Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bear Pa -- and late summer goals

I can hardly believe that August is around the corner.

This has been a wonderful summer -- fun and also productive (both in terms of my work-work and sewing). I still have a couple of research & writing tasks to complete in the next couple of weeks and although the semester doesn't begin until the first week of September, August always feels a bit anticipatory -- not quite like holiday, although technically it is as close as I get. (Officially the summer months are my research semester, not time off work.  But we are asked to declare when we are truly "on vacation" and I named two weeks in August as my window...so I really should try to do something differently during that time, like drop off of e-mail...wouldn't that be radical?!)

With summer's sweet days now numbered, I am in the mood to wrap things up -- and am energized by the recent finish of the Biggest Quilt I Have Ever Made, the Bear Pa (bear paw) quilt for my dad!

Bear Pa, complete :)

I feel like I have been working on this close-to-forever (not as long as the Farmer's Wife Quilt, but still quite a long time).  If I remember correctly, I started planning this last Fall (shortly after receiving EQ7 for my birthday), and made the first blocks over the holiday break.  I think I was actually planning to give this to my father for his birthday...in January.  Ha!!  Anyway, now it is complete, and I am happy.

Bear Pa, king size -- quilted!

Bear Pa, detail
I added a strip of the Secret Garden "party dress" print to the top of the backing, for fold-down interest.

free motion leaves in the border of Bear Pa quilt

I was a bit stumped by the backing choice, but a group of generous women at Sew Sisters helped me to cull some choices -- and I settled on this Heather Bailey rose print, which I absolutely love for this project but which I probably wouldn't have chose if shopping online.  Sometimes you really do need to see fabrics together, in person!

I handquilted, using Aurifil 28 wt in a variegated lemon yellow, around each "paw" and each centre square, and machine quilted straight(ish) lines in the sashing -- using Bottom Line (super fine polyester thread) in both needle and bobbin.  I also used Bottom Line to free-motion quilt little leaves in the outer border.

Bottom Line thread mini-review: Having used Bottom Line for the first time and in two different ways, I feel like I can offer a little review of it.  It is a very, very fine thread, designed as a bobbin thread specifically but usable in the needle too -- where it is a great choice for subtle stitching.  I didn't want to overwhelm the texture of the Painter's Canvas (the brown fabric I used for the sashing/background) with quilting stitches -- but as you can see above, the FMQing still does show (which is good). It just doesn't jump out at you.

I did have a fair amount of needle thread breakage while FMQing, but only when moving to the left -- which is an ongoing issue with me, probably because I work on an oval dining table so I get a fair amount of drag from large quilts like this one.  I try to prop up the quilt mass to my left using the other dining chairs and even stacks of books, but this is obviously less than ideal. Bottom Line seems like a fairly strong thread given how thin it is.  I don't think you could work with a cotton thread this fine, so my first foray into polyester quilting thread feels justified.

And finally, one nice thing about FMQing with Bottom Line is that stops and starts can be well-hidden!  This thread hides mis-steps very well.

What's up next?

The following may be of no interest to anyone out there, but for the sake of my own mental health I feel like I need to write this out because there are still quite a few creative projects rattling around the house, calling out for attention...so here it goes.

High priority: My clementine shot cotton should be here soon, so hand-quilting of my Farmer's Wife quilt can begin.  This will be a slow evening, sitting-around-after-Frida's-bedtime kind of project.

FW pieced...better pic's soon!
I'll take any excuse to share this again :)

Another high priority project: I still want to stitch up the final two blocks of my Swoon quilt, languishing for since April. I loved the first seven, and it would be nice to wrap this up -- especially since I have yardage of a beautiful aqua architectural print (Moda Ethcings) for the backing.  Mmmmmm.

Swoon 4, 5, 6, and 7

Swoon 1, 2, and 3

HAL: Loulouthi hexies in progress

Lower priority:
In the past few evenings I have been picking up the Loulouthi hexi/EPP project I began last summer (yikes!), so perhaps that one can move towards closure too.  It's way beyond the point immortalized in this photo from last June...I'll have to take some more pic's soon, since it's looking pretty interesting now.

I have a couple of quilt tops I would like to finish up and turn into usable quilts.

Bee (A Little Bit) Japanese quilt top!
For instance, there's the one from Bee (A Little Bit) Japanese two years ago -- when I was first exploring my love of fabric (it all started with Japanese quilting fabrics, surprise surprise!).  I really might need to bump this one up to a high priority finish -- I know I'm going to love it as a finished quilt, and there's some interesting quilting I could do here....

I just pieced a backing (using a lovely big strip of Happy Zombie's Holiday Happy "Gnoma" in blue, so cute) for North Star, my quilt top stitched in a one-day frenzy during the Made in Cherry QAL -- last seen back in January, ugh.  I like but don't love this quilt top (I think it's the medium blue background fabric that irks me: I was determined to use something from the stash, and this is what I ended up with), but hopefully that will change with quilting. At very least, it will be a big quilt, which is always useful, and the colours are mellow and easy to live with... but that doesn't sound like a stellar recommendation, does it? Oh well.  It's nice and the backing is very sweet.

North Star quilt top (Made in Cherry QAL)

Well, I guess it's time to stop blogging, finish the article due tomorrow...and then start stitching.

Savour this last day of July!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

news from the south

I love living in Canada, but one thing that is a little frustrating about our border with the U.S. -- especially now that I have so little time to look for things I need in person, and have come to depend on online retailers -- concerns shipping.  The free shipping deals available to our southern neighbours don't apply here, and we can end up paying up to 30% more for the exact packages ordered by our friends in the U.S.  For many, many reasons it is often a better idea to shop locally, even if the sticker prices seem higher.  That is, it is a better idea when the things I need are available locally...and when I can find the time to go shopping.

Anyway, I might be the last to this party -- but I just discovered that Jo-Ann's now delivers to Canada!  

Allow that to sink in.  (Or maybe you already knew?)

Most of the Denyse Schmidt prints are exempted from this new arrangement (their licenses must be limited to the U.S.) -- but several lovelies from her older lines are available (on sale right now), and the tools...oh, the tools!  I am looking forward to trying a pounce pad, some thimble-alternatives (sticky), some new hand-quilting needles (I broke about 5 of them on my dad's king-sized quilt), a dresden ruler, a pyramid ruler -- all on sale and with coupons!

Ay yay yay!  

It's almost more shopping excitement than this northerner can take!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A year in the making

Last week I started piecing together my Farmer's Wife sampler quilt...and within 48 hours it was done.  There's still a border to make (fabric is on order), backing to select and piece, and now a queen-sized sampler to hand quilt and bind...but last week's sewing frenzy felt momentous, nevertheless.  On flickr I have been sharing progress shots and basking in the glow of accomplishment and kind words from flickr buddies...and yet I haven't blogged about this.  I think I needed to let it all sink in.

This was a long and eventful year and sometimes bumpy year, and my FW quilt memorializes it all for me.  Although there were some very, very low points, the quilt itself feels joyous!  Triumphant!  Yay!

I really hadn't been a quilter for very long and certainly hadn't done very much piecing of traditional blocks when I began this project.  In trying to (finally) put together a post today, it has been interesting to retrace this sampler's progress, just in broad strokes....

It was some time around June 11, 2011, I made my first blocks (or at least the first keepers).

Oddly insecure about my palette and fabric choices, I plowed ahead with encouragement from some of the 1000+ followers of the Farmer's Wife flickr group...making a couple of versions of block 1, Attic Windows -- without yet having access to the book itself, which was on order and then stuck in a postal strike -- until I achieved the correct size, 6.5" unfinished.

Farmer's Wife block #1, Attic Windows

It's very strange to wade back through the annals of my flickrstream and see how uncertain I was as I started out.  I was considering re-making Attic Windows (and this was already my third attempt) -- but why, I don't know!  I love this block now, and in fact it is the very first one I sashed last week, as I started the amazingly fun process of piecing together all -- ALL, I mean all 111 -- of my blocks.  But I'm getting ahead of myself....

By the beginning of July 2011, with my book and set of cardboard templates well in hand, I had a  pretty decent number set of blocks.  If I remember correctly, I was starting to lose a little steam in August, but I kept at it.

FWQAL group shot

My pace ground to an absolute halt several times during the first half of the academic year, but in fits and starts I made more blocks.  And in the late winter I rediscovered some passion for this project -- thanks in large part to my bloggy/flickr friend Melinda! Her enthusiasm for the project and the sight of her stunning blocks motivated me...and through March and April I pieced together FW blocks like there was no tomorrow.

In late March I had about 76 blocks, and was contemplating sashing colours.
FWQAL progress

I remember telling my husband that I was planning to stop at 83 blocks, ready to just wrap it up.

And he asked why?

Why don't you do the whole thing?  You've already done so much...?

Why indeed?!

I cast that plan aside and in the next couple of months I made the 35 remaining blocks -- including some of my favourites.

FW block 40, Friendship Block
FW block 49. Honeycomb

FW block 37, Flower Pot
FW block 44, Gentleman's Fancy
FW block 47, Homemaker
FW block 59, Night & Day

FW block 87, Star Gardener
So I ultimately made every block in the book.

Many of them had looked very daunting when I began, many didn't have immediate appeal to me.

 FW block 104, Wild Geese

But I made them all, with this last one recorded on May 31, 2012.

Of course I continued to torture myself with the sashing and cornerstone choices, but my fabric stash yielded up some good options. I settled on natural Essex linen and teal Quilters Linen.

Once I started the process of piecing last week I just couldn't stop. 

FW sashing underway

Ramone (whose own life was completely and utterly transformed in the time it took to make these blocks) was there to cheer me on!

FW sashing underway

FW sashing progress

oh Ramone

FW pieced...better pic's soon!

it's done!!!!!!!

There are lots of imperfections in my blocks, but I don't see them any more.

I love this sampler, and am still stunned by the thought that I made all of these...I made these, I perservered -- and I exited from a difficult year with joy. This quilt will always remind me of that fact.

I am absolutely certain that another sampler is in my future...and I think I know of at least one other person stuck on samplers after this project...we'll have to come up with a plan and see if anyone else wants to join us!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Venetian Chain...and a (first) review of Heat Press batting tape

Yesterday I gave a good friend (also a colleague) a quilt for his 50th birthday.

When my quilty gifts move outside the "inner circle" -- my family and my absolute closest friends -- I feel a bit nervous.  I don't think it's necessary, since just about everyone for whom I have made a quilt has seemed to be appreciative.  But it still feels like an outing...not in the sense of a picnic or trip to the beach, but in the sense of having the fabric cupboard doors flung open.  I'm out; yes, I quilt!


Venetian Chain

I based this quilt on the "Irish Chain" pattern in Denyse Schmidt's beautiful new book Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration and first shared the project a couple of weeks ago. Schmidt's version of Irish Chain uses 3/4" squares...yes, that's 3/4", very small, with lots of negative space.  I drew from my stash, using the reverse side of a mocha textured solid from Connecting Threads (the texture pattern shows through just ever so slightly) for the background and Yuwa Live Life letters (a soft parchment colour) for the majority of the squares in each chain.  I threw in a few odd squares for interest -- arithmetic fabric, a McCall's dress pattern print, some Lecien Minny Miu puppets, and some aqua V & A "Grand Tour" Venice.

sea creatures


For the back of the quilt I used some Prints Charming teardrops (official name of the print is long forgotten, I apologize) and a strip of the aqua Venice print.  Wanting to play up the Mediterranean slant, I attempted to free motion quilt sea creatures in each of the 13 diamonds formed by the intersecting chains.

I have to admit that I'm not terribly pleased with my FMQ...I'm rusty, there were a wagonload of seams of travel over, and I didn't take as much time with the quilting as I should have. Hrumph.  Fortunately my flickr pals talked me off the ledge, just as I was leaning towards a complete unpick and redo.  In retrospect, the quilting is just fine -- and it certainly didn't diminish the pleasure my friend seemed to take in this gift!


One product I used for the first time in the making of this quilt is Heat Press Batting Together fusible tape.

I have only been quilting for a couple of years, but I have already accumulated a huge amount of cotton and some wool batting scraps, and none was large enough for this quilt.  (These scraps are actually becoming a problem for me: I really don't make many small projects...but if you do, and if you're in the Toronto area, you're welcome to a big bag of scraps! Send me a message!).

In the past I have patched together pieces of batting using a whip stitch, but a fusible alternative was very appealing, so I bought a roll of this (it was under $4) in a Connecting Threads order many months ago.

This stuff is just as you might expect -- a roll of very flexible woven fusible.  

Pretty straight forward, you line up the edges of two pieces of batting (I was using scraps of Hobbs Heirloom Natural Cotton both in this quilt project and here in the dramatic recreation of events).  You place the gritty, glue side of the fusible tape down and press with an iron as you would a fusible interfacing.

The problem I ran into (and which was easily recreated here) is that it is tricky to keep the edges of the batting scraps tightly aligned; they tend to shift a little bit in the pressing, nothing significant but it is annoying. And because this fusible tape is so flexible there is a lot of play.

I really didn't like the gap that formed between the pieces.  In fact, at one point when I was joining two very large pieces and trying to move them around the ironing board, some of the fused tape started to pull off the batting -- still glued to a bunch of cotton fibers, but not doing its job.

EDITED TO ADD: Sue kindly pointed me to a youtube tutorial posted by Jeanne Harwood herself (inventor of this tape).  From watching this, it looks to me like one key to avoiding this gap is to use the iron for heat but not pressure.  DON'T PRESS HARD!  I'm going to give that a try next time and will report on the results.

I ended up whipstitching right through the tape, something like this --

and in fact the tape gave a nice reinforcement to the stitches.  So I would say that -- for me, based only on this first attempt -- this product works, but not perfectly.  I'm not sure I would be comfortable relying on it alone for joining scraps of batting, but I'm definitely going to give it another try -- avoiding pressure with the iron next time around.  Jeanne Harwood's video has inspired me to give this tape another go!

If you have developed good techniques for joining batting scraps I would love to hear about them! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

why blog?

I have been asking myself this question lately.

I'm not trying to gather 1000 followers (although I have to admit that it would feel pretty incredible to have 1000 people around the world looking at my little quilts and toddler dresses.  I'm almost to 100 followers, which is pretty mind-blowing in itself!).  I'm not hoping to turn my sewing and quilting into a source of income.  I have no patterns to sell and don't aspire to have blog sponsors.

Before I started this blog (about 18 months ago) I found enormous inspiration and started to have some meaningful social connections through flickr (I'm really interested in how flickr works for quilters, and would love to hear about your own experiences...but more on that in a future post). 

I started this blog impulsively, without any kind of vision of what I was hoping to accomplish or achieve. 

I have a very, very full career and family life (UNDERSTATEMENT!!!!!), and although I initially had a vague notion that I would draw on both my professional and creative interests here, in fact this blog doesn't even scratch the surface of those really important parts of my life. 

And it's pretty nice to keep the sewing separate. 

The creative corner of my life, in which I sew, provides me with an alternative space -- not exactly an escape since, in fact, I work out a lot of ideas and problems while I'm sewing.  My sewing-quilting self is, however, somehow distinct -- not Professor, not Mommy.

...and not quite this sophisticated seamstress, either, but this post really needs some visuals!
So why am I doing this?  (And have I bored the pants off you yet????  I hope not.  Thanks for indulging me!)

I think it boils down to something social -- the sense of connecting with interested people and also the possibility of learning from and being inspired by the ideas and work of others.  The prospect of sewing all-by-my-lonely, and getting feedback only from people who don't sew themselves (as wonderful and generous and well-meaning as they may be) isn't very appealing.  I have been a closet crafter before (I knit without knitting friends for decades).  I don't want to go back!

I like to talk about this stuff. I love to see what other people are making. I'll happily throw in my two cents (when it's wanted!). And it's wonderful, helpful, gratfying to get feedback and suggestions from all of you!

Aha! It's YOU!  You're the reason I'm doing this.  That's a happy thought.

 But I want to make sure I'm giving something back (something beyond the pure pleasure of viewing my projects or my daughter dressed as Batgirl!).  And no, this isn't an elaborate preamble to a giveaway :)

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's research.  Whatever task is in front of me, whether it's cloth diapering or mortgage renewal or a quilting project, I'm pretty good at gathering all the available info and knowing my options.  As a result of this character trait, I have a lot -- a LOT -- of sewing and quilting notions, books, and general retail knowledge. So I'm thinking of working a little product or pattern review into each of my posts...is that appealing to you?  We'll see how it goes, I suppose. 

So stay tuned for my scintillating review of....

Heat Press Batting Together tape!  If that doesn't have you on the edge of your seat, I don't know what will.

Happy Sunday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

stash busting -- POW!!!

It's great to have a stash of fabric to draw on when starting a new quilt project or feeling inspired to whip up yet another toddler sun dress...but in this house my fabric stash sometimes serves other, less obvious functions....

Batgirl Frida

BATGIRL! thank you, Kona solids

This was Greg's and Jackson's after-dinner handiwork. 
 They made our little caped crusader very happy.

our little crime fighter

Monday, July 2, 2012


Today is a holiday in Canada -- technically it's the day after Canada Day (July 1), but it is a day off work for most Canadians this year because July 1 fell on a Sunday.  My husband and I both teach at universities, so our summer work schedules are always pretty wonky (alternating intense work-on-deadline with quiet spells) but today still felt like a real holiday at our house.

Aforementioned Sweet Husband let me sleep in until 9 a.m., and then we traded places -- I took care of Frida and he went back to sleep.  Frida and I set out with the stroller and went to my favourite fruit and veggie stand on Bloor Street, where we managed to buy a veritable mountain of organic produce for $29. Yay! (Not everyone closes shop today.) We celebrated when we got back home with a little mid-morning feast of cherries, blueberries, and mango on our front porch.

Facing another hot afternoon, I decided to blend some blueberries, bananas, vanilla, maple syrup, soy milk, and leftover coconut milk with the intention of making popsicles for later in the day...but just in the nick of time I remembered that we were out of sticks for our super-deluxe popsicle mold (best purchase of last summer).  So I added some spoonfuls of yogurt and put the whole thing in our ice-cream maker (which had been collecting dust for a few summers, but was recently brought back into circulation).

The counter was a little crowded in our little kitchen, but with the sun streaming in through my new-ish curtains (made to match our new-ish "green apple" colour KitchenAid blender) it was a sweet sight.

 Frida and I happily watched the ice cream maker work its noisy magic on our banana-blueberry concoction.

Buoyed by our domestic accomplishments we made a big batch of granola...a 4th interpretation of the recipe from The Homemade Pantry.  While our three trays of coconut-cashew granola baked, the house started to smell delicious!

It was a great morning.

Finally, this evening I pressed my completed Irish Chain quilt top, which will be a gift for our friend Danny (who has a big birthday next week).  This is a pattern from Denyse Schmidt's new book Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration -- and is indeed a very traditional design, using quite tiny squares to make up the "chain" (they're 3/4" finished).  It was a bit finicky to make, and I have to admit that it bothers me a wee bit that my corners are not all crisp -- not enough to want to re-do or to start using a lot of pins while piecing, oh no, but there you go. 

DS Irish Chain

DS Irish Chain

favourite detail from Irish Chain quilt top

DS Irish Chain

The chain in my version is (mostly) Yuwa Live Life letters (parchment coloured), with some of odd squares thrown in, including a few in Grand Tour Venice, aqua...those are the ones that really stand out and I'm going to feature that fabric in a strip on the back of the quilt.  The background fabric is the reverse side of Twilight Garden in mocha (an older Connecting Threads textured solid), which is very sedate...and has me itching to make something wildly and outrageously colourful.

Thanks to my 6'3" partner for holding yet another quilt top for me to photograph.  I wish we had a good spot for me to take unassisted pictures of full quilt tops -- a stretch of high fence, a clothesline, a picturesque barn door -- but alas! we do not.  So tall and patient husband to the rescue once again.

I hope fellow residents of Canada enjoyed their long weekend and that my American friends have a great 4th of July!