September 28, 2011

Habitat log cabin

I do love working without a pattern. But for the PMQG Habitat Challenge I adapted the shadow seams log cabin to create a 12 inch finished block.

I originally tried it with 3/4" shadow strips, like the original blocks I made with this technique, but there wasn't enough breathing room for all those loud prints. They were a jumble and the design was not coming through. The second time I cut my shadow strips at 1" instead (doubling their finished size from 1/4" to 1/2"), and liked it much better.

To make the block I used:
a 4.5" center square and
2" strips in varying prints, from 4.5" to 12.5" long
1" shadow strips (I cut two strips x WOF).

(To make it using the original 3/4" shadow strips you would use the same size center and cut your print strips 2 1/4" wide.) Photos and steps in the original post.

September 21, 2011

Meandering advice

My friend Laura has been trying free motion quilting! We are time zones apart, so unfortunately I can't hover over her shoulder with encouraging words and hands on support, as I love to do.

Laura sort of hit a wall on meandering, which I think is a common experience when quilters first try this pattern. (It seems like it should be so easy, right?) She asked me about keeping the pattern even, how to see where you are going across the quilt when you are working one small area at a time. She said she felt like she was quilting an area and then drawing "a long lonely line" to get to the next area.

I emailed her my advice (this was, ahem, ages ago), and wanted to bring the subject up here too. Some suggestions I'd like to share:
  • Keep trying! Meandering looks so simple but it really takes a fair amount of practice. There are easier pattern for beginners to start with, so don't feel like you have to meander right out of the gate. If meandering is getting you down, stitch something else for a few quilts.
  • Sketch a lot. Every day. BIG sheets of paper if you have them. Paper is way cheaper than fabric and with meandering you have to get your brain used to figuring out where to go next while keeping the pattern curvy and consistent like you want it. This is just like any other skill, it improves with practice. Use a colored marker and you could reuse your sketch paper for wrapping paper!
  • Let the edges of any area you're stitching be curvy. That way when you stitch the adjacent area the "join" between the two disappears, and it looks like one cohesive unit instead of two separate areas. Stitch in blob shapes.
  • Make a plan before you start about how you will move across the quilt. Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project talks about how she sections a quilt in this video. I like the way Elizabeth of Oh, Fransson plans her quilting, shown in this picture. Or you could just meander in wide (6-10") rows across the quilt, keeping the edges curvy on each row so the next row can nestle up against it. This lets you practice meandering while just moving in one general direction (to the right) instead of all over the quilt.
  • My own personal epiphany: when stitching, try to add twosies (two-lump units) and threesies (three-lump units) as you go to keep from getting into a crazy long wiggle. Whenever I get the feeling that "oh no! this wavy line won't stop!" I toss in one of these to get me off on a new direction.

If you've been stuck on meandering I invite you to spend a little time sketching, and see if the twosie-threesie thing helps at all.

Other snippets of advice:
  • If you get ahead of yourself and don't know where you are going next, STOP and take a breath and decide.  I could save myself a lot of ripping if I always followed this advice.
  • My meandering, and probably most people's, tends to loosen up a bit as I go, with my curves getting bigger the longer I quilt. To counter this I try to purposely make my stitching bigger and more open as I start. And every 10 or so minutes I find the area I started with and hold it up against the area I'm currently working, to see if I am loosening up too much.
I hope these thoughts are helpful if you're on the learning curve for meandering. I know there are some really great quilters and quilt teachers reading this blog, as well as newer quilters who are finding out what works for them. So, what advice do you all have to add? What has helped you get your meandering right?

September 15, 2011

Desperate Housewife's Block: Linked Squares

I got to design a block for Jane at Want it, Need it, Quilt! for her 50 week project, the Desperate Housewife's Quilt. These are all original blocks and there are some really creative ones being dreamed up. Check it out if you're in need for a challenge or inspiration. Mine is definitely one of the more tame! This block finishes at 8 inches, and designing it kept me sane for one of the four-hour sit-down meetings my job occasionally requires.

To make this block you will need:

Fabric A (large square) one strip 1.5" x 22"
Fabric B (small square) one strip 1.5" x 14"
Fabric C (background) one strip 4.5" x 12"

Cut fabric A as follows: one 1.5" square, three 4.5" strips and one 6.5" strip
Cut fabric B as follows: three 4.5" strips
Cut fabric C as follows: two strips 1.5" wide, two strips 2.5" wide and one strip 3.5" wide

Take one of the 1.5" x 4.5" strips of fabric C and cut off one inch, so that it is 1.5" x 3.5"

Sew together a 1.5" x 4.5" strip each of Fabric B and Fabric C, then subcut this into three 1.5" wide pieces.

Construct the block in four vertical columns. Column 1:

Columns 2 and 3:

Column 4:

Join Column 1 to Column 2, and Column 3 to Column 4, then join those two halves together.

And there you go!

Thanks Jane for inviting me to the party!

September 11, 2011


Our time in Black Rock City was superb. I have been searching for my camera charger all week and meanwhile thinking about how to describe our trip. Finally found the charger today. First and foremost, the kid did great. Her grandparents were rock stars and tears (hers, mine) were minimal.

Where to start?

Black Rock City is 90% dust, 10% fun fur, and 10% fire. That's 110%, which is exactly right.

For one week, it is home to 50,000 people, across more than five square miles.

There is no email, there are no cell phones. The only cars that can drive here are "mutant vehicles". For example, a truck that looks like a praying mantis. Of course.

So we all bring bikes. Nothing makes you feel like a kid again like you and your sweetie pedaling around the desert together for a week.

No matter the hour, you always have dozens, if not hundreds, of gatherings to choose from. There are always big shows or dance parties happening, and you don't need a ticket for any of them. There are about two thousand bars, because it always seems like the right time for a drink in Black Rock City.

For the week we lacked watches, and told time by the sun, or, at night, by Orion's height. We danced till the sun rose. We sweated in the day and froze at night. We survived on far less food and sleep than we would normally tolerate (and, accordingly, we've been recovering all this week).

For the week the only thing we could buy was ice. This is one of the most important rules there: no commerce. So many things were shared with us, and we, likewise, were able to share as well. This is very good for the soul. Being on either end of a warm breakfast or ice cold juice feels just wonderful.

The scale of the art in black rock city is hard to describe. Flames that light up the desert a mile in all directions. A tesla coil taller than us. A yacht on wheels. Double decker party buses. Gigantic sound stages that make your bones vibrate. I mean, look at the temple below - do you see how tiny the people standing on the ramp are?

Words we used a lot: wow, beautiful, awesome, and whooooo!

Things were burned, safely and with much celebration.

The sewing machine was a hit. It totally held up, with a little tension funny stuff from the dust. I spent an afternoon in the spot below, and earned a terrible sunburn for it.

About ten people came along and sewed quilt blocks together. An uncountable number stopped to observe, photograph, or share stories of mothers, grandmothers and aunts who had sewn on similar machines. About half the people who stopped to sew were men, and a few people were even naked, to keep things interesting!
My husband was off with the camera while this was happening so I don't have any other pictures of that epic afternoon.

Humbled by my sunburn, the next two days the sewing machine and I hung out in the shade of the Black Rock Boutique, whose tagline is "let us slip you into something a little more questionable". I helped people alter the fabulous clothes they'd pulled from the racks, while grooving to whatever the DJ was playing.

Requests from my two favorite "customers":
"I'm going for an 80's Bowie meets the Vampire L'estat sort of look" from a tall blonde in a velvet dress.
"I think this needs to show more of my butt," from a burly fifty year old guy in a lacy slip.
Hilarious, awesome, and so fun to help people feel wild and beautiful.

Some stuff just astounded us. This mechanical octopus vehicle was the belle of the ball and commanded admiration whenever it was about. This video of it in action shows why we would ride over to cheer it on whenever it came near. What an invention!

This participatory zoetrope "Charon" had to be seen at night to absorb its genius. This video shows it well, but trust me that it was far spookier in person.

And that is what this place is like, a bunch of people who take big ideas and make them bigger, who push the boundaries of what you can do with sculpture, light, sound, and fire. A human experiment that is complete exhilaration to be a part of.

Two stories really stick with me.

One night, 4am about, we rode far out away from the city into the dark desert ("deep playa") intrigued by a bright green light. When we arrived we discovered it was simply a small tube of plastic, shooting a green laser out in a flat plane over the ground. Chilled and our energy flagging, we felt underwhelmed. We searched the distant sea of lights to choose a new destination but became distracted by clinking sounds coming from a vehicle parked not far away. Then, the clatter of a pile of plates being set aside, wholly unexpected and curious.

We rode over and beheld the Dust City Diner. An oasis of light and warmth in the deep darkness. A mobile forties themed diner, parked and open for business, with its several barstools occupied and a few folks waiting their turn to clamber up.

Delightful smells of warm coffee and food enticed us to wait with the others. Music and snippets of conversations fell upon our ears. Soon we claimed a pair of vacated spots and after "ordering" the only two things on the menu, we were served grilled cheese sandwiches and pickles by spirited ladies in beehive wigs and uniforms. They brought us coffee, and we delighted at the silver creamer pourers and glass sugar jars. The clink of my spoon against the cup gave me chills; after all, I'd been drinking from plastic camp cups for three days. The coffee was refilled, this time with an optional splash of liquor. Our eyes sparkled with the pure magic of it all. A bustling diner in the middle of desolation. A good idea taken to the nth degree When we left we were enchanted and invigorated and ready to ride till the dawn.

This is the only time I've ever left a restaurant without paying, and it felt so strange to do so. We thanked the diner staff heartily and rode off to a new adventure. And that's how this place works. You receive magic and kindness and instead of exchanging money, you try to be magic and kindness for someone else. I  think I achieved that when a young woman bounced up and down at the sewing machine the next day and exclaimed, "This is the coolest thing I've seen!"

And the other story: One day at a packed dance party a large man appeared in front of me holding a flat silver key in front of my eyes. "It's not mine," I shouted over the music, thinking he had found it on the ground. He leaned in. "You have to keep it," he urged, "It's the key to success." I wondered why he wanted me to have it, but this was clearly not the place for a conversation. So I took it from him and placed it on my necklace with the sewing machine's cabinet key. We each returned to dancing and I didn't encounter him again. After our return home this week, I received two bits of promising news, personal and professional (that are far too tentative to share here now). So who knows, maybe he was right? Maybe the key to success was waiting for me in the desert!

So, that's our adventure. Now we're back to our cell phones and cars and there's no dust in our noses. And we are still holding on to the magic and remembering to keep working at being better humans. Thanks for all the reassurance, and for the delightful quilt blocks you sent with me. And if you hung in to the end of this post, wow. Thank you.

I'll be back to quilting in just a few days, see you soon...