Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lotsa stripes

Have I mentioned I like working with strips and stripes? I am sure I have…you know, once or twice.
I do, I confess, love working with them. It’s a great way to use up scraps, or cut up material which is just…too much when in a big chunk. Strips are versatile in the way you can sew them, cut them up, and resew them to make your design. They are fun and colorful. The challenge with them is layout. I find I need to redo the layout of stripes quite often to find the right balance, especially when working with a scrappy stripe piece.
Another thing I find lots of fun, is working without a pattern. Piecing together a piece that grows as I sew, with only a general idea of how it will end up, is challenging, and rewarding. Some of this has to do with not knowing, and a lot less control than when working with a pattern. This is both challenging and rewarding. I find it liberating. It can, however, be difficult as I have only my (sometimes skewed) sense of color and composition when putting a piece together with no plan. The strippy scrappy piece below is one I’ve been working on for a long time. This is another one of those WIPs I’d determined to finish this year. 

I started this, oh, about 4 years ago, planning it as a couch quilt for my sister in law.  I started by using scraps of mine, left over from borders for other pieces, which were all the same width (2.5 inches). To these I added some strips from colors I know she likes, greens and browns. Then I realized I wanted to add some from her own stash of fabrics. 

Back story: years ago my sister in law took a quilting class. The project there was a sampler and my sister in law bought some material for the class. She found she was not enamored with this kind of craftiness and the quilt sat in her closet for a few years. During this time she got married, had a child, and found that her interests really lie elsewhere. She made costumes for the kids for Halloween, but did not do much sewing other than that. About 10 years ago she gave me a box with her stash of fabrics, having given up on trying to finish the sampler quilt she’d begun in the class. As a birthday present I finished the quilt for her, and since then I’ve held on to her fabrics, using them in my own projects. 

And now that I was making a quilt for her, I wanted to use her fabrics as well as mine. A constant pleasure for me in quilting is recognizing fabrics from projects past and giving them new meaning in new projects.
At this point I had a good number of strips, and I began laying them out. Since they were all different lengths it became clear that the design would be scrappy all around. Not just each strip would be different, but each would be made up of several different fabrics. 

I also realized the piece would be bigger than a couch quilt. Unfortunately, it was not enough for a bed quilt. However, since time had gone by, I now had plenty of other scraps to incorporate into the quilt.
I sewed a bunch of strips together into bigger pieces, and started messing about with layout.  I couldn’t figure it out. For a reason I could not identify, it was not coming together right. So I put it away again, while I worked on other projects, trusting inspiration would come and the piece would work sometime, somehow. 

Months went by and then 2011 came along, and I decided on my challenge of finishing WIPs. It also happens to be a year my sis-in-law celebrates a big birthday, so I had double incentive to finish it for her.
Here is a close up of what the piece looked like then:

I realized it needed different colors to break up the palette and add some detail, so I found some blues, and incorporated them as well, and the piece looked something like this:

I was pretty happy with this, and sewed all the strips together to make a generous queen size piece. I trimmed the edges to make a rectangle. But it still needed something.
I laid it down on the floor, to see if I could match borders to it to add the missing element. I tried several colors and came up with the brick reddish/brown, but it was still not enough. I kept trying more colors, thinking a double, or maybe even a triple border would do the trick. But nothing worked. Frustrated I left it, on the floor, and went to do something else. When I came back later that day, I saw my leftover trims of strips, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do: break up the brown/red border with the trims. Like so:

And the finished piece:

The piece is now so big the only place I could lay it down for the picture is on the floor in the kitchen, once I'd taken the table and chairs out (you can see the edges of the fridge on one side, and the oven on the other). The cat in the picture was VERY curious. She's not allowed in my sewing room (as she likes to pull pins out of fabric and snuggle in the batting). But in the kitchen, well, there was no keeping her off the quilt.

The back has a traditional-looking fabric in cream and burgundy (a bit of calm to offset the strippiness of the front):

I gave it to my sis-in-law for her birthday last week.  She was pleased, and so was I.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WIPs and UFOs

One of my challenges for this year, sewing-wise, was to finish all of the WIPs I have. WIPs (Works In Progress) or UFOs (UnFinished Objects), are the ones that sit on shelves, or in drawers (or bins) and wait to get finished while I am happily starting more and more new projects. My favorite part is the design of a quilt, and then the magic of seeing it take shape. The piecing is exciting for me in that it leads to the magic of the quilt taking shape. The quilting and binding is, honestly, my least favorite parts. Maybe it’s because I feel there’s not much creativity there. To me the process is mostly mechanical. Maybe if I experimented with quilting techniques and patterns it would be better. This would be easier to do if I had a machine that could handle it easily, or if I were to try hand quilting. My attempts at hand quilting have not been gratifying so far…
In any case, and whatever the reason, I have a few WIPs I need to finish this year, and it’s already mid-July. So since we’ve come back from our trip I’ve been resisting starting new projects (even if I DO have sketches for a couple), and I’ve been working on projects I already have in progress. Some of these are newish and some are quite old. The newish include my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah quilt, started 3 months ago and due to be done in August (and the subject of another post). The older include an entirely hand-pieced huge top which I started years ago and have been adding to as time goes on. The pieces are all curved, which is why it is hand-pieced. My machine can’t handle curved piecing very well. I can do it, but I find it frustrating. It’s so frustrating in fact that I choose to keep doing the piecing by hand.
Here’s what the pieces look like. Individual pieces:
Yes, I made a template, and drew on fabric, and cut each of these out by hand. I have...about 400, I think.
Then I sew them into pairs, like so:
Then, I sew the pairs into foursomes:
Then, I sew them into larger pieces, joining two foursomes into, um, eightsomes (??) and so on. All by hand. Yes, this is why it's taking me years (in addition to the fact that I am doing other things in the meantime).

This is my quiet-time-on-the-couch project.  I have been working on this piece for so long I can see my development in it, as a person, mom, aunt, daughter, as well as as a quilter. It includes fabrics from projects long since finished: it includes fabrics from clothes I made for the kids when they were babies, and for all the other kids-nieces and nephews-since. It includes fabric given to me by my sister in law when she got rid of her “stash” and fabric left over from a dress that belonged to my other sister in law’s mother (when she, the mother, was a teen). It includes fabrics from Halloween costumes and several wedding canopies I’ve made (including my own). It’s wonderful to sit and sew it, covered in it, and see my story grow with the quilt.
I don’t know any more how long I’ve been working on it, and it is very slow going. However, last winter I got sick and while sick is no fun, it did give me lots of time on the couch. Suddenly the quilt, as quilts do, started taking shape. The moment when you feel you’ve moved from “a bunch of pieces of fabric” to a single, cohesive piece, is wonderful, and very gratifying.

Another plus to hand-piecing is that I can take it with me: portable project! Around this time, I brought some pieces to my parents’ on a night we were having dinner there. I was talking about it with my mother, and sister-in-law, and the subject of a recipient for this piece came up. I said I don’t have one in mind and that I am waiting until the recipient makes her/himself known. At this point my mother said that since the bed spread I made for her and my father (one of my first pieced pieces) is going on 14 years old, she’d like to ask for this one as a bed spread. And I found my recipient!

In order for the piece to cover my parents’ queen sized bed generously, I needed to cut more pieces, and keep enlarging the piece. Back I went to the template and my fabric stash. I cut some fabric from more recent projects and started sewing them together.

This past week I was ill, and on the couch, again, and in between naps I did some sewing. I hope to have the piece done this winter, by my parents’ anniversary month.
I’ll post pictures, and more of this quilt’s journey, when it’s done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of plans and placemats

Sorry for my long absence; We just came back from a long trip. Yup, we took the kids and an RV and went on a trip to some National Parks. It was great, though hard at times, to spend such close time with the kids. We went to parks in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. I had brought my sewing bag with me with the thought of sewing in the evenings in the campgrounds. I brought two projects, a quilt I am hand-piecing and some cross stitch I am just beginning. Unfortunately, I got NONE of it done. Not a single stitch. I did not even take the bag out of the cupboard in the RV; there was just no time for it.
The sewing-related portion of the trip has to do with a wonderful line of quilt block kits that I found at one of the stores in one of the parks. It has reproductions of old Park Posters on blocks of fabric to use in quilts. I found a few of them in the gift shops, and more online at, and I shall make us a quilt of our trip! I am really looking forward to that.
In the meantime, I also want to finish my daughter’s Bat Mitzva quilt, two charity quilts I am working on, and a baby quilt for a friend who’s about to become a Mama.
And for now, I give you-more placemats! I finished these before we took off on our big adventure, but hadn’t had time to post them.

The batch:

 These are made in the Log Cabin pattern with fabric mostly from my stash (with the addition of some freshly purchased fat quarters) and are about 20” square.  For the back I wanted something different. This, I realize more and more is my usual preference. I don’t know if this is because I think it’d be good to have a different style to choose from, or because I am ready for something else, or simply because I run out of the fabric I use for front and need something else. In any case, my creations, big and small, often have different “flavors” on each side.
Here’s the back:

And now to finish unpacking and putting the house back in order even though what I really want to do is sew.