Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Tula Pink-tastic!

Such a miserable day today - it has rained non-stop and is cold too - so it is a pleasure to be writing about a much more colourful world than the one outside my window: the world of Tula Pink

I am sure lots of you will know all about Tula already, after all she has been designing fabric for twelve years and has just brought out her 25th fabric collection.  Ask me how I know this, and I will tell you that ten days ago I attended a lecture by Tula at Denbies Wine Estate which was organised by The Quilt Room in Dorking.

I didn't know at all what to expect as I knew something of Tula's fabrics but wouldn't have classed myself as a fan particularly.  However I was completely won over by Tula's warm personality and sense of humour, and the generous way in which she shared some of her history, process and approach to designing fabric and making quilts.  

Actually that's what won me over right from the start - the fact that she told us she sews every day, often for 6-8 hours, and that she makes all her own quilts, partly because she loves to sew, but also because she then knows how the fabric works when it is cut up.  The whole room responded to this - we were clearly all quilting addicts and recognised a kindred spirit!

It is this information feedback loop wh Tula gets through sewing which she feels makes her a better designer, so we get even better fabric to use ourselves as a result of her dedication to her craft.  She also knows that, although she makes quilts which use a single fabric collection, we make our quilts from older stashed fabrics as well as new, so she takes care to ensure that fabrics from all her collections work together.

Another other useful design tip, which I shall be passing on to my perfectionist students, is that you are allowed to have bad ideas when you are trying to create.  Allow yourself time to get all the bad ideas out of the way (scribble all over the first page of your brand new sketchbook, so you don't have designer's block) and then the good ideas can come to the surface.

We learned so much about many aspects of the quilting industry as well as Tula's unique style.  If you ever get the chance to hear Tula speak or to take a class with her, I would urge you to sign up immediately.  It was a privilege to have been there and I would definitely call myself a fan now!

I am looking forward to buying Tula's new book which is a collaboration with Angela Walters: the piecing and the machine quilting look sublime!  So I have laid in a supply of Tula's new line called All Stars which includes 22 fabulous solids, and some glorious spots and stripes as well as some of the detailed prints for which she is famous.

Many thanks to Pam and Nicky at The Quilt Room for organising a great morning which had me buzzing with inspiring ideas all weekend.  And if you want to get your All Stars fabric in advance of everyone else, have a look on the Quilt Room's website or pop into the shop.  You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday 14 Feb: So sad, and rather shocked, to learn today (see this announcement) that Free Spirit Fabrics is ceasing to exist with pretty much immediate effect.  

I really hope that the talented designers including Tula Pink, but also Amy Butler and Kaffe Fassett, Anna Maria Horner and Denyse Schmidt, who have been with the company for a long time and who have produced such interesting, innovative and unusual fabrics over the years, find a new home so that they can continue to create and make their marvellous designs available to us.

Meanwhile, The Quilt Room does have bolts of All Stars and other Tula fabrics, buy now while stocks last!

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Friday finish - Sampler Block Shuffle

Hi everyone - well into February already: how did that happen?

I managed to quilt and finish quite a few quilts in January (four, including the Giant Four-patch Star blogged here) but we have had such poor weather I have only just been able to photograph some of them for you.

As I am so far behind with things to show, there will be lots of photos in this post.  I hope it won't be too indigestible... here goes:

First of all, my Sampler Block Shuffle quilt from 6" block patterns supplied by Moda via the Fat Quarter Shop on a weekly basis back in 2015/16: here is the link to the patterns.  

Looking back through old posts I find that I last blogged about this project back in February 2016 (two whole years ago).  Here is the link if you are interested.  By that date I had made all the blocks except the two applique patterns (which I chose not to do), and as I had made extra blocks to try out  colour and value variations, I had 60 blocks altogether.

I am a little bit surprised to find that I didn't blog about putting the blocks together. The last few months of last year are a bit of a blur if I am honest, but I think that at some point last summer I must have decided it was high time I finished this project, as the blocks had spent the intervening 18 months 'resting' quietly!

What took time, as usual, was deciding how to set and finish the top.  I was pretty sure I wanted a straight set and narrow sashing, and that I wanted to make the flying geese border using scraps of all the fabrics to help visually tie the blocks together.  Sixty blocks weren't quite enough for a satisfying layout, so I made an extra four blocks (of the simpler designs, I wanted a finish before too much more time had elapsed, after all).  That gave me a nice square set, eight blocks by eight.

Eventually I decided on a 'barely there' sashing which wouldn't take attention away from the blocks or impose too grid-like a structure.  And I had the perfect neutral fabric in my stash, a narrow cream stripe, and also a good backing fabric, both earmarked for other projects, needless to say!  [Backing is Prairie Paisley II by Polly Minick and Lauri Simpson for Moda].  Binding was scrap, a very old soft green with random pink and blue speckles, but just right, I felt - hooray for being able to 'shop' one's scrap and stash!

I thought you might like to see how I made the flying geese: I used a paper foundation by the same company as makes Triangles on a Roll, as it was important that the geese didn't stretch since the borders would help to keep the quilt top straight and true.

The technique is basically stitch and flip but because you cut the pieces the right size first it is not wasteful.  Once you get the hang of where to stitch and where to fold, the length of perfect geese emerges quite quickly from under your sewing machine needle.  The slow part (joking!) is removing the paper foundation afterwards - tweezers really help with this task!

I made square in square corners from two pieces of flying geese foundation paper overlapped.  Not rocket science but I got a buzz from working that out.

The payoff came when I attached the geese borders to the top and they fitted perfectly.  So satisfying.  I got particular pleasure from this as I am famous for usually having to fudge or even bodge to get a good fit....

The quilt finished at 62" square.  You can see the quilting in the two closeup photos here: I did it all on my home sewing machine, putting the ditch lines in first and then the flowing design alternating in the blocks.  As the quilt isn't huge it wasn't too bad turning it and I got into a rhythm.

OK I think that's probably a long enough post.  Alfie certainly looks as though he has suffered enough.  Hope you have a good weekend and I am linking to Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday (even though it's now Saturday!).

The rest of the finishes and my current WIPS will have to follow, plus my recent Tula Pink experience - tantalising!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Grey January

Well, thoughts of Spring last week banished this week by rain, rain and more rain!  Shan't be sorry to see the last of January this year: I thought the old saying was 'February, fill dyke'?  Maybe there will be more rain to come, but let's hope for a few dry days so I can photograph and share my finishes.

I have been quilting mostly this month as I sorted out my WIPs and there were far too many tops finished but waiting to be quilted.  Actually, after putting off this final stage of the process for too long, I have found it really enjoyable to focus on finishing, and having the end of the month as a self-imposed deadline has been useful. 

I am not keen on deadlines but they do work, so I guess I should set a few more targets in my life and try not to get distracted by new fabric/ideas....

So here is a glimpse of what I have been quilting the past few days: more photos and info will follow next week, I hope.

I can share a small project finish though: here is a quilt-as-you-go thread catcher which I made last Friday using this tutorial from The Sewing Chick.  Very enjoyable and all from scrap, though the blue linen I used for the main part of the outside shifted like mad when quilting despite being spray basted.

It is larger than I had anticipated (mine came out slightly larger than the tutorial said), standing 5 1/2" tall and nearly 6" in diameter, so it will hold a LOT of threads!  But being so large means it will not tip over easily and it would make a useful basket for other things eg spools of thread, small tools, keys if you made one as a gift.

The tutorial is very clear and I definitely recommend you have a go.  If you have everything to hand and don't spend too long agonising over fabric choices (!) you can make it in a couple of hours.

So linking to Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.  Good luck with your finishes this week.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Giant Four-patch Star

Hello again, and my first finish for the New Year.  I can't quite believe I am actually posting without making excuses or apologies for lack of progress.  I have worked hard on my quilting this past couple of weeks, and have some other finishes in the pipeline which should be ready for next week - so look out for further posts!

Really glad to be able to share this finish with you today.  Thank goodness I stitched down the binding yesterday and took the photos when it was frosty and sunny: today has been dreary, rained all day and generally miserable weather.  Still it's a reminder to make the most of the good days of winter, and gives me an excuse to stay in today and sew/blog.

So here is my Giant Four-patch Star, based on Carrie Nelson's design in her book, Schnibbles Times Two  as I mentioned in this post (she calls her quilt Plan C).  Carrie's patterns are intended to be made with Charm packs or Layer Cakes but I used fat quarters, made the quilt a bit bigger and left off the border.

I made most of the blocks for this quilt some years ago and then it languished (as so many of my quilts do when the first fit of enthusiasm has worn off and another project jumps into my mind).  I started to finish it back in September last year (see this post) when I was having one of my periodic purges of WIPs.  It didn't take long to put the blocks together, but then the question which so often derails my progress: how to quilt it.  (The other awkward question is usually, do I have a backing? but thankfully this time the answer to that was 'yes').

In the end I went with my walking foot and straight line quilting to emphasis the diagonals in the shape and flow of the stars across the quilt and to provide a counterpoint to the squares.  I am pleased with the resulting crosshatch in the centre of the stars and the overall density and texture (haven't washed the quilt yet but I think it will look even better when it crinkles).

This is quite a large quilt: the squares are 4" finished so the star blocks finish at 16".  Quilt measures 64" x 86".

The red spotty backing is a lively contrast.  I am slightly nervous but a Sevenberry fabric shouldn't run (should it?) and I did try a spot test on a scrap which seemed OK.  I shall put lots of colour catchers in the machine when I do wash it though.  I guess I shouldn't have been in such a hurry to layer and quilt: red is always a slightly unreliable dye.

 So here's the last shot and a link to Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Finally, some tulips to turn our thoughts towards Spring on a dreary January day.  Hope you have a lovely weekend.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Beautiful baskets

For Finish it up Friday's link up at Crazy Mom Quilts I am showing you photos of the baskets Miriam, Sophie and I made just before Christmas and which I have only now got around to photographing.

We used the free One hour basket Tutorial (available here) and chose Bosal In-R-Form for the 'wadding': it is a bit too bouncy really to be referred to as wadding in my view, but it does give a firm structure, and as the girls wanted their baskets for storing their fabric collection it was a good choice.  As you will see from the photos it really helps the baskets to hold their shape.  

Despite its bulk, the foam was easy to stitch through with a regular needle and ordinary machine foot, and I am about to order some more so we can make a few more baskets in other delicious fabric combinations to brighten up our sewing areas.

We tweaked the pattern slightly as some of our fat quarters were on the skinny side: read through the instructions first and measure your lining FQ.  If it is a little shy of 21" deep ie top to bottom, you will need to reduce the height of the side panels slightly for both inner and outer.  I think mine ended up being 9 1/4" whereas Miriam managed to get 10 1/2" for hers.  The difference isn't particularly noticeable in the finished baskets.

We did use lightweight interfacing to reinforce the lining fabric (I tend to do this for all my bags and pouches as quilting fabric on its own is a little thin for such articles).  You will see that some of the  basket handles stand up better than others so next time we will probably include a bit of interfacing in the handle pieces.  

Here the fabric has been beautifully arranged by the girls, and I hope you will see it all find its way into quilts this year.

Have fun this weekend if you are planning a spot of fabric stroking, or even sewing.  If you have a spare hour you could make a basket!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

2018 - WIP roundup and a new start, again

Having failed to post a sign-out for 2017, here I am signing in for 2018 and wishing you a Happy New Year nearly two weeks after the event. I hope you all had a happy and peaceful Christmas, if not a totally restful one: we had a full house with elder son back from USA and younger one home from university.  I had forgotten just how much food is required when cooking for five and how much washing up there is!

It was lovely to have all my kids at home for a while, despite them rushing about a lot catching up with friends, and everything piled up to make room for extra beds etc.  Now the decorations are down and we are slowly getting straightened out, as I am sure you are too.  Not quite time for Spring cleaning but some re-ordering required.  There are some great posts out there about re-organising one's sewing space (I wish) and it is such fun to peek at other people's domestic arrangements: try this one from Amy Smart which includes a few other links to inspiring and organised quilters and lots of lovely photos.

It always takes me a while to pick up the threads, both literally and metaphorically, and get back into sewing, especially as my NY Resolutions this year include tackling some DIY and redecoration.  Our family bathroom is first on the list, but I struggle with having to make so many decisions at once: I think I love making quilts because one can change one's mind relatively easily along the way and allow the project to evolve, whereas the plumber has to know exactly what is required before he starts....

Anyway time to focus on sewing and where I am with my many WIPS.  I am not going to make a list here as that is just TOO depressing and quite boring for you.  My aim is to focus on just one thing at a time and to use this blog to set some deadlines so that I stand at least some chance of finishing at least a few of the  projects.  Then I can show you photos of completed quilts which hopefully will be much more interesting for all of us!

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos: damp and dreary outside and nowhere indoors with good enough light to get a decent photo of the whole quilt.

So the first thing I am concentrating on is quilting my giant Four-patch Star which I mentioned briefly in this post.  So far I have put in most of the long diagonal quilting lines, but I have been procrastinating over how to fill the spaces in between.  I think I have finally decided so watch this space for my first proper finish of 2018.... (though I am planning a sneaky Friday finish post for tomorrow).

I have three other quilts layered and ready to quilt and need to prioritise completing them in January (or what's left of it) as they have been in this state for several months.  Do you find that half the battle is actually deciding how you want to quilt a finished top?  I think this is why I am so much better piecing and so much more interested in starting something new, than in finishing a quilt.  If I have a clear vision early on about how to quilt a project I am far more likely to maintain momentum right through to a finish.

Maybe that should be my resolution for 2018: spend a little time really studying options for quilting and plan ahead while piecing the top so that I am in a position to make a decision quickly and get on with finishing. After all, it's not a quilt till it's quilted, and realistically I am never going to be able to hand quilt all the quilts I make.  I absolutely love the look of handquilting but at the moment it is just not an option.

Immediately before Christmas I really did not have much opportunity to sew (and over the holiday none at all, needless to say) but back in the distant days of early December I had an urge to 'tidy up' my scraps and do some relatively mindless sewing whenever time allowed.  In many ways this is my favourite sort of quiltmaking: to start with a muddle of strips which would otherwise go into the bin, and to make something useful and, hopefully, if not beautiful, then at least pleasing to the eye and heart.

Some time ago I had cleaned up my cupboard and cut all my odd scraps of calico (quilter's muslin to our American friends) into 2" and 1 1/2" strips and stored them neatly in a plastic box.  I had done the same with ends of yardage left over from previous quilts.  I have had in mind for a long time to make a quilt from one of Bonnie Hunter's marvellous books of scrap quilts.  I will show you which one when I have made the next part of the quilt, but for now here are the chequerboard borders in progress.  Feeling smug because I have split/opened the seam allowances to get a flatter finish: a bit fiddly but worth it in the long run.

And as if that wasn't enough to be going on with I had the urge to tame my neutrals too.  Here is what I started with:

Chain piecing and general mess making in progress:

And a neat pile of trimmed blocks to show for it.  This quilt is going to be similar to this one of Amanda Jean's from her book, No Scrap Left Behind, which is based on traditional string quilts.  Amanda Jean offered instructions as part of a quilt-along last year in June, which is also the name of her quilt!  There are photos of some really old examples of this quilt pattern if you look on Pinterest as well as newer versions, and it's a great way of using scraps without having a paper foundation to tear out at the end of the process.

It's fine if the scraps don't have parallel edges - I like the variety it gives to have some irregularity.  Using only neutrals was a fascinating experience as it is amazing the range of 'colour' there is in neutrals, and how one really starts to notice the detail in low-volume fabric which doesn't normally clamour for one's attention!  How about reviewing your scraps in 2018 and making something useful and beautiful out of 'nothing'?