Monday, 31 December 2012

Colour Block of the Month: Green

The 2012 Colour Your World Challenge ends with green, the most christmassy of colours. Thanks M-R for the inspiration to play with colour this year! A few months ago, I had experimented with designs for a street sign, and since the first take didn't quite work out, I had a lot of abandoned block components to work with in green and white.

I piled all of the pieces on my cutting mat to see what could be done with them, and the random arrangement looked really good. I decided to try and reproduce the visual effect of this pile of scraps in my block.

The original block components were roughly rectangular, with a white side and a green one. I cut out some of the extra white and replaced it with the smaller scraps that had more green. I also added little bits of green print fabric to make the shapes more regular where needed.

Once everything was sewn together and trimmed, I ended up with some new pleasingly wonky block components. They looked much better individually than the original batch, though not nearly as interesting together as the pile I started out with.

Once everything was sewn together, I added a green border to match the other blocks. Here is the result:

The twelve colour blocks of 2012 look surprisingly harmonious together!

Now that I have my twelve improvised blocks, I'm ready to move on to the next step and make a quilt. I have in mind a twin bedspread, measuring 60" x 90". It will be made with 24 blocks, each measuring 15" square, which means I'll be making another twelve blocks to complement my collection of colour blocks.

My goal for 2013 is to make one block each month in the same colour as one of my improvised blocks, and quilt both of them individually over the course of the month. I will probably base most of these on the Pile O' Fabric BOM and the Craftsy BOM. At the end of the year, they should be ready to assemble into one crazy cool looking bedspread for our "guest room" (also known as the inflatable bed that just fits between the bookshelves in our library).

Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 Free Motion Quilting in Review

When I signed up for my first quilting class last October, I had no idea that there was such a thing as free motion quilting, or that my basic little Kenmore sewing machine was equipped to do more than sew in a straight line. One of the first (and best) resources I came across was Leah Day's incredibly helpful blog The Free Motion Quilting Project. With her help, I figured out what sewing machine feet I needed in order to get started, and how they worked. I ordered all three of my quilting feet from the Day Style Designs Shop since Kenmore didn't bother to make their accessories available for order in Canada. My free motion foot arrived pre-customized, which was awesome, and it has served me extremely well since then.

The first month was extremely frustrating. I spent more time re-threading the machine than actually sewing, but the key to learning anything is to stick with it and practice. Plus, my fellow quilters were full of tips and encouragement. I was able to follow along with the FMQ Project Quilt-Along for most of 2012, as well as the SewCalGal Free Motion Quilting Challenge. Both of these activities encourage you to practice consistently and learn at your own pace. I have to say that this model did much more for me than a physical FMQ course that I took this year. (One 8 hour FMQ course felt very wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am compared to learning online, and didn't really leave much time to address my questions.)

So how much have I learned this year? Well, here is my very first quilting sample from January:

An attempt at heart shape leaves - seen from the back

And here are some more recent projects for comparisson:

Over the course of the year, I also managed to turn my practice materials into twelve quilted flannel kitty rescue blankets. These blankets will be donated shortly to a local animal rescue organization, where I hope they can provide the comfort and reassurance necessary to help rescued cats find a place within new families. To find out how easily you can help, visit the Snuggles Project.

I've gained a lot of confidence in my sewing abilities over the past year, and learned a lot about troubleshooting and dealing with my machine's little idiosyncracies. I'm still finding it difficult to work on very large projects with the small amount of space I have available (the larger the project, the more often my thread snaps) but I'm sure practice will eventually make that easier as well.

For all of this, a big huge thank you to Leah Day! Thanks especially for taking the time to answer really basic questions which helped get past the small frustrations in order to make FMQ fun. I really enjoyed all of the designs, as well as the wholecloth and modern quilt projects. I plan to continue learning in 2013 with Leah's Craftsy course Free Motion Quilting a Sampler. I hope to quilt one of my improvised colour blocks every month, along with a matching sampler block. Can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Holiday Spirit in Felt

We made three adorable stockings at home this year, they were a Daddy, Grandson and Grandpa set. Of course I didn't think to take a single picture before mailing them away. Instead I am sharing some of the ornaments I made for our office decorating contest.

All of these are made from recycled felt and tiny fabric scraps. To fill up the rest of the space, I cut a few dozen cardboard ornaments out of colourful file folders from the recycling bin. Everything is attached to the wall using pins, which had to be pushed in quite hard and left their mark on my fingers for a week. I think they've all turned out quite well and look forward to adding to the collection next Christmas.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Colour Block of the Month: TARDIS Blue

November's Colour My World Challenge colour was blue. Yay! I'd been especially looking forward to blue, and planning what to do with my scrap of TARDIS linoprint fabric. You may remember this TARDIS fabric from the first installment of my Doctor Who drama "Oh no! The Doctor's been transformed into a penguin".

I've been using a different improvisational piecing technique for each month's block, and this month I went with the log cabin method in order to ensure the TARDIS would be the central element of this quilt block. The log cabin can be as traditional as quilt blocks get, but with some variable widths and unusual angles it can also go very modern.

I started with strips in lots of different shades of blue. I sewed the first one to the left side of my centre fabric, then one strip across the top, and kept going clockwise until it looked big enough.

I trimmed the shape into a square, added a matching border, and here is my finished blue TARDIS quilt block! It probably could have done without the dinosaurs... but that's the whole point of improvising.

So far I've got eleven colour blocks, there's only green left! The quilt size I plan to make with these actually requires 24 blocks, so each will be getting a companion block as they are quilted. I've got a plan for this in 2013. Can't wait to show you what I've got in mind.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Android Cover Complete

It's been a while since I got a chance to share my crafty adventures, but rest assured crafty adventures are being had. I finished my quilted smartphone cover last week, and so far it's been just as useful as I'd hoped. It fits snugly around my phone, keeping it from sliding out, and absorbs most of the noise from pesky telemarketing calls while I'm at work.

I lined the inside with thick cotton flannel, and it's been doing a good job of cleaning the screen when the phone slides in and out. I'm not sure many people understand what the little android appliqué is about (it is the Android operating system's logo), but I don't mind because it's just adorable.

The only downside to a non rigid cover is that it doesn't actually prevent any of the side buttons from being pressed when the contents of my phone shifts around, but so far that hasn't been an issue. The one issue that I have had so far is with the phone itself. When I first got it, the battery wouldn't hold a charge for a day, even when the phone wasn't used during that period. After much googling, and the installation of apps like CPU Spy and Better Battery Stats, we figured out how to make the device go into sleep mode when it's not in use, as it should have been doing all along. (You'd think the basic functions on a gadget this fancy would work right out of the box, but sadly that wasn't so.)

Now that the battery issues have been resolved, the phone and I are getting along all right. I've even got it singing Gangnam Style for all notifications to annoy the people around me. (I used to have my ringtone set to the William Tell Overture for the same purpose - hear it once and it's stuck in your head for hours. Go ahead, click here to listen to it and see what I mean!)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Matrix Quilting for my Android

After 5+ years of tolerating my semi-functional little dumbphone while everyone else cooed and purred at their shiny iPhone babies, I've finally made the leap into Smartland. Last week, I signed an agreement to spend the next three years caring for a Samsung Galaxy Note II. The store didn't have any protective covers for it, so I am putting a quilted one together for now.

I wanted a little Android applique for my cover, and none of the images I found online were quite doing it for me, so I started by drawing my own.

Android name and Robot logo are the property of and Android™ and being used under Creative Commons Attribution licence
Android name and Robot logo are the property of and Android™ and being used under Creative Commons Attribution licence
I used my template to make this little robot out of felt. It is actually quite tiny and took forever to cut out. The head piece is smaller than a quarter. 

I sewed it by hand onto my fabric, and then quilted the rest of the surface with Matrix, this week's Free Motion Quilting Project design. The design was perfect for this kind of project, and the small scale I used (about 1/4") gave the fabric a lot of texture.

There are some areas of this quilt that could have been smoother, either because I'm out of practice, or because echoing lines is harder than it seems. On the whole though, I'm loving this little quilt and I think it will make a very fun smartphone case. I plan to line it with thick flannel to clean and protect the screen. It should be complete and ready to use on the weekend. I look forward to showing it off!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fun Felt Ornaments

Here we are in good old autumn again, those lovely months when the temperature gets a little brisk and all of the golden red leaves gracefully float free of their branches. Or, in the Prairies, those couple of days that it takes for wind storms to rip the leaves off the trees and bring snow. At least we're too far inland to be affected by hurricanes, and if all else fails, I always feel better after checking out the weather forecast for Vostok.

Around this time of year, I like to make felt flower pins to wear on the lapel of my fall jacket. I've made two so far. They might end up as decorations for my office, since my thick furry winter (or 'prairie autumn') jacket is all business and doesn't have room for pins.

I've also started on a series of handmade ornaments, but not in any traditional holiday sense. We don't tend to decorate or put up a tree, but I did find a very cool branch this summer that is just crying out to become wall art.

I've cut some circles out of different colours of felt to embroider when I need to occupy my hands. All of the designs are freehand. I've just been sewing random shapes until it looks like something, and then turning it into that thing. The blue ornament in the top left corner, for example, started out as a top hat, then for a while it was going to be a lamp, and finally settled into the shape of a cat.

The next step is figuring out how to hang a branch on the wall without making holes or ripping off paint. More on this soon!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Colour Block of the Month: Grey

October's Colour Your World Challenge was to make a quilt block in grey. This worked out well for me, as I'd been wanting to experiment with ways to assemble a skyscraper for my urban quilt block collection.

I've been trying a new improvisational piecing technique for every month's colour block, and I decided to start this one off with strips of two grey fabrics. One selvage to selvage cut was just enough for two strips of each colour, and three striped ones.

I sewed all of the strips together into a rectangle, which was on its way to being skyscraper-esque, but still too blocky. I wanted the shape to taper slightly at one end to give the illusion of standing at the bottom of a building and looking up.

To create the tapered effect, I made a cut down the middle of each strip with a slight angle, so that each resulting piece was a tiny bit wider (1/8" to 1/4") at one end than the other.

It doesn't seem like much, but once I'd sewn all of the pieces back together with their larger ends together, the block did have the slight taper I was looking for.

I added some grey-on-blue sky to define the shape a little more, and squared up the block. Lastly, I added a grey border to match the previous colour blocks. And here it is, my slightly wonky, kinda-looks-like-a-building, grey block!

With the début of Leah Day's Free Motion Quilting a Sampler class on Craftsy, I now have a pretty clear idea of what I'm going to do with these colour blocks next year. But before we get to that, November's colour challenge is blue, so you can look forward to a TARDIS block very soon!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Blogger's Quilt Festival - Woodland Mini Quilt

Last spring was the first time I participated in the Blogger's Quilt Festival, and I had a great time. There are some amazingly creative and talented people out there, and going through their favourite creations gave me a lot of inspiration. I'm happy to be participating again, and sharing my favourite project from the summer. This was my very first attempt at hand quilting, and I enjoyed it a lot. Quilts can be nominated in several categories, and mine fits into doll/mini quilt, applique, and two colour quilt.

Amy's Creative Side

As inspiration for this quilt, I made some larger scale mushroom houses to match my adorable Natalie Lymer woodland fabric. Both of these were hand sewn from a pile of tiny felt scraps in order to pass the time on a plane ride.

I enjoyed this hand sewing opportunity, so on my next trip I pieced a small quilt to bring along, in addition to my felt mushroom houses. I spent the next ten days hand sewing the mushrooms onto the quilt, and then outlining all of the red sections with matching thread. Considering that this was my first attempt at hand quilting, and that a lot of it took place while sitting in the back seat of a truck, I think the stitching turned out remarkably well.

The felt mushrooms came out nice and puffy. I really enjoy using felt for applique because it adds a lot of texture and gives the quilt something soft that you want to reach out and touch.

This project started out with the intention of making a decorative toilet tank topper for our guest bathroom, inspired by this awesome Ghastlies tank topper. Unfortunately, when came the time to cut it down to size, I just couldn't bear to chop off part of the applique on which I'd worked so hard. I decided to bind it as-is and keep it as a mini quilt. The finished size is 18" by 9".

This means that I have the chance to design another mini for the bathroom. I'm looking forward to it, and will try not to get too attached this time. But for now, I'm off to check out the other quilts being shared for the festival!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Groove Quilt - Step Four

Just as I was getting ready to order batting online for my Groove Quilt, I got an email announcing the reopening of my local quilt shop in their new location. Yay! I'll be heading down there soon to stock up. In the meantime, I've been making good progress preparing for the actual quilting step, and am linking up with UFO Sunday at the Free Motion Quilting Project for inspiration.

I came up with a design for the back of my Groove Quilt before I'd even started the front of it. It's inspired by some vintage fabric I found at Mitchell Fabrics in Winnipeg this summer. You may remember this photo of the fabric with my original sketch:

Once sewn together, this comes to an overall size of 105 inches square (8.75 feet!) and looks really groovy indeed. I haven't seen it fully laid out yet. It's been very windy this past week, so I wasn't able to take it outside, and it's bigger than the available floor space anywhere in the house. What I did instead was photograph two blocks and create a composite.

This will be the back - pictures of the front side are in my last post here

So my question for you is: how would you baste something this big?

I really like the idea of doing it in sections on a table using binder clips, but all of our larger tables seem to be either really thick or have rounded edges. The coffee table is a a contender, but it's pretty small. Alternatively, the wonderful folks on Flickr have suggested this basting technique by Sharon Schamber using two boards. I am also considering this method, but without the boards. I have to admit that I'm not looking forward to the basting step at all. I wish it was over with so that I could get on with the fun part.

One thing I noticed once all of the blocks had been sewn was a rip in my vintage fabric. It looks like this happened on the manufacturing end, since there are traces of a very faded quality assurance stamp right next to the hole. This small unplanned imperfection actually gave me the chance to add a really fun vintage touch to the quilt. With a little bit of crazy stitching, I gave it the look of having been darned by a grandmother. I love that detail.

I've also been putting together some samples on which to try quilting designs. On this first one, I tested three different colours of thread: off-white on the top, grey in the middle, and black on the bottom.

The grey thread in the middle is the definite winner on the lighter colours, and the black thread looks best on the dark fabrics. The only two colour/design combinations that really worked here are the loops on orange, and the stippling on green. I'll be using these in the quilt for sure.

I've prepared another practice piece with the other three colours in order to test some more combinations this week. I'm looking for a design that will be fast and soft. Eventually, all of these practice squares will be turned into a cushion to match the finished quilt using Leah Day's technique for connecting quilted pieces

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Feathers and Paisley for Animal Rescue

I was so paranoid about changing my sewing machine settings before my Groove Quilt top was complete, that I haven't been able to keep up with September's Free Motion Quilting Project exercises. That's especially sad because this was the month we tackled paisley designs, which are some of my favourites. I'd been really hoping we would get a chance to work on them... and then I almost missed it!

To practice these designs, I put together a cat sized flannel blanket, which will be donated to an animal rescue centre through the Snuggles Project. Visit their page to find out how your sewing practice can benefit a local animal rescue organization.

I started this blanket by stitching September's FMQ Challenge design in the centre. It's a little wobbly, but I'm happy with how my travel stitching is coming along. This design was too traditional for me though, I would adapt it from a ring of feathers into a ring of flames next time.

Once the centre ring was complete, I started surrounding it with paisley designs. I spent the most time practicing traditional paisley in order to get a feel for the technique.

I love the organic look of this paisley, but quickly realized that this wasn't an ideal quilting design for this project. One of the most important parts of donating a blanket to an animal shelter is making sure that the blanket won't shrink or warp when it's washed. Shelter attendants don't have time to deal with that.

These paisley designs have a lot of very close stitching, and I was afraid that would interfere with the purpose of the blanket. The more stitching there is, the more it's likely to shrink when washed. I tried to make the next design much looser and avoid travel stitching as much as possible. This one is called lava paisley.

 I also dedicated a corner of the blanket to snake paisley and pointy paisley:

I really liked this family of designs, and look forward to working on them more, but I learned the lesson that not all quilting styles are appropriate for all projects. To pursue this, I am going to give this blanket a wash and see how it holds up.
I leave you with a view of the full blanket (from the back). I hope it can brighten a kitty's day!