MONKEYING AROUND ON QUILT MONKEY!

Throughout the rich and varied history of TV there have been countless memorable duos who’ve remained every-present in the consciousness of consumers; Laurel and Hardy, Richard and Judy and Ant and Dec.  Well, as much as it blows my mind to say it, you can add another pair to the list; Katy Jones…and me!

Katy needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the modern quilting movement. Author, blogger and fabric designer, she knows her stuff, so I was honoured when she asked me last year if I’d be interested in presenting some episodes of her ever-popular quilting show Quilt Monkey.  To say I wasn’t a little nervous at first would be a big fat lie! I’d never done anything like it before and my mind was full of all the live TV fails I’d seen whilst lost in the depths of late-night internet browsing. Fortunately, Quilt Monkey, which is shown on QNNTV, isn’t filmed live and, even if it was, I had great support along the way.  My hand was well and truly held!

So, after a spot of planning, off to North Wales I went to film my episodes; a four-hour car drive from the attic here in Cardiff.  Me, behind a camera, talking about quilting!  Throughout the journey I was frantically taking notes, wracking my brain for funny anecdotes and inspirational nuggets to share with the audience.  Then I stopped and thought “I know what I’m talking about, let’s just focus on the quilting.”  So that’s what I did.  I have to admit it was a bit surreal to be stood behind the camera, lights shining down and a bank of TV monitors glowing at the edge of my vision.  I even had a microphone, something which l wasn’t expecting but in hindsight seems so obvious.  This was real and the cameras were rolling!

Luckily for me Katy was a dream to work with and displayed none of the diva qualities often attributed to people at the top of their game.  Yes, she needs a constant stream of tea, but then again so do I!  We chatted and cut fabric, then pressed and sewed it as I talked about piecing free hand curves.  We were having so much fun that before I knew it, a wrap was called on our joint episode.  I’d done it!  That episode is now up and ready to view.  Over the course of my trip I filmed a total of 4 episodes, to be released over the coming weeks.  In fact, my first solo effort goes live today! Throughout the episodes I’ll be talking about improv and inspiration, as well as showing you some techniques I used to create my Vegetable Patch quilts.

The whole experience was so fun and I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to return for another guest slot.  If you do get a chance to view the episodes I’d love to hear what you all think!  Thanks for visiting!

DESIGNING AND DIE CUTTING

The attic has been a flurry of activity lately, something which excites me so much that I sometimes forget to slow down and share it with you all here.  There hasn’t been much sewing as such, but rather preparation for it.  By that I mean I’ve been scribbling down lots of designs, gathering inspiration from all over the place and preparing fabrics, including lots of cutting!

Thank goodness then for my Sizzix Big Shot!  One thing I’m working on at the moment is a quilt for an upcoming blog hop featuring the new Scandinavia collection by Oakshott.  Now, as anyone who’s sewn with Oakshott fabrics before knows, they are a dream to work with, and I always like to take a little extra time to plan whenever I use them exclusively in a quilt.  I can’t share too many details with you now, you’ll just have to come back for the blog hop for those, but what I can say is there are lots of squares, half square triangles and, a first for me, a drunkard’s path block or two. This is uncharted territory and something that makes my inner perfectionist cringe a little.  Those curves will have to be pieced pretty bang on if that nagging voice inside my head is to be silenced. Despite the block’s name, I’m not sure a drop of bourbon would do anything to help either.  Best I stick to fueling up on coffee!

I intend to do a trail run with some questionable fabric before I dive in with the Oakshott, but I’ve already taken the first step towards achieving precise blocks by using the Bigz dies to cut out my pieces. My theory is that if they’re all cut out the same then they should all fit together easily.  That makes sense, right?  I’m using the Drunkard’s Path Arch and Fan die (659849) and the Drunkard’s Path Quarter Circle die (659850).  As well as accurate, the dies are a great time saver too, giving me more time to focus on the sewing!  Wish me luck!  If you have any tips for sewing the 2 parts of the block together, preferably without using a load of pins, comment away!

GRATEFUL

Remember way back when this blog was in its infancy and my head was full of questions about whether I was good enough and who the hell would want to read what I had to say?  Well, today was a milestone in my life as a quilter and I want to share it with you all.

That my quilt on the cover of Quilt Now magazine!  I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me, somebody who continually questions his ability.  Whilst I try to keep this blog and my Instagram feed a happy and positive place, I’d be lying if I said the road was always easy.  Sometimes things don’t go right, sometimes blocks design just don’t work, no matter how much you try.  My style of improvisational quilting often takes me down roads with dead ends, and I’ve no choice but to back up and try a different route.  In my quilting life there are definitely lows, but when things like this happen, it makes all the stress and swear words worth it!  So thank you!  You, who’s reading this, or who’s commented on a previous post or liked an Instagram picture.  Your support is wholeheartedly appreciated!

You may remember from a few posts I mentioned a quilt I made using my Sizzix Big Shot.  Well, this was it!  I can recommend the machine enough for accuracy when you need to cut out a lot of same shapes.  I so looking forward to expanding my collection of dies and seeing what else I make.  Who knows, it may turn out to be another cover star!

As soon as I get the quilt back I’ll share more details.  For now, look out for issue 10 of Quilt Now in a shop near you and let me know what you think!

A SECOND VEGETABLE PATCH QUILT

I knew I would end up making a second Vegetable patch quilt.  Even when I was elbow deep in purple strips, fashioning the red cabbage from the first quilt, I couldn’t help but let my mind drift to other vegetables and how they might be constructed. Like the first, this second version was completed some time ago, and since it’s not really the weather for allotments yet, I took advantage of a weathered wall and the smallest segment of sunshine to snap some photographs whilst away for the school half term a few weeks ago.  I’m not ashamed to say that I am in love!

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As pleased as I am with the finished product, once again it was the process of its construction that really got me going.  The first thing I did was to think about vegetables, perhaps more than any sane person really should, in a creative way.  I was drawn to both their outward appearance as well as the patterns and textures that can be found beneath the peel and skin.  I wanted the blocks to work in harmony with the first, and was looking for vegetables with similar colours and tones.

The first block to be completed was the red onion, which, up until recently, was my most liked media on Instagram (thank you beloved followers).  I saw this block as the younger brother of the leek block from the first version and had two things I wanted to achieve with it.  Firstly, to increase the curves and have the rings be more rounded.  Secondly, I wanted the colours of a red onion to be really obvious.  I wanted people to know what it was as soon as they looked at it.  Fabric section for this block was key.  I mixed Kona solids with small-scale prints by Denyse Schmidt and Violet Craft amongst others.  Purple is a colour I’m lacking in my stash so I was pleased to find pieces that I could use amongst my numerous scraps.  I can’t lie and say I wasn’t worried when I was making this block.  Yes, my idea was working and the fabrics looked great together, but to make those curves you must have a lot of seams.  I mean, a lot!  Luckily, once it was pressed and starched and stretched…oh my..it lied pretty flat, and what didn’t was quickly sorted out by the quilting.

Next came the green element.  I chose asparagus for its outside detail and the range of colours it comes in.  Like the carrot block from the first version, I wanted this block to showcase the thin, long nature of the vegetable.  After scribbling down my process on paper, I made a test block, the first time I’d done so for these quilts, and realised that some changes would have to be made to better convey the asparagus.  I made my initial strips wider and re-worked the tips.  Again, fabric selection was important, and thank God for crosshatch by Carolyn Friedlander.  It’s so textured and perfect for these kind of blocks. I was a little worried that the neutral background would be lost when I came to sash the blocks, but the mix of linens and solids really makes the asparagus spears stand out.

For the red element I choose a chili and like the tomato block, it has a lot going on inside!  I created the seeds first, then cut free hand curves, another first on this project, to create the iconic shape of the chili.  The background was a kona solid in a since-forgotten shade of red that really make the block stand out and gives it some “fire”.

The last block was pumpkin.  I probably struggled with this once the most.  I knew I wanted an orange element to complete the quilt top, but was stumped for a long while before settling on the seasonal squash.  I was probably influenced by the recent Halloween celebrations and the fact that I was snacking on a lot of spiced pumpkin seeds.  Go figure!  Again, like the chili pepper, I constructed the seeds first, then used a similar technique to the red onion to create the shape of the pumpkin.  I debated whether or not to add some green before settling on a small section. In hindsight I think it’s a tad too vibrant, but think it still works but creating a little contrast.

So, I now had the four blocks and was very pleased with them.  The rest was easier!  I knew I wanted the layout to be the same as the previous version.  That meant sashing the four blocks with Essex yarn dyed linen in flax from Robert Kaufman before adding a wider border in the same fabric.  The backing was the same as before, a seeded, off-white cotton, and the quilting was also the same, although this time it was done on my new machine with a wider throat!  Lots of organic, dense quilting that suits the subject matter perfectly. Binding…you guessed it, the same!  My long-hoarded crosshatch from Carolyn Friedlander.

I love these quilts and they are my most favourite things I’ve ever made.  They look really good together and seeing them like this makes all the trail, error and mishaps worth it.  Remember, I have no pattern for these blocks.  No templates or measurements to cut.  It’s all in my head, and even then I only have a vague idea about where I’m going with it.  But that’s part of the fun, exploring my creativity, and it’s something I would encourage you all to do.  You might be surprised where the journey takes you.  For me, it was to the bottom of the allotment!

Thanks for visiting!  Oh wait, I need your help!  I really want to build my stash of basics, fabrics that are perfect for these types of blocks.  I have a lot of solids, but I’m looking for suggestions for small-scale prints in greens, reds, oranges, purples and browns.  I have some ideas, like Crosshatch, Sketch, Pearl Bracelets and Squared Elements, but do you know of any more?  Leave your suggestions in the comments and there might by a prize at the end of it for one of you!

A NEW TOY TO PLAY WITH

A few months ago a very exciting package was delivered…just as I was walking out the door, dog in tow, heading for the park.  I knew what was inside and couldn’t wait to get back to open it.  Samuel had never walked so quickly as we looped the park and hurried home.  Not wanting to keep you all in suspense any longer, this was the contents…

A Sizzix Big Shot machine!  Now, I’d read a lot about these machines during my early exploration of quilting blogs and online tutorials and was intrigued.  Fast-forward a couple of years and I was honoured to be approached by Sizzix, who asked if I would like to try out their machines and dies. My brain quickly went into overdrive, imagining all the quilts that I could make with help from a die cutting machine.  I can tell you that, to date, it’s a very long list.  Add that to the fact that I keep seeing more dies that I want, each inspiring more quilts, I think I have enough ideas to last a long, long time!

After a quick read of the instructions, I couldn’t wait any longer and got to work on my first project.  Now unfortunately, it involves a little secret sewing, so I can’t share too many details with you all.  What I can say is that the Bigz L Circle die was very useful!

The Sizzix dies are amazing!  Instagram is full of posts of perfectly cut half square triangles, making the process of their construction exceedingly simple.  Then there are squares, and circles, and hexagons, oh my!  Now at first, I wasn’t aware of the wide range of dies available.  I’d seen a lot of applique dies, such as flowers and butterflies, and never really thought these would be useful for my style of quilting.  It was only when I began to dig a little deeper that I discovered a whole range of quilting dies, designed to make your piecing as precise as it can be.

I’m still exploring the machine, and wish I had more progress to share with you.  What I can say is that it’s such a pleasure to use.  Technophobes need not be afraid.  Simple and effective, it cuts through fabric with ease, ensuring each and every piece is identical.  When cutting the circles for my secret project, I found I could stack 8 layers of fabric and cut through them without any issues.  The dies are well made, and I’m sure that with a little TLC they’ll last a very long time.

With the sheer number of dies available, the possibilities are endless, and I’m so excited to get some more projects under my belt.  Watch this space for more of my Sizzix adventures!

NO GIRLS ALLOWED BEE – DECEMBER, AND THE FINAL POST

At only a modest two months late we find ourselves at the last post of the 2014 No Girls Allowed Quilt Bee! It’s fitting that the bee should come full circle, ending with the founding father, Molli Sparkles.  Mr Sparkles needs no introduction, having already left his glittery stamp on the modern quilting world in far more impressive ways than I could describe here.  I count myself so fortunate that I was able to connect with Joshua way back when, and am both pleased and proud of where our interaction has taken us.

For the final month of the bee, Joshua requested hash tag blocks in a rainbow of tone on tone colours.  Now, as the tutorial so helpfully suggests, a test block is indeed a mahvelous idea; if you haven’t nailed down that exact quarter inch seem, your block isn’t gonna grow up to be the right size.  Trust me; I have an orphan block stuck to my design wall to prove it.

Once I sorted the seam issue, I sewed up a storm, choosing to focus my fabric selections on the teal and yellow areas of the colour wheel. Since I made blocks for Mr.  I’ve grown quite an attachment to fabric arranged in colour order, so it was great fun to pull these. Tula makes an appearance, as does some great small-scale prints that seem to be the staple of my stash.  I can’t get enough of fabric like that!

If these blocks seem familiar, you’ve probably seen a ton of them crop up on Instagram as part of the Sew For Sydney movement Joshua initiated to help victims of the Sydney terror attacks.  It was a real call to arms, with hundreds upon hundreds of blocks from all over the worlds being sent to help the cause.  What a great bunch you all are!

And with that the bee comes to an end!  Mark me off the list gentlemen, I’m officially up to date.  What fun the whole experience of being in a bee has been!  I’d stumbled upon the word many times in the early days of my foray into quilting, and was eager to be involved in one.  Well, I couldn’t have wished for a nicer bunch of bee mates.  I’ve learnt so much from these guys and can’t wait to see what they all get up to in the future!  I hope you’ve all enjoyed taking this journey with me.  Be sure to keep your eyes open for the finished quilts over the coming months.  They’re going to be ace!

A SECOND SCHNITZEL AND BOO MINI QUILT SWAP QUILT

These days, I seem to be finishing quilts quicker than I can blog about them, which is something I’m not use too!  When I began blogging, the computer would wait patiently whilst I frantically sewed on binding.  Now, there’s a seeming endless list of post waiting to be published!

Today is the turn of a quilt I completed last month as part of round three of the Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap.  You may remember the quilt I made for round two of the swap last year, which was great fun and just a little bit difficult to part with. This time around I was pleased to discover my assigned partner, Nicole AKA kwilter100 on Instagram,  had similar tastes to my previous partner, so I was once again able to express my love of all things improv.  I was thinking bright colours, wonky piecing and a lot of quilting; all things my partner seemed to like!

I began by cutting random widths of fabric and strip piecing them.  These were then sliced into and sewn back together, creating a stepped effect.  Like most of the quilts I make, the fabric pulling was one of my favourite parts.  My partner requested large-scale floral prints coupled with aqua and pink.  I purchased some Anna Maria Horner ‘Pretty Potent’ floral as a starting point, and then raided the stash for coordinating prints.  There’s a little Tula in there, as well as some Carolyn Friedlander (surprise, surprise) and some Cotton and Steel.  Everything just works so well together!

I made a total of four improv blocks before cutting them down and filling in the negative space with some black yarn dyed linen by Robert Kauffman.  I then went to town with the quilting, both following and going against the seam lines, even crosshatching in some areas, with the lines around a quarter of an inch apart. For the backing, I chose a stash staple that I’ve been waiting for the perfect project to use.  The colours were just right.  Binding was another Carolyn print from her Botanics collection.  Love, love, LOVE!

Received and hung up, I pleased to say Nicole was happy with it, which is the whole point of a swap I guess!