Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Little Houses in the Big Woods

One of my favourite things about free-motion machine quilting is how the designs seem to take on a life of their own. The line designs for this quilt began simply as chimney smoke. But as the smoke cleared the houses the design morphed into a much looser windblown version. And as it fell to the ground the design melted into a misty ribbon-like vapour.

I didn't start out with this in mind, but as I played with the designs on paper and later with my sewing machine on the frame, the tightly curled chimney smoke opened out into a variety of much looser designs. The relatedness of the designs gave the quilt continuity, while the variations gave interest. It was fun and quick once I got to the actual quilting. Best of all it was finished for Christmas.

The red schoolhouse blocks for this project were gently resting in a basket for about ten years. My friend Rosemary Titley-Bayes kindly offered to put the blocks together and add the borders so it would be ready to feature in our new DVD. Little Houses in the Big Woods was machine quilted using a JUKI TL98P on the New English Quilting frame using King Tut#920 Sands of Time on top and Bottom Line pre-wounds in the bobbin. It was featured in the UK Popular Patchwork 2007 Christmas issue.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Going Out of the Lines

This little quilt took years to piece. I was piecing it when my children were quite small. As the Christmas season approached I'd get the urge to find my stash of Christmas fabric, get it all out and ponder about what project to work on. I think the first year all I finished was the star in the centre. The following year I made it through the first border. There were probably a couple of years when I only managed to get it out, look at it and put it back again. But one year I found some great stripy fabric that went perfectly and I was able to finish the piecing.

By this time I was machine quilting on a SuperQuilter frame. I'd recently upgraded my sewing machine from a 30 year old school's Bernina 808 to a JUKI TL98P and I was loving those extra 2 inches. This quilt presented me with one of my first opportunities of 'going outside the lines.' I was fed up with stitch in the ditch. I wanted to try an overall pattern. Many hand quilters do this to great advantage. Look at some of the Amish quilts we all love so much, and you'll see that the quilting has a life of it's own and often ignores the piecing pattern completely.

I used a gold shade from the MasterPiece range, Wheat Fields #157. I choose this fine thread to blend in to the pieced fabric underneath, giving me texture without drawing too much attention to itself. The quilting pattern is one that I stumbled on myself. It's a looser, more flowing version of a smokey spiral pattern that I'd used earlier to come out of chimneys. I called it Filigree Scroll work. It's a free flowing pattern, easy to move with in any direction.

Well, it took years to piece, but it was quilted in an hour. It did take a real effort of the will to ignore the piecing and cross over the lines. But I'm glad I did. Standing back from the finished quilt, I realized that an overall quilting pattern could hold the quilt together visually as well as practically. I also like the way a curvy pattern helped the quilt to hang more gracefully. Now I use this quilt each Christmas. But I keep it handy all the rest of the year as a teaching tool to demonstrate the value of going outside the lines.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Poinsettia Stocking

My daughter Rosie loves pink, and I'd promised Rosie a home made stocking for Christmas. So I used pink fleece and cut and machined a stocking shape. As you can see, I've leaned toward a more feminine dancer shape for the stocking. Then I used free-motion machine embroidery on a table top frame to create poinsettia flowers. If you don't have a table top frame, you could get the same result using a hoop to stretch the netting.

I've used a fine sparkly netting as a background for the poinsettia flowers. This was stretched between the first two leaders on the frame. I needed a bold line of stitching to outline the petals and keep the netting from fraying. The King Tut range from Superior Threads was ideal for this. Ramses Red #914 was the perfect colour.
I used the needle to draw the petal shapes on the netting. Later I took the netting off the frame and cut out the flowers. I went on to stitch them on a stocking but they could be used in other ways. Take a look at the slide show on the right hand side of this post. It will give you a good idea how this project came together.
Using a see-through fabric is wierd! You can see just how your sewing machine is working. I've used this same technique to create fairy wings. Does anyone have other ideas?

Monday, 1 December 2008

More for your Money

Why bigger is better.

The larger thread cones are, yard-by-yard, more economical. Here in the UK if you buy a big cone of King Tut, you get 2000 yds. of extra-long staple, really-grown-in-Egypt, cotton for £16.99. If you opt for the smaller spool because it seems cheaper, you pay £5.75 for 500 yds. It's the same great stuff, but you're actually paying 30 pence per yard more for the same thread on the smaller spools. The coins are different in America, but the principles remain the same.

The hidden cost of smaller spools:

We all have an unfortunate habit of underestimating the amount of thread we need to complete our projects. Rather than spend the £16.99 to purchase the 2000 yards. We think we could manage with 2 smaller spools giving 1000 yards. So we purchase 2 small spools at £5.75 each, costing a mere £11.50. We go home begin our project, get two thirds of the way through and run out of thread. So we drive back to the shop, pay petrol and parking and hope the matching thread is still in stock. If we’re lucky we purchase another 2 of the smaller spools, because we learned our lesson and don’t want to run out again, and spend another £11.50. Now we’re up to £23.00 plus the cost of parking and petrol or P&P and the delay if we're ordering online. All told, we just spent £6.00 more than if we’d purchased the larger cone plus the added expense and aggravation of the extra journey.

The larger top feed cones also run more smoothly on your machine. This means less thread tension related problems. Most newer sewing machines have integral thread stands that accommodate these larger spools. If you have an older machine we have a thread stand that will allow any sewing machine to take advantage of the larger top feed spools.

Bulk buying saves money, and with thread you don't have to worry about it going off! Thread has a great shelf life, keep it out of the sun and dust free and it will always be there when you need it.