Thursday, 29 March 2012

Colour Block of the Month: Black

This month I made a black quilt block as part of the Quilt Matters Colour My World Challenge. This is the third of the colour themed blocks, and I am already starting to have ideas about how I will put them together at the end of the year. Maybe a small bedspread for our inflatable guest bed? (Apologies to our guests, this isn't exactly the Hilton... but the food is at least as good!)

I really like black fabric, so I had a lot of small pieces ready for this project. Black doesn't work very well on its own though, so I threw in some tiny strips of bright colours to make it more interesting. I am trying a new improvisational piecing technique for each block, and the one I chose this time was inspired by the bright colour strips.

First I attached small strips at random to the pieces of black fabric I was using. Next, I sewed all of the similar sized pieces together, cutting up the big ones to fit where needed.

I kept sewing the pieces together by size until I got chunks that were mostly square shaped, adding little bits of extra black or colour where needed.

I matched two of the squares together and turned the third one into a long rectangle that would fit across the top. Here is everything all sewn together:

All that was left to do now was trim this weird shape down to a proper rectangle and add a border to match the previous blocks. This is the final block. It ended up having a bit of a 60's mod look. I like it.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hearts and Stars for Animal Rescue

This month's guest expert for the Free Motion Quilting Challenge provided lots of great resources, including four all-over quilting design ideas that I really liked. They all seemed to lend themselves really well to my kitty blanket project, so I decided to create two blankets with which to practice. These will be donated to help abandoned cats at a local animal rescue centre. To find out how you can help, visit the Snuggles Project.

These are the flannels I put together for the loopy designs blanket:

I've used basic loop stippling in the past, but the task this time was to add in shapes to make it more interesting. On one half I drew stars. I spent so many hours drawing these in the margins of my high school notebooks that I found it easy to draw them with thread. This design is really cute!

On the other half I drew hearts, which were a little bit harder. They came out looking like a slightly better version of the heart shaped leaves from month one, which I'm very happy with.

I didn't end up liking the black thread that I used for this blanket. I could never quite get the tension right, so the stitching ends up looking a little bit more jerky than it should. Luckily the kitty who ends up snuggling with this blanket will not care one bit. Here is the finished blanket with hearts on the left and stars on the right:

Stay tuned to see blanket number two, coming soon, featuring spiral designs and more cute fabrics spiral designs.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Little Cones Ready for Stippling

This week as part of the Free Motion Project quilt along, I outlined all of the elements of my little traffic cone wholecloth with thread. I used white thread to contrast with the orange background.

The problem, of course, is that in order to keep things from wrinkling, you have to start in the middle. This means that your worst sewing is going to end up being in the focus area of the quilt. By the time you've made your way out to the edges, you're in the groove and much more familiar with the shapes, so those less important areas come out looking better.

This is how my middle design came out on the first pass:

They were recognizable as traffic cones, which is pretty good, but they looked pretty chewed up. Most of the problem areas are where I stopped and started the machine to readjust the fabric. I didn't want the focus point of the design to look so uneven, so I traced around the cones a second time to fill in the bumps. (You'll have to ignore the white splotches on the fabric, those are starch and should disappear once I soak this in some water at the end.)

Just as I'd hoped, the extra thread outline evened out all of the cones, making them look far better. I had to resist the urge to trace around everything else too. Next week I'll be filling in all of the open space inside the centre and around the objects with stippling. This should make the design stand out and all of the uneven stitching less obvious.

I've been enjoying this project a lot. Here is what the full quilt looks like so far:

Friday, 23 March 2012

Music Sampler Quilt Details

This is a look back on the quilting of my first full sized blanket, that I started back in October through classes at my local quilt shop. The idea was to make a manly and cool music themed quilt for Sam. I think I fulfilled that pretty well. At the end of two classes, I had gone from a pile of fabrics, to a set of blocks, and then to one large patchwork piece. You can read about those steps here.

The next step was to put together a piece of fabric for the back and tape it to the floor, followed by some batting and my quilt top. Then I used about 500 safety pins to keep all of the layers together. 

Look at the ocean of safety pins! My first mistake was trying to do this on the floor. Hard on the knees, hard on the back, hard to keep the kitty away, and hard not to walk on the quilt to get from one side of the room to the other for the whole week that this was taped to the floor.

Mistake #2 was using so many @$%# safety pins placed completely at random. Since I'd never sewn a quilt together before, it never occurred to me that the placement of the pins was so important. I knew I'd have to remove them as I went along, but at the time that didn't seem as difficult as it actually turned out to be.

Mistake #3 was believing that sewing straight lines every 1.5" over the entire surface would be the fastest way to quilt this. It took forever! The guide on my walking foot did nothing to help keep the lines straight or evenly spaced, so I had to give up on that and use masking tape. This means that after every single line of sewing, I had to take the whole thing out of the machine, lay it back on the floor, remove all of the pins in the next 2" and then lay down a piece of masking tape for the next straight line. Crazy! 

I now know that if you're going to quilt straight lines, you should arrange your pins in straight lines too so that you can sew between the rows. I also know that you don't really need 500 pins. And most of all, I know that free motion quilting is inevitably going to be quicker.

I have admit though that the lines look great! They're neither straight nor evenly spaced, but you really can't tell when looking at the finished blanket. No one is ever going to be looking at it that hard anyway. Here is a close up of the lines on the front and back:

The blanket is warm and cozy, I'm really happy with it! It has also passed inspection by my toughest critic. Here is a bonus shot of said inspection:

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Streaky Orange Cones

This week's goal for the Free Motion Project quilt along was to prepare a quilt sandwich and transfer our wholecloth design to the fabric. The first step was starching, which I had never done before. I looked up a recipe for spray starch online, and it turns out to be really easy to make. This is all I needed:

The starch worked perfectly on the fabric for the quilt back... but not so well on the bright orange front. I ironed it from the back, but I think maybe my spray bottle didn't mist it finely enough. It looks kind of tie-dyed now. I am hoping very very hard that this will come out when I soak it. Does anyone know if this is the case?

I taped my template and fabric to the front door in order to transfer the design with a water soluble marker. It turns out to be almost impossible to take a picture of the final drawing because of how light the markings are, but here is a shot of the design transfer in progress. (Ignore the text - I drew the template on the back of some old scrap paper.)

Now it's time to start quilting around these shapes. I've got my fingers crossed that they will still be recognizable as traffic cones when I'm done with them.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Insomnia and Fabric Dreams

Pink Castle Fabrics is having a blogger bundle contest, and since I haven't been able to get much sleep, I thought I'd try my luck at coordinating fabrics to pass the time until the sun comes up. The winning bundle will be sold in the shop, and the winner gets one for free. Head on over to the Monkey Do blog to check it out. 

Here's my fabric selection. I am calling it Snowy Spring. I think this would make a wonderful quilt and some cushions for the sofa, but that might just be the sleep deprivation setting in. What do you think?

First row - 1. Snip Snip in Steel 2. Fruit Slice in White 3. Bursts in White 4. Essex Linen Putty 
Second row - 5. Holly Jolly Stripe 6. Fizz in Citron 7. Outfoxed Foliage in Green 8. Kona Lime
Third row - 9. Outfoxed Hedgehogs 10. Fizz in Red 11. Sketch Organic Crosshatch in Orange 12. Free Spirit Designer Solid in Grape

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A Finish and a New Beginning

Last week we took a break from the Free Motion Quilting Project with Leah Day, and I used that time to finish the music themed sampler quilt that I started in October. This is my very first full sized quilt, and back when I started quilting it I hadn't yet learned free motion. I thought that it would be quick and simple to just sew straight lines every 1.5" to keep it together:

Phew, that was a lot of lines! After working on this for weeks and getting much less done than I though possible, I ran out of thread and decided to put it aside for a while until I had developed better quilting skills. Last week I picked it up again and it's finally finished! My next post will be full of pictures and details about this quilt. One thing's for sure, this has made one cat very happy. (See that extended paw? Is that a claim of ownership?)

Even though this wasn't free motion quilting, it was the largest quilt I'd ever put through my small sewing machine and I gained lots of experience by moving it around and smoothing it out. Now that I've seen how much quicker free motion can be, I probably wouldn't do straight lines again on a full sized quilt.

I've also spent a fair amount of time in the last week sketching out a pattern for the next FMQ Project exercise, which will be a wholecloth quilt. Leah has been gracious enough to provide a really cute free pattern to practice, but I decided to urbanize it a little bit and I've been drafting my own urban wholecloth quilt design based on Leah's (hope you don't mind!) I'm actually very excited about my pattern.

Here they are side by side. My drawing isn't done yet, but you can see here that I'm using traffic cones in place of the hearts, and road barriers for the feathers.

It probably won't look quite as classy, but I think it's going to make a fun little wall hanging. Once I'm done drawing, I will transfer the design to bright orange fabric, probably by tracing over it while taped to the window on a sunny day. I can't wait to get started!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Opinions from the Kitchen: Kung Pao Variations

Last year, I fell in love with this amazing Kung Pao Shrimp recipe over at Craftzine, and it has been part of our regular meal rotation ever since. It tastes reasonably authentic, and the basic recipe is flexible enough to be customized in a dozen different ways. Personally, I like it very spicy. Next time you're craving Chinese food, make finger-licking-delicious Kung Pao at home instead of ordering out:

Try it with tofu or chicken instead of shrimp. I recommend combining tofu and shrimp if you've got them around.

For a more authentic Sichuan dish, replace some of the red chillies with ground Sichuan peppercorn. (In addition to heat and flavour, these peppercorns have a localized numbing effect. If you've never had them before it's definitely worth trying, but you'll probably want to start small!)

For a Malaysian version, use cashews instead of peanuts.

Make it "American style" by adding vegetables like carrots, snow peas, broccoli, or red pepper. While you're at it, you'll probably want to use more sugar and less red chilli. Delicious, but nowhere near authentic.

Add a touch of sweet & sour by using canned or fresh pineapple. You will want to wait until the very end before you throw in the pineapple so that the flavour doesn't get lost - add them once your sauce has thickened. You may need to add a little bit of extra cornstarch to offset the juiciness of the fruit. If you're using canned pineapple, you can use its juice to replace the water in the cornstarch mixture. It will look something like this: 

The cashew version with added pineapple is probably my favourite. I should admit that I don't have grapeseed oil on hand. Sesame oil works just as well for frying. I also don't bother with whole dried chillies and use crushed red chillies instead. I use 1 1/2 tsp of the crushed chillies, which makes for a hot dish. If you like things mild, use a lot less.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Rainbow Star Modern Mini Quilt

As soon as I read about the Modern Mini Quilt Challenge, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. I've been fascinated with lone star quilts for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it. As a beginner quilter, there were a lot of challenges for me in this project. It was my first time working with diamonds and my first time sewing Y-seams. Luckily I managed to figure it all out and come up with something I absolutely love! The finished size is 30" square.

Here are some close-up shots showing the details:

Red stitching around the points and rainbow binding.

Stitching in the ditch to outline the star shape.

And matching polka dots on the back!