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Monday, June 29, 2009


With a vast number of projects stacked on my worktable, you would hardly think I needed to get set up for a new one! But as so often happens, a single fabric caught my eye and suddenly The Perfect Project sprang to mind.

I have long intended to sit down and make Christmas Quilts...quilts that come out and are only put on beds between December 1st and January 1st. But it turns out I am extremely picky about my Christmas quilts...I loathe projects that tip over into the sugary-sweet, trite and twee range, and the bulk of Christmas patterns fall into that category. I want something that evokes the spirit of the season without drowning you in it.

Enter the Wintergraphix II fabric line by Jason Yenter for In The Beginning Fabrics! One design jumped out at me, probably because I am a big fan of the lowly pine cone. Something about their simple yet complex design is fascinating, compelling, and satisfying to the eye. I knew I had a fabric worthy of an elegant, distinctive, and joyful Christmas quilt:

The pinky plums of the Amaryllis blooms and the poinsettia appealed, and having put together one One Block Wonder quilt, I could see that this fabric would really shine using that technique.

So six yards are on their way from Quilted Strait. Woo hoo! Yazaa! Now I wonder, which Christmas will this quilt debut on? 2010? Not at the rate I am going!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zen and the Art of Baby Quilt Making...

Finally! I had stockpiled these luscious flannels for a rag baby quilt, but wouldn't you know it? Everybody was having baby boys! At last, the advent of Jada was announced, and I could go to town with my pink flannels.

I chose to make a rag quilt, although the square in a square design dictated a rail fence type of rag pattern. I suppose I could somehow have figured out how to rag only the margins of that inner square, but thinking about the logistics made my brain hurt.

Which violated my Second Law of Quilting:

Quilting has to feed your soul, not drain it.

In other words, I quilt to restore my energy levels, not to sit in tears of frustration, madly sewing and ripping against a deadline. I find that working in colours I love is essential to this process: when I work in fabrics and colours I do not like, things do not go well. Not with me, and not with the quilt.

Baby quilts are not just lovely to make, celebrating the birth of a new little person and working with a heart full of joy and good will, but they are small. And that means you can finish one fairly quickly, and get that pop! that comes from viewing a finished work. It also means you have the luxury of trying out different techniques and finishes, in a timeframe that is friendly to picking up and practicing a new skill without getting tired or bored. And the investment in materials is also small, so if things don't go well, you can afford to either scrap the project or donate it to a worthwhile cause.

For all those reasons, I am a big fan of baby quilts.

As I constructed the quilt, I realized it needed a border to set it off, and I was fortunate to find exactly the right fabric, this fabulous yellow and pink pansy flannel from Northcott Fabrics, from the Chapel Hill collection by Ro Gregg:

To give it a final finish, and because I remember how much I loved the feel of the satin ribbon binding on the blankets we used when I was a child, I hunted out the perfect rich pink ribbon and added that as my final design detail:

I have to admit, this one will be hard to give away, a sure sign that you have a design worth repeating! So I stockpiled yardage of all the fabrics I used, and will be making a couple more to have ready for the next little pink bundles of joy.

Meanwhile, my cousin is expecting triplet boys! So much for pink!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Season of Growth

Columbine and matching Centranthus ruber, which seeds freely in my garden...

June on the west coast, usually an unsettled month of cold and rain, has been glorious. It has been high summer here at the edge of the Pacific, with temperatures far above even our usual August weather. The gardens are exploding with growth.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Quilts of Valour

It is funny sometimes how particles in your life collide at the perfect moment to create something new, or point you in a new direction. A year ago, I lost my father in law under particularly poignant circumstances. It was a watershed experience for me, and I have been missing Dad and thinking a lot about him and his life lately.

Dad was a veteran of WWII, a Pilot Officer who crewed on Lancasters as navigator/bombardier. He rarely talked of his service experience, sharing the unfortunate view of so many veterans, that no one could ever understand or empathize who had not been there themselves. I think that is quite untrue; anyone who has ever experienced loss and suffering has the requisite experience to understand, but I think it was more than that. I think Dad just found the combined weight of his wartime memories unbearable. I don't blame him for not wanting to relive them in conversation.

And then on Tuesday night's quilting guild meeting, our president Stella announced the guild would like to put together some Quilts of Valour for injured Canadian servicemen and women. With Dad walking so close beside me lately, it seemed a perfect project for me...combining community service, recognition of my Dad's military contributions, and comfort (both for me and the quilt recipient).

I did a little searching on QoV images the next day. Many of the quilts were beautiful, but they did not speak to me. I wanted something that honoured the land that inspired the service and sacrifice, but also something filled with life and colour. After all, this quilt will likely go to a young person, recovering from a serious battle injury. They may not be particularly in the mood to celebrate the flag, but will surely need good energy, support, and inspiration.

So I started off looking at scenes of Canada...often I find colour schemes in nature that I love, but would never have dreamt up by myself. And so I found my third particle, and the enterprise achieved critical mass:

Is that not beautiful?! I had already found one block pattern I liked, a modified log cabin with a maple leaf in the centre, from Debbie Mumm:

I liked the idea of shelter and nurturing in the log cabin portion of the block, and I like this slightly stylized but relaxed maple that lends itself well to that wonderful time saver, fused applique. But the browns did not enchant...I imagined instead that luminous blue-mauve from the photograph paired with a more subtle green. And batiks in glowing autumn colours, buttery yellow, pumpkin orange, cerise red, dark plum in the centre. Wow!

Somewhere, I can hear a shout of laughter. I think it's Dad.

The first of my blocks...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jingle Jingle!

These are the little guys I made for Christmas 2008! I was finishing a quilting class that winter and decided these would be the perfect gift to all my classmates on our last day of classes. They were a big hit!

Good tute:

I did not stain my clothespins (too much work!), but I did colour in their tiny hooves using a black permanent marker.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Lure of the Scrap Bag

Perhaps it conjures up irrestistible images of kindly circles of women contentedly stitching in armchairs by the fire, but I found myself helpless in front of an online ad for Moda Scrap Bags:

"These bags contain the left overs from Moda's production of layer cakes. Near the print plant, they were being destroyed. Moda swooped in and came up with a clever way to save a scrap! Each bag contain strips of 40 fabrics. Each strip varies from 2" to 4" in width. Each strip is 32" long. Each bag's strips are color coordinated. Approximately 1/2 pound of scraps."

Who could resist?!

As you can see, the scrap bags hold a lot of fabric (about 3 metres or yards), and that fabric is somewhat colour coordinated. Most are 2.5" strips, but this particular scrap bag had five 5" strips as well...yazaa!

Scrap Bag Pros:
-you get a lot of different fabrics with very little effort
-it stretches your colour choices; left on my own I tend to buy the same families of fabrics over and over, meaning I have a very predictable and rather inflexible stash. I would never have bought the turquoise prints in this scrap bag, but they do look good with the cherry reds and rich browns
-at $9.99 per bag, this is very inexpensive quality fabric!

Scrap Bag Cons:
-you do not get to choose the fabrics, so there are going to be patterns in there that you do not care for
-you have to work with what you have: 2.5" strips
-you can't easily get more of any particular fabric
-you are not going to be able to pre-wash and dry most of these strips
-unless you keep the roll intact (the bag contents are rolled up and held by an elastic band), these babies are going to be tough to store

Right away, these scrap bags solve one big problem I was chewing on: the price tag of charity quilts. I love making charity quilts, especially crib quilts, if for no other reason than that it is a great way to build your skills. But quilting costs can mount quickly, so I have to keep an eye on my fabric budget. Guilds usually put together free charity kits with donated materials, but frankly, the fabrics are, alas, often repugnant, breaking my Quilting Prime Directive:

Don't spend all that time and money to make something ugly.

And while struggling to make a lime yellow calico, a rust stripe, and a black and white print somehow come together in an aesthetically pleasing way is surely a great design exercise, I should add to my list of quilting maxims:

Don't donate horrible fabric to charities;
all God's children deserve eye candy!

I ordered three scrap bags, and was surprised to find two were practically identical. I am divided on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I had meant to give one to my sister, and it would be fun to see what we come up with having started with the same fabric. Or I could combine the two matching scrap bags into one larger scrap project. But given that my original intent was to expand my stash and my design sensibilities, I was a bit disappointed. If you want to minimize your chance of getting identical scrap bags, order in different seasons or from different sources.

Incidentally, that third scrap bag was almost all Christmas prints:

In balance, I am very happy with my experiment with Moda Scrap Bags. And I found a great site for ideas in using them, Karen Griska's Selvage Quilts...tons of great instructions and online workshops. If you want fabrics you really love and that inspire you, you still can't beat visiting fabric stores, either brick and mortar or virtual. But for a fun project that pushes your boundaries, get your design wall cleared and order some scrap bags!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

From the Work Desk

The One Block Wonder quilt continues! As the hexagonal blocks go up on the design wall, I am increasingly happy I chose this wonderful fabric; and that I decided to cut the triangles to 3.75" in height instead of 4". The smaller size gives more of a concentrated punch of design and colour.

And here is the first block from my Fig & Plum (by Fig Tree Quilts for Moda) Mystery Block of the Month project (source: the Quilt Shoppe).
The peach and plum pink colours are not typically those I am drawn to in the quilt stores, but they are beautiful and a real joy to work with. It points up the importance in any creative endeavour of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone both to acquire new skills and a new eye.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Woven Inspiration

One of the great uses to which I put my computer and the internet is finding yardage of fabric that would otherwise be unavailable to me. Recently I signed up for a One Block Wonder class on impulse...the class was set to go the next day, so it was a scramble for suitable fabric. I walked into a fabric store and immediately spotted something that was perfect, but there were less than two metres left on the bolt. I decided to use what they had for my class, which meant some fancy fudging to get six identical pieces to stack, and was able to order enough to complete my quilt via a quick online search. You can, if you know the fabric name, use any search engine, but is worth checking out. It is useful, say, for searching for something specific, like "blue homespun".

And it is often while browsing fabric sites that I get shots of inspiration for projects that have been brewing in my mind. My middle daughter has a love for all things Japanese, has studied the language and visited the country, and has asked me to make her a quilt to take to first year university in the fall. Obviously, using Asian inspired fabrics is the way to go, and in a quick browse of the 'net, I found this project:

Shiki Paper Lantern Kit from In the Beginning Fabrics

The quilt struck me as a little over-the-top feminine for Emma, but set off a whole shower of creative sparks. I realized that for Emma, a gifted artist and night owl, something reflecting the dark, mysterious and creative journeys of the night is more suitable, and so my thinking about that project was both refined and began to coalesce into something entirely different from what I had initially set out to do.

The Shiki line, though not suited for Emma, struck me as perfect for a crib/charity quilt (I love crib/charity, you can complete in a reasonable time frame, and a great way to expand and refine your skill set), and for myself and some future project, one fabric really stood out:

From the Shiki collection by In the Beginning Fabrics

That one, luscious fabric sent me on a browse for specific fabrics online, and ended in an order for a charm pack. Charm packs are fantastic for previewing get a square of each fabric in the collection, can play on your design wall with relevant combinations, then order online once you make your choices. And yesterday I turned up a pattern I am eager to try that is based on....charm packs! It is a crib quilt from the Moda Bake Shop, which is stuffed with wonderful, inspirational projects.

This has become a critical element in my quilting...the ability to draw from the internet a much wider exposure to fabric collections than is available in my local fabric shops, the ability to preview the entire collection via charm packs, and the ability to then order exactly what I need.

I have sympathy with and an affection for my local bricks and mortar fabric shops, to which I often go for spur of the moment projects and inspiration. But so often, they can only afford to stock a limited number of fabrics from any given season or collection, and that choice rarely reflects my own needs or tastes. And all too often, that one fabric that really stands out? They take the entire bolt and cut it up for inclusion in kits. Aarrrrghhh! Most frustrating! And, as I found when shopping for my One Block Wonder, they often do not have enough of the particular fabric I want, and no way to secure more for me. As the economy has stagnated, so has the fabric offerings in my local shops...fabrics which don't sell linger on, and eventually choke up the shelves. I support them as much as I can, but online fabric searching and shopping frequently comes to my rescue.

Just for your delectation, here are a few fabrics I came across yesterday in my search for Asian prints:

Miyabi Leaves Black, by Moda

Neptune Sea Creatures, by Moda

Let It Snow Batiks, by Laundry Basket for Moda

I haven't got enough money, time or space to collect all the fabrics that ignite my imagination: hope this little sampling starts you off on a creative journey of your own!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

General Inspiration

I frittered away altogether too much of the day cruising quilting websites, dreaming of the longarm setup I am going to get myself in the not too terribly distant future...

Here's one that I really liked
, as it is filled with quilt patterns. Mary has done a particularly fine job of the instructional .pdf's. Kudos, Mary!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Standard Shift

One of the things I like about quilting is that it is, when all is said and done, a spectrum disorder! It is not just one thing, or one skill, but a synthesis of many, which acts both as a boredom preventive, and a serious barrier to mastery. To quilt well and happily, and I think unless you are able to turn out a relatively accomplished end product, you are not going to quilt happily, you have to master a wide range of skills. And like learning to drive a standard shift, until you master the basics, you won't be able to move on to the fun part, which is flying along a country road, preferably one with lots of dips and corners, playing Rally Driver.

Quilting basics are: cutting accurately, sewing a consistent 1/4" seam (or watch this) and being able to quilt the top creditably with at least one method.

I was not born with pretty hands. Mine are large and plain looking; you would call them "man hands". Evidently, people notice that! While in my thirties, living in Winnipeg, MB, I was working with an elderly man, an retired wheat farmer. We were chatting away when he did a literal double-take at my hands, blurting out "Whoa! With hands like those, why did your Dad EVER let you off the farm?!" I smiled at him and replied "Because he was a dentist?". I have always been grateful for my manly hands: they are strong and coordinated, deeply useful, satisfying tools. But looming arthritis in my 51 year old body is changing my approach to everything in my life. Most of what I love to do involves a huge manual component, and if I want to keep doing those things, I have to guard against over-use of my hands. These days, if I push my use envelope, I can expect numbness and stiffness. So I take good care of my hands (by the way, massage therapy really helps) and ration hard use.

Most quilting tasks are pretty easy on the hands, but one that I am no longer up for is pin basting. I can do it, but it is just the kind of activity that will get me into trouble. So it was with great joy I found the Sharon Schamber two part video on hand basting quilts, which is available on YouTube:
Part One
Part Two

I like the method, which eliminates the need to crawl around the floor, or lean over a big bed or table. But I do not like removing the threads as I quilt, so I am going to try basting with a strong water soluble thread. That way I can just move right on to machine quilting, without pesky pins and threads in my way.

Meanwhile, I get to fly down that country road a little while longer.

Friday, March 13, 2009

One Block Wonder

In January, I decided I was ready to check out my local quilters' guild, the Boundary Bay Quilter's Guild. During show and tell, one lady brought out her remarkable quilt. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I couldn't tell how she had managed to make the thing. When I learned that it was a "One Block Wonder" quilt, and that a workshop would be held in my local quilting store, I signed up! (the photo above is from the website of Picton Fabric World)

Although I admire the expertise that goes into them, I am not a big fan of abstract or art quilts...but I love these One Block Wonders. Suitable fabrics should have long repeats and also discrete areas of contrasting colour (you know those little notes in the selvedge detailing manufacter, collection and colourway dots? one of those notations is printed per repeat). Since you will be constructing hexagons from identical triangles cut out of the fabric, you can preview your fabric in the store by taking along two small hand mirrors taped together:

You cut six repeats of the fabric, layer them so that they are exactly matched (there is a pinning technique), then cut 60 degree equilateral triangles. You then fan out the triangles, and this gives you a hexagonal, kaleidoscope-like block. Depending on which side of your triangle faces out, you can choose from three different looks to your block:

Which do you like best??

You then, following a few arcane steps, assemble the hexagons, preview their layout on your design wall, and then sew them together in the arrangement that pleases you most. As you cut and preview the hexagons, you have the excitement of never knowing what you will get, and the pleasure of seeing what you do! Addictive!

Here are my first blocks, up on my workstation design wall (fabric is from the Harmony collection by Henry Glass):

The Rouse Mouse

With my youngest of an age where I can now begin to take more time for myself, I decided to return to quilting. In the twenty years I had put my sewing aside in favour of small people, who are not compatible with projects requiring either pins or concentration, quilting has utterly changed. Cardboard templates and scissors, and the debate over whether it is really quilting if you use a sewing machine, are long gone. Facing rotary cutters, strip piecing, Roxanne's glue and specialty rulers, I decided it would be best to start at the beginning again. I enrolled in a Quilting 101 class, this one by Brenda Brayfield of "Log Cabins Rediscovered by Machine" fame, followed it up with her Quilting 201 class...ok, that was humbling...and have become absorbed by my new, or at least rediscovered, passion.

I have quickly discovered that while I love working with colour, I am very bad at thinking up colour schemes in my head. So one day, whilst trolling through the internet researching 5.5 mm feed dog Bernina sewing machines (which are fab for piecing), I came across the delightful website Here, Shirley posts her daily work in sketches and watercolours, and instantly I could see that her explorations of colour could help me refine my quilter's eye. Shirley also quilts, by the way!

But as I scanned her diary of sketches, I was riveted by her photos of small toys she had made for her grandchildren. Rice mice, she called them, and documented the very touching story of their appearance in her life. Years ago, one of her professors learned that his young wife was suffering from a terminal disease. Her name was Gunvor, and she was determined to leave behind mementos of her life, so that her young children would remain connected to both Gunvor and her heritage. To that end, she wrote Rice Mice are Nice and How to Make One. Long out of print (a reprint is currently being considered), Shirley still distributes the pattern to interested parties on the condition a photo of the finished Rouse Mouse is sent back to her and on to Gunvor's husband Sam. I agreed to that condition, and produced this little fellow for my little cousin Amber. I went on to make one for niece Madeleine, and more for myself. I like to tuck them into the gifts I send new babies; they are perfect for the new older sibling. And they are cheery, perched on my worktable.

Fabric used was Timeless Treasures Cuddle Flannel Swirls; eyes are bulk purchased from a bowling collection, and the whiskers can be crochet cotton, tatting yard, waxed thread, whatever you prefer. A piece of narrow leather lacing works well for the tail...I used chenille wool but it is not durable. Shirley stuffs her rice mice with the traditional 6-8 oz. of rice. If you stuff yours with poly as I have (for the cuddle factor), consider using a small round disc stuffed with rice in the bottom of the mouse to weight it slightly.

Update 19 October 2010
The book from which this little mouse is made is back in print!
Rice Mice are Nice and How to Make One
is available from
Publish Post