Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas finish

I finished my mom's Christmas disappearing 9 patch quilt last Wednesday, but promptly jumped on a plane to spend Christmas weekend with family in Minneapolis, so pictures had to wait 'til I had some time and a nice backdrop to shoot.

I go back and forth between getting a headache from everything that's going on here and really liking it.  It's really busy, with all of those charms from the fabric swap, but framed it with a cool red, and backed it with more traditional Christmas colors, so I think that helps bring it together.  Binding was another Wrap it Up pattern from Connecting Threads.

I have provided straight-on shots so you can see the whole finished product as well as some "action shots" of the quilt!  I did a diagonal straight-line quilt, which went so much faster than fmq'ing, uses so much less thread, and looks so much cleaner.  Not sure if I am going to dive back into fmq'ing just yet...we'll see.

After my mom received the quilt, we headed down to the creek by their house, where most of our family photos take place, so I could get some new pics of my folks.  I brought the quilt out at the end of our photo shoot.  I think they thought me a bit strange, pulling the quilt out of a garbage bag and draping it over a park bench!   Here's a shot of my beautiful daughter showing you the diagonal straight-line quilting on my Christmas quilt.  I didn't have any red thread, which is what I would have preferred, but a tea green did the trick almost as well, I think.

Here's the quilt just hanging out.  Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas with friends and/or family!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back is the new front.

OK, so I love the back of my Christmas quilt...actually more than the front.  I used 111 of my 112 charms from our Christmas charm swap, but I used over 100 of them on my disappearing 9 patch front, which, I have decided, is REALLY busy!  There just are not enough solids, and all of the patterns and colors (with almost no repeat fabrics) makes it look like a bit of a jumble.

The back, on the other hand, is making me feel very calm and satisfied.  Alternating strips of little green diamonds (Wrap it Up from Connecting Threads) and a cherry red with subtle yellow dashes (Morse Code from Connecting Threads) interspersed with the remaining charms from the swap make this a simple and understated celebration of the season (I think).

I briefly considered making this the front of my quilt, and putting a plain backing on it.  Maybe using the busy top for a set of placemats or something.  I decided to just go with what I have, and since this is a lap quilt, you will most likely see both sides often enough that the solid red and green theme on the "back" will anchor the all-over-the-map front.  Anyhow, I like this design and will probably use it again in the future (though not for Christmas).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Picking up where I left off.

Finished the patched top for my Christmas quilt.  Just waiting for my border fabric to arrive in the mail.  I buy all of my fabrics online, since the lqs is about an hour away by train.   Decided to pick up my sister's baby quilt and continue patching together the whirleygigs.  I have all the squares done, the next step is to trim them to 6.5 x 6.5 inch squares.  Actually, I lied...the next step is to iron that last seam on all 40-odd squares, and I am not in an ironing mood...ugh.

To give you an update on the repairs made to my Singer 301a, all is going very smoothly since I replaced the tension spring.  Stitching is just eaiser now that I have taken the free motion quilting foot off and replaced it with my regular foot.  I love to fmq, but that big bed quilt for my mother in law almost did me in!  So much fabric to deal with, it was a real pain in the butt!  I dont want to quit on fmq'ing, but maybe just take a short vacation from it and do some straight-line quilting for my next couple of projects.

Not that I get into the whole Schadenfreude thing, but I did enjoy reading about someone elses fmq blues at Summerfield Quilts.  Angie is an experienced quilter, and to see that even the experts get frustrated sometimes was encouraging to me.  Angie solved her problems by replacing the cheap batting she was using with warm and natural.  That's what I always use, so her solution won't help me, but knowing that I'm not alone will.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Starting a new quilt

We have had an amazing past few days here in Manhattan!  It's almost December, and we should be getting whacked with snow right about now...but I'm not complaining!  Spent the morning preparing for and doing an audition for an opera for next season.  Auditions are always a bit nerve-wracking, but my daughter was sick this morning, and I would have MUCH preferred staying home and playing with her than traipsing to Midtown to bear my vocal soul for 8 minutes, but momma's gotta eat, right?
Anyhow, I am loving doing my disappearing 9 patch Christmas quilt!  After my freestyle log cabin, where I was constantly going back and forth between cutting mat, sewing machine, and ironing board, this project is flying by!  Even better, the bulk of my 5x5 squares are drawn from Summerfield Quilt's Christmas charm swap, so the cutting's done!

 This is my first fabric swap, and I really love sitting down and doing some cutting, then a few weeks later getting a pile of surprise fabrics all ready to go!  True, I don't love every square, but this is going to be a very ecclectic piece, so I did my best at matching up each 8 patch group with the gold stripe middle square.  My basic pattern is darker squares in the 4 corners and lighter squares in between.  Unfortunately, there are lots of in-betweeners in the bunch, so some squares adhere better to the plan (9 patch below) than others (9 patch above).

I am, for the first time, ironing my seams open- looks neater and feels less bulky.  Maybe I should say that my seams are getting ironed open.  My wife is doing some ironing for me, so this project is progressing at warp speed for me, which is so exciting!  She did the hand-sewn bindings on my first few projects, but since discovering machine binding, I might do that to save time and meet my deadlines.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finally finished Mother in Law quilt!

Here are my first two "finishes" of my new quilting life- a little teapot coaster, which was gifted to some friends with whom we spent Thanksgiving... twin sized mother-in-law quilt, which I photographed in our neighborhood park, ripe with gorgeous fall foliage- a perfect backdrop for the colors (and leaf patterns) of this quilt!   Though the color palettes are the same, I used completely different fabrics for these two projects.  The teapot coaster is made up of a single block of swapped strips from my friend Elise in Anchorage, and the quilt from my small (but quickly-growing) stash.  

This quilt was a huge learning experience for me.  At first I was going to talk about how I was equal parts elated and embarrassed upon surveying my finished product, but after a day to think about what to report on this experience, I guess I can only say that I am going to not make a lot of mistakes I made this time around!

The free-motion quilting was, by far, the greatest challenge of this project, and if I were to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have fmq'ed it.  I do prefer the look, but the brown thread is very easy to see on the light parts of the top, and with the number of thread breaks and skipped stitched I had, there were a few sections that were less-than-professional looking!  I really wanted it stippled, and just didn't have the time to practice, practice, practice before I did it.  I did watch many youtube tutorials, then finally just jumped in!  In the final analysis, I definitely notice all the imperfections, but as everyone says, only the quilters will notice those things. My mother-in-law didn't care- she loves it :)

With my new (used) Singer 301a, I had some misadventures which also slowed me down.  I was getting a lot of skipped stitches as I fmq'ed, and someone suggested I remove and clean the thread tension assembly.  That was maybe a good idea, but my execution of it was decidedly lackluster!  Thinking it was attached with a screw, I stuck a screwdriver in it and began "loosening" it.  I actually just bent a spring in the assembly and had to get a replacement, which took a few days.  Btw, the thread tension assembly wasn't in need of cleaning (eye roll).  In addition, the free motion pattern I was using (curley cues) seemed to take a ton of thread (like, a bobbin per 14" block!).  I realize now I was using so much because all of my loops were very small.  My loops were small because I was having trouble managing all the extra quilt fabric.  I will likely straight-line quilt my next project or two, although since they are lapquilts, fmq'ing might be easier this time around...I will have to make a game-time decision on that one, I guess. 

For backing, I used a few scraps from the front as well as brown and orange plaid fabrics, which were clearance fabric seconds from Connecting Threads.  For under $2 a yard with no imperfections, it was perfect for this project!  My binding was a red-orange pattern on yellow, and frames the quilt nicely (I think).  As I was under a time crunch, I decided to give machine binding a try.  It was MUCH faster, and produced a neat-looking finish, which did the trick just fine.  I would do it again, and might have to, since I now have to get two lap quilts done before Christmas (I don't have tons of free time to quilt)!

These pictures of my MIL quilt were taken in Isham Park, Inwood, NYC.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again!

My machine had been skipping stitches, making for a couple of really not attractive quilted blocks and an extremely bummed-out quilter.  After uttering a couple of words I won't repeat, I put down my work and sat down at the old computer to plumb the depths of your experience and knowledge to solve my mechanical issue.

I did two things which seemed to do the trick:

1) Changed back to my old needle.  For some weird, unexplainable reason, a second Schmetz quilting needle from the same box just wasn't behaving itself, so I went back to the first needle I had been using for the last week or so.  Fortunately I didn't throw it away!

2) Slowed down the hands.  My wife was being a bit of a "back seat quilter", and told me I needed to make bigger loops.  When I started making bigger loops, I think I may have sped up the delivery of the quilt, and this might have contributed to skipped stitches as well.  Back to smaller loops and more controlled, slower stitching.

All of those stops, starts, and thread breaks were not pretty, and contributed to some significant tension on my part, which makes my fun hobby a literal pain in the neck.  Last night I was back to happily quilting away, and finished another 5 blocks.  Only 10 blocks left, and at this rate, I should be quilted and bound by Friday!  Yay!  Already chomping at the bit to continue another WIP for my sister.

Many thanks to my readers (and Rosanne in particular) for helping me get out of my FMQ Blues!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I've got those FMQ blues...

It seems my machine is now "skipping stitches".  I'm not sure how to describe it.  The top thread doesn't break, but the needle makes holes in the fabric as I sew, and the top thread doesn't hook up with the bottom.  I'll be going along fine, then look back at my work to see that there are holes in the fabric, but no thread.  Then it goes back to sewing properly.  Perhaps a picture could clarify:

As you can probably see, to the left of my finger is a lopsided loop which I had sewn "loopy" and the straight part of the loop is one long stitch.  You can also see the loop directly below  my finger in the photo that the stitch length is really long (same goes for the loop below that one, also in the brown fabric strip).  Finally, in the lower right corner, on the orange fabric, you can see where a quilted loop stops and starts- this is because I just ripped out the thread with my seam ripper.  This isn't a matter of moving the quilt too fast, I have a new needle in, I only broke my thread once, and it only started happening today, after stitching my first 6 blocks a few days ago with no problems.  I would LOVE any feedback or suggestions if any of my readers can figure out what might be wrong.  Also, it's 100% cotton thread from Connecting Threads, if that's info that would be helpful.

Please help- I am in a very sour mood because this issue has surfaced as I am quilting the lightest block on my quilt with brown thread...booo!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stressing about my Quilt

I decided to "stitch-in-the-ditch" quilt my Mother-in-law quilt around each block, but the squares are big (14 inches), so I thought I should do another stitch in the block.  As the blocks are a bit wonky (or at least assymetrical), I didn't think simply putting an "X" thru the middle of each would look so good, so I got adventurous and decided to just jump in with some freemotion design inside the block.

Now, before I reveal my work, I have to admit it was probably not a great idea to have my first freemotion adventure on a big quilt like this one.  Some people start out with some placemats or oven mitts, or even a lapquilt- why did I jump into the deep end?  Because it just seemed right.

My strategy was to get a little practice on a few scraps, then, since I am using brown thread to quilt, start with the darker blocks first- that way, the crappiest FMQ might be less noticable :)

What I have found most difficult with my machine (Singer 301a with original table) is managing/supporting the bulk of the quilt as I work.  The fold-out table top helps, but it seems I need three hands to keep the extra fabric supported while at the same time trying to keep a consistent "flow", allowing me to have a somewhat regular stitch length and round loops in my pattern.  I have seen some people use silicone spray on their tables to keep the fabric sliding smoothly on the table, but my suspicion is that it's not the equiptment- it's me.  Hopefully after a few more blocks I will get into a rhythm!

Oh, and my mother-in-law arrives tomorrow, so I guess it's time to concoct a lie to cover up the surprise- like this quilt is for my mom.  Yeah, that's the ticket!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to work (x2)

Well, I finally got my machine back on Wednesday, and it's sewing like a dream again!  I say "finally", but it was only three days- it seems like more when you are anxious to finish a project, I guess.

Anyhow, I am back to work on my sister's baby quilt (whirleygig) and finished the top on my mother-in-law quilt.  I am now "auditioning" quilt patterns for the MIL quilt.  As I am so new to the quilting world (and therefore to machine quilting), I am a little paranoid about doing it myself.- especially on a relatively large quilt (twin bed).  After purchasing a darning foot for my machine, it is tempting to dive right in to free-hand, but I might just go the safe route and stitch in the ditch.  Perhaps after some practice with the darning foot this weekend all will become clear.

Why "Back to Work x 2"?  Because like many working opera singers in New York City, I have a second job.  Temporary office jobs (or "temping") are a necessary evil that help us bridge the gap between what our fledgling careers pay and what we need to survive in the Big Apple.  Fortunately, I only need to temp a few weeks a year, and although I call it an evil, it's actually a very interesting diversion, which reminds me that I am so lucky to do what I love.  After a week at a desk, I realize how spoiled I am to spend most every day with my daughter!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Out of Commission!

Started on baby quilt for my sister's new bundle, due to arrive December 23rd (bummer for her- I always felt sorry for people who have Christmas time birthdays).  She is expecting a girl, and I am using a hodge-podge of pinks, purples, and light greens to make a crib sized whirleygig quilt using Linda's tutorial from her blog a maiden hair fern.  She has some beautiful quilts over there, so maybe go have a look-see!  I have been wanting to make a Whirleygig for a while now, and I thought it would be a fun pattern for a baby quilt.  Excited to finally get started on my first baby quilt!

Sadly, about halfway through my first batch of chain piecing on the old Singer 301a, I started having lower bobbin problems, then the Singer stopped singing and started to GRIND!  Opened her up and see some gears on top just aren't lining up properly.  Guess I'm headed to my local repair shop to get charged $100 for an adjustment...Ugh!  Hopefully it won't slow me down (or cost me) too much!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When am I finished?

It has been a busy week with lots of unquilt goings-on.  Much of it good (like getting a new singing job for the winter), and even a couple of really good things:
1) I finished putting together the top of my mother-in-law quilt (for lack of a better name)
2) My wife became a citizen of the U.S.!

My quilt, which is a twin sized log cabin in fall colors (14 inch blocks), still needs a border, but it feels done when I finish sewing all the blocks together.  The border will be a simple brown 4 inch strip, and that fabric has not arrived yet, so I have a day or so to kick myself for not lining up all my corners perfectly...

I am still trying to get a feel for where I will fall in that spectrum between sloppy and perfect.  How much imperfection am I comfortable with (obviously a lot if I'm ending my sentences with prepositions, right)?  On the final line of stitching in the blocks (two big blocks of 12 log cabins) I was about a quarter inch off, and so I pulled out the stitching and did it again.  Wouldn't you know it?  Somehow they still didn't quite line up.

After pulling stitches once, I just figured it was close enough...especially after I had pinned it and thought it lined up just right.  Is this a feed dog issue?  I know they all lined up when I pinned them and again the second time when I didn't pin.  Oh well, I am not sure how many times you can restitch before the fabric starts to get damaged, so I felt like I had better stop.

In other news, I went with my wife, daughter, and a friend of ours to the Manhattan Court House and sat around for a good hour waiting for the swearing in of 170 new U.S. citizens from 50 different countries this morning.  It was much less ceremonial and inspiring than expected.  I expected teary-eyed folks with their hands over their hearts and lots of oak paneling and a big American flag.  None of that- just a big modern hotel meeting room looking space with a judge reading a canned speech about the benefits of being an American.  They did swear allegiance with hand over heart...OK, maybe my experience was softened a bit because I was holding our baby thru much of it, trying to keep her from crying as the judge read his message (if you just take one step closer to the mic, we could ALL hear you).  In the end, it was an amazing experience, and I am sure that there were many tears and proudly-beaming people.  I was just a little preoccupied.

Hope my fabric arrives tomorrow...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Baby walking and Elephant running.

OK, this is not quilt-related, but my 11 month old daughter took her first steps yesterday!  Yay!  We were at our local indoor playspace in the neighborhood, and she must have been inspired by the slightly older kids walking around, and boldly took six or seven steps!  Exciting day!

In other news, I got some new fabric which I absolutely LOVE, from Tina Givens' line called Pernilla's Journey.  This particular design is called Elephant Run.  Since our little one is being gently encouraged to love elephants, it's perfect!

It's whimsical, but a BIG print.  Either going to make a crib sheet or a quilt using it (probably both).  I purchased several different prints from the collection (from the wonderful Intrepid Thread Etsy shop), and they are all big designs...I guess I'll have to start looking for a quilt design that will give these big animals room to breathe!  Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thanks Quilt Dad!

Thanks to Quilt Dad for showing me some love on Twitter!  Thanks also to those who are visiting my fledgling blog for the first time and giving me such a warm welcome to the Blogosphere!. 

My wife and I are headed to a concert today, leaving our 11 month old with a friend, and reveling in our first "date" sans baby since she was born!  Some anxiety with mom, but I will be focused on encouraging her to enjoy the concert and dispel visions of disaster at home.  Everything will be fine (right?).

I am now halfway thru my log cabin quilt top for my in-laws.  The colors are warm and the patterns are nature-themed, which is perfect for a cold, bleak midwinter in Russia.  Actually it's not really bleak (I am being dramatic), but you do spend lots of time inside, and hopefully this quilt will warm them and cheer them!  Here's another sneak peek at a block.

As you can tell, I love orange.  My first big quilt was in these same fall colors, and I can't seem to stop using them.  My next one will definitely be cooler colors, I promise!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Here we go!

Well, I finally gave in...  After 7 months of resisting, I finally gave in and bought a sewing machine.  Actually, my wife bought it for me for my birthday.  I was admiring the quilts I had made while we spent a month in Anchorage, Alaska (where I learned the fine art of quilting from the generous and talented master quilter Elise Rose), and caved!

I kept telling myself that our little New York City apartment was too small for a machine, a cutting space, and (especially) a stash!  In reality, IT IS!!!  Yet somehow we are finding space.  I bought a Singer 301a (straight-stitching Singer) on Craigslist.  The guy was selling it for his mom's friend (the proverbial little old lady who only sewed on Sundays...), came with the original table, and was delivered to my door (which is a big deal, since I dont have a car, and he saved me the hassle of renting a car and driving to Queens to pick it up).  When it arrived, the bobbin case was missing, so I bargained him down from $100 to $60 (I think the case cost me about $36 from Jenny at Sew-Classic).  Some of you might be thinking that I could probably find an old machine at a thrift store or garage sale for next to nothing...I was thinking the same thing.  However, in Manhattan, buried treasure is much harder to find, and when I went to the local sewing machine repair shop, I asked the owner what I should pay for a 301a, he said he regularly sells them for $400-$500!  Needless to say, I jumped on this machine.  I also decided to save some cash and do the tuneup myself.  Given the reputation of this model as an indestructable dream machine, I dove in with the manual and some online advice.  Runs like a top now!

Since I have no dedicated workspace (wife, baby, and I live in a 1br apt in Manhattan), it was essential to have a stow-away machine.  It sits quietly in the corner during the day, and once the baby is down, the living room is converted into a workroom- machine pops out of its hideaway, coffee table becomes cutting table, ironing board and iron are set up by the window, and I dive in!

Before I even found a machine, I had compiled a list of quilt recipients.  I love the quilting process- it's a creative and artistic outlet that, unlike singing opera, yields a physical and tangible result that I can enjoy too!  But how many quilts can you own?  Well, in my small pad, not very many, so I already see the gift-giving potential.  My mother-in-law will be first.  She and my father-in-law live in St. Petersburg, Russia, and as you might imagine, a quilt will get used!  I am making a wonky log cabin quilt for them in fall colors.  I had eight blocks done, but my wife doesn't like one of them (and I guess I have to agree), so it's actually only seven.  Here's one that we both like:

They are coming to visit next month for my daughter's 1 year birthday, so I am anxious to get finished.  Others on my list include...hmmm...I guess I shouldn't say who, right?  If they read this it spoils the surprise.  On the other hand, now every family member who reads this is hoping it's them.  Well, if you are a family member and reading this, rest assured that I will eventually get around to you.