Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catching Up and UFOs

It's been a few weeks since I've written a blog post, mainly because I've been revamping my schedule and trying to find the best time to sit down and write. Hopefully this schedule will work and I'll be back to posting regularly.

I joined Stashbusters' sister group, Heartstrings, thinking that Laura could easily make string blocks and then we could make them into quilts and donate them. Unfortunately, because of sewing to a foundation, she can't use the magnetic seam guide that helps her sew more accurate seams. So some of her seams were just right, but many others were way too wide or too narrow. Of course, as long as they're holding the fabric together, it really doesn't matter since they become hidden under the foundation! We made a couple of string blocks together and Laura made a couple on her own, but then, for some reason, she lost interest. I think she'll want to do more in the future, probably sewing a few in between in other projects, so I've got some foundations and strips ready and waiting for her.

One of my major goals for this year is finishing up 4 UFOs a month or 48 UFOs for the year. Laura's UFOs are on my list too and she has several table runners that she needs to complete. This is the back of a table runner she decided to mark and quilt on her own! I usually mark diagonal lines for her to quilt, but she got out the ruler and marking pens and drew straight lines going the length of the runner. Then she used the walking foot on her machine and quilted it. I was impressed with how well it turned out! In fact, the lines going across weren't even marked--she just stitched them totally freehand! 

Here is she is with the finished runner. I machine stitched the binding and then she hand-sewed it to the back.

Our Stashbusters numbers challenge for February were UFO #2 and UFO #64. My #2 was a group of orphan blocks left over from making a couple of charity baby quilts. I still had plenty of the blue fabric and found a little more of the print. Since this was just a simple block design, I let Laura put the top together for me.

I had planned to quilt it on my longarm machine, but when I started sewing, it was skipping stitches and had more of the intermittent tension issues that it's had for more than a year. I was SO frustrated! But, I decided that since this quilt was already on the frame, I would go ahead and baste it together,
then I just quilted it on my sewing machine, doing a stitch-in-the-ditch around the blocks and a meander in the outer border. Now we just need to find somewhere to donate it!

I only have 50 UFOs on my list, so this is my #50, instead of #64 in the Numbers Challenge and it's my oldest UFO. In 2007 our local quilt guild was doing a Virginia quilt for their block of the month program to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. Each block has some connection to the state of Virginia (the upper right block is supposed to be a tobacco plant--there are yo-yo's that will be added after it's quilted!) Unfortunately, while my longarm is out of commission, this quilt won't be worked on. In fact, my pile of flimsies is getting larger all the time! Once we get it fixed, I'll be having a major quilting marathon!

For some reason, my longarm machine worked fine long enough for me to quilt Hunter's quilt (it did start acting up near the end). I added a border of bright orange to represent the "blaze orange" that hunters wear to protect them from shooting each other.

Hunter has a quirky sense of humor and so for fun, I quilted crosshairs on each of the blocks with wildlife. I think he'll get a big kick out of that (and out of Grandma's aim!)

In addition to finishing UFOs this year, I also want to make sure that I don't have any leftover blocks from the projects I complete. With that in mind, I took the extra blocks from Hunter's quilt and had Laura sew them into a matching table runner. I had her quilt it too, although I did all the binding.

There was one remaining block, so I incorporated it into the backing, along with leftover scraps of fabric.

Hunter also gets a matching pillowcase!

I've been wanting to participate in the RSC 15 this year, especially since I LOVE sawtooth star blocks, but I was a little slow getting started. I cut out blocks for both this month (pink) and last month (blue) and finally got them all sewn together this week. I also put together the pink crayon for my playroom quilt.

While I was playing with pink fabrics, I cut out some extra pieces to make a little table topper for my front entry. Then I just quilted it on my sewing machine with a wavy stitch done in a crosshatch and I quilted freehand hearts in the borders. I got it done just in time for Valentine's Day!

A couple of weeks ago, a generous friend sent Laura some really cute 6-inch spring-themed squares of fabric. Laura was thrilled to get a package in the mail addressed to HER, but even more so to have it be a package of fabric! 

In less than a week, she had all the pieces sewn into a top and we'd chosen fabric and added borders. It's now waiting with all the others in my "to-be-quilted" pile! I'll post another picture once it's completely done.

Oh yes, I finally got my Grand Illusion Mystery top completely assembled! There's not much point in posting a picture, since I used the colors Bonnie suggested and my quilt looks almost exactly like hers. But once it's quilted, I'll probably include one anyway, just to show that I actually did it!

On a final note, in my quilt studio I have a treadle machine in a cabinet, but the belt has been removed and I just use the cabinet as a table to hold my laptop. However, that treadle base and wheel are a favorite of the grandkids, who love to come and "drive" the treadle!

Laura has been feeling a bit under-the-weather all week and now I think I'm coming down with her cold! So there won't be quite as much going on in the studio, but I'm sure we'll still somehow manage to...get more done!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Quilt Top Progress

This week was very limited in outside obligations, so Laura and I had more time to sew. However, this week was also Mary's 26th birthday and as I had promised, I made her another jewelry case.

This one has TWO felt strips for earrings--they're purple in this case. The pattern for the jewelry case was a free one on Craftsy and came in a .pdf format. I try not to print out sewing instructions or patterns unless there is something to be traced and cut out. However, sometimes I make changes to the instructions and .pdf files aren't editable.

If the pattern is one I might make again in the future, I create a page for it in my quilting notebook, and make notes on any changes I've made. I also make note of where the pattern is found on my computer so I don't spend hours looking for it.

The jewelry case pattern calls for adding frog closures. I've never done frog closures and although I'm sure I could, I don't have any on hand and didn't want to have to buy any. Instead I used an elastic loop and a button for a closure. You can buy white (and maybe black?) elastic cording, but hair elastics for children (the elastic is more narrow in the ones for children) work perfectly and come in assorted colors.

We've worked on quite a variety of projects here this week. I've been loosely following along with the RSC15 scrappy color challenge. I got this pattern for a crayon quilt and thought it was just adorable! We have a fairly bland, unadorned playroom in our house for the grandkids and I thought this quilt would be a great addition to it.

With both of those in mind, I pulled out my medium blue scraps (the color for the month) and cut out the templates for the quilt and made my first crayon. I thought it turned out really cute! I figured I would just make one crayon each month as each color is announced and by the end of the year, I should have a cute crayon quilt to hang in the playroom!

While I worked on the crayon quilt, I cut out a bunch of blue 2.5-inch squares and gave them to Laura to sew together. You can see in this picture what happens when I'm not overseeing the process! Notice the finger poking up through the middle of the piece? Laura smiled for the camera (mostly because she thought it was funny that I wanted her to poke her finger in the hole!) but she was NOT happy to find there was a hole in her quilt!

All's well that ends well and here's her little table runner. It still needs quilting, but that's work for another week.

My main task for this week was to get to the flimsy stage on Hunter's quilt. If you remember, last week, I had the pieces CAREFULLY placed on the design board. Well...Laura and I went down to the studio Monday morning and I had to leave to do something. When I came back, this is what I found--an empty design board!

Laura had "helped" me by removing all my pieces and neatly stacking them into two separate piles! Gee, thanks, Laura!

After arranging my blocks a SECOND time, I sewed them all together, using the webbing method that Bonnie Hunter uses. It worked really well and I was able to quickly sew the rows together and then assemble the whole top. I was amazed at how fast it all went!

By Saturday morning I had the entire top assembled and all the borders added. The inner border is supposed to be "blaze orange." That's an important color to hunters because it's the color of the vests they wear to keep them from shooting each other rather than a deer!

Meanwhile, Laura worked on her quilt too, carefully sewing the blocks into rows. I've been pleasantly surprised at how much more accurate her seams are and she's even doing better at pressing. Again, she's smiling for the camera, but upset with me because I'm not pinning her rows together for her...

Have you ever heard the story of the shoemaker's elves? A shoemaker and his wife scrape together enough money to buy the materials to make one pair of shoes. They cut them out and then go to bed. During the night, these elves come and sew the shoes together for them. The couple find the shoes in the morning, sell them and buy the materials to make two more pairs of shoes, which they then cut out again and again the elves come and sew them for them...and the story continues. I don't really remember the point of the whole story, BUT, I have figured out that "I" am one of those elves! While Laura is sleeping (in the early morning, not at night) I get up and prepare one or two projects for her to sew. When she wakes up and then it's time for us to go to the quilt studio to sew, she finds a project ready and waiting for her to begin sewing! Here is the first set of rows pinned and waiting next to her machine for her to find and work on that day.

And here is her completed top! As she has reminded me several times, it still needs borders, but that's also another project for next week. This elf needs to find the right fabric and cut it out while she's not around!

Here's a "behind-the-scenes" shot of her holding up the quilt. We both got the giggles as she stepped up on the stool to hold the quilt. She's only 4'10" and so not really tall enough to hold it and keep it from dragging on the floor.

One last note this week, in between pinning the additional rows of Laura's quilt together, I worked on the sashing and cornerstones for the Grand Illusion Mystery quilt. I got the sashing all sewn (correctly!) and I found this really cute teal/turquoise fabric that also has some green and pink that match the colors of the quilt. It seems to be a perfect addition.

And with that, I'll close for this week and plan to Get More Done...tomorrow!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Beginning a New Year!

Normally I try to spend the first week of each month cutting out all the projects I hope to accomplish that month. Since I'm really trying hard to stay focused on completing my UFOs this year, this week I just made a pile of the fabrics and patterns/pieces/etc. of the projects I'd like to make. Some of them ARE my UFOs, but there are other new projects in there too. I decided not to cut them until I'm ready to get started on them, because if I don't get a chance to work on them, they may end up becoming UFOs too!

My priority project right now is the quilt I'm making for my grandson, Hunter's 12th birthday. His birthday is next month, so I'm really pushing to get it finished (it's also one of my UFOs, since I cut it out last year!) Hunter is very appropriately named, since he loves all things hunting and fishing. He goes hunting with his dad on a regular basis and I believe Hunter has actually shot his own deer already! So half of the blocks in his twin-size quilt are 9-patches, using camouflage fabric--something every hunter is very familiar with.

I searched all over the internet to find fabrics with a hunting/fishing theme and was fortunate to find several. I fussy cut those fabrics to make snowball blocks for the other half of the blocks in the quilt.

I wanted to get a variety of the fabrics and scenes in each row of the quilt, but my design wall (board) wasn't big enough to hold 10 blocks in a row. Since the 9-patches are the same throughout, I removed them (except for one at the beginning or the end of each row) and laid out all 13 rows of the snowball blocks. When I start sewing, I'll just take the snowball blocks from each row and combine them with the 9-patches to sew them together. Hopefully it will work as well as I expect!

While I was busy working on my blocks, Laura was also busy working on hers! I had cut 2.5-inch strips and had her sew them to one side of each 9-patch. I trimmed two sides of the 9-patches first so she'd have a straight edge to sew the strips to.

Then I had her sew another strip on the other side. I was very pleased that she sewed all of those second pieces correctly on all of her blocks. And I've also been impressed with how much better her sewing has become! I didn't have to pin any of the pieces for her--I just gave her a stack of blocks and one of strips and let her do it all herself. Her seams have been much more consistent and accurate too. Yay! That means less work for me!

However...all of the blocks needed trimming! I usually square up all of the blocks from every quilt that Laura makes since there are such uneven edges in them. She IS getting better and hopefully the day will come when I won't have to trim for her. But before she begins sewing the blocks into rows, they should be trimmed so they'll line up accurately and produce a nicer looking finished quilt. I've come to realize that the irregularities within the blocks really don't matter--the quilts still turn out beautifully!

After measuring, I determined that the blocks should be trimmed to measure 7.5-inches square. That meant that some blocks had quite a bit cut off and some had very little removed. Trimming all four sides of 74 blocks is a LOT of work too!

While I trimmed her blocks, Laura stitched the binding down on her little wintry table runner.

I thought it turned out really cute! In fact, I like hers better than my own!

This is mine--not nearly as colorful or cheerful as Laura's, but at least it's finished and not another UFO!

One of my UFOs was this Chicken Coop wall hanging. I started it years ago when I was still decorating my kitchen with chickens. It's a wool felt applique project and I had done everything but the hand quilting on it. I had even marked it for quilting, but had only taken a few stitches, and they were in the wrong color. A couple of weeks ago I got it out, removed the previous quilting stitches and started working on it again, taking a few stitches whenever I had some free moments. Well, I finished all the hand work on it this week and then went ahead and added the binding too. So this is now my first completed UFO for 2015!

Laura is holding this for me, but not staying very still!
I am really a sucker for some of the projects Shabby Fabrics promotes! I saw this English Rose BOM and signed up--using traditional applique. The first block is quite large, about 18"x 20" but just lovely! I've done quite a bit of applique, using a variety of techniques and some of the ones Shabby Fabrics uses are similar to what I've done before, but some were a bit different. This is the block BEFORE I had done any stitching on it. You assemble the whole block with the pieces glued down and THEN do all the applique stitching. It took quite a while to get all the pieces cut out, assembled and glued. I'm hoping the process will take less time for future blocks!

It's challenging for me to sit still and sew by hand when I could be getting so much more done in the same amount of time by machine. However, I LOVE doing hand sewing--applique, embroidery, quilting, etc. I know there are some online groups doing slow sewing, so I decided this year that I would do my own version. Sort of "giving myself permission" to sit and sew by hand. My plan is that every Thursday Laura and I won't go down to the studio, but will sit in the living room and work on hand sewing projects and watch videos. I can't believe how excited I am about doing this and how much I'm looking forward to it! An added bonus is that I'll be close to the kitchen where I can keep an eye on something cooking, so I can bake bread, make soup, even do some canning. Oh, the possibilities!

Oh, I almost forgot! Yesterday (Saturday) Charles kept Laura occupied so I could go down to the studio and sew by myself for a few hours. I listened to an audio book while I put the pedal to the metal and finished all 25 blocks of Bonnie Hunter's Grand Illusion Mystery.

So now Laura and I each have all the blocks completed and ready to be assembled into our quilts--she has her Dancing 9-Patch blocks and I have my blocks for Hunter's quilt and also the Mystery blocks. It looks like next week we'll be...Getting More Done!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas Gifts and Goals

There hasn't been a great deal of serious sewing here the past couple of weeks, so I thought I would share some of the projects I couldn't reveal before Christmas. This was actually not a gift--I was in my studio (as I am most afternoons) and Mary came and requested a microwave heating pad. She gave me the dimensions she wanted and I chose this flannel horsey fabric and got it made in no time. I simply cut two rectangles about 8.5" x 12.5" and sewed them right sides together on 3 sides, then turned it right side out and sewed lines to make 4 channels. I filled the channels about 3/4 full with white rice, pinned to keep the rice under control, turned under the edges and topstitched twice to close securely. She said it was perfect!

Laura has a tendency to stick her needles into an old tomato pincushion, where they eventually disappear! When our Small Quilt Group had the November challenge of making these cute little needle cases, I knew one would make a great gift for Laura. Now hopefully we'll be able to find her needles when she needs one!

Mary's favorite color is purple (it's mine too!) and I wanted to make her a jewelry case. There's a strip of felt on one side for earrings and ties on the other to hold rings. Mary doesn't really wear rings, so she's going to give this case to a friend and I'll make her another one with the earring strips on both sides.

I used a piece of plain white elastic cording for the button closure, but afterwards at the store I found some hair elastics for children that are in lots of different colors. When I make the next one, I'll be able to use a matching elastic. Here's a link to the pattern for the jewelry case if you'd like to make one yourself.

Although these LOOK like little beanbags (and that's pretty much what they are!) they're intended as handwarmers. They're also filled with rice and you heat them briefly in the microwave and then tuck them into your gloves or mittens. They're only a few inches in size and make a super-fast gift. I always have cold hands myself, so I love them, even if no one else does!

We use a lot of glass bowls for reheating foods in our microwave. Unfortunately, the glass often gets hotter than the food! It's always been a challenge to take the bowls out of the microwave without getting burned. So when I saw the idea for these microwave potholders, I knew I had to have a set.

And I also thought they would make great gifts for my kids! They're quite quick and easy to make (although, if you're making 18, it does take most of the day!) They're basically squares of fabric and batting with darts on each side to help shape them to fit around a bowl. Then the two squares are sewn together. They work wonderfully--you just set the bowl inside the potholder and put the whole thing in the microwave. When the food is heated, you lift it all out and serve your food.

I didn't actually make this as a gift. However, when all the family (21 of us, anyway) were going to my daughter's for Christmas, she asked if I would bring some blankets and/or quilts for her to have and keep. I made this top a couple of years ago, and then last year I made some changes to it. It's the Bloom Bloom Pow! quilt from Freshly Pieced Modern Quilts and the original design for this size had the blooms at the top and bottom cut in half (which made the design evenly rectangular). I wanted them whole, so I made some more pieces and fixed them before finishing the quilt. I LOVE how it turned out!

On an entirely different note, Bonnie Hunter revealed the Grand Illusion Mystery. All my pieces are sewn, and laid out to assemble, but I haven't done any sewing them together...yet. That's next week's project.

Our Small Quilt Group on Yahoo has the challenge for January of making a disappearing 4-patch block. When I read the instructions, I realized that, except for the cutting, this was something Laura could do too! So for the first time, she and I worked together on making a project.

I wanted to make a little winter table topper for my entry and this seemed like the perfect choice.

And here is Laura with hers. After taking pictures, we added borders and I drew lines for quilting. She keeps reminding me that we're going to sew and quilt on Monday! We should have pictures of finished toppers next week.

The past few days I've been working at cleaning and organizing my studio...and planning my goals for 2015. I've decided to only set three goals and one of them is to complete 75% of mine and Laura's 64 combined UFOs. That's 48 UFOs, so I'll have to finish 4 each month. This is a picture of most of the UFOs, although you can't see them that well. This is a 2-foot deep shelf and they go all the way to the back.

Our Stashbusters Yahoo Group does a UFO challenge every year (I'm participating in that) but this year they've also added a Number Challenge. You make a list of your UFOs (I put mine in alphabetical order) and number them. Then every month the challenge leader chooses 2 numbers and you're supposed to work on those UFOs that month. This month, the numbers are 8 and 35. I included many of my orphan blocks in my UFO count and this one was my #35 UFO. This was just a random block I had that I really liked. I had already added the purple and floral borders around the original block, but never got any farther than that. My plan is to make it into a pillow. We shall see later this month how it turns out!

My Number 8 UFO was a much greater challenge. Some years ago I made a Broken Star quilt (which is actually still a flimsy and also on my UFO list!) but somehow ended up with SEVEN leftover Star points! WHAT do you do with only 7 points?? They were too pretty and too much work to just toss, so they've been languishing in my orphan pile. But this week I pulled them out and looked at them more closely...

When I placed them on my design wall, I remember just how much I love those Lone Stars! So I went rummaging through my fabrics and discovered I still have some of each of the fabrics in these original points. Now I have a plan! I'm going to make ONE more point, sew the star together and then make it into a quilt or wall hanging. I'm actually excited now to move forward on this project!

With all those UFOs, I should have plenty to keep me busy this addition to keeping Laura supplied with her own share of projects to work on (14 of the UFOs are hers!) She'll actually be working on some of the UFOs, and I discovered she also has a bin with LOTS of 4-patches that could be made into several more quilts. So it looks like it's time for the two of us to...Get Lots More Done!