Friday, 29 June 2012

Colour Block of the Month: Brown

Many quilters have a serious aversion to the colour brown. The thought of making an entire block out of brown would probably discourage most, if not plunge them into the depths of depression. In fact, two of the awesome browns below came to me from Alli during the fugly fabric giveaway. She disliked them enough to send them out of the country! And it is with that in mind that I bring you this month's Colour My World Challenge block.

Luckily, I'm a fan of brown. I used it as one of the principal colours in my music themed sampler quilt, as well as my Spotted Dinosaurs baby quilt. I think it's an excellent neutral, with a lot more depth than grey, more colour interaction than black, and much less chance of getting dirty than white.

Since I had so many browns to choose from, I decided to make this month's block an improvisational attempt at the Bargello technique. I've seen some incredibly complex quilt designs made this way, but there's very little information available online on how to actually do it. I decided to start with the basics and try to figure it out for myself.

The first step was to cut some long strips of brown fabric and arrange them to form a colour gradient. I used only four fabrics to keep the size reasonable, since each fabric will be used twice in each row. I sewed the two lighter strips together, and the two darker ones, then put those strips face to face and sewed down both sides to form a tube with all of the seams on the outside.  

I laid out the tube and sliced it width wise every 1.5" to 3". It doesn't actually matter what size you make your cuts, as long as there are an even number of sections of each size. I ended up with 18 pieces of tube: four sections at 2.5", eight sections at 2", and six sections at 1.5". 

With my tube sections grouped into pairs, I started taking them apart with a cut either in the middle of a colour square or at a seam. The most difficult part for me was figuring out how to lay all of those strips out to form a graduated design. There was a lot of confusion and frustration before I finally ended up with this:

Theoretically, I know that there are at least twenty different ways that these strips could have been laid out to form a coherent pattern, but this is the only one I figured out. I quickly sewed them all together before I could forget where the pieces went, and added a border to finish it off. Here is the completed block:

This is probably the least improvisational looking block of the series, but it does still fit the criteria since I had no idea what the end product was going to look like when I started. I learned a lot about Bargello with this experiment, and I plan to eventually follow it up with a larger scale project and a tutorial.  

We are now halfway through the colour challenge, with my favourite colour still to come. Here is an update on the blocks I've constructed for this quilt so far:

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Modern Mini Blanket Plans

Hey! Did you know that Leah Day is having a quilt along this month? If you've ever thought about quilting, but just don't know where to start, then this may be the perfect opportunity. This will be a modern quilt, with no strict rules to follow, no tiny pieces to cut, and no finicky angles to match. In fact, the more crooked your lines, the better it will look. If you have a ruler and some kind of cutting implement, then you can make this quilt top. Head over to this page to see some sample quilts and find out what this is all about.

Since I am currently quite far from home, with only an iPad and an airplane appropriate sewing kit (no scissors allowed), I have scaled things down considerably. I plan to make this a mini blanket for donating to a local animal rescue organisation.

I've cut some flannel squares and picked out a solid navy blue background for this project. Here is what I'll be working with:

Looking forward to seeing everyone's take on this modern quilt!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Oh no! The Doctor's been transformed into...

If the BBC decided to save some money next season by replacing Matt Smith... here's how it might go down.

Previously on Doctor Who:

Amy stares wistfully at Doctor. Doctor winks enigmatically at Amy. Rory rolls his eyes. Meanwhile, a Dalek spy slips into the TARDIS unnoticed and stows away in one of the many closets filled entirely with shoes. Doctor comes looking for a pair to match his new bow tie. EXTERMINATE! Dalek shoots left. Doctor dives right. Dalek holds out a shiny new nickel. Doctor gets distracted. "Ooh shiny". Dalek hits him full in the chest with a purple laser beam. Doctor falls to the ground in the hallway. His fez rolls off a short distance. Screen fades to black.

And now the continuation:

With a triumphant sounding beep, the Dalek rolls down the hallway towards the control room. He goes around a bend just as Amy and Rory come running down the hallway from the other direction. "Doctor?, Doctor!" They find him lying in the hallway shoeless and motionless, but possibly still breathing. There is a long moment of silence while the two companions take in the scene, then Amy rushes to the Doctor and takes his head in her hands. "Rory, you're a nurse. Do something!" He shrugs and holds out his hands. "I've never studied Time Lord physiology."

Just then, the Doctor starts to glow with an inner light and shakes slightly. The shaking turns into full blown convulsions as the glow intensifies. Rory pulls Amy away and holds her by the wrist while she struggles to get back to the Doctor. All of a sudden, intense rays of light condense and shoot out from the Doctor's palms. The room lights up with every colour of the spectrum, as well as some lesser known colours, forcing Amy and Rory to shield their eyes.

Once the light has faded, all that remains in the Doctor's place is a pair of pants and a pile of rumpled brown tweed. Amy takes a loud breath and immediately begins to panic. Rory sighs and takes her hand. "Whatever that was, I'm sure the Doctor is just fine. In fact, he probably planned the whole thing to take the piss out of us." Amy snivels. "I don't think so Rory. That wasn't supposed to happen. I can feel it."

Just as she is about to dig her head into Rory's shoulder for a good bawl, the two notice some rustling underneath the pile of clothing on the floor. They watch in stunned silence as a penguin slips out from beneath the tweed blazer and straightens his bow tie.

"Oh no, the Doctor's been transformed into a penguin!" exclaims Amy.

"SQUAWK!" says the penguin, looking straight at her.

Calmly, he raises his big webbed feet one at a time to examine them. He flaps his wings to test them out, and spins around in two complete circles trying to get a look at his tail. Catching sight of the fez on the floor, he brushes it off with the flipper-like edge of his wing and attempts to raise it up to his head, only to realize that his wings are too short. He spins around in another complete circle trying to reach, but it's no use.

"SQUAWK!" says the penguin, looking at Amy.

Giggling, Amy walks over to the penguin and bends down to examine him. "My, aren't you just the cutest little ball of feathers." She places the fez gently on top of his head and scratches the back of his neck. "Look Rory, he likes it when you scritch his neck!" Rory grunts.

"SQUAWK!" says the penguin.

Just then the TARDIS starts to jerk from side to side and shake like during a rough take off. Our three passengers are thrown to the floor. The lights flicker and go out, but the shaking continues. "Who is driving this thing?" yells Amy. As if in answer, the TARDIS loudspeakers crackle to life with a high pitched "EXTERMINATE!"

***Don't miss the exciting conclusion of Doctor Who, following this brief word from our sponsors.***

This Doctor Who interlude has been brought to you by my latest batch of geek crafts.

felt Dalek, TARDIS print, eleventh Doctor as a penguin

I was making a felt penguin, and thought it would be fun to give him a bow tie. As whovians know, bow ties are cool. From there, it was just one more small step to a fez. And voila, I'd created a penguin version of the eleventh Doctor!

Having gone this far, I felt that I needed a narrative explaining how the Doctor's transformation came about. Obviously, this came down to an inspired Dalek plot to incapacitate their arch enemy and gain control of his TARDIS. Thus, I needed a Dalek. I embroidered this one freehand on a piece of grey felt.

The part of the TARDIS is played by fabric purchased a few years ago at a craft fair. I believe this is actually a lino cut design transferred with fabric paint. I plan to use it in a quilt later this year.

Hope you enjoyed!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Loopy Lines and Care Bears Blanket Preview

Over the past six months I've made quite a few blankets in support of animal rescue, but this week I am changing it up with a kiddie blanket instead of a kitty blanket. This little girl's blanket has been on my list for a while, and I'd been saving some Care Bears flannel to use for the backing. I also cut assorted squares of my favourite flannel prints to make it more visually interesting for curious young eyes.

These are the fabrics I chose:

This week's Free Motion Quilting Project exercise was loopy lines, which is one of my favourites to stitch, so it was a perfect opportunity to finish up this project. I like the loopy design because you can cross over previous lines of stitching and head off in any direction, which mostly eliminates the dreaded stippling-myself-into-a-corner issues.

The loopy lines were fairly quick, they don't distract from the design of the fabric, and give the whole thing a fanciful look. It has been rainy over the last couple of days, so I will wait a little bit longer to reveal the finished blanket. It looks so much better in the sunshine! In the meantime, here is a small preview of the patchwork:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

My Bubblegum Book Bag

In the past, I haven't had much luck making bags, but I was motivated to try again with all the sewing experience I've gained over the past year. The Summer Sewing Contest at Ellison Lane Quilts and Sew Sweetness' Purse Palooza have provided great inspiration to come up with something cool of my own design.

This bag is made from one large quilted panel with Ikea fabric on the outside, coordinating polka dots on the inside, and a layer of batting in between. Both of the fabrics were sent to me by Kris at Duke Says Sew What. Thanks Kris! How cool is this print?

When we last left off (here) I had sewed myself into a bit of a corner by leaving all the exposed seams on the outside of the bag, but not leaving enough space to finish them with my sewing machine. It was one of those great learning moments, I will not make that mistake again.

I took a deep breath and got on with the hand sewing. I used lots of pink binding to coordinate with the fabric and added a zipper pocket to the front. The whole thing now makes me think of a giant piece of Bubblicious bubblegum.

Detail shot of some of the hand stitching
My first ever zipper pocket
 Strap detail & pink binding sewn on by hand

I used the bag for the first time today and I think it's great! It's big enough to fit books or groceries and the fact that it's quilted should make it sturdy enough to carry those heavy things. It took a lot longer than anticipated but I'm really proud of my bubblicious bag.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Zentangle Quilting for Animal Rescue

This month's Free Motion Quilting Challenge is very similar to zentangle. The goal is to combine a number of different filler designs in one quilt to make it visually interesting. I've been drawing tangle-like designs for years, and have been wanting to try something like this. I was glad to finally have the chance. I'm not sure how cohesive the whole thing looks, but I sure had a lot of fun stitching it.

All of the blankets I've created in order to practice FMQ will be donated at the end of the year to help abandoned cats at a local animal rescue organisation. Visit the Snuggles Project to find out how you can help.

These are the flannel pieces that I put together for this blanket:

I started out by drawing a feather on each side, and then divided the area into sections by drawing random lines starting from each tip. Feathers are the quintessential quilting design. Mine aren't quite there yet, as you can see below, but with regular practice they've improved immensely since I stitched my first one in February.

With a dozen sections defined, I got to work filling each one with a thread design. I used loops, zippling, pebbles, echoes, and a whole bunch of line combinations. The largest area in the middle is dedicated to 'circuit board', which I learned in this week's Free Motion Quilting Project exercise. I did ok with the rows of basic "L", "4", "E", "F" shapes, but my spatial perception skills need work before I can do a proper "H". I enjoyed a lot of these designs and will be using them again (though probably one at a time).

Here is a look at the finished blanket:
Front                                                     Back

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Sneak Peek at my Bag Prototype

There is a lot of motivation to get sewing this summer, and I'm working on a project for the Summer Sewing Contest at Ellison Lane Quilts, as well as Sew Sweetness' Purse Palooza. I've tried my hand at bag construction twice before with mixed results. My first attempt two years ago failed tragically in the early stages, while my second attempt ended in a usable but slightly lopsided book bag with black and white dragons.

This time, I was hoping to improve the odds of success by simplifying my design. The entire bag is made from one quilted panel of fabric. I used a very bold print, and free motion stitched along each line of the design to give it more depth.

Once everything was quilted, I folded up the fabric up managed to sew it into a basic boxy shape with a flap. I left all of the exposed seams on the outside of the bag, thinking they'd be easier to deal with that way. This is the basic structure I've got at the moment:

I'm very happy with the quilting, it looks interesting and has given the bag some structure. Leaving the open seams on the outside, however, turned out to be a bad idea. I don't recommend trying to construct a bag this way. I put together about ten feet of pink double fold binding to cover up the exposed seams, but realized soon afterwards that the machine won't be able to reach most of them. There's going to be a lot of hand sewing involved to finish up this project. I think this will end up being my most successful experiment thus far, but not a method I would use again.

I've come to realize that this is the kind of thing for which you really should use a pattern. I'm giving up (for now) on the idea that I can just wing it when it comes to a project that has to function in three dimensions. In the past few days, I've taken out four of the most popular books on sewing bags from the local library (and one on aprons, just to balance things out). I look forward to working my way up to a more complex pattern once I've finished this cute boxy bag. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Opinions from the Kitchen: Summer Salad Time Once Again

One of the most exciting things about summer for me is the variety of fresh local produce available at the farmer's market. This year, if all goes well, there will also be a variety of vegetables and herbs coming from our own garden as well. To make the most of it, our regular meals will include lots of classic and experimental salads. Here are a few of this spring's successes to whet your appetite.

Mint Chick Pea Salad

This salad is refreshing and colourful, which makes it a great sunny day snack. It requires very little time to put together and will stay fresh when made in advance. Any oil & vinegar dressing works with this combination, but I find that a sweet curry dressing gives it the perfect touch of Indian flavour. Garnish with mint leaves and serve dressing on the side.

Salad ingredients
   - 1c dried chick peas, soaked and boiled according to directions (or a large can, rinsed well)
   - 1/2 of a finely chopped red pepper
   - 2 finely chopped carrots
   - 4 or 5 sliced green onions
   As much chopped fresh mint as you like

Sweet curry dressing
   - 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
   - 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
   - 1 tsp mustard
   - 2 tsp honey
   - 1/4 tsp curry powder
   - pinch of salt and/or pepper

Kelp Noodle Salad with Sesame

I recently discovered kelp noodles at our local organic store and have been experimenting with different serving ideas. These noodles are raw vegan friendly (only three ingredients: kelp, water, salt) and their crisp texture is similar to that of a cucumber. They are the perfect complement for spicy Asian flavours. Serve with a thick dressing, such as sesame or peanut, that will adhere to the noodles. Toss noodles with half of dressing, then add vegetables and toss lightly. Pour remaining dressing on top and garnish with roasted sesame seeds.

Salad ingredients
   - 1 package kelp noodles, rinsed
   - 1 julienned carrot
   - 1/2 cucumber, cut into spears
   - 24 snow peas, lightly stir fried
   - 1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds for garnish

Sesame ginger dressing
   - 1 tbsp soy sauce
   - 2 tbsp rice vinegar
   - 2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
   - 1 clove garlic, finely grated
   - 2 tsp honey
   - 1 tbsp roasted sesame oil
   - crushed dried chillies to taste (we like a lot)

Strawberry Apple Green Salad

There is something about the taste of summer fruits and garlic that really appeals to me. I like to add strawberries, raspberries, apple, or melon to just about every leafy green salad. This is a great combination of berry sweetness, green apple sourness, and a slightly salty cheese.

Salad ingredients
   - 2 c of your favourite leafy greens
   - 6 strawberries cut into quarters
   - 1/2 of a granny smith apple cut into thin wedges
   - large chunks of parmesan cheese
   - 1 tbsp crushed roasted almonds for garnish

Lemon garlic dressing
   - juice of 1 lemon
   - 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
   - 1tbsp grated parmesan
   - 2 tbsp olive oil

For another delicious berry salad idea, check out last fall's Raspberry and Summer Squash Salad.