Monday, February 25, 2013

Quilting on a Home Machine...

Well, I'm making progress. Yay!!

It's not been without its challenges, that is for sure. Yesterday while quilting I had my Free Motion Quilting foot break, then ran out of thread and the only other thread I have in the right color is on a cone, not a spool. My little machine is a horizontally loading machine, not a vertical loading/threading. Hmm.

I had my husband super-glue the FMQ foot, while I tried other feet to no avail.  I tried doing a bit of quilting with the foot in the up position, only to have loose stitches and such. My quilting mentor explained that when the foot is raised, the thread is not on the tension discs. That explained the sloppy stitching. Drat. I was thus forced to take a break while the glue dried on my foot, and then hope it held well enough that I could keep going.

Meanwhile, I hopped on-line to figure out how I could use my cone of thread with my non-cone-ready machine. Most of the suggestions I found were for vertically-loading machines, and I wasn't sure if they'd work or not on my machine.

I finally found a suggestion for a machine almost identical to mine --- put an empty small spool of thread (the skinny 100 meter size spool) on the extra little spool holder, the one that is mostly used for holding the thread with which you wind the bobbin. Then put the cone down over the empty spool and thread like normal; the empty spool helps hold the cone.  I've quilted two more blocks with it threaded this way, and it seems to be working. Whew!  The now dry FMQ foot seems to be holding up, too, so I'm back in business. Thank goodness!!
working on the quilt....

After I had figured this out, I received an email from my quilting mentor about this problem; to adapt the common suggestion of "place the cone of thread in a coffee mug and set it behind your machine, then thread like normal..." to work for machines with horizontal spool holders, she suggested taping a closed safety pin to the top of my machine, next to the spool holder. Place the safety pin so that the hole is facing towards the cone-in-a-cup, then when I bring the thread up from the cone, thread it first through the hole in the safety pin and then thread as normal. Genius! If I start having thread issues, I'll switch to this method. So glad to have another option, just in case!

Despite these bumps in the road, I still got a lot done yesterday. I had already done the vertical stitch-in-the-ditch quilting, and two rows of the horizontal ditch work. Yesterday morning I finished all the horizontal rows of stitch-in-the-ditch and then -gulp!- started the hard part --- free motion quilting in the center panels, to outline the comic strips that are the star of the quilt.

the best one (also, the first one)
I am just doing lines around the outside of each comic, and across the page breaks
and when the comic is large enough, like this one, outlining the mountain as well.
It was both harder and easier than I thought.  Harder, because I keep forgetting how much more difficult it is to move a huge bed quilt around under the needle vs. a small little baby quilt or a pot holder or something. This quilt is heavy, and with all of that bulk everywhere, it's not so easy to push it and pull it to and fro. Front to back is easy enough, but sideways, especially when pulling left to right (thus creating more bulk in the small neck of the machine, which is already rather full with nearly half the quilt shoved in there....) was difficult. Near the end I decided I could do zig zags, which were actually much easier than just dragging a straight line. I'll be doing that more and more on the remaining comic strip squares, I'm sure.

next-best. this smaller one wound up a bit more poofy
.....and a few squiggles and wiggles and bumps....
On the other hand, it was easier than I thought. My only foray into FMQ'ing prior to this was trying to do cute, decorative, scrolly hearts. FMQ'ing straight(ish) lines is much easier. Much. Not that my lines stayed straight, at all, but then since I'm going to use decorative stitches for the main quilting, I'm hoping the lack of straightness won't be a huge deal. I hope.

took this one at an angle, sorry; this shows the zig-zags.
Much easier to do. Much. 
Forced breaks and all, I managed to finish 7 of the 14 comic strip blocks. Wow!! I feel like I am making really good progress on this quilt, and I'm excited and more confident now that I have those blocks done. Instead of dreading the rest, I'm now looking forward to it. Yay! Maybe a finished quilt by the weekend, depending on whether or not life allows me sewing time this week.

Can't wait to show off the finished quilt!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Did you see this??? Honeycombs....

Ohmygoodness!!!! Wow!

I check Moda Bake Shop pretty much daily, because the projects people come up with are so inspiring. Mostly I love to design my own thing, but I still love looking at what other people create.

I am so glad I do, because when I checked today, I found Honeycombs!!!!

Moda is introducing a brand new pre-cut ----- six-inch laser cut hexagons!!!!! Ohmygoodness!!!

I've recently been thinking of a quilt to make for my mom, something besides the BOM I'm working on. It won't be for this Christmas, and maybe not for a while, but I'm dreaming up a twist on the traditional Granny's Flower Garden pattern. I haven't worked it all out yet, but it will definitely involve hexagons.

One of my dearest quilting friends loves to laugh at me, because when I design stuff I don't stop and think "is this the easiest way to do this?" -- I just design, and however it needs doing, I do it. Like the Argyle Baby Quilt, which would have been so much easier if I'd used large diamonds instead of piecing it out of small triangles. Or making the main bit out of squares, then just making a strip for the middle that involved triangles/diamonds, and piecing that in. Or any number of easier ways I could have done that, but I wanted it to be all pieced, and all triangles.

So the whole hexagon thing......I know the Granny's Flower Garden quilt will be hexagons, but I haven't figured out or even thought so far as to construction, is there an easier way, etc. It's right now just an idea rolling around in my head, waiting.

Then today, my daily click over to Moda Bake Shop, and I see the Honeycombs. Squeee!!!! So far it looks like they'll be available in Bella Solids, which is brilliant if you ask me, and I cannot wait to get my hands on some. It is, sadly, a long time until I'll next be in the US, but you better believe this will be on my shopping list. My Granny's Flower Garden quilt just got a million times easier -- thanks, Moda!!

Even better, the post at Moda Bake Shop today includes a fantastic tutorial on piecing together hexagons (yay!, need that!!), AND the Honeycombs come with a plastic template, with pre-drilled holes for marking the dots in the corner that tell you the stop/start point for piecing by machine. Moda really thought of everything with this! The tutorial even has a printable grid so you can pre-color your color placement when designing your quilt. I am seriously crazy-excited about these!!

Couldn't resist sharing the excitement with you; can you see yourself using these pre-cut hexies? What would you do with them? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No More Stalling: Ready to Quilt!

I spent a lot of time over the weekend stalling, working on any & every small project I could think of. Not because I was in the mood to sew, but because I was scared out of my mind to start quilting The Comic Strip Quilt.

For one thing, it's the biggest project I've ever done. Until now, I've only quilted a baby quilt and a Christmas tree skirt. And now I'm trying a queen sized bed quilt. On my little home machine, with bare-bones features. And I thought I'd have to use my tiny table, which you can see in the photo, but luckily my husband is a generous and understanding guy and has agreed to let me use the big dining table (seen in the earlier denim place mats post) and we'll eat on the small table until the quilt is done. Whew!

Small projects finished, table arranged, quilt plan figured out --- it's time. No more stalling. Time to start quilting.

So, over the weekend I laid it all out, pieced the backing fabric together, pieced the batting together, shoved all the furniture out of the way and spread out the top. I got things as smooth as I could, probably still not smooth enough, and pinned and pinned and pinned until I ran out of pins. I hope it holds together long enough to get the stabilizing stitches in. I seriously need to invest in more pins, and the right kind for this job. Or spray basting stuff. Or something.

all laid out, ready to go

I had a slight moment of almost panic, seeing it all laid out like that. It is huge. Seriously gigantic. I didn't measure it after I put the last borders on, but it winds up around 82" x 92" or so. Wow. Still, I'm finally to a point where I'm excited to get going and finish it, rather than overwhelmed by the idea. It's something amazing, seeing a quilt I designed getting so near to completion. Wow.

The plan is this:

  1. Stitch in the ditch along all the vertical seams, then all the horizontal seams, to stabilize the quilt. By "all" I mean the ones between sections, not necessarily each individual seam in the rail fence blocks.
  2. Using my FMQ (Free Motion Quilting) foot and feed dogs down, outline the comic strips. This is just straight lines, but with feed dogs down I can move the quilt instead of having to pivot and wrestle the thing through the neck of the sewing machine. 
  3. Still using FMQ, and a switch to red thread in the top, echo quilt inside the red frame pieces. Again, straight lines, but using FMQ so that I can move the quilt without pivoting. 
  4. Turn the quilt horizontal and go back to the walking foot to straight line quilt it, edge to edge. In the black section I will use one stitch type and in the white section a different stitch type, to emphasize the interlocking aspect of the design. When I say edge to edge, I am excluding the borders. 
  5. Border quilting. I am not 100% sure what I'll do here. In the pieced portion of the border, I'll just do straight lines that echo the edge of the quilt, but in the narrow "solid" borders on either side of the pieced border, I'm not sure if I'll do that or something more interesting. I'll figure that part out when I get there, unless someone has suggestions. Ideas? Anyone? 
  6. If needed, I will then do any fill-in work around the comics. I'm not sure if it will need it or not, and won't know until I see how densely the rest of the quilt gets quilted, etc. We'll see. 
Whew. Sounds like a lot, but breaking it down into steps really helps me feel less overwhelmed. One step at a time, and it will be done. I can't wait to come back and show you pictures of the finished product! I hope you'll come back to see it when it's done. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sidetrack: Denim Place Mats!

I've been stalling like crazy because the idea of quilting the Comic Strip Quilt is just really daunting to me. I finally have a plan and it's actually now basted and ready to go, but before I show that off I wanted to side track into what I did while stalling.

My middle son, The Artist, has been asking for his quilt for ages and now that his older brother's quilt is nearly done I took him shopping for fabric. That turned into a financial nightmare as I more or less lost my mind and let him buy imported fabrics, which are over twice the price as national fabrics. Then I added "just a few" fat quarters that I found, which went really well with our atrocious lime green plates, as I wanted to make place mats and maybe cloth napkins out of them, to make the lime green make sense. I forgot that my fat quarters were also imported and somehow we wound up with 14 meters of fabric at imported prices; it was crazy. Shocking. Scary. Won't make that mistake again, for sure.

(for any who don't know, we live in South America, so US fabrics.....crazy expensive here). 

But, my boy has exactly the fabric he wants for his quilt, and I have place mats that make me love my gross lime green plates, and I have enough fabric left over that I think I can begin a third BOM quilt for myself, using the bright colors mixed with the black leftover backing fabric from the Comic Strip Quilt. yay! I need to measure the left over backing fabric to be sure, but I think it will work. So, that makes the shocking expense a little more bearable, having gotten so much out of it.

The place mats turned out fantastic. I used denim from old jeans --- with three boys, we have a LOT of old jeans. They are all different enough body shapes that no one can pass jeans on to the next brother, so I had a huge stack to pull from. Not anymore, as almost all the jeans gave up their legs for these!

mix & match denim place mats
since I didn't measure, none of them are the same size. Oops.
but see the lime green? that's so it matches the dishes....
 Because I'd spent so much, and because I don't keep batting on hand, I wanted to make place mats that didn't require a batting/backing layer, and I wanted sturdy enough to be laundered, and non-girly enough that all the boys in the family wouldn't rebel. Thus the denim.

I cut the legs into more or less a place mat size, no measuring, and cut strips from the fat quarters --- 3" wide strips for the base color, then 2" wide strips for the accent stripe. I had base colors in 4 shades, but 2 prints of each shade: red, turquoise, green & yellow. Then I had two accent stripes: turquoise with large dots, and red with multi-colored stripes.  I cut enough strips to make 12 place mats, and layered the strips randomly.

you can see on this one, I had to piece two legs together to get a large enough denim base

this shows a good close-up of the zig zag stitch used
(you can click on the photo for a larger view)

To make the place mats, I glued down the strips with washable glue stick, then did a wide zig-zag along the raw edges to secure each strip; then I folded over the denim and did a wide zig-zag to secure the folded edges. Easy-peasy, and they've held up to washing once already, no fraying or shredding or anything. yay!

ignore the messy plates, but I had to show the green.
although, none of the place mats show the green, but you can just see it in the photo above this one.
Each place mat has at least a touch of that green, thank goodness.

The boys like the mix & match aspect and that these are not girly; I like that they are cute without being frilly, and most of all, that now the green plates make sense and when we tire of green, these place mats give us a wide palette to choose from when we get ready to buy new dishes.

This was a fun impromptu little project, but now it's time to tackle the big one --- quilting the Comic Strip Quilt! Wish me luck!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sister's Ten: February Blocks

Can I just say, I am *loving* this Sister's Ten BOM???? I am. AnneMarie at Gen X Quilters has really done a fantastic job on the tutorials for each block so far. Now, I know it's only February, but still. Her cutting instructions, piecing directions, etc. are so incredibly easy to follow. Seriously.

I'm making two lap sized quilts (using the 9" block directions) in two color schemes, one as a gift for my mom and the other as a gift for my sister. I am so excited that when December gets here, I'll have a finished quilt for each of them yet it won't have taken an overwhelming amount of time or money (I was able to shop my stash for these! yay!!)

I'm going more traditional than modern for my mom, with a large scale print as my background fabric. I'm not sure the wisdom of that yet, and I might have to tweak the layout with sashing in a different color to help it make sense, but I love the blocks on their own.

My sister's is in purples, with peach as an accent color, and the small print is less traditional (but still not as modern as going with a solid) and more fun/funky, which I know she'll love. I hope.

I've never done a BOM before, but I adore being able to do a couple of blocks, once a month, and set them aside. Makes the whole "make a quilt for so & so for Christmas" feel like a very minor project instead of a big deal looming over your head. Love that!

Enough chatter, here are my February blocks. You can see the patterns/tutorials over at Gen X Quilters; AnneMarie has a convenient link with all the blocks in one place if you want to join in.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Almost There!! Comic Strip Quilt Update....

I've made some more progress, and I just have to show it off!

Over this past week, I got all the pairs of comics joined into one section for the Comic Strip Quilt, then got all three sections (black on the left, comics in the middle, white on the right) joined into one quilt top. Wow. So much work!!

Then I pieced together an insanely long strip of 2.5" wide grays and blacks, of varying lengths, until I had more than enough to become the inner and outer borders for the quilt top. I separated the blacks from the grays, but did no other planning than that. Then I just picked up one gray strip, grabbed a black strip from the other pile, joined them diagonally, and just kept repeating that black, gray, black, gray until I had all the strips joined and one massively long strip.

To make the borders, then, I measured across in three places in each direction to come up with the length I needed, then marked that length off on the floor, unrolled my strip of black & gray scrappiness, and cut to length. Two of each length, one for each side of the quilt. I will do this again when I'm ready for the outer borders.

Once cut, I laid out the whole quilt top, took the two side border strips and pinned each one in place. Lots and lots of pins. Then I rolled one edge in towards the other, carried my rolled quilt and set about attaching the borders to the quilt top.  Not having a proper sewing table, I make do by draping the quilt over my shoulder....if anyone has tips for some other method that might work, let me know! This is my first time piecing such a long/large quilt by machine, so I'm still figuring out what works and what doesn't.

yes, this really is my sewing space....hopefully will shop for a table, soon.
see the lovely "shoulder drape method"? anyone have tips for better ways to do this???

close-up showing how I guide the heavy part of the quilt with my outside hand,
and use my inside hand to keep the border & quilt top raw edges lined up as best I can.
I still had to go over three spots (total, from all four sides) where one or the other had shifted and the stitches hadn't caught the bottom layer. Oops. Tips for that????

Once I had the side borders on, I repeated the process for the top & bottom inner border, sewed, then laid out the quilt again so I can measure for the pieced border which will go on next. I've got to do some additional piecing on those before I can put them on, but doesn't it look great so far?! I'm still amazed it is actually turning out like the picture...the picture I designed & drew. Crazy!!!

quilt top & inner border, ready for measuring
I love how on 3 of the 4 corners, the fabrics lined up to look like it was on purpose.
It wasn't. The fabrics that seem to turn the corner, total accident.
A happy one, but an accident just the same :) 
How do you handle large projects? Have any tips for this newbie?