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.