Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hand Quilting My Little Quilts

Quilting...hand or machine?  As quilters, we make decisions, have our preferences, and our biases.  These are individuals choices and when I speak about them I am strictly speaking about my own personal decisions, preferences and biases.  There is no judgment about those of others.  This is my disclaimer because I am going to talk about one of my favorite quilt things, hand quilting, and why I don't quilt my little quilts by machine.

Fine hand quilting and stuffed work - Quilt is in the collection of the DAR Museum

Before I went back to working outside the home full-time I enjoyed the luxury of having several hours a day to spend sewing and quilting.  At that time I was teaching at a local shop and machine stitching class samples in addition to my personal sewing.  Frankly, the class samples took up more of my personal time than I liked.  When I took my full-time job and experienced a substantial reduction in that personal time, I evaluated what was important to me with regard to quilting.  I stopped teaching and got rid of all my fabric that wasn't reproduction.  (Note: don't worry, I've since plugged those holes with plenty of new repro fabrics.)  I switched from making large quilts to mostly small ones that offered the chance to play with fabrics and patterns while making a quilt that I could hang on my office wall to enjoy during my time out of the house.

I need to get a ladder so I can put quilts above my white board and add another row above those on the right

Personally, I am not a fan of machine quilting on little quilts.  I think that is because it is so obvious.  Remember, this is personal taste - not right, not wrong - just my opinion.  I love the designs created by quilting but I love the subtlety of hand stitching.  I am guessing that others share my opinion but choose to machine quilt their projects in order to finish them faster...or at all.  I certainly can appreciate that.  In another moment of introspection, I decided that, going forward, I would stick to a hand-quilt-only policy for my own little quilts.  I started with some very small projects (see the tiny one pictured below) that I could complete in an evening and some very slightly bigger ones that took a couple of days.  Then I started hand quilting a larger project: Cheddar Cheese and Crackers - Humble Quilts project.  That was in 2010 and it still isn't finished.

Pinned to my bulletin board on my desk

Reflecting further, I decided to stick with my hand-quilt-only policy but to employ the tactic many, many others use:  Hire the quilter.  That's when I turned to Bellwether Dry Goods.  I've talked before about Bellwether because I love their service which ranges from simply having your quilt top marked by Dick Fries for you to do  your own hand quilting to purchasing a completed quilt.  While hiring someone to hand quilt for me isn't cheap it is definitely a good value.  I get to play with fabrics while sewing my tops and wind up with little quilts I absolutely love which I use in my house and in my office.

Dick Fries marking a quilt top before it goes to the quilter

I first fell in love with Bellwether quilts when I visited an event that used to take place near Dulles, Virginia, at the Sotterly Plantation.  I can't tell you how much I loved walking over the hill and seeing dozens of hand quilted quilts gently blowing in the breeze and folded on shelves where you got glimpses of patterns and color.  The Sotterly event featured many antique quilt dealers and the Bellwether quilts fit right in because of their vintage look and feel.  But, they smelled good!  Alas, the Sotterly show is no more so Dick and Jane Fries started holding a three-day open house event on their own property in southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland, during the first weekend in December.  This year the show is December 2-4 from 10am-4pm each day.

Details about the Bellwether Open House

In addition to seeing and being inspired by lots of great quilts, you can enjoy some delicious cookies and cider as well as the Fries' antique house.  I highly recommend it!

There is a large tent so the open house takes place rain or shine

Welcome to Bellwether Dry Goods!!
P.S.  If I ever complete another king-sized quilt for my bed it is totally going to the machine quilter.  Somehow, the stitching disappears more in the big quilts.  Or, so I tell myself.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"It's a nutcracker. To crack your nuts."

My daughter has recently returned home to live to save on costs while she attends graduate school.  Her old room had become my quilt room and I now must turn it back over, thus necessitating a reduction in the quilt collection since there isn't another space large enough to house everything safely.  Today I was supposed to be working on that task but you could say I got caught up in a conversation.  Or rather, caught up with conversation prints.  I found this stack of 79 pinwheel blocks with some of the most delightful prints so I spent my work time photographing them.

This is my favorite because it immediately reminded me of a scene from Downton Abbey.  If you're a fan, you'll remember when Isobel gave the Dowager Countess a Christmas gift.  When the Dowager asked, "What is it?"  Isobel replied, "It's a nutcracker.  I thought you'd like it.  To crack your nuts."  As if she needed a nutcracker for that.  I'm thinking these prints are from a little bit earlier than the Downton era.  But not much.

Horses were very popular in the prints.  I'm impressed by the detail in the guy on the left.  The other one is paler but very cool.

This is just the bottom of the horse's foot.

More horsey motifs.  I like when fabrics are pieced to make it big enough for the template.

How about these revolvers?  Having just listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton I wondered if they were, perhaps, dueling pistols?

A screw?

A lot of the blocks had these shovels.  The fabric in these blocks is great but the sewing is, to put it nicely, "folky."  Notice the miss on aligning the points in this one?

Another very detailed motif.  You can even see the soulful looks in the dogs' eyes.

I have a contemporary reproduction with these tops on it.  I guess the guns are too politically incorrect these days to reproduce.

I don't think these blocks were ever assembled.  There is a good reason for that.  You saw the misalignment in the earlier block.  Someone seems to have tried to draw in the stitching line but the blocks vary in size by more than an inch so a top from them would be very lumpy.  Most are machine pieced but some were done by hand.  The blue is bright and cheerful, there is a variety of dots and stripes of different sizes, and just enough red to add some pizzazz.  It's a great set of blocks.  I'm deciding whether to list what I'm downsizing on Ebay or Etsy.  Any advice?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

WOW - WIPs on Wednesday - A Day Late

Do you ever find yourself needing to quilt?  I mean NEEDING to do it.  Like if you don't somebody might die?  That's where I am this week.  Everyone wants a piece of me, at home and at work.  I usually relax by stitching for at least 15 minutes on an ongoing hand piecing project every evening.  But, this week I have to get up extra early and I'm exercising, which is not something I do.  Should, but don't.  And, it isn't because I want to exercise.  We are doing some car juggling and I'm getting to work via train and then joined a bikeshare program to peddle my way the last two miles of my journey.  I start sweating all over just typing this.  So, it should be obvious that when I hit the bed I am asleep, not sewing.

To relieve some stress I headed to quilt blogs today and saw Esther Aliu's post from yesterday.  She has invited us to share our Works in Progress (WIP) on Wednesdays.  Hence, the WOW.  She is making her daughter's wedding dress - big WOW!  I just need to talk about quilts so I am recycling some photos some of you might have already seen because I've shared them on social media.  Social media has cut down on a lot of blog posting because it's just so darn easy to share the pictures we love.  However, I miss the opportunity to just talk quilts.  So, here goes...

The picture above is the back of my ongoing hand piecing project.  I'm pretty proud of how neat it looks.  Below is a photo from a blissful Sunday morning.  My week started well but the wheels dropped off on Monday.

I've also indulged my love of pomegranate quilts recently.  The one below was really interesting to me because it is mostly pieced!  Only the stems and the center motifs are appliqued.  As I said, I've shared this photo before and more than a few people just wonder "why?"

You might be able to see the seams by the leaves if you enlarge this photo below.

I love this next one.  The quilting is incredible and the dots add that touch of whimsy that just makes me smile when I see it.

Well...I feel better.  Thanks for indulging me for a few minutes.  I am heading into my afternoon with a much better attitude.  

P.S.  I have my hand stitching in my desk drawer.  I might just have to sneak a stitch or two.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Four Patch Inspiration

Last week I fell in love with a little quilt on Laundry Basket Quilts' Instagram feed.

saved from @laundrybasketquilts on Instagram

I didn't intend to reproduce it right away but I happened to notice a pan of four patches I've been making for another project.

Surely, I wouldn't set myself back too much if I pilfered 24 of them from the pile.  And, this blue just happened to be right on the cutting table.

It's there because I used it in my tantalizing triangles (a.k.a., Panama Pyramids) which are not on the cutting table but residing on my stool for now.

And, this red seemed perfect for the borders and it was in a pile of fabrics I bought (last year) that is waiting patiently to be filed away in the stash.  I'm not showing the pile of fabric - too embarrassing.

So, this little quilt came together in about 90 minutes.

Now, back to hand sewing triangles and squares.  My hand stitched postage stamps are adding up rather nicely.

And I have a little collection of triangle block kits ready to stitch.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm on the bandwagon

My friend Linda Collins - Quilts in the Barn -  has started a bit of a phenomenon.  It's called Panama Pyramids.  It started with a pattern published in Quiltmania #94 of a scrappy antique triangles quilt from her collection (photo of original quilt is below and is used with permission from Linda).  It has grown into "Panama Pyramids Sew-Along 2016," a 350+ member Facebook group created to encourage those making the quilt to share their projects and cheer each other on with their stitching.  Recently, she came out with a set of plastic templates that make it much easier and more accurate to cut the many triangle shaped pieces needed to make the quilt.

I was resisting starting yet another project but as you can see from my first photo, I didn't resist long.  Linda had the templates at the Zieber Quilts Retreat in California earlier this month.  Several of my fellow retreaters (perhaps that is not a real word but you know what I mean) started making their own Panama Pyramids and their various color combinations were enticing.  It was Brenda Papadakis' red and green version that got me to purchase a set of templates of my own.  Since our retreat this year focused partly on "name inscribed" quilts and we studied "blue" at last year's retreat, my version will be a signature quilt and features indigo fabrics.  My hat tip to you Zieber Quilts!

Many in the Facebook group are hand piecing their blocks.  It's nice to see so many enjoying the "zen" of hand sewing and seeing just how quickly a block can go together without getting a machine involved.  I'm going to share a couple of quick tips to answer some questions that have come up in the FB group.  First, let me address how I trace a template for hand piecing.  As you can see in the photo above, the templates have the center cut out so you can trace the stitching line onto your fabric.  I've seen people also tracing the outside of the template as a cutting line.  If you cut with scissors, you need this line.  However, it is much faster if you skip that line and rotary cut your triangles 1/4" away from your stitching line.  See below.

The next thing I'd like to address is grain.  No, not grains of rice or grains of sand.  Fabric grain.  As in the pesky fact that fabric is woven from horizontal and vertical threads and fabric cut on the grain is much more stable than if it is cut on the bias.  There is no avoiding bias when working with equilateral triangles but the trick is to know where to put the straight of grain side.  If, like me, you are assembling the quilt in long strips and then stitching those long strips together then you should make sure the top and bottom of those strips are on the straight of grain.  This will prevent many headaches (and distorted fabrics and lumpy quilt tops).  The plus side of bias is that you've got some sides with a little stretch which is handy in case your pieced triangles don't come out exactly the same size as the solid alternate triangles.

Also, if you look at the original quilt, there are some blocks cut in half along the sides.  If you make sure the grain line runs straight down the middle of the pieced triangle block it will help avoid those annoying ripply quilt edges.

I feel like I'm channeling my fussy and fastidious 8th grade Home Economics teacher with this post.  I used to thumb my nose at her insistence on lining things up correctly with the fabric grain but a few garments that bulged in all the wrong places taught me the lesson the hard way.  So, I bow to you Mrs. McMurtray.  Grain does matter.

P.S.  If you ignore the grain and things come out lumpy then you can always quilt the dickens out of it.  That's the difference between quilts and dresses.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Quilting study

This morning I read an interesting article written by Barbara Burnham in the May newsletter of the Baltimore Applique Society.  She talked about quilting ideas for applique beyond the usual outline plus grid design and shared some good pictures.  Since I am working on refolding my quilts I thought I'd study some of the quilting in the antiques.  Those of you who study antique quilts know you always find something new when you do that.  I started with the Mexican Rose quilt pictured above because it is an amazing example of a heavily quilted applique quilt.

The quilter did not outline her applique motifs like you usually see.  Instead, she quilted right through the flowers and outlined the diamonds with a feather motif.  On the back, it doesn't look like a flower at all but instead an interesting diamond shape.  I have larger pictures of the block (front and back) below.

There is also a large wreath quilted in the alternate blocks.  If you look closely at it and the picture above, you can see that this quilt was done in very closely set lines that resemble stippling but are not.  If you stare at it for a minute it really looks like stippling because your eyes start to cross.  The center of the wreath may actually be stippling - I just cannot tell.

The next quilt pattern is often called "Farmer's Delight" and is believed to come from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  This quilt did.  In addition to being a delightful collection of c. 1870-80 fabrics (including centennial fabrics) it is a truly delightful collection of quilted surprises.

I was doing my folding early today and I find the morning light particularly good at revealing quilting motifs.  I glimpsed a motif that looked remarkably like a fork and thought to myself, "I wonder if there is a knife?"  Well, sure enough, there is!  Below, I've included a photo of the actual quilting and then an enhanced image that shows there is a fork, knife, and spoon.  There is more that I will have to examine later.

The motif on the lower right looks like a giant diamond ring to me
Finally, I have a red and green double Irish chain quilt that is a puzzle to me.  On the back, the quilting thread that corresponds to the green blocks appears to be a dark green color.

Double Irish Chain with Lemoyne Stars
Hopefully, you can see the darker thread in the photos below.

I am wondering if the green in the fabric migrated into the thread or if the thread was dark green to begin with.  I think it would be a bit of a pain to keep changing thread when doing the quilting.  On the front, the thread on the green patches appears to be the exact same color of the fabric and is definitely lighter than it appears on the back.

That's my quilting study for the day.  BAS members can read Barbara's article in their most recent newsletter.  It isn't on her blog, Baltimore Garden Quilts, but she has loads of other interesting information there and I urge you to stop by for a good read.
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