16 December, 2014

Finish All the Quilts

Well, I know how I'm spending my Christmas vacation. Lots and lots of binding. Oh wait, does having the kids and Hubby home for two weeks with me qualify as vacation?

That is four quilts there waiting for binding. Two of them are king sized. Those ones I got back from Andrea at Urban Quiltworks. Beyond excited for what she did on those. Wait until you see them. Alas, those have to wait for presents and magazine projects to be finished first.

Did I mention I finished two other quilts last week? And I'm hoping to get my Alturas quilt quilted and bound before Christmas as well? I'm on fire! If I get all these done that knocks of 6-7 quilts from my massive Under Construction list. Woohoo!

Honestly, I am on a finishing kick. And I'm already anticipating a very, very busy January and February. There won't be a lot of quilt finishes or sewing for fun for the rest of the winter. But there will be some very exciting things to come. No complaints here. In the meantime, I'm happy to snuggle with my hand stitching and Downton Abbey and Mad Men reruns.

14 December, 2014

School of Sewing (Weekend Reads)

A zipper pouch. People, I made a zipper pouch. I'd set a goal to learn how to install a zipper this year and thanks to the encouragement of Jen and the instructions from Shea Henderson in her book, School of Sewing, I did it. I did it!

And honestly, it wasn't that hard. I was a fraidy cat for nothing.

It really helps that Shea's directions in the book were so clear. The step by step photography (by Lauren Hunt) was perfect. I'm not the kind of person to enjoy following directions, but when I am going to do it I am religious about going along. And it was so easy doing so for this project.

This book is kind of amazing. It is set up to lead sewers through a series of basic projects that, at the end, culminates in their first quilt. Along the way they pick up skills that will allow them to sew nearly anything. And it is all broken down in clear instructions with a lot of encouragement and humour.

Shea started writing the book after gathering a group of friends and neighbours to teach sewing. While people were always asking her how to sew she never taught them, preferring to send out a standard email full of resources and encouragement to do it on their own. But when enough people at the same time asked she decided to invite them all into her kitchen to learn. Many hadn't met before either. One of my favourite things about this book is that it also tells the students' stories. We learn who each of them are, we get commentary from them along the way, and the photographs include them and their journey. So this isn't a random book of instructions, it really is a school of sewing.

Initially I got the book in my hands for an article. For good research I read it cover to cover. Trust me, that was not a sacrifice. Shea has filled it with so much useful information - from shopping for fabric to sewing machine basics. Even an old quilter like me learned a few things. Plus, her voice is there throughout the writing. I know Shea in person (she has turned me on to the best milk ever) and I could hear her speak as I read the book. Her humour and enthusiasm come through so well. I couldn't help but want to try something new.

A zipper pouch it was. I have a collection of old zippers from a box. I have loads of beautiful fabric. I had a quiet afternoon to myself. I went for it. And in less than an hour I had a little zip pouch. No swearing, only a few mistakes made (easily recoverable), and a whole lot of pride in my new skill. I want to put zippers in everything!

With all the other projects in the book from bags to ruffled key fobs to endless layouts for a half square triangle quilt there is no shortage of directions and inspiration. This book is a must have for any beginner sewer. And a perfect tool for a teacher. If home ec were still around then School of Sewing should be the textbook.

09 December, 2014

Quilting - K.I.S.S.

In the real world I hover somewhere between planning as much as possible and flying by the seat of my pants. I used to plan everything, research it all, and know what I was doing before I took a step. Then I met my husband, a very, very spontaneous person. And I became a mom, where planning causes more anxiety at times than learning to go with the flow. So now, I occupy a lovely space of chaos somewhere in between.

It is no different with quilting. I adore improv and hand appliqué, I write and make precision pieced patterns, and I will happily straight line quilt as much as I will free motion.

All that being said, I learned a lesson in the past week.

I had a stack of tops and backs ready to go and an appointment on the long arm. I had plans for what I was going to do, or at least ideas. The first quilt went well. Even when I changed my quilting plan as I loaded the quilt top on the long arm. The second quilt was a fast make - I had an idea and made the entire twin sized top in a few days. I thought I knew exactly how I would quilt it. It got loaded up, I checked my tension, and went for it.

And right away I knew it was wrong. But I kept going because, hey, I'm here! Can't waste the time! I finished one pass across the quilt and stopped. Staring at it wasn't going to make it any better. My stitches were fine, but the pattern I went with was totally wrong. The idea surpassed my skills, for sure. It was also too fancy for the quilt.

So I tried something else. And that was just as bad.

I was totally overthinking things. But I was convinced that because I was on the long arm I had to do something MORE than the usual. So after some frantic texts to Andrea and chatting with my friend Phil who watches over the renters I decided to cut my losses and take the quilt off the frame.

Ahead of me looms hours of unpicking my quilting. But that is better than the alternative - giving away a quilt I cringed over. Sure, it is only a gift for a 5 year old boy. But I love that boy as much as I love my own kids, he deserves some quality work.

I will head back to the long arm and not only quilt something closer to my skill level, but also more appropriate for this quilt. This was a painful reminder that simple can be quite good, quite perfectly imperfect.

Don't get me wrong, I do indeed believe in continually pushing ourselves to improve, to be better. And the only way to do that is by doing. But we also need to give ourselves and our quilts perspective. This isn't a show quilt, it doesn't need super dense quilting. It's going on the bed of a thoughtful and funny little boy. It will be jumped on and barfed on. The dog will also find it cozy. It will hopefully last him long enough for me to make him a quilt when he leaves home and has a bigger bed.

I need to take some of my chaotic energy and calm it down with both a clear plan and a sense of adventure when it comes to this quilt. Something all over so the piecing shines and not some awful quilting. I'm going to unpick those stitches and keep it simple, stupid.

07 December, 2014

The Little Spark (Weekend Reads)

What a fun, fantastic book!

Carrie Bloomston has written a book that will appeal to everyone from the dedicated quilter (who will know her from her fabric designs and Such Designs) to your neighbourhood mom. And the baker down the street and the barista and the grandfather mowing his lawn. That's because, as Bloomston reminds us, everyone is creative.

This book is an excellent resource and reminder for all of us. It needs to sit next to the teapot or on the bedside table. Grabbed when you are feeling both a bit rundown and totally inspired. That's because its premise provides focus, optimism, and the opportunity for reflection.

Organized around 30 Sparks, or activities, that you can do to bring your creative life into focus. Do them in order, do them randomly, or pick and choose. It doesn't really matter. Some, for example, are in the spiritual realm where I simply don't work. I'm a more literal person and it didn't bother me at all. But that's me. I found so many exercises to be a good opportunity to be introspective, to look inside and examine some long held beliefs or discover a truth I wasn't facing. I've read the book twice. And I know I will go back to it again, and again.

Yes, this book is kind of like therapy. But fun therapy where you are creating along the way and encouraged to keep going. It is also tremendously inspirational. Filled with quotes, stories, and examples of people living a creative life - from a juice bar owner to a modern dance studio where the women are all over 40. It doesn't matter your craft or activity, you will find inspiration in here.

One of my favourite Sparks was "Have a Secret". In this section Bloomston encourages us to create something and not tell anyone about it. Don't show it to anyone, don't share it on social media, don't even tell anyone you are doing it. Quite poignant in this day and age, don't you think? (And totally contradictory of me who lives an online life and has published books filled with my work and family.) But it is a telling lesson, to create for yourself and only yourself. To not worry or feel prying eyes. To not look for validation.

I'm pretty impressed with Stash for having published this book. You know how I feel about quilting books with more writing in them (Yay!) so to have published a book with no sewing at all, that's impressive for the publisher. I think it was a calculate drisk that will pay off because this book has a big life outside of quilting. Of course quilters will love it, but so will anyone else with a creative spirit. It goes without saying, of course, that the book is a visual cornucopia too.

"Creativity takes courage. It takes courage to be who you are. It takes courage to step into the unknown, to dig around in your soul and see what you find, to follow your passion, to start something new." 

Stash and Bloomston are giving away copies of the book. You need to go to Carrie's blog to enter. Even if you have your own copy I would enter so you can get a copy to give to your best friend! Go here to enter.

Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of the book and asked to write about it. But I'd already read it in preparation for a class I am doing in the New Year and will be recommending it as part of that too.

04 December, 2014

Antlers on Plaid - A Mini Quilt

                                                                   Antlers on Plaid
                                                                          15'' x 15''

I made a mini.

In the spirit of embracing a challenge posed to me, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone I made a mini quilt. And it didn't kill me.

But, I didn't particularly enjoy it. Of course I didn't hate it, I was making a quilt after all. I can't say as it was something I really want to do again. It seemed like a lot of effort for something so small. You have to do all the same steps you would if you were making a full size quilt. So yes, it goes quick and there is the satisfaction of a finish, but it seemed like too much work. Not to mention any mistakes you make are magnified.

On top of that, what the heck am I going to do with it?! We aren't really quilts on the wall people - with a few exceptions. And I don't need any table runners/mug rugs. So this particular one will now be on its way to my sister as she asked for it.

When I decided to accept the challenge to make a mini I also decided to tackle a few things that irritate me. Go the whole way with pushing myself. So I pieced a red plaid pattern. I'm sick of seeing red plaid on everything this winter - from men disguising themselves as urban lumberjacks to Christmas cards. Lumbersexuals and their beards are not for me. Another thing I am sick of are antlers. Antlers on everything. I have family and friends that hunt for meat and if they want to mount antlers then so be it. And when I started seeing stag heads on quilts and stationary I kind of liked them. But now? Not so much.

Of course, someone commented that the antlers look more like Grinch hands and that is all I can see now.

So I made the mini. Don't expect me to make more.

02 December, 2014

The Need for Bigger Quilts


That's the hashtag I've been using on Instagram whenever someone asks if they should make a quilt bigger or not. I always default to go bigger.

Frankly, that's a bit of a problem. Sometimes I start quilts just to play, to try a technique. There is no good reason to make it a queen sized bit of play. Well, other than then it would be big enough to put on a bed instead of just over legs on the couch. But if I'm just trying something out why do I insist on making it so big? This MAY have something to do with having over 40 quilts under construction...

Take these blocks for example. They finish at 10''. I'd always pictured that I would make 49 of them, to make a 70'' square quilt. But now? I think I might have to go up to 64 or even 81 blocks. Looks like I have a lot more sewing to go as I only have 28 of them so far.

Much like some people find it tremendously difficult to work on more than one quilt at a time, I have a very hard time making a small quilt. Since I said that last week I've been thinking about why that is the case.

I don't know why, it's just what I do. Possible reasons:

... bigger quilts are more functional.
... there aren't as many babies being born in my circle. Although, I think that isn't the case over the next few months.
... I'm a sucker for punishment.
... while I love hand binding, doing so on a small quilt feels silly.
... most of my ideas need to be big to be truly expressed.
... small quilts feel like a cop out on making.

What about you? What size do you tend to make? I'm not judging anyone else's choices, just trying to figure out my own crazy logic.

Lately I've been thinking of even bigger quilts. For my newsletter someone asked me the question about deciding what to make. In my answer I mentioned the need to make bigger quilts. I've noticed that many of my recent finishes fall into the twin/lap world. If they are square they tend to be 70''-76'' finished.

But, we just bought the kids beds for the first time and they all got double beds. Those 76'' square quilts don't quite have enough overhang for my liking. The kids are happy, but I want to see less of their sheets when the bed gets made. (Yes, I am that anal.) So now my brain is automatically going to 80'' square at a minimum.

What's a girl to do? Make more blocks. Make bigger blocks.

27 November, 2014

Values Plus

We've all seen a million half square triangle (HST) Values quilts. I, for one, don't get bored of them. I think that is because no two are the same - from the fabrics to the layout. However, I wanted to try something different. I was actually prepping for my upcoming class - Values Plus. In that class students will play with values and more than just HSTs. The class is about experimenting, not just creating a HST quilt.

So I dug into my jars of strips and strings. All random fabrics, random sizes, and only paired up by value. That is, as I grabbed strips I made sure that they had a value difference. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was bold. That's generally how I approach pure value work. Subtlety makes it a bit more interesting.

After sewing the strips together I picked a size to trim to. It was mostly dictated by the width of most of the pairs. So 3 1/2'' square it was! And then I kept sewing, and sewing. And trimming and trimming.

I played with a number of layouts. More of a rail fence setting? Totally random? Strips of light/dark? After a long chat with Amanda Jean I went with this final set up. I also decided to create these little groupings on colour, a four patch.

No word of lie, it wasn't until I was posting these photos here that I realized that they looked like plus signs. For my Values Plus class. Get it?

I'm such a nerd.