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!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Revisiting Pressing Matters

Apparently I've been blogging for just over a decade?!?  As I was working on a couple projects during our gray typical January the past couple weeks, I recalled writing a blogpost about "pressing".  When I went back to revisit it -- there is actually a series of three posts.  

I think good pressing habits make for better piecing and while the tips and techniques I shared in these tutorials aren't the only best practices, they certainly have served me well over the past 30 years of piecing.

The first one deals with the basics that apply to any piecing project.

Over the past couple weeks I've been turning a layer cake into the sampler blocks from the 2021 summer time Moda sampler -- thirteen of the fourteen 12" blocks are pieced along with four 6" blocks and two 4" blocks.  I have to say the wool pressing pads that have become so popular are a game changer! 

One thing you will notice when reading that post is I don't press seams open.  It wasn't a "thing" back in the "old" days when I learned to piece and I have tried it off and on over the past couple years but I'm not a fan.  My piecing skill depends on a side-pressed seam too much.
\All that is left of the layer cake is this pile of scraps!  I was lucky to find a couple of the prints which were released in 2019 to fill in some gaps and make a binding.  I was wise enough to purchase a two yard length of the large scale print from the collection so that will be the borders!

The second tutorial in the series shares tips I learned from teaching mentor, the marvelous Mary Ellen Hopkins.  That woman could stream line any process which fit right into my work ethic.  Chain-piecing was new to me when I started taking workshops with Mary Ellen and this tutorial shares some of what I learned from her about pressing.

I have a side-project going as leaders and enders making these cute scrappy star blocks inspired by a pattern shared by The Stash Bandit (Diane Harris) in the August 2022 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting.  The fabrics are being sourced out of my 2 1/2" scrap stash -- squares, triangles, and strips.  No idea yet how large this quilt will be or what it's destiny might be once finished -- I'm just having fun piecing the blocks!

The third tutorial has applied to this scrappy project -- it is my "go-to" method for edge-to-edge block settings regardless of whether the blocks are an even grid or an odd grid -- the method always applies!! And I find it especially useful for those patterns where the designer never mentions "how to press" the blocks!

I'll bet you have some go-to tips I've missed when it comes to pressing -- share them in the comments so we can all learn more!

Looking forward to more guilt-free gray winter days of piecing!  


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Flourishes BOM Update

As promised, here are all twelve finished blocks from my 2023 year-long BOM project.
This was a stash-busting goal -- the patterns with fabric kits have been in my stash for over 10 years and before that, they were in my Mom's stash for about the same length of time!?!
The pattern is Flourishes, designed by the Piece O'Cake duo of Becky Goldsmith and Linda Jenkins.  They released it as a BOM with a fabric line at the same time with one of the original quilting cotton fabric vendors, P & B Fabrics.
I worked on one block each month and happily was able to finish each in about two weeks of evening hand stitching.  The pace kept me on track and a week or more break between blocks prevented boredom.
This was the last block I stitched -- #12 in the series and well-placed because by this time, my confidence was solid.  If I'd started with this block, I think all those little circles would have defeated me?!?
Hmmm, why is this picture sideways?
Well, I have no idea -- but I'm blaming Microsoft!  They seem to have intervened and "upgraded" the photo app I use (thanks, so much???) and I haven't figured out how to import my photos from my camera disk.
To get around this issue (which may stem from impatience on my part), I'm importing photos taken on my phone and automatically stored in my Google account.  Actually, it makes this step simpler but I didn't take the time to figure out how to edit them.  Apparently my phone turned some of the pictures sideways and I'm stumped.
But the pictures are clear and the colors accurate and since my mental energy is a bit low this morning, I'm going with it.   
Random thought -- will this make the post more memorable??
The sideways photos, I mean.
I grabbed a light table years ago and have rarely used it until this project.  Every morning, I would trace 4 to 5 pieces onto the prints using the light table.  Then aligning the background block on top of the full size pattern on the light table again, I would position and pin the pieces in place ready for an evening of stitching.
(Upside down, really??)
I used the needle-turned applique method, but one thing I do to make it easier is to finger press all the way around a piece on the (chalk) pencil lines because I find the needle-turning goes more smoothly.  Much to my surprise, I enjoyed not having to make any fabric decisions -- the fabrics in the kits matching the pattern cover exactly! Generally, I like to do my own thing -- picking fabrics that please me but it was a nice change.
Along about September, I began to think about assembling the quilt top and getting it quilted.  These are large blocks -- 20" and in the designers' layout, they are set edge-to-edge on the diagonal.  
We're talking BIG quilt.
So that creates a "quilting" challenge for me -- too big for me to machine quilt and perhaps too much for my hands to hand quilt?  To send it out will be expensive since the design would be "ruined" by an edge-to-edge pattern and would require "custom-quilting" which would be elegant but out of my budget.
Plus who gets the quilt down the road???
The solution I've come up with solves both issues -- make three smaller quilts!
Easier for me to quilt myself and I have three granddaughters, so . . . . 
After laying out four blocks for a smaller quilt, I decided to make three more blocks, so each quilt will have five blocks.  Towards that end, I've been saving all the leftover bits of fabric from the kits that came with each month's pattern.  I chose three of the patterns I enjoyed making for the "fifth" blocks.
This is the first duplicate block.  I've had to do a little stash-diving to substitute for fabrics I used up from the pattern kits but that's not really a problem -- deep, deep stash here!?!
I'm heading off for a few retreat days at the end of next week and the duplicate blocks will be my focus.  My prep work is to applique the stems of each block (my least favorite part) and cut all the applique pieces so I'm sure I have compatible fabrics.  It would be wonderful to come home with three completed blocks but even if I don't, I'll have made significant progress!

Other plans for the retreat include layering a couple large quilts (to take advantage of extra hands that will be available!) and prepping an antique quilt top for a little rework (dissembling and removing basting threads) and perhaps cutting a Moda BOM from the summer of 2022?   
And eating cookies?!?

Are you going to be able to enjoy a retreat this winter?  I enjoy them more now that I've stopped taking my sewing machine.  Focusing on hand-stitching and prep work (layering and cutting) makes the planning and packing easier plus I'm not "nose-down" at my machine for the weekend (i.e., more social time).  If you aren't part of group, organize a couple of your favorite stitching friends and rent a place -- quite a few small retreat venues have popped up in this region and if you have to cook for yourselves, indulge in a few days of eating badly to take the pressure off?!?