Karen writes about life as a Quiltmaker in Austin, Texas; surviving in an empty nest, marriage, cooking, gardening and (did I say?) Quilting...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Quilting a Holiday

What better way to spend a few hours on a quiet Christmas day than to work on a Rag Quilt?

A couple of years ago, I made 5 or 6 of these easy, but arduous quilts. They were all the rage - patterns were everywhere. I looked them all over and settled on the RagTime pattern from Quilt Country in Lewisville looked simple enough. As you can see, it's just alternating plain blocks with 4-patches, with a 1 inch seam that is sewn on the front, then clipped to turn into a lovely raggy chenille like surface.

The problem is the heft of the flannel, which makes the final sewing of the heavy batting filled strips a real bear wrestling match. And then, there is the clipping.....

One of the scissor companies came out with a scissor especially designed to make the work a bit easier on the hand, but it's still requires thousands of snips... tick, tick, tick, goes the life clock.

I discovered an old pair of electric scissors in my collection of old sewing things, and discovered that it is the simplest way to clip those seam allowances - no wear on the hands, and does the job in a fraction of the time required with manual scissors!

I had two large blanket-sized bags full of pre-cut blocks, that have not been touched for two years - last year I laid off, and decided I'd given away enough Rag quilts for a while!

But, alas, one important member of my family had NOT received a quilt - my baby brother! 10 years my junior, he's just not someone I think of as one who sits around needing a lap quilt...

But that said, he recently commented that he "had NEVER been given a quilt".... and so, the mighty bags of flannel squares were resurrected from the depths of my stash closet. Some uncut yardage, which included some darker, more manly, and less Christmas-like fabrics were also enlisted in the efforts.

The old 1927 Singer 31-15 was more than up to the task of constructing the quilt, and those old electric scissors still work as well as I remember. If was a fun task to work on over the holidays.

So, for the past few days, I've tried to finish off the quilt. Tomorrow, I'll post a picture of the finished quilts.

I do hope you were able to take a few hours out to enjoy doing a bit of quilting this Holiday Season - and wish a Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

2007 Challenge MET!

First apologies for such a long sabbatical. A lot has been going on, some good, but some that can only be described as "challenging"... lets start with the good stuff first OK?!

In mid 2006, I joined the Austin Area Quilt Guild, and after a few months of participation, decided that the best way to give back a bit to the group would be to challenge myself to make a baby quilt each month for the guild's charity "Baby Bundle" project. I made my first quilt for the January 2007 meeting, and challenged myself and others to make a quilt each month in 2007...

I'm happy to announce that I met the challenge (actually ended up making a few more than 12 - but sort of lost count)! Last month's quilt didn't get pictured... it was actually made in a bit of a hurry, as I'd been on the road to and from my Mom's in Dallas and so it was finished at literally the last minute - and almost didn't make it to the guild meeting - as we had a flat tire on the way there! So no picture was made. I used some older red/blue cheater fabric designed for pillows, and turned the pillow panels, which has a lovely folk artsy "heart" design into a 4-block quilt! But this month's was made at a more leisurely pace. The crazy log cabin blocks were made some months ago, an outgrowth of a workshop by Gwen Marston that led me to her book "Liberated Quiltmaking". I decided to make up a free-pieced "crazy" log cabin blocks. Then, I took the smaller scraps and strip pieced them to a 3" x 12" foundation for a border. I really liked the end result, and plan to do some more such quilts... great, great fun!

Here's a closer look at the blocks and border.

To set the log cabins, I just put 5 inch borders around them, and used my 15" Omnigrid square to rotary cut them into true squares... keeping the log cabins a bit "twisted"

I chose a cool design cam and stitched the binding down to the front with the lovely old 1971 Elna 62C.

One of these days, I'll take pictures of all my sewing machine collection for you... this machine makes the loveliest designs, all with little cams. Those Swiss do make good machines.

I used the Singer 15-91 to do the quilting... all was done free motion.

And what about the other challenge? I spent over a week in late October in Dallas, while Mom went through Triple Bypass Open Heart surgery! After returning home, she went back to the hospital for a couple more days to treat some atrial fibrillation that developed after the surgery. At 72, it's been a real challenge. My father, who's 76, never imagined that he'd be caring for mom - he was supposed to be the one with the heart problems! He had a stent put in place in an artery over 10 years ago, but I know always thought mom would be caring for him... After two full days at the hospital, Dad & I decided to split our time there - he in the morning, and me in the afternoon (he can't drive after dark).

So, another trip and a lot of time spent in the aftermath has been tiring, and, well, not fun.

Mom is recovering well, though suffering a bit from some confusion, and short term memory loss, we are hoping that she can work through some of this and regain her former vigor. Right now she's thrilled that she lost 10 pounds through all this and has worked herself back down in size and is fitting into some of her smaller clothes!

So - even in the darkest of times... there is hope!!
And now, back to that big old Wedding Ring quilt that MUST be finished in time for my next trip to Dallas!

Here's wishing you and yours a Happy, Happy holiday!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Monthly Baby Quilt

Still on track with my goal to produce a charity quilt each month... Here's this months (October turn in).

This was a true scrap construction, using up only the tiniest amount from my true scrap collection!

I machine quilted it, using Signature's 40 weight pastel variegated thread.

If you look closely, you'll see that I machine quilted spirals in each block! Just did a couple of lines of walking foot work round the border.

Check out the little decorative heart stitches used to hold down the french binding... I like to sew the binding to the back, then fold to the front. Gives one more opportunity to decorate the front with a decorative stitch. Use the "Heart" cam and my 1977 Elna 62C Supermatic! Here's a detail:

Isn't that cute! I really think piecing these little quilts each month is really helped me improve my piecing tremendously. I'm now seeing more straight seams and joins than crooked ones!
This one went out Monday nite as a Baby Bundle Donation for the Austin Area Quilt Guild's charity quilt program.
- Karen

Quilting to Soothe the Soul

Well, as though things weren't busy enough, I had to take a brief detour last month and spend a week away from home. My mom went to her Doctor with a complaint of feeling tired, and breathless when working in her garden. Her Osteopath sent her to her heart Doctor THAT AFTERNOON, and he promptly put her in the hospital. She "failed" the stress test, and further tests indicated serious blockages in three arteries needing immediate attention. Mom is a heretofore healthy 73 years old!

A Triple Bypass later, she spent a week in recovery. I arrived a few days after the surgery, to help dad in the daily slog to and from the hospital, about 30 miles away in nearby downtown Dallas (they live about halfway between Dallas and Ft. Worth. At 77, Dad no longer enjoys driving far from home, and can't drive at night. We ended up doing a "split shift" which him at the hospital mornings, and me there in the afternoon and evening. It left me with some time to kill at their home, and after I spent a few days doing some cleaning chores around the house, I ended up with a little time on my hands (they are on a dial up connection - using the Internet too time consuming to be attractive!). What to do?

Of course, not to be without some quilting work, I had taken my trusty Elna 62C and the bag O' Purple - a large blanket sized bag of purple quarters, yards and scraps that has been the source for one purple quilt, and now is serving as the source for two additional tops - for nieces. I have to admit that this is not MY favorite color. To that end, I've decided to use the colors to put to use in learning new techniques. Last spring, I used the purples at a Pat Speth workshop on Nickle quilts, and recently, I took it to a great workshop by Lynn Roddy Brown of Houston.

She taught a wonderful technique for a pattern she called "Texas Two Step", a variation of a fairly common block that involves two 4-patches, and two half square triangles, set in a particular way.

However, rather than set up the Elna on the dining room table, I decided it was high time I cleaned up my Grandmother's treadle operated Singer 66. Mom inherited Grandma's machine and brought it home sometime in the early 90's. My Grandmother, Birdie Lee Fillette, though not a woman of means, lived a long and fruitful life, raising 8 of her own children, many of her years as a single mother, her husband being not the best of father figures - as they used to say "he drank a bit"... at any rate, she sewed clothing for all the kids, and in 1946, just after WWII, she purchased, new (on "time), at the local Singer Dealer in Alexandria, Louisiana, the Singer. A model 66, is a no-frills model, with a "Godzilla" crinkle finish, and a plain 3 drawer cabinet. It has seen so much use, the crinkle finish is worn smooth across the bed... it turns over with great ease. Mom rescued it from the small home her mother was living in when the family moved her into a nursing home in the early 1990's. My grandmother lived to be 95 years old, passing on in 1999. I remember visiting her many times, and seeing her using the machine. She often credited the use of the treadle as a reason for her long life. She said it was great exercise and one of the reasons for her great "legs"! Indeed, she was always a trim woman!

Mom said she bought the treadle rather than an electric model as that was what she had before, and she said she saw no reason to waste electricity when she could sew perfectly well without it.!

At any rate, sometime last year I had fitted it with a new belt, and oiled it up, but had not had time to take it for "a ride".

I decided to take all the pre-cut pieces and try putting them together with the Treadle.

While my technique probably needs help, it wasn't too difficult to work the machine, and I was soon sewing at a clip. By the end of my visit, I had finished a good number of blocks... I'll post them when I get them all put together... Here's a picture of just one block, and a postcard of the pattern I made as a thank you for Lynn...

By the way, she has a new book out, which I highly recommend - this pattern is in the book, called Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts. Her web site is http://www.lynnroddybrown.com/. There you can see a full size version of this quilt done scrappy. It's a great pattern, and can be set in many different ways. Because you have the half dark, and half light, it's easily adapted to any settings you've seen for log cabin patterns...

The work was not only good exercise, but it was very relaxing, especially helpful in dealing with the stress of visting mom daily at the hospital - what work that was! So difficult to see loved ones suffering, and so out of sorts. Though it is truly miraculous the work that Doctors can do now for such problems that once would have meant a shorter life, and an end of suffering.

Mom went home, and is recovering well... I hope this is her last visit for big "work" for a while!
I saved the purple blocks, and will finish up the next group next time I visit. As for now, I am still working nightly on finishing up the Wedding Ring quilt for mom by Christmas. Now only tiny hearts hand quilted in the rings to finish up - then BIND!

PIECE and Happy Seams to all
- Karen

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Baby QUilts as Coping Mechanism...

OK... the nest is STILL empty...

...and, I have to admit, that the odds of my baby bird returning any time soon (as seems to happen quite a bit these days), seems terribly remote.

I was blessed with an "explorer" the kind who (sorry Trek fans) "boldy goes"...with nary a look back. He left home for culinary school, and promptly built a great life for himself - already ready a Sous Chef and turning twenty this month - albeit in a great town about 1200 miles from home (boo hoo).
The prospect of any enlargement to the family, likewise seems remote - though there does seem to be a fairly steady gal pal arrangement these days. One which I have not yet met, though, who seems, (after an accidental chat on son's AIM last week), to be quite nice. And any gal my son picks must be pretty good - he's always had an eye for the good things in life. And, at twenty, there's plenty of time for that later -No worries - right?
Oh, but, as anyone who's learning to live with the empty nest knows, there are some days when the nest is emptier than others.
The quilt shown above is this month's "baby bundle" quilt. At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to make at least one each month, and so far, so good... actually, with about 9 quilts done, I'm a bit ahead of myself for a change! The quilts are fun, non-stressful creations, as challenging or easy as I like. They are as enjoyable to give away as to make... Each also provides a ready palate for testing new skills or patterns - in this case, the new walking foot for "Big Red", which worked admirably, and a great continuous like pattern for the border - from Janie Donaldson's "Add-a-Line Continued More Continuous Quilting Patterns" -it can be found on page 12 in the book.

Note in the picture above though who looks over my every quilting job, both blessing every quilt, and (gratefully) quietly ignoring all faults... my son's picture hangs as that of the "saint of the sewing studio" (please pardon - no damage intended to the devout!). He was always a bit of a cynic where organized religion is concerned, so I think he'd enjoy the irony of the comparison.

A closer look indicates that this is a very young picture (Jr. year in H.S.) still sporting that adolescent skin, and in a somewhat awkward pose for the camera (er, uhm, for mom actually - because he would ONLY sit for a photo at that time if forced too by me of course !). But, it's one of my favorites, because it is such a great picture, still hinting of the innocence of earlier years.

It's funny how just little things can set me off to a place of sadness though. What started all this musing (and missing) was the discovery, tucked away in my old treadle cabinet's drawers, of 3 items from son John's rock collection. Just three small bits, a few of many, which still, somehow, continue to clutter the house here and there. Though we moved away from the boyhood home last year, and have packaged up (or so I thought) or sold off, or shipped off to him every thing that was designated as HIS... still somehow they turn up. Usually I find them in the unlikeliest of places - as in this case, Whilst searching for a wayward walking foot for "Big Red" the 15-31.

The small rocks are a bit of turquoise - bought in an unusual touristy place no doubt. A smooth reflective piece of hematite - bought by me on one of my many trips to a far away museum, back in the days when my life was filled with business travel. I always tried to bring home some new thing for him...more for the enjoyment the anticipation gave me - knowing that even the smallest little thing brought from far away gave him great pleasure!

And last, but certainly not least, a real small piece of meteorite - found long ago on the shores of Lake Buchanan. A true bit of pre-John history, that we shared.

No telling how they ended up in the old cabinet... probably picked up from the carpet at some point, and put there for safe keeping.
I think, I'll keep them just a bit longer, as they provide pleasant memories of a shelf full of found things... all that John kept for his own enjoyment. He can have them whenever he likes... but I have them, and my memories, NOW!
- Karen

Saturday, July 14, 2007

That FIRST Quilt

Anyone who's ever quilted has a FIRST quilt. And, as a quilter, it has great importance.

If you ARE a quilter today, then that first quilt set you on the path you find yourself today - whether still a beginner, working on that NEXT quilt, or an experienced quiltmaker with dozens under your belt! That Quilting Journey begins with a first quilt...

Perhaps a sewing machine was involved - but perhaps not. Hand quilting is a time-honored tradition, and the method isn't really important is it?! The fact that is got DONE is what's important!

Lately, my mom has been doing some serious "downsizing", which prompted some musings on the beginnings of my sewing, and quilting journey. This all started with the "return" of some most unlikely, and somewhat forgotten items from my quilting past.
The year must have been 1968, or more likely 69... when I was a Freshman in High School. The item, a patchwork, drawstring pair of bell bottom pants! The patches are about 3 inches square to boot - nothing shy about these babies! Paired with a muslin and red bandana patterned peasant top - they are a sight to see. I had COMPLETELY forgotten about this endearing piece of Karen's sewing and teen years history. Yes, this get up would be right at home at any "Flower Power" costume ball... all I'd need is the floppy canvas hat (with matching red bandanna print band), to make the outfit complete. The hat is long gone, but mom kept the costume for some bizarre reason - wisely deducing that it might some day provide humorous reminiscense, as well as proof of some difficult and rebellious years (to mom mostly...).

I'm grateful she saved them, as I only have a vague memory of making and wearing this get up...! At this point, I can't cheat you out of a picture...

How about the close up of the patchwork in the pants... check those intersections! No doubt this was made AFTER my first quilt... where I got practice piecing those squares - more about that later.
Not at all bad eh? The drawstring was also handmade with an "Inkle" loom. My last project before leaving Girl Scouts... The inkle loom was "found" recently, but alas, it was no longer useable...not to mention the fact that instructions on how to use it were long gone...

However, my inexperience in fashion/sewing technique shows... note the bottom of those pants! I was obviously working my way down from the waist, and just wacked off the bottom to make the right length, leaving that untidy remnant.

I just CAN'T imagine that I wore this, but mom says she has PICTURES (aaaargh!?!)... and that she'll give them to me when she finds them - if she's smart, she'll hold them for some appropriate ransom!
But back to that first quilt... I had to share the outfit just to give you some background for the times... Along with "Flower Power" came an interest in getting "back to nature", and, along with that, a renewed interest in handcrafts. Building your own furniture, weaving, and, of course sewing, though sewing your own clothing was not really all that cool...

The inspiration for making a quilt came with the times, but also with some exposure to the quilts of my grandmother, who at the time was in her early 60's, was very active, and still sewing on her 1940's Singer model 66. Never electrified, it was a foot powered treadle - she preferredi it to electric to the end - sewing on that machine all her adult life, until well into her 80's - despite the constant efforts of her 8 children to provide her with a "modern" machine. She still made most of her own clothing, and made quilts for the grandchildren, and others with scraps from her sewing bag. All would be called utility quilts today, nothing at all fancy, usually tied, or occassionally machine quilted in the ditch. She lived about 8 hours away by car, in Alexandria Louisiana, so we were able to visit her several times a year. I have many early memories of enjoying "helping" her sew at that treadle.
Oddly, my mother was never interested in making a quilt. At the time, I think purchased bed covers (and the ability to AFFORD to purchase them) was much preferred by her. She grew up the 7th of 8 children, in extreme poverty, a child of the Great Depression. To HAVE to make quilts - well, she has left all that behind. (Though making children's clothes to save a few dollars was acceptable, and no doubt provided a creative outlet!).
So the choice of my first quilt design was very much influenced by Grandma's work...
The Trip Around the World was pieced from scraps from mom (and my) scrap basket, I remember some of the clothing represented in it's squares even today! Mom always saved her sewing scraps for our doll clothes, and so I had plenty of fabric for the top.
It is large enough to cover a twin bed with a nice drop, or a full bed just so. The squares were cut the old fashioned way (this was long before rotary cutters!), with templates made from the cardboard from a cereal box, and all cut by hand with scissors.
The quilt was pieced by machine - the squares into long strips (rows) that were then sewn together. I do remember the batting being Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon Cotton (on Grandma's orders), and the backing was a "not-quite-new" sheet sacrificed for the job. No binding, the backing was just cut big enough to fold over to the top (though mitered!), leaving a nice red border round the quilt. I did sew a nice feather stitch round the edge of the border - simply for decoration!
The quilting was strictly "in the ditch", no marking. And yes, quilted with that old Featherweight...something I DON'T recommend. I remember it was rather like wrestling a bear to get it through that little machine...
After that quilt, I didn't make another quilt until my son was born, in the summer of 1987. My interest in quilting was renewed, and many quilts came on the heels, of that baby quilt, along with a deep interest in improving my skills, learning ALL the techniques, and a returning interest in old sewing machines!
Today, I find myself wanting to share and teach these skills to others - so they can know the joy of creating something with your own hands... for yourself, and for others.

Karen's "Trip Around the World" ca. 1968

Monday, June 11, 2007

Whoa... Long Time No Post! Today a Quick Tip!

OK... what the heck was I thinking? I started this blog, and seem to have been relegating it to the bottom of the priority list (of coursed, like all women's lists, it is impossibly long!). Time to remedy and get caught up...

But, I HAVE been doing a lot of work lately. Quite a few quilt tops have flown off the sewing machine for the guilds up coming August Baby Bundle charity quilting date. Quilts and tops are due in July, with a date set at a local quilt shop to layer quilts, then a quilting and tying will be held en masse at the guild hall in August - ready for September give aways!

I also attended some great classes recently, and will do another post on a great, easy split nine-patch pattern I learned this past weekend.

And some sewing machines are coming out of their "spa" treatment (several pretty Hand Cranks) and going at auction at the store - see the link to the "Shameless Commerce Division" at left

Ever pull a skinny bolt of fabric off the shelf at the quilt shop and wonder just how much fabric is left on the bolt? You can figure a very close approximate amount like this:

Look at the bolt end with the FOLDED fabric (not the selvage) edge showing.
Count every TWO winds of fabric - that will equal about a yard!
How so? The bolt is 7 inches wide, add a couple of inches for the wrap around each side, and you have 9 inches - or 1/4 yard on a side. So, two folds, or two complete wraps (both sides) around the bolt equals a full yard!
You'll be amazed next time you figure the yardage remaining on the end of a bolt, and have it measured... you'll be accurate within an inch or two. I'm always amazed at how many folks working at shops have never learned this old five and dime store trick!

I fold my fabric that I buy in yardage (mainly for backs - but occasionally just because I love a particular design or find a good buy) in 9" widths or flat folds so I can quickly eyeball the yardage in my stash too.

OK... I feel a bit better catching up with my blog... this week I'll try to update with a picture of my stash, and that split nine-patch pattern...

- Karen

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quilting with the Vintage Singer 15-91

I was sooo happy to get my "call" this morning first thing.
Thought I sure do miss my "little one"...

Someone was asking about the Singer 15-90 on one of the quilting boards I frequent, so I said I'd post my favorite 15-91... The 15-91 has the geared motor - sometimes called a "pot" motor as it sits in a little "pot" stuck on the back of the machine head. The 15-90 is the exact same machine, but is belt driven with a bolted on motor...

Here she is working on a Quilt of Valor this past month for our guild:

And here she it again in her swell No. 42 "Deco" Singer Cabinet!

And a close up... this is one of my best restoration jobs - but she was also really "minty" to start with! - NOT FOR SALE!! But you can come over and play with her anytime!
I do have a centennial model for sale at "the shop"...(the Shameless Commerce link to the left) and have several more in for "SPA" treatment that will be out and looking for new homes in the next week or so. So visit there and see if you'll find something you might like!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

My Sewing "Domain"

OK... for the edification of a few curious types, here's a picture of my sewing "space"... and a couple of my favorite machines.

When we sold the "big house" last year and did the downsize, I still ended up with a spare room... And, it seemed silly to make the largest bedroom into a "master" bedroom - when all we do is sleep there for 8 hours or so in 24! What a waste of space when that room could become Karen's sewing studio eh?

I am one of those wild creative types... although I DO have a "place" for everything, I also am not real crazy about being neat for neatness sake, so there are always several project laying around, patterns and books ready for a quick look, and way too much paperwork laying around.

These are my "users" the "go-to" machines I use every day. On the left above, a Bernina 830, for dressmaking, er, well pants and shirt making - haven't worn a dress in years! and (mostly) quilt piecing. The 830 was a great estate sale find... in a fairly well off woman's sewing room. The Bernina was in a fancy electric lift cabinet - but was entirely unused. The old Singer 66 also in the room was worn smooth out - no decals left on the bed! Apparently she purchased the Bernina (even went through some of the classes as demonstrated in her workbook), but never really got used to it enough to use it. It was loaded with over 25 feet, The BIG workbook, and every thing! Just love it... though I still go to my older Star series Elna 62 when I want to do some cool decor stitches (blanket or feather stitch for example!). So although this is a 25 year old machine, it is basically new!

On the right above, and at left here, is "BIG RED"... my restored 1927 Singer 31-15. A VERY heavy (50+ pounds) industrial Singer in an original Maple topped Singer table! I don't run it as an industrial with a clutched motor however. Right now, it's belt driven off of a bolted on 1 amp PFAFF 130 motor. The lamp from the 130 (which was broken - sniff, sniff - in shipment to me.... another story!) is mounted on the business end. I use an artists rotating carrel to store my fiddlies, and the serger is on the table opposite under the blue cover. This is the oldest working machine that I use regularly!
The old Dayzor lamp from the 1950s (or so...) that's between the two machines swivels to give me plenty of light on the subject. It's an old government surplus lamp that has a brass government tag indicating it came from the Joliet Arsenal!
I'll try to post pictures of the rest of the studio (including the stash!) next time!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spring, The Empty Nest and...

Well, it's finally happened, I'm afraid the emptiness of my "empty nest" had hit me hard this spring. Last year, our son was still in school, and we were way too busy selling off the "big house" that had been our home of 13 years, preparing for the move, making the move to Austin - another words, way too busy to think too hard about the consequences of successfully raising our son to adulthood...

And an adult he has become. He was only here a month ago. Exploring Austin with us, preparing his polished, culinary creations. Fresh from finishing culinary school AND his first full year on a single job, (he was celebrating not only his graduation, but his first full WEEK of PAID vacation!)he is, alas "All grown up"...
To me, it was only yesterday that we carried him home so clumsily from the hospital. He arrived way too easily, and was just too, too good of a baby, child, and even teenager. Somehow, we managed to survive any of the potential for damage or horror that seems to dog every parents back-of-mind concerns about child rearing these days.
Just last week I was sorting through one more box from the move - eagerly seeking to flatten just one more box and ditch another pile of uneeded, once wanted goods. Only to stumble across the crib set I made for John. Worn, but not too much - as he never was the sort to drag a quilt around - he was more likely to have a toy in hand - with the crib ruffle and bumper almost like new., the quilt - all done in red "cheater" ABC blocks - only a little worn.

Has it really been 19 years? In August it will be 20! Unbelievable... Life just whizzes by...

I made him the prequisite T-Shirt quilt to take with him when he moved away... filled with T-shirts from his early days (Boy Scouts, Nickelodeon, and MTV) to those cynical teen years (Skinny Puppy and Edgar Allan Poe) which he says he enjoys so much so far away in Pittsburgh.

But I've hesitated to finish up the Hawaiian medallion I made several years ago in his favorite blue batik colors. It is a breadfruit pattern - symbolic of new beginnings, and, traditionally given at a wedding... perhaps I'm still just not quite ready for the next stage of his and my life!

As I tried to figure out why the funk, it finally dawned on me that I am mourning the "loss" of my "little boy"... As the calls get fewer and far between, and we must depend on an occasional email or even watching his blog to keep up, he seems farther and farther away. And worst of all, he has been talking more and more about a (gasp) girl... when I always thought of myself as just his... he is after all an "only" child. Doted on, spoiled (though not rotten!), and the center of our attention... and of course no other woman's to have or hold! But don't all mother's think that of their precious sons? Oh well...

I'm sure I'll survive, as will he, perhaps it is time to find that Hawaiian top and get it done! What was it my mother alway said about idle hands...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The BEST Geese EVER!

I'm always trying out new techniques to improve my quilting. And, while I'm not normally bowled over by the "fastest" or "most convenient" new way to cut, sew or mark... a technique obtained from one of my message boards (Stashbuster on Yahoogroups) really got me excited as it is such an improvement over the traditional techniques for a classic patchwork block.
This weekend I checked out a new technique for making the classic "Flying Geese" patch that purported to result in "No Waste", and allowed one to adjust it to "any size". Flying geese, when done well, can make a lovely addition to any quilt... put in lines, in the resemblence to their namesake flying birds, they provide wonderful movement for the eye to enjoy.

Check out Caryl Bryer Fallerts innovative use of Flying Geese in her contemporary quilts:
As anyone who's ever made flying geese knows, waste and adjusting the patch to the proper size are the most difficult aspects of making these little buggers. At first glance, this appears to be one of the simplest patches to construct - just three triangles - right? But, those triangles involve BIAS edges - yep... those wonky, stretchy cuts that involve cutting fabric on the diagonal or BIAS.

The integrity of the weave, provided by the comforting, sturdy WARP threads that run the length or GRAIN, and the less firm, but still much less stretchy WEFT which runs back and forth across the the fabric is immediately compromised when you must make a cut across the diagonal of the fabric... Making any further work with the fabric problematic. That resulting "stretch" is what makes sewing any patches formed by triangles a challenge. Paper pieceing is one way to make these patches en mass while keeping those bias ... or hand piecing for liesurely (time consuming) perfection.

Cutting each triangle, and sewing it separately each other triangle, especially with the sewing machine, usually will result in some amount of stretchin of one or the other of the diagonal edges - and a patch that is ever so slightly off it's exact result when complete. Fine if you are only putting together a 4 patch potholder, but not good at all if you need several hundred patches for a quilt. Every 32nd or less off is multiplied as the quilt is pieced... resulting in wavy edges, crooked lines, or worse!
So, since all the inside lines of the Flying Geese patch are on the bias, they are a potential source of problems with this patch construction.
There are several "quick" methods for making this patch, but most require a final "truing" or "trim" of the patch to make it just so, or they involve a great deal of waste... below is a link to a method created by Pattie R. Anderson (of Patchpieces.com) that involves the cutting of one big square, and 4 small squares - the resulting construct ends up with no wasted fabric, no trimming, and TWO finished geese! It's also easily made in any size desired.

I got so excited playing with Patti's technique that I made my own excel spreadsheet showing the appropriate size large and small squares for any patch size I could envision. I finished up 16 geese in less than 30 minutes, and put them around a central medallion for a baby quilt that will go into the charity batch to the quilt next week!! Here's a picture of the medallion:

Isn't that cool? And aren't those fine geese? No chopped off points, all so even!
So, next time you need to make geese, visit Patti's website and download the FREE (the best part) .pdf pattern for NO WASTE geese. It's at the bottom of this page link:
While you are there, shop Patti's great site for other wonderful quilt patterns! Well, I'm off to make more GEESE - THANKS Patti! (email me and I'll send you my Excel spreadsheet in a pdf form with all the calculations already done for you to use Patties method to make geese in any size you wish)!
- Karen

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Celebrating National Quilting Day

I'm so happy to report that I did my part to forward "National Quilting Day". In keeping with my current desire to start limiting my fabric purchases (the closet is full!), I decided to add go to the Austin City-Wide Garage Sale and see if I could find some suitable additions to my store inventory (click on "Shameless Commerce Division..." link to the left if YOU didn't get your change to celebrate yet.

I came a cross a delightful 1930's-40's era quilt in a lovely pastel orange... not a color you see in quilts very often. A nice generous 94 x 70, it should make up to a nice queen size with a good border.

I'd never seen the block pattern, which is actually very simple.

Draw a square block, then segment it by drawing eight lines across the center creating equal sized wedges around the block.

But... do not start your lines by drawing corner to corner! The starting points for the crossing lines is actually on a 5 x 5 grid! (See a block close up below).
Isn't it nice how the block is totally lost in the new pattern formed when the blocks are put together (see above).

I now have in the Karen Quilts Texas library the TWO great reference books for quilt block research: Maggie Malone's 5,500 Quilt Block Designs, and Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. The only similar design is "The Thrifty Wife, a Kansas City Star PAttern from 5/10/1939"... but, it's not EXACTLY the same. The KC Star pattern has it's design lines crossing in the corners... on a 4 x 4 patch grid... The Maggie Malone book has another very, very similar, which is also drawn on a 4 x 4 patch...with smaller print wedges and larger background wedges - these are equal "background" and print. Those two patterns names are calle "Endless Chain from Laura Wheeler and Crazy Star from Grandma Dexter. Here's a close up of a square:

It is so expertly hand pieced... I don't know that I've EVER seen such even stitching. But even so, it does have a problem. The quilter ran into difficulting trying to piece those pesky centers.
She pieced the block in two halfs and then sewed the two halfs together... rather than leaving the centers free to be swirled into a relatively flat center. As a result the centers are a big lump... possibly the reason the top was abandoned. Those lumpy centers will never be right... some are better than others. But you can see in this detail that the center has been mashed down forming those little circular puckers all round the center. This sort of block is best pieced in quarters, and then the quarters put together, sewing just to exactly the quarter inch end of each center, and leaving the center loose. The resulting fabric can be swirled in a little pinwheel, and will almost seem to lay flat... and the points will match fairly closely.
At any rate, it's a lovely addition to my 30's collection, and it gives me a challenge to go on my "to be quilted" list! I think I'll sacrifice something else to store inventory, as this is just too unusual to sell.
I did also do my part to benefit the fabric biz too... buying 15 yards of 3 different backing fabrics from the nearby Hancock... using my special 40% off coupon... woo hoo - and another special 10% off everything too...my justification... backing fabric my dears!
Happy Quilting Day to you all!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Finished at Last

Ce finis! I am done...

This is my first completely finished large HAND quilted project . The top is one I purchased at Quilt Festival in Houston quite a few years ago. I bought it because a. it was really lovely and bed sized, and b. because I wanted to learn hand quilting and thought that if I bought an "old top" I wouldn't be heartbroken if it didn't turn out well...

At the time, I had the urge to make a quilt for my mom's 50Th wedding anniversary - that was at that time, still several years away. I wisely (I use that term loosely) thought that I could learn hand quilting faster if I had something BIG to practice on.

There was a LOT to learn. One of the first things I learned was how difficult it is to quilt something that has been poorly pieced. From a distance, the quilt looks so very flat - doesn't it! But there wasn't a "straight" seam on the top! Hand pieced, it was all there, undamaged, and made of a very nice quilt able Nile green cotton - probably a 1930's - 1950's fabric. But the quilter either was a beginner at piecing, or perhaps visually challenged. The curved piecing was so poorly done that many of the circular "hearts" were what is commonly known as "b" cups... they were not put together properly and didn't lay flat... each one had a bit of a "cup" to it.

I would just "quilt it out" as I had read about that in some older quilting books. Seam allowances also did not lay flat or in similar positions from block to block. Since many were stitched down the wrong way, they could not be pressed to a good position either.
And, the worst decision on my part was to "stitch in the ditch" - much easier in my mind, since no marking would be required. THIS meant that I would be stitching (at least half the time or more) THROUGH the 6 layers of top//seam allowances/batting/and backing.
The process was also going to serve as my first use of my husband's family quilt frame - which his mother left me when she died several years earlier - as there were no quilters in her family.
So, Unfortunately I didn't keep a record of when I purchased this top, and started quilting on it probably in about 1999 or so... It stayed in the frame almost 7 or 8 months, and then I pulled it, with about 3/4 done, and worked on it intermittently over the years... learning very quickly how mistaken I was at many of my original assumptions. A look at the quilt quickly shows my improvement over time from rough and crooked stitches to fairly consistent ones - though the difficulty of stitching through so many layers will never make this an award winner.
But, it is done, and IS now a lovely old quilt in the "Hearts and Gizzards" pattern, one of my favorites. Also known as "Dutch Windmill"... probably because that is a much more polite term! And Nile Green, so popular in the 30's, is just such a calming color. I fell in love with this top the moment I saw it. It will go out on my bed for use in the spring, and will give me something really spectacular to show off at our guild's next show and tell.
Here's a closeup of the work, that shows a relatively flat area, check out the wrinkles round the top right "heart" and look at how inconsistent the curved pieces are!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ta Da!

Today I finished my FEBRUARY Charity Quilts, resulting in a SECOND month of quilts COMPLETED.

TA DA indeed!

My resolution for this year to do one small (45" x 45") quilt each month for the Austin Area Quilt Guild "Baby Bundle" project is 2 quilts closer to completion.

What great satisfaction is gained when one puts that last stitch into a quilt!

This quilt also came from the "Sew One and You're Done" book by Evelyn Sloppy. (Yes - that's her real name... the book does not elaborate!). The idea is to take classic single blocks, that normally would be done in a 12" inch size, and blow them up to a size that makes them a single quilt. It's a great way to try a quilt block design to see if you might like to do it in a small size. Though after working this large, it might seem to be a miniature.

These big quilts have few pieces, all of simple design (square, triangle, etc.), with no fancy work, so they go together well. This quilt used up a small amount of flannel that I had in pastels. The back is pieced of the remaining pieces, so it's almost two quilts in one...

I also was able to make use of the wonderful training in machine quilting I received from Sue Nickles at her workshop here on Saturday.

And finally, this was my first use of "Big Red" my 1927 vintage industrial Singer model 31-15 in her new table.
Last week we purchased an old 1944 Singer 143 - another large commercial machine - this one with table, motor and all the "fixins". I'll probably sell the 143, as it is a REALLY heavy duty machine - for canvas, leather, upholstery, etc.... a constant oiled machine! And the traditional clutched motor will also probably end up on eBay. The 31-15 is still powered in this picture by the old PFaff 130/Weber motor (not seen - but mounted behind the machine. NOTE that fabulous Hard Rock Maple Table! It's almost 1-1/2 inch thick... like butcher block. I wish I'd taken a picture of it in original condition - it was almost black with grease and wear. DH sanded it down and I will finish it to give me a nice slippery surface for quilting. Next, I'll be in the market for a new SERVO type motor - no clutch - unlink traditional commercial sewing machine motors which run constantly, the servo motor only runs when you need it. I'll try and get a picture of the complete set up when it's finished.
Yes, this is the same quilt with machine quilting underway... note how I safety pin baste for machine quilting. When I hand quilt, I use thread basting. The problem with thread basting a machine quilt is that the quilting foot get's caught up in the threads, and you don't want to sew over the threads anyway, as it will make it harder to remove them. Stopping to trim them away from the sewing path serves to interrupt my "rhythm" when quilting, especially when doing free motion work. With pin basting, I can pin "around" my quilt marking, limiting the amount of interruption to the work as I sew!
QUILTER's TIP of the DAY: You can use a size E or zero (0) crochet hook to open or close safety pins when pin basting your quilt. Saves your fingers which will get raw if you try pinning a large (or even a small) quilt. You can also buy a tool, called a "Quick Clip" - for a little more than what you'd pay for a Crochet hook! I have a very old crochet hook that has a wooden handle, that is REALLY comfortable. I can do a full sized quilt in just a couple of hours (ugh - this is one of quiltings most boring, un-wanted jobs!).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Work, Work, Work...

(1950s Singer undergoing "SPA" treatment)

Lest all good readers think the Karen is a woman of leisure, or perhaps retired... I must intrude upon our happy conversations about quilting with a bit of reality. You know, bill paying, grocery shopping, dog care, income production, well... life.
Though the nest is empty, life does indeed go on for woman. Last week I spent the week doing a bit of early "spring cleaning" of the computer, and my book keeping records, readying myself foir tax season (major UGH!), and re-opened the doors of what I fondly call my "SPA" for old sewing machines, er, excuse me, "vintage" sewing machines.
I have a fondness for old sewing machines, it probably started in my very early years. I was lucky enough to enjoy a childhood in which I was able to visit my maternal grandmother often. She long outlived a husband, and raised 8 children (losing one in childbirth), most of those years without the benefit of a husband (he was an alcoholic who,gratefully, left her when she was in her mid 40's). To make ends meet, all the home textile needs, and almost ALL clothing was sewn by her. She worked as a PBX operator (that's a private telephone system operator), nights at a hotel, so her days were free to care for her large household!
All her sewing, for her entire adult life, was done by way of a Singer model 127 treadle. (that's a machine that works with NO electricity gentle reader.... it is foot-powered by means of a pedal).
Despite the expense to her health of all those childbirths, she lived to be 95, and passed on in 1999. She used her machine (eshewing every effort to give or provide an electric machine), until she was well into her 80's. Some of my earliest memories of visits to her home involve watching her sew with great fascination. Eventually, I was allowed to use the machine, as she loved to teach all her grandkids how to use the fascinating machine. No hand made quilts for my grandmother, all were sewn as efficiently as possible, pieced from dressmaking scraps in simple squares on the machine. They were always tied, the batting a good bag of Mountain Mist from the F.W.Woolworths.
So, back to that fascination with sewing machines...

So, about 10 years ago, I began to relive my earlier fascination with machines, when I bought an old machine and decided to take it apart, and see if I could make it work again...(I've always been a bit of a geek/mechanic... tinkering - that came from my dad...more on that on another day). I was pretty proud of myself when I was indeed able to not only make it run, but found (in more recent years as I got involved in machine quilting) that the machine was a fabulous free motion quilter! The machine, an old Singer 15-91, has a wonderfully forgiving size 15 bobbin and oscillating shuttle mechanism (your Bernina most likely uses this same design!), that handles variation in thread, work thickness, and mishandling with ease. It has a good amount of arm space - even a queen sized quilt can be carefully worked under the harp.

Of course the bug bit me hard, and soon I found myself acquiring old machines, which of course mean't I needed to "restore" them... I liken the process to a "SPA" treatment - involving an oil soak, a serious buffing, and, ending with a nice polish!
Of course, given my recent decision to downsize and simplify my life, I decided to trade off some of my own growing machine collection, and, ended up with what has become a fairly active "trade" in machines.

On Sunday I delivered a lovely 1937 Singer 15-91, that I had restored to working order for my good friend Babs - who has a hankering to start doing some sewing. I also sold a lovel old 1936 Singer 221 Featherweight... one of my favorite models.
And later this week, I'm heading back over to Houston to attend a Sewing Machine repair course taught by nationally known OSMG (old sewing machine guy) Ray White! After 3 days with Ray, I expect to move my "meching" skills up a huge notch...
(Machines lined up awaiting SPA Treatment)
So, you ask, what has this to do with "work", well, along with my trade in vintage linens, the sewing machine restoration has become a rather prosperous little enterprise which I think I will continue to push along... as I also examine other means of enterprise that have to do with my other favored pastime: quilting! I much enjoy working for myself after so many years working for others, and hope I can keep this going...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A New Years Quilting Resolution

Another year... Wow!

And so, it seems appropriate to make a New Year's resolution. Of course I could come up with a dozen issues that need improvement, or acts that need accomplishment in this year, but all would really be fairly predictible and mundane.
Weight to be lost, exercise to be increased, communication to be improved... Ho HUM!

But this year, I thought it might be interesting to up the ante on my interest and involvement in quilting by putting forwards some small challenge. Something to improve my skills, but also to contribute. Quilts for all!

Last month, I attended a fun Ami Simms workshop - the emphasis was on fast, easy strip quilting. Ami had a great saying to add impetus to the completion of the work:

"The Babies are Getting Cold..."

Doesn't that say it all! Those quilts need quiltin' cause somewhere out there, there are Babies that are Getting COLD!! They need covers!
And winter it is indeed.

SO, to that end, my challenge is to contribute at least ONE quilt to the Austin Area Quilt Guild's "Baby Bundle" project EACH MONTH. This is a great program in which donated handmande quilts are given to women in a number of charitable programs aimed at new mothers who need a hand dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, or have limited resources.
How hard can it be!? One small quilt each month - Can be simple, in any design. I am going to use this to try out some new patterns and techniques... should be fun!

Here are my first two quilts - turned in this week!


A simple purple stripe quilt, produced by another unknown guild member - Layered, machine quilted and bound by me!

And a flannel quilt made by me - machine quilted "in the ditch". The design is from Evelyn Sloppy's book "Sew One and Then Your Done". A GREAT book by the way - the idea is to make a single block pattern, in a large size to result in a child or lap size quilt.

Making these is a good way to decide if you want to make an entire quilt of multiple blocks in this pattern. The pattern is called :Porcelain Star.

Both are shown as presented at Monday's Guild meeting!!
I also attended (a last minute decision to take someone else's place) a WONDERFUL workshop by Laura Wasilowski, more on that in the next blog!
Happy New Year everyone!