Fabric Give-Away Winner Announced, Questions Answered, and New Give-Away

January 29th, 2011

Congratulations go out to Jan Hood, who is the winner of the most recent fabric give-away! Thanks to everyone who played and I hope Jan can make something neat out of those fabrics that have been languishing on my shelves!

This has been a weird past couple of weeks because of my wrist; it’s been frustrating to refrain from as much sewing/quilting as I would normally do. The last few days have been remarkably better, though, and I spent a big part of yesterday out of my splint. I’m shocked how much muscle mass I’ve already lost in my hand and I can definitely tell a loss of power. My goal for this week will be to see how much I can resume and build strength while avoiding a setback. Because I don’t have much new work to show, I’m going to answer a question with some photos so you’ll get some kind of “quilting buzz” from your visit here.  This photo raised the following question:

Debbie wrote:
How do you come up with your designs? Do you draw them out free hand or use a
library of different designs you have collected? Your stitching once again
leaves me wondering if I’ll ever be able to do something like this?!?!?! I know
practice, practice and more practice.

I’m stitching these designs out freehand, but it’s a lot easier than what you’d think.  Before I start showing you photos, I want you to know that I’m just like most of you.  I have no formal artistic training and I haven’t spent hours painting or drawing.  I learned how to draw by doodling with my sewing machine needle.  I found that for myself, the most wonderful things would emerge if I simply allowed myself the freedom to just play around with designs on fabric. This means going into it with less of a preconceived notion of what the outcome should be or will be.  Do I have a library of designs I’ve collected?  Yes!  I have a library in my head and a physical library of fat notebooks filled with quilt sandwiches covered with tons and tons of designs I’ve stitched out.  But really, the secret to innovative free motion quilting is that you just keep re-using and re-purposing the same designs in different settings.  The petal designs above are a great example; they’re swirls or curly-cues that flow from a slightly curvaceous “stem line.”  Can you see the similarity in the asymmetric feather below:

Here, you see those same swirls and all that’s changed is the structure from which they flow. Here’s another example:

In this case, the swirls flow from a circle which serves as the inner spine line of the feathered wreath. Same swirl designs, just a different substrate. And in this photo, a smaller version of swirls also flows from circular base, but in this case, it’s the wreath spine itself:

So, at least for me, the key is to keep finding novel ways to use design elements that are already familiar to me. The curly-cue or swirl is a great example, because there are 20 million ways to reconfigure it. If you can even get 15 minutes of free time to play on a quilt sandwich that doesn’t matter to you, go for it! You’ll be surprised how much more creative you can be when you have no expectation for yourself!

And now on to the next give-away spurred by my ongoing sewing room clean-out. I’ve got a set of quilt blocks purchased off ebay many years ago that are looking for a nice home:

If you would like to piece this quilt (the blocks are in good shape; I just didn’t take the time to iron them before I took this photo), leave a comment to this post by 11:59 pm (eastern time) Saturday, Feb 5, 2011. I’ll pay shipping!

Thread Give-Away Winner Announced and Sidelined, Kind of…

January 23rd, 2011

Drumroll, please…and the winner of the Poly Quilter Threads give way is Nanette Fleishman of Burnsville, NC! I actually know Nanette from the Fiber Arts Alliance group in Asheville, NC, so I know these threads are going to a great textile artist! Congratulations, Nanette!

Now, what’s been happening with me…not very good stuff. I tore a ligament in my wrist and have now developed a condition called Guyon’s canal syndrome, where the ulnar nerve is trapped as it passes through the wrist. I can’t move my wrist in many ways before it gets very painful, so I’ve been partially sidelined by this. Ernie was nice enough to cut fabric up for me this week and I didn’t quilt all week, until this weekend when I felt that I had to give it a go. I’ve been in a wrist splint 24 hours a day for many days and that does a very good job of not allowing me to move my wrist in the ways that provoke the worst pain. So, I figured it would be pretty safe to try a small project, so I returned to that trapuntoed flower block as it wouldn’t involve having to move a big quilt around with my left arm and wrist:

You can tell which petal I stitched first…it’s the blue one at about 11:00 and the swirl is completely straight because I was feeling really nervous and hesitant with my movements. It’s kind of awkward to do this with a large splint on your hand and arm. But the “funness” of it outweighed the awkwardness of it and soon I became more confident. Here’s a shot on the machine bed that shows some petals quilted and some still empty. I think it shoes how much a little thread work can add:

Normally, when I know I’m going to do the EKG edge finishing design, I do that part before I do any “internal” stitching. This petal is so large that I thought the design in the petal would be more “commanding” than the edge finsihing design, so I stitched the swirls with the goal of adding the EKG work later. Here’s the flower with all the petal swirls done but before the edge finishing:

The swirl motifs are so large and the gold on purple stitching is so high contrast that I figured my edge stitching needed to be fairly unobtrusive. I ended up using a reddish purple rayon thread and stitching the design in a fairly diminutive scale:

…and here’s what the backside of the block looks like once all the excess batting has been cut away. This block won’t have anymore stitching done on it until the entire quilt has been pieced and placed into the final quilt sandwich:

New Video Tutorial, New Table Runner Finished and Another Give-Away!

January 18th, 2011

This table runner was created pretty quickly by cutting all the applique shapes on my Sizzix machine. I used this project to illustrate how to cut applique shapes on our newest free video tutorial. You can find that tutorial here, on the homepage of our web site, and down the road, you’ll also be able to find it on the “free video tutorial page” by accessing the education tab on the homepage of the web site. If you’ve ever wondered about how a fabric cutting machine might help you in your quilting endeavors, this tutorial will show you the ropes of how it’s helped me with applique. I never would have guessed it, but I have had more fun in the last few months appliqueing my brains out, and it’s all because of this little machine!

What I really like about this table runner/door banner is the intricacy of those applique shapes:

That flourish is from this Sizzix die:

…and the center flower is from this Sizzix die:

You can play around with these dies some to arrive at the flower-look you want. You can see that I didn’t use as many petals in that bottom petal layer, and I also cut those same petals in green to create leaves:

…and you can see that a little thread work adds a nice pop of “zing” to the flower:

Notice that you can’t see any thread work on the flourish itself. That’s because when I have an applique structure THAT delicate and narrow, thread work will really only “junk it up,” you know what I mean? In that situation, all I want to do is enough stitching to secure the applique, so I quilted just inside the perimeter of the flourishes with green Invisifil thread. See how well that blends in? I guess that’s why they call it Invisifil! And one more thing…look at how changing your fabric colors can totally change that flower’s look. I did the same table runner in reds/burgundys and it’s definitely got a nice Christmas feel to it:

If you’re getting into doing applique with your Sizzix machine, we got some new dies in this week, and you can find them here.

And thanks for all the emails commiserating about needing to clean out the sewing room and sewing “stuff” that is taking over the house…I guess I’m not the only one with this problem! I made a lot of headway and I’m guessing that about 70 lbs of fabric left this house on Saturday, not to mention a lot of art supplies. I saved a few things to give away on the blog and here’s tonight’s give away offering:

This is a border print with 2 companion fabrics. I didn’t measure it but I’m guessing there are 4 to 4 1/2 yards of fabric here, so a retail value of about $40. I’m going to ask that whoever wins this pays shipping, so if you’d like the fabric for free and will pay shipping, post a comment to this email and you’re enetred in the drawing. If no one wants it because no one wants to pay shipping, then I’ll give it away locally. Comments on this give away are open until Wed 1/26/11 at 11:59 pm. Good luck!

The Mega Clean-Out Begins…and a Give-Away!

January 14th, 2011

I was going to begin this post with a “before” picture, but I just can’t. It’s just too embarrassing… WAY too embarrassing! The truth is that, over the last few years, I have been traveling so much that my sewing room, then the entire second floor of our Ohio home, has been over-run by sewing and quilting STUFF. I have a habit of emptying my suitcases of all my quilting stuff, then turning around and re-packing for the next gig, and repeating it over an over and lots of stuff has just not been put away as it needs to be. It’s so over-run now that I can’t work efficiently at all in my sewing room as it currently exists. It’s a small room to begin with and it also functions as an office, but there is now so much stuff cluttering up that room that it takes forever just to clear a tiny spot on my cutting table to work.

So, I have been plugging away this week and my goal is to get as much stuff as possible OUT OF MY HOUSE! I am giving 99.9% of it away locally, but I’m going to give away some stuff on my blog, just because it’s always fun to have a give-away! All you have to do to enter is to post a comment under the post that has something you’d like. Unless I state otherwise, I will even pay the shipping to get the item(s) to you! Keep checking this blog over the next several weeks because there’s an awful lot of stuff that I need to move!

First up is a small offering, but a nice one, nonetheless! Up for some lucky quilter are 4 never-opened spools of “Poly Quilter” variegated quilting thread by Superior Threads:

Each spool is 500 yards of a 19 wt spun poly thread with a cotton finish. Is there anything wrong with this thread? Nope! It’s just that I’ve got tons of variegated thread and I haven’t used this in all the years it’s been here so I want to make room for all the threads that I use all the time! If you’d like this thread, please make a post below and your name will be entered into the drawing. Comments are open until 11:59 PM eastern time on Saturday, 1/22/11. Good luck!

Q & A

January 12th, 2011

Hettie wrote:

I notice you did not stitch anything around the edges of your first row of petals where you stitched the gold swervy lines. Would these be secure enough to withstand washing in a machine?

Good question, Hettie!  Remember that here, I am working only on a quilt block.  At this stage, I am adding decorative stitching only to jazz up this piece and also to anchor the piece of scrap batting behind it.  You are correct that I need to stitch around the outer perimeter of those inner petals to secure them fully, but I will wait until this block has been pieced into the full top and placed into the final quilt sandwich to do that stage of stitching.  When I get to that stage, I’ll stitch around each individual piece of applique  using invisible thread in my top needle.  This will allow me to showcase the wonderful textural effects of the trapunto, as each applique piece will pop out a bit.  Here is a photo of a smaller flower that has been trapuntoed:

For this flower, I used a heavy solid black cotton thread to outline each individual piece.  It makes each piece protrude out just a bit, but by using black thread, it also adds that cool, thin black line around everything.  Another good example of how thread can really alter a piece!

Connie also wrote in a question about this large flower:

Beautiful background for your fantastic flower! I can’t remember if you mentioned this before but do you do free-motion when you do the zigzaggy edges or is that a special stitch on your machine? Always love seeing what you are working on!

The finishing stitch on the yellow petals are what she is asking about:

I call that edge finishing stitch the “EKG edge finishing design” since it looks like an EKG rhythm strip.  It’s not a programmed stitch on my machine; it’s created by placing the machine in straight stitch, free motion mode and then gently rocking the quilt back and forth to create those “V” shapes.  If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of creating it, you can see it in action on one of our free video tutorials on the home page of the web site by going here and then scrolling down to the video called “Free Motion Quilting-Intermediate I.”  If you don’t already know it, there are several free video tutorials on the home page and you can access them by clicking on the education tab, then on “free video tutorials!”

Now Betsey wrote in about another quilt, one that I’ve just finished and I’m calling this one “Love Songs:”

Didn’t this turn out just great? I’m really loving how this simple applique quilt came out! Here’s Betsey’s question:

Thought process,  please,  if it is not giving away trade secrets. I know that the
background fill had to be done in order to get the quilted/ embroidered feathers to
pop out. But how did you decide to do that particular type of background fill- kind
of a scrolly McTavishing vs loops or plumes or just plain meandering. I would be so
afraid of getting 1/4 of what you’ve done and decide that the two were incompatible
and that I’ve just ruined my whole wall hanging. Or does it really matter what type
of background fill one does, as the object is TO FLATTEN the background using any
type of fill? Or is it that you’ve done so much of this and have learned from past
experiences (good or bad) what type of fill would enhance what type
quilting/embroidery? I’ve noticed on some of your work and on others like Ricky T.
that there can be several types of background fill patterns and it all blends and
looks great. Again,  what is the thought process to change and how do you integrate
one pattern to the other? It can’t be as simple as I’m board with doing one type of fill
lets try something else? Thanks for sharing!!!


Talk about a loaded question!  There are actually many points within this question that deserve discussion, but for tonight, I’m going to focus on the issue of how does one choose a background fill design that will add, rather than detract, to the surface design (in this case,  the applique scene) of a quilt.  Let me again have you focus on just the applique scene of the entire quilt:

This applique scene itself is actually very simple and basic, so I needed quilting designs that would make it look more interesting than it really was.  First, what is the most striking feature of the applique?  It’s definitely those tail feathers on the 2 birds, so my first goal was to devise a way to “showcase” those tail feathers and to make the viewer’s eye linger on that part of the quilt longer.  Coming to that decision was easy…all I needed to do was to quilt more feathers, and to deliberately stitch them in an orientation that made them seem like they were part of the appliqued tail feathers. In this way, we have added complexity and interest to the scene already. Here’s a shot of the feather area:

The next step was to come up with a background fill design. Know that many, many background fill designs would work here. Because I was trying to get my biggest bang for my buck on those voluptuous feathers (both appliqued and quilted), I knew I wanted a fill design that was very curvaceous. More curvaceousness meant adding a wonderful flowing sense to this quilt. Look again at the background in the photo above-do you see how your eye is just drawn to those swirls? Your eye wants to follow them, to make sense of them, so you are left with this wonderful sense of flowing movement. That background fill design is my version of McTavishing, except that I have placed a very heavy emphasis on the swirl portion of the design as this gives even more movement than my everyday McTavishing. Did I worry that this design would not work? No, I was certain it would work before I began stitching. (And by the way, this is such a dense background fill design that I wouldn’t have risked it if I hadn’t been sure ahead of time, as it would have been AWFUL to pull out!) How did I know that ahead of time? Because of all the reasons I laid out above, and I have learned these tricks simply by playing around with as many background fill designs as I can. For me, deliberately trying many, many quilting designs on different quilts has really opened up my creativity. If you haven’t messed around in this way, you are missing out on a lot of fun, and your quilts will probably become more interesting if you take the time to experiment!

Now one more thing before I end this post…Here is a close up shot of the background quilting:

Do you see how this almost looks like the frosting on a cake? This part was easy! Instead of using a plain cotton fabric for the background, I used cotton sateen. Sateen has just a hint of a luster to it, so when you quilt it, it throws of incredible shadows. Because of that shadowing, your quilting adds an extra level of richness, kind of like going from a regular Oreo Cookie to a “Double Stuff Oreo Cookie,” and who doesn’t like that?!