Thursday, 31 May 2012

Comfort zone

As much as I enjoyed the freedom of the piecing I did at the Textured Treasures workshop, I'm back in my comfort zone doing foundation piecing this evening. This is a section of an original block which I'm calling 'brilliant' and will be part of my next quilt for Australian Patchwork & Quilting.

I'm also back in my comfort-zone time-wise. It's 3am, and I'm only going to bed because I have to get James to school and me to work in the morning. No silly 9.30pm sewing curfews here!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Textured Treasures Day 2

Today was our second day of the workshop. It started with the  sounds of wattlebirds and magpies warbling. This juvenile was more than a little interested in Kathryn who got up early to pain over a commercial print she'd forgotten about yesterday - with a few small exceptions, today was 'clean' work - beading, cutting and piecing.

I was actually able to cut into my fabrics without too much hesitation. My sewing/design area early on:

My troubles came in determining a good layout.

Even with the extra darker fabric, I still didn't have enough contrast. It meant  I had to dig further into the fabrics I'd brought with me, and the resulting mix isn't quite what I'd intended, based on my inspiration photos. Below is my final planned layout, but as you sew, you find you need a bit more here and to trim some there, and it evolves.

While I like it, it's a bit rainbowy and lacks sophistication, and it's taking me a while to come to terms with that. Most of the added fabrics are Vicki Welsh's hand-dyed gradients. Lisa was adamant that I shouldn't include any of my commercial snowflake prints, but I have snuck one piece in to my satisfaction.

This is as far as I got before it was time to pack up; most of it is in one piece, but there's more to add at the edges, especially at the bottom:

Below are a few of us with our progress at the end of the day (Maria, Suzanne, Lisa, Angela and me):

Although I have some other projects to work on now I'm home, I can't wait to finish this. I'm planning to quilt it to death (I ahve some heavy fancy threads to try some bobbin work, too) and add a few crystals, and hope I fall in love with it at that stage.

Either way, I've plans to paint and embellish more of my own fabric. I had a great time, and am so pleased I went. If you ever get to chance to do a class wth Lisa Walton, I recommend you do it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Textured Treasures day 1

Today we spent doing the wet/dirty part of the course fabric painting, and stencilling, stamping, making rubbings, overpainting, foiling... I ended up dyeing four fat quarters; I did three early one, then realised towards the end of the day that they were all too similar, and I painted a auhc darker one for some contrast.

Above is my first effort drying on the driveway (between showers - we had to dash out a few times to collect everything!) - below is the same piece after stencilling, stambing and rubbing; I still have to add some foils:

The driveway:

Second piece after painting:

Second piece with the addition of stencilling; the luminescent paints add a wonderful shimmer in the late afternoon sunlight, but didn't show up well on camera.

Me stencilling:

This one's very washed out in the sun, but it shows the foil glue - which is still drying:

This piece was stamped and rubbed first, then overpainted. The snowflakes at the top (including a couple over a rubbing) are from a stamp I made today; the snowflake was hand-drawn. If you look closely, there are some at the bottom as well; these were rubbed using metallic crayons prior to painting, using both my stamp and a rubbing plate.

My last piece; much darker than the rest, but with no extra embellishment:

Tomorrow we'll start with beading, then move on to cutting up our fabric and sewing.

Learning and inspiration

Just a quick post this morning. I'm staying at a quilt workshop at Victor Harbor (about an hour south of Adelaide). It's my birthday present from Simon, and happens to mean a child-free weekend! I'm doing Lisa Walton's Textured Treasures; I'll be sure to share some progress photos later.

These are my inspiration images (photos taken at dusk at Falls Creek last year)

And I brought this book with me, too: (The Art of the Snowflake, by Kenneth Libbrecht)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Wind, Earth, Fire & Water

As well as participating in the Bloggers' Quilt Festival (previous post, see here), this weekend I've entered one of my beach scene quilts in the weekly Quilting Gallery theme.

I won't ask you to vote for mine, because I could never vote for something that wasn't genuinely my favourite, and I won't presume this will be yours - but I do recommend you have a look, as there is a lovely selection. Voting is open over the weekend - and if you do happen to vote for White Sands, that's just a bonus, because I admit I'd love to win this week's prize - hand dyed fabrics from the gradients queen, Vicki Welsh!

Stars of the Sea - Bloggers' Quilt Festival

Welcome to my corner of the Spring 2012 Bloggers' Quilt Festival, and thank you for coming to visit!
(double-click this or any other image for a closer look)

I've decided to share Stars of the Sea. This is one of my largest quilts (it's plenty large enough to hang down the sides of our king size bed), and one of my favourites.

I'd played with the design for a long time before I got around to making it, when it was commissioned for Australian Patchwork & Quilting, moving it rapidly my my priority list.

It was originally designed to be much smaller, but as I was sandwiching it, I came to the conclusion that it was a 'useless' size (too big for most walls, not right for a lap quilt, and the wrong size/shape for any bed) so I unpinned the sandwich and added several borders. It's now so large that I don't have any practical location for photographing it flat! I actually took it to my parents' house today and finally photographed it properly, although due to a comedy of errors, I didn't get to press it first.

As much as I love the stars, the borders became probably my favourite part, due to the quilting. Using a bowl and a Hera marker, I marked the scrolling feather spine and scallops, then quilted them all freehand. The centre quilting is less interesting; loops on the background, but interspersed with snowflakes (despite the name, I see this more as a snowy quilt than anything else).

The quilting is all done on a domestic sewing machine (the Pfaff QE 4.0 I had before upgrading to my current machine recently). The stars are quilted in silver, each with a different radiating pattern of swirly shapes.

I especially like the effect of using a cream in the stars on the white background. Both the cream and the white are snowflake prints.

The stars were foundation-pieced - the best way for an impatient piecer to get sharp points and accuracy!

This quilt is set aside to go on our bed one day - but with two inside dogs, I'll leave the other one on our bed for now!

Now, follow this link to the rest of the amazing quits and stories in the Bloggers' Quilt Festival, and consider entering one of your own quilts if you haven't already.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

From Belair to Yosemite

This wallhanging was commissioned through Etsy to be hung in a holiday house in Yosemite National Park, where there are indeed bears

The name comes about because we live right near Belair National Park, where we have koalas. It's not quite A-Z, but not far off!

I worked to size specifications to fit an exact spot in the house, and added a second bear on request. It's around 16 x 33in.

The eyes, hand stitched in black thread, don't show up so well on the darker brown fabric, and are almost impossible to see in the photos. Of course, it doesn't help that the few photos I took of the bears themselves are focused just to the side of the bears!

I added a hanging sleeve to this one, and hopefully it will soon be displayed in its new home.

Bernina 820 - after 2 months

I thought it was about time for a bit of a summary of the new machine after a few months. In three months, I've managed well over million stitches. Have I mentioned that I love the stitch counter? It automatically counts each up-and-down of the needle, and (will) remind me after 3m that I'm due for a service. I love it from a purely useless perspective; I've always counted and kept track of things just out of interest. I also love that there's an in-built clock (I'd love it even more if it had a timer function).

A lot of this will probably seem like complaints - it's just that the things which aren't right are those which stand out most - I want to say upfront that it's a great machine, and I am really pleased I bought it!

I've written this over the course of a few days, to make it as comprehensive as possible. It'll be long, and probably not of huge interest to anyone who doesn't have a similar machine, or plans to buy a Bernina, but it's here for documentation purposes.

For piecing, it sews beautifully - smooth and even, and easy to maintain an even seam allowance. I would prefer the be able to set the 1/4in foot (37D) (and the needle) to the right to allow better contact with the feed dogs, to improve sewing over seams, but the dual-feed (which used to be a Pfaff specialty) mostly takes care of that - as long as you have a D foot on.

I wish more of the feet had a thread slot - they sew well, but it's frustrating to have to thread the top thread through the gap in the foot so often. I also found the basic full-width foot that came with it; 1D (irritatingly, 1C has a thread slot, but 1D doesn't, and I'm not foregoing the dual feed) has zero visibility in front of the needle. Especially when I'm sewing bindings on, I want the wider foot (I use it as a seam allownce guide) but need to be able to see my marked mitre line for perfect corners. I bought both the 34D (clear foot) and 20D (open front foot), and prefer the clear foot.

As well as the in-built dual feed (the little 'foot' that can be lowered from behind the needle) my 820 came with a walking foot, though I'm not sure if this is standard, or a bonus through my dealer. This is a separate foot, and come with 3 choices of sole plates. I've only used it with the quilt-in-the-ditch one, for quilting. It works well, although I'm not sure whether it's really any better than the dual-feed - I only use that because the 'normal' quilt-in-the-ditch foot that came with the machine is not a dual-feed foot, and I don't want to quilt without one or the other. I'm actually curious as to why the machine comes with ANY C (non-dual-feed-compatible) feet, when there's an equivalent D foot available.

Another little quibble is the needle positioning - I wish it had more options. My Pfaff had something like 30 positions, and I could get the perfect spot for my bindings. Unless I'm mistaken and there's a way to further refine it, the 820 only has 11 - and none are quite right for my binding. I'm still working out how to address this.

I find the needle threader only seems to actually thread the needle about half the time, regardless of the thread type and thickness.

Moving onto free motion quilting - the whole reason for buying the 820. It quilts well. I find it easy to adjust accurately the bobbin tension and the stitch balance, but I also find these are temperamental. Not only do they needs fiddling for every thread combination, but sometimes different settings are required for the same combinations. I suspect these will be particular to individual machines, and I'm trying to chart what works for mine, with my usual batting, and the different threads I like to use. I also find the foot hover height adjustment terrific.

I still love the shaped, removable arm extension. The button positioning I mentioned being a problem at first is becoming less of a problem as I get used to which is which. I do wish there was a 'permanent' reverse there too, though. I find the needle threader is inconsistent, but have discovered that the machine threading function works more consistently if I pause after putting the thread through the first part while the machine whirrs for a while and apparently 'prepares' itself to receive the thread.

I'm getting used to the fact that while my Pfaff coped best with BottomLine, this one generally prefers heavier threads. This is neither good nor bad in comparison - I want to be able to use both! I had a lot of trouble with BottomLine (a 60wt poly, which was designed for bobbins, but is excellent for dense quilting, and for avoiding unsightly thread build-up where there's extensive travelling, as well as background fill - I use it a LOT!) a few weeks ago; it kept skipping stitches going backwards (always a small risk, but this was unacceptable). I took in to my terrific dealer, and luckily the mahcine performed exactly the same for him. He agreed it needed a fix, and did it that afternoon. I'm not exactly sure what he did, but it was a definite improvement, although I'm seeing a few skips again. I think partly the 820 sucks up a lot of oil - although I have been working it pretty hard recently - but it also responds amazingly well to a drop of oil in the bobbin channel!

I also find I'm getting a few thread nests on the back, and haven't solved this entirely satisfactorily. They're only wren nests (small, sometimes tiny), not the pterodactyl nests one friend mentioned, but enough to annoy me. I have found that regular oil and the right thread tension/balance helps - but again, those last two seem to fluctuate a bit. I also think that it's worse when the bobbin is low - showing <8% - but I'm still testing this theory.

However, being able to quilt with 40wt threads, such as Superior's Rainbows and King Tut, again is a dream. I'd barely been able to use that part of my thread stash with the Pfaff; it just wasn't worth the fight.

I'd like to be able to try an extra thread stand off to the right of my machine, but that'd mean digging a hole through the wall to accommodate it!

The bobbin-winder is easy to use and has some handy features, but having been used to Pfaffs, where you can fill the bobbin through the needle if you wish, I have perhaps high expectations. Filling the bobbin without unthreading the main thread is only possible if a) you're using a different thread for the bobbin, or b) you have more than one spool of the same thread.

I used to break several needles quilting every quilt, but haven't broken a single one on the 820 yet - which is how it should be! Needles add up pretty quickly, so I'm glad to be saving that extra expense -and annoyance!

I tried out the BSR, but am now certain it's not for me. I feel more comfortable and get better results controlling the speed for myself. But please don't read this as criticism of the BSR - if it's a feature you specifically want, then I think it'll be great! I also find the BSR unit gets int the way of visibility when moving towards it, while the open-toe free motion foot (24) offers an almost totally unimpeded view, and is definitely my favourite. However, the needle doesn't go down exactly in the centre of the part-circle, and it's taking me a while to learn to reliably predict just where the needle will drop - often I want it exactly on an existing line of stitching, and fractions of millimetres count!

What else? The bigger bobbins are great, as is the bobbin level indicator. But personally, I'd rather the warnings start at 10% and go down to 2%, than start at 20% and then sit at 'under 8%' with no further detail. 8% is still a lot of thread on these, especially if it's 60wt!

I can say without doubt that a good dealer makes a big difference. A couple of times I've rung them with questions, and they understand the 8 series so well, that they've been able to talk me through the solution on the spot. Nothing is too much trouble for them, and they obviously know the machines inside-out. It's definitely worth driving an extra 5-10km to the dealer on the other side of the CBD.

It has been a step learning curve, and I'm still learning. I figured that out with my last machine - I need to take the time to get used to it. I'm very happy with the 820, but not in love with it yet. Hopefully that will happen with time and familiarity.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Snuggles & Cuddles

This quilt was a commissioned piece for a baby who arrived a few days ago. I made one for her older sister a couple of years ago. (Hmm, my style and my quilting ability have evolved significantly since then!)

I've already seen a photo of the newborn snuggled in her quilt; I do love seeing the quilts I've made in use! One of my best friends sent me a photo of her two children under theirs the other day, too; it made my day!

Snuggles & Cuddles is named for May Gibbs' the gumnut babies featred in the four fabrics in the border (above and below); Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are the two best known, although they don't actually appear in these prints.

For this version of my tree quilt, I adapted the shape of the tree, as well as enlarging it a little, to make it a little more like a eucalypt.

I also changed the leaf shape to match eucalyptus leaves.

The gum blossoms were a bit of an experiment (I blogged about the process here)

As usual, the applique (apart from the blossoms) is done with machine buttonhole stitch. Then I quilt closely around each shape using matching or slightly darker thread; I add the central leaf vein at the same time. For these I used a variety of thicker (mostly 40wt) threads, including King Tut and some generic machine embroidery threads.

For a bit of variety, I quilted the background of the tree in a swirl design. I was really pleased with how well this worked; not only did I manage to keep it even and consistent, but it's not as dense as my usual tree fillers, which will work better for a bassinette quilt.

The border was quilted in a simple meander, as the idea was for it to be barely visible. Both the swirls and the meander use Superior's BottomLine threadtop and bottom.

Cute Owls

Last week I quilted another of Kayscha's quilts. This one is in vibrant, fresh colours, and features some owl prints by Australian designer Saffron Craig.

I'm having to work hard at the moment to come up with allover quilting designs that aren't open feathers. Yet another reason a longarm would be nice - pantographs! There are a lot I like, but am not up to quilting them totally freehand! Anyway, I think I'm at risk of totally overusing the open feather designs, so I spent ages dithering over a design for this. I ended up using this double-loop, which worked well - but I think I'd've preferred the open feathers!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Custom quilting from 2 years ago

I  realised after receiving an email a while back that I had never blogged the photos of this Hot Possum quilt I quilted for a customer about 2 years ago! So I spent a while digging through my files and editing these:

It's entirely quilted with BottomLine threads. I quilted in the ditch between each block and around each applique. Then I used a different filler around each animal, did a little quilting on some of the larger animals where it was needed, and filled the remaining odd shapes with a variety of patterns.

A version of filigree around the giraffes (above).

A vine around the Gorilla (above and detail below).

Lots of tiny leaves round the monkeys in the tree:

and grass quilted in the stripy print beneath the monkeys:

Wavy lines radiating from the zebra:

Loop-the-loop around the flamingoes:

A snakey line around the snake:

I did a swirly pattern around the elephant, stippled the large body, and quilted some wrinkles along the trunk:

From the back to show it better; a double-loop around the rhino, with a feather and a starflower in the plain blocks beneath:

Stars and loops in the plain blue above the giraffes:

Again from the back; swirly stamen-like lines radiating from the flower applique:

And some more of the patterns in the plain blocks:

This was the one of the first customer quilts I quilted, and I remember having so much trouble with the Pfaff and breaking threads and skipped stitches. It took way, way, way longer than it should have! I also undercharged badly for it, I realise now!