Monday, April 23, 2012

Busy Weekend

We have survived another of the most congested weekends of the year here in the Skagit Valley. The weather was nearly perfect, the tulip fields are in bloom, and the annual street fair is now history. Whew!

While the rest of the world was trolling tulip fields or artist booths I was busy sewing my string blocks together. Ta daa!

It's only 48 x 56" but because the strings are sewn onto a foundation piece of fabric it ended up being too heavy to hang on my design wall for a photograph. That also posed finishing problems for me.

I was afraid that including the cotton batting I can safely work with would make this quilt uncomfortably heavy for a child. At the same time, I wanted to provide some "cush" to absorb the bulky seam allowances and make the quilt more cuddly. I called a friend and we discussed various options. Finally we decided that I would deliver the top to our local quilt group and someone there would finish the quilt by adding a polar fleece back, tying the layers together. Then it will be donated to Foster Care. In the future I will have to keep in mind the peculiarities of foundation pieced string blocks and plan accordingly.

The other major accomplishment of the weekend was getting the Dr. Seuss quilt pin basted.

I had just enough of the stacked books to bring a yard of a playful red print out to the necessary width. The punctuation print was in the sale corner the last time I visited my LQS so I had plenty of that to get the length I needed.

Now all I have to do is gird my loins and start quilting!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Look What I Did!

I moved a few blocks in and out and around until I came up with this arrangement for my scrappy string blocks:

Basically I was happy with it at this point. Except for the big wide solid black strings in a couple of the blocks. Notably in the upper center. Ruby Blue has some embroidery stitches in her repertoire. I thought I'd have a go at embellishing a strip while learning something new on my new machine.

This first block (which is from the bottom row, left corner) didn't go well. It took me four attempts to almost fill the strip with these little houses. I used a polyester variegated thread on top and just my regular cotton thread in the bobbin. I also made the mistake of leaving the even-feed system engaged, which is not recommended for certain stitches.

After I cooled down from that frustrating experience I picked another stitch, loaded Ruby with polyester thread in both the bobbin and on top, disengaged the even-feed, and produced these butterflies on another block:

I also chalked in a line to keep my chorus line of butterflies centered on the strip. In case you didn't notice, the houses are going downhill.

I think that touch of color through the solid black strip balances the color in the other black strips in the center of the quilt nicely.

On that wave of that success I decided to see what I could do to mask the imperfections of the block with the houses. This time I resorted to hand embroidery. A split stitch tree with lazy daisy leaves...

And then I had to add a couple of birds flying off into the distance.

Now I think I can start sewing the blocks together! :- )

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So Many Options!

One of the reasons I signed on to the String Thing Along was because of this:

That's my box of rough cut strips and strings. Plus there's a growing accumulation of precision cut strips in my studio closet. I've always been intrigued by foundation pieced string quilts but there was always a hesitation to start one. Finally Brenda issued a challenge on the String Thing blog to try to make an ugly string block. I can't resist that kind of challenge! I don't think I made an ugly block per se, but at least I made a block.

What I didn't know was that making that block would open the floodgates. I immediately cut more foundation squares, going through all the muslin in my stash. (This is what I was doing while you were patiently waiting to learn what had become of the Dr. Seuss quilt. This sort of thing is also why I'm reluctant to interrupt one project to start another!) In a matter of days I had this on my design wall:

I believe the photo above was the result of just putting them up as they were finished. I ran out of muslin and started using another very pale printed cotton for my foundations. Eventually there was no room left on the design wall. Time to play with the blocks!

I tried out a zigzag setting:

Then I tried them all going the same direction:

 Finally I tried a barn raising setting:

That's the one I liked best for this set of blocks. I'm in the process of tweaking block placements now. I believe this will be a quilt for our local Foster Care program. And after this one I think I want to try another version featuring a white or light strip down the center of each foundation. Or maybe one with red center strips. But I could just as easily make another one entirely scrappy!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Back to the Doctor

Well, it's been nearly a week since my last post. It was mostly a good, busy week but there were a couple of unexpected exposures that took me down. Something at the food co-op, normally a relatively safe place for me, turned out to be very toxic. And it was still there later in the week. Weird. Hopefully it will be gone by the time I have to go back.

Meanwhile, Sharon has reminded me that you're still waiting to see how the Dr. Seuss quilt turned out. Sorry about that! I got involved in a new project almost as soon as I completed the Seuss top and that absorbed all my attention.
So this is where the quilt for the library's summer reading program was when last you saw it:

You'll have to look carefully to see the minor, but effective, change I made between that photo and the next one.

Did you spot it? I took out the white cornerstones that stopped the book borders around the reader and replaced them with the yellow print. I'd been looking for a way to get that yellow into the center of the quilt. All it took was these four little patches!

I knew I wanted some red below the reader panel to balance out the red in the other quadrants. A bit of "Cat in the Hat" print did the trick - just a whole cloth strip. I made one more star out of a four patch block I'd sewn up earlier, filled in with more of the scattered Dr. Seuss characters on yellow, and framed the bottom with the same dotted yellow I used a the top and in the middle. I thought I might add a final border to enclose the composition but in the end I decided against it. I am assured the quilt is big enough as it is, which is about 49" x 60." I have a rainbow stripe I plan to use for the binding and I think that will finish it off nicely. I haven't entirely decided what to do about the back. I feel like I still have plenty of time though. And I expect the quilting I do will be fairly straightforward and minimal. I really am more about the design, the piecing, than the quilting. ;- )

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Monday

Last fall I found myself making a Halloween quilt shortly after Halloween. The pattern is repeating itself this spring.

I know I haven't shown it to you yet but the Dr. Seuss quilt top is complete, and I caught up on my Bead Journal Project as much as I could over the weekend. So this morning I found myself without a specific project to work on. I was toying with the idea of making some string blocks when this UFO popped into my head:

If you double click on the picture above you should be able to see that there are Easter prints in the wacky log cabin blocks. Better yet, here's a detail shot:

The blocks were created when my children were in grade school. I don't even want to think about how long ago that was! Most of the blocks were made in a class. Eventually I made enough to create this top, which measured about 37" x 49" when I pulled it out this morning.

I've pulled this out before, thinking I might make more blocks to make it bigger. I could never quite get up the confidence to do that I guess, and the top always went back into the closet. Today when I put it up on the design wall I could see, all of a sudden, what to do without having to make more blocks.

I decided to treat the whole top as a giant log cabin block and went round the four sides with one inch strips one more time, yellow on two sides and pink on the other two.

I'd been hanging onto some yardage of one of the prints used in the original set of blocks. At this point I got that out to see how I could put it to use. I debated whether to use it to create a pieced border of some sort but first I tried it as a wide border.

No, that's not good enough. But the prints is large enough to work as a border and I wasn't really wanting to spend a lot of time piecing a fancy border. Maybe another strip to frame up the interior?

I auditioned several colors and prints. Nothing really worked for me until I came across this stripe. It doesn't appear in any of the blocks but it works with everything else. And it did a great job of separating the border (the bunny print you see above) from the blocks.

It's still a small quilt, only 49" x 61" or so, but it's bright and fun. Once I get a back made for it and get it quilted/tied it will live quite happily with my four granddaughters who are also bright and fun (read loud and busy!). Maybe in time for next Easter? ;- )

Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Bead Journal Project

I made such good progress on the Dr. Seuss quilt the other day that my mind was free to turn to other projects I have on the back burners. One of those is this year's Bead Journal Project.

Late last year I thought I knew what format I would use for this year's BJP. Then, at the beginning of the year a whole new concept came to me. There aren't many rules for the BJP (which is one of the reasons I like it so well) but one of the few is to pick a format - the size and shape of our piece each month - and stick to it. So it was important that I find something I could live with.

In the past I wanted each BJP piece to be a stand-alone piece of artwork. I have three year's worth of those now and storage becomes an issue. My plan for this year was to bead on six inch batik squares that I would then assemble into three or four little wall hangings. My intention was to go with a fantasy or fairy tale theme rather than trying to journal specific life events. Choosing a subject each month has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the past so I thought working from a theme would be helpful. It would appear to have had the opposite effect. All of a sudden it's April and I didn't have a single piece even started, much less finished, for this year's Bead Journal Project!

Then the other morning I woke up with an idea for a new format for my BJP. I'll still be beading on six inch fabric squares and assembling them into one or more little quilts but I've discarded the fantasy theme. The first thing I did was play around with sizes and set up three foundations for beading. I had a pretty clear idea what I would do for January and March. Unfortunately I didn't have appropriate beads in stock for March's piece. And something about my foundation for January kept me from starting in on it...

When I realized that I needed a calmer background for January everything fell into place. I had cut a 6.5" square from a text print Quiltdivajulie shared with me. Yesterday I swapped that out for the same fabric I'd used as the background in the swap quilt I made for her.

And what I ended up making was a sort of replica of the swap quilt:

At the very bottom of the rick-rack heart I used some beads also from Julie. Hurray!

Here's a shot of my beading area just before I cleaned it up all the way. I use the ceramic paint palette as a bead palette. The glass bowl currently has the bead mix I worked from to fill in the bottom point of the heart.

I rarely use the leather thimble you see in the middle of the ceramic palette; it just never got put all the way away the last time I did use it. You may be able to see that there's an accumulation of stray beads in one of the sections of the palette. Eventually they will go into a little baggie in my bead stash and become the ultimate bead soup!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Back on Track

Quiltdivajulie offered a couple of suggestions last week when I got stuck on this Dr. Seuss quilt. One of them was to put the "Readers Are Leaders" block under the reading child block and then treat them as one large unit, a central medallion of sorts. That would have been easier to do, perhaps, if I hadn't already made the child reading bigger than "Readers Are Leaders."

I also tried out this arrangement, after I'd framed what had been the lower right corner block with the same black prints that are used around the bigger blocks.

It just didn't feel right. But framing that smaller block up was helpful in one respect. It distributes the black more evenly across the surface of the quilt top.

The next thought I had, after putting the blocks back where I originally had them, was to take out the prospective 4-Patch checkerboards and replace them with the flying geese units that were going to be star points and background.

It was okay. Still a little busy, and a little... light, maybe?

What if I were to use the blue I bought for the 4-Patch blocks as flying geese instead?

Oooo, now that I like! Thank goodness I still had enough of both of those prints to get the job done!

Now I just have to figure out how to resolve the lower portion of the quilt. I may have to go looking for more of the white with red dots; there's not much left! I'm thinking I'll want to bring in more of the strong red to balance the bottom out with the top and sides. We'll see.

It feels awfully good to be well enough to tackle a design challenge like this again. Over the weekend I considered setting myself up with some sort of embroidery project to do the next time I'm under the weather. Something where all I have to do is thread a needle and follow the lines. I was tempted to sew scraps together a couple of times in the last few days. Not sure what kept me from doing so. Maybe it was fear of being completely derailed from the Dr. Seuss quilt. I seem to do much better when I can focus on one project at a time. Who knows where scrap sewing would have led?! ;- )