Monday, January 23, 2023

The Magic of Stitching Retreats!

I'm just home from a 4-day stitching retreat in rural central Ohio!  Do you have the opportunity to get away from your at-home sewing area and devote yourself to some stitching?  I hope so because I find it's a great way to refresh my state of mind!

I've been hosting and attending retreats for many years.  I've graduated (finally) from taking more than two people could accomplish in the allotted time to a reasonable assortment that keeps me busy and delivers a morale boost of reaching a few goals (not necessarily "finishes").   This time I also limited myself to hand work -- easier to transport myself!

Sometimes I use a retreat as a time to start that new BIG project, but this time I focused on six projects with the goal to make progress on each.  The first was a small wallhanging I whipped up last week from a long-hoarded fabric and maple leaf blocks left over from my big fall leaf quilt finished 15 years or more ago.  Because I didn't have to do any piecing, it was set together in an afternoon and quilted in two more sessions.  I want to hang it during February (the beginning of maple syrup season here in Northeast Ohio) so the first retreat project was to finish the binding and add a casing!

Now it's ready to hang!!

Finishing a project was a great start to the weekend!
And now I can let go of the hoard of "maple sugaring time" fabric! 
Leave a comment below if you'd like to buy a hunk off of me!

Then I turned to an old teaching sample -- these 12 blocks were buried on my UFO shelf with the book.  Before the weekend, I pieced the rest of the background blocks and finished prepping a couple of the circles for applique.  During the weekend, I worked on the applique a few blocks at a time between other projects.  Now all of them are appliqued and ready to be trimmed and organized into a small wallhanging when I get motivated -- having the blocks ready will make it easier to get going again.

Friday morning after a good night's sleep, it was time to take on one of the big goals for the weekend -- get the borders attached to the "mystery" EPP quilt top I made last year. It was designed and shared by Jemima's Creative Quilting in Australia.  
(She will be starting a new one February 6, 2023 -- preliminary info HERE!!)
I appliqued the pointy edges and machine stitched the straight edges so having an empty table to work on was the main reason for doing this during the retreat!?!
I pieced the border print to maintain the up/down direction of the print all the way around the quilt top so to make the best use of the yardage I had.  That gave me the opportunity to share a trick I use when matching for invisible seams with other retreat participants.  I took photos so I can share it with you, too!

My strips are cut from repeated sections of the print and are longer than needed.
Lay the two pieces to be joined end to end, wrong side up and press back about l/2" on one.
Flip both strips to the right side.
Now move the right hand (pressed under seam) onto the left hand strip.
It you focus on the pinkish flowers repeating along the middle of the strip, it will be easier to follow what is happening.
Keep moving the right end towards the left until it aligns with the print on the left strip.
My finger is just under the edge of the right side so you can see how easy it is to achieve a good match.
Without moving the left strip, flip the right strip right side down onto the left strip holding the seam in place so it doesn't shift.  One of the other gals suggested using a temporary sticky thing like glue or two-sided tape -- great idea!!
Time to stitch!
I press the seam open to make it flatter and even less obvious.
The seam is at the end of the pin, but I can't see it -- can you??
Now I need to organize a backing -- preferably out of my stash -- and decide whether to machine or hand quilt this one.

I also layered my Homage to Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt top -- big empty table again!  I've decided to machine quilt this top and have a plan for that in my head -- hope to start next week!  There is a regional show in April where I'd like to exhibit it.

Once I had those four goals accomplished I lost a lot of my focus but I had a couple other projects in progress with me so puttered with them prepping for next steps.

When I got home Sunday noon I was still pumped to stitch so spent part of the afternoon organizing borders for a tablerunner UFO I'm upcycling into a twin size quilt for a charitable project -- more about that another time.  

This week, I'll focus on quilting the Sakura strippy quilt top I made earlier this month out of my 2 1/2" strip stash (see the last post). 

The retreat has energized me and I just want to spend all day with a needle!!
It was great to see what other quilters are doing -- there were some great projects happening and I have a few new ideas (which I don't really need) which adds to the energy!

Have a good week!!

PS -- If you live in central Ohio, the Central Ohio Modern Quilt Guild is hosting the lovely and creative Nicole Young of Lillyella Stitchery at this event next month!!  
The venue is gorgeous and the tickets are limited to 100 so don't hesitate! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

It's been a GREAT day!!

The design wall is empty today!!  My version of Katja Marek's Homage to Grandmother's Flower Garden is completed -- well, the top is finished!!  
I've spent part of everyday since New Year's Day assembling the subsections into bigger sections until there were two diagonal halves.  All that was left to stitch were dozens of 3/4" seams -- stitch one, stitch a "sew-off", stitch another, and so on.

My goal was to finish the piecing by the time I leave for a retreat in a week where I started this project last winter.  Managing my neck arthritis is challenging.  It dictates how long I can sit at my sewing  machine, so I'm trying to develop a new habit of stopping before my neck starts to hurt.
The "set-in piecing simplified" technique I use to machine piece hexagons needs a "sew-off" at the end of every seam, so I've been going through dozens of them this week.  

On New Year's Eve day (itchy to start a new project), I sorted through my 2 1/2" strip stash and cut everything for a scrappy strip quilt that has been on my "want to piece" list for a while.  It is a take-off of a jelly roll quilt -- Sakura Sun (by Linda Fitch for RJR Fabrics).  Stitching the pieces into the bands was my first set of sew-offs.
Bonus -- getting up and down to press the bands as they were finished is a good mini-break from the machine and my neck appreciated that!!
165 sew-offs later and the bands were ready to put on the design wall -- well, that's exciting!!  
I spent an hour moving the bands around a bit to control some "hot-spots" --
like this hot pink/orange/red piece on the left that was screaming at me from the other side of the room.
Quick tip here -- I switched it with another more subtle "warm color" piece and settled it up against another red/orange piece to calm it down.
Much better!!
Of course, once the layout felt right I had to sew the bands together and finish the top immediately!?!
I added three more bands than the pattern specified to achieve a "tall" laprobe size. 
Time to hunt for some more sew-offs and get back to work on Homage!

It has been my habit for over a decade to use UFO's that have stalled out at the piecing stage as "sew-offs" -- two birds, one stone.  This piece surfaced sometime in November while I was hunting for something else so I laid out what was pieced on the floor and have been stepping over it for two months.  
No cutting needed as I had done that whenever I started it.
And more set-in piecing -- so I was on a roll!
I see-sawed back and forth between the two projects 
adding the honeycombs to the layout.  I cut a few more of the hexa-poly shapes to finish the outer edges and . . . . . 
. . . . . then there it was, the very last 3/4" seam of Homage!!
And here it is in all it's glory!
All the fabric is from my stash.
Rotary cut with the little hexagon in Marti Michell's template Set N.
It is completely machine pieced using the "set-in piecing simplified" technique that I taught.
The top is about 64" wide by 60" long and I won't add a border.
The backing is ready and I'll take it to the retreat next week to layer it (and show off)!
I even have ideas in mind for how I'll quilt it by machine!?!
My wheels will spin for a day or two now while I refocus and pick up the next project.
That's where all my lists come in handy -- minimizes the wheel spinning!

Keep stitching out there!!


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Out with the "old" and In with the "new"

Here we are again -- at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year!  I'm not sure why these few days always fill me with a sense of excitement?  Is it getting to "the end" of lots of stuff -- goals, frustrations -- or the anticipation of "the new" -- more goals, a clean slate, anticipation?  Whatever it is, I'm ready as usual to move into the new year eagerly.

I finished up some gift sewing this week and can share them here because my family doesn't read my blog and by the end of the day tomorrow, everyone will have their gifts.

I only made one small quilt -- a combination housewarming/holiday gift for my oldest daughter who is also my birding sidekick.  It was a holiday/winter panel which is about a year old -- I chopped it up a bit and added sashing and borders to upsize it to a laprobe.

 I organized a set of  pint-size aprons for the triplets since they love to help their parents in the kitchen.  

Then I pulled out this old pattern (from when their Dad was a toddler) and made this funky shirt for the boy.

Adapting some t-shirts into fairy dresses for the girls intimidated me for a couple weeks after I found the perfect fairy skirt netting but once I started, they came together just fine and I've paired them with leggings.  Given how often the girls pick out their fairy dresses for the day, I think they will be popular with the two girls.

I tallied up my success list for the 2022 goal of reducing the UFO stash by 36 pieces -- 24 finishes and 12 eliminations was the goal.  I exceeded that by reducing the UFO's by 40 which included 21 finishes and 19 eliminations!!  Excellent!!

(I think) I have 17 UFO's left plus some orphan odds and ends and 8 antique/vintage quilt tops left.  Those remaining projects will comprise part of my 2023 goals!

I spent an afternoon last week outlining five new goals (none as big as the last couple years).

  1.  Finish six more UFO's from the leftover 2022 list.  Most of the remaining UFO's are small projects so that feels doable!

2.  Quilt the new tops I made in 2022 -- there are just five so a little progress every week could be the key. 

3.  Spurred by my finish of the vintage rail fence (above) quilt a couple days ago, I'm determined to deal with all the antique/vintage quilt tops I own -- there are nine currently and selling is a valid option.  One is already listed in my Etsy shop for sale.  I got so excited while reviewing these quilt tops, I dove into some repair work already that is needed on this one.  It's a delightful collection of fabric from the late 1800's.

4. If/when I start new projects, I am going to chose from a list of seven that I've wanted to make for a while.  Several are just a hoarded pattern at this point. One is an applique block of the month that we kitted and sold in my shop (30 years ago).  My Mom bought all the kits but never started them, so the plan is to do it as a BOM in 2023.  I'll be elated if I finish that top!!   

Another one is a "scrap buster" strip quilt and the 2 1/2" strip box needs a big thinning so that could be a quick stitch-up -- no cutting?

The challenge for me on this one will be to not be led astray by some shiny "new" pattern -- every one of the seven projects in that stack are irresistible ideas -- that's why they are in the stack so I just need to stay enchanted!!

5. The final goal for the year is to rehome twelve finished quilts.  I'm doing this as a favor to my kids -- twelve less for them to rehome during the big clear out in the future!?!  I gave away or sold 22 this past year but there are still lots left.  It's hard to let go of quilts I've made and love.  It takes a focused effort to work up to letting one go but I would like to see more of them being used instead of being stacked up?!?  

There are currently two twin size blue and yellow quilts listed in my Etsy shop for sale.  They are scrappy in nature and the same layout so would be a lovely set but they are listed as single quilts so you could buy one!!

So have I inspired you to set a quilting goal for 2023?  You don't need to be as enthusiastic as I get but goals can be very motivating.  If you've never done this, pick out a project you really want to finish or start -- look it over and determine what effort is needed to finish -- break that down into six parts and then try to finish one part every month for the next six months.  I think if you try using goals to motivate your quilting efforts, you'll enjoy your success and find ways to build on this new habit.  It sure has worked for me!!  I think I could actually run out of UFO's in the next couple years!!

Best wishes for a peaceful New Year!!


P.S. And a big thanks for continuing to follow along with my musings!!

Friday, December 9, 2022

Quilting Reflections

The quilting is well underway -- 30 to 45 minutes a day so I don't ruin my neck and shoulders and back for the remainder of the day.  I'd like to work longer since the project is going so well but I've learned  that steady does it better.  I'm close to the halfway point and have worked out all the design decisions needed.

I started with the plain square in the center and while a fancy feather circle might have fit the square nicely, in my opinion it didn't suit the simple style of the quilt.  A pumpkin seed flower which is easy for me -- a series of arcs which are well within my comfort zone is all that is needed.
Not only is it a simple motif for me to machine quilt, it influenced the designs for other blocks because repetition in design is a good strategy visually. It also saves mental energy for me -- fewer ideas to sort through in my mind because I can focus on how to fit that design element into the blocks.
I try my ideas out with a chalk wheel -- drawing directly on the fabric to help my brain make a quicker decision about a design idea.  I've long abandoned the idea that I should be able to "visualize" -- I need to see it.  That saves me so much mental energy (which seems to be in shorter supply as I age).
Each of these blocks is repeated four times throughout the quilt so after the first block is quilted, it's easy to quilt the remaining blocks because all the hard thinking work is done.
I'm quilting the balance of the quilt with a diagonal grid.  It's simple so fits the style of the patchwork and besides, I was totally intimidated by the idea of trying to develop a design that would "reinforce" the graphic lines of the patchwork.  
Looking at antique quilt photos, I was reminded that the simple grid is a solid solution.
The trickiest part of planning a grid over patchwork is getting the spacing between the lines sorted out.  I used the chalk wheel to plan the spacing but when the reality of slight block size differences started to "mess up" my plan, I found that quilting a line from corner to corner  (which you can barely see on the right side of this picture) and then spacing the three lines (fairly) evenly between is working best.  
On the left side, you see inconsistent spacing that is the result of this strategy, but when the quilt is finished and laying out across a bed, those will just blend into the overall appearance of the quilt. 

Since I don't listen or watch "content" while I'm piecing or quilting, I get pretty reflective.

Working on this quilt has led to some 2023 planning reflection. If you've followed my musings here for several years, you know that I'm into BIG annual quilt making goals.  There was the year I set out to use 212 yards of my stash.  And that massive 2021 goal to quilt 21 quilt tops by the end of the year.

Those goals keep me motivated even though I'm only accountable to myself.  And I'm learning to be a bit flexible about reaching the goals.  For example, this year I wanted to finish 24 UFO's and eliminate 12 UFO's.  I'm not going to make the finishing goal (but I'll get to 20 which is very satisfying) but I have already exceeded the eliminating goal with 18 projects (no projects were harmed in this quest to "get real" -- sold, canceled, repurposed, or abbreviated).

Plus striving for each of those goals has impacted my skill set in very positive ways!
Shopping in my stash first is so easy because I made myself do it for an entire year.
Eliminating projects and focusing on pieces I "really" want to do has reduced the mental burden of all those old UFO's which no longer interest me on any level.  (So huge!!)
And this week, I'm realizing that all that machine quilting in 2021 has made the process of finishing a quilt top into a quilt much easier and very satisfying with lots less procrastination.

If you are in the habit of rambling around your quilt making or your knitting or whatever craft you practice, consider setting a goal to maintain more focus, build skills, and garner more satisfaction in your work.  Start by taking "inventory" of the stuff.
Then determine a priority.
That priority will help you set a goal.
And the timeline doesn't need to be an entire year if you don't think you can stay focused that long 
(but trying to might just surprise you).
A six month or three month goal can be just as motivating.  Even a month.

I'm just starting my annual "inventory" and there are two areas I'm considering.
One is the pile of antique quilt tops -- there are nine and I know they will be a problem for my heirs to disperse.  If there is any provenance, I know it but they won't.  The top my mother set together with blocks made for her by an aunt needs to stay in the family.  There are a couple that were given to me because people didn't know what to do (except not thrown them away).  There is one I could not resist at a flea market.  If I go with this as a goal, dealing with one a month could accomplish it easily and I would have 3 months to lose focus??
The other is the stack of quilt patterns I want "to make". 
Well, that's what makes quilting fun isn't it?  Starting a new project!
So perhaps picking the top four would be stimulating (but of course, I would want to finish each one in 2023 so as not to grow new UFO piles)?
And of course, there are still UFO's lurking in the corners --- argghhh?!?

The pondering continues!

I hope you are getting into some holiday frivolity this month after a couple years of so much less -- baking or going out to lunch with a friend or caroling or enjoying the winter lights.

Talk soon!


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

One of Those Days!

It's one of those days!  I'm on fire -- everything is going better than expected.  The arthritis is calm, the bed sheets are hanging outside to dry (perhaps the last time this year),

I baked cranberry bread to share and eat, even froze extra cranberries
 for winter scones and bread,
and started to layer up an antique quilt top that I've owned for over 25 years
. . . . and that was all before noon!?!

Oh, and the sewer backed up in the basement . . . . . . . . . 


well, at least it did it on a "perky" day.  This has become an annual event and I should have called for a clean-out a month ago and I did think about it, but . . . . . . you know how that goes.  Happily, I have My Plumber on speed dial and the receptionist knows my name and the plumbers know where the clean out is and where to plug in the electric?!?
They'll be here late this afternoon and I've already cleaned up the mess inside.
(Should I resent the fact that I know how to use a shop vac?)

But I didn't let it ruin my day -- nope!
I'm going to show you some fun details about this antique quilt top!

I bought it in Texas during Quilt Festival about 30 years ago.  It was the inspiration for my (least successful) pattern -- Farmer's Medallion -- and I've tried to sell the top a few times but it's still here so I'm taking that as a sign to finish it and use it (gently).

Since there has been a real lack of progress on my 2022 goal -- only one small finish of a UFO for the past month -- and George (my APQS quilting machine) has been sitting ideal since late August, it's an easy project to tackle right now.  
This top is on my target list of UFO's to finish and well suited to simple quilting.
Then when I found enough fabric in the stash for the backing and enough batting -- karma!!

The first thing about this quilt top that caught my eye was the fabric -- lots of circa 1900 shirting plaids with a sprinkling of 1880's calicos.  But when I opened it up and started to study it, WOW!  
The woman who pieced this had a strong sense of graphic design.
(I've looked for a published "pattern" but finding none, I give her full design credit.)
Focus on the navy plaid.
If you trace it from one side of the picture to the opposite, you'll begin to see the graphic design and this repeats on all four sides and is echoed in the corners.

Identical blocks are positioned symmetrically around the quilt.  The 4-patches are in the corners,

 the 9-patches are at the center of each side, 
and the simple squares are centered around a large simple center block.
The rest of the blocks are a simple scrappy design rendered in "coordinated" values all the time and colors some of the time. 
I wish I could have watched her planning and piecing process -- it's so organized it seems planned but yet, the scrappy aspect of some of the fabrics implies spontaneity as well.  There are pink prints in specific locations but there is a variety of pink prints.  That black calico at the top edge of this block is likely a mourning print and there are just ten pieces in the quilt -- precious scraps from her mother or grandmother?

There are quite a few "patched" bits which aren't as apparent from the front as from the back.  This is something we rarely do in our work today because we have so much fabric and it's so easy to buy more.  But there's a kinship to be felt when you "patch" bits together to get a big enough triangle or square.  
And it's okay -- so much historic precedence exists in vintage quilts!! 
I wrote the pattern first as a mystery quilt for the regional quilt group here in Northeast Ohio and then went on to publish it.  I found a picture of one of the "mystery" versions made by my friend and student, Mary from Ravenna.  Even without seeing a picture of the quilt, she was able to achieve the strong graphic medallion of the original quilt top using just my guidelines for  value placement (dark, medium, light).
Would any of you be interesting in having a copy of the pattern?
Let me know in the comments.  I might still have a few copies around here?

The holiday lists are upon us and the pandemic is no longer quite so scary but I don't think the holidays will be quite the same as before Covid.  I'm trying to think how to enjoy less harried holidays this year -- easing back into "celebration" mode.
How about you?

Wishing you a peaceful start to December!

P.S.  I'm changing my email address -- the new one will be 
maryhueyquilts47 at gmail dot com
Make a note because the old one will be closed during December.