Saturday, April 28, 2012

Changing Gears

It looks innocent enough, doesn't it? Just a simple square within a square.

Well, about a year ago I was dying to try making this block - no big plans for it, just wanted to try it (almost sounds like how an addiction starts, doesn't it?). Well, one thing led to another and before you know it I was planning a quilt top around it. And now with Martha's Star finished it was the first thing that I picked up when I went back to the WIP chair to see what was next on my list.

I wanted a mix of blocks and lots of white to show off the cheery prints. 9-patches form the centre, they are bordered by 4-patch blocks in a lighter palette...

and then it's all contained by the square-in-a-square blocks. I think I'll call it Spring Garden. My quandary is in what to do next.

I have this airy alphabet print for the backing (another great sale - I never pay full price for my backings) and thought that a variety of green 2" blocks on the point with white spacers would work, picking up the green in the print, but it just looked like an argyle - too heavy and not what I wanted.

Now I'm thinking that I'd like to incorporate a picot edge with a number of blue prints to make it a little playful - the bottom polka dot print is an old sun dress - remember those Betty? Not sure if it will be right against this panel or with a bit of a white spacer. Or maybe as the outside edge. Still a little planning to do but that's part of the fun, isn't it? All suggestions welcome!

But it won't be sewn together in the next day or two because after the workout that my machine got recently I've sent it to the 'spa' for a tune up. I've noticed that the knob to drop my feed dogs is stuck too so maybe they can loosen that up. All of which means that it's back to hand sewing and a little cutting for the next few days, or maybe cleaning up my table - a nice change of pace...M

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Oh Happy Day!

See what's hanging over the closet door? Yup, Martha's Star is done! I am so happy with it I can't tell you. In an earlier post I said I thought it was the perfect mix of scrappy and structured, and now that it is all together I'm even more convinced. And with everything sewn together there is a beautiful weight to it.

It is fitting that I should finish it now because five years ago this week mom passed away. She would have liked the end result too.

This one involed a lot of sewing - 4,369 pieces by my last count, excluding 4 stars that were switched up with lighter colours at the end - and it's a biggie. So large that I don't have a floor space upstairs that I can fully lay it out for you to see the entire thing and get a better sense of the colours, compared to the dull images that I was sending you from the sewing room.

Sewing all the blocks together is not my favourite part of the process because you end up dealing with such a large piece at the end and it is often a struggle, but I found a chain stitching technique on Wanda's blog a while back and I have to say it made the job quite enjoyable.

You start by stacking the blocks from the first two columns side by side and sewing pairs together without cutting your thread between them so they are chained together. Then you add the third column, and so on until you have all the columns joined. I don't have a huge work table so as I added each column I just accordion folded it into a stack and they stayed together nicely.

Columns chained together
Then you work across the columns to join the rows. It saves lots of jumping up and down to get the next row of blocks and you avoid the possibility of sewing rows/blocks in the wrong order (and potentially lots of ripping out!).
The home stretch - pinning and sewing all the rows

The one thing that did take a lot of time was the pinning when I got to joining the rows, but that was because, in essence, each block is a large Nine Patch so I was joining the blocks and then pinning again twice in each block - 30 pins per row; it would go even faster with a different block style. What's particularly nice about it is that with everything all chained together you can just sit in one spot and keep going.

And now it's a quilt top.

Kimono remnants make beautiful stars
Much of what appeals to me about it is the fabric selection. Mom had chosen a wide variety of calicos and remnants, but she also included a few non-cottons - like leftovers from the many, many kimonos we made for our high school musical Teahouse of the August Moon, a beautiful mauve print from a top that Betty made (I think it is rayon), things like that. Not only do they add visual interest but lots of great memories that will be fun to fall asleep under.

Maybe it should be called Starry Night? No, I think we'll stay with Martha's Star....M

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nantes Or Bust

For the past week I have been living vicariously through two of the gals whose blogs I follow - Linda from Quilts in the Barn and Kathy of Material Obsession fame. Interestingly, both are Australians and both are in France right now, Nantes specifically, for Pour L'Amour du Fil, a spectacular looking quilt show that just ended on the 21st. Photos and stories of their touring in and around France, including gay Paris, are giving me itchy feet for a return trip.

This is just on of many stops for Linda who is on what seems like a world tour with a friend. After Nantes she visited Mont St Michel, a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey between Normandy and Brittany dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been on my TO SEE list for some time. They've been having such a good time - check out her diary.

And Kathy's adventures look no less exciting. After some time in Paris she headed off to the show a bit earlier since she was one of the designers invited to present. And it looks like she is launching her new book Making Quilts here too, along with her friend and neighbour Brigitte Giblin who is launching Feathering The Nest. Sorry, no photos of either cover yet as the books are just off the press but if you scroll down on Kathy's blog you can see a photo of the two gals together in their booths proudly hugging their new releases.

Love the hot pink walls and chartreuse floors of the show's exhibit booths! Fantastic photos, all of which makes me want to go back to France, so, I'm putting it on my bucket list. Time to plan a trip to Nantes for a quilt show and finally get to see Mont St Michel at the same time. Then there's Versailles, The Loire Valley, ....M

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Room With A View

When I'm sitting at the sewing machine I'm surrounded by lots of bins and fabric and lots of projects that are on my list to finish up, so I thought I'd share a few snippits of the more visible ones that look at me from shelves and are draped over chairs and bins.

This one was started about 4 years ago and will be a lap quilt - it looks sort of funny right now but in time all will be revealed.

Then there's this little one, a pattern that I made up about a year ago just because I was keen to try making the blocks in the outside border. One thing lead to another and before you know it we had a quilt top. Be careful what you ask for... It is in neutral right now because I am debating how to finish it off. I've looked at a few design and colour options for the borders and nothing is clicking yet so I'm hoping that the longer I look at it the more apparent the final answer will be. After working with the muted colours for Martha's Star it will be nice to get into bright, clear colours again.

And this one is actually two - the same pattern just slightly different looks (you are looking at the back side and the black & white stripe is a border yet to be applied). I'll need to photograph it in natural light because the fabrics are not being shown with any justice in this shot. I'm not usually drawn to batiks but when I got into collecting them for these quilts it was hard to stop. The tops have been on the TO DO chair for a while now, waiting for border. I shuffled them around today and realized that I still needed to find a backing for one, and, since the big Fabricland sale is still on, off I went.

These will be the two backings. The one on the left I've had for a while and the red the right I picked up today; two very different options but I think they will be equally effective. I've also got some fabric left over from piecing the tops so I'm toying with inserting a pieced strip in the backing of one, maybe both. The other option is to make a smaller project - possibly placemats - for the gift shop at Madonna House. Time to wash the backs and put these babies to bed (so to speak) but I am so close to finishing Martha's Star that I need to stay focused on that for just a little bit longer. Patience....M

Friday, April 20, 2012


When I left you last I was headed off to satisfy my craving for Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing. It's been a while since I made these but they turned out beautifully - I think it's the combination of sour cream and buttermilk that make the texture so melt-in-your-mouth.

I shouldn't be surprised because there isn't much that Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, makes that I don't like. How could you not when she freely admits that there isn't a pound of butter that she has met yet that she doesn't like? This time I happened to have Skippy peanut butter on hand so I used it but I have to admit that I prefer the tried and true Kraft brand - it just seems to have a bit more body to it. Anyway, there were more than enough for the two of us (I made lots of minis this time) so I sent a few packages off to friends and family to enjoy as well.

Not sure if it was the sugar fix or just a little bit of resolve, but I now have all of the stars for Martha's Star finished. Yippeeee skippeeee! Now to fill in with Irish Chain blocks. When I step back to look at it the colour combo in that corner looks a little flat so I might sew one or two more stars and switch a few up - one in mauve and another in a deep teal/turquoise. I'll see if I still feel that way once the alternating blocks are laid down. I could use the extra stars to make a runner or start another quilt.

I also got a few more half blocks done up for the edges so the list of things to do is slowly dwindling. Now it's back to lots of this...

And even more of this. Is this photo blurry or is it just my eyes from sewing and ironing all of those little Nine Patch blocks?...M

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's Looking More Like a Quilt

What a difference a few new blocks make! It seems that I've been sewing tiny red blocks for Martha's Star until I am seeing them in my sleep so I decided to switch things up a bit and start putting together the cream pieced blocks that will finish off the edges of the quilt.

It's amazing what a difference filling in those blocks makes. Not only does it finish off the edges and really make it look like it will be a quilt some day soon, it makes the cream tone-on-tone fabrics that I've used throughout much more prominent. The variety is really providing the texture and interest that I was hoping they would.

See how nice that left edge is looking? And it's getting pretty big too - I can't fit it all in to the photos anymore and it is consuming all of the space at the foot of the stairs, so I'd better get into gear and finish it up.

So now it's the bottom right corner to finish off and then the border pieces. I think I have 7 stars to go and about 12 Irish Chain blocks so still lots of little red blocks before I'm done, and then all of the blocks will need to be sewn together, but the end is in sight. Enough for now though because I've had a hankering for chocolate cake so I'm of to make Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing - more on that later!...M

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fussy Cut Boo Boo

Work on Candied Hexagons has been at a bit of a stand still lately because I needed to sit down and do some serious fussy cutting (you can only get away with using so many small prints before there is an impact on the look of the hexagons & the quilt itself). Well, yesterday I headed off to Jane's cottage for a day or two with her and was able to spend several hours cutting. In the process I ended up with a bit of a cutting mishap. I got lazy and rather than tracing the diamond onto the fabric and then cutting I tried to cut a piece directly just using the blade and the template. Needless to say, I missed slightly and cut through the template, almost slicing off a piece on one side. I'm so close to finishing cutting my fabric pieces that I didn't want to have to cut another template, so after a bit of tape 'first aid' to keep the piece in place I was back in business.

By the end of the evening I had a lovely new stack of pairs that I can now pick up while watching TV that will soon become hexagons and move this project along. I can't believe how time-consuming fussy cutting can be, and in some cases, how much fabric is wasted to get the repeats. Despite really liking the way the quilt is turning out I think it will be a while before I do another one.

We also took a short drive to Barry's Bay and discovered great fabrics at amazing prices in the Stedmans store - I hadn't been in there in years. I feel like I hit paydirt! Who knew??? Such a great selection of light summery prints...I couldn't resist.  I got enough of the bottom one for a backing. We were just giddie with our finds and marvelled at how happy small pieces of fabric can make us.

And there were lots of fabulous fat quarters at an even more fabulous price...I saw a great tutorial for a lovely little baby bib recently and I'm thinking of making a few for the Holly Bazaar using some of these. One or two will also be incorporated into Candied Hexagons. Can you tell that I really liked the periwinkle and white print on the left?

And then there were these three fat quarters that I also had to bring home. Not sure what they will be for but they really appealed to me for some reason.

Anyway, we had lots of fun and also managed to repaint a few antique wrought iron beds and rake up the yard and flower beds in the sunshine today, so a productive few days. I think I might need a good soak in the tub to deal with a few aches, but they are good aches. Thanks for a great couple of days Jane!...M

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone! I hope it is a day of renewal, joy, and time spent with the ones you love. We are enjoying a spectacular sunny day here, and (over)indulging in chocolate, of course! Our bulbs are just starting to pop up so there isn't any colour outside yet but Stephanie dropped this lovely basket off yesterday which brought Spring inside so beautifully. And yes, that is a half-eaten chocolate bunny lurking in the background.

This weekend also marks the beginning of Mike & Lili's new life in Beijing so hopefully they are enjoying fresh Spring blossoms there as well.

I got a lovely treat this morning when Anne surprised me with a dozen more random blocks all stitched up for my Postage Stamp. I've been working on completing the bottom right corner and this will give me a great leg up so I'll need to pin that section together now and get stitching.

Yesterday we took a drive to see if I could find a few more cream tone-on-tone cream fabrics to finish off Martha's Star, which we did, and found a great sale too so I came home with a few lovely treats - my Easter prezzie to myself. Not sure what they will ultimately go into but they do look great together, don't they?

Enjoy your day, and for those of you who have tomorrow off as well, enjoy the extra long weekend...M

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

More Inspiration

I bought myself a treat a week ago and have not been able to get my nose out of it for more than five minutes. It's Material Obsession 2 by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke, two Australian gals whose blogs I have been following for quite a while now. I first saw the book last winter and have continually migrated back to it so it is now part of my library.

I'm not sure if it's the difference in climate or what it is but I find that many of the Australian bloggers have a much different sensibility than North American quilters - they have an overriding love of bright, bold prints and produce exhuberant pieces that just make your heart sing. That might sound funny coming from a book with a black quilt on the cover, but look closely and you will see how they have reworked traditional patterns and made them refreshingly new.

What I particularly like about it is the notion of shared inspiration that they have used. There are 10 pairs of quilts and each pair was developed from a common concept (scraps, foundation piecing or a repeating block) or fabric. I am continually intrigued at how the same pattern is interpreted so very differently, depending on the quilter, and this book is a perfect illustration of that. It also encourages you to take their inspiration and continue to work it so that it reflects your taste and style. To colour outside the lines, if you will. There are no wrong answers.

This is the outside back cover and one of my favourites in the book. As is so often the case I'm already redesigning it in my mind's eye...I don't know that I would use the same application of the blossoms and I don't particularly like square quilts so I'm thinking that the blossoms could be incorporated into a more rectanglular centre block and then the quilt would also become rectangular. But that's what would make it mine, right?

There's also some really tempting applique to try. Look at the detail in that blossom!

And a fantastic, bright, scrappy Spider Web...

Oh, and did I mention...the photography is superb - Kathy's husband took the pics. It all adds up to endless hours of flipping and dreaming and who knows, maybe some day creating.

Sarah's new book, Quilting From Little Things, is just out recently. I've seen bits of it online but have yet to lay my hands on a hard copy, and it looks like it might be tempting too...

But quilters know that inspiration can be found anywhere. Like, say, on the street. Dori sent through this shot that she took on her way home from work one day. It is simple pavers but obviously creative little hands (maybe future quilters) took chalk in hand and made the time to make it their own...M