Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Adapting Quilt Patterns -- Part II

What is the first thing about a quilt design that catches your eye?  Have you stopped to think about that?  For me, it's often the setting of a quilt and so I've trained myself to look beyond the color and the specific quilt block paying attention to the design of the setting.  How does the sashing or alternate blocks affect the overall design.  And when I find one I like, I save that idea to apply later with my own quilt blocks.

This is the second way to adapt a quilt pattern -- use the setting of the design. I'll use two of my patterns, Mary's Holiday Baskets and Courthouse Stars to illustrate my point.

Holiday Baskets is a basic basket block set together with a simple alternate setting block that is then modified around the outside edges to create an interesting overall design of framed basket blocks.  That alternate block frame can be used with any block that looks good set on-point!  The easiest adaptation of this setting will be to use the same size quilt block that is a "5-patch" block (which means it can be draw on a grid of squares that is 5 by 5).  But if you aren't afraid of the math, you could adapt it to other sizes of 5 by 5 grid blocks.

Courthouse Stars was the last mystery quilt I offered to my customers in 2005 before closing my shop in Willoughby, Ohio.  It uses Courthouse Log Cabin blocks to frame a double star block and has been a very popular pattern with my customers.  Once again, the star block which is the design block could be replaced with other blocks.  Modifying the size of the log cabin blocks would be fairly easy math -- might be as simple as adding a strip. 

I think either of these settings would be perfect for a set of blocks from a block of the month project.  I have a couple stacks of these languishing on my UFQ (unfinished quilts) shelves.  Either setting would frame up the blocks nicely and the setting would be my unique touch.

So here's a design challenge exercise.  Look through your favorite patterns for quilts that use an alternate block setting.  Sort out which are the design blocks and which are the setting blocks or sashing that make the overall design.  Now think about other blocks you could substitute for the "design" blocks.  You don't have to start a new quilt!  Just think.  By exploring this idea in your head, you'll start to look at patterns in more depth and see the possibilities beyond what is printed on the pattern cover.   

Next week, we'll look at adapting a quilt pattern by changing the scale of it!

Mary Huey

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Adapting Quilt Patterns -- Part I

My day is off to a perky beginning.  It's only 10 a.m. and I've done my morning devotions, the dishwasher is hard at work in the kitchen and the bread machine is hopefully producing an excellent loaf of sourdough artisan bread for Thursday's turkey stuffing!  (Though I am still in my jammies.)

One of the lectures and a workshop that I've offered for the past few years is titled ADAPTING PATTERNS.  During it, listeners and students are guided through some steps to open up new options for using some of that pile of patterns and tabbed pages in our favorite magazines.  This series (I think there will be 4 parts) will share some of those ideas with you.

We'll start with the easiest way to adapt a pattern -- changing the color and/or fabric style.  And I'm going to use my pattern, MISSISSIPPI MUD, as an illustration.  That's it on the left in this booth photo from one of my road trips.  It's the oldest pattern in my line, Mary Huey Quilts.

Mississippi Mud came to life in the late 1980's (I think).  My teaching mentor, Mary Ellen Hopkins, of It's Okay To Sit On My Quilt fame shared a pattern called Mississippi Simplified that would make good use of what we called "connector corners".  Most gals call them "snowball corners" today.  When I began to putter with the block design, there were two triangles whose placement bothered me, so I eliminated them.  When I shared the design with my Quilt Sitters Circle group, they were excited enough about my modified design that I began to offer workshops. 
To say it was popular would be an understatement.  During the late 80's and early 90's, I taught it so often that I got tired of it.  I finally wrote the pattern so that when customers whined about my not offering the class, I could set them up with the pattern and they could make the quilt.  The photo on the front of the pattern is traditional reproduction style fabrics and frankly that is way many quilters organize their fabrics when making it.  Everyone sees it as a "traditional" quilt because of the cover photo. 
I've made at least a half dozen of them over the years from crib to queen size and my students are always amazed when they meet someone here in Northeast Ohio who hasn't made Mississippi Mud.
A student's signature version.
Over 25 years, it's an easy quilt for me to produce (I can knock out a crib size top in a day) and I like to make it for gifts since it's a "signature" Mary Huey design.
My granddaughter, Grace, with her big girl bed quilt.

As you look at the three versions of the pattern, which one catches your eye?  Most of us are more heavily influenced by the color and fabric style of a quilt than we realize.  To see a pattern in your preferred style is challenging until you manipulate your mind into thinking about it that way.  It's hard to subdue the instant "yuck" and look at the design for itself, but once you train yourself to take this deeper look, you will discover some wonderful patterns. 
Two weeks ago, I taught workshops for the Chambersburg Quilt Guild in Pennsylvania and the Towpath Quilt Guild near Syracuse, NY using this pattern.  I can't remember the last time I got to teach Mud -- it must have been quite a while because when it came time to send samples to each guild, there was nothing to send.  So I had to make two new ones.  When explaining to gals how to chose the fabric, I suggest that they "theme" it -- all one color family or all one print style -- and make certain the fabric chosen for the star contrasts strongly with the other fabrics. 

Both of these versions differ enough from the photo on the pattern cover plus I send out small scale mock-ups in two other color ways -- my goal is to help students see more possibilities.  But I have to tell you, what happened in those workshops was very exciting. 

Belinda arrived with this assortment of black and white prints -- it broke one of my cardinal rules for this design -- no light background prints.  But it works!!  I'm not sure it would work with other color families but who knows?  And that lime green star may not work for you, but how about orange or hot pink or turquoise?  Mmmmm!! 
Fran took one of the popular new Christmas collections and did this -- I never would have thought to do it in all pastels with a dark star.  You don't need to find this fabric collection -- you need to think about the effect of using a pastel group of a color family.
Bali's always work well with this pattern, but I've never had a student do it with the entire color palette and be able to find a batik that contrasts as well as these pink stars.  Generally, I suggest students use only a cool palette (greens, blues, purples) so they can chose a warm color (yellow or orange) for the stars (or vice versa).  But this works just fine!

Ann's assortment of large scale florals looked chaotic when she first pulled it out -- but I think I need some of this chaos myself.  What a great look!  This time the contrast of the star is established by the scale of the print, not the color. That's a new idea for me.  Do you think polka dots are the new neutral?

So take another look at that latest magazine today and explore the possibilities of the patterns you don't like in it.  Ask yourself "how would changing the color palette or the style of the fabrics effect this design?"  And then listen to your brain's answer.

Pull out some of your favorite patterns to revisit them by updating with a change of the color palette or fabric style.  I enjoy making patterns again -- it's easier the second time because I know the "in's and out's" of it. 

Let me know what discoveries you make -- as for me, I need to go now.  The dishwasher is finished and the loaf of bread is looking good.  But more important, there is another version of Mississippi Mud I need to make!!

Mary Huey

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sashed Quilt Settings -- Construction

To finish this series on working with sashing for setting quilt blocks together I want to share my construction approach.  I haven't seen this approach in any books but that doesn't mean there aren't other quilters using it.  It's an extension of a setting technique which Mary Ellen Hopkins taught me in the 1980's called "twosy-foursy".   She encouraged her students to set blocks together in clusters rather than rows as a way to get a quilt top that was truer to square. 

Somewhere along the way, I began to adapt this idea to sashing blocks.  Instead of creating rows of blocks that alternate with sashing to attach to rows of sashing and cornerstones, I add a sashing unit to two adjacent edges of my blocks with the cornerstone.  I like this technique because I can do all that before laying the blocks out so there are fewer trips back and forth to the work wall.  Plus I can continue to chain piece which always makes me feel so efficient.

This photo is from my pattern, Trip to the Stars, (available in my Etsy shop, MaryHueyQuilts) which I wrote to use Marti Michell's Sashing Stars Set.  It enables you to trim the sashing and cut the star points for a basic star (as illustrated) and also for a long pointed star in 3 different sizes -- for 2" wide, 3" wide, and 4" wide sashing -- any length!  It's a very versatile and handy tool!!

I begin by adding a sashing unit to one edge of each block -- in this photo, I've already added them to the left side of my train print squares -- I chain pieced!!

Snip them apart and press all of them. 

Next I sew the cornerstone to one end of another stack of sashing units -- chain-piecing again. 

Snip those apart and press them so the seam will oppose the seam on the sashing/block unit. 

Finally, stitch a sashing/cornerstone unit to an adjacent side of each sashing/block unit.  Still chain-piecing.  These are going onto the top edge of each square in this photo.

Snip these apart and press the final seam -- I press half the units to the left and half to the right. 

Now I'm ready to put the quilt up on the work wall.  Once the arrangement suits me, I will need to add sashing and cornerstones to the block units along one side and the lower edge of the quilt.

Once that is done, I'm ready to set the quilt together, add the borders and quilt!

This is my grandson, Bennett's quilt -- it was fun to make because I got to use lots of my orange stash!
Next week, I'll begin a series on Adapting Quilt Patterns.  We all own lots of those I imagine and I'm going to look at ways to get more out of a pattern than just what appears on the cover!
Keep piecing!!
Mary Huey

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sashed Quilt Settings -- Pieced Sashing

 I collect setting ideas and so I'm delighted to discover Pinterest as a vehicle for keeping track of some good ones!!  Many unique settings feature pieced sashing -- it's a lot more work but it can take a simple block and add another element of design to a quilt.  So today I'm featuring 3 quilts that I've made recently with pieced sashing.
These big scrappy string stars (each star is about 22" square) came from the home of my husband's paternal grandmother.  They lived on her shelves for quite a long time and they lived on my shelves for over 30 years.  There are 12 blocks and I've made them into identical quilts for my 3 children. 
 I had to add the background triangles and squares so made them larger than necessary so I could square all the blocks up without losing any points.  The sashing was inspired by a small antique quilt I saw on e-bay.  I pieced the sashing from my "sourdough" box of 2 1/2" strips and squares.  The squares were sewn together in pairs (as leaders and enders, Bonnie Hunter style) and then into the sashing units -- 12 pairs long -- and that was too long for my star blocks.  So it had to be 11 pairs and the stars blocks were trimmed to 22 1/2" AFTER the sashing units were finished -- so I guess you could say I backed into the math.

Interesting thing about the string pieced stars -- as I looked closely at them while reworking them, I realized the fabric was much earlier than the 1930's and 40's when Grandma Huey might have been sewing.  Was she using her mother's scrap bag?  Or were the blocks perhaps made by her mother or mother-in-law?  No one will ever know.  But it will be a nice piece of family history for each of my children to own.

This is a close-up of one of the blocks from the top I showed off a couple weeks ago.  The source of the rail fence sashing idea is a mystery to me.  There was another plan for these blocks --  but that was over 10 years ago and if there were notes, they were long lost.

There was a pile of blue blocks and a pile of blue and yellow rail fence blocks in the box and no memory of the original plan.  Two of the blue blocks were bordered with blue strips.  The plan to use the rail fence blocks evolved as things went up on my work wall. 

As I set the rail fence blocks into groups of 4, I discovered that I needed to "organize" them carefully to maintain an alternation of horizontal and vertical rails.    Again, the blue bordered blocks were trimmed to fit the sashing units AFTER I had sewn groups of 4 together. 

First plan for these applique blocks was to use one fabric for the sashing but when I started to audition  fabrics, I did not like the plain strips  -- and a row of squares pieced together looked clunky, too.  So the answer was triangles!  Trouble was that I couldn't organize the design of their layout, so I took a random approach, used squares for cornerstones and kept the value of the blues and greens fairly close so none would stand out too much.  There was quite a bit of "math puttering" to find just the right size for triangles that would fit around the blocks but once again I trimmed the blocks after the sashing was pieced.

Generally, the pieced units used for sashing are simple such as the 3 I've illustrated.  Flying geese are another good one for sashing as they add movement to a quilt.   This is a quilt one of student/friends displayed in a recent quilt show -- since the log cabin blocks are not very trimmable, the math for the sashing would need to be figured and tested to be sure everything fit.

And with most pieced sashing, the size of the individual pieced units will determine the width of the sashing. 

One of my favorite all-time books about settings for quilts is Sharyn Craig's Setting Solutions.  It has been out of print but sometimes you can find copies on Amazon or e-bay (be prepared to pay a healthy price) but there is also now a Kindle edition. 

So start to pay attention to sashing, save the ideas you like and start to apply them to your quilts.  If you'd like to check out my Pinterest board, it's call "sashing ideas".

Next week, I'll share some construction ideas with you pertaining to sashing!

Piece on!!
Mary Huey


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sashed Quilt Settings -- Designing and planning

When you look at a quilt -- hanging in a show, featured in a magazine, or included on a Pinterest board -- what aspect of it catches your eye?  Is it the color, or the block design.  Perhaps it the fabric style.  For me, it's the setting -- edge-to-edge, sashed, straight or on-point and all the other myriad of possibilities.  More than imitating the exact design of a quilt, I'm looking for setting ideas to use in the quilts I design. 

So I'm going to start this tutorial series about Sashed Quilt Settings by looking at design options. 

To design the sashing for a quilt, I use a combination of drafting it out in Electric Quilt and auditioning on my design wall.  I can't visual the impact it will have on the blocks so I have to "mock" it up so my mind can see it physically.

The simplest strategy is to frame up the blocks -- the most important decisions one needs to make when doing this is what color to use and how wide to make the sashing.  This is one of my teaching sample for set-in piecing (y-seams) with 8-pointed stars.  I used Marti Michell's 2 1/2" Stripper Set for this version.
The quickest way to make these decisions is auditioning. Get out all the colors you are considering.  Put all of them on your work wall and lay some blocks on top of each of them.  Leave the room and come back later.  When you look at the quilt, pay attention to what your mind says!  When given several options, it will almost always eliminate one or two possibilities at the first glance.  I find this approach of "elimination" gets me to a decision faster.  Since I'm usually trying to work out of my stash, I'm more concerned with finding the best option that I already own than I am with finding "the perfect" fabric.  Nothing disrupts my momentum faster than the quest for "perfect".

Once you've settled on the color, now you can audition for the best width -- again, I encourage you to audition several options at the same time.  It always gets me to a final decision faster than putting up one option, taking it down, putting up another option -- frankly, my brain can't compare two things when it can only see one.

There are other times when I want to "float" the blocks.  This means the sashing will match or blend with the background fabric of the blocks.  I do this for one of two reasons.  I want to focus attention on the design of the blocks.  And often, it allows me to create a secondary design in the quilt.

The quilt below is one of my teaching samples for Marti Michell's Multi-size Kite Ruler.  The Rolling Kite blocks I made are quite large - 17" square -- so it only takes six to make a twin size quilt!!  When I laid out the blocks in Electric Quilt, I didn't like the blob created by the large corner triangles coming together.  When I separated them with sashing, I noticed that adding a cornerstone created a secondary block (the Shoo-fly) block.  I liked it!  The only thing left to determine was the width of the sashing and how to expand it into the final border


Here's another example.  This is one of my students' renderings of my pattern, Trip to the Stars.  The stars in this setting were created as I set the blocks together with sashing that matched the background fabrics of the blocks.  I used Marti Michell's Sashing Stars Set which allowed me to add two different style points to my sashing.  I wish I had space here to post all my students' versions of this easy quilt!

Next week I'll continue to explore Sashed Quilt Settings with a look at pieced sashing units.  In the meantime, think about setting up a Pinterest board for sashing ideas!!
Mary Huey

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pressing Basics for Piecing -- Part 3

It's Tuesday again already!

Today I'm going to share my thoughts on pressing blocks and they are simple.

If the block has an odd number of units -- 3 by 3, 5 by 5, etc. -- and you are setting them together edge-to-edge, half the blocks should be pressed exactly the same way and the other half should be pressed exactly opposite.  Then when you lay the blocks out, alternate a block from the first half with a block from the second half.

These are 9-patch and shoo-fly blocks for the double/queen size version of my pattern, Marie's Scraps.
This is my crib/lap size version of Marie's Scraps.
If the block has an even number of units -- 2 by 2, 4 by 4, 6 by 6, and so on -- and you are setting them together edge-to-edge (no sashing or alternate blocks), all the blocks should be pressed exactly the same way.   The photo below shows the lower edge of one block (with seams pressed to the right) as it comes up to the upper edge of the adjacent block (with seams pressed to the left). 

These blocks are the 4 by 4 blocks of my pattern, Mississippi Mud.
This scrappy red version of Mississippi Mud is brand new -- maybe it should be called Red Velvet Mud?
Following these two rules will assure you that as the seams come together along the edges of the block, they will automatically mesh together with no lumps or bumps.  It's a no-brainer once you eliminate helter-skelter pressing!

When setting blocks together with sashing or alternate squares, I prefer to press all of the blocks exactly the same.  While it doesn't have an impact on the setting-together process, I think it has a beneficial impact on the quilting if all the blocks are the same -- I know where to expect the lumps and bumps as I move across the surface of the quilt.

I told you they were simple!

I don't know if there is another "part" to the pressing series -- there might be?  Be sure to check back next week and see.  And watch for a progress report later this week on my 2013 UFQ challenge -- there has been progress!!!

Mary Huey

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pressing Basics for Piecing -- Part 2

Here's some advice on pressing as it relates to chain piecing.  You do chain piece don't you?  If you don't you need to start using this technique.  It saves approximately 25% of every spool of thread -- think about how much you snip off and throw away!  It eliminates all that clean-up thread snipping saving time in the long run.  And it usually prevents those annoying incidents of fabric being sucked into the needle hole of your throat plate. 
So when you are chaining piecing units such as the flying geese below, they come off the machine in a long string like this. 
Anything you need to clip apart in order to use it in the next step, clip them apart.  In other words, I have to separate these geese to be able to sew them to something else.  Stack them in an orderly fashion -- all the same -- so you don't have to think so hard as you press them.

I've stacked these so that I can press with steam to set the stitching and then lift the left triangle up and press that seam to one side.
Pressing flying geese units this way eliminates bulk at the top point making it easier to set it together with other units.  That often breaks the "press towards the dark" rule but less bulk trumps everything in my opinion

 If you are chain piecing units together that will be joined directly to one another, do not snip the chain!!  Go to the ironing board and lay them out in a string as below.  Mine are the first step in sewing together the 4-patch unit for Marti Michell's Tessalating Windmill.

Now flip every other pair up so it's laying in the opposite direction.  Set the stitching with steam.
Now when you press, lift the piece on top and press the seam towards it with the side of your iron on a dry setting.  First seam will point up, second will point down, and so on.  Each seam will be opposite it's opposing seam automatically without thinking too hard.
Now you can snip the chain, but I only snip between the pairs.  I leave the chain between units that will be stitched together -- that way if I get muddled about what edge I'm suppose to be sewing, the chain is there as a reminder.  So I leave the chain between the first and second because they are going to be a block.  I snip the chain between the second and third because they are two different blocks.
Make sense?  If it doesn't, you know where to find me!!
Now go press some stuff!
Mary Huey


Monday, October 7, 2013

My first tutorial -- pressing basics for piecing -- Part 1

Well, that week whizzed past and Tuesday is already here!    Time to write my first blog tutorial.

To begin, you need to know that I was trained as a dressmaker  -- clothing construction was my college major and so I bring an "attention to detail" mindset to my piecing.

If you don't already have a "good" iron, ask friends what they like and try theirs out -- pay attention to the weight; how fast it heats; if you like steam, does it put out a good quantity of steam; automatic shut-off setup; smoothness of the plate; ease of cleaning, etc.  This is an important tool so you want the best one for you and your budget.  I like a heavy iron but the arthritis in my wrists doesn't -- so I've started using the Oliso Pro Smart iron that sits flat and my wrists are happy again because I rarely have to lift the iron.  (I like that it's yellow, too!)

Next, clear off the ironing board -- sounds silly, but flat surfaces have a way of attracting stacks (of important stuff).  It's easier to press your work if the entire surface of the board is available.  (If you are afraid of losing the pile of stuff on the board, just set it on the floor below temporarily.)

I believe it's better to press all my fabric before cutting.  It's the first step to accurate cutting.  If the fabric seems soft or wobbly, I size it with Best Press Starch Alternative.  That means pressing out the center crease so I can fold it for strip cutting more accurately.  In my zeal for using lots of fabric that has been folded up in my stash (for years), I accidently, and happily, discovered that by hanging fabric over the shower rod, spritzing it with water, and coming back later (maybe tomorrow), most of the wrinkles and creases disappear on their own!!  Love that!!  (Just be sure to get it off the shower rod before someone needs to use the shower.)

I always go to my ironing station ready to work!  No tossed salads of stuff to be pressed -- it wastes mental energy to look at each one and decide what to do but when all the pieces are stacked the same way, I just need to make the first decision and then repeat, repeat, repeat -- zoom, zoom!!  I also pay attention to having the fabric on top which I will be pressing a seam towards.  This strategy will cut down on your time at the iron!

Don't do this!
Do this!!
I press on the right side to avoid those little pleats at the seam line and I work with the side of the iron, not the tip to prevent stretching the fabric.  Steam or dry -- it's up to you.  I use steam most of the time -- it softens the fabric and makes it easier to tame.  The trick is to remember you are pressing -- that's an up and down motion.  We aren't ironing (moving the iron vigorously across the fabric, back and forth) -- that's what causes stretching.

My cardinal rule is to press every seam before crossing it with another seam.  Start by pressing it flat as sewn -- that "sets" the stitching and flattens the fabric which makes a subtle difference in it's behavior. This is where I use a spritz of steam -- it softens those stubborn lumps and then I go "dry" to press it to one side or open.  Suit yourself on the pressing to one side or open -- I know gals who do both and will argue for their preference.  I press to one side and towards the darkest fabric or the least resistance as often as possible.  (Remember there will be always be exceptions.)

Set the stitching.
Flip the top piece towards the seam.

Press into the seam with flat edge of iron
Now it's time for you to press some patchwork!! 

If you've been following my UFQ progress report -- did you notice that the pressing examples are UFQ #4 -- making progress!  Next time I'll discuss some specifics of pressing patchwork blocks that I've discovered improve the quality of my piecing.

Eager to read your comments!!