Sunday, 27 July 2014

The long and short of it

My favourite part of making a quilt is the quilting.  I love getting the walking foot on the machine and choosing variegated thread and putting a pattern on the quilt, usually one which defines the piecing of the quilt.  I do know that on my sewing machine and with my experience, this is rather limiting and I would like to be able to quilt in a much more original and exciting way and I am always struck by the workmanship that can be seen on a quilt that has been long-arm quilted.

I keep mentioning long-arm quilters to my husband but the possibility of getting one is made immediately prohibitive by the need for serious cash, a lot of space and a concrete floor.  There's also been the issue that I have never had a go at long-arm quilting so any thought of buying all this kit would be a shot in the dark.

A friend found a second-hand frame on Ebay this week and I was interested in purchasing it.  This would not be as comprehensive as a top-of-the-range long-arm quilter, but it would be an opportunity to develop my quilting skills at a more affordable price.  I was interested and spoke to Lynn at Craft Den, who has one such frame and seems capable at any craft she touches.  We had a chat, she looked at the offer and I decided this was not my time.  Lynn, keen for me to make an informed decision, instead offered me tuition on her frame, which I immediately took her up on.

What fun I had!  I can't say I am an expert yet, but I think I showed potential and as I expected, I really enjoyed it.  Here are my first attempts at drawing pictures and creating different shapes:

And, then I had a go at long-arm quilting a baby quilt I started last week, and I am pleased with the progress I made.  This does not look like any of my regular quilts, where I am limited to straight lines.  I am glad I have had a try but I want to make the right decision and am going to use my trip to The Festival of Quilts next month to approach stalls, ask the right questions and consider the finances and commitment.  After having a go I am definitely very interested in owning one at some point.  I am so grateful to Lynn for letting me have a go!

So, that's my "long" news.  My "short" news comes in the form of a cushion I am making using Liberty Tana Lawn.  The pattern is from Quilt Now and uses small half square triangles and quarter square triangles.  It's certainly piecing on a small scale and I tend to avoid that.  I'm hoping to finish it tomorrow.

Thank you for visiting.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Trusty Tablemats

My first quilting lesson took place on the first of December 2012.  As it was the beginning of advent I decided to make a Christmas table runner.  I still have it somewhere but I won't be using this Christmas or any other Christmas because it is hideous - awful fabrics, terrible piecing, poor quilting.  It was good practice and a great introduction to patchwork and quilting and my table ware obsession was born.

It's a bit of a joke in my local patchwork shop that if I see a new fabric and ask "what could I make with it?" the lovely Saturday girl, Emily, suggests "tablemats!"  I have tablemats for the different seasons of the year and have no doubt that at some point I will increase this to twelve sets, one for each month of the year.  Tablemats are just a great way of adding colour and interest into your life and are quilts on a mini scale so easy to put together.  I also think they make a great gift and the ones I have made this week are going to Marion for her seventieth birthday.

Marion helps my husband at the allotment shop.  She is a great gardener and a lovely person.  She is always cheerful and optimistic.  She likes a laugh and enjoys life.  I think these fabrics are perfect for her because they have the gardening theme and have a bright, happy look which reminds me of Marion.  Like me, she enjoys her crafts so I think Marion will appreciate and enjoy using these.

I decided to do some simple tramline quilting.  The thread is by YSL and called Havana Market.  I like it because it contains all the different colours of the flowers in the middle of this mat.   The binding I finished by hand, but I want to learn how to make binding by machine to speed up the finishing.  I am really pleased with these mats and I am also pleased that they are finished long before the birthday bash.  For once I am not up against it, trying to meet a deadline.

Later today I have a friend coming around to sew with me.  I am looking forward to that.  I will be working on a simple baby quilt which I began cutting last night.  This quilt is being made from random fabrics in my stash and uses simple squares and rectangles.  If I press on, I should be able to get this finished reading for a Finish It Up Friday with Crazy Mom Quilts.

Thank you for visiting.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday Stash #1

I have had a wonderful weekend where I have been able to buy a little fabric, learn new sewing skills at a class and work on some projects with friends.  I have felt incredibly productive because I have made good progress on a beautiful cathedral windows quilt and in between all of this I have also been able to pick plenty of fruit at the allotment in preparation for jam making tomorrow.  I am now off work for the summer so I am hoping to work on lots of projects and to make the most of the time ahead of me.

Yesterday I was at my "block a month" class at a local fabric shop, Patchwork Garden.  I had a great time and learned how to do mini mock cathedral windows.  I will show them later in the week.  I had vowed not to spend lots of money on fabric as my big fabric splurge is to come when I go to The Festival of Quilts but there were some amazing new fabrics I could not resist.  I don't feel too guilty because they fit some of my other fabrics and intended projects.

First up these are these fabrics by Timeless Treasures and are called Mini Series How does your garden grow?  I think they are amazing.  My husband loves gardening and I bought them anticipating they would be made into something cute for him.  However, next week I am going to a seventieth birthday vintage tea party and the birthday girl is one of our allotment friends, Marion, so now I am going to make her something with these fabrics instead.  She will love them and they really match her happy personality.  At this stage I am thinking a table runner and matching table mats.  Table mats are always a favourite project of mine and they make a great gift.

There was clearly a delivery of Timeless Treasures fabric at the shop this week because my other stash additions are from there as well.  I am so pleased with these fabrics because I bought them with the intention of putting them with my beloved Wee Wander fabrics and they match the sunrise and sunset palettes which the range has.  The raindrops are just perfect and the pink spot, called Dream, is a great addition to any stash.  I think these are wonderfully versatile fabrics and could go in so many of my projects.

This fabric doesn't belong to any current project, unlike my other purchase this weekend.  But it is a great addition and has my name written all over it.  I love fabrics with animals, especially cutesy, stylised ones such as these snails.  My friend, Amy, and myself are called the "Critter Girls" at the fabric shop because we love animal fabrics.  (We assume our nick name is used affectionately!)  I love these snails because they have the happy expression of satisfaction that comes from eating someone's lettuce.  I won't be adding these to Marion's garden fabrics because gardeners don't tend to like smiling snails.  I, on the other hand, can overlook the destruction of snails when they are portrayed so sweetly on fabric.

Didn't I do well with my purchases this weekend?  These fabrics won't be in stash for long.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Red Riding Hood Quilt - a finished quilt

A fairy tale:  Once upon a time a young quilter saw some beautiful fabric on the magical kingdom of Pinterest and went on a mission to collect as much of it as she could in order to create treasures in her own quilting kingdom.  That's the shortened version of how this project came to be.

The fabric in this quilt is from Tasha Noel's Little Red Riding Hood range and I love everything about it.  Unfortunately my local patchwork shop only stocked two of the fabrics (the red I've used in the strips and the grey floral I've used on the back).  I then spent the next couple of months sourcing as much of it as I could from different online shops.  It did become a bit of a mission for me (and possibly also an obsession) to get hold of as much as I could.

This week's finished project could have been finished ages ago but I have been putting off finishing the binding for ages because I didn't want to stop working with this set of most beautiful of fabrics.  Some of this fabric I've now had stashed away for over a year but this is now my second quilt using these fabrics and I've been dragging out how long I can work with them.

Many of my quilts are different blocks put together in different combinations.  What I liked here was starting with what I call "fox in a box" (I do know it's really, "box in a box") and then putting these in the friendship stars.  I think this gives the quilt a little more interest; images from the Red Riding Hood story are framed nicely this way and the pretty flower and toadstool prints also have a starring role.

I added the red strips and the diagonal strips to make the quilt fit a child's bed and not just a cot.  I especially like how they now look.  This started out as a way of using up scraps, as I didn't want to waste any of my precious fabric, but they have ended up being a great feature and could surely be the inspiration for another quilt in the future.

There are two different threads here for the quilting.  The red strips have been quilted using a perfectly matched red but then I have not been able to resist a variegated thread for the rest.  It's by YLI and is Nana's Rose Garden.  I think the light to dark pink is perfect for making this even more girly.

I'm really pleased with this quilt and have decided to keep it with me.  I love gifting my quilts but sometimes I have to do a little hoarding.  One day I would love to tuck a little girl in to bed and share the story of Red Riding Hood with her.  That way there really would be a happily ever after.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Social sewing

Before sewing there was knitting.  I taught myself to knit about ten years ago with some metal needles, cheap yarn and a simple book.  In no time I was hooked and knitting accompanied me everywhere.  I have photos of me knitting at the top of the Empire State Building, on mountain summits in the Alps, as well as at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  But knitting also accompanied me on train journeys, in a waiting room, in a traffic jam and at some family gatherings, much to some relatives' disdain.  I still love knitting and always have a pair of socks on the go so any moment of inertia or waiting can be made purposeful.

Knitting also allowed me to meet people who I otherwise would not have.  In Sheffield we have a local knit night on a Tuesday in a pub.  It started off as an opportunity to share a hobby with like-minded people but now it's more about meeting the people and the fact we have knitting in common is just a bonus.

I knew sewers and I admired their work but I just couldn't imagine putting down the needles to learn a new craft.  Also, knitting is the perfect hobby to take with you anywhere.  As I knit mainly socks all I need is a ball of wool, four double pointed needles and my counter and off I go.  When I got the sewing bug I was worried that the cumbersomeness of the machine and the paraphernalia needed for sewing would mean sewing would be private and not something I would do in public.

But at our Tuesday knit night there is a revolution taking place because last night (and for most of the past few months) I was sewing in public.  English Paper Piecing, especially hexagons, are ideal for social sewing.  It's extremely time consuming compared to machine sewing but there is always a wow factor from hexagons because of the beautiful patterns and tessellations.

I've been working on this quilt for a few months on and off.  I know it's not a quick project but piecing these hexagons together is deeply satisfying and can be done with little fuss and whilst talking to others.  Hexagons are to sewing what socks are to knitting: repetitive, meditative, simple.  You also don't need much stuff; fabric, hexagons, scissors, thread and needle.  A little bag keeps all these things together and sewing suddenly becomes more portable and sociable.

The fabrics here are Briar Rose by Heather Ross for Windham Fabrics.  These fabrics were out a while before I came across them.  I think they are absolutely gorgeous and love the mixture of bright colours and pastel shades.  Spending a long time on a project is no problem when the fabrics are so mesmerising and enchanting.

Look carefully at the quilt, however, and there is an irony here.  Today I've spent this post convincing people sewing is as great as knitting and yet this one little bee is knitting away.  The bee doesn't agree!  Clearly the fabric is reminding me that sewing is fun but so too is knitting.  I think working on this project for a while will send me subliminal messages to get out the socks again.  I don't suppose it's a competition.  Some days I want to knit, other days I want to sew.  Aren't I lucky to have two crafts to enjoy?

Friday, 11 July 2014

Industrious industrial action

Yesterday I was on strike.  I take the decision to strike seriously so I was up at the crack of dawn to join fellow colleagues on the picket line and then I went on a march in town to meet up with fellow strikers from across the city.  The afternoon I dedicated to sewing and finished my two half square triangle cushions for my sister.  That's always the surprise about a day of striking - I end up at work earlier than usual to make my point and then dedicate dinnertime and early afternoon to the cause as well.  Come the afternoon I have to treat myself to focussed craft time and I must admit that I did enjoy having a little extra time to indulge in my hobby, especially as it was bright and cheerful yesterday.

I had never made patchwork cushions before so I am always glad to try new things and realise I am not limited to quilts.  These were especially satisfying to make because they were so quickly put together and from scraps, at that.  I really love how the white makes these fabrics look greater than they are.  As fat quarters I am not keen on these fabrics; they are not something I would choose but the white somehow makes me love them, which is a revelation.

Many of the projects I pin on pinterest have large amounts of white fabric, which makes me wonder whether I would like some of these projects without this component.  Perhaps some of my dubious fabric purchases would be put to good use next to white.  It's something I will have to try.  I think that using white could be a really good way of stretching out favourite fabrics which I can no longer get hold of.  If I have limited amounts of a beloved fabric using white would enable me to stretch the fabric out to make a quilt.  I quilted the cushions simply with tramlines and used YLI Machine Quilting thread in "sea mist".  The variegated thread works well both against the coloured fabrics and the white.

I definitely want to make more patchwork cushions but I want to learn how to make piping next time to give the cushions more structure and to frame them nicely.  I feel future projects coming on already.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Something from nothing

I really love starting a new project from a set of new fabrics.  Using a new set of fabric for the first time is a real thrill and for some of my favourite fabrics I savour them a while and. put off using them until I find the most perfect use for them.  Wee Wander by Sarah Jane Studios is one such set that I am currently coveting.  I have at least half a metre of each fabric in the whole range, and a metre in the many.  I have plenty of the fabric and it remains pristine and untouched so I could reasonably use a little and still have plenty left to make other projects.  There is certainly a few quilts worth of fabric to go at.  And yet I cannot bear to touch it because I am savouring that special moment when its time has come and I know its destiny.

I have plenty of scraps of fabric but I am not great at putting them together to create something special.  As I try to save sets for specific projects I tend to have remainders knocking about and I am not good at putting them to good use, despite often pinning scrappy quilts and admiring those who can make things of beauty from what are essentially leftovers.

Last year my youngest sister made her first quilt with my supervision.  She chose the fabrics herself, had a go at cutting the six inch squares, pieced and quilted them and then left me to do the hand sewn binding.  We did this over a couple of days and she certainly enjoyed herself and felt a sense of achievement at what had been a tricky time for her.  She didn't turn into a quilter at that moment but she had learnt some new skills and we had a fun time together.  

At the weekend I did some tidying of my fabric and came across the remaining fabric from this quilt and felt that a year on, it would be nice to make something to match her quilt.  The fabrics are pleasant enough, but not really my style, but I know my sister would appreciate a gift made by me to match her own handiwork.  At a similar time I saw a lovely half square triangle cushion on a blog and knew that this would work perfectly.  I found some white fabric from a previous project and felt that next to the white these fabrics somehow worked really well and I preferred them much more.  

Over the weekend I am going to add a border and quilt the front so when the cushions are completed they are soft and distinctive.  This is an unexpected project for me because I have not coveted the fabric over a long time and I am not dipping into my immaculate fabric sets, and yet I am getting a real sense of satisfaction from making something from scraps.  I imagine this is the pleasure chefs get from making wonderful food from cheap cuts of meat which rival the traditional fillet steak.  Hopefully over the weekend I will be able to show finished cushions and my sister and I will both have gained something.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Tour de France Quilt (kind of) - A finished quilt

I am unashamedly a Yorkshire lass.  I'm originally from West Yorkshire but now live happily in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.  I speak with a Yorkshire accent and often use dialect (especially with my family).  I have lived and worked abroad on three different occasions in three different places but I don't think there is anywhere like God's Own Country and I have no intention of ever living anywhere else.

I cannot, therefore, not write about the Tour de France being in Yorkshire this weekend and passing about six miles from my house.  I watched it on the tv today and finished a quilt which I can tenuously link to the colours of this cycle race.  Tomorrow I won't be sewing or quilting because I will be up early and walking to Bradfield to get a view of this sporting spectacle.

This quilt I worked on over a week in April but then I left finishing off the binding by hand until there was a suitable time.  Today was that time.  I could justify sitting and hand sewing as I watched the peloton go up hill and down dale.  It was a coincidence that some of the colours are significant in the race (yellow, red and white).  Unfortunately the red background with white polka dots is the reverse of the King of the Mountains but I think I can turn a blind eye to this today.

The picture fabrics are Little Apples by Aneela Hoey.  I love these fabrics because they capture nostalgic images of childhood and are perfect for a baby quilt such as this.  Even the least observant will have noticed that I put the tortoise fabric on the back upside down and I had already quilted it before I noticed.  I decided that baby Isobel, who will soon receive this quilt, is not too fussed about these things and that she would cope with it.  Tomorrow, after all, I'm going to see the Tour de France in my neck of the woods so my excitement overtakes any disappointment with this quilt.  Au revoir!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Meadow Quilt - a finished quilt

It's been a while since I made such a large quilt and what I love about this project is that it simply evolved and I never imagined it would be this big.  I got the fabric, which is largely Meadow by Beth Studley by Makower, about six weeks ago and initially made the six large blocks which shoulder the log cabin blocks.  I then decided to practise log cabin in different shapes (hexagon and diamonds) and started to put these together with sashing.  Then I decided that I needed to add some length with scraps and friendship stars, which are always trusted favourites.  I thought that would be the quilt front completed but then I attended a class on making cathedral windows so as I had enough fabric left in the red and grey daisy chain I felt this would be a good opportunity to practise this more difficult block.  This quilt seems to document my own learning in the past couple of months.

I had forgotten how difficult it can be to quilt a large quilt on my humble machine so I was relieved when the quilting was done.  I approached the quilting in a similar way to the sewing and piecing.  It was only when the walking foot was on and the quilt was there that I decided what I would quilt.  This quilt has ended up being an exercise in quilting different shapes.  I've quilted hexagons, triangles, squares, diamonds and stars.  After my recent courses in free motion embroidery I wanted to quilt curves and circles around the cathedral windows, but I bottled it because I just didn't feel practised and confident enough.  The triangles I quilted around the curves do look good, however, so I don't feel too disappointed with ducking out from the more skilful technique on this occasion.

I love setting out to finish a project by a particular date and then succeeding.  My intention was to have this finished by Friday and I have managed that.  It's my mother's birthday shortly so this will be her gift.  It will look lovely in her house, so for once I am also meeting birthday gift deadlines as well.  She's been waiting for a quilt for a while now but I think it has been worth the wait because this shows more intricacy than I have perhaps done otherwise.