a fly on the wall during that conversation!  So enthusiastic, he may just be our next generation quilter - that or an antique dealer - he's also the kid who can't stop looking and playing with a 1905 copper Sterno coffee maker my BIL found at a yard sale years ago and gifted us when we returned from the west coast last year.

Then, little sis got into the act.  She was able to stitch a few of her squares on the old Sew Handy until it got balky and she got bored.  She's just four, and much more interested in hugging the dog and playing in the creek these days, but also insistent on doing everything her big brother does!

Probably not much stitching today - mowing lawn and weeding the gardens has to be top priority when the sun shines!   Plus, we discovered an invasion of Japanese beetles in the garden yesterday, but not before they had decimated some of the basil crop and made inroads on other goodies.  Had forgotten about that particular menace, we didn't have them in Oregon.  On the plus side, the first roma tomato is nearly ripe and summer squash will be ready in just a few days.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Merrily we plod along ...

Progress is being made, for the moment, on piecing scrappy baskets for this as yet unnamed bed-size quilt. As of tonight, a grand total of eleven have been completed.  Here are the baskets made since my post last week:
They sure do look bright, don't they?  Partly due to my general ineptness at photo editing, though I have to admit this is about the point in any new quilt venture where I begin to have doubts - fabric selections, ability to put together pleasing combinations from the scrap bins, you name it.  Hmm, get over it and move forward, there are enough HST's cut to make at least twice as many blocks as needed, and there ought to be enough acceptable ones to pull together into one queen size quilt!  Next batch, I'll photograph them on the setting triangles fabric and we'll see if that tones them down a bit, or not.
Anyway, here are a couple of my favorites from the current batch, a few lopped off points notwithstanding. I subscribe to the galloping pony test, and my pony is fast out of the gate and never looks back, lol!

Tomorrow my quilting space will need to be packed up and the rolling carts containing rotary cutters and other sharp objects removed to our bedroom.  My son and DIL and the three youngest grands will be here for the long weekend, and the two oldest (ages 6 and 4) will be sleeping in the quilting room. The toddler will sleep in the guest room with his parents, but in his waking hours he's faster than a speeding bullet - always a challenge to toddler-proof a house!  It's going to be a fun weekend of the very best kind, and hopefully our seemingly never-ending rainy spell will be over with the new month.  Hoping the raging creek behind the house recedes enough from today's thunderstorms that the grandkids can do some proper fossil-hunting, wading, make lizard traps and other fun stuff.  After the grandkids depart my daughter, her boyfriend and their two rambunctious dogs will descend upon us for a couple days, so it will be awhile before these fun little blocks can be pulled out again.

Wishing you all a safe and happy 4th of July with friends and loved ones - the best kind of celebration!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Campfire Memories is officially finished, right down to the label added just before supper last night!
This was such a fun quilt to put together, so much scrappy goodness here, bringing back memories of nearly every quilt I've made over the past twenty or so years, blog giveaway winnings, yard-sale finds, plus other bits of fabric that found their way into the stash totes along the way.
Tried a few shots outside but the colors were a bit way too washed out in the late evening light and beyond my photoshop skills to bring back.  I'd planned to try again this morning but it's a chilly 48 degrees with heavy dew on the fields so we're going with my indoor shots from last evening.
A close-up of the quilting, all stitched on the Janome Horizon using the even-feed foot. Seemed to take forever with all the starts/stops in every corner to change direction, but I do love the star-effect in the sashings.  Each of the 4 inch string blocks was quilted in the ditch along the outer edge of the blocks, then the X patterns were quilted in each of the sashings and corner blocks.  The quilting may be a bit more visible in this next photo of the back.
Just enough quilting to hold the layers together but not lose that soft cuddly feeling when wrapping up in this one, which I plan to do - a lot - there's another New York winter coming in a few months after all!

I had originally planned on using Hobbs Polydown batting for this quilt, but grandson #2 was here while I was putting the top together, and asked me who the quilt was for.  When I told him it was staying at our house (for now) and it was called Campfire Memories, he immediately responded "so when we have campfires down by the creek in the summer I can take it out and stay warm with it." Umm, not if you want to live a long and happy life buddy!  Well.  That put an end to the thought of poly batting for this one.  Just in case someone does sneak it out of the house and next to a campfire, we went with Hobbs 80/20 cotton batting.  Just seemed like it would be a tiny bit safer.  Just in case.

The stats:  From a pattern in Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting magazine (July/August 2013) in which Marianne Fons based her quilt on an antique quilt she had seen; finished size 86x63 inches; string blocks pieced on Casey Jones, my go-to, all-time favorite piecing machine, a vintage 1950s black Singer 301a; machine quilted on the Janome Horizon; Aurifil 50 wt. thread used throughout; Hobbs 80/20 cotton batting.

Today I'll need to knuckle-down and weed the veggie garden (again) and probably mow the lawn (sigh) though I'd really rather be prepping appliques for some evening sewing.  Maybe tomorrow ...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

New Beginnings and Closing In on a Finish

Cutting up fabrics into little triangles and squares makes me happy! This has been a great week! We've had a few rainy days lately, so after finally completing the machine quilting on Campfire Memories last weekend, the work/cutting/quilting table was pulled out of its corner behind the Janome and into the middle of the room, and the fabric totes came out of the closet.  Several hours of cutting later, this lovely batch of triangles, squares and rectangles are now (sort of) neatly stacked in their respective containers awaiting their turn under the machine
to become more of these:
Yes, I'm finally starting the basket quilt I'd planned as a NewFO project a couple years ago, but that had been on my quilt basket bucket list for more years than I can remember.  There are enough pieces cut to make more than one scrappy quilt, so I'll stitch up blocks until I run out of background and/or basket pieces, then start playing with putting them together.

The first quilt will be at least loosely based on this quilt from the Fons and Porter Fat Quarter Friendly book published in 2000.  Theirs is called French Country Strippy, and I loved the quilt since I first laid eyes on it.
I plan to change it up somewhat, possibly adding another strip of baskets to make it better fit our queen size bed, but will decide on that option after I have enough strips sewn together to lay out on the bed.  The basket blocks will be scrappier than the pattern, using a greater variety of fabrics from my stash rather than the yardage I had picked up a few years ago, that now looks way too bland with too little variation in value for what I had in mind for this quilt.   It feels so good to be working on a new project again!

On the slow-stitching side, I'm closing in on finishing up Campfire Memories, hand stitching the binding down on the final side, then just a few stray quilting threads to tie off and bury.  Hopefully the finish will coincide with a non-rainy day so I can get some photos to post later this week.  Still plugging along with the hand quilting on the Blockade quilt, trying to put in at least a few stitches every day.  Looking forward to getting down to the borders on this one, where I think the quilting will progress a bit more quickly.

We're heading out to the city later this morning to one of the daughter's where we'll celebrate Father's Day with some of the kids and grandkids.  Wishing you all a wonderful family-fun-filled weekend!