Friday, August 30, 2013

On the Straight and Narrow

A couple of weeks ago when I was teaching the Letters class at Quilted Threads, one of my students was looking at my Nine x Nine quilt and asked, "How do you get the letters the same height?"

Another student interrupted. "Forget about how you get them the same size. How do you get them STRAIGHT?"


I love having students, because they really make me THINK about the processes that I do without thinking. So I have been thinking about this, and now I can tell you how I get my letters lined up straight.
First, I make sure the piece I am going to sew something to has a straight edge. In other words, TRIM! See this edge, above? I thought the green letter "L" was straight, but it wasn't.

Second, I pin. Call me paranoid, but I want straight seams. I hate using the seam ripper.

Third, sew a straight seam. I mean, really? Do I have to emphasize this? It's more important the seam is straight than it is a perfect 1/4" wide.

Fourth, press the seam. I break all the rules here. I use a steam iron, and I press / iron the crap out of it.  How do I do it?  I set the piece down, and press/iron the piece (here the colored letters), just nudging that white piece that has to fold over. When I've got it standing up, I nudge it over gently all along the seam, then press it firmly.

 Fifth, I trim. In this quilt, I want the letters to be perfectly straight, and that means they have to have 90-degree corners. So I trim them to make sure they are, in fact, 90 degrees.

Lastly, put the piece up on the design wall and handle it as little as possible until the next step.

SO! I've now got a big section of letters sewn together, and I've added a spacer strip to the top.  Looks good, right?

Look again.
That edge is wobbly, and has to be trimmed. Use a long ruler. Don't try to do this by shifting a short ruler along the edge.

Isn't this better?

This is the back of the Nine x Nine flimsy, taken before I had it quilted.  See how nice and flat it lies? It's a result of making sure every single seam is straight. I take nothing for granted.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Decisions, Decisions...

When I designed this quilt back in May, I put the bright bird on it and thought it looked just right.

I needed the design wall for something else, so I took the bright letters down and set them on a table nearby.

When I decided to start putting the letters together, I put them back up on the design wall. Underneath these pieces were a couple of birds that didn't have a home, so I put them up next to the letters, just for fun.

I'm not sure why I put them there, but I like the way the two birds "frame" the word "box." The dark bird sitting near "crayons" seems to balance out the dark "C" of crayons.  I didn't plan to keep them in the quilt, but when I removed them...

the quilt just looks funny.

 So they're staying.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bright Colors, Redux

I usually finish a flimsy when I get all the components sewn together, but I never sewed these bright letters together.  Yesterday I got started sewing them together. Sorry this isn't in focus, but I took the photo at night, holding the camera in one hand and trying to direct a light onto the letters with the other.

And yes, I sewed this together this way on purpose.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Change Partners and Dance

When I got tired of doing finely detailed pencil portraits... (and developed arthritis in my drawing hand)

I did something a bit different. I worked with watercolors and made some abstract 3-D pieces.

Some of them made it into art shows and were exhibited.  I was attending the opening of one gallery show and I was chatting with John Hatch, one of my former Art professors from college, and one of my colleagues, a fellow painter.

"What do you do," she asked him, "when you get stuck?"

John gestured to me with his thumb, as if he were hitchhiking. "You do what this one does." He turned to me and smiled. "Change partners and dance." With that, he took me into his arms, twirled me around a couple of steps, kissed me on the cheek and sailed off. He was then about 77 years old, and he was that kind of guy. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody.

It was the most succinct and eloquent piece of advice I had ever heard, and I never forgot it (how could I?). Someday I'm going to have to make a word quilt out of it, but that's another story.

Change partners and dance. It sounds so easy, and yet it isn't. How do you find a new partner to keep dancing in a crowded room, or even an empty one?

What he meant, I am quite sure (and I can't ask, he died in 1998), was that you had to look at things differently. It can be hard to do, you get stuck in a rut, and you keep doing the same thing over and over. You may be good at doing the same thing over and over, but to get out of the rut you have to know you're in one.

How you "reframe" a problem can really pay off. There's a new book by Tina Seeling, "inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity" that focuses on this idea. You can (and should) read the article in Fast Company, "How Reframing a Problem Unlocks Innovation."

Seelig writes, "The simple process of asking "Why" expands the landscape of solutions for a problem."

I've solved lots of quilt design problems by asking "Why?"

"Why do I have to have the background fabric in The Black Box Quilt run perfectly vertical?"

"Why do I have to use the same fabric as background all over in a quilt?"

"Why does the dog need to be centered?"

"Why do I have to make the letters the same size?"

"Why do I have to make the letters easy to see?"

"Why do I have to rip this seam?"**

Please read the article about Reframing. I promise it will be worthwhile.

** Regular readers will recognize these questions, and my responses to them.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rainbow Baby, Quilted

The rainbow baby quilt is back from being quilted. As soon as I spread it out on the bed, Millie lay on it.

She is enjoying entirely too much.

I asked my Mom if she saw the photos of the Sunburst Rainbow quilt.

"Are you KIDDING?" she said, "I have been watching that every day. It's GORGEOUS. That quilt HAS to come to me. I'M the only person who can really appreciate that quilt..."

She did allow that she wasn't quite sure about the backing. "Well," I said, "I didn't want it to be TOO bright. I mean, I have an all-red quilt, and there aren't many people who can handle that..."

"I'M one of them," my Mom said, "I love that red quilt.  I can take a bright quilt like that..."

I love my Mother. Really and truly. She so totally rocks. If you're an oddball, and you've known you're an oddball your whole live through, it's so wonderful to have somebody like that in your corner. If Mom wants the quilt, Mom is gonna get the quilt.

With a bright backing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

And The Winner Is...

After I hit "Publish" on yesterday's post, in which I asked readers which they preferred, the  "Sunburst" or the "Wave" design, I thought to myself "I ask my readers' opinions a lot, but I never listen to them..."

At lunch, I brought both photos up on my monitor, and leaned back to see which I liked better.

It was an easy decision. Which did I choose?

There are only two seams left and the top will be complete.

Thank you Ladies!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

So Far

I sewed another long row together last night, and almost sewed it to it's neighbor upside down. I sewed about 12 inches before I caught my mistake. A purple block was about to be sewn to a green one.  Eeeeek! Purple is adjacent to only blue and red, so I pulled it out of the machine and ripped that seam, reversed the row, and sewed it. 

I set the first five-row section aside as it was getting a bit unwieldy. I figured I'd make the next four rows and sew them together, then sew the five-row to the four-row to put the top together.  If I had sewn those two rows together wrong, I would have had to take them apart.  They are the two left-most vertical rows in the photo above.  But once I got them on the wall, I had to stop. The design has great appeal, and I have to give it serious thought. I really like that off-center sunburst, and have to decide if I want to keep it, or continue on with my original plan.

This was the original plan, btw. The finished quilt, if I keep according to my plan, will be a mirror image of this one. 

What do you think? The original? Or the Sunburst?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Two-Thirds of a Rainbow

 I've sewn six of the nine vertical rows together so far, and I am really happy with this. I selected a very unusual fabric for the backing.

What I like about it is that it's neutral. There's so much going on on the front, and while I could have used ANY of the colors on the front as a backing, the quilt would have been "too much," and I didn't want that. The other thing I like about it is that it moves the way the design on the front does. Back and forth.

What will I do for the binding? Jeez, I dunno. I might even change my mind about the backing when it comes time, but I'm not worried. There are a lot of options (and a lot of right answers) for a quilt like this. 

This fabric hit me, and I generally go with what hits me. I have learned to trust my gut instincts. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Rainbow...

I've been sewing rows to the Rainbow Quilt, and putting them up on the wall to get them out of the way. 

Today I put them up and when I stepped back I saw this.

Well!  That was unexpected!

Friday, August 16, 2013


I goofed.

The column with the RED block at the top was supposed to be on the left, and the one with the purple on top was supposed to be on the RIGHT.

It was getting late last night, I was watching Top Chef Masters, and I wanted to sew the two rows together before I went to bed.

At first I thought, "Oh hell, I have to rip out a 60-inch seam."

Then I looked at it and thought... What am I freaking out about? All I have to do is continue adding the rows in the correct color sequence. The quilt will be a mirror image of my original concept, but so what? Instead of looking like an S it will look like a Z. Big whoop.

So I'm just going to keep going.  Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It Seams To Me...

(You all know how much I love a good pun)
When I started this quilt, I knew how the blocks would be joined together, so I pressed all the seams to one side. This allows me to alternate them so the seams lie flat.

I'm making one long row at a time and sewing the rows together each time I complete one. It won't take long to put this top together.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rainbow in Fabric

I figured out how many of what size blocks I needed and then started throwing blocks up on the design wall.  This thing will be about 56" wide by 68" tall. I may do some rearranging of fabrics, but by and large I am ready to start sewing it together. I plan to sew the long columns together first.

One thing I discovered is that this quilt really needs blocks of predominantly one color. Blocks that were made of large prints with other colors didn't work.

See? Those butterflies had to go.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Little Grey Cells

A few years ago this question popped up on a discussion board of a group I was a part of.

"What's the one tool in your sewing studio you couldn't live without?"

I confess that I snickered when I read the various answers. Considering I do not view my studio as a play room, and do not view my tools as "toys," I was less than impressed with the answers.

Rotary cutters got a lot of votes, as did rulers, irons and other gizmos and doodads. As far as I was concerned, nobody got the only truly correct answer.

My decidedly biased answer: "My brain."

Because, if you haven't got a "magical" tool, you can use your noodle, your little grey cells, your thinking cap, your brain, to solve any problem. Very versatile tool, that. And we all have one!

So when I got home tonight and looked at the blocks on my design wall and considered how I might rearrange them to get the effect I wanted with the least amount of effort, (translation: how could I play with the blocks without climbing up and down the ladder to move 117 blocks), in the end I decided not to touch them at all.

Did I "settle?" Certainly not.  This is the design that's up there now, with the colors rearranged slightly (without the contrasting strip in the center of each block):
That yellow 6x8 block is in the center, where I wanted it. But what if I made the colors change direction a bit?

This is quite nice, if a bit predictable.  But what happens if I insert those contrasting strips?

This isn't to scale, and I've got the color of the contrasting strips wrong (the yellow has a green strip, not an orange one; the orange has a yellow strip, and so on down the line), but damn, this is looking interesting.

So how did I do all this while sitting on the couch?
Have you ever heard of Excel?

Now I am fairly sure that a lot of you have one of those fussy quilt design programs, but I do not, because I don't make quilts that use a lot of the same block over and over again. Years ago one of my readers commented "You have the best fabrics."

"No," I replied. "But I know how to get the most out of the fabrics that I do have."  It's the same thing with tools. You don't need lots of gizmos and gadgets (and trust me, I have a lot of them), but you can get a lot of proverbial "bang" for your "buck" if you can make them do what you want.

Even if the number one computer spreadsheet software on the planet wasn't created to design quilts.


The little grey cells...

(I love each and every one of them.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bright Rainbow Redux

So OK, I have too much fabric, and want to make some quilts that aren't overly fussy.  What else to start with than the bright rainbow blocks I started a few weeks ago.

I had an idea so I decided to throw some pieces up on the design wall to see what it looked like. I thought I would line up pieces of the same size across one row and then let the blocks grow in size both above and below.

Here's the first one:
I just put colors up there, I wasn't worried about the fabric placement. I figured I could play with that later if I got something I liked.

I thought it needed to be wider, so I added another column on the right.

I decided to keep going.
 This was about 42"wide by 62" tall.  It needed to be wider.

Now it's 56" wide, and I really like it.  Except.

Except the top and bottom rows can't be the narrowest blocks. I have to rearrange this so wider blocks are on the top and bottom edges.

My problem is when I made the blocks I was just guessing about what sizes I needed, so I don't have enough to carry this idea along.

BUT! Because I am a "free piecer" I am NOT going to make more. I'm simply going to combine some pieces I already have throughout the quilt and make this a bit more unexpected.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rainbow Ready

I'm getting the Rainbow baby quilt ready for the trip to Chris for quilting.

Next I'll prepare my Letters class at Quilted Threads on Saturday. It really is the letters class and it really is this coming Saturday. (Ahem!)

It's settling down at work. We've had three weeks of intense craziness, and now it'll be setting down. For the next several weeks each member of my team at work will be taking vacation time. We back each other up, but we don't do any unusual projects at times like this, so it will be a lot easier.

I will be working on my speech for St Louis, and I'm going to make some "easy-ish" quilts to try to winnow down my fabric stash.  I'm also going out to the city of Angels to visit the sunshine of my life in a few weeks and I can't wait.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Really? I mean, REALLY?

Honestly. I turn my back for one minute...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Credenza, Credenza, Credenza

"Auntie, what's a credenza?"

"It's like a bureau for an office. It has doors and shelves for storage."

This was part of a conversation I had with my nephew last week.  I was describing how the installers got the three six foot long credenzas out of the truck, through the factory, and into the conference room.  It was not an easy feat.

Much finagling was done to get this particular credenza out of the truck.

The shortest distance between two points

 turned out to be a tour all around the building.

and then getting flipped over onto one side.
There was 1/2" clearance at the top of the door frame to get these into the room.

Then I had to install the computer equipment.

There are still a few little things to do. We need to move the speaker phone to the middle of the big table and purchase a more attractive trash receptacle, get the electricity connected to the table and stock the credenzas with notepads, pencils, coffee mugs, napkins and safety glasses and a whole collection of other stuff.

But, as we say here in New England, we are wicked proud of it.