To be a bit cliché, this shoemaker is a professional Web Developer and her child is this blog, but it was past time to launch what I have of a new design. All the content is still here, everything else is a work in progress (kind of like most of my sewing projects)!
I’m absolutely the worst at remembering to pop gifts in the mail on time for my various niblings’ birthdays. I think they’ve all come to expect that Aunt Rachael’s cards come sometime in the general month, likely mailed on their birthday or a few days after. Take these, for instance. Two of my nieces recently celebrated their 16th birthdays, one this past week, the other in September (to be fair, I didn’t have a mailing address at the time).
For birthdays, I usually drop a gift card in the mail, but since this was a special one, I added a small additional gift as well—a keychain composed of a free-standing lace design from Urban Threads and a pair of charms from Danforth Pewter (made here in Vermont).
This is the first time I’ve tried stitching out a free-standing lace design, and it was a little rocky. My first attempt failed compeltely. The second time, I doubled up the water-soluble stabilizer and it turned out okay but the top thread broke about ten times, and it skipped a ton of stitches. The final product seems okay, despite all that.
The third time, I used three layers of stabilizer, and didn’t have to fight broken thread, however the stitches pulled the stabilizer apart, scrunching and mis-stitching a part of the key. It still came out okay, but I definitely have room for improvement.
Now I just need to remember to make it to the post office tomorrow to send them on their way!
Have you had much experience stitching out free-standing lace designs?
Two things burrowed their way into my subconscious during six months of not quilting this year: all the plus quilts floating around blogland / Pinterest and the new kids on the fabric block, Cotton+Steel. It shouldn’t surprise me that I brought home a fat quarter pack from the local quilt shop comprising prints from Cotton+Steel (and coordinating solids, a coordinating Cloud9 print), nor that my brain immediately thought “plus quilt”! Add in a yard of Olive Essex Yarn Dyed linen/cotton blend, et voilà: Mustang Summing.
I sketched out the layout in Illustrator, aiming for something in the 50″ range on each side, moving things around until I was happy. The arrangement that looked right used 4.5″ unfinished squares, making the quilt 48″x56″. In hindsight, I could have used 5″ squares with the fabric I had, but I have a serious problem about miscalculating the number of squares from fat quarters.
In software engineering, we say that good programmers are lazy programmers—good code doesn’t have tedious, repetitive sections because we generalize things to save typing, and automate anything we can. In quilting, I often think the adage is inverse—a good quilter is masochistic and likes using as many small pieces as possible in repetitive ways. More often than not, the engineer in me wins out. I used two 4.5″ squares and a 12.5″ rectangle for each plus rather than make them entirely from squares (except for the three that I cut wrong, which are five squares). Less cutting and less seaming makes piecing more efficient. If only I could automate the cutting with technology I have at home.
I love the warm brown/olive tone in the Essex Yarn Dyed (and how it blends into a warm gray from a distance), and let that guide my choice of quilting threads—a heavyweight russet Gutermann poly thread. I kept the quilting simple, echoing the seams, with Nature’s Touch White batting in the middle.
It took a while to solve the problem of backing and binding. The first backing yardage I purchased was too cool, the scraps from the top too few, and nothing in my stash inspired me. I finally settled on another yard dyed linen, mixed with a column of strips leftover from the top. I settled on a plain blue solid (Kona Nightfall) from the stash to bind it.
With this finish, I’ve completed more quilts this year than I did in 2013, despite not quilting for six months. Things go so much more quickly when I actually complete everything I start! As of now, the only unfinished project I’ve started this year is a corset that I spent a few hours on back in May. Not too shabby.
“Mustang Sally” was stuck in my head the entire time I worked on this quilt. Thus the name, if you can make the same mental leap I seemed to do.
Thine arms are ever warm,
Thine arms are ever warm.
Memory still shall close enfold,
Bringing us joys of days of yore;
Faith shall thy constant fame uphold,
While years, Carissima, grow cold.
We love thee evermore, We love thee evermore.
Like most residential college students, I lived in school t-shirts while pursuing my undergrad degree. Then, as I moved along in my professional career, I found myself wearing them less often (hastened by the fact that I lived a mere 15 minutes away from my alma mater). When we packed for our move to Vermont (downsizing in the process), I refused to move the bag of shirts yet again so, I spent some time one afternoon fusing on interfacing and cutting the shirts into future quilt pieces. Those took up far less room in packing boxes.
Now—eighteen months later—it took just a single evening to piece them into a quilt top. All told there are 21 shirts represented (some with multiple squares depending on their print design).
It’s a partially-complete capsule of my four years—music, dorms, publications, social justice, just plain social, and a summer internship that set me on the road to my career. I even designed a couple of the shirts (and countless posters, event invitations, and publication layouts). It’s oddly lacking in reference to my major (I still wear our hoodie) or the on-campus internship that ate up over 20 hours of every week (and a few summers).
For backing, I spray-basted two layers of fleece in the school colors (“buff & blue”, or in this case Joann Fabrics Anti-Pill Fleece in Camel and Navy Blue Tartan), then sewed the outline of an ‘H’ shaped after the official logotype. After cutting out the top layer inside the ‘H’, I zig-zag stitched around the cut out to secure it before basting the top to the two layers of fleece. Eagle-eyed readers will notice it’s slightly narrower than square; I trimmed off an inch from both sides so that I didn’t need to piece the 58″-wide backing fleece.
I chose to hand tie the quilt rather than machine quilt it for no reason other than wanting to tie a quilt. Again, I went with the school colors, using embroidery floss I had at home (DMC colors 842 and 823, inherited from my grandma). It was not easy pulling two full-thickness strands of embroidery floss through the layers, but a few TV marathon sessions (a habit started in college) and a few large tapestry needles got me through.
In my haste to finish it, I made a rookie mistake of using unwashed cotton binding (Moda Bella Solid Royal), which shrank in the wash. It’s usually not an issue—I don’t prewash fabrics so they all shrink together, but well-worn t-shirts are another matter. The result is a slightly rumpled edge and corners that like to turn up. It just adds more character in a memento of four years full of it. I’m looking forward to cozying up with this during my second Vermont winter. With two layers of fleece, it’s quite warm!
I hope you’ll forgive me for delaying this post for a couple weeks for photo purposes. It seemed fitting to wait until we drove back to Utica for a weekend, giving us a chance to take photos on “The Hill” where it all started. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it certainly brought back memories. Also, there’s no small amount of irony that the Dark Side tee anchors the quilt (as well it should, considering my dorm choices for three years), yet we took all of the photos on the light side of campus. It fits.
Early in my quilting adventures, I was guilty of starting many more projects than I finished. Case in point: this quilt started life in April 2011, but a block disappeared as I was piecing them into rows and I quickly moved on to newer, shinier projects. In the 43 months between then and now, the almost-completed top and its scrap fabric have migrated from box to bin to box, apartment to house to apartment. So consigned to oblivion, it wasn’t even mentioned in the unfinished projects lists in my yearly review posts of 2012 and 2013.
I started the top shortly after buying a Jellie roll and the book Two from One Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott. It’s made from alternating 6″ nine patches and snowball blocks, using 2.5″ strips and a background fabric for the snowball (in this case a Target cotton sheet set clearance buy). After one of the blocks went missing, I bought a charm pack of the fabric with which to recreate the stray block, but never followed through on piecing it.
The host of unfinished projects in my sewing closet has lately become mental as well as physical clutter, demanding commitment. I unboxed this one while considering co-opting the backing fabric for another quilt you’ll see soon. Instead, I finished piecing it while waiting for a different fabric to ship for the other quilt. When I opened the box, the missing block was there on top—found and again forgotten at some point over the years. A few seams, two borders (most of which were already pieced), and it was done in the span of an hour. I’m glad it was a simple quilt design; I de-stashed the book a year or two ago.
To fit the bird nest theme, I used a stashed embroidery quilting bird motif to quilt some of the snowball blocks and two of the corners. The rest of the blocks are quilted with an all-over swirl design, the borders feathered. The sheeting fabric was somewhat difficult to quilt as it didn’t glide over my machine like quilter’s cotton does, but my free-motion skills aren’t perfect anyhow. All the free motion made for quick work—it went from basted to quilted in a single evening.
And so my sixth quilt start became my thirty-second quilt finish. Working with the older piecing, I could tell how my skills have improved—small betterments became a substantial change that I hadn’t otherwise noticed. There’s also something to be said for ease of working with high-quality fabric instead of the cheap stuff this is made of.
In the end, I didn’t need that charm pack at all, although a few charms made it into the binding when I found myself short on the brown texture. Perhaps I’ll make a pillow or two to match—I still have an entire twin sheet plus scraps of the background and backing fabric. Regardless of its future, it feels great to recover the storage space and knock another unfinished project off the list.
In the realm of quilting, this is hardly an “old” project to finally finish. What’s the oldest project you’ve ever dug out of a box and finished up?
The last time I mentioned my english paper piecing project (blocks from Lucy Boston: Patchwork of the Crosses), I’d sewn together about fifteen pieces—not even half a block. That was two years ago. Unlike many of my once-mentioned (even twice-mentioned) projects, I have continued to work on this one, albeit unhurriedly.
I go through phases where I’m content basting the individual pieces to their paper foundations, and make a bit of progress that way.
Then, I go through phases of piecing some together, building blocks a bit at a time.
This is where it stands after a bit more work while we traveled to New Jersey to see family last weekend.
In another two years or so, I may even finish an entire block.
In 2012, I started a steampunk costume that never seemed to take flight. The only finished piece is the skirt stay/brooch, created in collaboration with my friend Katherine Koba (who did all the beadwork, and continues to create the mathematically-inspired jewelry in her Etsy shop).
The backstory for the character I dreamt up to costume included Ada Lovelace as her godmother, inspiring her to tool about with Babbage’s analytical engines. While the character is fictitious, Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was not—she’s considered the first computer programmer, having theorized how the Analytical Engine could do calculations decades before an electronic computer was built. So, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day (the middle Tuesday of October every year), here is a post about the brooch (finally!).
With computers, everything boils down to zeros and ones—electric current on or off. Calculations are performed by circuits of varying complexities. One of the more basic is called a full adder, which we modeled this brooch after. As you might guess from the name, it adds numbers together.
In the beadwork, the inputs are splayed across the top and the results (sum and carryover) are dangling from the bottom, with the gates and intermediate results between. The smaller, purplish beads are numbers—1 or 0—and the larger orange and gold represent the logic gates—gold for AND, orange for XOR. The white beads are filler for the paths between the gates.
The beadwork is mounted on a base made from bicycle gears (we can pretend they’re from an analytical engine) that were superglued together and spray-painted. I can’t speak for Koba, but I think sizing the wires correctly was the most difficult part of this—particularly since the gears and I were in Utica, and Koba and the beads were in South Korea!
Plumleigh can’t do any actual calculations with this full adder, but it certainly is a fun accessory to wear while she fiddles with a real set of circuits solving any manner of problem.
Projects like this are just one of the myriad ways STEM sneaks into my crafting. How does it influence your hobbies?
A group of us are starting a Modern Quilt Guild here in Vermont. It’s very exciting, but also a bit drudging trying to get everything set up and official and to get the ball rolling with actual guild-type stuff rather than being all about business, business, business, and “do we want to be MQG-official?”, et cetera.
At our September meeting, we had our first demo, potholders based on the ones in Zakka Style—a great demo idea, since it shows all the steps of quilting in one small package. To encourage members to try out the skills and techniques, we’re charged with bringing a completed potholder of any type to the next meeting.
I thought I should tackle two to-do items at once and get a head start on xmas gifts, so I made a matching set for a friend. I’ve been saving a charm pack of BasicGrey Origins for almost three years now, purchased with this friend in mind. I paired it with stashed ivory linen, a brown texture print from JoAnn Fabrics (I had nothing in my stash that matched the linen and charms. Amazing!), and an embroidery from Urban Threads.
After I finished, I remembered that we said we’d do a swap at the meeting, so I made a third for that (a great time to incorporate what I learned from earlier mistakes!).
That time around, I cut the binding as a 2.5″ strip instead of the 3″ that I used for the other two, since I wasn’t entirely happy with the width. Next time, I know to use 2.75″; 2.5″ is slightly too narrow for me to machine finish cleanly.
I pieced the 2.5″ hexies by machine (not perfect, but nothing a liberal amount of steam couldn’t handle), and turned them into a pouch for better gripping (making the pretty side the won’t-get-shoved-into-food-accidentally side, which makes the ivory far more practical). All three are 8.5″ square, with a layer of Insul-Bright and low-loft cotton batting between. I do wish I’d remembered to add a hanging loop to my friend’s, and am not entirely happy with the contrast quilting on the back (which makes the un-quilted, embroidered area even more obvious).
As for the guild, join us the last Sunday of every month, 10am-noon, at Nido in Burlington!
A bit sooner than anticipated (prompted by a comment from a reader), here’s the next edition of my Half-baked Blueprint series. Remember, these are not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
Three years ago, I pieced the Lollipop Baby Quilt quilt improvisationally, initially aiming at creating a straight-forward Jelly Roll Race quilt (albeit with a strange non-standard roll of half-strips). Halfway through, I paused to do a few quick math calculations and chose to piece it in four sections.
Supplies for the Quilt Top
20 2.5″ x width of fabric strips
All of your strips are between 40-44″ long, with the selvages removed.
You’re piecing straight across the strips, not diagonally as in some Jelly Roll Race quilts.
If you want to piece the strips diagonally, you’ll need three (3) extra strips, 23 total.
You’re sewing the strips together with an exact 1/4″ seam allowance.
Jelly Roll Race quilt measurements are inexact by nature—the whole point is to just sew everything together and square it up at the end, if needed. Piecing blocks is largely the opposite—you need relatively precise measurements so that everything joins up correctly. To mesh the two, you need to be willing to deal with both.
The (Mostly) Inexact Parts
This is just basic Jelly Roll Race quilt making, but you stop mid-way through.
Sew all 20 strips together, end to end. You should have a strip that is at least 800″ long. If it is shorter, you need to add one more strip. If it is longer, that’s great. Most of the time, it should end up around 820″ long at this point.
Cut exactly in half, then sew the two strips together along the long side. Now, you should have something that is 4.5″ x 400″ or longer. Square up the ragged end if needed, but try to not cut off too much.
Cut in half, sew along the long side, result should be 8.5″ x 200″ or longer (4 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
Once more. Cut in half, sew, result should be 16.5″ x 100″ or longer (8 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
The (Mostly) Precise Parts
The finished quilt is just 6 squares cut from your strip set.
Cut six 16.5″ blocks off (you should have a few inches leftover—discard it, use it on the back, or in a different project), then sew the blocks together in three rows, where rows one and three have stripes vertically, row two has them horizontally.
You now have a completed quilt top.
A whole standard jelly roll can make a 48″x64″ quilt. You’ll use 40 strips. You’ll start with a pieced strip 1600″ or more long. Your finished strip set will still be 8 strips tall (16.5″), but 200″ or longer, and you’ll cut 12 squares. Just remember, not all rolls have the same number of strips, and you’ll need more strips than a standard jelly roll if you piece diagonally (46 strips total).
Rather than cut six blocks, you can cut two off of your strip set for the middle row, then sew the remaining length into a 16-strip-wide strip set and cut that in half for rows 1 and 3—this is a little less exact, but will let you use up the full length rather than discarding the remaining few inches leftover after cutting blocks. Doing it that way likely accounts for the longer length of my quilt.
Good luck with your own quilt-making!
Caveat: I donated the quilt to the Linus Project a few months after finishing it in 2011, so I’m working partially from memory/partially by working out the math and logic again in 2014. The latter has some contradictions to the original post, such as the finished size. I claimed that the original quilt is ~36″ × 51″, but my current math concludes that it should be 32″ × 48″. My best explanation is that I must have (really) sloppily measured the unwashed, finished quilt and rounded up. I feel confident that the new measurements are correct (plus or minus an inch or two to account for piecing/cutting/shrinking deviations).
It’s been a long time since I followed a quilt pattern. The last twenty quilts I’ve made have been largely or completely my own designs, or my own take on something I’ve seen. The hardest technical part is doing the math and figuring out if I have the right amount of fabric for what I’ve chosen to do, but simply believing that I don’t need a pattern was a huge initial hurdle. Remembering that hurdle, I’m starting this Half-baked Blueprint series. They’re not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. The rail fence “Noble Blooms” quilt from earlier this year is a good place to start. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
40.5″ square quilt, made from 25 8″ finishing blocks
Starting with 24 2.5″ x width of fabric strips…
Sew six strip sets of four strips each…
Cut four 8.5” blocks from each strip set, totaling 24 blocks.
Then, cut a 4.5” x 8.5” section off two of the strip sets and sew those together to create one more 8.5” block.
Alternative: if your strips have 42.5″ of usable width (after you remove selvages), you can get all 25 blocks from only 20 strips—5 blocks per strip set, and no pieced extra block. Some strips will have this width, others won’t; each manufacturer, fabric line, and even bolt varies on the total width of fabric.
Basic: Five rows of five blocks each, alternating the direction of each block.
Intermediate: use values of the strips within blocks to create secondary patterns (sketch it before piecing or use a design wall).
Advanced: solve the n-queens problem with your placement like I did to please my nerdy mind (no block is on the same horizontal, vertical, or diagonal as another of the same block set).
Go Further (optional):
Use embellishment or applique to personalize it
Add borders to make it larger
Add asymmetrical borders to play with negative space
My Decision-making Process
What caused me to make the choices in my own quilt? In this case, form followed supplies and time. I had a Rolie Polie of 23 2.5″ strips, a 54″ square piece of Minky, a stash to draw from for binding, but nothing much that coordinated with the Rolie Polie otherwise. And, I had about a week and a half to make the quilt.
Rail fence blocks can be arranged in any number of ways. Since I had four distinct color and value groups (brown, pink, green, beige) with an equal number of strips in the roll (more or less), I was inspired to make all of my strip-sets with one strip of each from darkest to light. Because I could only cut four blocks from each strip set, I had to add one additional strip from my stash to the Rolie Polie, and piece a block together from two half blocks to make 25. As I mentioned above, the layout of blocks was mostly to appease my problem-solving mind (although I deviated with the planned layout for the half-and-half block and another spot where I flipped a block when sewing rows and didn’t want to rip).
I wanted to personalize it, since the recipient’s sibling’s quilt had her initials in the quilting, so I chose to applique her first initial and a crown (playing off the meaning of her name) in one corner, using one of the few FQs in my stash that matched the other fabrics. You can download a printable version for your own project (if you want a curly, be-crowned ‘G’).
Quilting possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I used a large-scale, all-over flowery free motion motif based on the flowers in the fabric for two reasons: it could be done quickly, and was a good project for me to play with free-motion on. I chose to use a cream-to-brown variegated thread because it was the best match in my stash, but also because it blended the quilting into the varied colors of the fabrics.
Because I worked with 2.5″ strips, the math on this was simple. But, that didn’t mean everything went to plan. I didn’t measure the width of the strips, so I couldn’t cut my planned five blocks from each strip set and had to improvise by finding a 24th strip (actually, two 21″ strips from a fat quarter) and piecing a block together from the leftovers of other strips sets. Sure, it meant reevaluating the block layout I’d planned initially (as well as choice of binding, as I’d planned to use the leftover strips and that fat quarter as the binding), but in the end, I am pleased with the final quilt (and, I like the solid binding far more than I think I would have liked the original plan). In the blueprint above, I went with the assumption that you might also run into this issue.