Monday, April 19, 2010

Preparation is the point

I'm still working on painting all the walls, trim, doors, etc., in my basement. Sometimes I think this project will never end! One thing I've learned is that the key to a good paint job is good preparation. In fact, one of my paint advisors told me that the actual paint is just the final touch. First I have to get the walls and trim to look perfect in primer — even coverage, no unfilled nail holes, no dried-on drips from an overloaded paintbrush. Then, he said, I can add the paint.

So I've spent a lot of time sanding and spackling, priming, then sanding and spackling again. It's definitely taking over my thought processes! This weekend as I sat quietly in our church's theater-style seating, I noticed that the gentleman who was sitting in front of me had a medium-sized "dent" in his scalp. I immediately thought — now will I be able to use the Fast 'n Final lightweight spackle for that, or will I need to break out the two-stage wood filler?

But preparation is key in the appliqué world, too. It's just more fun to prepare our appliqué pieces, in my opinion! When you stitch with the freezer paper in the appliqué piece, the freezer paper helps hold the shape. Your stitched shape will look exactly the same as it did when you finished gluing under all the edges. So it's important to take special care with this step.

In Buttonwood Basket, the points of these rounded leaves 
just touch the vine, so they have to stay sharp 
to make the design work.

One of the hardest shapes to prepare is the sharp point. Sharp points are never easy, and they are a little more difficult to achieve with machine applique. Hand appliqué artists often use a 4- or 5-step process to stitch a sharp point. It takes about that many steps to prepare one for machine applique, too. 

If I can get away with it, I sometimes change my quilt design to round out a point. 

The points in Horse Play's border stars look sharp. 
But because they are so large, you could 
change the design to make the points slightly rounded, 
and the quilt would still have the same look.

But if a sharp point is necessary, first glue the point tips under. 
Then go back and glue under the sides of the point, trimming away the extra seam allowance as necessary. Use your fingernails to firmly press down on the point, making sure the point is sharp and that the seam allowances are firmly turned under. When you stitch the point, be sure to take a stitch right at the top of the point.

Turn under one side of the point, then the other. Use
a stiletto or other sharp tool to push the seam allowance 
to fit within the back of the point. If you have to, trim the
extra seam allowance to make it fit.

When I finish all this painting and I have my sewing room back again, I'm going to do nothing but sew for a month! I can't wait!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy April Fool's Day

Here's hoping all of you have non-eventful April Fool's Days today! 

I looked for a quilt that could represent the day, and I think this one is fitting. First of all, the subject -- the joke was certainly on this little cowboy when his pet dog caused his horse to throw him.

Ride 'Em Cowboy

And I think the joke was on me when I was choosing fabrics for this one! What do you see when you look at all the black figures on the red plaid background in this border? Those are supposed to be horses, peeking over a corral fence. I loved the idea of a group of horses watching as their friend bucks off his cowboy. The silhouetted horse heads peeking over the fence was inspired by a painted motif on a chest of drawers designed by famed Western artist Thomas Canada Molesworth (1890-1977).

In the furniture version, the image was easy to read even though the fence was implied instead of being painted into the design. I tried to interpret the design for my quilt in the same way, using the darker red plaid line as my "fence," with the horses' noses poking over the edge. If I concentrate on the top border of the quilt, I can see a line of horses, some in pairs, watching the action. But I think the image got too hard to read when I arranged the horse heads around the other three borders, even though I carefully cut the border fabric so that I could use that dark red plaid line as the fence. You have to kind of cock your head and squint....

I'm thinking that I should have appliquéd a fence and some fence posts in the border. Live and learn!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Tessellating Quilt in William Morris Fabrics

I've always thought tessellations are interesting – I love the look of  interlocking, repeating geometric shapes. But I had stayed away from making a tessellating quilt because I didn't want to deal with all those odd-sized pieces and the mental stress of keeping the intricate color placement in order. 

So I was intrigued a few months ago when my local quilt shop owner, Michelle Klein, showed me all the tessellation projects she was working on. She had made large quilts, mini-quilts, holiday table runners, and all kinds of projects using a new acrylic ruler called the Twister tool.

The ruler comes in 2 sizes, one that starts with 10" fabric squares and one that starts with 5" squares. 
Each square is marked with 2 intersecting lines which divide the square into 4 identical odd-shaped pieces. If you cut these 4 pieces out individually, you could place them back together in a pinwheel pattern. And if you cut out a lot of these identical pieces, you could make a pinwheel tessellating quilt. A lot of cutting, and lot of keeping track of fabric placement! don't have to do that. Here's what you do instead:

For a quilt made with the large Twister tool, choose the fabrics for your quilt and cut a 10" square of each. Arrange the blocks in a color pattern that you like, sew them together, then add a 6 1/2" (6" finished) contrasting border. Here's my version, made with a 10" Layer Cake set that Barbara Brackman had given me from her Morris Workshop Fabrics line from Moda.

Note: Since I was working with a charm pack, I decided to try this shaded color placement. I made a mistake, though, in choosing the border fabric. My border is the same fabric as the square in the lower left corner, and it's the same value as many of my dark squares in the outer rows of the quilt. For contrast, I should have used a border fabric from a square that didn't touch the border. Any of the inner-square fabrics would have worked.
Next, cut this quilt up!! to make the real quilt. Place the Twister tool so that the intersecting lines correspond to the seams in your first quilt. Cut all the way around the ruler. The result will be an 8" square comprising four tessellating segments, each in a different fabric. 

You'll have a small square and a "tail" leftover from each fabric. Save them for another project! For ideas, see Deb Rowden's Thrift Shop Quilts,
After you cut, twist each block to the right so that it is straight, and sew the blocks together. Do this in an orderly fashion, so you don't get mixed up. I started at the upper left corner. At first, I cut only 2 or 4 blocks at a time and sewed them together before cutting again. As I gained confidence, I cut whole rows at a time. But I sewed each row together as soon as I cut it. When I finished 2 rows, I sewed them together, then I kept adding each row as I finished it. 

The result, a tessellating quilt with a consistent inner border all around! And made from squares with no diagonal seams to sew. (Well, the entire outer edge is on the bias. I almost forgot about that. I sewed a straight stitch all around the quilt to keep it from stretching.) I'm going to add a narrow red border and outer brown border to my quilt. It was a quick and fun project, and I think it has the potential to be a good stash buster. Sometime, I'm going to make a larger, two-color Twister quilt from my stash.
This snap didn't get the entire quilt top, but it does contain a cute back view 
of Barbara's daschund, Dottie, who seems to really like quilts.

Here's what a border block and a regular block looks like:

A side border block, above, will be half border fabric with 
2 block segments. A corner block (not shown) will be 3/4 
border fabric and 1 block segment. All the inner blocks, 
shown below, will contain 4 fabrics.

Here are a couple of links for more information:

First, the publisher of the ruler set, the Country Schoolhouse in Superior, Wisconsin. Their website has some wonderful project photos and they are an on-line source for buying the ruler, too. Note: today's blog is just an unsolicited testimonial; I had nothing to do with the creation or publication of these rulers.

And a great blog on tesselations by Creative Chick sisters Leslie and Emily at

And my local quilt shop, The Gathering Room in LaGrange, Kentucky. If you are in the Louisville area and love reproduction fabrics, this is a great place to shop.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Empty Nest, or New Opportunity for a Sewing Room?

Several years ago, our youngest son left for his freshman year at a college about 2 hours away. Maybe something is wrong with my maternal instincts.... Even though I did have a few teary-eyed moments when I left him at the dorms, my tears soon faded as my mind shifted to plans for turning his very large room in our basement into my new and improved sewing room.

Really, those kids don't need to have their childhood rooms preserved forever just so they can stay in them a few minutes when they come home to visit. Isn't it better for their long-term mental health if their parents set good examples by living happy and productive lives? And if changing Kyle's teenage man-cave to a sewing room would help me live a happy and productive life, then I think it was the right step to take.

So I cleared his stuff out of there, installed adjustable wire shelving in the closet all by myself, and moved my fabric stash in. Then I went to Lowes to buy three 4' x 8' sheets of insulation board. I covered the insulation boards with white batting and tacked them together along one wall to create a 12' x 8' design board that I could stick pins in. Perfect! I could put all the pieces for one or more projects on the wall with enough room to stand back, preview, and rearrange before I sewed.

I moved my cutting table, sewing table, and few other pieces of furniture in and started working. The room wasn't nearly as pretty as the quilt studios you see in magazines because of my mish-mash of furniture, but it was very user-friendly. And we have a very comfortable guest bed for Kyle to use when he comes home to visit. If it's already being used, there's a futon couch in another room. OK, no closet space in either of those rooms; they're filled with quilts. But this college boy leaves most of his clothes on the floor anyway.

So I encourage you — when those children finish high school, validate their wishes for independence by giving them a gentle shove out of the nest. When you remove their Sports Illustrated swimsuit clippings from the walls and replace them with mini-quilts, or give away the clothes they won't wear anymore so you can use the closet space for your fabric, you are showing them that you have full confidence in their new roles as responsible young adults who are learning how to live on their own.

A footnote: I wish I had a picture of my new room to show you. Well, I do, but it's not a happy one....

Two years ago, our basement's sump pump failed during one of our week-long Kentucky rainstorms. It could have been much worse, and was for many families, so I'm grateful to get off relatively easy. But it's taken a long time to deal with the damage. The resulting 3" of water ruined all the carpeting and seeped up the drywall and insulation, forcing us to remove and replace the bottom 2 feet of drywall everywhere. My fabric stash was safe because it was all up on shelves, but a few of my in-progress projects were in tote bags on the floor, and they were ruined. When the insurance money ran out soon after we paid the company that removed all the water and carpeting, plans for fixing the damage went on hold.

So, my lovely sewing room has gone unused for awhile. Except for a few little projects sewn at my dining room table, my quilting projects have been pushed to the back burner while other parts of life have taken over. Dealing with the happy and sad events that often occur in the lives of women in their 50s — family weddings, deaths, births, illnesses — has taken up much of my time and mental energy in the last two years.

And no, I don't think this is karma for taking over Kyle's room! But it is why I have been so erratic with the blogging lately. We're finally reclaiming our basement. I am so excited! But to save money I am doing all the wall preparation and painting myself. So I haven't had time to blog recently. Why is today's blog so long then, you ask? Well, because it's easier to write long than to write short. No extra time spent editing today!

Back to a happy note: Recently I made a little quilt with a new cutting tool. In my opinion, the new tool provided an easy way to make a somewhat complicated design. No appliqué involved, but I think it looks like a little fancy piecing. In a day or 2, I'll show you what I mean!

Happy trails for now,


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Split Images

One of my favorite design elements in classic floral appliqué quilts is the split leaf. Adding just a pair of split leaves to a floral arrangement adds sparkle and movement, complementing the flowers without overpowering them.

Little Betty's Garden block,  New 
Century Sampler, by Karla Menaugh

McCordsville by Barbara Brackman

     Cut Glass Dish block in Shade Garden Sampler 
     by Shauna Christensen

Adding a split leaf to your quilt block is easy. 

1. First, draw the entire leaf onto freezer paper. Add a line down the center.

2. Cut out the entire leaf, then cut it apart on the center line.

3. Iron each side of the leaf to the back of your fabric choice, and cut out with a scant 1/4" seam allowance. 

4. Fold and glue under the seam allowance all around one half of the leaf. On the other half, leave the inside seam allowance open so it can be tucked under the first half. How do you decide which side of the leaf will tucked under the other? Look for sharp points:

Sharp points are challenging in any kind of appliqué. When I have a chance to avoid folding under all the edges on a sharp point, I take it. In the case of the drawing above, Side B has a sharp point near the stem of the leaf. So I would choose to fold under the seam allowance all around Side A (except the very end of the stem, which will be tucked under the top of a flower pot), but leave the center seam allowance open on Side B. Then my sharp point would be formed by tucking the seam allowance behind Side A, instead of by folding all the fabric behind that little point.

Here's what the the leaf looks like when the edges have been folded under:

5.  Use a glue stick to glue the leaf together. It will be easier to place on the background fabric if it's in one piece.

6.  When you sew the leaf to the background, sew around the folded edges. In the above leaf, I would sew all around Side A but only around the outer edge of Side B.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clipping inner curves

After my last post, Lorraine wrote "I would like to see a post with how you cut the inside curve BEFORE it is glued down. I can't picture it."

Well, Lorraine, you were right to call me on that! I thought about showing that part of the process when I wrote the last post, but it's impossible to show the clipping in a photograph. And my illustration skills are nil!

How you clip an inner curve is important, though, because you need to make the fewest cuts possible. So I made up a couple of little illustrations in Photoshop Elements. As you can see, I'm not lying about my drawing skills! But I hope this helps. Please feel free to write in with more questions.

If you compare the two illustrations at left showing how to make a Y-shaped cut in the seam allowance of a narrow curve to the photo at right showing the seam allowance after it's turned under, you can see that the top of the clipped "Y" turns into a vee-shape when the seam allowance is folded and glued to the back of the fabric. 

If you are working with a wider curve, then you can dispense with making that first clip into the center of the curve and just make 2 angled cuts into the corners of the curve:

When you're making the clips into the corners of the curve, stop clipping just a thread or 2 from the freezer paper. While you're turning under the seam allowance, watch for little threads at those clipped points, and be sure to fold and glue all stray threads to the back of the freezer paper. You should sew extra stitches at the clipped curves.

I hope this helps! Thanks for asking questions!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feathers and Hearts for Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine's Day, here's a picture of one of my favorite heart quilts. One thing I loved about learning to machine appliqué was that I could make any design I wanted. Making Fat-Quarter Folk Dance gave me a chance to indulge my love for those beautiful, fussy feathered hearts found in many antique quilts.

These hearts still took some time, even with machine appliqué. I had to take care in cutting all those curves, first in freezer paper, then in fabric. Then there's gluing all the edges in place and stitching around each curve. But I think it was worth it!

This quilt offered some challenges in preparing and stitching all those inside curves. Here are a few of my tips:

To make working with inside curves a little easier, I usually change the sharp inside corners of the original designs to rounded inside curves. As you can see on these hearts, all the inside curves are rounded scoops rather than sharp points.

If the space inside the curve is small, I have to use smaller-than-usual seam allowances in tight spots.

The inside curves will be more stable if you make a “Y”-shaped clip at each inside corner. To do this, start at the center of the curve. Clip straight in, just a few threads deep. Then make two cuts, each angled toward a "corner" of the curve. This will relieve the strain on the inside curve with the least number of cuts in the fabric.

When you've turned the edge under, the back of the curve will have a vee-shaped piece of fabric covering the center curve and just a thread or two of seam allowance at the clipped points. Put plenty of glue in those spots and use the tip of your finger to firmly roll those threads over to the back of the freezer paper. Be sure to glue under even the smallest threads that may be turned to the back of the piece.

To further stabilize the curve, sew extra stitches at each inside point, especially where you have made the clips in the seam allowance.