Sunday, November 29, 2015

Another UFO hits the dust!

I came across a stack of Uneven Log Cabin blocks the other day.  They had been prepared as the demo project/sample for a class, and there they sat as yet another UFO. When a project gets to this stage I often find that the satisfaction obtained by completing it can’t compare with the excitement of starting something new instead.  After all, the adventure is over – I know exactly what this one is going to look like.   So I was very tempted to shove that basket of blocks back out of sight and to tell myself that I would get to it some other time.

But my gaze fell on the wall-hanging that lives above my sewing machine for just such an occasion as this.

if not now

Unable to come up with any reason why “now” was not a good time, and not being able to pinpoint a future point in time which WOULD be a good time, I sighed and undertook the task of laying out and assembling the blocks into a quilt top.

Of course, the job really didn’t take very long!  I did hit a snag trying to decide on borders, but I came up with a solution and soon had a completed top.  I pushed on before I could succumb to the urge to rationalize that once the top was completed it could be tucked away until that hypothetical “right time” might appear.  I found a suitable backing fabric, pieced some batting to the correct size, and soon the quilting was done as well.

Binding was made and applied and will soon be stitched neatly to the back of the quilt. 

A finished project! where once I had only a UFO and some good intentions.  And I’m probably a double winner as regards the UFO count – this one is finished, and working on it prevented me from using that time to start another!

plaid log cabin 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Button tree

A few weeks ago I was working with Christmas fabric and made a scrappy tree block.  It has become a little banner to display special buttons.  Some of these buttons are hand-made and others are quite old. 

Scrappy tree

I don’t know if I like that black one with the lace behind it – I may move that one.  And I see that there is room for more decorations on this tree – perhaps a few beads?  Or some glittery chains?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vintage Butterflies

Recently a friend purchased a vintage quilt top that she hoped could be finished to make a quilt.  There were twelve muslin blocks, each appliqued with four print butterflies.  The print fabrics look like those from the 20s and 30s, the ones we now buy in reproductions.  
The background fabric in the blocks was a nice heavy, closely woven muslin.  In a couple of places we could see what might have been the remains of the ink that would have been on a bag of feed or flour and we wondered if that was the source of the fabrics.  There are 48 butterflies, and we found only two fabrics repeated.  This quilter had access to a wonderful collection of fabrics! 
We noted that some of the solid fabrics used in the butterfly bodies show dark areas around the edges, almost as if the quilter had used an adhesive of some kind.  These areas feel a little stiff, but there was no obvious cracking or splitting when they were stitched through. 
Butterflies block1
Four butterflies circle on each block.
Note the dark edges on some of the solid fabrics.
21_Butterflies block2
Wonderful fabrics!  Some wing tips were
 "clipped" when they got trapped in
 the seams. 
 A group of us were eager to take on the challenge of turning the top into a quilt, but as we examined the top we realized it had a number of issues.  The twelve blocks were joined with wide yellow sashing. It did not lie flat and on inspection it was clear that there were some rather serious discrepancies in size between the rows of blocks and the sashing strips.  We decided to deconstruct the top and see if it could be adjusted a bit for a flatter effect.
As the top came apart we found several kinds of stitching had been used.  Some seams were hand done.  Others were machine stitched.  Some were machine stitched back and forth several times!   Some of the seams went through tips of butterfly wings  -- these were unstitched VERY carefully to prevent damage to the applique stitches. The original sashing strips were found to be quite faded, and even after a gentle washing they showed stains that we could not remove.  We chose to replace this fabric with a new one and were delighted to find a sunshine-y yellow that matched the original nicely.  We did not wash the blocks – we didn’t want to take a chance on any of the colours running.
First step was to square up the blocks.  This was harder than we expected.   The blocks had been torn from the original fabric and while this meant all the grainlines were nice and straight it did not prevent a bit of skewing.   Many of the appliques were very close to the edges of the fabric leaving little room for adjustments. 
We gave up on square and settled for straight.  Blocks were trimmed to the largest possible dimensions and we were delighted when one of them came out the same size in both directions!  We then grouped them, putting three blocks that shared a size in one direction into each row.  Widths of the sashing strips varied to make the rows work out to the same length.  We kept the sashing strips fairly wide so that differences in block sizes would be less apparent.
As we worked we marvelled that the original quilter had managed her job with none of the tools we were using.  Yes, the blocks were uneven, but she had no acrylic rulers, no rotary cutter, no large gridded mats to help.  We wondered what it would have been like trying to make these blocks using a yardstick on the kitchen table!
The re-assembly of the quilt went quickly.  Then borders were added.  The green print is a reproduction that suits the other fabrics well. 
21_butterfly quilt
Finished quilt is 73" by 93" and is ready to be used on a bed.
First idea for quilting was to stitch around each butterfly to make it stand out. However, we could see that the raw edges under the blanket stitch applique  were fraying a little, so we chose an all-over pattern. Not true to the era, perhaps, but this will hold the butterflies in place.
We don’t know who made this quilt top.  The blanket stitch applique is done with three strands of black floss.  The stitching is quite consistent from block to block, so we guess that it was all done by one person.  Did the same person do both the applique and the assembly, or was it perhaps a multi-generational project?  When it arrived the top had a border down one long side only and this looked like it might have been folded over and top-stitched.  The whole piece had been hemmed – a small amount of fabric turned to the back and machine-stitched down.  Was it perhaps used as a curtain? – that might account for the fading we saw. 
Though we know little about the quilt’s previous life, we do know that it is now ready for a new one! 
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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Memories of Christmas past

A few weeks ago I was fighting with my older Christmas fabrics, grumbling because I was just so very tired of them all. 
But now that the Disappearing 4-Patch quilt is completed I seem to have changed my tune.  Here is the finished quilt, tossed over a big chair.  Now I’m loving the way the fabrics work together and I’m afraid I’m going to have a hard time giving this one up!
Christmas D4P
On my design wall – MORE Christmas fabric scraps!
scrappy trees
These tree blocks don’t use up much fabric, but I’ve had fun with them.  I think I like the one with the scrappier background the best.   I’m still trying to decide what to do about the trunk/pot section of the block.  I plan to finish these as small wall-hangings and perhaps decorate the trees with some special buttons and a few bits of sewing room bling.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Struggling with Christmas Fabrics

It’s that time of year again – I’m making another attempt to “use up” the Christmas fabrics that live in a basket on the bottom shelf.  It seems that I’ve fallen for it again – the belief that somehow, somewhere there is a pattern with which I can use all these reds and greens to make a beautiful Christmas quilt!
I’m trying to be analytical about it.  Just WHY is this such a problem for me?
So I took a good hard look at the fabrics in that basket.  Here are some samples of what I found:
fabric collage

There are red fabrics with green on them.
Green fabrics with red
Black with red and green
White with green and red,
And on and on, with all the combinations of red/green/black/white/gold (and a bit of blue).

The large Santa prints have been weeded out, but I still have angels and Christmas trees and baubles and wreaths and stars and holly – lots of holly!  Most of these fabrics have been in my basket for a long time!  In fact, looking at dates on selvedges, I see that some of them are easily old enough to vote!

But all those red and greens (and blacks and blues) look pretty much the same.  One sees a medium-dark value when one squints at them just so.  The white and gold gives a bit of contrast.  When the fabric has red/green/black only, it looks really dark.  When some white/gold is added to lighten it up, it looks blotchy!  The light fabrics are the ones are mostly white/gold with red/green/black/blue figures on them.  Overall these are lighter than the ones with the darker base colours, but they are still very, very busy! 

Any of these fabrics will work well on its own.  It will make cute stockings and bibs and placemats and tree skirts and all the other things we lovingly sew at Christmas time.  But I’m a quilter.  A scrappy quilter.  I am happiest when I put lots of little pieces of many different fabrics together.  And these fabrics don’t play nicely that way!

To use more than one Christmas fabric at a time I’ve usually resorted to adding a lot of something fairly solid – white or gold or brown or black.  But this doesn’t make me very happy, and the project ends up either unfinished or quite small!  Here are some previous efforts:
project collage

So here is my plan.  This time I will keep the fabrics in fairly big pieces.  I have in mind a Disappearing Four-Patch pattern that starts with 6” squares.  I will put each dark fabric with something lighter, and I’ll add in some non-Christmas lights if I must.  Then I will put all the blocks together getting the nicest contrast that I can, and when it is finished I will put this quilt in a sale to raise funds for A Good Cause.  I doubt that the basket will  be empty at that point (sigh!), but surely I will be able to see that it is not quite as full as when I began??
Christmas four patch

Sunday, September 13, 2015

More scrappy rail fence blocks

These are the blocks on my design wall today.  Not sure yet just how they will be set.  On-point, perhaps?  It will be a donation quilt.

rail fence scrappy

Choosing fabrics can be a lot more difficult when we use scraps than it is when we work with a more limited palette. For this project I was working with fabrics in blues, browns, greens – “guy colours”. All I needed to do was make a pile of 2” strips. It took me most of the day, and I must say, it was the arguing that almost did me in!

Maybe this piece?

But I bought that to use for something special.

How long ago was that?

I bought it in that store that closed back in the 1990s.

And no project has been special enough in all that time?

I need to find the perfect fabrics to go with it.

Haven’t found anything that works YET??

Maybe I could use some for this project, but then I might not have enough when the special project comes along.

But hasn’t it already been waiting for years and years?

Well, I could use just a bit.


How about this piece?

But that’s a 2 ½” strip.

Then cut it narrower.

And WASTE a half inch???

How long it been sitting here?

It’s left over from the baby quilt I made for Johnny.

Isn’t Johnny in college now? USE it, for goodness sake!

But then I won’t have it if I need it for something else.

Like there isn’t any more fabric in the cupboard?

Not that exact colour…..

You can see the problem, I’m sure! I finally finished the job, then sat down with a cup of coffee and phoned a friend for a chat. Sometimes a person just gets tired of the sound of her own voice!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cut from the same cloth

Recently I attended a family get-together.  Eight sisters/cousins/daughters/nieces gathered for a week. We live in far-flung places around the globe so this opportunity to be together was a special treat.  We spent time sharing family stories, especially about the set of grand-parents we have in common.  We took walks, gathered pebbles on the shore, ate wonderful meals, laughed a lot, and spent time sharing textile-related activities –  exploring with wool and with cotton, stitching, weaving, experimenting with colours. 
778 small

We found a surprising range of colour and value in  “ordinary” beach pebbles.

For the occasion I made a series of quilt blocks, one for each participant.  I used a common set of fabrics for all of them.  I wanted to finish the blocks separately, but rather than handle them individually – borders, batting, backing, quilting – I saved a few steps by joining the blocks with wide sashings, then I quilted the resulting larger pieces.  After quilting I cut them apart and the sashing strips became borders. 
blocks in group

Block 1
Completed block.  Bound with the feature fabric. 
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