More Messing Around with Ruler Work

December 6th, 2014




I have a new class to introduce people to trapunto in a super easy/quick way and I need to make some new samples for it because one of the samples that I loaned out never made it back to me.  This class starts by me giving the students a quilt block that already has an intricate feathered wreath quilted in the center with 1 layer of batting under the wreath zone.  These take a really long time to stitch out by hand, (I know this only because I’ve quilted about 30 of them by now), but it’s easy for me to do this now because I can take care of this preliminary stage on the embroidery machine.  Here’s a shot of what this block looked like when I first started (and an example of what a student’s block will look like as the class begins):



Notice that there are chalk lines that divide the block into eight equal portions.  I added that because for the quilting design I’ll be making here, I need those reference points.  (The point of the class is to learn how to do trapunto, so once the trapunto is completed, a person can quilt the surrounding area in anyway he/she sees fit.)  Here is the backside of the block at the beginning of the class.  What’s pertinent to note is that there is a layer of batting underneath that wreath:



(Don’t worry about those white smears…those are remnants from a glue stick.)  Next up, the block is placed into a quilt sandwich.  Beginning at the center portion of the wreath, the inner plumes are outlined with invisible thread and then the outer plumes are outlined.  This causes the wreath to begin to protrude:



I’m going to show you a shot of the backside so you’ll really be able to see what was outlined clearly, but before I do, note that there are lines of invisible thread that run across the plumes.  Those are my “jump stitches” and they will be trimmed away later.  Also note that I’ve drawn a circle on the fabric around the wreath.  I’m going to use that circle to help me with the ruler work that I’ll be doing next.  Here’s what the backside looked like after the round of stitching with invisible thread:



See?  It really doesn’t take much to make that trapunto layer start to pop!  Normally, I’d swap to a high contrast decorative thread at this stage and do 2-3 lines of echo quilting around that wreath to add a halo of color and also to heighten the trapunto effcet.  Instead, I’m going to do something different just to do something different.  I swapped to gold rayon thread and using the circle and my previously drawn 8 chalk lines, I stitched the inner side of my crescent shapes:



(Sorry for the blurry photo, but it’s the only 1 I’ve got for this stage.)  Those crescents were created by holding an acrylic long arm circle template so that the needle would hit each intersection of the circle and the 8 chalk lines.  I then swapped to my 6 1/2 inch long curved ruler and stitched another row of crescents.  because the 2nd cresecent row had a different curve than the circle ruler, I ended up with a pair of crescents that ran along my marked circle.  I filled in the “blank space” between the crescents with a single row of pearls, and then stitched an “inchworm” design between the crescents and the original feathered wreath.  This is how the block looked at this point:



…and here’s a little more of a close up shot so you can see the detail better:



(Note that I’ve also stitched inside the center of the wreath.  The reason I did that was to heighten the trapunto effect.)  One last shot before we move to the next step;  here’s what the backside of the block looked like at this point:



So now what’s left is the area outside the crescents.  Since I already had all my chalk lines that divided up the space into 8 quadrants, I went ahead and used them for this last part.  My diagonal lines are the longest/largest “blank areas” to fill, so I used a portion of a stencil for those and just made sure I aligned the design’s axis along the diagonals.  For the larger stencil design, I borrowed  the longest outer section of the design from our stencil called PT35 and here’s what it looks like:




…and you can find it here.  I couldn’t use those same large designs for the remaining 4 chalk lines, so I borrowed the tiny “outside”design from our stencil called PT30 which looks like this:



…and you can find this stencil here.   Here is the finished shot after all 8 diagonal lines have been filled with designs and those designs have been hyperquilted:




And here’s a tangential shot that gives a better sense of the trapunto effect in the wreath:



I’m off to try another one with a different set of rulers.  This is somewhat addictive!

Around the World Blog Hop

December 4th, 2014


Welcome to my stop on the Around the World Blog Hop tour!  I am sandwiched in between two very “hot tamales” in the quilting world, Laura Wasilowski and Leah Day.  I was invited to participate by Laura Wasilowski and you can read her blog tour posting by clicking here.  Laura is a textile artist who creates lovely fusible applique wall hangings using her hand dyed fabrics and threads.  Here’s a example of one of her wall hangings:




If you haven’t seen her work, prepare to be seduced by luscious color and intricate hand thread work that adds interesting details to the piece!  She does a lot of her applique by freehand cutting and if you think you might like to learn how to do it yourself, you are in luck because Laura is also a Craftsy instructor and you can find her class by clicking here.  I’ll tell you about your next stop, Leah Day’s blog, at the end of my post.

I was given some guidelines to follow, so I’ll answer those questions and a little more, and I’ll throw in a lot of pictures along the way!

How does your writing/creating process work?

The way I work  is kind of odd because I’m very much a type A personality who is very organized, but I am not like that at all with my creative work.  I don’t work things out ahead of time, I always just make up a quilt as I go.  At the risk of sounding corny, I usually begin a quilt with a “feeling” or a sense of the ambiance I’m trying to create with the piece.  So, I might go into it thinking something like “I want to make a  quilt that’s mainly blues/greens and it will have floral shapes and have a flowing/whimsical kind of feel to it.”  An example of that would be a quilt like this one:




To make a quilt like this one, I just lay out my background fabric so it is flat, and I just start cutting flower shapes and stem and leaf shapes and then lay them out on the background fabric.  I move pieces around many times (sometimes over several days) until I feel good about the layout. Once I feel like the layout is “right,” I fuse everything in place.

Once I go to the stitching part of the project, I try to create more interest by adding in techniques like trapunto and free motion embroidery.  You can see that the pansies are trapuntoed (i.e. have an extra layer of batting behind them to make them poof out and take on more texture) in these closeup shots:







You can see the effect that free motion machine embroidery has on this closeup shot of the stem and leaves.  The reason those applique shapes are more prominent is because all that decorative thread work is done when the piece is merely a quilt top, and then once it’s in the final quilt sandwich, you just zip around the perimeter with invisible thread:





My process is a bit different when I am creating machine embroidery applique quilts.  These are quilts where the blocks are appliqued/embroidered on an embroidery machine and then pieced and quilted.  Here’s an example of that kind of quilt:




The individual blocks in this quilt required a lot of pre-thought, but the borders were done totally winging it.  In fact, I designed/embroidered multiple other borders for this quilt that I ended up not using because once I laid them out next to the quilt in progress, they just didn’t look right tome.  Here’s what the original inner thistle border quilt looked like:



Nice border but the curviness of the design just didn’t fit with the angular nature of the center blocks.  The nice part of working this way is I come up with lots of designs that are ready to go for another quilt down the road!


The reason I’ve gone down this path of creating quilts using  machine embroidered applique is that they are rich in thread work detail that I cannot possibly achieve on my own without an embroidery machine.  Here are some  closeups so you can get a better idea of it:







See what I mean?  All that texture that makes you just want to reach out and touch the thread work to see if what you’re seeing is “real.”  I love that effect!

Why do you write/create what you do?

I don’t really have a good reason for doing any of this except to say it keeps me sane and fulfills the creative part of me.  There is something about touching fabrics, cutting them, manipulating them, and putting them together that is immensely gratifying.  If I have a day when I don’t do any kind of quilting/sewing/embroidering, I feel “off” and on edge.  This kind of work soothes my soul and makes me feel whole; it’s a part of me that can’t be put aside and must be expressed.  I really don’t have an answer as to why I am writing about it except to say that for me, the process of creating is very personal and something I must do alone.  Having a blog and writing about it connects me to other people who are interested in the same kinds of things and I guess it makes the process less solitary.  The best part of blogging about it is when someone makes a comment on a  post.  Really, that makes my day because I go through periods of time when I wonder whether I should keep posting because I wonder if anyone out there is even reading this stuff!  I teach free motion quilting, techniques like trapunto and free motion machine embroidery, and machine embroidery applique because there is nothing, literally NOTHING, more rewarding than seeing that light bulb go off in a student’s head that says “I get it!”  Sometimes, when I leave a class, someone will come up to me and say “you’ve changed my life today,” and I can live off that excitement for weeks!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I think we’re all influenced by what we see and what makes our work unique is what we pick and choose and put together in a  different way.  For example, I love rich, saturated colors like these:








…and I try to do something with these as a background that’s “all my own,” mainly by adding interesting stitching or techniques like trapunto, free motion machine embroidery, hyperquilting or machine embroidery applique.  I want my stuff to look like “my stuff!”

What are you working on now?

A better question might be “what aren’t you working on right now?!”  I say that in jest because I always have many different projects that are being worked on simultaneously.  I guess this is how I keep my head “fresh” and full of new ideas.  I get to a point with one project and then turn away from it to focus on something else, but I’ve got that earlier project in the back of my mind and I’m mulling things over.  These are just a few of the things I’m working on now:

1.  Playing around with ruler work as a sit-down quilter.

The only way to learn physical skills like this is to keep doing it, so I’m trying to practice these skills regularly.  Here’s the front of a tote bag that’s partially quilted and once done, the quilting will be interesting by virtue of having a trapunto layer, having some ruler work, and having some stencil work as well.  The outermost crescents were created using  a circle template and a curved ruler.  Can you tell that the center wreath looks 3-D?  That’s because of that trapunto layer:



2.  This is a table runner I just finished embroidering and piecing.  I should be able to quilt it pretty soon and that center panel will have some straight ruler work in it:



3.  I’m taking my time quilting this version of The Harmonic Song Birds Quilt.  This one was pieced by my friend and much-appreciated helper, Linda Hill.  I’m still outlining applique shapes with invisible thread but I’m formulating how I’m going to handle the background quilting because this is the 2nd one of these quilts I’ve quilted and I want to do something different this time:




4.  This is a Christmas quilt I’ve been plugging away at for awhile and it’s also a machine embroidery applique quilt:




5.  I have a number of machine embroidery applique block designs I’m developing and trying to come up with how to put them together to make quilts.  here’s one example of some blocks sitting on my design wall:




6.  …and here’s another that will be the center section of a larger quilt:




…and these are just a portion of what I’m working on currently.  I know that working like this, with my attention directed toward so many projects, would drive many people nuts.  Not sure why, but working in this way keeps me “charged up!”


What would people be surprised to know about you?

There is probably a lot of stuff that would fit into this category!  First up is that I’m a practicing physician.  I think that surprises most people because when you meet me, I have a pretty light-hearted/humerous side and that doesn’t seem to fit with the physician part of things.  I guess the next thing that might be a surprise is that my area of practice is hospice and palliative care medicine.  Most people think that would be a real downer, but it’s not.  Don’t get me wrong, of course it is sad to see people lose their loved ones, but I also get to see something else everyday that is wonderful.  It’s really, really hard physically, emotionally, and spiritually to care for love ones as they are declining.  In spite of that, I get to see families and loved ones who get up every day simply to do it all over again, day in and day out.  I get to see the very best side of people and the goodness that lies within each of us.  It sounds corny, but it has restored my faith in humanity and made me feel very hopeful about the human race and the world.  The work also puts me in a position where I get to connect with people in a  very raw and human way that simply is not possible in “regular medicine.”  We live in a very cynical world and to be able to do this kind of work has been transformative for me.




Jeez, this post sure got serious all of a sudden!  I need to end this section on a more upbeat note, so I’ll reveal one more surprising thing about myself.  When I’m working in my sewing room, I always have my TV on and I love to watch shows that most would consider total trash!  My favs would be soap operas (General Hospital and the Young and the Restless), anything from the “Real Housewives of…” franchise, and almost anything on Bravo TV!  Mary Stori told me for years that I needed to start watching the Real Housewives of Orange County and she was so right!  (Thank you, Mary!)

What’s next on the Around the World Blog Hop?

You are in for such a treat!  The next stop is free motion quilter extraordinaire, Leah Day!  Leah is the mastermind behind the Free Motion Quilting Project and she has done an incredible job of creating a huge online quilting community that she “feeds” very regularly with worthwhile lessons about quilting. Her initial thrust was developing countless free motion quilting designs but she is now giving free lessons about all kinds of topics relating to quilt-making. She’s made about a million video tutorials available to all of us FOR FREE and her blog is a must-read for anyone interested in quilting. She’ll be posting her Blog Hop post next week but you can get a jump on seeing what she’s doing today by reading her blog here.  You can also take one of her wonderful Craftsy classes by clicking here, here, or here!


If this stop is your first to my blog, I hope you’ll become a regular reader! If anything I write about interests you and you’d like me to come teach for your guild or your local quilt shop, drop me a line at If you’re looking for instruction to learn on your own at home, be sure to check out my Craftsy class by clicking here, or check out my 2 books by clicking here, or check out our 9 instructional DVDs on free motion quilting here!