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, design 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!

NO GIRLS ALLOWED BEE – NOVEMBER

Now that I’ve finally completed all my bee commitments, it’s time to get the last few block written about and posted here.  Though these are for November, I actually made these blocks last, for reason you’ll soon discover.

Mr November is Scott Hansen, who can be found on Instagram as Bluenickelsudios and in the blogsphere here.  For his month Scott requested something which, at first, sent a shiver down my spine.  He asked for Union Jack blocks, based on a tutorial by fellow bee member and all round fabulous Molli Sparkles.  He wanted the flags to be made using ‘Liberty-inspired florals’, and since I had no actual Liberty to hand, I had to do a little shopping.  The life of a quilter is often hard!

Now, since improv piecing entered my brain and took over the controls, blocks like this, with long cutting lists and precise measurements, are something I’ve avoided.  That’s not to say I was drawn to them in the first place; all that measuring and maintaining of accuracy just isn’t for me.  I get too stressed, too worked up with precision.  Now you see why I avoided making these until the last days of January!

I finally bit the bullet and got down to it, feeling terribly guilty that I made Scott wait so long already.  After all the hype, they really weren’t that bad.  Yes, accuracy is needed, and yes, your seam allowances has to be on point (though one of my blocks was a hair breadth shy of the final size) but as I began the second block I actually found myself enjoying the process, probably for no other reason than the end was in sight!

Anyway, Whilst I won’t be making these blocks again in hurry, I’m happy to contribute to Scott’s vision, which I think is going to look awesome.  These fabrics aren’t something I’d usually be seen at a checkout with, but I did enjoy picking florals and matching them to solids.  I love the contrast between the two blocks and hope that Scott will too.

A UNITED STATES OF AMERICA QUILT

Regular readers of this blog will know it’s no secret I’m not enamoured with my job.  Yes, I must have one, and yes, the money pays the bills, but after five years doing the same thing, I’m really ready for a change!  I recently found out that a colleague and close friend would be moving on to pastures new.  In fact, as I write this, he’s working his last shift.  I couldn’t let the occasion pass without giving him a small token of appreciation to thank him for all the times he’s lent me his ear and kept me relatively sane in the workplace!  So, I did what us quilters do best and made him a quilt.

One of our traditions was to play a game of “Name all the American States in the shortest amount of time.”  Every other Friday, during the graveyard shift, we would try to best our previous record and not get tongue-tied over all the ‘M’ states!  When I began thinking about what to make him, the answer came quickly – a states quilt!

This was so fun to make!  Followers of my Instagram account may remember I already attempted one of these.  I ran into difficulties early on when I realised that the state templates I found were all different scales, and so fitting them together would be nigh on impossible!  Fast-forward to the second attempt and I decided to use a map that already had the states fitted together to make my templates, thereby ensuring a perfect fit.

The first step was to cut all the states from the map.  I decided to laminate them to make them more durable.  I’ll probably make another of these in the future so having the templates ready to go will be a great time-saver.  The states were transferred to fusible web before being ironed to the wrong side of my fabric choices.  It’s important to remember when transferring shapes to fusible web that they need to be reversed, so that when you cut them out of the fabric they are the right way around.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to circles, squares and other symmetrical shapes.

Pulling fabric for this project was my favourite part.  After some secret information gathering from his girl friend, I learnt the recipient’s favourite colours.  The fabrics are modern, manly and evocative of the states.  Florida is green and swamp-like, Colorado has a rocky feel and Arizona evokes hot, dusty plains.  There’s a really eclectic mix of fabrics in the map; Kona solids, Oakshott cottons, Tula pink, Carolyn Friedlander and Cotton and Steel.  Once the states were cut out, they were pressed into position on a background of black Essex Linen; a go-to fabric for me these days for all sorts of projects.  I ensured the first state, Washington, was placed level on the fabric before placing the others one by one.  It was fun to watch the map grow with each new addition.

Due to some of the states being quite small (bloody Delaware!), I thought it best couldn’t be bothered to stitch around each one individually, so I chose dense matchstick quilting to add texture to the quilt and secure all the pieces down at the same time.  I began by marking a straight line on the edge of the quilt and used this as a guide to quilt across the top.  I started with lines a quarter inch apart, then went back and filled in twice to leave lines no more than an eighth of an inch apart.  The texture is awesome!  To finish the piece, I used a Joel Dewberry wood grain print for binding.

The last addition was a label, made with the monogramming feature on my new Janome.  I have to admit I’m a little bit in love with it and it makes the perfect finishing touch.  I’m pleased to say the quilt was well received and hopefully it’ll be a reminder of our fun-filled Friday nights for years to come.

NO GIRLS ALLOWED QUILT BEE – OCTOBER

With the new year comes the end of the No Girls Allowed Quilt Bee.  I have to confess that I still have one month left to make, and two to write about, and that’s not including my own month, October.  The bee has moved along as a leisurely pace and there’s been no pressure from anyone if blocks have been running a little late.  I’ve already received a few of mine and I have to say that they are looking amazing.  My brief was quite simple; improve block using solids and prints inspired by my favourite painting, and one which I’ve yet to see in person.

I’ve been enamoured with Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ since I was in school.  Despite having visited New York City three times, I’ve always managed to miss seeing the painting at MOMA.  So, I thought I’d ask my bee mates to help me make my own version.  The idea is still forming in my head and I’m planning on waiting for more of the blocks to arrive before I start thinking about layout.  Watch this space!