Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pick Six

Every year in January, I make some sort of New Year's Resolution about my quilts.  It always involves finishing more, being more focused, having fewer UFOs, etc.  And just like all the diet and exercise programs with all the good intentions, it fails.
I'm trying again this year, and so far it seems to actually be working.  I call my system "Pick Six".
I'm not sure I should say "my" system.  I overheard someone at a workshop describing something similar, and I just tweaked it a little.  I'm sure other people have done similar things.
Here's how it works:  I chose six projects from all the vast array that I have in my basement cave of wonders.  I tried to choose projects that were in different stages, so I'd have a variety.  Once these are chosen, these are the only projects I'm allowed to work on.  I can work on any of these projects, in any order, at any time.  These projects stay on the list until they are completed--quilted and bound.  When a project is finished, I can choose another one to take its place.
I decided to make a couple of exceptions.  If I need leaders and enders while piecing one of the six, and none of the other five projects is at that stage, I can use a charity project, and only a charity project, for that.  But then the charity project goes on the list as soon as there is an opening, and it gets finished too.
I will also allow myself to choose a project not on the list if I am going to a retreat.  Since many of my projects get stuck at the quilting stage, and I don't want to lug my quilting treadle to a retreat, I'm going to make this exception.  I don't go on too many retreats, anyway.
I started this system right after Thanksgiving.  In that time, I have finished a full sized quilt for my grandson Henry (no pictures yet, it's on his bed), the wool quilt mentioned here, the Debbie's Challenge quilt, and five baby quilts for charity.  This is actually working!
I don't know how long I'll stay on this.  But for now, it's actually keeping me from setting aside a project when I finish the blocks or the top.
Here are my current six projects:

No. 1:  Solomon's Puzzle  (I don't call it Drunkard's Path because my great grandmother didn't allow alcohol in the house.  I don't think she would have wanted the quilt to have that name.)
I'm hand quilting a top my great grandmother made in the late 1960s (she died in 1969).  I have been working on it off and on for years.  I hope this time I'll get it done.  At this point, I have half the blocks quilted.  I like to work on it in the afternoons, in this (sometimes) sunny window.

No. 2: Ocean Waves.  The top is finished, I need to prepare a backing, layer it, and quilt it.  I'm planning on quilting a grid (I think).  Debbie helped me choose the fabrics for the borders.  I would add a red border, but I don't have enough to both border it and bind it, so I'm saving the red for the binding.

No. 3:  Dutchman's Puzzle
I made these blocks with the Accuquilt cutter from 1930s reproduction fabrics.  They were just a set of blocks when I put them on the list.  I have been doing quilt-as-you-go on this, but I stopped when I ran out of the blue fabric.  I had enough (barely) for the sashings between the rows, but I wanted the first border to match the sashings.  I looked all over the place for it and couldn't find a match.  I was about to give up, when last Saturday I found it!  It was a Moda blue I had bought at J. J. Stitches in Sun Prairie.  I bought 3 more yards.  I probably don't need near that much, but I really hated not having enough, so now I have lots.  (Like Scarlett O'Hara, I will never go hungry (for this blue) again!)  All of the rest of the quilt is quilted, so I just need to add the borders and quilt them and bind it.

No. 4:  Tumbler Twin Quilt
This is another quilt I cut with the Accuquilt cutter.  The fabrics are late 19th Century reproductions.  I cut the pieces several years ago, when I first got the cutter, and sewed a few rows together, but it had been languishing in a bin.  I pulled it out to use for leaders and enders, and finished piecing the rows.  It still needs to have the borders added.  They are already cut and pieced, ready to go on.  Because the edge is uneven, I will be sewing the rows carefully along the sides and then cutting the edge straight.  I prefer doing that to cutting the edge first, since I don't want to stretch it.  The quilting should be relatively simple, just either side of the seams.  I'll use Warm and Natural batting, which will give it an antique look but won't require especially close quilting.

No. 5:  Basket of Chips
I had lot of triangles left over from making the Ocean Waves quilt (and before that, from another quilt I may mention someday), so I started making these baskets.  I used pre-cut fabrics from my scrap bins for the backgrounds and basket pieces.  The pink setting fabric is a Mary Koval print.  I bought 2 yards at Quilt Expo for $5 per yard.  I can't believe I hesitated for a second on that purchase, her fabrics are so amazing.  I hardly had any scraps of it left after setting the quilt top together.
I'm also using up my indigo reproduction fabrics as the top and bottom borders.  Right now, I think I just won't add any side borders.  The pieced section of the quilt is square.  I slept under a square quilt as a kid and it was a pain.   I'd rather make a rectangular quilt.  My thought is now to just bind the quilt with miscellaneous strips of indigo blues.  But first I have to quilt it!  Maybe diagonal rows?

No. 6:  Civil War Style Potholder Quilt
This is the newest, and the oldest, project on the list.  I am making 9 patch blocks from old fabric.  Most of the fabrics are from the late 19th century, so are over 100 years old.  I am sewing them on my Willcox and Gibbs handcrank sewing machine, which you can see in the background.  It is a wonderful little machine, and this is the first time I've made anything with it.  It's a chainstitch machine, no bobbin, and this is a real experiment for me. 
I sewed 42 of the 9 patch blocks last weekend, at a wonderful weekend retreat with my friend Debbie (more to come on that!)  We watched Downton Abbey on DVD while sewing.  I will always associate this quilt with Downton Abbey.  Even with such a simple project, I still got interested in the story and made mistakes.  I can't wait to see the rest of it!  We got through the first season and half of the second. 
These blocks will be quilted and bound separately, just like potholders, and then hand sewn together.  I saw an exhibit of Civil War quilts like this at the New England Quilt Museum summer before last, and have been thinking of it ever since.  When the book came out, I had to have it.
I'll post more on this particular quilt soon, since it's so different.
That's the list!  And posting it here will help me stay on target!  What are you working on?


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jelly Roll Bricks Quilt

This quilt pattern has been floating around on the internet for a long time.  I'd love to give credit where credit is due, so if you know who started it, could you let me know?  I have not been able to find it in my pattern books.
Because of the way the blocks are set, it looks much more complicated than it is. (I love when a pattern does that.)  If you look closely, you can see that each block consists of a 4-patch in the center and two narrow white strips on each of the long sides.  The blocks are sewn side by side, alternating between the white strips going across and the white strips going down.
Here's the recipe:
1.  Cut 120 rectangles measuring 2.5 in. x 3.5 in.  If you are using Bonnie Hunter's Scrap Users system, you can pull strips from your 2.5 in bin and your 3.5 in. bin.  I used mostly novelty children's prints.
2.  Sew the rectangles into 4 patches.  I did this almost randomly.  Note about strip piecing--this can be done by sewing strips together and cutting, just like regular square 4 patch blocks.  BUT you'll have much less variety.  If I was going to use strips I would at least cut them in half.
3.  Cut 60 white rectangles, 1.5 in. x 6.5 in.  Sew one to each of the long sides of the 4 patches.  You will then have 30 blocks that measure 6.5 in. unfinished, 6 in. finished.
4.  Lay them out, and alternate their orientation--white strips going across, white strips going down, etc.
5.  Sew the blocks into rows.  Sew the rows together into a top.
6.  Add borders.  I used 2.5 in strips (4 of them).  Add borders to sides first, then top and bottom.
7.  As always, layer, baste, quilt, and bind.
I have also seen this done with black instead of white, and it is very dramatic.
These are a few of my basic charity quilt go-to patterns.
What are yours?  I would love to know what other quilters/groups are doing.  Sharing is one of the things we do best. 

More Charity Quilt Recipes--Baby Pinwheel Quilt

Writing patterns is hard work!  And I don't really think it's my thing.  But I do want to share some easy patterns for charity quilts.
My solution--write them up like recipes.  Here goes.
Baby Pinwheel Quilt
1.  Make 128 half square triangles that finish 2 in. square.  Use your favorite method--Easy Angle, Thangles, drawing lines on squares, etc.  If you are cutting triangles, you will need 128 dark and 128 light.
I LOVE the Accuquilt cutter.  It makes dozens of triangles (literally) at one pass. You will be making your half squares with one light triangle and one dark one. 
2.  Sew 4 of the half square triangles into a pinwheel block.  Be sure to lay them out first, so you don't get them turned wrong.  (If there's a wrong way to do something, you can be sure I have done it at least once.)  Some of the blocks have just 2 fabrics, the light and the dark.  Others are mixed and matched, after I ran out.
3.  Make 32 blocks.  The blocks will measure 4.5 in. square unfinished, 4 in. finished.
4.  Choose a fabric for the alternate blocks.  Novelty prints are fun, but just about anything will work.  You will need 31 squares cut 4.5 in. square.  This will probably be 4 strips of the fabric, so you'll need about half a yard.  Cut the squares.
5.  Set the quilt together, following the picture.  There are 7 squares across and 9 squares down.  Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 begin and end with a pinwheel.  Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 begin and end with an alternate square.
6.  Add a border.  I like to use a darker fabric for the outside border.  Mine was cut 4.5 in wide, to finish 4 in.  You need 4 strips, which is a half yard of fabric (a little more is a good idea, so you can square up the fabric, and in case you make a mistake).  Add the side borders first, then the top and bottom.
8.  Layer, baste, and machine quilt.  I quilted in the ditch around each square, and put my wavy stencil on the border again.  Hey, it's easy and fast, and it looks nice.
9.  I bind my charity quilts by cutting straight grain strips 2.5 in. wide, sewing them together with a diagonal seam, and sewing the doubled binding on the BACK of the quilt first.  Then I turn it to the front, pin it down, and sew it down by machine.  This makes a durable binding, and saves me the handwork.
10.  The finished measurements are:  36 in. wide x 44 in. long.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quilts For Kids

Quilts for Kids is an organization that distributes crib-sized quilts to kids in need.  Quilters can request a kit online, which will be sent to you.  You agree to complete the quilt in 6 weeks and send it back.  The quilts usually go to kids in hospitals, but sometimes they are given to kids in emergency situations, such as after Hurricane Sandy.
Here's the link to their web site: http://www.quiltsforkids.org/
A couple of years ago several of us from the Ties That Bind Quilt Guild in Slinger, Wisconsin, sent off for the kits and made them.  The fabrics were good quality and really cute, the directions were easy and fast to make, and I enjoyed making them. Everything for the top is included, plus the backing.  You supply the batting.  I can't remember if the binding was included or not. Just a warning--they do keep track, and they remind you through email when the six weeks are almost up. 
They also ask for "stash quilts", by which they mean quilts made from your stash rather than the kits.  Recently they put out a call for more quilts, with a horrifying picture of nearly empty shelves.  (Many of their quilts had gone to the hurricane victims.)  This was the push I needed to make a few more.
They have a few rules, which are on the web site.  It's a good idea to read through them before sending them any quilts. There are also a few patterns on their web site.
Here's what I'm sending out as soon as I can get them packaged up:

By now you can probably tell my idea of a quilt "pattern" is more of a recipe than a printed out pattern.  I usually just make traditional blocks and set them together.  But I know how handy it is to have a printed pattern to go by, especially if you're working in a group setting.  So I'm providing patterns for each of these easy quilts.  Experienced quilters may not need a pattern for these at all, but it's helpful to know the dimensions of the quilt, size of the blocks, etc.
The first quilt is a simple 4-patch.  I've written a quick pattern for it, as a test for other patterns I plan to include.  The link below will take you to it.
If you try this link, could you comment and let me know how it works for you?  I'm still fiddling around with this stuff.
Have a quilty weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Quilters Were Recycling Before It Was Cool

I'm the (volunteer) Documentation Chair for the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts.  We see a lot of quilts like this one, made from wool scraps sewn to a foundation, and tied to a backing.  Technically, these are "comforters" not quilts, since there's no quilting.  Most of them were made from the 1880s to the 1920s, although I have one in my personal collection dated 1956.  My great-grandmother, Bess Mueller Risley, made several of this kind of quilt, but usually in a crazy quilt style.
These old quilts, especially ones we saw at a Documentation Day last summer in La Crosse, inspired me to make my own.  I started by cleaning out my closet.
Cleaning Out the Closet
 I love natural fabrics, and I wore a lot of wool in the winter when I was working.  Many of my old things were out of style or had somehow gotten smaller just hanging there (how does that happen?  Maybe it has something to do with cookies?)  I found pants, skirts, and jackets to recycle.
I also bought a few items at flea markets last summer.  The purple comes from a jacket that looked like it had never been worn.  The black and white hounds tooth fabric came from a wool jumper.  In my fabric bins, I had scraps that go all the way back to the 1980s when I made wool jumpers and skirts for my oldest daughter.  There were some yardage scraps from flea markets and yard sales, too.  I pulled out everything I had, and decided to leave the brown tones for another quilt.
Most of these items were 100% wool, but a few were blends or unknown content.  I chose to use them anyway.  This is a judgement call.
Next I cut apart the clothes into large pieces.  Skirts were the best, especially longer skirts, and pants were easy.  Jackets were kind of a pain, but there were large pieces from the backs and sleeves, and smaller pieces from the fronts.  I cut around the pockets and lapels.  If there was fusible interfacing on the pieces, I either pulled it off (if I could) or just left it on.  It made the pieces slightly thicker, but it didn't really matter with this kind of quilt. This took a couple of evenings.
Washing the Wool
Now that I had the "yardage", I decided to wash it.  I can hear the gasps now.  Don't freak out, you can wash wool.  (Remember, sheep get wet and don't shrink.)  The biggest problem is felting, caused by hot water and agitation.  Most commercial wool fabrics will not felt.  I wanted a washable quilt (not that I'm going to wash it that often) and I was more worried about colors running than anything.  I washed the wool in the washing machine on the "handwash" setting, in cold water, with my homemade laundry soap.  I could also have used Orvis or some other mild soap.  I wouldn't use detergents, since they're harsher and could cause problems. 
When the load was done, I put it in the dryer on a gentle setting.  Everything came out okay, although some pieces were very wrinkled.  I pressed them with the iron on the wool setting.
Finally, to the cutting.  I cut all the pieces into 2.5 in. strips, and then cut those into 10.5 in. lengths.  Any shorter pieces I had left, I cut into 2.5 in. x 4.5 in. bricks, to use in another quilt.  Odd shaped pieces were set aside to use in a crazy wool quilt.
How Firm A Foundation
This style of quilt is referred to as foundation piecing in documentation-speak.  The foundation is the layer of fabric that the pieces are sewn to.  I chose to use flannel, but regular cottons would be fine.  In the past, women often used old clothes or white feed sacks.  I cut up an old flannel sheet, an old nightgown, and a flannel backing from an old quilt I took apart.  I cut these flannel pieces into 10.5 in. squares.
Sewing At Last
Finally, time to sew!  I sewed these sew-and-flip style.  I worked from edge to edge, but you could work from the center out.  I used 5 strips for each square.  The real challenge was mixing up the fabrics enough.  My treadle handled the thickness well.  I did have some trouble with the rather limp used flannel.  I had to press with an iron after each seam.  Finger pressing just didn't cut it for wool.
When I was done, I found that the squares had drawn up a little, like what happens when you quilt.  I needed to square them up, and it turned out my best measurement for that was 9.5 in.  So I lost about half an inch on each side.  This made the outside strips narrower than the other strips.  I decided not worry about that.
I made 72 blocks, and set them 8 across and 9 down.  You can see from the picture that they alternate how they're oriented, either strips going across or up and down, just like a classic rail fence quilt.  I sewed the finished blocks together through all layers, wool and flannel foundation.  I didn't add a border, because it would have needed to be done on a foundation as well, to maintain the same thickness.  I could have made a piano keys border, though, or even a crazy-pieced border.  Well, more ideas for another quilt.
Tying It All Together
I had a big piece of plaid flannel in my stash for the backing.  I pieced it together to be big enough.  Then I laid it out on the kitchen table, and tied the backing to the quilt top through all layers, with black wool yarn.  I put the ties at the intersection of the blocks.  If you added batting, you would have to put the ties closer together.  There is NO batting in this quilt.  This is typical of the old wool quilts.  None is really needed.  This is the warmest, heaviest quilt I own.
Once it was tied, I finished the edge with a black cotton binding.  I sewed it on the back first, then flipped it to the front and sewed it down by machine.
The pictures are taken on my bed.  We are gladly using this quilt through the cold and snowy Wisconsin winter.   It's fun to see pieces from my old clothes turned into something useful.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Debbie's Challenge/Free Pattern

Finished Jan. 13, 2013

My friend Debbie and I always have a great time at the Sun Prairie Quilt Show.  Last year, we bought some vintage fabric on the sale table, tore it in half, and challenged ourselves to each make a quilt with it to enter into the 2013 show.  The fabrics we used are in this close-up--the pink print and the blue print.

Debbie is an artist.  Her work is amazing.  I'm more of a garden variety quilter.  I can't wait to see what she comes up with!  Check back to see if I actually have the nerve to enter the quilt in the show.

The print fabrics in the quilt are all vintage fabrics, from the 1930s to the 1960s.  I paired them with solid fabrics from my scrap bag of wonders.  It's kind of a funky quilt, the kind I remember our relatives making when I was a kid.  The border is a sort of dark coral pink.  I chose it because it reminds me of blouses my Gran wore in the 60s.

In case you're interested, I found the pattern in an old book and updated it a little.  It was called "Block Party".  The original was a 12 in. block.  My block measures 10 in. square.
Each block needs two prints and one solid.  Ideally, the prints and solid go together, but sometimes contrasting is better, your call.

Here are the measurements:
Cut 2 squares 4.5 in. x 4.5 in. from print one.
Cut 2 squares 4.5 in. x 4.5 in. from print two.
Cut 4 rectangles 2.5 in. x 4.5 in. from the solid.
Cut 1 square 2.5 in. x 2.5 in. from the solid.

1.  Sew one solid rectangle to each print square.
2.  This block takes a partial seam.  Sew the small square to one of the square-rectangle units, BUT don't sew the whole seam.  Just sew it about halfway.
3.  Now sew the rest of the square-rectangle units to the first small-square-plus-rectangle unit, following the picture.  Press the seams toward the solid.
4.  When you get back to the partial seam, just finish the whole seam.
5.  Press the block, pressing the seams away from the center.

To make this quilt, I made 42 blocks, and added a 6 in. (finished) solid border.  The finished measurements are 72 in. wide and 82 in. long.

Just a note about the quilting--I quilted parallel lines on each side of the small center block, and quilted in the ditch between the blocks.  I finished the border with a loose 4-strand cable, which is one of my favorite ways to quilt borders--continuous, neat, classic.
This quilt was pieced on a Domestic treadle (made by White, and almost identical to a White Family Rotary) and quilted on a Davis Vertical Feed treadle.

Here's the Domestic (not a great picture), and the Davis, in mid project.