Sunday, July 23, 2017

Christmas Elves Quilt Along: Tips and Ideas For Getting Started

The Christmas Elves quilt along begins in earnest next Saturday.

If you're thinking about making the quilt, the following information might be helpful. I've shared some of these ideas on my Facebook page and in various blog posts that I'll refer you to.

Fabrics Used
  • Most of the fabrics are scraps of Christmas fabrics and other bits and pieces that I've collected over several years.
  • The gray background fabric is "Gray Snow" from the Holiday Traditions collection for Henry Glass. I found it at my local quilt shop, and I bought 2 1/2" yards just to be sure I'd have enough. 
  • I got 1 yard of pink and red candy striped fabric. I'm planning to use it for binding and, possibly, for a narrow border, so I may have quite a bit leftover. The fabric is from "Cozy Christmas" by Lori Holt for Riley Blake Designs. This is from last year's collection, so I ordered it online.
Working With Fusible Web Applique

If you are new to using fusible web or if you'd like a quick refresher on the basics, you can visit an earlier page on my blog. It covers most of the tips for using fusible web. Topics include: choosing the right fusible web, cutting out applique pieces, protecting your iron, easy removal of the web's paper backing, and thread choices. Click on this link to go straight to the page.  Tips for Using Fusible Web

This quilt is quite detailed, so I'm strongly recommending that an applique pressing sheet or a piece of non-stick baking parchment be used to make the fusing and assembly easier.
  • You can see through the sheet. If you place the layout plan under the sheet, you can fuse  the appliques right on the layout.
  • It's often easier to fuse smaller sections of the applique together and then add them to other sections to make the whole applique piece.
  • Pieces of applique can be assembled separately and then combined into the whole.

Pieces of Block 1 ready to assemble
    The head was fused together first.

    Assembly line packages
    Stitching the Appliques in Place

    I almost always prefer a machine blanket stitch for stitching the appliques down, and that is what I've used throughout this quilt. I like the finished look on the edge of the applique. The width and length of the stitch may need to be altered - narrower and shorter for small pieces with tight curves, a bit larger for less detailed pieces. Zigzag stitching works well, too, but with either type of stitching, it really helps to practice on sample pieces. The main thing to remember is that you need to pivot often to go around curves or turn corners. Also, the pivot should only be made on the outside edge of the applique and with the needle down. A couple of years ago I created a tutorial for using the blanket stitch. Click here to view it. Machine Blanket Stitch Applique

    Hands and Faces

    Any number of fabric colors from light pink to dark brown can be used for hands and faces. It all depends on the skin tones you prefer to use. I've never been able to find the exact shades that I prefer, so I've learned a trick or two. I start with a peach Kona Cotton and a few tea bags. Hot tea will dye the peach into a much more natural color. Stronger tea or the addition of coffee will make slightly darker tones.  I know that tea and coffee stains can be hard to remove, but I'm not sure how well the colors will hold up when laundered. I don't plan on washing this quilt, though, so I'm not concerned.

    An earlier blog post explains the process in detail.  Click on this link to view it. A Christmas Elf and a Trick or Two

    A bit of colored pencil brightened up the faces. It was like being back in elementary school. Once done, the pencil can be set with a hot iron.

    The pattern for Block 1 and it's sashing pieces will be ready for you next Saturday. I'll include specific information for making that group of blocks in my blog next week.

    Wishing you a lovely July week.

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    From A Garden to Quilts and Beyond

    Last week, Facebook showed me a memory from eight years ago. The photo threw me back in time, and got me thinking about how much my life has changed since then.

    This was the second summer of my retirement. The photo was taken during the last summer I had a vegetable garden. I had developed back problems that were aggravated by gardening. Quilting was the hobby taking more and more of my free time.

    I had only started quilting a few years earlier and I was finally getting it all figured out. I can't believe how little I knew about quilting when I first began. I mistakenly assumed that it was pretty much the same as dressmaking. I'm afraid I had quite a comeuppance very quickly.

    With dressmaking, I was able to eyeball a 5/8" seam, and everything came out beautifully. I thought I could do the same with the 1/4" seams needed for quilting. I also assumed that every seam should be pressed as soon as it was finished just like I'd been taught to do when sewing other things.  In the beginning I didn't even know there was such a thing as a 1/4" quilting foot. With the imprecise seams and the ironing of seams, it's no wonder than my corners and points wouldn't line up.

    Needless to say, there were a few quilting disasters. In spite of that I persevered. Quilting is  precise!! I think it's that quest for perfection that truly hooked me.

    This is the first quilt I was really proud of. It was hand quilted and I spent two years finishing it. I hadn't yet discovered free motion machine quilting. My daughter has this one. Actually she has quite a few of them. She's a quilt thief, and she takes most of the good ones.

    I was so nervous doing free motion quilting when I quilted this early lap quilt. In spite of the uneven stitch length and irregular curves, it's still a favorite. I keep it in my bedroom and use it all the time.

    Here are just a few of my early quilts. All are my own designs, but they were made before I discovered Craftsy or pattern making.

    Christmas sampler. Pieced and paper pieced. Hand quilted.

    Wonky houses. Paper pieced with my first fusible web applique for the flowers. Fee motion quilting.
    Too Much Pink. First pieced sampler. Free motion quilting

    A lot can happen in eight years. Never in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined that quilting would completely take over my life in the way it has, or that I would be designing quilt patterns instead of buying someone else's designs.

    I wonder what the next eight years will bring. I'll have passed my 80th birthday, but I hope I'm still quilting!

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The Quilt That's Creating Itself

    I'm afraid that I have no say at all about what this quilt will look like. It's the ultimate mystery quilt. I get bits and pieces of it from one day to the next, but not the whole design. It's the elves, you know. There's just a bit of magic about them.

    The original plan was to make a North Pole quilt with houses and workshops and such. As you know, I can't resist sketching houses. Two buildings were ready to go onto a background fabric, but then, the elves started talking to me.

    Elf #1 started it all. He just jumped in and started talking. What a shock! I almost fainted! We had an actual back and forth conversation. In fact, we talked so much, that at lunch my husband asked who I had been talking to on the phone all morning.

    Elf #1: You don't want to make houses for this quilt. You need to show us. Elves are much more interesting than houses.
    Me: But, I like houses.
    #1: You were the little girl who loved paper dolls. I remember. Making us is even more fun than playing paper dolls.
    Me: You don't look old enough to remember that far back, but you're right. I used to make lots of new clothes for my paper dolls.
    #1: Yes, you did. Now you can make clothes for us.
    Me: That might be fun. I can put in tons of detail, too.
     #1: Be careful, Karen. You tend to put in too much detail.
    Me: I know. Sigh...
     #1: We both need to get to work. There is so much to do and so little time. It's almost Christmas Eve, you know.
    Me: Of course. But, I don't know what you look like. Can you help me out?
    #1: Well, let's see. I have dark hair, and I've starting counting calories. Mrs. Claus's cookies are the absolute best. 
    Me: And, what are you doing to help Santa?
    #1: Today, I'm carrying packages from the wrapping room to the packing area.
    Me: What else in on this quilt?
    #1: We'll let you know later.  It's Christmas. It's magical, and you are supposed to be surprised. Now, start drawing!

    Elf #2 didn't want to talk at first.  #1 told me that she's still young and quite shy. She had ag Christmas ornament in her hand. I had to be careful not to frighten her.

    Me: Oh, you're carrying an ornament. How pretty.
    #2: It's red.
    Me: Are you going to put in on the tree?
    #2: (Shakes her head, no.)
    Me: Is it going in a package?
    #2: (Shakes her head, no.)
    Me: Are you hanging it with mistletoe?
    #2: (Shakes her head, no.)
    Me: What will you do with it, then?
    #2: (Comes close and whispers to me.) I'm giving a pretty ornament to Vixen, 'cause she's my favorite. I'll show her to you.
    Me: Oh, my goodness! Vixen is lovely! I'm glad you're giving her your ornament. It looks so pretty on her antler.

    Today, I'm looking for Elf #3. I don't know where he is or what he's doing. I think we're playing hide and seek.

    I'll keep you posted on the rest of the story as it unfolds.

    Exactly six months until Christmas!

    Thursday, June 15, 2017

    Red, White, and Blue Table Topper- a Tutorial

    Once again, I'm racing to get my little quilts and patterns out in time for the seasons. It's mid June already, so I whipped up a table topper for the Fourth of July, one that can be quickly made with time to spare. The patches are all made from squares, half square triangles and 1" strips. The finished size is 17" square.

    "Red, White, and Blue", 17" x 17"

    This takes only a few small pieces of fabrics. You need five main fabrics for the star and a few red and white pieces for the center square. 

    • two blues, one dark, one a lighter print
    • two reds, one dark, one a lighter print
    • one white
    • scraps of reds and whites for center square
    • 1/8 yard white print for border
    • 1/8 yard dark blue for binding
    • one fat quarter for backing

    • From dark blue, cut eight squares, 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".
    • From lighter blue, cut four squares, 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".
    • From dark red, cut four squares, 3" x 3".
    • From light red, cut four squares, 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".
    • From white, cut four squares 3" x 3" and eight squares 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".
    • From red and white scraps, cut six strips, 1 1/2" x 8". 
    • From white border print, cut two strips 1 1/2" x 15 1/2" and two strips 1 1/2" x 17 1/2".
    Note: All seams are 1/4". For best results with this pattern, press seams open.

    Make the Center Square:

    1.  Sew the red and white strips of fabric together, side by side alternating darker fabrics with lighter fabrics. Press.

    2. From this set, cut five strips, each 1 1/2" wide. 

     Note: I made a mistake in choosing fabrics. O thought the bottom row would present as a white, but he two fabrics on the ends were much too similar. As a result my finished center square has one edge that doesn't match up the way I'd like.

    3. Turn every other strip 180 ยบ. Align the strips in a checkerboard pattern. Remove an extra square from one end of each strip leaving five squares in each.

     4. Sew the five strips together to make one square, 5 1/2" x 5 1/2".
    Even with more rearranging, I couldn't avoid having one end of the square with too little contrast.

    Make the Half Square Triangle Patches

    1. Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of each 3 1/2" white square and each square of the lighter blue print.

    2. With right sides together:
    - Lay a 3 1/2" white square on each the four 3 1/2" lighter red squares.
    - Lay a 3 1/2" white square on each of four 3 1/2" dark blue squares.
    - Lay a lighter bue square on each of the remaining four dark blue squares.

     3. Sew 1/4" from either side of the lines drawn. Cut on the drawn line, open each half and press open to make half square triangle patches. You will have four patches of each combination. Trim each patch to 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".

    Unit A
    Make two
    Unit A

    1. Assemble top row as shown below. Sew all patches right sides together.
    From left to right: white square, red and white half square triangle patch, blue and white half square triangle patch, blue and white half square triangle patch, red and white half square triangle patch, white square. Press.

    Top row: make two

    2. Assemble bottom row with patches right sides together as shown below.
    From left to right: red and white patch, red square, dark blue and light blue patch, dark blue and light blue patch, red square, red and white patch.Press.

    Bottom row: make two.
    3. Sew the two rows right sides together, matching seams. Press.

    Unit B
    Make 2

    1. For each unit, with right sides together, sew two dark blue and light blue patches together with the dark blue triangles together as shown. Then sew two dark blue and white patches together with the white triangles together as shown.

    2. For each unit, sew a dark blue and light blue section and a blue and white section together with dark blue triangles together.

    1. Sew a unit B to each of two opposite sides of the center square.

    2. Sew a unit A to the top and bottom of the center square and unit B strip.

    3. Sew a 1 1/2" x 15 1/2" strip of white border fabric to each of two opposite sides of the completed star. Press to the border.

    4. Sew a 1 1/2" x 17 1/2" strip of border fabric to the remaining two sides of the star. Press to the border.

     Add batting and backing. Quilt as desired. Attach binding.



    Sunday, June 4, 2017

    From Ants to Picnics

    "Summer Picnic" 20" x 24" Pattern Link

    Ideas can come from the oddest places.  The new summer picnic wall hanging was inspired by the ants who woke up and discovered my kitchen this spring. Every year we have the battle over who owns the counter top and the area under the sink. Eventually, I won, but I still check my kitchen thoroughly every morning.

    With ants on my mind and a need for a fun summer pattern, the picnic wall hanging was born. Who ever heard of a picnic without ants?

    I started with the basket and the food, then I pondered the ants. How big should they be? I didn't want the ants to be the main focus, so I kept them tiny and unobtrusive, a surprise to be discovered by the close observer.

    I embroidered them, but it would probably be much easier to draw them in with a permanent marker - a very fine tipped marker.

    I think the little pests would look better with thinner legs and antennae. It's a bit late now, but if I were to do them over, I'd use medium gray sewing thread instead of the single strand of black embroidery floss.

    In case you were wondering, I discovered a super weapon in my battle with the ants. I normally use vinegar for cleaning, and if it's used regularly, it does help to keep the ants at bay. One day, I ran out of vinegar, so I cleaned the counter top with leftover Formula 409.  I also sprayed a bit into the under the sink and into the dishwasher, which was their main point of entry. The little pests are totally gone. I don't blame them. I don't like the fumes of chemical cleaners either.

    Wishing you a lovely week!

    Sunday, May 21, 2017

    "F" is for Fish

    The pattern on Craftsy. 
    Last week it was "G" is for Giraffe, and this week "F" is for Fish. What am I doing with the sudden onslaught of alphabet mug rugs? I have no clue how this all came about, and I don't know if this is the end or just the beginning of something altogether new.

    I knew that I would surprise myself with the next project, and I surely did. I had no intention of making a mug rug with whimsical, imaginary fish, but it rained and rained last week. Everything was drenched, as water was poured off the roof, the trees, the plants, and everything else. It must have been all the water that filled my head with visions of fish.

    It took more than two weeks of constant struggle to design the giraffe, but this one was sketched in just over an hour.  It's such an easy pattern that I stitched it together the same afternoon. The fabrics came entirely from my stash, too, so I didn't even have to go out in the rain to get supplies. So much fun!

    Bubbles are insubstantial, so I simple outlined bubble shapes with white thread and my handy dandy, favorite machine blanket stitch. My stash of 1/4" buttons was raided for eyes, and I quilted a wavy pattern to give the water a sense movement.

    My pattern is finished and, today, the sun came out! The sky is bright and blue, flowers are perking up, and, my goodness, but those birds are singing! It's definitely May.

    I'm going to go for a walk in the sunshine, now. I can work on other things later.

    Wishing you a fantastic week!

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Sara Quilt, Block 5

    This is the last of the patterns for the blocks I made for Sara's Quilt. It's taken forever, and it feel so good to have this done. 

    Block 5, Double Dresden 
    Click on this link to find the free pattern on Craftsy. Block 5, Double Dresden.

     I'm waiting now for Sara to find time to come over and help me design the border. She's in no rush to have her quilt, and I would much rather go slowly and have it turn out perfectly for her.

    I'm really pleased with how this has turned out.

    This afternoon, I'll be sewing up more schoolhouse blocks. Never a dull moment.