Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Holiday Thoughts

Blogging has been difficult the past few weeks.  As I mentioned, my room is being used as a bedroom so I'm relegated to the desk in the laundry room.  This is a high traffic area and everyone who comes through finds it necessary to check out what I'm doing making the writing a bit difficult.  But I'm glad for the busyness of the season this year.  Ironically I have more time to enjoy the activities surrounding the holidays but we won't have a full house of children around us this year.  I knew this day would come and honestly I thought it would have come sooner than this.  Even now, five days before Christmas, plans are not settled.  It appears as though we will have a sort of drawn out holiday with different groups coming at different times between Christmas Day and January 5th!  We are going to try to keep our live Christmas tree up for the entire time, but I have a feeling it will be little more than twigs by the end.  I like our tree this year.  It's symmetrical, narrow and fragrant.  However, the male members of my family (that would be ALL the rest of the members) feel that if a tree isn't so big that you have to wrestle it into the house and into the stand and then cut a substantial part off so that it will fit, then it isn't big enough.

Gifts:  I'm satisfied with the gifts I've purchased this year.  My only regret is that I'm seldom able to find a "wow" gift for my husband. There are a tremendous amount of presents under the tree awaiting the great unwrapping.  Most of them, I hope, will be useful to their recipients.  We started early and bought and bought and bought.  Then we wrapped and wrapped and wrapped.

Baking: I will make our traditional cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast, but I don't think I'm going to bake cookies this year.  We won't have enough steady company to use them and with my diet and my husband's Diabetes, we don't need the added temptation.  But there will be pumpkin pie for Christmas dinner desert.

The house is decorated.  The cards are sent.  The only shopping left to do is for groceries.  The boys are all in good places  in their lives for this year and that is truly the best Christmas present I could have although I know I will enjoy the many boxes my endulgent husband has placed under the tree addressed to me as well as those thoughtfully picked out by my sons.

So, Merry Christmas to all my mythical readers out there and to my one special reader in New Jersey (you know who you are!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Table Runner: Branching Out

The holiday season has taken much of my time lately.  This is the first Christmas in my adult life that I wasn't juggling a job or a house full of children along with the holiday activities so I've had time to actually enjoy the decorating, shopping and wrapping.  Along with that, my sewing room is now being used as a bedroom for son #3 home for the college break.  But he took a short trip to visit his friends last week and I decided to work on a small project that I had planned.  I wanted to make a table runner for son #1 using signal flags to spell his name.  He has had a sort of nautical theme to his decorating so I thought it would fit in and provide a little color to his place.

I've learned a few design things on this project:  It's hard for me to make anything small.  I don't think this is too big, but it turned out much bigger than I planned.  Even though I tried to make the whole thing un-frilly the quilting alone sort of adds a feminine quality to it.  I think it will still be OK. 

And a few lessons learned about construction:  It is difficult to make reversible even when you are working with the multiple layers of quilt construction.  Making the binding the same color as the border helped camouflage a bit of unevenness.  Try as I might something became uneven in the quilting.  You can see what I mean in the pictures.  I don't think it is too unsightly and might only be noticed by another quilter.  The points will hang vertically so they won't be very visible.  I got to try my hand at applique for the black circle in the yellow box. I used the iron on stuff to stick the fabrics together and then used a blanket stitch around the edge.  I would rate my effort as not bad for a first attempt, but there is room for improvement.  And since the piece is reversible and to be used on the table, I sewed the second side of the binding by hand.  I used a needle with an open eye (sometimes called a cheater needle) and was very pleased with it's performance.  It was easy to "thread" even for my old eyes and pulled through the fabric nicely.  I don't know why these needles are not more poplular. Overall, I'm pleased with the project and I hope son #1 will like it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

3D Fish Quilt - Done!

I've been trying to finish this quilt for Christmas.  And it has been SO many things to me:  the most difficult quilt I've made, the prettiest, the most "artsy", the least well executed, the most fun and the most frustrating.  I've learned about a variety of techniques and I've made mistakes that I didn't know existed.  The quilt appeals to me because it ISN'T perfect and is unique in many ways - including the mistakes!

I started with this pattern.  I actually saw this in my local quilt store.  But....they didn't sell the pattern, just a kit to make this exact quilt in a very small size.  That presented me with two problems:  I didn't want to use an aquarium fish pattern, I wanted big ocean game fish.  And I wanted to make a full sized quilt.  I found my fish print fabric online and then went to my favorite quilt store to pick out the fabric colors that would coordinate with the colors in the new print.  I've never done this kind of thing, so I was grateful for the help of the people at the store.  I choose mostly batik prints to add texture and that brings me to the first thing that I would do differently:  I would have made a few different choices in the fabrics themselves, particularly some of the blues.  I've never worked with batiks and so my question is this (answers are welcomed): how do you keep track of the front and the back or does it really matter?  The fabric is so similar on both sides.  I finally used tissue paper between the layers as I cut out the pieces to help me remember which was the "right" side until I made the first seam.

Everything was cut on a 30 degree angle making the piecing a bit more challenging than simple squares and 45 degree triangles.  And there was very little tolerance for error.  If you were off a smidge here or there by the time you put the larger pieces together you were off by a LOT.  I also thought that some of the assembly directions were weird.  I tried it "their" way for a bit and then just did what made sense to me.  The end result was the same, I just pieced the sections in a different order.  I'm really amazed that the overall look is as nice as it is.
Then there was the back.  I found this fabric that I really liked for the back.  It reminded me of the deep sea with it's greens and blues and flowing pattern.  What I didn't consider was that I would have to piece it horizontally and a random pattern is next to impossible to really match.  I struggled with this and had plenty of extra fabric to work with but this is the best I got:
I decided to use the extra fish print on the back to make it look like fish swimming in the ocean.   I like the idea and it's probably the pretties quilt back I've made, but I wasn't pleased with the lack of fabric match particularly in the center section.

Then there's the quilting.  I wanted to try my hand at some free motion quilting.  I'm inspired by this website and the artisticness of this technique.  I wanted to do edge to edge quilting in the center that was wavy like the ocean and then a curvy pattern on the border to remind you of seaweed or ocean plants.  After practicing just how to accomplish this, I settled on using my walking foot for the edge to edge quilting.  I did use gloves this time to help me manage the fabric and found that very helpful.  The challenge was keeping the randomness within bounds.  You want the stitching to be fairly level with the quilt borders and the spacing somewhat even while still being free form and random.  I used pins as guides.  Keeping a smooth flowing line was also a bit difficult.  My success there was only fair.  The borders proved to be difficult in other ways.  I used a darning foot and a Supreme Slider for this part. Again, a big part of the challenge is getting even stitches and an "organized randomness".  I did find that the faster I ran the machine, the better my stitches looked since the machine isn't advancing tha fabric - I am. The speed made essentially for smaller, neater stitches.  I don't think my pattern looks like seaweed but once you commit you pretty much have to follow through.  I would have done a more random pattern if I started again.  Here's a look:
I should also mention that I decided to use a variegated thread with blues and greens - again the ocean theme. 

Now, a few of my success:  I made the best mitered corners on the border in my quilting career.  And the best binding attachment I've ever accomplished.

And my biggest failure:  When I got to the end of the border quilting, the border didn't lie flat.  I was going to rip out a whole section of quilting and was pretty depressed and disgusted by the whole thing, but instead, I cheated.  I hid the extra fabric in the quilting itself by just stitching it down.  The colors of the thread helped me hide this a bit and close examination will reveal my errors but I'm hoping that these mistakes don't take the appeal away for the recipient.  This quilt is going to a teenager who loves to fish in the gulf stream.  This past summer his big catch was several dolphin fish which are well represented in the fabric.

So, it's time to wrap this one up - really wrap it up - along with the other Christmas presents.  It's been a fun first year of quilting and I already have my ideas forming for next year.