November 29, 2010

The E- - - - - - - - - quilt

My grandad and I share a birthday. That's not really important, except that if you shared a birthday with someone who was this gentle and kind and amazingly intelligent, you would brag about it too. Grandad worked as an electrical engineer for his professional life and he is always ready to whip any wheezing refrigerator or stuck garage door back into shape. When my grandma and I would get together and talk about fabric and quilts, grandad would tell us about the kind of fabrics he would like to see. Some electrical components would be nice, he mused. He figured there would be a big market for that kind of thing.

Eventually this line of discussion turned into a quilt idea. He cautioned me not to breathe a word of it. In his letters to me he would refer to it as the "E - - - - - - - - -" quilt. I couldn't exactly tell if he was joking or if this was a holdover from his days of working on top secret military projects, when there was probably a very good chance that someone was actually reading his mail. I was pretty sure he was joking though.

By the way, one of my grandad's non-military projects as a young man was to design a mechanism that would detect bottles of Pabst that were not full and then knock them off the bottling line with a puff of air. So, if you've never had the disappointment of opening a half empty bottle of Pabst, you can thank him.

Anyway one Christmas my family decided to draw names instead of getting gifts for everyone. I drew grandad's name and so I decided to make his E - - - - - - - - -  quilt.  I asked him to send me pictures of the vintage electrical parts he had in his collection of things that might still be useful someday. He complied with all seriousness and emailed them and then I spent hours trying to separate the images from their backgrounds, a process which is simple for those who know something about graphics programs and torture for everyone else. This was in the dark ages before Spoonflower so I got the images onto fabric with fabric transfer paper. I cringe to see the shininess but ....oh well.

The images were each bordered in my idea of manly colors and sort of arranged themselves into this chromatic progression. I had barely completed the top before our holiday trip back home so I packed the top up with some backing and batting and hoped my grandma would let me quilt it on her machine. And, of course, she did, exclaiming and offering words of encouragement the whole time.

I attacked that quilt with any design that seemed remotely related to electrical engineering. I quilted "E"s all around the border, along with words like "ohms", "resistance" and "potentiometer". Each of the borders around the pictures featured a unique quilting pattern. My two favorites are the ones featuring a light bulb and plug, and a light switch and outlet. I bound the whole thing with a pieced binding. This all happened over two days.

I watched my grandad like a hawk when he opened his present: his one present. First he seemed to be thinking "what the heck is a quilt doing in this box" and then it transformed to "oh my goodness she actually did it" and then as he took the whole thing in I think I even saw a tear. (Note: We also included a gift certificate to an electronics store to appease my husband who was highly distressed at the idea of "only" giving my grandad the quilt. So, we can presume it was a happy tear.)

This quilt hung on my grandparents' wall for a few years before retiring to a bedroom. Until now I had only one printed photo of it and so I was happy to get some better documentation of it during my recent trip home.

Telling this story reminds me that it feels so good to give a quilt to someone you love. While I wish I could have had nice custom printed fabric at that time, I still think the quilt stands as a sweet testament to our little inside joke, my grandad's field of expertise, and the special bond I share with both my grandparents. I'm also pretty sure it's the only quilt in existence featuring vintage electrical components and that thought makes me laugh. Thanks for reading, I know this was a rather long story! Hope you enjoyed it!

November 27, 2010

Free Motion Quilt Along: Vines and Feathers

Have you read the post on vines and feathers? Have you sketched some designs? Alright, let's rock.
The last two medium sized strips on the quilt are reserved for this week, and you can stitch whatever you'd like in them. If you only want to stitch feathers or only want to stitch vines, fine with me. I did one strip of each.

For vines I started with the "simplest vine" adding the vein detail.

Then I did some large closely spaced leaves. They remind me of bay leaves.

Then some spaced skinny wiggly leaves, tapered at the top. They remind me of tarragon, an herb I'm currently infatuated with.

In the other strip I tried feathers. Up to this point, including what I did on my practice pad, I'd stitched a total of four "simple" feathers. I was excited to try some curvy simple feathers. To help me keep the feather curving consistently, I started by drawing a guideline up one third of the strip with my fabric pencil. Using masking tape with marks to guide me, I spaced the pattern repeat every 4 inches (2 inches between the leftmost curve and the rightmost curve) and as you'll see below that was too close. If you're doing this try spacing the pattern repeat every 6 inches at least (3 inches between the leftmost curve and the rightmost curve).

Trying to stitch this tight curve it tapered to nothingness unintentionally. Oops!

Then a double feather. A little angular.

Then a single feather. Started off fine on the right but got a little loopy coming back up the left. In general I'm happier with the stitching I'm doing on the right side of my feathers. I think that's just something that comes with practice.

Done with experimentation, I finished the strip with a straight simple feather. Much better. It might have been wiser to start with this one but I guess I was just too excited to start drawing on my quilt!

So there you have it! Those feathers will probably give you some trouble at first but I'd say they're worth trying. Even a "bad" feather still looks pretty fun! If you're just getting a feel for these designs for the first time, it's fine to just choose one and do that for the entire strip, I expect you'll be feeling much more comfortable with the design by the end of the strip. Enjoy!

November 26, 2010

Free Motion Quilting Designs: Vines and Feathers

Vines and feathers are sisters. That's good for me, because while I'm pretty comfortable with vines I've never quilted feathers. I won't pretend that this is a comprehensive lesson in feathers, but it's a fun introduction to thinking about different ways to form them. I think of vines (and feathers) as anything that involves decorative designs placed to either side of a central line. There are many things that can change the look of vines.

The spacing of the leaves

Straight or curved spine

Tapering or not.

Leaves mirrored or alternating

There are exactly one billion possibilities for the "leaves". Here's eleven of them.

 And you can stick other things on the vine for interest as well.

Simplest possible vine:  Make an arc (not too curved). Come back with a smaller arc to form a leaf. (You can also add a center vein detail at this point if you like as well). Then start a new arc in the other direction. It can go on forever! Vary the leaf size and spacing as you like.

Instead of putting the leaves on the outside of the curves as above, you can instead nestle them in the inside curves. Here I drew a second spine over the first when I was done to make it look less choppy. This was the first vine I learned to stitch. I think it's so sweet.

Simplest possible feather:  Starting from the center, make a lobe. I think of it like I'm drawing half a heart from the bottom up, only somewhat exaggerated. Stop just above where you started. Then start a new lobe on the other side. Likewise, this design can go on forever. It might take a while to get used to drawing upwards from the bottom of the design to the top but you will get the feel for it.

If you have a curvy feather in a column or border you can keep your leaves roughly balanced, or you can stretch the leaves all the way to the border.

The feathers above have an implied spine, but you can draw the spine in as well. Here is a single feather. You would start by drawing the spine, then down one side and up the other. Continue the line on to start your next feather or design.

Double feathers are fun. Draw a spine and come down one side. Then go back up that side tracing a bit away from what you've already done. At the top follow around to go down the other side, then come back up the outside again. Continue on to make your next feather or design.

You can also stitch feathers around an entire border, drawing first the spine, then one side, then the other, and doubling them if you like. Dolly, a real live Free Motion Quilt Along participant just raced ahead of the class and cranked out a great first time feather border right here, with a nice description of how she did it.

I'm pretty sure there are other feather variations but it hurts my head a little to try and think about them. If you want to stitch feathers, I know you won't be surprised that my advice is to draw them over and over and over. It will take practice to get those curves nice and lush, and to feel comfortable on both sides of the feather. 

So, how about cracking open that quilting journal and sketching some vines and feathers?

See more Free Motion Quilting designs and tips on the Free Motion Quilting page.

November 21, 2010

Teeny quilt

I recently got to visit my family in Arizona and while I was there I got to take some pictures of some quilts that I had never documented. This is a small one, about 12 x 16 inches. It is quilted with rays radiating out from the stars. This quilt was created for my grandma out of the scraps from this one. That quilt was how I started my quilting journey, and it was started with grandma's scraps. So it was only appropriate that the scraps from that quilt went back to her.

November 19, 2010

Fantasy and Reality



November 17, 2010

Free Motion Quilt Along: Meandering

Meandering may be where a lot of quilters start their free motion journey but that doesn’t mean it’s instinctual. Meandering requires you to constantly choose your next direction while keeping consistent spacing and filling in areas fluidly. That’s a lot to focus on! It takes a fair amount of practice to do this without getting yourself worked into a corner, crossing your own lines or leaving gaps of unfilled space.  So if you’ve tried meandering before and it hasn’t worked out, be gentle with yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad quilter. It means you need practice!

For the quilt along I reserved two of the five remaining areas on the wide strips for meandering. I chose the two adjacent to my starburst and spiral block. You can choose whichever designs you’d like. If you’ve never meandered before you'll probably want to just start there. If you’ve done your fair share of meandering then maybe branch out and try one of the variations. By all means get the feel of the pattern with a few minutes on a practice pad. But don’t be afraid to move on to that quilt top!
Because I wanted to try a few designs, for each of my square areas I stitched two different designs. In one I did a plain meander and the angled meander. The angled meander is very forgiving, the only thing I struggle with is not pausing too long at the corners.

Then I did loops and the watery meander. At first I didn't put enough "ripples" in this one but by the end (the far edge) it was looking nice and watery.

My advice about meandering is to go at a medium to fast speed. Too slow and your curves will look jerky. Too fast and you’ll feel like you’re riding a wild horse. You should try and have an idea where you’re going next and if you suddenly don’t know where you’re going, stop stitching and reassess the situation. I always get myself into trouble by continuing to stitch beyond that moment of “oh no! too fast!”
Proceeding with your stitching in a way that doesn’t look repetitive can be a challenge. I try to work in a way that is not straight up and down or side to side. I try to swing out in arcs occasionally to leave pockets to come back and fill in, though that is easier to practice in larger spaces than we have on this little quilt. Oh, and I'd suggest working from the inner edge toward the outer edge, to decrease the potential for puckers.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't let you know what BarbH had to say about the post on meandering designs
To be precise, "...stippling and meandering are the same thing, but meandering is on a larger scale and stippling is very concentrated stitching. Stitching is...regulated in order to have equally-distanced, non-crossing (and non-touching) stitching overall." Many of the examples you posted today are beautiful filler designs for quilting but are not technically meandering since the lines cross each other. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't meet the definition of meandering. Just wanted to clarify this for your followers. 
Barb brings up a good point. All the designs in this post proceed in a meandering fashion, and so they are filed in the same place in my head. But it's true, only some of them meet the definition of "meandering". In my quilting I certainly don't worry too much about rules and strict definitions, and I'm perfectly happy to go around annoying serious quilters saying things like "loopy meandering", but I don't want to lead you astray. Apparently I don't get to redefine words arbitrarily as the mood strikes me. So thanks to Barb for pointing that out!

Have fun stitching - this is starting to look like a real quilt! Only three squares and two strips to go. I had thought I would be donating this quilt but now I think I may be keeping it as a kind of personal stitch library. There is a lot of great work popping up in the Flickr group. See you next week with vines and feathers.

November 12, 2010

Resume Transmission

 I have been struggling with what to say about this past month. This incredible month. A month of extremes. Desert, ocean. Sorrow, delight. Loneliness, togetherness.

This month had a lot of questions and airplanes.
This month had little sewing or cooking. 

This month was expensive, precious and insightful.

I've done almost no sewing, and I'm uncharacteristically OK with that. This month helped me remember to be where I am. To do the things that need doing, and to let everything else go. It made me remember to try to stay open to the beauty in each moment. We will never be this young again. We don't know how much time we have left with any of our loved ones. Our children will grow faster than we realize.

Thank you for all the kind words, emails, thoughts. You gave me a soft place to land and now that we're settling back into home life, it will be good to get the blog back up and running again. See you soon!