Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What makes a bad quilt?

I was chatting with someone on twitter this morning and she had made a structural mistake on a quilt; one that was fairly easily fixable, but would be noticeable to her and the fix will probably be the only thing she sees when she looks at the quilt from here on out. I so know that feeling.

The absolute first thing I had to let go of in quilting was a sense of perfection. There are far too many variables involved in a quilt and it's never going to go exactly right. When I make a quilt, I have anywhere from fifteen to eighty hours (depending on the design and size) in which to screw something up... and invariably, I will. Some mistakes are fixable without leaving evidence (sewing a block upside down, etc) and others aren't (ranging from a few mm hand slip during free motion quilting to having to get really "creative" with the piecing). And still, when I finish the quilt, I can't look at it without seeing the mistakes first.

What I've found out is that other people (non-quilters, anyway) rarely notice the flaws. Granted, I do look for flaws in other people's quilts (eventually), just so I can remind myself that I'm not the only flawed human in the world. First, I take a quilt in as a whole and appreciate the design, colors, pattern, and all of the man/woman power that went into it. I'm going to ooh and aah over the points that match, the invisibility of the stitch in the ditch, and all the other myriad things we ooh and aah over - and silently, I'm going to breath a sigh of relief at that one point that doesn't match or the quilting that wanders from the ditch. I would never in a million years point it out or even let my eyes rest on it for more than a split second; but its presence makes me feel better.

HOWEVER, and I've been meaning to bring this up for a while, if you see a mistake that a new quilter is making and seems unaware of and you decide to give them advice... be specific!! Though I'm still learning something new about quilting every day, it is safe to say that eleven years ago, I had far less quilt learnin' than I do now, and one day, someone gave me the most useless advice ever.

I was living in Auburn, CA at the time and I'd made a quilt that I was very proud of. I was working for a small restaurant and my boss bought a quilt stand to put in the dining room to show off my quilt (she was incredibly nice and I really hope she's doing well). One lady looked at it and said, "You really should get a quilting foot." Now, I would know enough to ask for specifics, but at the time, I thought there was some magical foot for my machine called a quilting foot. This elusive quilting foot also stumped the guy who ran the sewing  machine shop in Sacramento. He had no idea and just sold me another 1/4" foot. So, with that little thing in my pocket, I went home thinking my quilting was going to be transformed. It took years for me to realize she meant that I needed a walking foot... and that little bad boy did transform my quilting. So, because of very vague advice, my quilts suffered for years.

I learned how to quilt from a couple of books and trial and error, so I was ready for any advice I could get. Now, even in the age of Craftsy, youtube, etc., there are still little tricks that a new quilter might not know. If they are open to advice, make it good advice. Now I have four completely different feet that I think of as my quilting feet.

Anyway, back to messed up quilts.Quilting, like any other art, is subjective.  I just Googled "ugly quilts" and was presented with some great images. And there are some ugly quilts out there - I've made a few that I should tag as such and present to world... under a pseudonym. I don't really like chaos, and I noticed that many of the ones considered ugly had a lot of that, mostly scrappy quilts. But, I have one of my great grandmother's scrappy quilts that really isn't all that much to look at, until you look at the impeccably spaced quilting stitches of which I am completely jealous. But, in our family, quilts were utilitarian things. They weren't meant for the top of the bed, they were dragged out of the closet every Autumn and layered on the bed between the blanket and the bedspread. And, when I look at that quilt and I see scraps of my great-grandmother's, grandmother's, and great aunt's clothing, it is the most wonderful quilt I own. Some of the patches are wearing thin and the batting is starting to show, but I don't want to cut even one inch of cloth out of it to repair it. And whenever I look at it, I always hope that my stitches will also outlast the fabric on all my quilts. I love my ugly quilt.

I've seen (and made quilts with) god-awful color combinations, quilts with no contrast, and tons of other things that I don't find attractive, but they are loved by someone, and that's what matters. There is only one unforgivable sin in quilting, as far as I'm concerned... and that's making a quilt out of Crown Royal bags. Maybe it's because my dad was an alcoholic and my whole childhood I always had a new Crown Royal bag to keep my marbles and Hot Wheels in, but I don't care how matched one's points are or how perfect the stitches - this is the only horror show of a quilt I would unapologetically put my nose up at.

So, while I've heard the phrase, "It'll never be seen from a galloping horse" as a way to dismiss quilting mistakes; the first time I heard it, the person said, "If you can't see it from a galloping goose, don't worry about it." I think the image of a galloping goose is more appropriate to the turn my quilting has taken, so I stick with that one. Have fun, screw up, fix what you can, and then move on. Flaws don't make your quilt ugly, they make you human.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Owl Pattern!

I had done this quilt twice, both times in lavenders, so when someone else ordered it, I begged her to choose another color, and I think it came out great. It's a 60" x 80" throw (because oddly enough, I had more requests for this as a throw from adults than I did for a baby quilt). It lists material quantities needed, construction instructions, applique templates, and a link to the applique tutorial on my website... tutorial - because there are as many applique methods in the world as there are quilters, so I thought I'd throw mine out there. The pattern is available in my Craftsy store. (link to pattern) And I will have the pattern up for a 40"x60" baby quilt soon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Am I reverting?

There are a few types of fabric that I pick up every time I see them in the store...

If I see a really light color that I can use in the background of one of my appliqué baby quilts, I grab four or five yards.

If I see something that can be used as foliage in an art quilt, I buy a yard or two; because one day...

And, for some reason, I buy black and white fabric - and it's coming to a point where I have to do something with it, or just stop. I have some great stuff; here's a tiny bit of it -

As you can see, lately there's been some red sneaking in. I want to make something for myself with this. Ok, so what's the problem?- you might ask. Well, I can only illustrate that by showing you a picture of what my bedroom looked like in 1989...

Nagel; unicorns; black leather (legless) sofa; and black,white, and red. I do have to say that I don't remember that hat. Anyway, I'm so in shock by this that I have hit a creative brick wall regarding what to do with this fabric. The last thing I would ever wish on my psyche is for the 80's to come back.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My First Quilt Pattern! (updated)

I had over 150 people download this pattern and there were no complaints, so I'm moving ahead with more patterns. If anyone has any questions about anything in one of my patterns, please feel free to email, or even call, me.

Here's the link to the webpage----> codmansquarecreations
The PDF for this adorable 40"X60" crib quilt.

Gift from a neighbor...

 So, I always go for walks on the weekends, sometimes 8 or 9 miles at a time. That's the one thing I don't deny myself or ever feel guilty about doing (any other time I always feel like I'm not working hard enough or that I should be doing something more important... talk about neurotic). But, anyway, I finished my walk last Sunday afternoon and my neighbor stopped me as passed her house. She turned 90 years old a couple of months ago; I know this because I was the one who was elected to break into her house and decorate for her surprise party while she was at mass that weekend. She's cleaning out the house that she's lived in since she was eight years old, so the house is full of... well... I'll just say 'stuff.'

She told me that she was going to throw something out but then thought, "I'll give it to that nice boy who makes the quilts." I had no idea what she was talking about... not least of all because I am so not used to being called a "boy" anymore. But, she dragged out this old sewing box that was covered in a very thick layer of dust - ok, not dust so much as dirt. I think it's adorable... but I have no idea what to do with it.

Anyone need some wicked old rick-rack?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Things I just don't get around to...

I just sat down and figured out that since the button came off my favorite dress pants...

I've clocked over 200 hours at my sewing machine and at least 10 hours of hand sewing. But, I just can't get around to sewing on a stupid button. It has an inside button and a zipper to hold everything closed and keep me from being socially unacceptable. My belt hides the evidence of my laziness from everyone.

But, I'm not lazy! I work hard; full time job, writing a book, and I sew a LOT. This just seems like drudgery compared to creating new things. Just in the time it took to write this post, I could have sewn that button on ten times over. Maybe I'll just wait and give a pair of fixed pants to myself as a Christmas present.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Machine troubles - sort of...

Ok, before I post this; I don't want anyone to think I am in any way making fun of this person. We all started out somewhere... but, with that said - this cracked me up and I had to share!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Takin' quilt pics in the Public Gardens

My house is ugly... that's just the truth. I rent a floor in a house in a very scenic and old part of Boston - and my landlord's family has owned this particular house since it was built and he's become emotionally attached to the wallpaper - the old, falling-off-the-walls, someone-save-me-from-this-godawful wallpaper. Anyway, because of that, I don't like taking pictures of quilts in my house. The only room without the offensive wallpaper is my sewing room, and the walls are just plastered and not painted. If it were my house, I'd do something: but it ain't, so I have to make other photo arrangements.

I live in a beautiful city. Boston is old, clean (relatively), and picturesque and I had the idea to use the city as a backdrop. I am trying to bill myself as an urban quilter, after all. If I were trying to capitalize on my raising, I'd be a Louisiana swamp quilter; and that just doesn't sound as good.

One of my coworkers thought it was a horrible idea and that using park benches would make it look like I was making quilts for homeless people; which I'm all up for doing, mind you; I'm all about charity work. But, that wasn't really the idea I was going for, so I put the idea out of my head for a few months.

Monday I had some time to kill between work and a doctor's appointment, so I decided to go ahead and attempt it. The Public Gardens were full of tourists and I felt not unlike an idiot dragging out my quilts and fussily draping each one over a park bench and then crouching and twisting to get the right angle. I have a theory that has served me fairly well over the years; as long as you look like you know what you're doing, it's highly unlikely anyone will think twice about your actions; no matter how odd they may be.

I didn't have a lot of time and only found one angle I really liked, but I was very happy with the outcome...

Oh, and my local fabric store; essentially my Cheers, where everyone knows my name; asked me for a sample to hang in their store. I walked down there last Saturday with the intention of putting blinders on, dropping it off, and then fleeing... but ended up walking out with about 20 more yards of fabric.
I'm starting to think I might have a problem.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to turn yourself into a neurotic quilter

A friend requested a modern throw that would match his decor (red, black, and white) and I suggested quite a few patterns and he chose one by Modern Quilt Relish called Taffy Twists. Though I could have figured it out on my own, I feel guilty for not giving designers their due, so I ordered the pattern and got to work.

Hmmm. Maybe I should straighten
up between projects.
I am horrible at triangles unless they can be strip pieced (like pinwheels) and didn't take into account my weakness when cutting. But, I've always said that mistakes in quilting are fine, as long as you make the same mistake everywhere - and I usually do. With the top finished, I stepped back and panicked. This is where my apparently new-found neuroses fits in - there is soooo much negative space!

In the long distant past - like last year or something - this wouldn't have been an issue. I wouldn't have over thought this at all. But, Craftsy has ruined me and makes me over think everything.

With all of that negative space, I decided to take the easy route to use up the bulk of it. I used a store bought template to run feathers up the quilt on both sides of the twists. That posed two Craftsy inspired problems. Do feathers belong on a modern quilt and is it now too cliche to use prepackaged templates? Stupid questions; that made me sit and stare at the top for about an hour before I was able to start marking.

Then I thought I might add a little shadow to the feathers (thanks again, Craftsy) by using a light grey thread for the feathers. I did a test sample and decided the grey showed up too much and that I should just use white, letting the pieces have prominence and making the quilting all but disappear.

So, I settled in, started a movie on Netflix, and let my mind get into the "I'm going to be FMQ for the next few hours" trance. About 40" into the feathers, I realized I'd forgotten to take the grey off the machine. I use a black Frixion pen for marking, so it looked light against the ink as I was sewing. I finished the feathers with the grey (because it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I try to pull out that much FMQ), watching through tear filled eyes as the grey thread drew all over my white fabric. Ok, I didn't really cry, but I was really upset.

I finished for the night and went to bed. I dreamt that I had accidentally marked my top with a Sharpie. I would rather dream every night of being chased by wild dogs and demons than ever have that Sharpie dream again. I woke up an emotional wreck, just knowing I'd ruined the whole thing and needed to start over. After moping through breakfast and a shower, I trudged up to my workroom and pushed the door open. There, on my work-table, was a perfectly fine, unmarred quilt. It's not great. I wish I'd made the feathers go in the other direction and that I'd stretched them to make them mimic the twists of the pattern, but other than that, I spent an entire night in agony over absolutely nothing. I figure "in for a penny, in for a pound" and I spent last night running grey feathers up the other side of the twists too.

I blame Craftsy. I'm so glad that the things I learn on there are expanding my skills -  but, I really need to start pacing my class viewing - and I have thrown away all the Sharpies in my house.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Measures... non-quilting app that I use to record quilts

My Measures Pro review

I have a memory like a steel trap... assuming the trap has been left outside for a decade or two and has rusted into a dusty pile of mush. Because of this, I have to keep good records somewhere. With mountains of notebooks, sketch pads, and binders full of graph paper, I never know where I jotted down the dimensions for anything.

For my writing, I have all kinds of apps that keep my notes categorized so I only have to revisit Notebook Hill when I want to revisit an old random idea. I decided that I needed an app that would keep specific records of the sizes of blocks, appliques, borders, etc and when My Measures Pro came through on one of the "free app of the day" lists, I tried it.

It's meant for designers to take a picture of a room and record the measurements of windows, walls, angles, etc... but I don't do any of that. I use it to record quilts.

It's very simple to use. With the above quilt, I know everything I need to know to be able to duplicate it - which I have to do this weekend, with an added border to make it bigger. I hate making the same quilt twice, but for the occasions that I have to, this comes in handy. 

Not that I've done any crazy angles lately, but if I wanted to, I could just take a picture of the block and use the angle measure to remind me what they were. This could possibly come in handy if I stop in the middle of a quilt and set it aside for a while... actually, that should be "when," not "if." I do that all the time. I put an example of the angle feature below and if they had actually turned out to be an exact 45 and 90 degrees, I might have had a heart attack.

Anyway, I think it costs $1.99 and is available for IOS and Android. I enjoy having it and think it comes in handy.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Playin' with the Quiltography app (Updated 10/2013)

I completely admit to being a 'fan boy.' I know this is supposed to be a derogatory term for people who love Apple products, but I embrace it wholeheartedly. With that said... I'm always on the lookout for apps that apply to either writing or quilting and when I came across a quilting app, Quiltography with a (relatively) high price tag, I thought, "Well, this has gotta be good."

And it is. I think this is a strong app and from the looks of the developer's twitter page, suggestions are being taken seriously. The main reason I bought it was for the picture quilt aspect, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The block library is large and there are promises of more to come. It was very simple to take a picture of my own fabric, making it easy to audition fabrics. And the block creator is very straightforward and easy to use. In about 30 seconds I had photographed this Tula Pink fabric and made a block with it.

In about 45 more seconds, I had put together a quilt top; that I deleted even faster, because I didn't care for it.
But that's the beauty of an app like this. Not all of my ideas are brilliant (only about .001% are, to be honest) and it's good to have a way to see that before I've invested hours.

Now, to the real reason I bought this app - the picture quilts. I've been toying with the idea of working my way into art quilts and I wanted to see what this could do for me. There are limitations that the app is definitely not responsible for. It works phenomenally at taking an image, reducing it to pixels, and producing a PDF pattern with step-by-step instructions on how to create it in the easiest way possible. The PDF pattern is absolute genius. The problem is with the pixelization process itself.

The photo the app gives as an example is a cartoon character (Mario, to be exact) with little to no shading and very defined borders and the example looks great. I tried with quite a few pictures in my library and most of them came out like this...
Because the app takes the shortest side of the photo and makes it 50" long (one pixel per inch) and uses that as a guide for how long to make the other side. I've seen that most pictures end up being roughly 50"X70" on the largest setting. I throw some faces in the mix to see how they turned out, and I like the outcome. It could be because our brains are built to recognize human faces a lot easier than park benches; the Man in the Moon, Mary appearing on toast, etc.

But, I don't want my face on a quilt and I can't really think of anyone else I want to look at all the time either - maybe if I were a parent I would feel differently and do a quilt of my kid's face or something. But, as it stands, probably no faces for me. I have found a couple of things that will work well... but, I'm torn... I initially thought that maybe if the squares were a little smaller, the definition would be better, but my very next thought was, "Oh, he**, no." With one inch squares a 50"X70" quilt would have 3,500 pieces, with 1/2" squares, that number jumps to 14,000. About three years into that project, I might get a little tired of it.

What I will never get tired of is the way this program produces a PDF pattern for the picture quilt. It gives a chart of the colors needed...
And gives specific sewing instructions, breaking everything down into 5" blocks. It's nothing short of wonderful.
Luckily, it takes the app less than a second to give a preview of what a photo quilt made with the app will look like, so it's quick and easy to scroll through a photo library and audition pictures.

With all of the functionality of this app and all of the interaction the designer appears to be having with his/her customers, I definitely recommend this app. It's worth the price for the current functionality and as improvements and updates come out, it will be even better.

UPDATE (October 2013)

The gurus behind the app issued an updated version... and there was something in the update that I never ever thought I'd see; the ability to create your own block. Granted, the pieces have to conform to a snap-to grid, but it's still the absolute best I've seen on the market. It allowed me to see how this quilt would look before I made it...

 Also, I've been able to use it in interactions with my customers. I was able to send a customer, not only a snapshot of the fabrics I found for her requested design, but also a picture with an idea of how they would look together. It's not exact (mostly because the lighting in my workroom where I took the pictures of the fabric is not the greatest), but it gave her a fairly good idea.

Added functionality makes this app even more worth it - AND, they said they're still adding. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Of apps and (newly found) mistakes

I can't moan about being too busy, because it's all busyness of my own making :-)

I haven't posted to this blog in a while because why would I want to type about quilting when I could get to my machine and just do it?

I found a cute, and probably goofy, way to advertise my baby quilts. I have an app that will make record covers out of photos and that has actually helped me name my quilts. Instead of "blue squiggly baby quilt" or "orange pinwheel baby quilt," I have been trying to give them song-type names.

The one with the elephant and the blue boxes came from a magazine, and I'm setting out to make another one with the blue boxes, in a much larger size, for a friend's wedding gift... and she's getting a Lorax quilt too, but she doesn't know about that yet.

I've tried to think of things that would make me a more active blogger (aside from my personal blog, which is hopping :-) and when I received my signed copy of Tula Pink's 100 Modern Quilt Blocks, I thought maybe I could do a block a day and post the outcome, mentioning my victories and my mistakes: I make a lot of those. But, I'm not sure about copyright rules and things, so I won't post how to make the blocks. But, we're all quilters and it's easy to look at a block and see how it's constructed.

Block of the day #1

I was not happy with the outcome, not because of the block style, but because of my fabric choices. They seemed fine until I got them all sewn together and there was no contrast at all. I thought the orange fabric would set itself apart visually - and it failed. 

So, I cut it down a little and added a darker orange around the edges. I'm still not thrilled with it, but if I ever decide to make a yellow sampler... and I probably will... this will fit in. Actually, it will probably blend in and be completely unremarkable. AND, I just this second noticed that I sewed it wrong! In the picture above, the bottom left square is backwards! See, I told you I mess up a lot... Oy, this is embarrassing  But, I'm going to just hit 'post' and walk away.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Quilt beyond Measure...

Well, mostly anyway...

Every morning for years now, I've bounced, crawled, whined, or clawed my way out of bed and to my notebook to write my "morning pages"; three continuous pages of long-hand writing with no stops. The advice in The Artist's Way has been wonderful; I use MP's as a purge, a spark, a journal... for nothing and everything. It doesn't matter what I write because it's all garbage, most of it screaming to be tossed and a tiny (the tinniest) bit wanting to be expanded.

I thought that maybe I could use that free-for-all technique on a quilt - and it was a blast! I've had this material for a while...

I bought it in one of those fabric shop frenzies where I see something; immediately know exactly what to do with it; say to myself, "That is going to be BRILLIANT;" and then forget that brilliant idea by the time I get home. Anyway, it's been sitting in my stash for a while, and when I got the idea to make no plans, keep my graphing notebook closed, and just grab a rotary cutter and go for it, this was the canary I sent into the cave and these are the results (which could use a good ironing, now that I'm seeing the pictures).

The only thing I did measure was the eventual 16" blocks and that was only because it was the width of the two rulers I used put together, so it was completely arbitrary. This is just the top, and they always look too flat and plain compared to the finished product, but I'm pretty happy with my cutty/sewy/mishmashy outcome so far. I will not let this sit around and become a UFO; I hope to have it quilted within the week.

So, here's to throwing caution and fabric to the wind!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My (new) favorite mistake

I don't need any more quilts. Right now, I have three on my bed (Winter in New England and all), two hanging on walls, and three throws... but I love doing it. So, for the love and adventure of it, I keep making them and I release them into the world when I'm done - unless they are messed up. And my new one is (thankfully) messed up - because I love it and want to keep it.

I'd been looking for a pattern I liked that would show off my new obsession with Tula Pink's fabrics and when I saw Brigitte Heitland's "OHO" quilt, I knew I'd found the right venue. So I constructed everything and quilted in the ditches, quilting ESS (every single stitch - I have another adjective I use when the piecing is intricate) before I started on the free-motion.

and found a horrible seam. It wasn't just bad, it was beyond bad. Curved piecing is a weak-point for me, so I usually compensate accordingly by adding a half inch to each of the outside pieces and then trimming after the block is done, but I was so excited to make this that I just didn't.

But, I'm actually a little happy about this. Once it's finished, the galloping horse adage will definitely apply and now I get to be a little more creative. When I was going to release this one, I thought that the quilting needed to be somewhat uniform, but now that it's mine, I'm going to go a little crazy. I've only marked the inside of one of the shapes so far. (Thank you Frixion pens) But I have all sorts of things I want to try, mostly to see how they will show up when used with a cotton batting that hasn't been preshrunk.

So this mistake will end up being my pride and joy and I will just try to convince myself that my subconscious wanted me to mess this up (so not true).

Someone just asked me why I don't just go back and fix it, and that's a fair point. But since the mistake was made before the quilt was even as put together as the photo below, it just isn't possible.