Saturday, December 27, 2008

101 Fabulous Fat-Quarter Bags: A book review

I have been eyeing this book, 101 Fabulous Fat-Quarter Bags with M'Liss Rae Hawley: 10 Projects for Totes & Purses, ever since the author, M'Liss Rae Hawley, came to our local Joann store and promoted it. At the time, it was still a few weeks away from publication/release. It is now available. When she introduced the book, she also had some of the bags that appear in the book. It looks like it will be worth getting. The bags were gorgeous! I'll have to let you know what I think of it when I get my copy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I won a blog award!

My friend over at named me for an award for my blog! As part of the honor, I am supposed to nominate seven others. So, here goes! Can you nominate your children? My ten-year-old daughter’s blog is really interesting, and pretty funny at times. She discusses her adventures in sewing. Even though she’s mine, I am impressed at the idea of a ten-year-old possessing her level of maturity and ability to maintain this, as well as to do the projects which are mentioned on the blog. I am always so motivated when I read her blog. She does incredible work with lots of young people, and maintains a life with her husband and children, and is writing a dissertation at the same time. Can you say Superwoman! My friend is absolutely amazing. She and her husband gave birth to four, and adopted 11 more! The two oldest have started families of their own, so she has 4 grandchildren as well, who are around the same age as her youngest children. Another Superwoman! Another incredible friend, with a number of children (biological and adopted). When I read her blog, it makes me tired :), and it really makes me feel inadequate. I’m gonna have to change my friends before I develop a complex! She has a GREAT blog about the history of quilting. My blog has a number of posts which discuss quilting history, but hers is dedicated almost solely to the topic. While she certainly needs no promo from me, I still have to mention her site here, because it is beautiful, and pix of her sewing studio have been an inspiration to me! Her site has, more than many others, shown me the power of someone who has many interests, and is able to display them through beautiful photos. Her blog says to me that I can do it, too.

Well, I have to stop at 7, so that’s the end of the list. I should do something like this again, because there are many more blogs that are worth mentioning here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The myth of quilt codes and the Underground Railroad

I have put off this post for far too long.

In 1999, a book was published which rocked the quilting world. In it, a very startling claim was made: Quilts had been used on the Underground Railroad to transmit hidden messages. A quilt hung on a clothesline in a particular way or with certain quilt block patterns and colors could signify a "safehouse," or a place where a runaway slave could be assured of safety on her flight to freedom. The story was told to a researcher as she traveled throughout the South; the person making the claim was an older woman, trying to sell her quilts.

Unfortunately, much as we'd like to believe it, there is no truth in this story.

When evaluating whether or not a particular claim has truth, it has to meet certain parameters, such as, more than one primary or original source must make the claim. Namely, if this story had any truth at all, then at least one or two sources from pre-Civil war times would have made the same claim. The problem is, there are none. There is not one journal kept during this time, or one slave that lived during this time, that affirms the story of quilt codes. There was an extensive project performed during the 1930s known as the Federal Writers' Project in which the last living former slaves were interviewed, and they talked about their lives during slavery. If there was such a thing as a quilt code, then at least one of the 2,300 interviews would have made mention of it. Not one person even hinted at this. Even Harriet Tubman's biography, which made mention of the Underground Railroad, never mentioned these quilts.

The researcher at least had the presence of mind to question the quilt vendor about the total absence of evidence of a quilt code. The quilt vendor stated that, the quilt code was so secret, that conductors on the Underground Railroad, as well as the slaves who used it, were sworn to secrecy, and thus never mentioned it. Of course, since slavery ended with the Civil War, it makes sense that at least someone would have said something from 1865 until the 1990s, but again, there was never a mention of any quilt codes.

Another issue which shoots even more holes in the quilt code story is the fact that many of the quilt blocks that were allegedly a part of the quilt code were not even invented, or at least named, until after the Civil War. For example, a noted quilt historian has found no evidence that the Log Cabin quilt block existed, and existed by this name, before the Civil War. Another problematic block is the Wedding Ring. Again, this pattern was not in existence before the 20th century. Other quilt block patterns are similarly problematic.

The worst part of all is the fact that several books have been written based on this fabricated tale. All of these books point to this erroneous source and perhaps one other earlier source, equally erroneous. There has never been any indication that the quilt code is anything more than wishful thinking. It is a comforting thought, to take the ugliness of slavery and wrap it in a fanciful tale of quilts being used to guide slaves on their way to freedom. However, there is simply not one shred of evidence to support this notion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Quilter's Apprentice, Elm Creek Quilts: A book review

There are times when I find myself wanting to take a break from the normal routine of life--the duties and responsibilities, even the recreational activities, like quilting. (Horrors.) At these times, I am on the hunt for good reading material--substantive, yet not too heavy. I stumbled across a series of books quite by chance, with stories written loosely around quilting, but focusing more on relationships and the common occurrences of everyday life. The books I found were the Elm Creek Quilts series.

The first book in the series, The Quilter's Apprentice: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (Elm Creek Quilts), introduces the reader to what will most likely be a recurring cast of characters. There is Sarah, the young woman who moves with her husband to a small town where he has been offered full-time, permanent employment. As she is unable to find a job, she begins to work in the home of the crotchety old woman for whom Sarah's husband Matt is performing landscaping services. While the relationship begins somewhat awkwardly, Sarah and the older woman, Mrs. Compson, eventually become friends.

Without giving the plot away entirely, I will merely state that the characters, while a bit trite at times, serve to remind us of our own human frailties and challenges--broken relationships, disappointments, guilt, aging, death, failure, hope, strength, joy, and reconciliation, just to name a few. Portions of the story are told in flashbacks and reminiscences, with characters reflecting dreamily or bitterly on earlier days and past occurrences. We see a detailed character development with Sarah, Matt, and Mrs. Compson; other characters are not quite as developed, but will probably be in later books in the series.

A word of caution: The author makes mention of a quilt which was used during slavery to signify a "safe" house on the Underground Railroad. There is no historical evidence that such quilts and quilt codes existed. Unfortunately, not long before this book was published, another book was published which made the unsubstantiated claim that quilts were used to transmit messages on the Underground Railroad. An entire movement was spawned, based on this ONE book with its incredibly faulty research. Essentially, a woman trying to sell her wares in a market relayed this quilt code story to an author, but then refused to repeat it later. Nothing else--not even firsthand accounts of slaves--has ever made this outrageous claim, in all of history.


Quilters will find themselves enjoying the quilting process detailed in the book, as we journey with Sarah through her beginning quilting lessons and trials. I laughed at the ever present hand-pieced vs. machine-pieced, hand-quilted vs. machine-quilted debate waged cheerfully in the pages of the Quilter's Apprentice. Also to be appreciated are the stories that are told with every quilt, and how they, or the fabrics of which they are comprised, are significant to their owners or recipients. I'll bet you, like I, recognized the description of the Lone Star pattern in the very beginning of the book long before the pattern was mentioned by name.

If you are looking for high quality or serious reading material, this series is probably not for you. But if you are looking for a lighthearted, heartwarming, enjoyable read, with quilting as a central, recurring theme, then this series is for you. I think you will laugh and cry right along with the characters in the book.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Long arm quilting machine rental

I had an opportunity recently to quilt on a long arm quilting machine. For the uninitiated, a long arm quilting machine is an oversized sewing machine of sorts that is made for the express purpose of quilting quilts. It takes a process that can easily takes months by hand, or even several days on a regular sewing machine, and reduces the time to perhaps even as little as one hour. It has REVOLUTIONIZED quilting!

Frequently, you will find an individual or a business (such as a local quilt shop) which offers long arm quilting services. You take or send your finished quilt top to the person, along with your backing fabric, and after a period of time, your finished quilt is returned to you. The exact details differ from service to service, and according to what you would like to have done, but generally, you will then finish and bind the edges yourself.

This method has a couple of drawbacks. First of all, it is not inexpensive. If you have already invested quite a bit of resources in the fabric, thread, batting, pattern, tools, etc., then it is not easy to give a long arm quilter another large sum of money. It could cost as much to have the quilt quilted as it did to purchase all of the materials. Or perhaps more. The second drawback is that it takes a long time. My LQS has a wait time of four months! Most have a six-week turnaround time. Another drawback, if it could be called such, is that part of your quilt will not be completed by you.

Another option, although it is much harder to find, is that of renting time on a long arm quilting machine. All rental services are different, of course, but generally speaking, you are introduced to the machine, and then you use it to quilt your quilts for a designated period of time. The only drawback in my opinion is that you are not an expert, so you quilts may not turn out perfectly. But the advantages far outweigh this, in my opinion. For a two-hour rental, I completed two quilt tops, and it cost me less than it would have to send one quilt top to a long arm quilter to have it done for me. And I completed it in less than three weeks!

Personally, I am quite pleased; I will be doing this again.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Charity quilts: December 2008

To update the most recent blog entry, I have completed six charity quilts (as can be seen in the picture) since my last count, which was two to three weeks ago. I had hoped to complete more, but I don’t think that six quilts in two to three weeks is too shabby…

The two quilts on top of the stack–the pink-striped one and the purple one–were made from fabric that I purchased at clearance sales. The first one, the pink and brown one, is two coordinating pieces of fleece that I simply stitched together with a 1.5 inch seam and a decorative stitch around the perimeter of the quilt. Because fleece does not ravel, I did not have to worry about concealing or finishing the raw edges. I took one stitch in the middle to secure them. The photo above shows two different corners of the quilt–the front or the quilt top, which is pink striped, and the backing, which is brown.

The second quilt, the purple one, was made from pre-quilted fabric. I made the multi-colored binding that is used on the edge of the quilt. This is not a difficult process; there are several good tutorials on the Internet as to how to make your own binding. To summarize it here, I cut 2.5 inch strips of fabric, and stitched them together into one long strip. I took this strip and pressed it in half lengthwise, so it became a strip that was now doubled and 1.25 inches in width. I opened it up and pressed the raw edges in toward the center fold, so it was a strip of fabric four layers thick that was roughly .6 inches in width, with no raw edges exposed. I then stitched this binding to the quilt. Pretty, n’est-ce pas?

The other four quilts were made of donated fabric. This one was two cuts of fabric; one was a cotton blend blue and purple print, and the other was a pre-quilted grey fabric of a nylon, rip-stop nature. Since the side opposite the gray was unfinished, I sewed the patterned fabric to it. For this quilt, I used the pillowcase method. In essence, I sewed the fabrics right sides together, and left an opening. I then turned the quilt right side out through the opening, and stitched the opening closed.

This quilt was made of pre-quilted fabric. It only needed a binding. So I took donated satin blanket binding and used the process mentioned above to achieve the four-layer binding. I stitched this on.

These four quilts were made from single lengths of fabric. They are therefore known as whole cloth quilts, for fairly obvious reasons. The last two quilts on the bottom of the stack are made from pieces of donated hotel-quality bedspreads, so they are pieced or patchwork quilts.

I think they turned out great!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Charity quilts: November 2008

For those of us who have been given so much--food to eat, a home, work that pays the bills--it is important that we give back to those less fortunate.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of a sewing guild known as Sewin’ Sisters Sowing. We gather once monthly to sew, and for those who are able, we gather a second time monthly to cut fabric in preparation for the sewing session. Our members range from my ten year old daughter on up to a member in her eighties. We are from all races and ages; we are from differing situations (some of us are married, some are single, some are widowed or divorced or separated, some of us have children at home, some of us are caring for elderly parents, etc.); we work full-time, part-time, or are retired, or are homemakers. It is truly a reflection of the Body of Christ.

Sewin’ Sisters Sowing is dedicated to meeting the needs of our community; we are most interested in being of assistance to those who live within a 20 mile radius. We have sewn for crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, local church ministries to the indigent and transient, and mainly for Salvation Army (SA). Right now, we are in the midst of sewing lap blankets for SA for their elderly lap blanket drive. They need 3000. (!) While we know we will not be able to supply them with 3,000, we are trying to get as many done as possible, because SA, predictably, is having a very hard year financially, and will need all the help they can get to supply the elderly with warm lap quilts and blankets this winter, who may go with little or no heat in this depressed economy.

My encouragement to you is to seek out your local sewing guilds–or perhaps you are already a member of a local quilting guild–to find one that has at least one charity project annually. It may be virtually impossible to find a sewing circle which, like ours, is dedicated solely to charitable projects. But I know you should definitely be able to find an organization with which you can complete at least one annual charity quilt. If you can’t, we would love to have you join with us! Go to for more information.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Quick Quilts to Make in a Weekend: A book review

Sometimes, the difference between a person who quilts and a person who only dreams of becoming a quilter is the accessibility of the craft. If simple, clear directions could be given for a quilt project from start to finish, someone hesitant to make the entry into the quilting world might be much more willing to become involved. Quick Quilts to Make in a Weekend gives novice quilters an entry into the craft. From the opening pages, which give an introduction to quilting, through the quilt projects displayed in the book, Quick Quilts is a feast for the eyes, and full of wonderful project ideas.

The book opens with basic quilting techniques. This introductory section leaves nothing unclear, so even the uninitiated will be able to enter a local quilt shop or fabric store with confidence. The technique chapter includes everything from quilt sizes, fabric selection and preparation, rotary cutting tips, measurements, piecing, quilting or tying, binding, labelling and even adding a sleeve for hanging. Not only is there a great deal of written explanation, but there are illustrations and photographs to clarify each of the steps in the process.

The 26 quilt projects in the book are grouped into five categories, each category written by a different author. Each of the projects has well illustrated, step-by-step directions on how to complete the quilt. Each project also contains a beautiful color photograph of the finished quilt. A very striking and incredibly simple quilt, the Indigo and White Country Quilt, is on page 28 of the book. But don’t be misled; every quilt is beautiful and easily executed.

Even for more experienced quilters, Quick Quilts is full of great quilting ideas and well-selected colorways. The very straightforward directions can be easily altered to accommodate different sizes and details. Every quilter will want to be able to have a ready reference of quilt projects that can be created quickly, especially for those last-minute gifts. This book will fulfill that purpose.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yellow Brick Road quilt: ME Cherries

Oh; did I mention? I pieced another quilt! This time, I made a quilt using the Yellow Brick Road quilt pattern.

Like the Take 5 quilt that I made earlier this month, the Yellow Brick Road quilt was made from a pattern that is available at your local quilt shop. It is fairly popular; I’d seen a number of these online, and I really liked the pattern. That is what made me interested in making one for myself.

Unlike the Take 5 quilt, I didn’t go out shopping for fabric for this one. In fact, you might recall that when I went in search of a pattern for fabric I already had–THIS fabric, which you see above–I ended up buying new fabric AND a pattern–hence, the birth of the Take 5 quilt. So, I used the fabric that I already had, and used it for the Yellow Brick Road quilt. Did that make sense?

This quilt may have a lot of pieces, but it has some quick piecing techniques, namely lots of strip piecing, and I used the whack and stack method, as well. So, it went rather quickly. All I need to do is sew on the borders; I am merely trying them out in the photo above. But I like them. This pattern does not technically call for an inner and outer border, but I will use them both. I think the red really makes the colors in this quilt pop, and a border outside of the red is necessary. Don’t you think?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts by M'Liss Rae Hawley: A book review

If you are a quilter, then there is one thing that I know about you instantly. You have a thing for fabric. And you probably really have a thing for fat quarters. Now, the problem is, what to do with all of those wonderful fat quarters, that can be done quickly? The logical thing to do is to look for quilting books which specialize in the use of fat quarters. Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts: New Projects and Tips to Inspire and Enhance Your Quiltmaking by M’Liss Rae Hawley is one such book.

Quilting books which are not written for fat quarter collections are problematic for those who want to use their fat quarter collections. Since the unique dimensions of a fat quarter–usually 18 inches by 22 inches–are not taken into account, the cuts of fabric which are required may take an inordinate amount of piecing to complete the quilt top, let alone the borders. Quilting books dedicated to fat quarter quilts solve this dilemma, and Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts does an exceptional job.

M’Liss Rae Hawley lends her quilting expertise once again in this publication. Hawley has authored several books on this topic already, so she is certainly not a newbie in this field. This is, of course, a major advantage for you, because she is able to steer you successfully through the fat quarter quilting waters. If you are a beginner quilter, you will appreciate the extraordinary detail she gives in the opening chapters of this and all of her books. Hawley advises you on everything from what presser foot to use on your sewing machine, how to make good color and fabric selections, and how to square up your fabric in preparation for cutting.

Yet this is an equally valuable book for those who are intermediate and advanced quilters, as well. Something that will be greatly appreciated is the ability to see actual finished quilts in each of the projects in the book, and to see several variations on each project. Thus, if one color/fabric variation of a quilt does not appeal to you, then perhaps one of the others in the same pattern, but different colors and fabrics might make the quilt come alive for you. The instructions are clearly written, with precise measurements and accompanying illustrations for each step of the project. One of my favorites is the Quilt Interrupted pattern on page 32.

Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts is a book that you may consider adding to your collection of quilting books. I think you will find yourself referring to it again, whether as a reference in brushing up on basic quilting techniques, or following a specific pattern, or using suggestions for color/fabric combinations. Who knows–maybe it will be an answer to your ever-growing fat quarter stash!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spirits of the Cloth: A book review

There is a vast collection of books on quilting in existence today. Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts stands out among them. In this book, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi gives African American quilters, an emerging group within quilting, a voice to be heard and an opportunity to be recognized for their outstanding contribution to the field of both art and quilting. Not only does this book outline in detail the beginnings of African American quilting and how it has progressed through the years, it also provides stunningly beautiful photographs of quilts in this genre.

With a preface written by Faith Ringgold and a foreword written by Cuesta Benberry, also quilters, writers and researchers within their own right, Spirits of the Cloth can be considered to be an academic work within the field of African American quilting. As a quilter, researcher, writer, historian, curator and lecturer regarded as an authority on the subject, Dr. Mazloomi’s scholarly work provides the uninitiated with a wealth of information on a topic virtually unknown before the latter quarter of the 20th century. The text highlights 150 quilts, referred to by the author as the “stories” of the artists who created them.

Mazloomi discusses how, initially, the work of African American quilters was largely ignored by the traditional quilting community, as it did not conform to traditional, commonly-held practices and beliefs surrounding quilting. Quilts created by African American quilters had, naturally, been influenced by the African culture from which the quilters and their ancestors had come. Even in the quilts of today, the use of bold, strong, vibrant color can be seen in the quilts of their black creators.

It was not until the 1970s that this unique category of quilts came to be recognized and regarded as “official” by the larger quilting community. However, these so-called experts, while taking a step in the right direction, inadvertently caused more harm initially. They stated that African American quilts, in order to be categorized as such, had to fall within certain narrowly defined parameters, and made by black women who resided in a particular geographical region of the United States. This, then, meant that the vast majority of African American quilters were still left virtually unrecognized and unwelcomed into the quilting community, as their work fell neither in the category of traditional quilting or within the newly defined category of African American quilting.

Fortunately, the definition of African American quilting became broader in the 1980s, ironically enough because of the pioneering work of such women as Dr. Mazloomi herself, along with a number of her contemporaries. The first African American quilting guild was formed as a result of an advertisement placed by Mazloomi in a magazine; nine women responded. Today, the Women of Color Quilter’s Network has approximately 1700 members, some of whom are accomplished artists, speakers, and authors themselves. Similar guilds have since been formed.

This is a book with rich content and beautifully photographed quilts that cannot be passed up. It is truly a “coffee table” quality book. If you are still not convinced, borrow it from the library. You won’t want to give it back.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

African American quilts past and present

I never ever thought that I’d like history–something I’ve always disliked–in a million years. (No pun intended.) But for reasons that I may cover in another blog entry, I find it absolutely fascinating to know how things came to be, how civilizations rose and fell, and how we have doomed ourselves to repeat our past mistakes, simply because we refuse to learn anything from them. But don’t worry; I’m not about to hold a deep discussion about history, and some of the past mistakes that we have made.

One aspect of history that I have studied is that of quilting. One of the specific areas which I have found fascinating is that of African American quilting. Quilting itself is believed to have been practiced as long ago as Ancient Egypt. Also somewhere in our past, quilted armor-type garments were worn by soldiers as they went to war. The form of quilting with which we are most familiar appeared perhaps sometime in the 15th century. It is quite possibly because of the need to keep warm in pre-electric, pre-gas homes that people began to take two layers of fabric, sandwiched with some type of filler, and stitch all three layers together. Over the next few centuries, the art of evolved, as did the uses for quilted items. Quilts came to be used for other reasons that bedcoverings, and quilts were raised to an art form.

African-American quilts are no exception. In their pre-quilt form, African textiles created in Africa were noted for using very bold, striking colors arranged in very graphic patterns. As Africans were captured, enslaved, and transported to America, they naturally brought several cultural elements with them, textile arts notwithstanding. As they became assimilated into the Eurocentric American culture, they turned their textile-making skills into quiltmaking, incorporating design elements they brought with them to this new art form. It is important to note that these enslaved Africans did not have a wealth of time or resources at their disposal to practice their art form. When they were able to make quilts, it was often for the white mistress of the plantation, who gave materials to the particular slave who had been pressed into sewing and quiltmaking. A number of these quilts needed to conform to the mistress’ requirements, as they were intended to grace the palatial home of the manor; very few were created as per the design and desire of, and for the use by, the slave.

Some quilts, however, were able to be designed by the slaves. With pilfered or leftover scraps and materials from their owners, slaves would use stolen moments late at night, once they were allowed to retire for the night, and create quilts. Slaves would especially have been in need of warm bedcoverings, living in the ramshackle or improvised dwellings that their owners provided for them almost as an afterthought. While the design of the quilts had much to do with the materials available, slaves were still able to incorporate elements of their own African culture, although for most, this culture was fast becoming a distant, dim memory.

This emerging African-American art form of quilting went largely unnoticed, especially by the quilting world, which chose not to acknowledge what it considered to be sub-standard work unworthy of qualifying as true quilting in the classic sense. Yet African Americans continued to quilt on into the post-slavery period of Reconstruction, and into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1970s that so-called experts finally began to recognize and acknowledge the work of African American quilters. However, only those quilts which fit within very narrowly defined parameters, or were created by quilters of a specific geographic region, were acknowledged as quilting or as art, so the majority of African American quilters were still largely ignored.

During the 1980s, African American quilters as a whole finally began to come into their own. No longer narrowly defined by a particular style, or as natives of a particular region, African American quilts, at long last, were being recognized as true quilts and true art. African American quilt guilds were formed. Exhibits featuring African American quilts were now being shown at various galleries and museums across the country. The beginnings of the art form, once arrogantly ignored, were now being researched with zeal and at great length. The African American quilt, after centuries, finally came into its own.

As I am a researcher and writer myself, I cannot close this blog entry without acknowledging the trailblazing work of, amongst others, three incredible women, who are both quilters AND researchers and writers. Many thanks to:

Cuesta Benberry, Carolyn Mazloomi and Faith Ringgold.

Their contributions to the field of African American quilting are more valuable than mere words can express. A heartfelt thank you.

Photograph source:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Take 5 quilt blocks are done!

I did it! I finished the twenty blocks for my Take 5/6 quilt!

I completed the blocks at some unimaginable hour last night--or, this morning. I probably took about two hours to do the actual sewing, but I think it was because I was trying to be very careful and sew exact 1/4 inch seams. I now need to go grab my instructions and see how to lay them out. I may just do that tonight and try to get the blocks assembled into a top. Can I even get the borders on?

More to come...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Take 5 quilt

Today I went to my LQS (local quilt shop) with the intent of taking a look-see at this month’s trunk show, and to find the quilt pattern Take 5. I’d been browsing online photos of Take 5 quilts which various quilters had made. It looked like the kind of pattern I was in search of; I have a set of fabrics which need a pattern which allows at least one fabric to have large squares. The impact of this print is lost if it is cut into pieces too small. Also, the Take 5 pattern appealed to me, because while it needed fabrics which coordinate reasonably well together, it does not require that some be light, or dark, or medium. Further, the pattern seemed to be able to yield quilts of varying sizes. So, I went to find it.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Almost two hours later, I came out with, amongst other goodies, not only the Take 5 pattern, but with enough fabric to do a quilt in that pattern. Yes, I DID mention earlier in this blog entry that I already had a nice collection of fabrics for this quilt! But I saw the most FABULOUS fabric that I could simply not pass up.

It all started with a gorgeous Alexander Henry fabric in the 2008 Sew Now! Sew Wow! collection–the beauty on the left (below). It had a somewhat retro flavor to me, so I chose similar complimentary fabrics. The yellow, red, and green prints are Wee Play by American Jane Patterns, Sandy Klop for Moda. The black fabric is Mod by Metro for P&B Textiles. The turquoise fabric, which will be for the inner border, is Splish Splash Scales by Moda.

Herein lies the dilemma–hence the title for this blog entry. If this is going to be a true, authentic Take 5 quilt, then I should only be using 5 fabrics. The quilt shop ladies and I inadvertently chose a sixth fabric. Oops. While I want to remain true to the pattern, I love the way the aqua (turquoise?) sets off the fabrics. Oh well. Take 6 it is. Besides, I don’t have enough of any of the other fabrics to use them for an inner border, anyway. The luscious Alexander Henry fabric? THAT will be the outer border, thank you very much.

Ah, yes. About those other goodies. I also picked up some back copies of what is becoming my favorite quilting magazine, as well as the Turning Twenty and Yellow Brick Road quilt patterns. And if that weren’t bad enough, I found out that there will be a Yellow Brick Road class in a couple of weeks! Oh, to have the time off to do that! By the way, the trunk show was great. This month’s show was given by one of the ladies who works at the shop. My, but she’s been a busy beaver; she showed some absolutely lovely things, including a Bloomin’ Nine Patch. Whew; it made my tired just looking at all of the work that she’d put into it.

So, not long after I arrived home, I started cutting the fabrics into squares using the Stack and Whack method. This method is exactly as it sounds; I carefully stacked the five fabrics that I will be using for the squares, and cut them into the required pieces. VERY simple.

Friday, October 31, 2008

We met M'Liss Rae Hawley!

When our local Joann reopened last month as a superstore (and what a needed upgrade that was!), M’Liss Rae Hawley came as part of the grand opening. If you do not know who she is, she is a quilter, designer, author, lecturer, and instructor. She has published a number of books, and she has her own line of fabric at Joann that she has designed. And my daughters and I got the chance to see her and meet her!

She spoke on some general quilting topics, and, the best part of all, she had brought a number of her quilts with her for “show-and-tell”! It was really something to see in person the quilts that have been featured in the pages and on the covers of her books! Afterwards, I got the opportunity to talk with her a bit, and to ask her some questions. It was an awesome experience.

She of course took an interest in the girls. I mean, how many 10- and 12-year-olds do you know that sew and quilt? She encouraged them to keep up the quilting, and she recommended her beginner’s level quilting book to them:

I decided to purchase this one (I'll let you know how it turns out, if I ever attempt it):

One thing I need to mention is that, when I heard she was coming, I decided to buy a couple of her fabrics and stitch up a quick tote. So, she told me later that, when I first walked up to hear her lecture, she noticed my tote right away. AND, the blouse she wore was made of the same materials as my tote!

Who knew??!!! So she wanted a picture, and so did I of course, but I didn’t want to ask, so I’m glad she volunteered. She gave the girls and I pins to wear–no one else got any–and she gave us her business card. I was honored!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sewing an easy quilt-as-you-go quilt: Part 2 of 2

You have completed your quilt, all except for binding it. Binding is the process by which you enclose the raw edges with a narrow double layer of fabric. You will make this binding strip yourself. Take your six remaining 2 inch strips and cut each strip into four pieces. Sew these smaller pieces together randomly; no two adjacent pieces should be the same fabric or the same color. This strip will go around the perimeter of your quilt, so it needs to be at least 220 inches in length. Press this strip in half lengthwise, right side out, matching raw edges.

Take one of the short edges of the strip and fold it in on itself. Starting near a corner of the quilt, but not ON a corner, lay the strip on top of the quilt, aligning the raw edge of the binding with the raw edge of the quilt, pinning as you go. When you reach a corner, you will stop one half inch from the corner. Fold the binding strip at a 45 degree angle to the right; it will look like an L. Fold the binding strip back down, so that its raw edge is now aligned with the next raw edge of the quilt. Do this every time you reach a corner. When you get to the beginning, tuck the end of the strip in the beginning of the strip, so there are no raw edges peeking out. Starting below the tucked end of the strip, sew by machine one quarter inch from the edge, ending where you started. Make sure you stop one quarter inch before a corner with the needle down, lift the presser foot, and pivot to start the next stitching line.

You will now need to sew the other edge of the binding strip to the back of the quilt. Thread a hand needle with the thread and take very small horizontal stitches to sew the binding to the backing. Pressing the binding to the back before you stitch it is not necessary, but it will help. Your nicely mitered corners will lay just right as you turn the binding strip to the back.

Presto! You have now created TWO quilts!!! Are you addicted yet?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sewing an easy quilt-as-you-go quilt: Part 1 of 2

This project will introduce you to machine quilting, specifically the quilt-as-you-go method. Therefore, the preparation process will be a little different than with the first quilt. The top fabric should be cut to be 2 inches smaller on all sides than the backing fabric. This means that if you were to lay the top fabric on top of the backing fabric, there would be 2 inches of backing fabric showing on the top, 2 inches of backing fabric showing on the bottom, 2 inches showing on the right, and 2 inches showing on the left. While this is not a crucial step for this quilt, it will be in future projects, so it will help if you begin to get used to it now.

Lay the backing fabric right side down on a large, flat surface. Following the directions on the can for the quilt basting spray, baste the backing to the batting. Now baste the top fabric to the batting, making sure that the top fabric is right side up. The batting should be in the middle of the two fabrics, and the wrong sides of the fabric should now be basted to the batting.

Lay 15 of the strips on the top fabric (do not baste them just yet) to find the arrangement most pleasing to you. Do not spend a lot of time on this step; the randomness of the strips is what makes the quilt attractive. Once you have determined the arrangement that you like, pin them to the top. It may help to use a ruler to help you keep the fabrics straight. The strips will overlap the edges of the top, but that is ok. You can go back and trim them off later.

Now you will sew each strip down. Notice that you are quilting as you create the quilt top. This quilt as you go method makes for a very quick and easy quilt. Sew the fabrics one quarter inch from the raw edge of the fabric strip. Each fabric strip will therefore have two stitching lines. You will leave the edges raw and unfinished. If you haven’t guessed, each time you wash the quilt, the raw edges will fray, which creates a fabulous rag effect. If you are using jumbo rickrack, you will sew one stitching line straight through the middle.

Once you have completed sewing all of the strips, lay the quilt on a rotary cutting mat and trim the edges. The top, batting and backing should now be even. By making the backing fabric slightly larger, you have kept it from being smaller than your quilt top. When you quilt thick layers, some layers will bunch up more than others.

In Day 2 of this second quilt, we will discuss the binding process.

Try a second quilt: Gather your supplies

Now that you are officially a quilter (yea!!!) you can move on to another very simple project. As with the first one, this quilt will also be lap-quilt size, just to keep it simple one more time. You will need 1.5 yards of a light-colored fabric, either solid or print, for the top. We chose a multi-colored dot print on a plain white background. For the backing fabric, you will need 1.5 yards of a coordinating print. It goes without saying that you will select 100% cotton fabrics that are ideal for quilting. You will also need 44/45 inch strips of fabric, 2 inches wide. You will need approximately 21 of these strips, and they can be in varying colors to coordinate with the top fabric. You can also choose jumbo rickrack for some of your 45 inch strips.

Make sure to purchase 1.5 yards (or a 45×60 package) of bonded polyester batting in low or medium loft. Select thread which coordinates with your fabrics. The tools that you purchased for your first quilt will come in handy here; refer to Day 1 for the first quilt, if you forgot what these tools are. Another tool that you will need is quilt basting spray. If you have not already done so, wash and iron all fabrics.

Once you are ready, proceed to the next set of instructions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to sew a very easy quilt: Part 2 of 2

Find a large, flat surface on which you can lay out your fabrics and batting, in preparation for pinning and sewing. If your fabrics are two different widths, then you will first work with the smaller piece. Cut off the selvages, and this will determine the size to which you need to cut your larger piece. Cut off one selvage of your larger piece, then lay it out with the smaller piece, matching all sides of the larger piece to the smaller piece except for the selvage edge. Cut this edge down so that both pieces now match. If your fabrics are the same size, you will still follow the same basic procedure.

Pick up your fabric pieces, and now lay your batting down. Lay your fabric pieces on top of the batting right sides together, and cut the batting down to match the fabric. You should now have three layers—two fabric layers and one batting layer. Carefully pin around the edges of the three layers to hold them together. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of pins; too many pins are far better than too few. Leave a 12 inch gap between pins in the middle of one of the short sides.

Take your pinned layers to the sewing machine. Make sure you have attached the walking foot. Starting to the left, or below, the gap (when you put the fabric under the presser foot, the gap should be behind the foot, and the pinned part should be in front of the foot, nearest you), put the presser foot on the fabric and lower the pressing foot. The batting should be facing down, and the fabric side should be facing up; otherwise, the batting will get caught in the presser foot. Take a few stitches, backstitch a few stitches, and then sew around the perimeter of the layered fabrics. When you get to a corner, stop with the needle down in the fabric, lift the presser foot, turn the fabric 90 degrees, lower the presser foot, and continue to sew. You should remove the pins as you sew; do not sew over the pins.

When you reach the side where you began sewing, sew up to the gap, backstitch a few stitches, then stitch going forward a few stitches. Cut the thread and remove the piece from the sewing machine. Cut the four corners at a 45 degree angle; this will make it easier to turn. Do not cut through the stitch line. Now go ahead and turn the quilt inside out, making sure to poke the corners out as you smooth the quilt out. When you have done this, you can turn the edges of the fabric at the gap to the inside, and sew the opening closed. Sewing the gap by hand will make for a more invisible stitch line. If you must sew by machine, match the top thread to the top fabric and the bottom or bobbin thread to the bottom fabric, and sew as close to the edge as you can.

For this quilt, you will merely tie it down by hand. You will not worry about actually quilting it. Thread the curved needle with the coordinating embroidery floss. Every 6 inches or so (or follow the batting manufacturer’s recommendations for spacing between stitching), insert the curved needle into the fabric and bring it back up within a quarter of an inch of the entry point. Do this until the entire quilt has been tied. This will keep the batting from migrating.

You have now completed your first quilt ever! Was it fun?

How to sew a very easy quilt: Part 1 of 2

Let us begin the quilting odyssey by gathering only the most essential of supplies in order to embark on our quilting journey. After all, before you invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in supplies and tools, you will want to know that you actually enjoy quilting before you spend a lot of money.

First of all, you will need a sewing machine. If you do not already have one, acquiring one may seem like an intimidating task. Do not feel as if you must purchase a new, top-of-the-line sewing machine. Do not even feel as if you much purchase a new one. There are perfectly good used ones that are waiting for new owners. A friend of ours recently bought a 60s-era sewing machine for $5 at a yard sale; it works absolutely wonderfully. Generally speaking, sewing machines that have all metal working parts and gears are among the more reliable machines. Also, these types of machines can be fixed, should something go wrong. (The cheaper machines are not always fixable.) If purchased new, these types of machines, on the low end, typically start at $200-$300. I will not even begin to discuss with you the various brands, models, etc. That is a blog topic all its own.

Second, you will need various smaller tools. Make sure you have a good pair of scissors, a rotary cutter, a rotary cutting mat, and a rotary cutting ruler. Some sewing or quilting stores sell these items (minus the scissors) as a package. These items, once you acquire them, should only be used for sewing and quilting. (Hide them from your family; they will think that they can use them for cutting paper, hair, food, foam, etc.)

Miscellaneous tools that will help are straight pins and a curved hand needle.

Now you will need to select some fabric and bonded batting. For your first project, we will keep this VERY easy. Select two–yes, just two–100% cotton fabrics that you like. For example, we chose an embroidered denim and a pre-quilted fabric in a coordinating color.

You may even consider choosing a solid and a print that coordinate with your home decor. When you choose your fabric, make sure that you have coordinating thread and a coordinating embroidery floss as well. For this first quilt, you will only need 1.5 yards of each. For the batting, you will also need only 1.5 yards, and it must be bonded. You can either buy it by-the-yard, or there is packaged batting that is 45 inches x 60 inches. This size will work if you do not have two pieces of fabric wider than 45 inches. If even one of your pieces of fabric is the standard 44/45 inches, this prepackaged batting will work for you. I’d recommend 100% polyester, or a polyester/cotton blend. As you become more accomplished, you will develop a feel for what you prefer in batting.

Before you start, make sure you wash your fabric. You need to know before you begin to sew if your fabric will shrink or bleed. (Hint: If you cut the edges with pinking shears, your fabric will not fray in the wash. Don’t worry about the selvage edge; it will not fray.) Remove the fabric from the dryer as soon as possible and iron it. Lay your fabric flat, one piece at a time, and square up your fabric. There is a tutorial here which will give you some assistance with this procedure. Admittedly, it is not of the utmost importance for this project that you square up your fabric, but it is a process which you will definitely be using as you become a more accomplished quilter.

You are all set! The next post will get you started on your quilt!

A decision to blog

It’s about time.

I have been contemplating an entry into the world of blogging–specifically in regards to our quilting adventures. I do not do this alone; I cannot do this alone. I have enlisted my trusty apprentices, or my daughters Lana and Sydney, in this undertaking. Yes, they are fairly young. However, do not dismiss them because they are young; they are every bit as accomplished as adults several times their age. They have handled themselves admirably on computerized sewing machines. Hence, our journey. We invite you to take this journey with us.


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