Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Did you think I'd dropped off the face of the planet? Almost, but not quite.

After finishing up the last four quilts one right after another I was left without a clue what to do next. Oh, there were options... but none of them held enough appeal to get me going. Part of the problem was that I had emptied my creative well. I've been through this cycle often enough now that I recognize it for what it is. It's still frustrating and uncomfortable to be in that dry space however. I just feel so useless when I'm not making something. Not knowing how long it's going to last can be scary too.

I was finally able to talk myself into turning some 6" orphan blocks into 12" half log cabin blocks for future use. I pulled out the blocks that had been passed over before, blocks that didn't seem to fit in with others of their kind. I've learned that I prefer to use 3" strips for the processes that utilize strips so I also decided to use up as many of the 2.5" strips in my closet as I could.

In the photo above you can see some of the 3x6" flying geese units I'd prepared to assemble between seams when I started sewing again. It was very helpful to have them handy.

At about this point I remembered a quantity of Scrappy Trips blocks I'd made, also out of 2.5" strips. I found them, counted them, and decided to make a few more. Pretty soon I had enough to create a lap quilt. This is 12 blocks, set 3 x 4:

I set aside the half log cabin blocks to continue work on this lap quilt. To reach the dimensions recommended by the Alzheimer's Disease Co-operative Study I needed to add four inches to the width. I accomplished that by stringing 2x4" flying geese units together end to end:

By the end of the day I had a finished top and a back ready to go! There's even a batting remnant in the closet that will fit this beautifully. :- )

40" wide x 48" long

At this point I went back to the half log cabin blocks. There were 15 when I got distracted. I made five more.

This now measures 48" x 60" (plus seam allowances). I'm thinking I'll stop here, let someone else quilt it, and see that it goes to a local chemo patient. There's so much to look at in all these scraps that it ought to be a good diversion from what's going on around the quilt in that setting. Unfortunately that leaves me back at Square One. What am I going to do next?!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Grandma's Box of Crayons

Things have been quiet here in The Magpie's Nest for the last couple of weeks. Conditions around here seem to be either feast or famine. What're ya gonna do? That's life.

I still don't have good pictures of the big quilts I finished recently. What I can show you is Grandma's Box of Crayons:

Since it's been a while since I started this project (January of this year as I recall) let me refresh your memory. Inspired by the Rainbow Scrap Challenge I thought I would make one or two Scrappy Trip blocks each month. It didn't work out that way of course. There were months I didn't make any blocks and other times when I couldn't stop making blocks. Mine are 15 inches finished and there are 20 of them.

When it came time to decide on a layout the first challenge was to arrange the colors in a pleasing configuration. That took some doing, let me tell you! Then there was the detail of whether to let the diagonal line of the strongest values in each block fall all the same way...

Or whether to alternate the directions:

The first was too static for my taste so I chose the second option.

My talented son quilted the top for me. We struggled with that decision too. I knew I wanted something curvilinear to contrast with all the straight lines in the piecing but I also wanted something more than just a meander. I love these hearts!

Of course I had to find just the right binding print too.

I've had this one in my stash forever. I think it's an old Hoffman print. After I told her the name of the quilt my daughter said the binding looked like melted crayons. Perfect! I couldn't be happier with this one - which could be why I'm having trouble getting interested in beginning a new quilt project. ;- )

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Finishing Up

The Parts Department Quilt was a perfect opportunity to use some of the leftover lengths of bindings from previous quilts. Here they are, pieced together and serpentine on my ironing board:

That's enough to go around a queen size quilt. I still don't have a picture of the finished product though. Soon, I hope!

This top has also been quilted (with scattered leaves) and bound:

Reilly helped.

That's the quilt back and a tiny bit of the green binding. This one also needs a formal portrait taken.

Meanwhile, when I visited Mari over at the Academic Quilter during the Around the World Blog Hop I left a comment that ended up winning me this packet of fat eighths and some white Kona cotton!

And have you been over to visit Cyra at Free Form Stitching yet? Her blog hop post is up. So is Maya's over at Million Little Stitches. Go see what they're doing, you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gotta Keep That Wheel Turning

I've just finished binding the Parts Department quilt. It may take a few days to get good pictures of it. I haven't even seen it on my bed yet! There are three other quilts ready to be bound and two tops at the shop waiting for their turn to be quilted. This puts me at the end of my creative cycle. It will be pleasant to sit and stitch bindings down by hand but once that's done it will be time to start all over again. The question looms, "What next?"

While the subconscious stirs the possibilities I will probably just sew scraps. I received a lovely thank you note recently on a notecard that featured an antique quilt.

It's called "Little Cedar Tree" but I can't for the life of me see why. Another name for the block is Birds in the Air. That I can see. Studying this card I realized that some of my scrap triangles could be sewn into these little blocks...

Pretty simple, but effective and useful. I've never been one for large blank alternate squares because I'm not technically a quiltER. If I use alternate squares to set these units they'll only be about 4.5 inches. I can live with that. :- )

Of course I continue to make my 6" Shoofly and Churn Dash or Hole in the Barn Door blocks.

I've also been going through my 2.5" strips and making Scrappy Trip blocks:

Somehow I still have so many scrap strips (assorted widths and lengths) that they're crowding each other in the closet. I really think I'm going to have to make another string quilt of some sort. We'll have to see what develops as the stew simmers... ;- )

Monday, September 15, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop

Julie, aka Quiltdivajulie, tagged me to participate in the Around the World blog hop. The example she set in her post (which you can see here) was a bit intimidating but I took a deep breath and accepted.

First of all I'm going to take this opportunity to finally introduce myself visually. I've been keeping this blog since 2007 and to the best of my recollection I've never shared a picture of myself. This one's for you Julie!

 The blog hop invitation poses these four questions:
  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write/create what I do?
  4. How does my writing/creating process work?
Currently I'm working at clearing enough space around my cutting mat to enable me to prune two large-ish quilts. They're large for me and my space even though one is barely twin size and the other will only fit a double bed. These two quilts were just quilted by my younger (adult) son who has become a professional long arm quilter during the past year or so. Now I have to cut away the excess batting and backing and make and apply bindings to them. Not my favorite steps in the quilt making process but necessary.

My work may differ from that of other quilt makers in that, lately at least, I work primarily from the scraps created when previous quilts were made. I have always enjoyed scrap or multi-fabric quilts more than the controlled, organized versions that seem to have been popular (and more socially acceptable) back in the day. For example, I could never make this:

I have the skills, I would just get bored after the first block! Plus, technical complexity doesn't do it for me. What I like is ingenuity, figuring out how to make something aesthetically pleasing out of a pile of apparently unrelated prints and colors. To which end I design my own quilts. I'm not sure I'm capable of actually following a pattern anymore. I will inevitably find something about it that doesn't suit me and make changes.

I also prefer to work intuitively. That means I will start out with a goal in mind but not much more than that. Most often there is a person for whom I want to make a quilt or who is in need of a quilt for warmth or comfort (generally both). That will help to determine the size the finished quilt will need to be and sometimes I can get color cues if I know the person's taste. For example, I just finished and shared this quilt for my father-in-law:

I did my best to incorporate his interests and color preferences. This one was not made from scraps but from a wide variety of prints. The quilts I make from scraps tend to look more like this:

In the beginning (around 1985) my motivation for making quilts was, I assume, much the same as many other quilters. I admired the traditional quilts of yesteryear and the make-do spirit in which many of them were created. Not that I had much personal experience with quilts growing up. All we ever had were store bought blankets until my folks purchased a lakefront cottage that came furnished. There were a couple of comforters in the bedrooms. Tied, not quilted, and made out of whole cloth instead of being pieced or appliqued. It was years later that I learned I had great grandmothers who pieced and quilted and that there were specimens of their work in the family. I have since become the curator of those heirlooms. :- )

One of the first big influences in my quilt making were sisters Roberta Horton and Mary Mashuta. Off the top of my head I don't remember which sister specialized in which type of work but one focused on the utility quilts of the past and the "imperfections" that made them so charming. The other promoted the idea of quilts as vehicles for art and expression. I've made my share of art quilts but at the moment I seem to be stuck on making utility quilts rather than show quilts. I believe I have Gwen Marston to thank for that. She has managed to show us quilt makers how to cross the line between art and function. Or better yet, how to combine art and function. I think that's what ultimately drives me, the desire to combine artistic impulses and function.

And so lately I've been cutting patches and strips from the leftovers of a quilt I just made and then piece simple traditional blocks from those scrap patches and use those blocks to create a quilt top that I will beg or pay someone else to quilt for me. Right now that's my process. This blog has always been the place where I share my textile processes, whatever form they may take. I do dabble in other forms of the needle arts, just not to the extent that I piece for quilts.

I have reached out to two creators whose work is very different from mine to carry on this blog hop. They are Maya of A Million Little Stitches, primarily an embroiderer who lives and stitches in India, and Cyra who lives a free form life and creates all sorts of textile art in New Zealand. Look for their blog posts next Monday, 22 September. Or go visit them now and see what they're up to! You won't regret it. :- )

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Quilt Maker's Prerogative

Back in June I won the block of the month drawing at my local quilt guild. There were about 20 blocks. I made a couple more in the days after receiving the set, thinking I would make a couch quilt for myself. Well, time has passed and I've changed my mind.

The blocks are a version of the Seesaw pattern, 12 inches finished. Two of the original blocks were too small to use. The directions for the block offered both a paper pieced option and traditional piecing methods. I suspect a couple of the participants who used paper piecing had some difficulties. I don't blame them at all; my mind doesn't work that way either! I took one of those blocks apart, added a bit of fabric from my own stash, and created two 6" blocks for the Parts Department:

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the other one that's too small. I may take it apart one day. For now it goes into the Parts Department.

So I played around with the rest of the blocks and as I was playing I remembered the effort to provide quilts for those who are receiving chemo treatments in our local hospital. I learned that it's often chilly in the room where the patients sometimes have to sit for hours. Radiation patients are also given quilts at the end of their treatment cycle as a sort of graduation present. These quilts need to be big enough to warm a body but not so big they are cumbersome or get in the way. My 20 Seesaw blocks set 4 x 5 would make a top 48" x 60," a perfect size for this purpose.

I purposefully kept the lightest blocks in the center and used the darker blocks around the perimeter.

Two blocks didn't make the cut. They just didn't seem to fit in.

Once I had the blocks arranged to my satisfaction it didn't take long to set the top. It was a bit startling actually, to be done so quickly! And I don't have to worry about coming up with batting or backing or even the binding. There are other dedicated quilt makers who will take up the project from this point. Woohoo!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


How is it possible that it's been so long since my last post???! Technically I guess it's only been ten days but with the new calendar month it feels and sounds like longer. I can only plead poor mental and physical health as my excuse.

The Parts Department Quilt top is complete. It's also too big to get a good picture but I can show you this one, taken on the living room floor.

It turned out to be about 87" square. You can see in the lower right corner that I used the same sashing print that I framed the Lego center with to bring the 12" borders up to size. I also took the easy way out with the backing and bought a blue 108" wide paisley that was on sale.

In other news, I recently made this string quilt for my Dear Father-in-Law.

DFiL is an avid reader and historian. I began with the book print you see in the outer border and then searched out other prints that would reflect his interests. There are a few images that represent places he's lived or visited too. And filler text prints. I even threw in some Hebrew text for his love of the scriptures.

DFiL also enjoys putting together jigsaw puzzles. My DS the quilter did a fantastic job giving the quilt the look of a completed jigsaw puzzle:

Dad was overwhelmed when the quilt was presented to him during our family reunion. That's such a good feeling for the maker!

I based Dad's quilt on this one I made for myself in 2012:

I even used some of the same prints in both quilts. My quilt was entered in the county fair this year and was awarded both a first place blue ribbon and the Best in Class rosette!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Little Helper

Well, here's how I filled that hole in the third side of the Parts Dept. quilt top:

And then it took me the better part of the week to create the fourth side:

Which doesn't sound so bad now but it sure felt like slow going during the week. Of course, the migraines don't help. I still haven't laid out all the blocks around the top to make sure I'm happy with their current placements but that day will come.

Because I haven't felt up to that task but because I had to stitch something I turned to a UFO. This one happened to be a doll. The pattern, some of the fabrics, and the inspiration came in a package from Alma Stoller early in 2010 as far as I an remember.

She's only a little stump doll (meaning she has no legs) about eight inches tall.

Longtime readers may remember the stamped swatch of muslin that crosses her chest:

That was in the package of goodies from Alma. I foundation pieced the scraps of fabric to create the front and back body panels. Her arms are stuffed with a bits of Warm & Natural batting. Then she was whammied by my magic beading needles. ;- )

Even on her back!

Her hair is a bit of fancy trim. I debated whether to leave her face without features, like the Amish do. In the end I used a couple of beads for eyes and a heart sequin for her mouth.

I'm especially pleased with the application of the 'dream' charm.

Since she is part self-portrait and part motivation angel I gave her scissors and something to work on.

All I have to do now is clear off some space near my main work station so she can be nearby to do her job!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

More Block Play

I want to thank everyone for their kind comments on the work I've been showing recently. I'd have posted something new by now but I've been having difficulties with my photo management system. There's probably a simple, logical fix. I just haven't had the mental capacity to deal with computer issues. Let's see what I can dredge up...

I have blocks arranged for three of the four sides of my Parts Dept. quilt, working one side at a time. In spite of the number of 12" blocks I had in my Parts Drawer very few of them actually played nicely together. I've been having to make at least two new blocks per side. They haven't been sewn them together yet in case I feel the need to rearrange them when I can see them all at one time. That's going to have to take place on our living room floor or maybe even in the front yard if the weather holds. ;- )

Apparently I only have pictures of two sides. Here's one:

And here's the other:

Hmm, there's a hole in that side that I have since filled. Guess you'll have to wait and see what I put in there! Maybe I can get my photos sorted out so you don't have to wait forever to see my progress. I've made another whole quilt you haven't seen any particle of yet too. It was a gift and has been given so now I can make it public. :- ) I just have to find an easier way to access the pictures!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rippit, Rippit

For those to whom it matters, this is a photo heavy post.

Once I had the 12" Lego blocks arranged to my satisfaction I started auditioning Bow Tie blocks to surround the square flimsy. Setting them straight was just too static.

So then I tried alternating them to create a scallop effect:

That held possibilities! I could have kept to one color family per side but decided to mix 'em up a bit more.

In a burst of energy and enthusiasm I put 6" Churn Dash blocks in the corners and sewed the borders to the flimsy.

The next morning I found I wasn't exactly happy with the way this looked. Those Churn Dash blocks were just too small and wimpy up against the Bow Ties. I dug around in my Parts Drawer and found some 7.5" blocks to try as cornerstones:

Better. But in order to use those I'd have to take off the Bow Ties and add 1.5" all the way around the Lego block flimsy. {sigh} I decided I would do that if I could find an appropriate print. Otherwise I would leave it as is.

First thing the next morning my seam ripper and I were hard at work.

rippit, rippit!

It was worth it in the end:

Now I'm auditioning 12" blocks for the final round to create a full/double bed quilt top.

In spite of all the blocks that size in my Parts Dept. I'm having to make some new ones. Not everything in the Parts Drawer plays nicely together. ;- )

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Quilt From the The Parts Department

Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran changed my life when they introduced the concept of a Parts Department in their collaborative quilt books. My favorite part of quilt making is probably making blocks. Well, that and the challenge of using what's on hand rather than buying fabric specifically for a project.

As a result I now have a drawer chock full of blocks and units in various sizes. I also have strips of varying widths and lengths, most of which are hanging in my studio closet. Not too long ago I spent some time making six inch liberated log cabin blocks out of the shortest of the 2.5" strips.

I put them up on the design wall as I trimmed them to size but wasn't moved to do more with them at the time. They ended up in the Parts Drawer.

Meanwhile, the shortest two inch scrap strips continued to accumulate in their little basket until it was mounded and dripping. So I finally sat down with them to make twelve inch "Lego" blocks using the Jelly Roll Race technique. Now look at the basket!

There might be enough bits left for one more 12" block but I don't need one more right now. FYI, I sewed the two inch strips together end to end until I had a single strip just over 100" long and then folded that strip over and sewed it to itself three times (to make 8 rows per block) to get a square large enough to comfortably trim to 12.5."

These are the blocks as they were finished, also haphazard on the design wall:

This batch of blocks and the wildfires burning homes to the ground in eastern Washington have motivated me to begin a new quilt to donate to someone who now has nothing to call their own. I will be donating the finished product through Jean over at Layers of Hope Quilting 911. I'm shooting for a double/full size top. These blocks will get me halfway there!