Friday, January 30, 2015

Libby's Log Cabin

If you love this quilt and would like a chance to help with Libby Lehman's medical expenses you can make a donation to her medical fund and be entered in the February 13th drawing for this quilt.   Marianne Fons made this classic and beautiful log cabin quilt to help raise funds for Libby and will pull the winning entry out of a hat!  

Please go to the page on the Moda website  to read Libby's story and see the all the details.  It's a great way to use our love of quilting and show our love for Libby.

"Libby's Log Cabin" by Marianne Fons, 60" x 75"

Thanks again for all your wonderful comments since I started posting again on my blog, and I hope to post more quilting info soon.  Meanwhile.....

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day!

Monday, January 26, 2015


Prototype for mini quilt "Return to Provence"

I have been quilting a little every day.  I am practicing, warming up, getting back in routine. Sometimes it seems impossible to get it all right, the way it used to be, but it is coming along nicely. 

The sample, above, was an unfinished prototype to try out design, fabric, threads for a mini quilt I made for the AAQI online auction almost two years ago, the last quilt I made, made with silk fabric and quilted with silk and metallic/silk threads.  I found this unfinished prototype after many hours of practicing, and decided to try and complete it, see if my "new" quilting looked good enough to merge with my previous quilting.

Happy to say Yes!  My quilting blended in perfectly, I had no trouble at all replicating the designs, scale, and quality from two years ago.  I am ready for a new project, and have been digging through books, fabrics, sketches made, samples quilted, notes here and there.  I will begin with something small on fabric I love.  I am still deciding.

While I was practicing and it all came back to me I realized that many of you have to do this often.  You are interrupted in projects, you have illness or injury or moves or crises that keep you from quilting.  Maybe you have long fabulous vacations or travels where you never even think of a sewing machine, but want to pick up with quilting when you can.  

First, be assured it does come back, and it comes back fast.  I had stiff sore fingers and hands briefly at the beginning, and sore shoulders from sitting with tense muscles as I was so not relaxed.  But, each day I relaxed more, muscles were better and more limber, and everything fell into place.  I have to use my left hand for a few things due to a bad right thumb, but now I am used to that too.  

Some things that I discovered while practicing:

  • Muscle memory is a wonderful thing.  Even if years go by, your body will remember how to quilt, your brain knows what to do, it simply needs you doing it to get it back.  Repetition, correcting errors, then repeating it the right way until it flows easily and is natural.
  • Use the right needle!  I started quilting and didn't realize I had done some alterations on jeans or something, or sewn on a knit fabric, and had a #80 Universal needle in the machine, not my usual #60 Microtex Sharp.  I was having no end of ugly quilting until I realized that oops, needed a better needle.  I was practicing at first with #50 Aurifil cotton thread on a muslin sandwich with wool batt, and cotton batt in the other half from some sample done for a class.  I used a #70 Sharp needle and it looked a ZILLION times BETTER, and as a result of my work looking better all due to the right needle, my quilting improved and I relaxed.
  • Cleaning and oiling the machine was necessary even though I hadn't used it for awhile.  It made a happy purr after all this, and I sewed on some folded cotton and used feed dogs to warm it up before I tried quilting.  
  • Work up to the hard stuff.  Start practicing with some simple wavy lines, echo them, or do a motif you can do in your sleep.  Then add some challenges, like trying to fit the background motif around an actual design.  
  • Play with thread colors, use some pretty fabrics for practice, and the correct tension and needle.  This all makes a huge difference; if your work looks nice as you practice, it makes you a better quilter.
  • I had to slow down the motor speed on my zippy Bernina.  I usually don't, and love its power and responsiveness, but because I was so out of practice I needed to shut it down to 3/4 power so I didn't tromp on the foot pedal and quilt 50 stitches, in one spot, in one second.  Sometimes even now when beginning to quilt each day I will slow the motor and later when I am warmed up put it back to full power and rely on my foot to get the speed right and be IN CONTROL.
  • I almost forgot to add The Slider so my quilt moved easily under the needle.  I didn't use it the first few days and kept thinking that this was harder than I remembered, my stitches weren't even, and it jerked and stuck when I tried to move the quilt.  Whoa, put the Slider on, and everything was easy again, like moving the quilt on ice.
  • When I was quilting the muslin sandwich for awhile I thought there was something wrong with my machine, the noise was so loud when the needle went through the quilt.  Then I noticed I was quilting in the area with the cotton batt, not the wool batt.  It was noisy, the puff of the design was very low and flat, and it was stiff and more difficult to move.  Oh yes, now I remembered why I like wool batt.
  • I am glad I have lots and lots of samples to look at, things I've quilted for classes, articles, myself just to see how something would look.  It really helps to have something to see to get ideas going again.  Inspiration is all around you.
  • Don't be afraid to make something again, something you made once and loved, but try the same pattern or motif in a different color or fabric.  I might make the mini quilt design part of a larger quilt with a chintz border.  It's something I've always wanted to make, something to see and enjoy hanging on a wall in my home.  And then too I'd love to replicate some of the quilts I no longer have, like "Blossom's Journey," below.  I love Trip Around the World and I love the border quilting, so much fun to do, very extemporaneous.

Border Detail, "Blossom's Journey"

Meanwhile.....Oliver needed brushing!  He was shedding like crazy, and I found a round hairbrush I had tried for blow drying my hair but it pulled way too much of my hair out, ouch.  I had to cut that brush out of my hair, ugh.  

Oliver loves being brushed, so after a few days with this brush it was filled with Oliver fur, and I carefully used a comb to remove it from the brush.  Gosh it looks just like a great little quilt batt, so I saved it and may add more and give it a try.  I shall make Pioneer style Quilt Batt from Oliver!  It's softer than wool and we'll see about loft, but very lightweight, like down.  And of course I know it is washable...........!

It is snowing hard here in Wisconsin today, and we are snug and warm at home, time to turn on the machine and see how my quilting is today.  I shall have to plan a trip to a quilt shop for the sort of Chintz I need and then begin my new project.  I hope the NE storm isn't as bad as they say it will be, and you all stay safe from its danger.  

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is It Really 2015?

Washing Dishes with Oliver

Can I really have missed most of 2014 due to one stressful event after another?  Seems to be the case, but I hope to get back to my favorite pursuits in 2015; I have missed quilting and everyone I spent time with in my classes and travels.  My very best wishes to all of you and hope this will be a fresh and great start for you as well.

My days have become filled with routine, and mornings are devoted to washing dishes in the morning light, cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, checking email, all with Oliver's help.  He loves to get right down in the sink, have a long drink from the faucet, then oversee everything that goes on.  He seems to think two retirees are pretty exciting most of the time, but every now and then gives me that look, wondering why we don't have some action around here!

On New Year's I put away Christmas, the sun came out briefly, and Oliver and I cleaned and bagged and swept and dusted.  Oliver loved it, everything was different and new, even old familiar things were in different places.   We added spots of color and soft white everywhere, so much fun.

He checks out the kitchen island, below, to make sure he still has his fresh grass next to the brightly colored pottery.  He is looking at all this as if it still should be the familiar Christmas tree and is very wary.  Of course, he tried to put his head in the blue pitcher.........

He did not nap all day, so that evening fell into an exhausted sleep on the couch, content and happy with all we accomplished.

And then there is quilting and what has become of it; Oliver misses the excitement of the forbidden territory of my sewing room, and I miss it too.  Alas, due to health problems and injuries I haven't quilted in a long long time.  

I didn't know if I still could quilt, but a week ago it was time to find out.  I spent several days cleaning my sewing room, clearing it out of "stuff" piled everywhere, put all new things on the walls, re-set the clock to the correct time, hung a 2015 quilt calendar, put a new cover on the ironing board, swept the floors that still need washing, and looked around.  I felt like a quilter again.  It was time to oil my machines and see if they still worked.  

Everything I did, all the things I organized and went through, brought back memories of my quilting and teaching days.  I found so many lovely gifts from my students and friends, and yes I keep and treasure all of them.  Below are just a few that were on the top of the piles of things to be sorted, all lovely and special to me.

There will be a major recycling day for me with all the old papers, handouts, magazines, etc., that I have no need of now, but in my mind I was remembering all the wonderful classes, the events, the quilters I have met and worked with over the years.  Ah, nostalgia, sweet but sad at the same time.

My machines worked fine, but definitely needed some TLC.  I swabbed, oiled, cleaned, and then ran them with straight stitching and cotton thread for a long time, mindless row after row of beautiful stitching.  

It felt good to settle into my familiar chair, hear the hum of the motor, notice the light scent of sewing machine oil.  I had the lights on and the warm pools of light made the room so comforting, a haven on an icy winter day.  I knew the next day I would drop feed dogs and give some FMQ a whirl, see if I could still do it, just go for it.  

"Tres rusty" is how I would describe my quilting skills, but oh my, it all came back so quickly it was amazing.  I had to stop so that I wouldn't have sore muscles or eyes, but I wanted to keep on quilting some samples I had layered.  I did easy things, difficult things, fun designs, demanding work, just to get my brain awake again and the coordination back.  I will write more about what I discovered doing this free motion quilting in a future post soon.

I have quilted each day since then, and yes my hands ached from injuries and problems I've had over the past year or so, but each day they are better.  I know if I want to make a quilt it will be a long process, as I must pace myself.  But that is fine; I have no deadlines, it is just for me.  My work looks as good as ever, even better because now I am not rushed, am more careful and enjoy the slower pace.

Oliver is so happy, he has checked out all the nooks and boxes, stacks of fabric and old quilts, and now he has developed a nice routine that involves circling the room, sitting on a stool by the window to check the outdoors, then curling up on some quilts in an extra chair and napping away as I do this and that.  He is no longer the naughty kitten attacking the thread as it went through the machine, but he still must be watched out of the corner of my eye.  He is a dignified but unpredictable 5-year-old.

When we are done for the day, it is time to make some homemade pizza, try a new dough recipe, and fill the house with spicy aromas until it is time to pop it out of the oven and enjoy the deliciousness of all the flavors and textures.  I had fresh spinach and artichokes, and the next one had fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella too.  So yummy, even Oliver tried some melted cheese.....

More on quilting to come, meanwhile know I am still here, just not teaching or traveling right now, and send you my very best wishes for the New Year and for your own quilting!
Diane.....and Oliver