Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stars and Stripes

When I first started quilting, I wanted to make a quilt for my sister. We weren't close growing up, but got much closer after we were both adults. She was in college, and I thought a big picnic quilt would be fun for her to have. I picked out a jelly roll quilt pattern from a book I had picked up, but didn't know where to buy jelly rolls. It was before I'd really gotten into fabric, and did most shopping at Joann's. I checked out a couple of other quilt shops, but I guess it was before jelly rolls got really popular. Or something.

I wanted to make it bigger anyway, so I just bought some yardage I found at Joann's. It was a really cute line, and I supplemented with a couple of yards I picked up at a local shop. I overestimated how much I needed and bought way too much, it was almost enough to make two complete tops.

I struggled a lot with the top because of the star placement in the strips, and the pattern had some flaws. It didn't help that I enlarged it by adding an extra row, but I went over it and over it (and again, when I made the second) and the pattern was just wrong for a few things. It took so long to get it to all work out right!

I backed it with denim (mostly made of our dad's old work jeans with some denim and red canvas yardage added in), and made it before I knew there were affordable long-arm quilters out there, so I tied it with yarn. It was so tough and I had such sore fingers!

In the end, it wasn't a great quilt, I was still such beginner. But it was made with love. :-) She still has it, but doesn't use it often.

A couple of years ago, I decided to clear out my UFOs for a new year's resolution, and the leftover strips were at the top of the stack. It was one of the first projects I finished in my resolution, but I knew better and sent it out to be quilted. It was the first quilt I had Abby Latimer quilt (stars and loops, a great penny-incher panto), and she did a great job. She's my go-to quilter. I backed it with denim (just yardage this time) and it turned out great! So much better than the first, but I had a couple more years of experience, and a year of Saturday Sampler under my belt.

We use ours a lot. We take it to the park, we use if for Family Movie Night (yes, it deserves capitalization…), and when our floor was ripped out in our kitchen from a flood, we ate on it on the concrete. It gets a lot of love at our house, and our girls know that when it comes out of the closet, they're in for a treat. (They always assume it means movie night)

First quilt (not pictured) approximate completion: 2010?

Second quilt (pictured) approximate completion: July 2013

Monday, December 29, 2014

A playhouse for the girls

My biggest Christmas project was a playhouse for my girls. I've been wanting to make them a playhouse for a while, but didn't want to do the traditional card table variety you see all over Pinterest. My husband and I are both quite tall, and so are our girls, so I wanted something to last a little longer. I also wanted something I could sit in without breaking my back!

Sorry this one got blown out on the right side; I guess my window gives more light than I think it does!

I had seen several pins about PVC frame playhouses, and thought that was the way to go, but wasn't thrilled with any of the designs I saw until I found one on Etsy. Now, I'm not linking to the one I found on Etsy because I feel like it was overpriced and not very good. If you really want it, leave a comment or email me and I'll get you the information. The PVC frame pattern was excellent, but following the sewing pattern was terribly difficult. I felt so lucky to have friends with more sewing experience than I have to help me; otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to finish it!

The mailbox has a slot so they can deliver mail to each other; I knew I really wanted a mail box because my almost-five year old is pretty into mail. She's made her own "mail boxes" and delivers notes under our bedroom door at night. It was a must! :-)

I really loved the way the pennants turned out!

I spent a good two months working on it, and I'm so happy with the results. I made some improvements, the best of which was adding velcro to flaps around the door to hold the house in place around the frame. This made it so much easier to attach the back panel during assembly!

My girls love it, and I have to admit, it's very open and airy inside. It's easy for me to sit in there with my girls reading books or doing puzzles. I hope it becomes a cherished toy.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Union Jack

So many of the things I've been working on, or just finished, were for Christmas gifts and so I didn't dare take photos or post about them.  One I've been really excited about was a quilt I made for my sister.

Union Jacks are so trendy right now that I've seen a lot of Union Jack sewing projects floating around Pinterest, and I decided it would be really cool to make my sister a Union Jack throw quilt. She is a certifiable Anglophile, and I say that in the most loving way possible. Because as much as she loves England and all things British, I feel the same way about France. :-) She TA'ed for a professor through her (American) university for a study abroad in London, and absolutely loved it.

When I stumbled across Lynn's Jack Attack quilt along (months afterward...), I knew I had to make it for her. Lynn took care of all the measurements, and her diagrams were clear and easy to follow. It was by far the best tutorial I found, and it was exactly what I wanted for my sister. I did stumble just once while I was trying to orient the strips in the right direction, but figured out what I was doing wrong before stitching, which is obviously so nice. I don't think I had to unpick anything on this quilt (go me!).

Of course, I didn't do it exactly the same as the QAL...I decided to make one block in the traditional colors rather than three in diverse fabrics. I used beautiful kona cotton for the top. I increased the borders as large as I could to accommodate a minky backing without a seam and to even out the quilt to a more usable throw size. And with the changes, it went together really fast! I quickly had it off to Abby Latimer for quilting.

I had her quilt it with wind swirls; it's a penny-incher panto, and it's a great texture. It worked out beautifully.

I was really nervous about binding it because of the minky, but the clerk at the store I bought the minky at promised that once it had been quilted, it wouldn't be as stretchy, and she was so right. I'm really glad I didn't have to piece the back, but I'll definitely use minky again in the future. I'm still not ready to piece it together, but maybe for something not too wide like another lap quilt. I couldn't believe how soft it made the quilt. So much softer and less stiff than a quilt even with flannel.

My sister loved it, of course. And I decided I need a throw quilt backed with minky for me, too!

Completion Date: December 17, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Adjusting Colors in a Pattern

I posted earlier about my experience with American Quilting's Saturday Sampler program. In case you missed it, or just don't want to check out the post, I loved it. In that post, I laid out some really specific reasons why I'm a huge fan of Saturday Sampler programs.

As I mentioned, I did two years. The first year I did was the Halloween Sampler. The second year was a Quilter's Alphabet. It was really a fun concept: we did a block for every letter of the alphabet. While we were doing it, I loved (almost) everything we sewed. There were just a couple of blocks I didn't love. And I was really excited to see it come together.

When I went to the revealing class, though, I was so disappointed! The layout didn't wow me, probably because of the sashing colors, which were so dark. Here's a sample. Amy, the shop owner, had promised optional appliqué, and delivered: the pattern called for appliquéing on wool letters to each block if desired. It looked alright, but I didn't really want to do the appliqué, even though it was wool (which I actually like sewing for some reason…).

I bought the finishing kit just in case, though I really doubted I would ever really love their design. I went home and shelved the project.

Then, I saw a pin that lead to this blog post.  She actually picked out prints to replace the sashing, but when I first saw it, I thought it was my favorite Kona gray: Ash. I decided to keep with the solid idea from American Quilting but switch it out for the colors that the blogger had picked. I did use the binding that Amy had picked out for the kit, because it worked with the gray, and I have used the other fabric from the finishing kit on the back (I hand embroidered the names on it. I had forgotten that the blogger also did this until I went to grab her link) and I've used the teal solid in other projects as well. It's a great teal, just too dark for the sampler.

What's amazing is that I went from hating the finished product to absolutely loving it, just by switching out the sashing. I do wish I had made one other change. There's one block that, in my opinion, absolutely doesn't match the color family of the rest of the quilt. I wish I had remade it in different fabrics so it would work better. But it's obviously WAY too late to do that…

I had Abby of Latimer Lane Quilting quilt it with flirtatious. This is one of my favorite quilt pantos, and she did an amazing job.

So, don't be afraid to switch things up! Even if it's a part of a kit and you have to supplement with your own fabric or purchase additional fabric, it's worth it to make sure it's something you love. After all, even quick quilts take hours. If you have spent the time (and money…quilting's not cheap either…) you should make sure it's something you're going to love.

Completion Date: October 2014

I learned this the hard way on another project several years ago. I made a table runner from a tutorial by Allison Harris, but added some additional sashing. I used a gray that I had on hand, and in certain light, it seemed to work, but when I put it on my table (where it would live), it was the way wrong gray.

But, I was too lazy to unpick it and start over, and thought it would probably be okay. But, the more I look at it, the wronger it looks. It was a huge mistake and now it sits in a closet. It makes me really sad because I used some of my favorite fabric that I had been hoarding in it, and now I don't like it. Unfortunately, I can't package it up as a gift because one of my daughters spilled chili on it and I've not been able to get it out…

Approximate Completion Date: Summer 2013

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas in Seville

Here's Christmas quilt number two. I am pleased to say that the only fabric I needed to buy for this quilt was the white--everything else was from my stash. probably why the backing doesn't quite match up perfectly, and I probably would have picked a different border (red. I love red.). BUT, even with the concessions, I love it. I was really making an effort to USE my stash instead of just acquiring it. I don't know about you, but I'm guilty of picking up fabric here and there, adding to my stash because I love them, because they're good "stash-builders," because they're on an awesome sale and I just can't pass it up. But when it comes time to make a project, I go out and buy new fabric for the project (plus a little extra to add to my ever-growing stash because I can't bear to use it all on the current project).

This one is also a pattern by Allison Harris. It's Seville. I love how the smaller blocks work together to form this big octagon that you're just not quite sure how it goes together. Again, not a quick quilt. It was quicker than Dixie. I love Allison's patterns, but they're not particularly quick! They are really well-written. I'm working on another one right now, actually (pictures soon!).

It was tricky to line up the points, but Allison gave great tips. I can't say I was patient enough to follow them every time, so it is what it is. I'm working toward more perfect piecing, but I'm not ready to slow down too much to get it! :-)

For the backing, I didn't quite have enough of the red with holly, so I added blocks in an offset cross from one of the lines I used. Because I used white sashing, I wasn't able to use some of the florals that had white backgrounds because there wouldn't have been enough contrast, so I used them on the backing.

I used a variety of prints, some not even Christmas, which I love. There are a few from the same line, but as much as I love quilts from a single coordinating line, I love that I put these together myself. I said love a lot right there...I gotta work on my vocabulary! I wish that the green was a little closer to the same green I used in my other quilt, as they don't look great stacked up together, but c'est la vie!

Completion date: July 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Quilts

I mentioned Christmas quilts...and here's the first one! This is the first Christmas quilt I made, and I made it from the same fabrics as my advent calendar. It debuted last Christmas. It's a pattern by Allison Harris of Cluck Cluck Sew called Dixie. It's a pretty basic block; a log cabin with an hourglass in the center, but I loved how she varied the width of the logs and used them to create interesting framing.

But, like all log cabin quilts, it's not a quick sew! This took me a lot longer than I expected it to. I love quilting (obviously...) so that shouldn't be a problem, but I feel like when you're expecting a quick quilt, and it's not, it's discouraging...

I actually used leftover squares from the advent calendar to make the hourglasses...they were almost perfect, I sewed an extremely narrow seam to put them together, and it worked out pretty perfectly. I don't recommend super narrow's pretty risky. Once they were trimmed up, they worked well for the centers.

And, for the solids, I used a Kona red (I have no idea which one...) and an awesome woven green fabric. Again, no idea on the name, but it is 100% cotton, which is pretty awesome. It's a heavier weight, and the weaving shows ovals. I also used it on the backing; I made a four-patch of sorts for the back with the red and green solids. Allison used just one solid, and as I was assembling the blocks, realized how much easier that would have been; trying to keep a good sense of contrast without using the same combination repeatedly was really difficult. Of course, she used more colors than I did; being limited to red, green, and black was tricky.

The cream is actually not a solid, it's the same snowflake print I used in the advent calendar. I really love that it's the same exact fabrics from the advent calendar, and that they coordinate. But, I'm also glad I'm running low on it, because I don't want everything to be so matchy-matchy. Which you'll see when I post my second Christmas quilt! But don't worry; I still have some Sweetwater left!

I had it quilted by Abby Latimer, and she did a great job! I love the snowflake panto, and luckily, got it into her while all her patterns were a penny an inch. This panto is now 2 1/2 cents an inch.

What I don't love is my binding job. I'll post my binding methods later, and I've gotten better since this one. One of my problems is that I just don't have a whole lot of practice, and I don't really enjoy hand-binding. Since I don't enjoy it, and I need practice, I prefer to machine bind since it's faster. When a quilt is ready to bind, I'm really ready to be done!

Approximate completion: October 2013

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Naturally, I pick the time our hard drive runs out of space to start a blog that really needs photos with each post...

I have two posts with photos waiting on my camera and no way to get them edited for the web right now because my computer is too slow from lack of hard drive space to download them…SO, I haven't already abandoned this blog, I just need some time to get some more photos up. And a new hard drive. And time for my husband to install it. :-(

Hopefully soon! And then I'll get both of my Christmas quilt posts up! :-)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Calendar

It's finally time to pull out Christmas decorations! I try to resist Christmas decor until Thanksgiving, because Thanksgiving feels like the cusp of fall and winter to me. Over the past few years, I've been making Christmas decorations for our home, and I love how handmade makes it feel all the more homey and Christmasy. I'll post about some of my other projects later, but today I'm sharing my advent calendar.

I made this advent calendar as part of a class at American Quilting one summer. I was pregnant at the time, and ended up being very sick after the class, so I didn't finish it for a few months, and it wasn't ready until January 2013. And then my husband and I were traveling during most of December 2013, so even though we hung it, we didn't actually use it as an advent calendar. I'm excited to finally do the advent calendar thing with my girls!

American Quilting held the class and based the pattern off of this one on Sew Mama Sew I believe. They adjusted it to make things a bit more even and easy to sew. I used Christmas Countdown fabric by Sweetwater that I had been hoarding for a few years, plus a polka dot fat quarter I had. I used a different line for the snowflake background fabric because I hadn't bought the cream snowflake from the same line, and it was obviously impossible to find. That was such a darling line!

I chose to cut out the circles from one of the fabrics for the numbers, and I appliqued them on. I can handle circles with the template applique method.

I had a really hard time hanging it last year; I don't have a lot of experience hanging quilts, and I cut a yardstick down to size, but the command hooks I had didn't work with the yardstick. I'm going to pick up some smaller ones this year, and I bought a narrow dowel to try, so we'll see. It seems to be working. If you have tips for hanging, I'd love to hear them!

I didn't know any long-arm quilters when I had this done, so I dropped it off at American Quilting to have one of their employees do it. I LOVE the swirls, and they were so careful to not quilt any of the pockets closed. That's obviously very important.

And, I've debated about what to do for our advent calendar for years, but finally figured it out. I bought a kit from 25 Days of Christ, and finished the ornaments a few weeks ago. There are 25 ornaments, and each ornament symbolizes a story from Christ's life. There's a booklet to go along with it that gives the scripture references. I plan to put the ornaments in the pockets and we'll use that as our daily advent calendar activity. I'm really excited to start a more Christ-centered Christmas tradition. Santa is fun, but I feel like Christ really makes the season special.

Completion date: January 2013

Friday, November 28, 2014

Halloween Sampler Quilt

Have you ever participated in a Saturday Sampler?

Samplers aren't usually my thing; I love how repeated blocks work together to form interesting patterns. But, I have to admit that I think Saturday Sampler programs are really awesome. My friend invited me to do a Saturday Sampler at American Quilting with her. She was so excited because it was a Halloween theme, and even though I'm not super excited about Halloween, I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't do it. I'd never done anything like it, and didn't really know what to expect, but immediately loved it. I attended the demonstrations and learned so much that first year. And the quilt ended up so darling! I get so many compliments.

I really hated doing the applique on the trick or treaters, and it took me almost a year after the sampler ended to actually finish it because I dreaded doing it. In the end, I raw-edge machine appliqued them on, reasoning that it only comes out for a month each year and isn't getting "loved" like a normal quilt, so it shouldn't need to be washed. And now that it's done, I really love the quilt.

I think my favorite line is the bottom because of how the two different blocks work together. I also really enjoyed adding the embroidery details and lettering. I may hate turned applique, but I love embroidery.

I did the Saturday Sampler program at American Quilting twice and I'll post about the second year's quilt in another post. But, in case you are considering doing a sampler program, either at a brick and mortar or online, let me encourage you to jump in! Here's what I loved about my experience at American Quilting.

First, I got to go to the quilt shop every single month! They have sales on sampler Saturday and I probably spent much more than I should on fabric while I was participating in samplers.

Second, the samplers I have participated in were diverse and were skill builders. I made a large variety of blocks with many different techniques. I made an effort to always attend the demonstration, and I think participating in the sampler really helped my skills improve quickly. I learned different ways to construct flying geese, square in a squares, half-square triangles, whack and stack stars, and several different methods of applique, among others.

Third, because there were so many different blocks and methods, I got to try things out in a low-risk way. I learned that I really love paper piecing, but don't love applique. I didn't have commit to a big applique project to figure that out. And since it came with demonstrations, I didn't go into it blindly. After two years of samplers, I've tried most standard techniques and don't feel intimidated by most patterns.

Fourth, it got me sewing regularly. I found myself much more likely to work on other projects because I was spending more time in my sewing room.

I really loved the class-format of the sampler and I loved learning and improving my quilting techniques. If you're considering a Sampler program, do it! I may do another one in the future, but have so much in my quilting queue that it's not a good time for me. But, I loved it and highly recommend it to others. Let me know in the comments if you've done sampler programs and how you liked them!

Approximate completion date: summer 2013

Monday, November 24, 2014

A quilty beginning...

I have never finished the first quilt I started. Though the New Year's resolution that got me jump started on finishing projects was to finish all works in progress, I still am not sure I'll ever finish it. I don't really feel all that bad, either. There are so many other projects pulling my interest.

When I moved into my current house, I commented on a quilt group flier I saw on my neighbor's refrigerator. "Oh, do you quilt?" she asked, her eyebrow raised in hopeful anticipation.

"No, no, but I've been wanting to learn; my sister-in-law received the most amazing quilt from her best friend at her baby shower, and ever since, I've been dying to learn." The next thing I knew, we were cruising the aisles at Joann's, buying all the basics I needed. Pins, thread, fabrics for a sampler. I borrowed my Mom's 50-year-old Viking sewing machine (which weighed a ton!) and rotary cutting supplies, and found myself at a neighborhood quilt group meeting. My neighbor, Julie, patiently taught me how to cut and the basics of piecing, and away I went. The group had a sampler book and the host ran copies on cardstock of the templates for anyone who wanted them. I made 8 or 9 blocks and loved deciding which fabrics I would use in each block.

A few months later, the host relocated across the country for her husband's job, and though we tried to keep the quilt group going, it fell apart, and I stopped working on the sampler.

Shortly after, I discovered I was pregnant and decided to make a quilt for my future baby. I picked out fabric (gender neutral since it was too early to find out), and decided to make an Ohio star pattern. I didn't know about quilt blogs, patterns, or anything, and did the math myself on graph paper I printed. Julie showed me how to add mitered edge sashing around the outside, and then showed me how to hand quilt it.

And then I miscarried.

Heartbroken, I put the quilt, still on the large embroidery hoop, in another room and closed the door. Once I became pregnant again, and was sure it was viable, I cautiously pulled out the quilt and began quilting again. I finished quilting, I learned how to bind it, and managed to finish it several months before my beautiful daughter arrived, healthy and safe.

I think every single one of the star tips got clipped off because I didn't take seam allowances into account, but it was my first quilt and I was so proud that I did it all myself, from piecing, to quilting, to binding. And, in many ways, I think it's significant that my first completed quilt was for my child. So often, the most meaningful quilts are the ones we make for others.

I have not hand quilted since then; I just don't really like it, and I prefer the look of machine quilting. But, I've done it once, and I'm proud that I can say that. The whole project was a real learning experience for me, and really propelled my confidence in quilting. Stay tuned for more flashback quilts!

Approximate completion date: August 2009