Thursday, March 15, 2012

on the 5-yard line

Back in July 2010, I finished a French Braid top.  I think I fell in love with *every* *single* variation I saw and every single colorway.  I don't think there is such a thing as an ugly French Braid quilt. :-)

As I remember, at that time, I was really, *really*, REALLY into piecing.  I had this bug in my ear urging me to piece! piece! piece! .. and so I did.  I have a LOT of tops ready to be quilted.  :-)

So, let's fast forward to current times .... after finishing the Robot quilt (see previous post), I was now on a roll for quilting.   From experience, I know that I need a Quilting Plan before I ever load a quilt on my longarm.  I can do the sit-and-stare thing while the top is up on my design wall, but I come to a complete standstill with respect to inspiration if it's on the frame.

I Googled French Braid quilts to see what other quilters were doing.  My original thought was to put feathers in each column .. but .. oh dear, it's True Confession time ... I'm kinda feathered-out right now.  I've been doing quite a bit of feathers on various things and didn't feel that feathers was doing anything "new".  There are still many, *many*, MANY styles of feathers I want to stitch ... but not right now.

Interestingly, there weren't too many close-up pictures of quilted French Braids.  Lots of tops, though.  Finally, my patience was rewarded .. I saw a lovely example of a linear design that was done in each segment.  The line of quilting angled down each segment and met in the middle, where the center diamond was.  And that is the idea that I used.

The borders got a scallop-and-beadboard treatment.  I just love it, although I probably ought to move on to another variation.  :-) 

The narrow fabric between the French Braid columns got Carla Barrett's "curly swirly" design.  Again, I use this motif waaaaay too much in sashings, but, *by golly*, it's just the perfect thing if you want a round design!  It's another motif that I just love, love, love.

Over a weekend, the French Braid was quilted.  It's approximately 72"x94", which makes it an over-sized twin or an under-sized full/double. :-)  

It's been squared and is ready to be bound.   I considered using the burgundy color (from the narrow border around the French Braid columns).  This repetition would give a visual tie-in to the interior while providing a "hard" stop at the edge.  Ummm ... I wasn't sure.

Then I considered using the border fabric.  Being the same as the border, would give a seamless finish and not be distracting.

Ultimately, I decided on the border fabric.   I knew it was the correct choice because I just felt "right" about it. 

But .. umm .. uh oh.  Now we have a problem.  I figured I had leftover border fabric .. but where???  This top was finished in 2010 ... the leftover amount might be in my scrap bins (someplace), it might be in my stash bins (someplace) or  .. ::gasp::  I might have even already used it elsewhere!

A cursory search resulted in nothing.  Hmmm.  OK, Plan B ... look online.  Fortunately, even though the Stonehenge Cool Stone line is from 2010, it's still be stocked online!  (Local quilt stores don't keep fabric around that long.)  But, I held off ordering it.  Call it a premonition but .. as I was looking for a completely different piece of fabric for a completely different project, I *found* the leftover piece!  Woo hoo!  Go me!  :-)

I did the math and figured out I need at least 322 linear inches of binding.  I think I can eke out that much from the leftover piece.

Oh yeah .. and I still need to make the label for it.  :-)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Robot Quilt

Well, it's *almost* a quilt ... I just need to make a label then sew on the binding (which has already been made) and THEN it's a finish. :-)

I received the 4-patch blocks and some coordinating fabric as a UFO from one of my daughter's friends, who was decluttering.   I bought some other coordinating fabric for borders and finished the 4-patches into the quilt.

I quilted a 5-line cable in the top & bottom borders, using Nancy Johnson's "Cable Tool" template. 

The single rope design in the side borders was done using DeLoa Jones' "Rope-a-Dope" template.  Both of these tools are absolutely *fantastic* and I don't hesitate to heartily endorse them.

I quilted Baptist Fans in the interior of the quilt.  I don't have a fancy groovy board to stitch this out.  I use a series of concentric circles that I bought at our local plastics fabricator (TAP Plastics).  I just keep switching the circles I want to use to get the curve I need.  In this case, I used 3 circles: 4", 6" and 8".

The actual construction of the top was blessedly uneventful.  It was the QUILTING process that had some drama and excitement. :-)

The first drama was that I ... duh .. forget to check the tension before I started quilting.  The previous quilt had used a much thinner thread and the tension that worked for it absolutely, positively did NOT work for the thread I used for this quilt. 

Sadly, I didn't discover this until I had stitched rope border and one pass of the Baptist Fan design.  Happily, it was ONLY those two rows!  The silver lining is that, since the tension was so horridly, horridly WRONG, it was easy to just pull the bobbin thread out.

The rest of the quilting went quite nicely until the VERY LAST quilting .. the last border of the 5-line cable.   aaarrrgghhhh!

What was the DRAMA???   Well, you'll just need to read about it all (with more pictures) on its webpage, The Robot Quilt.  :-)

Now, I'm off to fire up the embroidery machine to make the label.  :-)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

a one-up "placemat"

Whilst working the Oh My Stars! quilt along, I had some leftover, small 4-patches.  They were very cute, in the way that small things are, and I decided *right then* to make something with them. Mainly because I was tired of making the Courthouse Step centers of the last Oh My Stars! blocks.  :-)

I had 8 blocks.  I bordered four in red and 4 in green, then using an on-point layout, I alternated the bordered 4-patches with plain black squares and  red and green setting triangles.  The bias binding was made from fabric leftover from a Victorian dress made long ago for my youngest daughter.  The backing is a plain red twill.

The entire project ended up measuring 11" x 18" ... more or less a placemat size, although I had not intended it to *be* a placemat.  At this point in time, I have no intention of making any more of them.  I don't have enough of the specific plain red or green fabrics left to do so, although using slightly different shades probably wouldn't make that much of a difference.  I'm not even sure if I have any more of the fabric used in the 4-patches, but again, I'm sure I could scare something comparable up, if I was so inclined.  Which I am not. 

I free-motion quilted it on my home machine, a Janome 6500, using a shiny red machine embroidery thread.  I chalked in the spine of the feathers then free-handed the feathers.  I'm so pleased that I finally found the secret to doing inside curves with feathers!  (mark a diagonal to bisect the inside curve then use that line as the limit line for the outer edge of the feathers).  The setting triangles got three loops and the 4-patches got a four loop design.

Personally, I think it came out rather nicely.  Not perfect, but more than acceptable.  :-)

For the ::ahem:: photo shoot, I used my mother-in-law's china, Rangil's "Normandie" pattern, as a place setting.

This is such pretty china ... the gold border around the circumference is a lovely embossed gold pattern.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Oh My Stars quilt along: # 13, 14 & 15 (and all done!)

Wowsers .. it's been a long haul to get these Sawtooth Star blocks done!

#13 is the Plaid Star.  I didn't choose correctly for the intersections on the 12" block so it looks odd.  It looked OK when I was pulling fabrics but, in reality, not so much.    I did better on the smaller blocks.

I'm still having problems with correct final sizes on the smaller blocks ... I'm concluding that miniature sewing is not my forté!  And that's OK with me ... I don't feel the need to master everything. 

Yeah, it does annoy me that some of the star points are going to be clipped during the final construction ... BUT .. I am SERIOUSLY out of the focus fabrics!  Early on, I had decided to make these star blocks with some Christmas-themed fabrics that I had been given.  I've succeeded in that with about 95% of the fabrics used; I augmented a very small amount with some other fabrics.  Because I had 'promised' myself to use only the donated fabric, I really don't want to start putting other fabrics in the mix at this late date.

Where does that leave me?  Without the ability to remake the smaller blocks in an effort to retain the star points!  And .. that's OK.

Block #14 is the Shimmering Star.  Oh. My. Goodness Gracious.  Sheila is *killing* me with these variations in the smaller sizes!  This particular layout needed a bazillion half square triangles.  I departed from Sheila's directions for the half square triangles because, as most quilters know, there are a million different ways to make them. 

For the 12" block, I used the old stand-by of drawing a diagonal & sewing 1/4" to either side to make 2 half square triangles.  I use this technique all the time and am very comfortable with it.  However, for the half square triangles needed for the 8" and 4" blocks, this method is tedious.  I certainly did not want to work with such small squares and drawing lines on them.

Fortunately, a quilting buddy of mine, Dee Bradford of Texas, had recently shown us a very nifty method of sewing a bazillion identical half square triangles at a recent retreat.  This technique has you cut bias strips, seam the long edges together, press the seam allowances THEN cut the half square triangles from the resultant flat sheet of fabric.   The main attraction of this method is that the seam are *already pressed* and the half square triangles are cut and trimmed to size at the same time!   Additionally, the outer edges of the half square triangles are *on grain*.  Other mass-production methods (specifically using the tube construction) produce half square triangles with the outer edges on the bias ....  something I didn't want to mess with.

It was *amazing*.  I used this technique for the 8" and was very, very impressed at how easy it was to make all those SMALL half square triangles painlessly.    Even BETTER ... my stars came out .. for once .. absolutely, perfectly *accurate*! 

Then it came to making those 4" blocks.   Oy.  Even Sheila said she'd be amazed if anyone made this block in the 4" size.  Well, I'm not one to back away from a challenge and I've made at least one 4" block of every other layout in this quilt along, so I made my attempts.  Yes, *attempts*.  Several times.

For the 4" block, the finished half square triangle size is 1/2".  With squares that small, the back of the block would be *all* seam allowances!   I've tried a few different ways to do the 4" size:
1. standard piecing.  Oh gosh NO.  My sewing machine doesn't sew anything that tiny
2. freezer paper piecing.  I thought, for sure, this would be the solution.  Wrong. 
3. faux applique.  yes, I even tried to be sneaky with fusible applique (the base block is color 1 and teeny-tiny triangles backed with fusible webbing from color 2), with the intent of zig-zagging afterwards with mono-poly thread.  But even my cutting skills are apparently sub-standard.  *And* there just isn't a whole lot of color 2 triangles there to zig-zag!

Then I got even sneakier.  If piecing the block wasn't going to work, then *don't sew* it!  I would DRAW it and color it in with markers!  :-)   Well, even that got two tries because the first brand of markers I used (Marvy) bled the green into the red.  ::sigh:: But, my Fabrico brand markers worked wonderfully.  And *that* is how I have one .. exactly ONE ... 4" block for the Shimmering Star.  And that's ALL I'm gonna have. :-)

Which leads to our final block, #15 the Exploding Star.  It's actually a Courthouse Steps log cabin for the center and strip sets for the points.  Sheila's versions looks sooooo lovely.  Mine, not so much.

Remember I mentioned I was getting seriously low on my Christmas fabrics?  Well, finding 3 fabrics in the same color family that were ALSO graduated in values was darn near impossible.   I was able to construct the center Courthouse Steps portion, but only the 12" block got the strip set points.  I just couldn't eke out the necessary fabric to make the same points for all the smaller stars.  So, I made those points out of a single piece of fabric.   Not quite what Sheila had envisioned, but it worked with what I had.

And now ... I am DONE!  All the blocks have been constructed and are patiently waiting in a project box for the final layout directions. 

Sheila says the final size of this quilt will be about 68" x 92" ... a generous twin.  I may or may not want to enlarge it to be a double/full size.  Which means I would need to make more stars.  Which isn't exactly a problem ... whilst reading all the various blogs, I've come across some very intriguing Sawtooth Star variations that are not the same as any we have previously made.  A couple need to be resized to 12", but that's not a big deal.  I'll make the smaller stars in the basic layout, just so I don't make myself crazy.

The blocks I've found (and there are many others around) are:
*Martha Washington Star  which is from Carole Henell, as part of her Jewel Block of the Month project
* Shimmering Star (different than Sheila's), also from Carole Henell, also from the Jewel Block of the Month project
* Ribbon Star which is from Faith of Fresh Lemons blog.  It's in Barbara Brackman's book, "The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns", page 160.  Check out Faith's "Soltice Stars Series" for other very attractive Sawtooth Star variations!
* Cathedral Star which is by April Mae Designs
* Milo's Star which is by Michele Foster.  Although there is an extra design element for this star which may not play nicely with all the other star blocks.  I'm still thinking about this one.