Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Little Whimsy quilt top, completed

Recipe for a kickin' baby quilt top: 

                                                        1 piece       Dutch Geese block
                                                        4 pieces      1.5" wide sashing
                                                        ~2 yards     Kona Pomegranate

Add sashing to quilt block, trim and press. 

Add in chunks of Kona Pomegranate, stitch four straight lines, trim and press. 


I had a lot of fun piecing this top together. I LOVE this Kona color. It's juicy. And it takes a block that wasn't super gender specific, maybe even sort of boy-ish, and makes it perfect for a little girl. I've got quite a quilting job ahead of me -- I'm challenging myself to the orange peel motif to fill the space.

Linking up to WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced with this super bright top.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pining for the canals

There they are - the colors that remind me most of Amsterdam. It's crazy to think that exactly two years ago today, Dave and I went on our grand adventure to live and work in The Netherlands. (How's that for timing a finish?! Accident, honest.) Both of us are really into European history and have always wanted to live there. An opportunity came up for the two of us to do research in Amsterdam, so we took it. Three months seemed long at the time and sort of 'oh my what in the world are we doing?', but in retrospect it was not long enough! We fell in love with the country and carry our memories with us so strongly that sometimes it feels like we just got back or that we could step outside our door and find ourselves on the way to local Albert Heijn or headed to the Jordaan for dinner at Balthazar's Keuken. We enjoyed it so much and it left such an impression on us. 

I dreamt this quilt up and purchased fabric for it almost a year ago, but it took me some time to settle on a design and get piecing. From first cut to snipping stray threads took about six months, and what a joy it was to work on this! This might be my favorite quilt yet -- and it has all sorts of meaning wrapped up in it, some intentional and some purely fortuitous. 


Orange is the color of the Dutch royal family and is an integral part of Dutch national pride. Koniginnedag (Queen's Day) was shortly after we arrived in the country and the city and it's people were awash with orange. Check out the team uniforms for the World Cup... bright orange. Unrelated, the floors in our apartment were phenomenally orange. With bright red furniture. Oh yes. So of course, this quilt had to include orange. 

FOM Institute AMOLF has bright green walls. Painfully green. The building is actually really great with lots of natural light and open atria. It is certainly one of my favorite spaces I've ever had the pleasure to work in. That green is memorable... quite literally the exact shade of the background of the cat fabric on this quilt. Also, it may have also been the time of year we were there, but everywhere we went the countryside was so green. I suppose being in the lowlands means there's plenty of water available to the plants, in contrast to much of the time in the Bay Area when the hills are the golden brown of dry vegetation. So, despite my misgivings about the quilt looking like a carrot, green had to be the other color. 

A lot of the prints have blue as an accent color -- the canals, of course! And the rain. Water water everywhere. I chose to quilt it in light blue (Gutermann Aqua Mist) to match to accentuate the blues in the fabrics.


Most of the fabrics I chose based on color, but a few of them actually have little details I think jive nicely with our experience. The gray, green, and blue print looks like splashing water -- rain anyone? The weather was actually quite nice when we were there, but a few times we had epic rain to walk through. The bird and wheel print is reminiscent of bicycles, of which there are plenty in Amsterdam. We bought bikes for our short time there because it was THE way to get around town. And the countryside, for that matter. The bicycle infrastructure there is a beautiful thing. 

The orange and white print looks like windmill blades to me. The little blue x's on the other light orange print remind me of the St. Andrew's crosses on the Amsterdam city seal, basically x's all in a row. 

And last but not least. the cat print. Our cat went to a friend's house to stay while we were away which was fun for him actually, but we missed having him underfoot! He's mostly white, so this print seemed appropriate. Plus, the aforementioned perfect match to AMOLF green. 

Quilting and layout:

As I mentioned in a previous post, the decorative asterisk stitching reminds me of raindrops splashing into puddles and also echoes the gray Kumari Garden fabric quite nicely. 

When I got to the second set of green blocks, I changed the stitching to rows of tulips. The cats are playing in flowers, but not a tulip to be found. This quilt needed tulips, for sure. There's no doubt about it given the fact that I was in tulip heaven. My first impression of the whole country was looking out the window as we approached Schiphol (the airport) and seeing the Bollenstreek -- field after field of brightly colored tulips, just like farmland but orange, pink, red, and purple instead of green and brown. It was a magical moment for a tulip lover like me. 

The layout of each of the sets of blocks includes a small block in the center of the four blocks to complete a sort of 'x' shape in each section reminiscent again of the St. Andrew's cross associated with Amsterdam. The orange hourglass blocks have a secondary design of windmills (pinwheels) in them, and the green blocks look pretty much like windmills to me. Or perhaps umbrellas?

The quilt finishes at 56" square and is backed with a piece of a duvet cover from Ikea that I think will serve nicely as a back to blend with whatever grass we pick up along the way. It is bound with a scrappy binding made from the prints used in piecing the top that you can just see dancing around the edge of the back in this photo. 

I've enjoyed (over)analyzing this quilt and finding all the little things to remind me of our Dutch adventure. I really enjoyed making it, too and I'm sure we will have plenty of opportunities to pack this up on the back of our bikes and head out for a picnic. It won't be the same as riding down the Amstel River, but we will just have to make do with our beautiful California instead. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Little whimsy

Isn't that just a cure for a cloudy day? If these colors don't brighten up a room, I'm not sure what will. I've known for a while now that my partner in crime in lab, Kelly the postdoc, is expecting her first child. I've been wanting to make a quilt using Kona pomegranate as the background ever since I bought that bunny print in Portland, and aren't I just so lucky that the baby is a girl! Sometimes I like colors because of the name. Pomegranate qualifies as one of these. Somehow if it was named something like 'bright pink' I'd be less inclined. Kona's got me figured. Kelly hails from Trinidad, so I think these bright tropical colors will make her and her little one pretty happy, too.

Back in February I made a block for the do.Good stitches bee that I dubbed Dutch Geese. When I finished it, I thought how great it would be on a baby quilt and decided then I was going to use that block on Kelly's quilt though I had no other thoughts concerning fabric or colors yet. Fast forward a couple months, a few finished projects later, and I gave myself permission to start something new. This quilt is a good one to work on while I have a couple others being quilted because it is pretty simple and I'll be done with the piecing and have the card table cleaned off for quilting before I know it. 

The design I have in mind is a single Dutch Geese block with couple rounds of solid around it set somewhere off center in a sea of Kona pomegranate. The binding will be one of these fun bright green prints, the back is going to be pieced using these fabrics minus the bunnies, which I have plans for in another project. I am going to take this opportunity of a quilt with a huge amount of negative space to try out an orange peel quilting pattern similar to this tutorial from Oh, Fransson!, but I have a thought about how to do it with half circles instead of quarter circles. We'll see!

But I get ahead of myself. Already thinking about quilting. First things first, the block. Again I made a set of flying geese blocks and pieced them together in columns, two of each print. I'm enjoying how the bunny in that blue print looks like he wants to sit on the chair below him. 

Then, my favorite part... using the trimmings from the geese to make pinwheels. Waste not want not. The seams are pressed to one side in the HSTs to make lining up the center points easy. This strip of pinwheels dictates the width of my block.

I added in flying geese units of one more print I pulled from my scrap jar of blues and a rectangle of the white-on-white background print to the columns of geese before assembling the block. As it turns out, the rectangle was the same size as my geese units, so one could also just add one more unit instead. I like the empty space. A quick cut of strips of sashing to go between the blocks and voila! I made the sashing strips a little wider in this iteration to make this block finish at 14.5" wide by 16" long.

I was wondering if it was the colors that made me like the last block so much, but making this a second time was still fun and I love how it turned out again. Third time's a charm? I might just use this as the design for my month of the Bee Sew Modern bee, if I don't think up something else by September... 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Thoughts on quilting

I like many different types of quilt styles, but one of the things I like the best is that really creative quilting adds a lot to project whether it's pieced simply or a complex design. Some of my favorite examples include this, this, or even this. All are lovely examples of projects I like for their colors and composition, yes, but what really grabbed me was the quilting. "Wow" moments, you know? 

I have had grand visions of trying out something equally stunning on the Amsterdam quilt but I started and just got stuck. I tried free motion quilting in the light orange planetarium block and hated it. Part of that was because I'm not adept at it yet, but part was just because it didn't look right to me. I thought about changing the thread color from light blue to white so it would blend better, but decided that was somewhat contradictory to my desire for the quilting to show. What to do? I went back to straight lines.

I quilted four sets of diagonal lines equidistant between the seams of the squares that show up if the block is placed on-point. The result looks a little bit like a granny square pattern, or what kept occurring to me as I sewed was plaid. An imperfect analogy, yes, but a satisfying one. As I finished one square I felt in a way like I had given up too easily and retreated to my default, but the more blocks I finished the more I like what I picked. 

I like the way the geometries of the block and the quilting play with each other. The angles of the lines complement the overall angular piecing in a pleasing way. The hourglasses are still apparent, but now the quilting suggests four patches and half-square triangle units that combine and form little pinwheels inside bigger pinwheels.  Kind of neat, after all. 

I thought quite a bit about doing either concentric circles or octagons in these green blocks. Then I decided why not use one of my favorite features about my machine? I love the umpteen decorative stitches that I have available to me but hardly ever use them. There's a way to spice up straight line quilting! Easy on my shoulders (reduces quilt wrangling) and attractive to boot! I'm hoping four lines in each block will look a little bit like a window pane to "watch the raindrops through". I even found this neat asterisk stitch that echoes the blue and gray fabric and looks like rain splashing in puddles - of which there was a lot during our Dutch Spring. Awesome. This quilt is going to be so full of little symbolisms it is ridiculous. 

I ran out of thread, so I had to stop mid-asterisk which is too bad, really. I was on a roll. I switched to white to make and attach the binding to the front but I'll wait to flip it to the back until I get more blue thread.

I think all in all I do like "all over" quilting and designs that don't necessarily register geometrically with the blocks of the quilt but I just have a hard time figuring out how to do these things in my own work. I also really like the look of simple lines. What's a girl to do? Keep experimenting, I guess!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Good day, sunshine

I came, I saw, I QAYGed. 

These two log cabin blocks are the fruits of my quilty labors yesterday afternoon. Turns out stitching is a nice way to take a break from writing one's thesis.......

Bee blocks for do.Good stitches this month were quilt-as-you-go log cabins in a sunshine-y yellow/gold and brown color scheme. This was a bit of a challenge for me to put together because I don't have a wide variety of yellows. Greens, yes. Yellows, not so much. One big issue was that grays were specifically singled out as a no-no. Guess what most of my yellow fabrics have in them? Oh yes, gray. 

I did manage to find a few different yellows sans gray and that lovely goldenrod print with numbers on it in my scrap jar. I combined those with some strips of linen and a sprinkling of solid brown. The yellows all kind of read the same from far away, but in person there's a difference, I promise. 

I found a couple pieces of batting that were pretty much the perfect size, and I cut the log strips to size at 2.5" by 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, 8.5, 10.5, 12.5, and 14.5" before I started which made it super fast when I sat down to sew. Well, as fast as this goes anyway. All those lines take quite a bit of time! I quilted them about as far apart as the width from my needle to the edge of my walking foot to make things easy on myself in keeping the lines straight, maybe 3/8". 

I do so love the texture of the quilting on the front, but it's always super satisfying to look at the back, too! Looks a bit like farmland does from an airplane. If the farmland were made out of clouds. Obviously I've spent too much time recently in the clouds looking out of airplane windows. 

I laid these out before sewing to try mixing up the prints, but now looking at these there is one switch I wish I'd done in the top one. Ah well. I still think they look pretty neat. And look! I had enough fabric, after all. 

Linking up to Finish it up Friday with this scrappy finish. Check out the wall hanging Amanda Jean finished, it's so pretty and so true! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Quilts quilts quilts!

I have two large quilts going right now, and they are both in the quilting stage. I'd like to get at least one done before acquiring another big work-in-progress. Here is a quick peek:

I've worked a little bit on my Modern Medallion quilt and have finished the center and one side of the patchwork tile and on-point square borders. Three more of those to go, and I will get to have fun filling in the vast blue borders. After a little bit of thought and considering the colors of perle cotton I have, I decided to go subtle with the quilting. I'm using either a pretty blue-green or an off-white depending what I'm stitching on. I'm wondering if it's all going to be worth it because it blends in so well, but for sure the stitches add a certain texture wherever they're sprinkled.

Unfortunately I have a limit to how long I can stitch on this one because my hands start to hurt. Bummer. It's looking good though! Just taking for-ev-er. I told Dave this might be my only hand quilted project ever. That's probably an exaggeration but it is certainly how I was feeling mid-stitching. I'll be really excited to see this finished, though. It will feel good to know I stuck it out.

We are so stoked to get our picnic quilt all finished up that it's totally motivating me through what is usually the "let it sit for a while" stage. Last week I finished the top, and Monday night I basted it on the card table. After a little bit of inner debate, I'm using leftovers from a swirly green Ikea duvet cover for the back. I sandwiched it with some Fairfield Nature-Fil bamboo blend batting in the oh-so-convenient 60 x 60 size. So far this is the only brand I've come across in stores near me that is a large square, a shape I apparently really like for quilts.... this will be my fourth in this size. Buying a larger piece and cutting it down is fine since I get big ol' scraps to play with later, but I really like being able to use these straight out of the bag. 

I used a pretty robin egg blue thread and my longest straight stitch to edge all the sashing which doubles as a nice quick way to fix everything in place. (The pins could probably come out at this point.) I started out doing some loopy FMQ in the orange hourglass blocks, but did not like how it looked at all. I'm not sure if it was the quilting itself or the blue thread standing out too much, but I disliked it enough that I had the patience to sit and pick out all the stitches. There is a large activation barrier for me to get out the seam ripper, so that's saying something. I think I will do the quilting in the blocks in white, but still not too sure I want to go the loopy route. Or maybe I'll just leave it as it is? It's in "time out" on the couch for right now. 

Linking up to WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Barbie's got style

Back in December, my nieces got a pretty awesome dollhouse from Santa. This year for their birthdays I thought I would make little bed sets for the beds in the dollhouse. I made each of the girls a quilt and a couple of little pillows and pillowcases that should hopefully fit nicely.

The pillows look small, but they are actually the size of the mattress when put together. The quilts will overhang, I hope. I imagine with play they'll get softer and drape better. Right now they're a wee bit on the stiff side.

I took the opportunity of making small quilts to try out some new-to-me things. Quilt #1 is my first foray into the lovely world of cathedral windows. I've always been fascinated by this pattern and I had a lot of fun with this. My points aren't great, but I know where to improve the next time so a lesson learned makes up for the imperfections. I hope Barbie doesn't mind.

I enjoyed using the purple fabric with the little dolls on it... the queen in particular just cracks me up. Rather than leaving the background white, I filled the squares in with a cute pink owl print. I do believe that pink, purple, and green cover all the bases of favorite colors between me and my nieces. The curves were actually not difficult at all to sew; the hardest part was actually doing all the fabric origami necessary to start out and sewing all the background pieces together making sure all the pieces were aligned correctly. I still think it turned out pretty wickedly cute, though.

Quilt #2 is simpler in construction but challenged me to try out free motion quilting for the first time. I got the hang of it about 1/4 of the way through... it's important to actually get the needle moving fast enough so everything looks smooth and not jerky with big stitches. Thinking and going slow is actually counterproductive. Go figure. Below is a picture of one of the better spots on the little quilt. I just did a random loopy pattern that I actually think turned out looking rather nice and was quite forgiving of small mistakes on my part.

I had fun picking out each scrap for the hexagons from the rainbow of jars on my desk. The piecing went really fast (I basted and pieced all while standing at the ironing board, I was done before I knew it) and I had the perfect-sized pieces of blue linen to use for the background and a colorful piece of fabric for the back -- no cutting! Sewing serendipity at it's best.

I like how this one turned out quite a lot. The rainbow on the sky blue linen really pops and I like the pink binding fabric I ended up choosing, after much hemming and hawing, I might add. Both quilts are nice but if I had to pick one to put on my bed I'd probably go with the hexagon rainbow.

There are several things I really like about these projects: 1) they were darn fast to finish 2) the pillows are super cute, being so tiny and all 3) I stretched my skill set working on them 4) they are bright and colorful and 5) they were made completely from scraps. I'm continually amazed at the neat things I can come up with out of my scrap jars.

I think Barbie and Skipper are going to have some pretty awesome quilts in their house. Best on the dollhouse block, I imagine.

Linking up a new place today... Sew Cute Tuesday at Better off Thread.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Fresh Sewing Day April

I have a lovely collection of finishes to look back on from March that includes two projects for my husband and a couple of long-awaited quilting projects coming together. 

This Spring has been challenging for me with interview preparation, travel, and recovery. Funny thing is, to de-stress I often sew so I got a lot done! I'm pleased with all of these projects and happy that Dave got in on the crafty action this month to let me know he wanted a few things. 

Next month I'm looking forward to a couple of new bees starting up, finishing the Amsterdam quilt and a knitted shawl in progress, working some more on hand quilting my medallion quilt from last summer, and starting a couple of new quilt tops. 

The next two quilting projects are going to be big projects that are more complex cutting and piecing than I've done so far excepting bee blocks. One will be a quilt-as-you-go project which will give me a chance to practice free motion quilting and the second is going to be a regular quilt top that I will freezer paper piece. (I finally chose a pattern for my Indie quilt!) These projects will of course take a while but I'm looking forward to getting them going. 
Lily's Quilts
Lily's Quilts

Linking up to Fresh Sewing Day and the Small Blog Meet over at Lily's Quilts