Friday, April 10, 2015

Blocks From the Past: Bear Claw

Okay, so this block took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so pardon my delay!!

Like the Kansas Troubles block, I really like the finished product—but I did not like the process. Actually, I think it was the lack of clarity on the directions that got me down!

This Bear Claw block is essentially an inversion of the Kansas Troubles Block. Here's a look of both blocks so that you can see what I mean:

The Bear Claw block is on the left. Kinda cute, isn't it? Still, it made me go "Grrrrr" while putting it together.

Like the Kansas Troubles block, it calls for strips of the grey and blue/green that are intended to result in the HSTs. What's confusing to me is that the pattern calls for strip piecing of those two strips. Clearly a doctorate in education is not sufficient for me to figure out how strip piecing two long rectangles = 16 triangles. Unless one is supposed to do what I did: cut the rectangles down to squares, cut the squares in half diagonally, and chain piece HSTs. However, if that is what's intended, the directions should say that, right? So if anyone understands what may be obvious to everyone else but me, please clear up my confusion!!

So, however you might like to get your strips of fabric into HSTs, here's what they should look like.

Again, however, because the measurements call for only 2/10" difference between the cut fabric and the finished square, I needed to use a 2/10" seam allowance. That just annoyed me, so instead I made my triangles larger and then cut them down to the right size.

Like the Kansas Troubles block, I then pieced together two units: 1) two HSTs; and 2) two HSTs and a grey square. Again, here's my annoyance. I needed to use a 2/10" (or so) seam allowance to make this work. I, sadly, did not discover this until I had pieced all the units. Grrr.

Anywho, after some grumping and grrrrring I finally beat, er, sewed the pieces into submission. They look so peaceful and innocent over there, don't they? Who would know they could be so wrought with frustration??
I then inserted what I call "crossbeams" into the blocks as shown below:

And here, at long last and with much frustration, is the finished block: 

I think what I find so frustrating about this otherwise really satisfying block is that the annoyances could easily have been eliminated by doing the following:
  • Specify what the finished measurements of the block's sub-units should be
  • Use more standard (modern) 1/4" measurements. Marion has told me that in the past measurements such as 5/8" or 7/8" were more common. 
  • Be more clear about the procedures (as in the construction of the HSTs). The book has an explanation of how to construct HSTs (which is sewing together triangles), but this does not shed any light on how the strips are supposed to become HSTs.
Anyway, I really do love the finished product, and I might make them again—but with my own measurements and my own directions!

Check in Sunday for Part 3 of my BFTPqal blocks: applique!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Blocks From the Past: Kansas Troubles

Happy Easter and Happy Passover—and Happy Spring!

I had an unanticipated hiatus from my newly renewed blogging when my father (who is moving from the Southwest U.S. to southern Baja, Mexico) asked me to drive him from NM to Mexico. Who can say no to a roadtrip—and a parent?!

So I'm back on grid after far too long without any access to internet. Felt like the old days!

Today I'm here to share with you my second week of coverage of Blocks From The Past! Today's block is "Kansas Troubles," and let me tell you it did cause me some troubles! I really love the finished product, but boy was it a bit troublesome!!

As with my last set of blocks, the measures were a little off our modern "normal" piecing, but thankfully easier than the last blocks I did!

The pattern called for three fabrics:

Grey: 1) Two 3 7/8" squares (cut into triangles); 2) Four 1 1/4" squares; and 3) One 1 1/2" strip

The pattern does not specify how long that 1 1/2" strip should be, but you'll need 8 squares (for HSTs), so according to the pattern the strip will need to be 12" long.

Note: We all have different ways of tackling HSTs. I prefer to have just a bit more fabric to work with that I can then trim back, rather than having a scant HST, so I actually cut my strips into 14x1.75" length, then cut my HSTs down to the required 1 1/4". For those of you who always have precise, flawless 1/4 inch seams, you'll likely go with the measurements as stated in the pattern.

Green: Two 2 3/8" squares, cut each in half diagonally

Blue/Green: 1) Four 1 5/8" squares, each cut in half diagonally; and 2) 1 1/2" strips (see above note).

I sewed the grey and blue/green HSTs into blocks, then trimmed down to 1 1/4" squares.

 I then assembled eight units—each had one blue/green triangle and two grey and blue/green squares. This was straightforward, but took some attention to ensure that the triangles were oriented in the right way.

I then sewed a grey square to the end of one unit (described above) and the larger green triangle to another unit. Again, here it was important to ensure that I was constructing the triangles in the correct orientation to ensure it matched the direction in the outline.

After sewing together the pieces pictured above, I then sewed the large grey triangles and assembled it in the order depicted in the pattern.

It was only at this point that I began to enjoy the pattern that was emerging as the block was taking shape.

And here is the Kansas Troubles block—finished! Of the blocks that I've done so far from this book, this block is by far my favorite. Of course, the green Lizzy House fabric does help me feel happy!

Happy sewing and check back in tomorrow for a new blog post and Wednesday for a new BFTPqal block!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blocks From the Past Part III: Lyre, Lyre Pants on Fire

As I understand it, part of the modern quilting aesthetic is the exploration of traditional forms and concepts through a contemporary lens—the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast, a clean simplicity . . .

As someone whose first quilt was a 1904 Bowtie Quilt made by someone somewhere in Ohio, I love the parsimony (thrift) and utility of the old patchwork quilt. Made by mothers and sisters, aunts and grandmothers, these quilts were sewn from fabric left at hand—patchwork quilts were made by families who couldn't buy "store-bought" linens. These quilts were made with sons and fathers' work shirts, little ones worn and re-worn Sunday Best dresses. As I look at this bow tie quilt hanging across the room from me, I wonder the design decisions that ran through this long past quilt maker's mind as she pieced and quilted this quilt. Did she think about how quickly her children were growing (out of their clothes)? Remember a favorite moment represented by a particular scrap?

I think of these questions because, at their best, I think quilts are sewn, stitch by stitch, with the thought close in mind of the future recipient of the quilt being made. When I make quilts for friends, their babies, and family, I sew into each quilt hopes and wishes and love for the recipient. I think about what friend I was with or what town I was visiting when I bought a particular fabric.

When I'm trying out new design ideas, I think about what Nina Garcia on Project Runway calls an editorial point of view which, I think, means "what am I trying to convey and is it worth hearing?"

This is all to say that I have struggled to find the modern point of view for today's BFTPqal block. This image, for those of you who were not in their high school bands in ancient Greece or current day Eastern Africa, is the lyre—a Classical U-shaped stringed instrument. Think harp, but portable.

While I did go through a brief phase in childhood where I wanted to learn to play the harp, I couldn't find a way to relate to this image in a modern way. And then I discovered WonkyWorld. This post about her lyre quilt gave me a new perspective. In her case, the lyre is the symbol of her high school literary magazine. Now, I found WonkyWorld just by googling lyre and quilting, but as it turns out, she and I went to competing high schools in NJ. Check out her blog—she's amazingly talented and also covers phenomenally special historic quilts.

Reading her post about her excitement about her lyre quilt made me think about lyres  . . . and then it came to me. I can't speak about the Neoclassical roots of our culture and government and how the lyre is an icon of this time. Actually, I probably could, but I'll spare you!! But what I remembered was a musical theatre company in Chatham, NJ (Chatham Community Players) where in elementary school I "starred" in "A Palace Built by Music." I oddly remember most of the songs still to this day, and I remember my excitement when I was handed my very own gilded, cardboard lyre. Can't say much about the plot.

So, with all this said (are there any readers left out there?), I held tightly to this shred of a memory of a lost musical career to channel my Modern/Neoclassical lyre mojo as I approached my third Blocks From the Past post.

As all you close followers of our ever fabulous BFTPqal surely know, today's block is . . . . THE LYRE!!!

Now, not to whine or anything, because I actually do love my needle turn appliqué, but who thought appliquéing those slim little spaces between the lyre's strings was a good idea? Good thing I love Marion and Natalie to pieces, as I persevered!!

So, onto the business at hand. I began with selecting the ever fabulous VeloCity by Jessica Hogarth and the Grey Architextures by Carolyn Friedlander. The directions call for a 7" background square, which is later cut down to 6.5" after the appliqué is finished. I know you're asking: "where are the weird fraction of 37ths?" Today is apparently brought to you by the half and full inch measure. Phew!

Everyone has their own way of approaching appliqué. For me, it depends on what the shape is. For this one, because I needed to cut into narrow slots (between the strings) I opted for freezer paper. I traced the lyre pattern from the BFTP book and then cut it down to size.
I then traced out the lyre shape on the right side of the fabric. Next, I cut out the shape, leaving approximately .25-.5 seam allowance. I don't show it here, but I then cut out the space between the strings. Check out Red Brolly's great post on Needle Turn Appliqué. As the name implies, the needle is a very important/useful tool that helps turn the fabric under to make a clean edge (as opposed to raw edge appliqué). 

Apparently, so focused was I on the appliqué portion of this segment that I completely failed to photograph my appliqué. Plus, it's hard when your wife is at work and you can't take a picture of your own hands.  Apparently I need some sort of headlamp selfie cam (I guess they call that a GoPro?) so I can do up to the minute video of my handicraft!!

At any rate, here's the finished product:

And to all those who made it through my ponderous post, check out my blog tomorrow for other non-BFTPqal postings, and check in April 6th for my next installment!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blocks From the Past Part II: Fox and Geese

I'm baaack!

I know!! Three days in a row! Brace yourself—many more ahead, my friends!

I'm here to bring you Part II of my first week of the Blocks From the Past QAL. Today we're tackling the Fox and Geese (a.k.a., P. 24).

For those of you who followed my angst-ridden journey through the perils of the 11/16 inch, rest assured that today limits its craziness to the 3/8 inch. Totally calming and manageable, no?!

First of all, here's the block in all its finished glory:

The block calls for the following pieces:

Color 1 (Grey Architextures background): 

  • Five 2 3/8 inch squared, cut each diagonally
  • Four 2 inch squares

Color 2 (Navy & White Denyse Schmidt print): 

  • One 2 3/8 inch square, cut in half diagonally
  • One 3 7/8 inch square, cut in half diagonally
Color 3 (Green Half Moon Modern print): 
  • Two 2 3/8 inch squares, cut each in half diagonally

As with yesterday's Sister's Choice block, I sewed the bias squares the old-fashioned way. If I had had more to do, I would have sewn the two squares together and then cut down the diagonal (check out April's great blog description of this here).

After sewing and pressing the HSTs together (using Maggie's Classy Hooch Press, of course!), I assembled this as pictured below, and then sewed it all together!!

In tomorrow's post, I will try to make an argument for the modernity of the lyre (that's a "harp" to all you non-classicists out there) in needle turn appliqué. Oh boy, I live an exciting life!!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Blocks From the Past Part I: Sister's Choice

I'm so happy to be part of the Blocks From the Past Quilt-a-long! My fabulously talented—and fun—quilty friends Marion at My Quilt Diet and Natalie at Natalie Ever After hosting a sampler quilt-a-long using Marie Henry's Teach Yourself Blocks From the Past book (available here on Amazon). April over at Making Ends Meet discovered this book at a yard sale and proposed a QAL using modern fabrics.

They organized a QAL blogfest, with each of us taking a week or two to highlight some of these blocks. If you haven't been following along before now, check out Marion's post here, which lists the bloggers and the schedule. Today starts the first of two weeks I'll be blogging about six of the pieced and appliquéd blocks from this book.

This week, beginning with today, I will do three posts on three separate blocks. The first up, is Sister's Choice on page 23.

Before I outline what I did, may I rant ever so briefly about the horrors of the One and Eleven Sixteenths Inch. Yes, I capitalized it. So horrible a thing deserves capitalized letters.

This pattern for the Sister's Choice block calls for squares of two different measures: One and Eleven Sixteenths of an inch, and Two and One Sixteenth of an inch. The first is kind of like 3/4 of an inch, but it isn't. I'm apparently more precise (also known as OCD) than I had realized—much as I wanted to just round it to 1 and 3/4, I just couldn't. Given the apparent shortcomings of our wonderful modern rulers, I pulled out my trusty 12" ruler from college:

Using my Washi tape in a vain attempt to lighten the moment, I marked out 11/16 of an inch. Do you know how little those little marks are? It was a grisly task. I then used this measure to mark out the 1 11/16 inch square on my Omnigrid ruler:

After mastering this, I finally moved onto fabric. Now, my other quilty peeps who have preceded me in this QAL venture ably discuss the most efficient way of sewing half square triangles (HSTs), but I found myself so overcome by the 11/16 issue (see above) that I resorted to cutting out the HSTs and then sewing them together. Old School baby!

The block calls for the following pieces:

Color 1: Eight 1 11/16 squares; 4 2 1/16 squares, cut each in half diagonally
Color 2: Four 1 11/16 squares
Color 3: Four 2 1/16 squares, cut each in half diagonally
Color 4: Five 1 11/16 squares

I then trimmed off the little ears from the squares and squared them up

I sewed the squares together in strips:

And then sewed the strips together:

11/16 aside, I do like the look of this block. I'm ambivalent about my greens—I love them, but don't adore them together—but I do like the modern look of the general color scheme. 

Give this a try and let me know what you come up with! Next up, the Fox and the Geese block! Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Back from Siberia

Er, well, after much fanfare in my last post about my renewed commitment to regular blogging, I vanished from the blogosphere. I was, apparently, tempting the Fates, who decided that I was getting cheeky. Within a day or two of that last post (January 7th, I believe), I caught a cold. Not a big deal, right? Well, it is now March and I am only now getting over it. It's months like these that I start to see hibernation as a welcome alternative.

Anywho, dare I tempt the Fates again, I think I'm back. Still snuffly and such, but upright enough for stitchery and such and lots to talk about.

First up, a shout out to my quilty peeps at the Quilt Bliss Retreat and Cabin Fever Retreat
During the past two weeks I've been participating vicariously in the Quilt Bliss and Cabin Fever retreats. When I was living in Utah I met some incredible quilting folk, many of whom have become dear friends. There's an amazing modern quilting community out there—fabric designers, quilt designers, quilters, bloggers, and fabric shops.

Two years ago I joined some friends at a fun, food and fabric fueled getaway in a phenomenal snowy lodge at the Cabin Fever Retreat organized by Emily Herrick, Shannon White, and Terry Griffin. Picture an adult-sized spiral slide running from the loft down to the second floor. Serious fun. I couldn't go this year, but I hear it was fabulous!

Last year was the first ever Quilt Bliss, organized by Pamela Cardwell and friends. Imagine a horde of talented and wonderful quilters, retreating in a "cozy" 26,000 square foot log cabin. Check out my post here from last year with all the details. I was sad to miss it this year, but still am holding out hope of going this fall. Check it out if you're interested, tickets are still available!

Next, a look ahead
Not sure you can A) believe me, or B) stand it, but brace yourself for a virtual onslaught of Shortcookie blogginess!! I have news of swaps, bees, tutorials, quilt-a-longs, and even some new news of progress on our dear 1927 house.

Next up—tomorrow—will be Part I of my first week in the Blocks From the Past quilt-a-long (#BFTPqal). Stay tuned for the wondrous challenge of using a block measuring 1 11/16". Yes, that's one and one sixteenth inch.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

No, it is not a mirage. It is actually I, Shortcookie, returned as if from the grave!

It has truly been eons since last I checked in, and it's been about that long since I was last in a regular sewing groove. But there was something about the coming holiday season that has returned my sew-jo (aka, sewing mojo).

Since I relocated back to the east coast from Utah almost a year and a half ago, I've been doing freelance work as an educational researcher and writer. It's directly related to my former life as a professor, but it is quite a different pace, with most of the work done from home in what I call my "day-time pajamas"—clean, fresh pajama bottoms with a comfy sweatshirt—as no one can tell from my email and reports what I'm wearing! No complaints about my work clothes, but it has been a bit of an adjustment to the pace. My consulting work is not yet up to full speed, so I have felt guilty over this past year when I spend any time sewing instead of working on drumming up more business.

So, day after day, I've walked by my mostly unpacked sewing room upstairs, trying not to be enticed by all the fabric yumminess. I did occasionally pull out my machine to work on my medallion round robin with my Utah quilty friends, and I think I may have made one baby quilt, but other than that it was one big goose egg for sewing over the past year and a half.

And then Christmas approached and I got that crafty vibe that you just can't say no to!! I have an abundance of fabric, extra time on my hands, and some ideas I've wanted to work on, and so it began anew!

I had made a vintage Lilly Pulitzer quilt for my mother almost three years ago, shortly after I began sewing and quilting. It is a smaller lap size, and it was early in my skill development, so I decided to make her a larger one with a bit more finesse. I was inspired by the baby quilt designed by Allison Harris over Cluck, Cluck, Sew. Her design is for a wonderful baby quilt that uses the WOF of each color, with a strip that inverts the color array. In order to make mine larger enough for my mother's use, I decided to create two rows of pieced fabrics for each color (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Turquoise, Light Blue, Purple, and Pink), with white in between.

This is a lot of color to through into my mother's life (and decorating scheme), so I decided to make a more muted backing that still ties to the front scheme. A while back I had ordered a ton of Lotta Jansdotter's fabulous Kita fabric, intending to use it for drapes, but we ultimately decided that the print was too small a scale for the room we had targeted. Such a sad thing it is, having 8 yards of fabric without a purpose! So I used that fabric for the backing, with a panel of color strips.

This quilt still needs to be quilted and bound (see below for explanation of that), but it should be about 63" x 63". I know that usually only baby quilts are square, but I find them a satisfying shape for a cuddle on the couch quilt.

What's more fun than doing just one large quilt just before Christmas than doing another one! I decided to do a quilt for my brother and his wife, who live up in Boston. I had made another lap-sized quilt for them a few years ago. I wanted to do something that would fit well with their lovely 1920s' home and balance both a masculine and feminine aesthetic. I found several versions of the quilt online of the quilt I've made for them, although can't find a source, so I apologize for not giving credit to the original designer. If you're out there, let me know and I'll give you proper credit!

UPDATE: Thanks IPatchandQuilt for letting me know that Ludlow Quilt and Sew calls this the Shadow Box pattern. 

I was originally going to use the Kona slate grey for all the shadows, but had a brief, panicked meltdown when I thought I didn't have enough for the whole quilt. Karen, as always, stepped in with both a calming influence and a great idea, suggesting that I alternate the slate grey Kona with the Lotta Jansdotter Kita. I later realized that I actually did have enough of the slate to have done the whole quilt, but I found I preferred the alternating light and dark shadows. 

For the backing, I used a similar approach as with my mom's quilt. My back was starting to act up, so Karen took over the sewing. She came up with yet another great idea and created a patchwork panel using all the fabrics from the front, set between Kita. This quilt also needs to be quilted and bound, but should be 62' x 72'.

They were both quite a hit at Christmas, even though they each remain unquilted and unbound. And now for that story . . . What I have not yet mentioned is that this great inspiration to make these two quilts was five days before Christmas. Knowing that we would be driving to my mother's on Christmas Eve, that left only four days to get it all done. Apparently my back and shoulder didn't quite like non-stop marathon sewing sessions, so I hit the wall. I woke up on Christmas morning and couldn't raise my arm above my shoulder. 

So, dear readers, I have likely overwhelmed you with too much quiltery after so much radio silence. But my chief 2015 quilting resolution is to get back quilting and get back to blogging, so stay tuned for much more soon! Lots to report!!