Saturday, May 28, 2016

50+ Shades with Gray Scrap Attack

May has been my month to tackle several UFOs and WIPs that have been lurking about in the studio, most of which were started earlier this year or last year and simply waiting in the queue for quilting.

The blocks below were my first set of leaders and enders, featuring 2.5" charms in a yellow, green, teal and blue gradient set on a gray backdrop.  I loved the blocks and process so much, that I quickly followed with a second set of blocks featuring all warm tones (yellow, orange, red and violet) for my Black & White Scrap Attack.
First Sets of Postage Stamps Made with Leaders & Enders
I managed to layer/baste and even complete all the stitching in the ditch, but then I got "side tracked" with other quilting deadlines and had to put the rest of the quilting on the back burner.  Fast forward to May, my Bernina was MIA for 3 full weeks to undergo some much needed repairs.  I got it back earlier this week and I was ready to "feel the Bern" quilting style!  This small scrap quilt would be the perfect sized project to get reacquainted with my "Bernie" and enjoy some much needed quilting bliss.    

I began by quilting the light gray frames using Leah Day's Railroad Tracks motif, which is a really fun motif to quilt.  In fact, I had so much fun quilting with this motif, that I found a way to weave it in and out of the dark grey squares within the Postage stamp blocks!  The colorful printed squares were left unquilted, which when surrounded by the dense quilting, yielded some great loft!     
This Quilt Was "Just the Ticket" Bernie & I Needed to "Let Off Some Steam"
With my "one track mind" I managed to complete all the quilting in an afternoon!  Just as I was nearing the "end of the line" did I realize that one of my postage stamp blocks was not quite like the others.  Somehow I had rotated it 90 degrees so it did not line up like the others---see if you can find it in the picture below!

A gray, teal and green striped binding was added by machine for a fast track finish!  It's the "end of the line" for this quilt and quite possibly my May finishing streak.  I have a few quilting deadlines coming up in June...which will require me to "stay on track" and not get "derailed."
"50+ Shades with Gray", finishes 40" x 40"

Friday, May 27, 2016

Perfectly Perwinkle

Periwinkle Wonderland
This time of the year, my neighborhood turns into a periwinkle wonderland!  The streets are lined with large Jacaranda trees that are all in full bloom, casting a purple haze all along the street.    
They have been in full bloom for the past week, and the flowers were beginning to fall.  So I decided to go for a short nature walk to capture their beauty on film.

Most of the pictures were taken right from my driveway!  There were Jacaranda trees every way I looked!!

Mighty, Majestic Jacaranda Trees
Blooming Beauties Right Outside My Studio
What a perfectly delightful start to my day!  With my morning dose of inspiration, I was ready to start quilting.  I sat down at my machine, looked out to appreciate the Jacaranda tree outside my studio, when something else caught my eye.  A large yellow butterfly fluttered past my window and touched down in one of the shrubs.  I grabbed my camera and ran out just in time to take this picture below, just moments before it took flight and disappeared out of sight!
Butterfly Beauty

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Slice of Improv: Part 2

Earlier this week, I shared some highlights from my "Slice of Improv" demo with all the wonderful women attending Quilting 101.  It is incredibly rewarding to introduce them to new techniques, inspire new design opportunities and ultimately help attendees make the project their very own!  It is so much fun to witness their excitement as they created their own precious blocks.

Given the flurry of creativity and excitement, the end of class is always bittersweet!  It is such a delight when attendees find me at the end of class to thank me and they are smiling ear to ear!  But then it is all over...and you are left wondering what becomes of their projects.  I always encourage attendees to send pictures of their finished projects.  But an even better treat is when they bring their finished quilts/tops to a meeting show and tell and they proudly present their works of art to all in attendance!  
Barbara B (left) and Martha H (right)
Such was my good fortune at our monthly quilt guild when two attendees found me during the pre-meeting festivities to share that they had finished piecing all their blocks and brought their finished tops/quilts for show and tell!!  And I will confess that I simply could not wait until the show and tell portion of the meeting and just had to see their projects right then and there!!  

Barbara B. found me first and I just swooned as she proudly held up her quilt (that was already bound!!--most impressive as each block does require some time and effort to piece)  Barbara had brought a gorgeous stack of her own hand dyed fabrics to the demo day, and they were to dye for!!  I had to remind myself "thou shall not covet thy student's stash!!"  So she was off to a fabulous start with her fabric pull.  Then she took it to the next level and created this wonderful gradient effect that really required some planning and foresight, but is so magnificent!!  

A few minutes later, Martha H found me to share that she too had finished piecing all her blocks together and had her quilt top complete!!  And once again, I was in awe at how fabulous it looked!!  Martha shared how she scored an amazing collection of scraps in coordinated prints at her small quilt group!  She knew they were perfect for a Slice of Improv and started improv piecing her blocks.  And check out the exciting range of her block designs.  She was truly fearless and pieced Xs, Pi shapes and even curves!!  Her top has such wonderful movement and interest and I cannot wait to see it finished!!  

And then I had a little show and tell to share as well!!  The day after the second demo, I brought all the donated blocks to my small quilt group, several of whom had offered to assist with piecing additional squares required, layout and assembly.  While I had seen them all hung on the design board at the front of the sewing room, I hadn't had a chance to count them all or even consider I welcomed their assistance.  We began by organizing the blocks by colorway and counting each pile, and were stunned by the final count:  75 blocks!!!  Martine Y. and Sharon F. generously offered to assemble 5 more blocks so that an 8x10 layout could be achieved, while I began laying out the blocks to create a rainbow gradient.  Once the blocks were all hung on the vertical design board, I sat down at my seat to get perspective and identify any areas that needed fine tuning.  And then, the blue tape that was holding the design wall up gave way and it all came crashing down!  A brief flash of panic, but then I remembered the several instances when I had lost entire college term papers and had to begin again.  Despite the initial stress and frustration, when all was said and done, this unfortunate mishap yielded a significantly improved second draft (to which I was careful to save more frequently!)  So, not taking any further chances, the design wall was placed onto the floor, blocks sorted into color piles and then laid out into the rainbow spectrum.  And this time, I had the foresight to take a picture for future reference!

Within the first hour, we had already achieved my original goal of figuring out the layout!  Martine then offered to help assemble the quilt top.  This was music to my ears and I adjusted my original goal to hopefully get the blocks sewn into rows, which would make it all that much easier to transport home to be finished.  Well, Martine and I were quite the power duo as we labelled all the blocks, sewed them into ten rows, which were then expertly assembled into a top!  Martine was pinning the rows together and running them through her machine just as fast as I was pressing all the seams!  It was quite the impressive feat and after only a few hours, I very much enjoyed admiring the newly assembled top!
Progression of Block Donations and Assembly
Once all the blocks were assembled, the top measured 40" x 50".  As we were aiming for a lap sized quilt to donate to Unity Care, borders would be required.  Adding a 5" strip to each side would have done the job, but then I asked my infamous question "What if...?" and went to work playing with designs on the computer.  In lieu of EQ7, I opened a new Microsoft Word document and inserted a large rectangle shape that I filled in with a matching grey.  Microsoft Paint was used to crop the photograph of the assembled blocks.  This Paint image could then be copied and pasted into the earlier Word document and layered on top of the grey rectangle.  While the straight set borders was effective, I tried rotating the assembled blocks 90-degrees to create a large band across the quilt and could be brought up to lap size by assembling a strip on top and below.  I liked this design concept but the diagonal now ran from top left to bottom right, which for some unknown reason, I did not entirely like.  And as I was rotating it back to the original layout, I got half-way and Eureka!!  This additional layer of wonkiness was the perfect complement for the improv-pieced blocks.
Border Options 1, 2 and 3
Super excited about this border design, I got to work on assembling them...but was a bit stumped as to how to best proceed.  When working on blocks, I've typically made my blocks larger and then incorporated the wonky factor at time of trimming them up.  Adapting this process to a lap sized quilt would be both very difficult and very wasteful.  As my handy dandy mathematician was still at work, I went "old school" with some paper and pen mock ups.  Using a 1 foot (quilt)=1 inch (paper mock up) scale, I measured and cut out a 4"x5" model out of scrap paper (outlined and gridded in pink) to represent the 40"x50" center panel of pieced squares.  I did the same making a 5"x6" version of the desired 50"x60" lap size quilt.  Then I simply rotated the pink unit to a pleasing layout and taped down.  Using my paper model, I could then measure each of the border dimensions and scale up to full size.  In my paper version, each side of the border was 5" long, so each of my borders would need to be at least 50" long.  If I cut them 12" high, I could cut them on the diagonal yielding two borders units.  Once I had the 12"x50" strip, I used 3 rulers end to end to cut the strips on the diagonal.  And given that they were now cut on the bias, I took great care not to distort any of the edges when attaching to the center panel.     
From Computer to Paper Model for Adding the Wonky Factor
Ok--I hope I didn't lose you in all that mathematical/technical mumbo jumbo!!

The Q101 organizers encouraged me to bring the pieced blocks to the upcoming guild meeting to show off everyone's fabulous designs.  As the guild's historian, I find it difficult to get quality photos of quilt tops being held up on the stage.  They usually waver a bit and the harsh theatre lights often shine through the tops making them semi-transparent.  With the borders added, I was at a crossroads:  keep the top as is and bring to the guild meeting or attempt to get it layered, quilted and bound in time for the meeting that was just 5 days away.  Well, you probably guessed my decision...go for it!!  

The backing was easily pieced that afternoon and basted at night.  The next day I began stitching in the ditch which went super fast...and then the fun free motion zig zag meander around each of the fabric inserts-helping them to really pop!!  Oh--and did I mention that I was doing all this on a loaner machine that had a considerably smaller throat space?!?  I remembered Leah Day's advice to simply divide your quilt into quarters, which made it much more manageable.  So let this be proof that large quilts can indeed be quilted on a small domestic sewing machine!!

For the borders, I turned to my trusty blue painter's tape!  I had three rolls of tape, each with a different sized widths.  I placed strips all along the borders, with a few overlapping to simulate the improv pieced blocks.  I then stitched and outline along the tape and filled in the negative space with the same zig zag meander--which helped the areas previously covered in tape to pop!    

Here are some more detailed shots of the blocks and surrounding quilted texture...
Zig Zag Quilted Texture
Photographer's Assistant aka "Mr. Wilson"
There was a scrap of this fabulous rainbow print on my cutting board, that I decided to slice up and insert into the binding for a fun accent.

Sunday morning, I finished quilting the last two borders, trim up the edges and complete the binding just a little after lunchtime.  All I had left was add a label and capture some photographs of the finished quilt.  Doug's services were drafted to assist with photographing the finished quilt.  It was a bit windy out so most of the pictures were not ideal...but I got a fun chuckle when I saw this one pic.  It reminded me of Mr. Wilson Wilson, the infamous neighbor from the Home Improvement television series.

"Slice of Improv", Finishes 50" x 60"
"Slice of Improv" made its debut at Monday's guild meeting.  I especially enjoyed seeing the Q101 attendees inspect it closer during the break and hunt for their blocks!  And speaking of blocks--did you notice any subliminal messages in the quilt picture above?!?  In case you missed it--you are not alone!  Not until the blocks were completely assembled into rows and columns, did I realize that one of the yellow blocks says "Hi."  When it was first handed to me by the member, it was rotated 90 degrees and so I never picked up on the hidden message!  What fun!
Hi!  and Good Bye!!
The label was made using one of the donated blocks.  During and after the meeting, quite a few members came up to praise the quilt and others asked how I managed to finish it so fast.  In reality--this quilt was made possible thanks to the combined creativity, time, effort and generosity of so many of our guild members!  My sincere thanks to all who contributed to this community quilt.

This quilt will be donated to Unity Care, where it is sure to brighten the life and home of a foster child transitioning to independent living.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Slice of Improv: Part 1

In the past two years, I've been having fun exploring the Slice and Insert improvisational piecing technique.  My Slice and Insert experiments began back in February 2014 when I inherited a bag full of 1" gradated hand dyed fabric strips in the first UFO exchange (Hugs & Kisses and Texture Plus).  Later that summer, I incorporated a variation of the Slice and Insert technique into my Fields of Quilted Dreams quilt.  And then earlier this year, I kicked off the Project Quilting Challenge series with my Confettucini, where I continued to explore the versatility of this technique!

"Slice of Improv" Sampler
Testing the Waters...
Just as I was finishing up my Confettucini table runner, my guild's Quilting 101 organizers approached me to see if I was available/interested in leading another Q101 demo, and so I suggested "A Slice of Improv."  Many of the Q101 demos incorporate a project pattern, and so we weren't sure how the attendees might respond to "improvisational piecing" where there was no set pattern to follow.  To help us gauge interest, I brought two of my quilts to the January Q101 meeting and as soon as the quilts were pulled out for display, members left their work spaces to come up to the front of the room for a closer viewing!  They were very curious to learn how they were pieced and where was the basic block structure!  We took this as a very good sign and I got to work preparing for my demo!!  A month or so later, the organizers then asked whether I might consider offering a second demo date, as they were afraid the demo would sell out and members be upset that they couldn't get in!  This proved to be very wise as the first session filled on the first day of sign ups!!

Planning & Preparations...
I was super excited by everyone's enthusiasm and got to work preparing for a fun and interactive demonstration.  In my own design process, I love to ask "What If...?"  This simple question has helped me discover new and exciting variations on basic techniques, color combinations, blocks, layouts and quilting designs to create some truly dynamic quilts!  I applied this "What If...?" mantra to the basic Slice and Insert technique and developed my "Slice of Improv" sampler that showcases 32 variations of Slice and Insert improvisational piecing!!  I loved every aspect of designing and creating this quilt.  Not only did it provide me the perfect opportunity to incorporate in-progress pictures, as well as jog my memory on helpful design/construction tips and suggestions for inclusion in my hand out, but it also allowed me to experiment with five new-to-me techniques!!

In fact, I posted the pictures below as a teaser on facebook, and one member was initially confused as I had only shown quilts using basic squares/rectangles!  I assured her that this block still used the slice and insert technique but was a variation on the basic square/rectangle shape!!
Preview Pics
Demo Day...
One Technique...So Many Possibilities
After much anticipation, D-Day was here!!  I was super excited to introduce my fellow guild members to the world of improvisational piecing, unveil my new sampler quilt and encourage them to ask "What If...?"  We began by discussing improvisational piecing.  After nearly half the group raised their hand indicating that they experienced some fear and anxiety about "improvisational piecing", I set out to assure them that the slice and insert technique is Fun, Freeing and Forgiving!

After demonstrating the basic technique, I unveiled my "Slice of Improv" sampler and guided them through all 32 design variations.  Along the way, I shared design opportunities, tips/tricks, words of wisdom and encouraged them to ask themselves "What If...?"  And as if the sampler quilt and all 32 variations wasn't enough inspiration, I brought additional books, patterns and images to show them how other quilt artists have incorporated the Slice and Insert technique into their work!!

Oh the Fabric Possibilities...
Hand Dyed De ja vu!
It was so much fun for me to walk around the room before and after the demonstration and check out everyone's fabric selections!!  From batiks, to solids, to ombres, black and white prints, colorful stripes and gorgeous hand dyes---oh the design possibilities!!

Fun story:  remember all those 1" strips of gradated hand dyes that first inspired me to experiment with the Slice and Insert technique?!?  Well--there were quite a few leftover that I then donated to the 2015 UFO Exchange, along with some print yardage and leftover block.  Well--a fellow UFO Exchange participant scooped them up and made a great quilt from the yardage and brought the strips to use with the demo!!!  She kept the teal strips and shared the pink strips with her table-mate!!  Those strips have certainly gotten quite a bit of mileage!!

What I love about this technique is that "everything works!"  What I don't love about this technique is that because everything works, I am revisiting my scrap management system as I am now saving smaller and smaller "schnibbles!!"

Student Work...
Proof that Improv Piecing is Fun!!
As the day progressed, I was thrilled to see so many participants really embrace improvisational piecing and then make it their own!!  Judging from all the smiles, they were quickly discovering just how fun, freeing and forgiving improvisational piecing can be!!

One member, Jenny M, approached me after the demo to share her idea of working with fabric selvages--piecing the raw edge into the seam and appliqueing the other edge on top!  I was just blown away by her creativity and could not wait to see her blocks!!  I also loved the fact that she chose such a fun robin's egg blue for her background...her blocks are just gorgeous and I cannot wait to the finished result!!

After suggesting using letters of the alphabet and other symbols to help guide initial slices, one member took this to the next level by improvisationally piecing letters into each of her blocks to spell out words/names that she plans on incorporating into a quilt project!  Ingenious!!

Caring Community...
To help alleviate any remaining fear or anxiety about improvisational piecing, we incorporated the option for participants to make a practice block.  The organizers provided budget money to purchase solid grey background yardage that was cut into squares/strips and made available to participants use.  Attendees had the option of using their own scraps and/or any of the "schnibbles" provided to make one or more squares that would be collected and turned into a lap-sized community quilt donation for the Unity Care organization, and distributed to young adults transitioning from the foster care program into independence.

I was in awe of the how many fabulous community quilt blocks were pieced during both demos:  29 blocks on Day 1 and another 47 on Day 2!!!  One member challenged her table-mates to each piece one block before breaking for lunch--love it!!  Other members made multiple blocks, and even helped fill in gaps of colors!!  And there was such variety and interest represented in terms of the scraps, techniques and layouts used in everyone's blocks!!  They really pop!!

And in case I don't say it enough--I LOVE my fellow guild members!!  They are such a positive, supportive and creative community!  As I venture into this new world of teaching, I am so appreciative for all their encouragement and support!  Special thanks to the organizers, Ileane and LaNelle, for inviting me back to lead this demo, as well going above and beyond to negotiate and schedule a second date that made it possible to accommodate 50 members in two sessions!  Many thanks to all who attended the Demo days and really embraced improvisational piecing!  Special thanks to Sandie E. and Kathleen G, who helped capture some great pictures during my demo!  And my sincere appreciation to all who made one or more Community Quilt block--they are each beautiful and together made for a wonderful Community Quilt donation!

Be sure to visit my blog later this week as I unveil the finished Community Quilt block, along with members' quilt finishes shown at our recent guild meeting!!

The follow up post can be accessed here.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Black & White Scrap Attack

After the guild meeting show and tell, I often get asked about how many hours/day or week that I quilt.  And while I do spend quite a bit of time quilting away in my studio, I've also picked up a number of tricks and techniques to streamline the process and use my time efficiently, making it possible for me to accomplish quite a bit.

While working on my "Confettucini" improv-pieced blocks, I would use the same swatch of fabric folded over to stitch onto between chains of piecing.  As I was positioning this little scrap back under the needle, I saw just how many rows of stitching were on this one piece of fabric and realized that I was missing an opportunity to multitask here.  Instead of wasting stitches and time on this one scrap, I could be piecing together blocks (and lots of them given all these wasted stitches!!)  So I grabbed my bin of 2.5" charms and decided to work towards piecing some Postage Stamp blocks.  I chose one neutral color (ie. black, grey or white) and raided my bin for all the charms that read as that neutral.  Then I made piles of 8 charms that read as one color (ie.  8 yellow charms, 8 orange charms, etc) to create a Postage Stamp block.  Instead of reaching for that one scrap to start/end my chain piecing, a pairing of one neutral and one color charm were pieced together.  By the time I had finished piecing my "Confettucini" blocks, I had also managed to piece 120 units for my Postage Stamp only regret is that I did not start this sooner!!  
Auditioning Layout and Additions of 5" Charms
These 120 units were easily pieced into Postage Stamp blocks.  Using the black solids and vibrant colors really provided some high contrast and I was cautious about using them back to back.  So I used them in alternating blocks, laying them out in a gradient from yellow to purple.  I selected some 5" charms to place in the alternating squares and went to work finding a fabric to create frames around the larger charms.  I auditioned three different fabrics to use as my frames and chose the black and white leaves print, which I purchased at the bargain price of $1.50/yard from my guild's boutique!!
Auditioning Background Fabrics for the Frames
With so much pattern and color within the blocks, I chose to keep the quilting simple and turned to the Serpentine Stitch (#4 on most Berninas).  I maximized the width and increased the stitch length to 3.0.  Being a fairly small quilt top, the quilting was completed in just one afternoon!
Serpentine Quilting
A bold black and white stripe was used for my binding.  While it was still in yardage form, the high contrast stripes really messed with my eyes and caused me to become a little dizzy.  But I just kept closing my eyes for relief and felt much better once the 2.5" binding strips were cut.  Oh the pains we endure for the perfect binding!!
What's Black & White, and Super Fun!?!
I am dubbing this my "bonus quilt."  It did not require much time or attention on my part and the vast majority was pieced with leftover scraps!!  And I've made a noticeable dent in my collection of 2.5" charms.  I've been pretty good about keeping a stack of leaders & enders next to my sewing machine for use with chain piecing and have already pieced together enough units for 3 more scrap quilts!!  So be on the lookout for more "Scrap Attack" quilts, each with a very different palette!!
"Black & White Scrap Attack," Finishes 40" x 40"

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Butterfly Blossom

Before & After Pics of UFO
Last January 2015, we had our 2nd UFO Exchange and I came home with this large pieced quilt top that featured two fun prints that really spoke to me.  It was evident that the previous maker took great time and effort into piecing the blocks, causing me great inner conflict as I cut out all those squares.  The Kaffe fan print breathed new life into a baby quilt using Christine Barnes' "Lustrous Squares" pattern.  But I also had great plans for that fabulous butterfly print...

I had recently borrowed Sherri Lynn Wood's "The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters:  A Guide for Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously" book from a quilting friend, and was ready to try some improvisational piecing.  I began by raiding my scrap bin for any solid in colors that could be found within the butterfly print. They were sorted into 4 piles:  magenta/red-violets, oranges/yellows, chartreuses/limes and teals.  A few additional cuts from yardage was used to supplement value and color variety.  Lastly, color swatches were cut out from the buttterfly print and added to their corresponding fabric piles.  
Fabric Pull of Solids/Scraps and Matching Swatches of Butterfly Print
Once my swatches were all organized into these four piles, I began to sew bits and pieces together, and then those bits and pieces together, into larger and larger "chunks."  Once I reached a certain sized "chunk," I set it aside and began again until I had exhausted nearly all the fabric!  I trimmed up the blocks a bit and was left with 12 large slabs:  1 magenta, 1 orange, 2 yellow, 3 green, 3 teal and 1 purple.  I love creating color gradients and played around with possibly layouts as well as auditioned background fabrics.  The design wall came in very handy as I tried a variety of configurations...and really liked the on point rows, featuring a different colorway in each layer.  I had several yards of one rich, vibrant blue solid, and just loved how my newly pieced slabs popped when placed on top!  
Improv Pieced Blocks to Quilt Top
When it came time to add the Set-In triangles to each row to achieve the on-point design, I noticed a strong correlation between my declining momentum & confidence, and seeing the blue yardage start to dramatically dwindle!  And so, I packed up my partially pieced rows and what little yardage remained for a much needed "time out."  Six plus months lapsed, and with the start of the new year, I began to take inventory of my UFOs when I uncovered this project.  Despite my best efforts calculate the exact dimensions needed, I slowly proceeded to carefully, yet improvisationally carve out units needed to complete each row and just crossed my fingers that it would all work out.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as I cut out the last two units needed for the corners!  Even more miraculous was the fact that there was enough yardage remaining to frame the three leftover improv pieced "chunks" for use in my quilt back:  A true quilting miracle!!
Quilt Back Featuring 3 Remaining Improv Pieced "Chunks"
I managed to pin-baste my quilt top, batting and backing but had to put the quilting on the back burner to tackle some looming quilting deadlines on other projects.  This turned out to be a very fortuitous decision as I fast forward to March when I learned that my Midnight Mystery Quilt Along quilt top was drawn to win free edge to edge customized quilting, compliments of Jan Briggs of Quilting Among the Groves.  Unfortunately, I had already started to quilt my Midnight Mystery quilt top, but luckily the prize quilting could be transferred to another quilt top of equal or smaller size and my Improv pieced quilt top fit the bill!

I will confess that I was a little apprehensive about entrusting my quilt top to a complete "stranger." Up until now, I have quilted all but one of my quilt tops--and the other one was taken to one of my local quilt shops where I knew the quilter well and was able to do some in person consultation.  Any initial anxiety on my end was soon alleviated after a few email exchanges with Jan to discuss quilting designs and thread selection.  It was pretty evident that Jan took great pride in his quilting, was a total professional and was soon no longer a complete stranger!  He drew inspiration from my quilt top in addition to recently attending a quilt show, and drafted up three different sketches for my consideration.  I was in awe of all three design proposals, as they all looked modern and just fabulous!!  I had some difficulty deciding which was my favorite and knew that there simply was no wrong choice!  Excited about Jan's vision, I went to work removing all the safety basting pins (which I had to remind myself was much easier and faster than quilting the top myself!!) and preparing my top, backing and batting to send off for him to work his quilting magic!  He was great about letting me know that my quilt top had arrived safely and event sent me a sneak peak/in-progress teaser pic!  Soon thereafter, he emailed me to let me know the quilting was completed and my quilt was en route back to me!!  As soon as the package arrived, I eagerly opened it up and...absolutely LOVED it!!  The customized quilting drew my eyes and hands from section to section of gorgeous quilted texture!!  It was such a dynamic design with so much interest, movement and detail!!  One final detail to note in my rave review, was the personalized hand-written note that Jan included on an orange-shaped, hand-crafted card!  From start to finish, all my interactions with Jan have been very positive and I highly recommend Jan's top-notch quilting services!!
Detail Shots of Quilting by Jan of Quilting Among the Groves
Just a few days after receiving my quilt top in the mail, I went to work trimming up the edges and binding it in a bright lime striped batik!!  I did not have any recipient in mind when making this quilt, but I am seriously thinking of keeping this beauty near and dear!!
A New Quilt for Moi!?!
During the photo shoot, Susie Q and Panda made it clear that they highly approved of this new quilt, as they kept sneaking into the shot.  
Susie Q & Panda Give This Quilt 4 Paws Up!!
Many thanks to Cheryl Bricky for organizing the fun and rewarding "Midnight Mystery Quilt Along" and lining up an impressive list of sponsors offering wonderful incentive prizes, Jan Briggs for his superb quilting and Doug, Susie Q & Panda for helping to photograph this beauty!!
Butterfly Blossom, Finishes 50" x 60"

Monday, May 16, 2016

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?!?

Hand Dyed Palette
Here's my friendly warning:  I am on a UFO busting bender!  With a small lull in looming quilt deadlines, I've am using some of this downtime to finish up a few quilts started earlier this year.  Such as this project that was started back in March as a class assignment focused on using soft lines and engaging the quilt edge.

I started by fusing a selection of hand dyed solids in pink, teal (both from a past UFO Exchange) and yellow/orange (Cherrywood).  I created a background of floating rectangles that gradated from a light top to a darker bottom and added a pink/blue/yellow batik for a side border.

For my foreground, I wanted to create abstract flower shapes that were delicate, floating and a nice contrast to the hard background.  I started with cutting out outlines of petals from the pink solids and auditioning their layout on the background.  I had a few petal shapes that floated off the edges.  In order to soften the lines of the petals, I then broke up the line into smaller fragments (dashes and dots) before fusing them down onto the background.  Instead of a large circle or dot for my centers, I cut out a few C-shaped swatches of orange and yellow which adds more abstraction and softness.
Creating Soft Lines for my Petals--Before and After
Once again, I ran out of time to have it quilted/bound before the assignment was due, and it's been pinned to my design wall for 2+ months.  I thought about super detailed free motion quilting but opted instead to use an all over serpentine quilting that would merge the hard straight lines of the background with the soft curves of the foreground.  In the first pass of quilting, I stitched a serpentine line every 3/4"-1", but realized it was not dense enough for the smaller fused elements.  So I went back and stitched lines in between the previously stitched line for a more dense fill, capturing most of the smaller dots and dashes.
Before and After Serpentine Stitching
In order to preserve the illusion of the flowers floating off each of the edges, I chose to face my quilt vs. use a traditional binding that would create a frame.  I've modified my facing technique slightly to reduce some of the bulk at the corners and using The Silly Boo Dilly's tutorial, which I really like.

When it came time to name my quilt...I thought about using some form of alliteration:  Faded or Floating Flowers.  Seeing them fade and float off the edge reminded me of the song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" written by Pete Seeger and sung by Peter, Paul & Mary.
"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?", Finished at 29" x 23"

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jazz Impressions: Rhythm & Blues

It's a miracle:  I managed to finish and submit my second Jazz Impressions fiber art entry!  

This project began as a color study assignment that required me to use seven values of one color, two analogous colors and one complementary color.  After several failed fabric pulls, I mustered the courage to break into a bundle of beautiful hand dyed solids that I've been treasuring since October 2013!!  A few Cherrywood hand dyed solids and one Michael  Miller Cotton Couture were added to the mix for a cool color combination.
Fabric Pull Blues
I sketched out a modern design that began with 9 large blocks and would later include accents of the complementary color:  orange.  After rearranging and shuffling the squares over and over, I couldn't find a layout that appealed to me.  Luckily I finally found the perfect solution to my design dilemma:  Expand to include 16 blocks!    
Background Blues
This size shift allowed lots more options for shuffling the blocks and ultimately achieving better balance among all the values and colors.

Now that my background squares were laid out, it was time to add some orange accents.  Originally I envisioned a different sized orange square placed off center within each block.  However, once I started to cut out squares and auditioning placement on top of the background squares, I started to ask my favorite question:  What If...?
  • What if I placed a four patch of squares instead of just one?
  • What if I pieced in a 9-patch?
  • What if I pieced in a smaller 9-patch using 1" squares?
  • What if I laid out all those 1" squares to create a dotted line?

Exciting Things Happen When You Ask "What If...?"
To help audition scale, placement and variety, the squares of orange fabric were simply draped on top of each of the blue squares.  This allowed me to play, play and play some more with the overall design.  After taking a few pictures for later reference, I began to piece together my orange squares using leftover scraps from the background fabrics.  Then I improvisationally pieced these orange units into their background squares.  I simply cut up the original squares and was able to insert my new units, losing very little width or height in the process.  Once all the blocks were assembled, I trimmed them into a uniform size and assembled them all into a quilt top.
Improvisational Layout and Pieced Construction
I loved the smooth, clean lines and was torn as to how to best to quilt it.  For my class assignment, I simply submitted a photo of my quilt top which was well received by the instructor.  However, quilting would be required before submitting photos for my Jazz Impressions entry.  Oh, and did I mention that my sewing machine died just as I finished piecing my quilt top and there was just 1 week until the entry deadline!?!  I was really nervous about quilting on the loaner and procrastinated for fear that I would mess it all up.
Inspiration Songs by Louis Armstrong (Clockwise starting with top left block):  La Vie En Rose, When the Saints Go Marching In, When You're Smiling and A Kiss to Build a Dream On
I was just about to throw in the towel, when inspiration was found in "Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits" on You Tube.  I listened to all 21 songs that night and was struck by the range of rhythm from song to song.  I thought it would be fun to incorporate these rhythm changes into my quilting.  I started with my personal favorite "What a Wonderful World" and selected a simple loop de loop meander to stitch to the rhythm of the music, adding a loop here and there to match.

Moving across each row, I assigned each block a different Louis Armstrong song.  I began by listening to the entire song to identify the rhythm of the music and start auditioning different free motion motifs by running my finger over the fabric and/or sketching on paper, keeping pace and flow with the music.  Once I was ready to start stitching, I would play the song and repeat it, over and over, until the entire block was stitched.  On multiple occasions, the next song started to play before I was done with my block.  I found this sudden change in the rhythm created total discord for me and really interfered with the flow of my stitching.  Once I pressed replay back to the inspiration song, the stitches began to flow once again with the notes of the corresponding music!  
More Blocks Inspired by Louis Armstrong's Music (Clockwise starting with top left):  Mack the Knife, West End Blues, Blueberry Hill and We Have All The Time in the World.
This process of pairing a song to a different motif was totally mesmerizing and a very enjoyable experience.  In fact, I quilted 12 of the 16 blocks in just one afternoon/evening!
"Rhythm and Blues", finishes 30" x 30"
Are you curious about the remaining songs that inspired all this wonderful quilted texture?!?  Well,
let's hope that my piece is accepted into the exhibit, so you can check it out in person at the Jazz Impressions Exhibit, which will be displayed from July 8th through August 16th at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles.  So mark your calendars now so you can 1.  Check out this wonderful display of fiber art, 2.  Celebrate Jazz as part of the San Jose Jazz Festival and 3.  Find a white glove volunteer or staff member to show you the back of my quilt where I listed all 16 songs and their corresponding blocks on a second quilt label!

Here are both of my Jazz Impressions, with my Orange You Glad I Got the Blues? quilt entry on the left.  They really complement each other rather nicely, don't you think!?!
Jazz Duo

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May MQU Modern Makeover

This month's Modern Quilts Unlimited "Everything Old Is New Again" block challenge inspiration was the LeMoyne Star.  Dot to dot quilting designs were still on my brain and inspired my modern makeover design.  Drafting up the block was fairly quick in EQ7, and I made sure to avoid inset seams!  I played around with the color/value placements and here are my three favorites.
Modern Make Overs Via EQ7
Petite Prototype
I was almost finished piecing all 8 units when I finally realized that they seemed a bit small for creating the required 12" block size.  Sure enough, I had inadvertently printed the foundation sheets to create a 7" block!   I decided to assemble it anyway, and figured if pressed for time, I could always add a border or two to achieve the 12" requirement.  

The next morning, I woke up and reprinted the foundation sheets, taking extra care to print 12" finished size (and I even double checked the print outs with a ruler!).  Foundation piecing the larger units seemed to be faster and easier.  

With 24 seams all verging into the center, I made sure I was very deliberate with my pressing.  But even with all the best pressing tricks, it's still pretty dense!

Siena Star, Finishes 12" x 12" (at least this one does!!)
I chose to alter the name for my block entry as a tribute to my alma mater:  Siena College.  One of our competitors was LeMoyne College, another small, private, upstate NY Catholic College (but founded in the Jesuit tradition.)  So this block is in honor of all the Franciscan friars and my fellow Siena Saints!  

You can check out all the great block submissions and vote for your favorite(s) using your facebook account here.