Monday, May 6, 2024

Scrappy Quilts for the Win

 Another long pause from me -- I'm thinking I might be about finished with my blogging career if that's what its been?  I've always created my posts with a goal to teach or share something useful to other quilt makers but having stepped largely away from the more active part of the quilting world, I have few ideas to share that seem new to me.  I feel like I've said everything I can about finishing projects and working with scraps and using tools effectively and staying true to your own creative energy.

The current "sewing with scraps" interest continues for me and yesterday I happily began to assemble the scrappy log cabin blocks into a large throw.   It will take a couple more sessions to assemble it completely -- an hour at the sewing machine is my current time limit (thanks arthritis!?!).

I'm so pleased with the results -- the quilt has so much sparkle (it's the turquoise and orange scraps).
 I estimate it used 4 3/4 yards of fabric even though the 1 1/2" strip box is still half full . . .   
. . . and there are still pre-cut logs on the mat.
Perhaps there needs to be more log cabin blocks pieced -- maybe a couple wheelchair lap robes?

And bonus!!
All the hourglass units are pieced for the next quilt top -- I used them as "leaders and enders".
They aren't quite as consistent in size as I  had hoped -- turns out the starter charm pak squares weren't actually 5" square so the accurate 5" squares I cut to fill out the assortment are bigger making for some lopsided hourglass units.  
Do you know how much I dislike trimming???

A dozen years ago, I started using UFO's as "leaders and enders" and that strategy worked so well and I finished so many piecing UFO's that now I have to start new projects so I have productive "leaders and enders".  By the time, I finish piecing one quilt, I often have most of the units done for a new quilt (although it makes for a very messy cutting table?!?).

The little scrappy star quilt top is all set together -- it is suppose to be a charity quilt but it hasn't been donated yet -- well, it's not finished.  
Am I delaying because I like it a little too much???
I also pulled out a very old UFO and got it quilted this past month.
It's a Mary Ellen Hopkins log cabin idea using the six colorways of the print I colored for Kings Road Imports back in the mid-1990's. I challenged one of my quilter clubs to make something using all the colorways and this was my friend, Laura's make.  A few years ago, she was having a "thin-out" and gave the top to me.  Now it's hanging in my sewing room where I can see it from the sewing machine!
 I need to focus on quilting tops for a month now -- they are piling up a bit more than I like at this point.  This afternoon, I'll layer the Exploding Heart top I made last winter for a graduation quilt for my oldest granddaughter. 
Graduation is in 2 1/2 weeks -- yikes, Mary -- cutting it a bit close aren't you??

I'm not even mentioning all the normal distractions of spring here.
This gorgeous fellow and three side-kicks have been here all day -- foraging in the oak tree and taking turns sucking up sunflower seeds from the feeder.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
And I can hardly tear myself away from the back windows with a clear view of the yard!!

Time to get that quilt layered.
I hope spring is settling into place where you are!!


Thursday, April 11, 2024

One Thing Leads to Another . . . .

 . . . . . unfortunately?!?

 At least, that's what is going on here the past couple of weeks.

Does the whole world know that Northeast Ohio (my home base) was in the totality path of Monday's eclipse?  Family members from the east and the west came to experience it and so I was cleaning and preparing for a short spurt of houseguests which requires three sleeping areas.  I have two guest rooms but to make the third space, my sewing room had to host a cot.

To make space for the cot, I needed to fold down one end of my big cutting table so not only did I need to clear out the supplies that live under that end of the table, I had to clear off at least that end of the table.  While that isn't a difficult task the combination of dealing with a messy box of scraps and the temptation of having that cutting mat cleared off (30" by 36") was more than I could resist.

You guessed it!!  Pro-quiltinating was triggered because tidying up the scraps coincided with a couple of ideas that merged into one project and now seem to be spawning another project.

Here's how it went.  It all started last summer when Robin Pickens introduced a new fabric line -- Wild Blossoms which featured a stunning edge-to-edge print.  In her blog post in March 2023 (click HERE), she shared her ideas for some table runner layouts using that print and a group of 3" blocks she was piecing for the Moda Sewcialites 2 sewalong.   When the fabric became available, I ordered a yard intending to do the same.  

But the 3" blocks weren't happening -- just looking at the tiny pieces put me off.  Then I came across Terry Rowland's colorwash scrap quilt on Instagram (click HERE).  Her blocks reminded me of little single-round log cabin blocks -- so much simpler than tiny piecing!!  Out came my Marti Michell 1" finished strip Log Cabin ruler and the box of 1 1/2" cut strips and I was off.  I have finished setting the strip of 3" log cabin blocks in between strips of pale greens and the Wild Blossoms print.  It's around 84" long and 16" wide -- yes, I have a long table.  Now for a backing -- can I do that without leaving the stash??
Have you used one of Marti's Log Cabin rulers -- there are four?  I have to admit I scoffed when she first introduced them but since I was working as an educator for her products at the time, I had to learn to use them and teach with them.  
It took one block to turn me into a reformed log cabin fanatic!
As I was cutting the colorwash blocks for the runner, I realized I had an overflowing box of strips that needed used so why not start a new quilt at the same time?!?  Everything I needed was at hand!!

I don't need to explain to you how to use the tool because Marti has an excellent series of YouTube videos that go through the process and why it leads to superior blocks -- uniform and square!
I watched all of them last week again and she is such a thorough teacher!
The cutting is progressing in 20 minutes sessions as I clean up the pile of scraps (and a forgotten box full found under the cutting table) but I'm not allowed to start piecing until I get this star quilt top set together.  (Well, maybe just one block to see how it looks . . . )
After all, it will be a perfect leader/ender project while I piece these 280 hourglass blocks I cut last week???
That project started as an attempt to use up a 5" charm pak of 30's prints but of course one pak doesn't yield very many hourglass units so I had to get out the 30's stash and cut another 156 5" squares!?!  
It's okay I tell myself -- I'm sewing my stash, sewing my stash!!
Besides, I need one block on the design wall to use as a guide for which direction to travel through the piecing . . . . right?
On top of all that, I wrote this blog post -- guess who doesn't like to clean??
Pro-quiltinating rules!!


P.S. The eclipse was pretty amazing!!  And the first thing I did when everyone left on Tuesday was open the cutting table back up!!

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Quilts to Share

 Sometime in the late 1980's, my husband, youngest child and I were on a short weekend camping trip to Western Pennsylvania.   As I recall the two of them were out, perhaps on a bike ride and I was on my own for a bit -- maybe birding, maybe walking, maybe stitching??  I was in a reflective mood triggered by something I no longer recall, but what I do remember is deciding that if I was going to continue to "work" as a quiltmaker/shop owner/teacher I needed to start being more generous with my skills.   I loved my work and did it mostly for myself, because it was so enjoyable - but I felt at the time there needed to be more than personal enjoyment.

And so began a new commitment to sharing quilts as often as possible.  Over the past thirty-plus years, the count of "quilts to share" that I've either produced myself or organized a group of quilters to produce is a lost number but I'm sure there have been hundreds.

Last week I shared a couple batches of wheelchair size lap robes - an easy size for me to handle in spite of the increasing restrictions of my arthritis!   I can experiment with ideas and block designs in a small way and quilt them without crippling myself -- that means I can keep stitching!

Today another quilt I donated to Homegrown National Park went up for auction!!
It's my version of Pamalamajo Designs Whirly Weeds quilt.
Even though I don't enjoy machine applique, I did enjoy making this quilt since it merged my enjoyment of nature and making and sharing quilts!
I donated it to the first Homegrown National Park Auction which began today and ends on March 17.  The quilt is item #26 of fifty-two (really great) items.
Anyone can bid -- HERE IS THE LINK.
UPDATE - 3/19/2024 -- the quilt sold for $400!!
If you are one of the growing number of native plant gardeners in the USA, you may already know about the Homegrown National Park movement triggered by the books of Doug Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware.  His book, Bringing Nature Home, has opened the hearts and minds of thousands of Americans about the dangers of diminishing natural diversity.
The Instagram account @homegrownnationalpark has almost 70,000 followers.
The Facebook page has 22,000 followers.
And the website is full of native plant resources tailored to every region of the USA.

HERE IS A LINK to my favorite Doug Tallamy talk -- I hope you'll listen if you haven't already heard him speak -- his ideas are compelling and doable and lots of other folks agree!!

Bring nature into your backyard or patio or balcony!
And then "get on the map" -- my 60' by 200' suburban lot is part of the 5000 acres in Ohio where homeowners have started to rejuvenate natural biodiversity by planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs.  I'm on a mission to pass the 75% native plants mark in my own yard by the end of this summer.  My casual observations of native insects -- bees, wasps, beetles, and butterflies -- has increased over the past three years thanks to native flowering plants which makes my yard more fun.  I have more fireflies in summer and more birds year round than adjacent yards thanks to the changes I'm making in my gardens and yard.

Homegrown National Park is a rallying platform for this movement so check it out!! 



Saturday, February 24, 2024

Alternative Piecing -- The Esther Block

A warm welcome to visitors from the Esther Block Sew Along!  My name is Mary Huey and at this point, I'm a retired quilt making teacher and shop owner who is now committed to puttering my way through a very deep fabric stash!!  I enjoy machine piecing more than just about anything because it's served me so well for so many years.  As I settle into retirement I do find myself doing and enjoying more hand stitching including English paper piecing.  Late in 2023, a local hand-stitching group to which I belong was exploring possible new projects and we found the Esther block and the sister-duo of Laura and Sara leading it.  
(My readers can learn more about the Esther block and read the monthly block design challenges over at

I decided to test the block for size using the machine-piecing technique for set-in seams that I've taught for the past decade and posted my block on Instagram -- Laura and Sara inquired and we made a plan for me to share my process with all of you this month.

I'm going to focus on how I pieced the Esther block but if you are interested in a longer explanation of how I came to use a chain-piecing strategy with set-in seams, click HERE for a previous post that shares that piece of my history.

I am a huge Marti Michell template fan -- okay, I was an educator for the company and I have most of the templates -- so my first stop is always "the templates".  Below you can see six templates -- all from Marti's Set G -- which I used.  Notice the holes drilled in each corner -- perfect for marking "stop and start" points for hand or machine piecing.  Also, notice all the pointy corners on the shapes are blunted so you trim them as you are rotary cutting the shapes -- adds a tiny bit of time to the cutting but when you start to align the pieces, its a breeze and well worth that corner trim!!
Here is everything I need to stitch one block -- looks just like it would for EPP piecing.
Ready to machine piece.  Of course, I'm using a 1/4" presser foot and it helps if the foot is open back to the needle so you can see where to stop but exact stops aren't as important as I use to think. What is important is not to go beyond the "stop" dot.
 I going to start by assembling three pairs of the center gold gems stitching from the sharp end (center of block)
to the "dot" (which I transferred to the fabric using the template's holes) and stop with my needle down.  As I said, years of using this technique has taught me that stopping just short of the "dot" is okay.
Then with the needle down, I'm going to lift the presser foot and pivot clockwise the fabric so the left edge of my presser foot is aligned with the edge adjacent to my seam.
This pivot allows me to stitch off this pair and onto the next pair until all three are stitched.
Once the three pairs of center gems are together, I start to add a hexagon to each pair (no pressing yet).  In this picture, the hexagon is in place and I'm going to come onto it at the left end of the seam.
Coming onto it at the left end -- but only stitch about 3 stitches.  Time for another stop
and pivot clockwise to line up the right edge of the presser foot with the seam edge.
Stitch the seam, stop, pivot and I'm ready to stitch off this set.
This is what the unit looks like after.
I'm still chain-piecing as you can see under my presser foot.  I've just clipped the set in my hand off the end of the chain and am setting it up to sew another seam on the hexagon.
Repeat the sew-on, pivot, stitch the seam, pivot, sew-off 
until all three units are assembled.
Now you can press to suit your preferences but each unit needs to be done identically.
And check those intersections on the right side!  Perfect and secure!
Thanks to the "sew-off" step, these corners will never pull loose.
Next, I stitched the three center units together 
and then add in the remaining hexagons.  Again, I'm going to put off pressing until I get a bit farther.  I've found it's easier to keep the edge of a piece away from a seam if it's not pressed.
I also have a stack of miscellaneous sew-offs ready for when I get to the end of an assembly section.  Right now, it's half-square triangle sets for some scrappy star blocks.
Next I insert the half-hexagons -- three seams for each one so lots of sew-offs needed!
I stitch opposite sides of each half-hexagon first and then come back to do the center seam so it's easier to line up the edges of the pieces.
One done!
Once all the half-hexagons are inserted, I'm finished with the set-in seams 
and it's time to press.
The rest of the seams are standard straight lines and I assembled the three edge units (large half-hexagon and two diamonds) as sew-offs so they are ready to go.
Almost there!
And look how far I got with one of the scrappy star blocks!!
When I teach the Set-In Piecing Simplified technique, I start students out with "tumbling blocks" using medium size diamonds as it's easier to find the rhythm of this process with the repetitive piecing needed for that pattern.  When I retired from teaching I created a downloadable instructional PDF which I sell in my Etsy shop (HERE) that walks quilters through the process with lots of pictures.   The PDF is on sale for 20% OFF through March 15, 2024 if you want to grab a copy! 

 I also point out to students that it took me a good three weeks of daily piecing to find my rhythm so if you give it a try, be patient with yourself!

You also might find the series I created last summer for a sew-along for one of my patterns, The Dresden Star helpful -- you can find the first of six posts in the series HERE.  Lots of step-by-step pictures.

Questions?  Use the comment box!!
And thanks for visiting!!


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ancient UFO Averted!!

 Have you ever started a quilting project only to realize a short way into it that you aren't enjoying it?  You are frustrated from the starting gun with some aspect of the pattern?  You don't like the color or fabric palette?  You don't like the construction process?

It just happened (again) to me!

I have admired Jen Kingwell's Wensleydale block since she introduced it in her Quilt Recipes book several years ago so when a friend lent me the templates for it, I dove right into piecing some blocks to "get the feel" of it.  I needed "leaders and enders" as I worked on the final assembly of my Summer Garden quilt top so putting together a few Wensleydale blocks seemed a "win-win".  I've also been trying to tame this jumble of scraps laying in the middle of my cutting table, so I began the blocks by pulling from it.  "Win-win" again -- dealing with scraps.

(Leaving the scrap pile in the middle of the cutting table isn't a great solution but it keeps my goal of dealing with the pile front and center instead of ignoring it in a basket underneath the table.)

The first block was ugly -- not enough contrast to suit me.
The second block was marginally better.
And by the time I finished the fourth block, I was beginning to sort out better value choices.
Color and value schemes can be corrected by paying attention to what didn't work on the previous block and experimenting as I go.
Now the  only problem was that I wasn't enjoying the piecing process and that my friends, signals the beginning of an ancient UFO in my experience!?!
So this is where I left things Sunday afternoon -- four blocks laying on the floor beside my machine.

Happily, my sub-conscious designer brain thrust an idea into my conscious maker brain the very first thing Monday morning (a rare but wonderful experience) and after breakfast, I headed to my sewing room, grabbed my 2 1/2" strip box, and eliminated that potential UFO in a burst of sewing!!
Three sewing sessions later and the four blocks have been saved from the orphan block box and turned into a cheerful little wheelchair size laprobe!!  
Today, I'll layer it up and add it to the little pile I'm quilting through this week.  I could make it bigger but right now this size charity quilt is my new solution to UFO's -- this is the eighth one I've made since early December!  It's an easy size for me to quilt -- usually two of my 40 minutes quilting sessions has one ready to bind.

Now to get all those 2 1/2" strips back into their box?!?
(And no, a bigger box is not the solution!!)

Morale of the story -- if it's not fun, change direction!

Enjoy your week!