June 30, 2011

Free Motion Quilting Designs: Branching Patterns

I got some unexpected doodle time last weekend. I started with a little fairy godmother wand and soon it had branched out to this. I think I was under the influence of Leah Day's "Lollipop Chain" design. 

I decided I wanted to draw more things-at-the-ends-of-branches and got these: 

I suspected that the lines didn't need to be straight and drew: 

I remembered that I previously had put this last design in the meandering category of quilting designs, feeling uncomfortable about it because it is clearly not a meander. Now that I got to know its cousins I can see it for what it is: a branching pattern!

Branching patterns are easy to create step by step.

Make a stem line. Put whatever you want at the end of it. Now backtrack along that stem line and branch a new stem off in another direction. Make a new stem or two off of that stem, and keep building new stems off old stems, again and again. If you start feeling crowded, make a really long branch to get you out in the open again. 

It's so easy to go whichever direction you want. Travel along lines you've already stitched to get to the point you start your next branch.

I really like the botanical feel of these branching designs. I think they would make lovely border designs. The teardrop one feels flowing and gentle, I'd like to try that as an all over design. I nominate branching patterns as the thing you should doodle while on the phone with your bank this week.

More branching designs here and here.

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

June 28, 2011

I officially need an intervention

There are four sewing machines in my house right now. Twice the normal complement. I know, I need help.

So first I got this beauty. I've been pining over an extended arm Juki for half a decade, and luckily all that dragging my feet allowed a new model to come out in the meantime.

There was an immediate free motion quilting extravaganza. Soooo much space. Soooo fast. Needle down! Exquisite speed control. This machine and I are going to be very close.

Then within a week I scored this treasure off craigslist. I spent a couple hours cleaning and oiling it. The toddler and I investigated the treadling and...it works!

It was only $65 and I'm over the moon about it. It's a late model treadle, a Singer 15-88, and it's surprisingly similar to the Singer 401a (which, sadly, will be getting the boot in all this hubub). The tension assembly, the stitch length, the bobbin, the bobbin winder.... all so familiar to me.

It even has the manual and a little key for the drawers. Which the toddler has already figured out how to use. And if I ever decide I'm crazy enough to FMQ on it, there is even a way to drop the feed dogs.

I love the art deco styling of the faceplate. And that decorative Singer emblem.

The manual is full of delights. The sentence describing how to operate the treadle: "Continue the motion thus begun by an alternate pressure of heel and toe, until a regular and easy movement is acquired, and the balance wheel kept in continuous rotation by use of the feet alone."  Indeed!

I enjoyed discovering that some previous owner was also sewing with a little one about:

And this gem:

So I am in hog heaven and my silly idea of taking a sewing machine to Burning Man is coming true! My husband has already started to waver though. "Kind of a shame to take it out to the desert," he said. But I think it will be complete magic. Prior to me buying it, this machine was just sitting in someone's garage for 10 years. Far better to use and enjoy it and spread the love of sewing. More on that scheme soon.

June 26, 2011

How Should I Quilt This?

Hey quilters! I've got an idea to share with you...

It's a place for showing quilt tops and asking for advice on how to quilt them. And it's a place for seeing beautiful quilt tops and giving suggestions on how they should be quilted.

How Should I Quilt This? is a new group on Flickr. Regardless of your quilting style, I'm hoping you'll join. Modern and traditional quilts are welcome. Soliciting advice for any type of quilting is encouraged. Whether you like to finish your quilts by hand or machine, straight line or free motion, I hope you'll be a part of the fun.

So who has a quilt they'd like advice on? And who wants to help them out? Me! And you too I hope.

June 25, 2011

Modular Cathedral: Little spinner block

A simple little modular cathedral block this week. The fabrics were pulled by a leprechaun. True story.

I've been finding my layers shift a lot while stitching the two halves together and so when I have seams to match with these bulky blocks I align them and start sewing the seam right in the middle where the points meet. I stitch to the end and then come back and sew the other half of the seam. It takes a little longer than sewing it straight from one end to the other, but not as long as ripping the stitches out and starting again!

Edited to add full block info/instructions:
The block finishes at 9 inches without a border, and 11 inches with a border. (I find it easier to roll back the bias edges with a border already sewn.) 

Requirements: eight 5 inch squares, four in the focus fabrics (you will see relatively more of these) and four in the contrast fabrics (you will roll these back). 1.5 inch strips for border.

Press the contrast squares in half along the diagonal.

Lay a folded square over each backing square with the folded edge along the diagonal. Use a dab of fabric glue within the seam allowances at each corner of the folded triangles.

Sew the block together using an extra scant 1/4" seam allowance.

Pin back the bias edges and topstitch. I did this in two "S" shaped diagonal passes, from outside corner to the opposite outside corner.

June 21, 2011

Free Motion Quilting Designs: Kissing designs

After talking about the all-over starburst I tried to file it in with my other quilting designs, and it just didn't seem to fit anywhere. That means: new category!

Kissing designs are patterns that flow from one shape to another. Each shape is connected to the next at a single point. The path the shapes take is up to you. Supreme versatility.

I don't know why it never occurred to me before to connect things this way. But it really does change the way I think about planning my stitching. Previously, if I wanted a row of hearts, or a block letter word, I would have connected them with a line on the bottom:

But a line isn't necessary if you have your designs kiss! I love the difference. It take a little more attention  to stitch over a line that I've already stitched, to get to the place I want to start the next shape. But I think it's worth it.

To test the theory that kissing can connect anything to anything:   

My favorite is still my first kiss, the all over starburst.

I am having fun with this family of designs. I hope you try sketching or stitching some too!

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

June 17, 2011

Modular cathedral: Sweet garden block

This week's modular cathedral is my favorite so far!

With borders, it finishes at 11 inches. Without, it finishes at 9 inches. While we're on the subject, if you sew these you should use an extra scant 1/4" seam because you lose more than the usual length in the fold-over with all those layers.

Ingredients: twelve 5 inch squares, and some 1.5 inch strips for the borders. Set aside the background squares and press your top squares in half along the diagonal.

Arrange into four modules of backing squares topped by two folded squares. Glue down the corners of the folded triangles (within the seam allowances only!) and sew together.

The extra technique this time is using a zig zag stitch with the stitch length set to 0, taking several stitches to secure your two triangles together. I did this at 2.5 inches from each outer corner. You could vary the position.

Fold back, pin and topstitch. If you start at the center, you can stitch figure 8 style though each module and end up back at the center to go on to the next module.

I'm delighting myself with this little project, and like how it's going. It is just my speed to make a block a week. Sometimes it's all I get done but that's ok!

I wish I took better pictures. But I really like the way these are looking together!

June 13, 2011


On my last trip home my mom said she wanted to give me a quilt that my great grandmother had made.

She pulled this out and before I could even take it in, immediately sprung to her grandmother's defense. There were nicer quilts, she said, but those had fallen into her sister's hands and were lost or destroyed over the years. This was the only one of her grandmother's quilts that my mother had received, and here, in my thirties, I was seeing it for the first time.

The quilt is scrappy and asymmetrical, two things I very much enjoy. The hand quilting alternates from diagonal to straight lines, which is fun. The sashing fabric is rather bizarre and seeing it humbles me. I doubt it was her first choice. But it was what she had and what she used and that's a good reminder for me.

There is this strange loop of string hanging off one of the blocks. It looks like it was placed there intentionally but I can't imagine why. 

This poor quilt...it's not doing well.

Despite quilting lines an inch apart, the batting has shredded into lumps on the inside. There is no block that does not have some of the thin fabrics wearing away on the dresden plates. The edges are a shambles. I looked it over with my mom, taking in the fabrics, the hand quilting, and, of course, the wear.

"I thought maybe you could repair it," she said.

I shook my head slowly. I couldn't lie to her. "There is no way I could repair this, mom," I said.

She looked so shocked and upset. Her cheeks were flushed. It was the way a person would look if you splashed them with a bucket of cold water. I felt like I'd taken her grandmother away from her in an instant.

I understood too late that our simple conversation meant so much more. It was about mortality, and loss, and loneliness. It was about a young person not understanding yet what it's like to grow older, to lose your parents, to suddenly find your treasured mementos crumbling to dust.

I told her I still wanted it.  I wanted to figure out a way to salvage some part of it. With the batting in such shreds I don't think it would work to turn a block into a pillow or a potholder. And my mom has so much framed art already...I don't think that's the answer either.

So what I'm thinking about is taking pictures of the least worn blocks. But what should I do with the pictures? Print them onto notecards? Print them onto fabric and make a new quilt? I'd really love your creative ideas for this challenge, because I'm officially stuck.

June 10, 2011

Modular Cathedral: squared window block

This week's modular cathedral intrigued me with the squared circle shape that comes forward when you don't have the contrast of white-against-color in your windows. Unexpected, and not what I was going for, but still kind of cool.

To make this block you need twelve 5 inch squares. The basic block will finish at 9 inches, but because I prefer sewing my curves after the seams are sewn, I decided to border it with 1.5 inch strips and now it finishes at 11 inches. I may do this for all my blocks.

To make the block, set four squares aside for the backing fabrics, then press the remaining squares in half along the diagonal.

Assemble four modules of backing squares topped by two folded squares. Use a dab of glue at the corners of the folded squares to hold them in place.

Arrange the modules and stitch the block together.

Pin back the curves and topstitch. I was able to do this in one pass, stitching the outside circle first and then moving to the inside window.