Sunday, 20 April 2014

Fiddly curves

As usual, we're with my parents-in-law at their holiday house near the beach for Easter. We're having a lovely, relaxed time. Of course, I brought plenty of quilting with me, and at the moment I'm appliqueing a new magazine project, so just a small peek here:

These long strips are cut on the bias so I can curve them into shape. To avoid the iron erasing the marker, the first few I pinned on the ironing board, following the marked lines, then pressed them, which was insanely fiddly around the tight curves. It was really hard to get the curves smooth, and to avoid puckers on the inside edge. So then I tried just guiding it into place with one hand and encouraging a smooth curve with the iron as I went, which was much more successful - way faster and better results! Of course, the trouble could have been avoided if I'd brought my mini-iron, but at least now I  know it can be done without!

It's all set aside ready for stitching tomorrow. I'm about to string up the children's egg hunt in the living room, then head to bed.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Via Airmail

I went to a baby shower yesterday, and just managed to get this quilt finished in time. Less than an hour before it started, I was still hand-stitching the binding, and after a speedy photo-shoot I had Simon removing the pins holding it to the board while I got changed.

The mother-to-be is my cousin Julie, and both she and her husband are pilots. So my inspiration was planes, and the paper plane image was taken directly from their very aeronautically-inspired wedding (they even had miniature paper planes as confetti!).

My initial design thoughts were for an ombre background, but then I remembered my selection of Vicki Welsh hand-dyed gradients, and spent a lovely few hours with may of them strewn across my table, selecting the best colours. The only way I can bring myself to cut into these fabrics is by making them a feature of the quilt, which partially explains the simple piecing.

However, I did add some detail in the quilting. Five smaller, quilted planes are hidden among the swirls:

If you look really closely in the photo above, there's a join in the binding. Not only does it add the appropriate feel of an airmail letter, but the diagonal stripe is perfectly-angled for joining the binding strips, as well as the mitred corners.

The heart contrail detail was also inspired by the decorative lighting at their engagement party. It's all quilted using glossy Glide thread; in a selection of colours to blend with the background (except the contrasting hot-pink heart). This thread just purrs through my sewing machine, and I used matching BottomLine thread in the bobbin.

It's always lovely when a quilt is so well received. Here (with permission) is Julie's surprise at  discovering the details in the quilt, and I've been promised a quilt of the baby doing the same when she arrives.

The post "Via Airmail" was posted on on 14/4/04.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Autumn sun

I started quilting this afternoon, and was bathed in gorgeous autumn sunlight - enough to cast a rare shadow from the needle:

The sunlight has now long-gone, but I need this  quilt tomorrow, so had better keep going!

After a small amount of ditch and detail quilting, I chose to quilt swirls, my only challenge was working out the thread colours to match the different and changing gradient fabrics. I ended up choosing five glossy Glide threads in dusky burgundy, rich blue, pink, aqua and pale blue.

I decided to quilt in the ditch between the gradient strips, to keep the seams nice and straight. While the end result isn't ideal (some of the stitching can be seen), it has certainly achieved the desired result - well worth the effort (especially as there weren't too many!).

The post "Autumn sun" was posted on on 13/4/14.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Slow progress

Things didn't go quite as planned with the quilting I mentioned last post. Quite aside from disappearing to bed with a cold for a few days, the thickness of 2 layers of flannel and the thicker batting posed some problems, mostly some breakage of the top thread. I solved that with the settings below (more for my reference than anything else!).

However, my greater problem was the small bumps where the seam allowances were folded back. when working with flannel, I always press them open to minimise this, and my design didn't have all that many seams meeting in one place, but it was enough with the extra thickness in general. My solution was a little unorthodox, but worked. I turned the quilt upside down and quilted from the back! Of course, this will only work for an allover pattern, but I used the meandering open feathers, so that was ok. I don't have any puckers or bunched-up areas, and I'll see how flat it lies, and how straight the seams are later, but at first glance, I'm happy.

I've set it aside for a few days while I work on another quilt. I started by tracing the pattern on a disc. Yes, the lightbox did make a difference, even through a disc! Now I'm working with this selection of Vicki Welsh's beautiful hand dyed gradients, and a white-on-white snowflake print:

One last thing. If you read my blog in a reader, rather than on the blog, you'll have noticed I've reduced what goes into the reader to just the beginning of the post. I'm sorry to have to do this, but unfortunately I had experience this week, along with many other quilting bloggers, of having my content (complete posts, including my photos) stolen (most likely through a feeder) and posted elsewhere, with neither permission nor links to the original. While a joint effort has closed this particular site down, I'm now taking precautionary measures - which also explains the text below, which will now appear (hopefully fairly unobtrusively) below all future posts.

The post "Slow progress" was posted on on 11/4/14.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


I'm working on a couple of quilts at the moment. The first is this flannel quilt for an imminent and much-anticipated arrival.

I plan to quilt and bind it tomorrow, as I want it ready for when it's needed. I'm enjoying working on this quilt for a few reasons. The first is the cause for making it. The second is the softness of the flannel fabrics. The third is the colours; the blues are so rich and wintry. And the fourth is the speedy way the simply-pieced flannel quilts come together!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Quilting evolution

The applique quilt I was working on before I started the beach quilt is now finished, and is already with the magazine editor. Here's a little peek:

I just love the texture of the McTavishing, and the more of it I do, the happier I become with my version of it. I've loved it since I first discovered Karen's work about five years ago, but the way I quilt it has changed a lot over that period. Below is one of my first efforts:

Looking back, I'm amazed how happy I was with it! This was quilted just by looking at some of Karen's photos. Then I bought some of her books, and watched videos of her quilting it. And practiced - a lot! I've learned not to repeat each line so many times, and to make my lines curlier. For a while my version included lots of spirally-looking bits, but they've worked their way out, too.

Back to the new quilt; I love the small feathers in the outer border; thy finish it off really nicely. No more photos of it until the magazine comes out in a few months, but it's a larger version of Snowdance (below) for which I've been asked to write a pattern a number of times.

Incidentally, Snowdance was McTavished, too, and you can see evidence of the spirally-bits! One of the reasons I use it so often is that it fits easily into the smallest and oddest-shaped spaces, such as between all these appliqued shapes.

And while I'm at it, I thought I'd link up with Amy's McTavishing Monday (even though it's now Tuesday here!). Amy has been posting about McTavishing for a few weeks now, and has some lovely photos, videos, links and tips.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Spot the difference

Tonight's quilt photo doesn't look much different from last night's.

Except that in this one, all the pieces are sewn together! Each section is free foundation-pieced (the one exception to this is the marked sun) and then the foundation-pieced sections of beach and ocean are built together. I then carefully position the beach over the sky to check my marked seam lines are close, then trim a 1/4in seam allowance on the top of the beach, snip the inside curves a little, then reposition, fold the seam back and pin and pin and pin - at least every inch to create a smooth curve. then I machine applique it in place. After that, I position, fuse and sew on the applique details, then repeat the joining process to put the water on the beach.

My intended final size is 36 x 42in, so at the moment it's sitting at about 37 x 44. This allows for shrinkage at the quilting stage, as well as trimming all the uneven edges.

I counted them all up, and it uses 99 different fabrics; 8 in the sky, 18 in the beach and 66 in the ocean, plus the five appliques. The binding will take the front to an even 100, but next I need to source a suitable backing fabric.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Beach scene fabrics

This particular type of mess can mean only one thing...

I'm working on a new beach scene. For the last few days, I've been carefully auditioning, positioning, selecting and cutting each piece of fabric for this quilt. Its the slowest part, because each piece needs choosing separately, then has to be cut to the right shape, and they all have to work together. It got a whole lot worse before it got better, too! I kept running out of space to see all my fabric options!

Now all the pieces are pinned roughly to their foundations (the water has 13 sections, the beach 5 and the sun and sky are all one), and tomorrow I will start sewing them together. This is a really satisfying stage, because it's where I get to see how seamlessly they blend together. This time I've pinned the whole thing up on the foam sheets I use for photographing my quilts, which has enabled me to spot and correct a few errant pieces early - even if the lighting doesn't show the colours too accurately here. On the left are some prepared appliques I'll add once the piecing is done.

I've been building my stash of reef, ocean, water, sand, beach and sky fabrics since my first beach scene about 8 years ago. Since then, I've made nine more, and this is the tenth. Most are quite different. These quilts always involve a lot of fabric handing, and I've now refolded and tidied them, ready to go away. Except, I've just had some good news which means I'll need to be making the eleventh one soon - so I might just leave them out!

Out of interest's sake, once the piecing is done, I'm actually going to count up how many different fabrics have gone into the quilt. I estimate under a third of what I got out. While I have a few prints which I use in almost every beach scene, the selection varies almost by chance every time, largely depending on the first piece I choose.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Thread choices

Sometimes choosing the threads for a quilt is as much fun as choosing the fabrics. It can also be a pain sometimes, especially when it comes to finding one thread which will work over the entire quilt. But for this one I got to tip out all my Aurifil threads and pick a rainbow.

I needed one thread to match each fabric, so I could quilt and applique the pieces in place, and quilt in the ditch of the flange (in progress below).

Here is my selection:

Next  problem? I've run out of bobbins - again!

I've finished all the pretty coloured quilting now, and am filling in the background using an ivory BottomLine thread, which blends in and just leaves the gorgeous texture of the McTavishing - and the extra feather plumes in the quilting to match the applique. I'm on track to have this finished tomorrow.

Monday, 10 March 2014

New toy

About a month ago I came across the Brother Scan'n'Cut, and it intrigued me. I'd never been tempted by the die-cutters on the market for quilters, since I want to cut my own shapes - and different ones for every quilt. But the idea of this machine is pretty evident in its name; scan a shape and cut (or draw) it. It also has lots of other tricks; once a shape is scanned, you can duplicate it, rotate it (in 1-degree increments), accurately position it, resize it and so on. This has potential!

They're not cheap though. Here it's AU$700, or there's a $600 Spotlight-only version which is internally the same, but comes with fewer accessories (they're all available separately, and none of those 'missing' were ones I especially wanted) and fewer inbuilt designs (again, not an issue for me). Here's a US comparison chart. Then I just happened to receive a Spotlight (I think the US equivalent is probably Joann) voucher, for 40% off a single item. No more convincing required!

It sat unused for a few weeks while I finished off the landscape quilt, but this weekend (it's a long weekend here, plus with my lovely part-time days, that translates into a wonderful 5-day weekend for me!) I was able to try it out, and used it to cut the applique shapes for my next quilt. My design uses nine different shapes, and nine fabrics, with each shape cut five times from one fabric.

I printed my original templates straight from EQ7 where I designed the quilt, and it was easy and intuitive to scan and manipulate the shapes. But I'm still playing with setting options to get it to cut perfectly. There's a choice of 2 mats, 'standard' and 'low tack'. In this context, low tack means lower tack than the standard mat, which is really quite sticky. You can adjust the cutting pressure, and the depth of the blade, as well as the cutting speed.

My only problem is that while the paper-backed fusible web stabilises the fabric for cutting, the fusing process also ever-so-slightly warps it, which stops it from sticking (and holding) to the tacky cutting mat. This means it can buckle, and then the cut is wrong. My imperfect solution so far is to remove the paper backing. This allows it to stick much better, and though it seems to peel off the mat well enough, there is a risk of the fusible web coming off the fabric and remaining on the mat. In future, I'll try fusing more carefully, and I'll test out mirroring my image (I think the machine will do that for me) and cutting the pieces the other way up. Brother does also produce a fusible product which may stay flatter, but I admit I'm not keen to swap from my preferred Lite Steam-a-seam2. (As an aside, this product is temporarily hard to obtain - story here - so it's fortunate I have a roll.)

The positioning function prevents you from positioning the shapes too close to the edge, but you can get them economically-spaced. (The hot pink piece in the photo shows the minimal wastage - the extra at the lower edge was intentional - it was the selvedge.) However, it does make it harder - though not impossible - to use up the smaller scraps of fusible web left from other projects. There is a way to scan in what you're cutting from (e.g. the fused fabric) and position the shape to be cut directly onto it - I just haven't tried it yet.

When held in place properly, the cut is smooth and accurate. I don't think it saved me much time this first time, but in future it probably will. And anyway, I bought it more for saving my wrist when cutting, rather than saving time.

There are a number of consumables and accessories available. As well as the mats which do need replacing eventually, there are larger mats (which take the scanning and cutting area from just under 12in x 12in to almost 24in x 12in) as well as replacement blades, blade holders, coloured and erasable pens, and so on. I definitely want to get the bigger mats, and at some point will also try the erasable markers.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with either the manufacturer or retailer; I bought my Scan'n'cut machine with my own funds (yes, and the discount voucher!) and the views expressed here are simply a summary of my first experiences using it; I receive nothing for my review.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Strawberry Mousse in AP&Q

In the last couple of days, my quilt Strawberry Mousse was returned from the editor, along with my copy of the magazine. If you want to make your own version, the full instructions are in Australian Patchwork & Quilting vol 23 no 7. It's the applique special and should be available any day now.

Speaking of which, the publisher is launching digital versions of their magazines, and if you go here, there are some free issues of a few craft magazines to try.

The main post for Strawberry Mousse (with lots of photos) was back here.

Lions in the Window

After finally finishing the big landscape quilt, the following evening I turned my attention to this flannel baby quilt, which had been waiting only for binding - since shortly after Christmas!

It was about time I finished it since the baby it's for is, umm, well on his way to his first birthday!

I've been making more baby quilts from my flannel stash recently. The need to keep flannel quilts simply-pieced is part of the reason, but mostly it's the cute fabrics and the softness. The fact that I can piece them fairly quickly (even if it takes several months to bind them) is a bonus.

I chose to quilt it with a blue variegated King Tut thread. It was the perfect colour, and I chose the thicker (40wt) thread because I haven't used it much since getting my 820 which quilts nicely with it. But it perhaps wasn't the smartest thread choice, since a fine thread would have shown much less over the lions. Never mind, it's finished, soft and snuggly, and after forking out a fortune at the post office, is on its way around the world to a very cute little boy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Nature's Gift

I finished my Australian landscape quilt and sent it to its new home this week. I was a bit stuck for a name, and while I was running my fingers over the textured ground, wracking my brains for a name, the national anthem happened to be playing for some televised sport. The phrase 'nature's gifts' stuck, and seemed particularly appropriate as this quilt was commissioned as a gift.

The ground is one of my favourite parts of this quilt; the curved piecing comes together in the most surprisingly easy way to create the rolling patchwork countryside, and I just love the texture of the quilting.

Hidden to varying degrees on the ground are a selection of Australian creatures. While it is intended to be an Australian quilt, I wanted to avoid making it cliché, so you'll find no emus, kangaroos or koalas here. The only mammal is the platypus, lurking near the billabong:

On special request, there's also an eastern water dragon:

This one was great fun to quilt; here it is a bit closer:

There's also a green tree frog up near the trees. Yes, it's obviously way out of scale, but because (like the other creatures) it's not obvious, it doesn't matter!

Towards the bottom at the centre, there's a lyrebird. This is the only creature which used two threads; a brown for most of it, and a fine white for the white tail plumes. I places this one on a branch:

The final bird on the ground is off to the left; it's a bush stone curlew. It looks rather like a water bird, but it lives in grassland:

The trees are solid black and were fused, then appliqued at the quilting stage. They took forever to cut out (and almost as long to applique - twice each!) but I love the way they finished.

The sky was unexpectedly the biggest challenge. Where the HST seams meet the joins were bulkier than I'd expected (next time I'd press the seams open when joining one block to another) and this made for difficult quilting. Admittedly this was probably linked to the new batting I'm using. I've decided to try a wool/poly blend, which has a slightly higher loft than the wool/cotton I've used for years. The combination of the bulk and loft made it hard to quilt the sky smoothly - and I think the batting also meant the quilting caused more shrinkage than usual. I'll have to remember that.

All this meant that I used a slightly easier quilting pattern for the sky than intended, and that the blocks got more distorted than I'd like. However, I do like the overall effect of the sky. Into the sky I quilted a sulphur-crested cockatoo (while James and Eleanor were picking out the hidden creatures, we discovered that Eleanor thought they were 'softer-crested' cockatoos!):

And more hidden is this whistling kite:

To  add a bit more interest (and another Australian touch) to the sky, there are stars in the form of the Southern Cross. As on our flag, the larger of the pointer stars (on the left) has seven points (these represent the seven states and territories). To keep the constellation form appearing too overt, I made sure to place some of the stars on lighter fabrics. The stars are also fused applique; I used an iridescent pearly white fairy frost to give them a bit of a glow.

I've discovered that, since James and Eleanor love to get involved while photographing my quilts, the best solution is to supply them with cameras while I'm doing the detail images, and by the time I want to capture the whole quilt, they've lost interest and are out of the way! James takes it seriously...

The finished quilt is close to 83in square.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Landscape quilting

I decided to fill the land part of this quilt with irregular lengths of nested Cs between wavy lines. I chose to separate them more by quilting three sets of wavy lines together, deliberately varying the gap between them. I'm using a taupe-coloured BottomLine thread top and bottom; it blends quite well with all the fabrics. It shows on the navy batik backing, but not as starkly as it appears in the photos.

To give you an idea of scale, the Cs are 1/2 to 3/4in apart; the photo below shows an area about 10in wide.

This works quite nicely around the quilted wildlife, and gives a nice land effect and good texture. I didn't want anything too fussy, since much of it isn't obvious among all the prints (hence the photo fro the back) and there's a lot of space to cover! The Cs aren't all the same, and they're not identically-spaced - I didn't bother trying; the natural variation gives it a more organic look.

This somewhat ugly creature is an Eastern Water Dragon - he was fun to quilt! I used a variegated brown/tan King Tut; the outline and some of the other lines (where necessary for continuous quilting) are quilted twice for definition.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Animal quilting

I've been busily quilting the big landscape quilt. I started by quilting the birds and other wildlife I'd marked prior to sandwiching. They're not all easy to see from the front in photographs, so I've shown the lyrebird below from the back as well:

And here's the platypus, near the little waterhole:

You can still see some of the blue pen markings; I'll get that out later, rather than work on a wet quilt.

Sunday, 9 February 2014


Yesterday didn't go quite as planned. We're having a very hot summer, and the awful heat (42C) combined with the wind, especially low humidity and dry undergrowth combined for a catastrophic fire rating. For those of you outside of Australia, this is an official rating; the highest level of a new system instigated after the dreadful fires through Victoria a few years back. It basically means that if a fire breaks out, it's unlikely to be able to be contained, spread quickly, act unpredictably and be ferocious. Even well-prepared and defended properties are unlikely to be able to provide safe shelter. Not good.

A fire was started around 8.30am perhaps 6km from us, in a National Park which comes as close as 1km from our home. And when we received emergency SMS messages on our mobiles and an automated call to our home phone, starting with, "Emergency, emergency...." we decided to heed advice and leave before it might be too late, even though I wasn't overly concerned about the safety of out home. So we grabbed a few essential items and went with the dogs to my parents-in-law for the day.

For me, my current quilt and my machine were essentials - mostly because I really need to get the quilt finished soon, and didn't want to lose more time than necessary! So I made a start on the quilting at their dining table. These smaller trees don't take too long to FMQ around twice (I'm appliqueing them in place at the same time), but the bigger ones take ages!

Luckily the fire was spotted early by fire patrols and heavily attended by crews and aerial attack, and though it did get out of hand for a while, the it was contained by mid afternoon, and the fire threat reduced, so we came home after dinner. luckily it's (relatively) cool today, but will be back up around and into the 40s by mid-week. While people in North America are experiencing the cold and having snow-days, we're likely to have a day or two this week where the school is closed due to catastrophic fire danger!

Because of where we're located (in the lower part of hills surrounding the city) we're at greater risk. While the majority of the 1m+ people in Adelaide who live, work and go to school on the plains are largely unaffected, up here we're in a separate fire-danger zone, with usually higher ratings, and on catastrophic days the schools and various other services close. The risk is a trade-off for the lovely tree-filled suburbs, greater space and, ironically, the slightly cooler temperatures.

Today I'm back to quilting at home, working through the bigger tree appliques. Perhaps I should add some flames into the quilting somewhere...

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Hot and cold

Today James finished his fifth quilt. He designed it with me, painted all the fabric for the top, did some of the cutting, most of the pinning, all of the piecing, pressed under supervision and helped with the basting and quilting. You can see the lovely soft contrast minkee backing he chose.

Not that he needs to be bundled up in a quilt. As I sit up late watching the start of the Winter Olympics and we look forward to 2 weeks of ice and snow sports, we're in the middle of a very hot summer, and anticipating 42C (108F) tomorrow!

I just need him to name the quilt, and you should be able to see it in full as a project (instructions written by me!) in Australian Patchwork & Quilting in May (I think it's the children's issue).

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Landscape progress

I had a very long and productive weekend, and the landscape quilt is now all pieced, with the appliques fused in place. Here it is with a selection of line drawings of some atypical Australian fauna while I positioned them for tracing prior to sandwiching:

The birds, amphibian, reptile and monotreme will be added in the quilting, so they'll be quite subtle. It's now sandwiched and ready to quilt, but currently James and I are finishing the quilting on his latest quilt, and the stretchy minkee backing on that is fussy on settings and slow going, and I don't want to muck around with things until that's done - hopefully in a day or two, since we're already late with it.