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 by 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!

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!

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.

HAPPY NEW YEAR…LET’S PLAY CATCH UP!

Happy new year…although even that’s belated now, owing to the fact that it’s the 6th of January already! Can you believe it? Time doesn’t just fly…it hitches a ride on a super sonic jet and doesn’t get off!

It may seem like I’m complaining…and I am…but time’s relentless pace has its pros too. I have a great feeling about 2015, particularly for me and my quilting journey. I have several things in the pipeline that are really exciting, and I’ll be sharing details about those as soon as I know more myself.  For know, let’s deal with a little bit of forgotten house keeping from last year.  Over the next few days my posts will be dealing with all the loose ends I forgot didn’t have the time to tackle during the frantic festive period.

First up is my Instagram Mini Quilt Swap quilt I made during the last few months of 2014.  Organised by Sandy Greenberg, AKA curly_boy1 and Mr January in the #NGAQB, the swap was a huge success, attracting over 600 swappers.  It was the first time Sandy had organised anything like this so it was great to see the Instagram quilting community showing faith in a novice.  The swap was totally stress free, most likely due to the large period of time between receiving partner details and the posting dates.  This also allowed for a lot of thought on what to make, as well as a lot of mind-changing!

My partner was Meli, who posts as theshortmunchkin.  I was told that she’s a US Navy RN, so I used that as my inspiration for her mini.  I really wanted to do something with naval flags, but with more of a modern twist.  I imagined them all strung out on some string, rows above rows, with bright, vibrant colours replacing the traditional reds, blues and yellows.  I drew up some basic paper piecing patterns for a variety of different flags and set about pulling fabrics.  I didn’t start out with a rainbow of colour in mind, but the fabrics seems to arrange themselves like that as I was rummaging through the sash, and who am I to argue?  Sometimes, in my more subservient moods, what the fabric wants, the fabric gets (unless it’s destined for a vegetable patch block, in which case it’s being starched into submission).

I am so pleased with how the quilt turned out.  There are some old favourites in there, including Tula Pink and Carolyn Friedlander, mixed up with some vibrant Kona solids.  For the background I used some widescreen crosshatch that I seem to have an abundant supply of due to it’s 108″ width!  The quilting was wavy matchstick in an off white thread; simple but very effective.  The binding was my new go-to print from John Lewis.  It’s like a black scratchy line, not too dissimilar from those featured in the Botanics collection.  This was also the first time I used any applique in a quilt.  It was only a small circle, but it really finishes off that particular flag nicely.

I’ve been assured that Meli likes the quilt and have seen that she’s hung it up already, so I couldn’t have done that bad a job.  I’ve become really addicted to mini swaps recently and have signed up for three more this year!  Do go and check out this swap’s hash tag on Instagram.  There were so many great makes, and the one I received was particularity fetching…even if I am a little bias!

Here’s to a creative year.  Thank you all for following along and taking the time to read my ramblings.  I really appreciate all your support and can’t wait to see where the attic takes us this year!

A GOSSIP QUILT – WIP III

Sometimes the quilting journey is even more enjoyable than the finished quilt, something I can definitely say of the Gossip Quilt.  Placed out of sight for a few good weeks whilst I worked on other things, I returned to this quilt with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm.  Creativity swayed the direction many times in the construction of the blocks as well as the final layout.  You may remember my original plan was to have the top composed entirely of full log cabin blocks in the colours featured on the backing fabric.  With my increasing love of negative the quilt top quickly took on a whole new look.

I agonised over the layout with this one, more than I have done with any other quilt I’ve made.  I wanted to convey a sense of gossip, using the blocks as “tidbits” that were spreading and, much like gossip, becoming distorted in the telling.    The layout I finally settled on came to me after some gratefully received Instagram advice.  Never has a design wall been so useful!  The final quilt top is a mash-up of several versions I posted pictures of and I’m so pleased with it.  The weather here in Wales has been atrocious of late so I stole a few moments to photograph this outside during a lull in the rain.  Recently, taking pictures of anything in the house has been a chore, owing to the abundance of grey gloom!  The wind was trying to get the better of me but I was quick fingered on the shutter and ran back inside, pug and quilt top in my arms, before the clouds ripped open once more.

Now to order the batting and decide upon a quilting design…and a thread colour!  In an ideal world there would be a variegated thread with these exact colours running through it.  I’m off to have a look, but not before I link up with Lily’s Quilts for the small blog meet.  You should all know the drill by now!

ACCENTUATE THE NEGATIVE

As many a recording artist has told us, in life we have to “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive“.  Lately I’ve been doing the opposite and giving prominence to the negative, that is, negative space.  With my January blocks for the #NGAQB in the safe keeping of their recipient, it was time to get back to old WIPs abandoned in the name of Christmas and camaraderie.  Top of my list was the Gossip Quilt, which I desperately want to finish.  As I pulled out the blocks and put them back on the design wall, creativity, much like Frodo and the One Ring, took a path I did not expect.  I had negative space on the brain from the ideas formulating in my head for the February #NGAQB block and the more I looked at the Gossip Quilt blocks the more I liked the idea that was forming.

You see, my original plan was to have each 12.5″ block  be a full log cabin, joining them all together to make a 5 x 6 block quilt top.  I took some solid black and began revising the arrangement, adding areas of negative space to and around the log cabins.  I loved it!  Such a simple thing, similar to what I did with the Dinosaur Quilt.  So now, as well as the full size blocks, I’ve started to make smaller log cabin block and sash them in varying widths of black.  I might even have some full 12.5″ square negative space too.  That’s the joy of the design wall; nothing’s place is permanent on it.  Now that the some of the blocks have been reduced in size they’re coming much quicker, and I hope to have the top pieced by next weekend.

Today, I took a break from the Gossip Quilt to work on my February #NGAQB blocks.  All was going well until I came to square up one side…

Yep, I was that much short.  You know those days when nothing seems to go right?  When fabric doesn’t want to play ball and you drop your pins all over the floor, well today was one of those days in the attic.  The negative, the real negative, was well and truly being accentuated.  Apart from some paltry scraps, I had no more of the background grey and didn’t have the patient to order more and wait for it to arrive.  I panicked and got stressed.  I called out to my bee mates for suggestions, taking myself away from the machine whilst I waited for their responses.  A calm descended after a dog walk and a cup of tea.  On my return I looked at the block differently.  They say things happen for  reason and I think they really do.  A quick slice and dice of the block allowed my to add some wonky sashing that has totally transformed it to something I never envisaged.  A happy case of measure once, cut twice!  Don’t you just love it when things like that happen.  My quilting  is far from perfect but sometimes, in the mistakes I make, I see the potential for something closer to it!

Have you ever turned a problem into a positive?