Charley Harper Butterfly Quilt

Back in August of last year, I wrote a blog post about visiting the Charley Harper mosaic mural at the John Weld Peck Federal Building. It was my sister Carrie who learned about the mural, and we had such a great time visiting it that I decided to see if she would want a quilt inspired by the mural for her 50th birthday. (Truth be told, I posed the question six months after that birthday, when I got the idea for a quilt. We play it kind of fast and loose with birthdays in my family.)

I asked her what were some of her favorite animals from the mural. Her first choice was the orange and black beetle and her second choice was the red, black, and yellow snake. After doing some math, I realized that, working with comfortable 2-inch squares, I’d have room for only one animal. So I asked, just to be sure, if she wanted a giant beetle on her quilt. It’s then she thought maybe the butterfly or snail would work best.

So I sketched the butterfly on graph paper, using the photo above for reference. To me, the random colored tiles placed between the animals added to the character of the mosaic, so I made notes for those, too.

Next I ordered Kona solid fabrics that matched the mural tiles, or at least came close. The first gray I ordered was too light, so I got a darker shade. And it took me four tries to get all the white fabric I ended up needing. Maybe guessing at the quantities wasn’t the best approach.

I started by making all the half-square triangles. I used the eight-at-a-time method when I could. Otherwise, I just made two at a time. I used individual squares for all the parts of the butterfly, but I decided I would use strips of white background fabric whenever there were more than two white tiles next to each other. That helped to cut down on the piecing.

Once I got going, I realized I’m not a very accurate piecer. I mean I knew that, but it became abundantly clear as I pieced the bold lines of the butterfly’s wings. It would have been easy to give up at this point, but I was too far in to quit. And it was looking pretty cool . . . from a distance, anyway.

I struggled with how big to make the quilt once the butterfly was complete. It measured 50″ x 32″, an odd size for a usable quilt. But my ideas for making it longer either took away from the butterfly or from the super graphic nature of the quilt. So in the end I decided just to add two rows of white around the butterfly and one row of black for the border. Rather than a plain black border, though, I added some random colored squares to that as well.

I started quilting in between the “tiles” with white thread to mimic the grout of the mosaic, but my less-than-accurate piecing became even more obvious. And the white thread just wasn’t very pretty. So I decided to quilt the shapes within the butterfly wings with like-colored thread. I quilted some of the larger sections of like colors as one shape, but for most of the squares and triangles, I quilted each individually slightly inside the seams. In the background, I quilted in 2-inch squares to emphasize the mosaic aspect.

Once the quilting was done, I could see all my mistakes way, way too clearly. Which was why I couldn’t wait to wash it. Since I had used unwashed cotton fabric and batting, I knew the quilt would shrink up a bit, making the quilt crinkly and making those little errors more difficult to spot. (The lighting is a bit off so the left side background looks more yellow than it is.)

I used two different Charley Harper fabrics for the backing. And I finished it in time to present to Carrie when she was in town right before her 51st birthday.

This quilt was a huge challenge for me—it was a lot to keep organized and a lot of small-for-me piecing. But with one under my belt, I can definitely see myself making another one in a couple years. There’s an awfully cute fish I want to try . . .

Welcome Pineapple

Hello! Life changes—namely working full-time for the city in which I live—has left me with less time for blogging. But I am still sewing.

This happy pineapple is one of the few small projects I had in the works. It’s a simple pattern (my squares finish at 2 inches), and it provided a nice break from some of the larger projects I have (more to come on that later) and had (the Polaroid Quilt) in the works.

I got it in my head that I wanted to quilt the pineapple “realistically.” So the quilting in the green part is spiky, and the quilting in the yellow is meant to represent the texture of the pineapple’s outer layer.  I tried matchstick quilting (closely spaced parallel lines) for the background, which was a bit ambitious since I was quilting around an object. But I like the way it turned out.

The pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality, so this guy hangs in our guest bedroom. It was a quick project that provided a much-needed sense of accomplishment!

Polaroid Quilt

While it’s obvious I haven’t been busy writing blog posts, know that I have been busy sewing. In fact, I recently finished one of the most time-intensive quilts I’ve made. It all started last summer when one of the guild members in my Bee Hive swap asked us to make Polaroid blocks for her. Basically, they’re little blocks with a fussy-cut image surrounded by white borders to make it look like an old Polaroid photo.

I made my five blocks for her, and then realized I couldn’t stop making them. Hunting through my fabrics to find little images was so much fun. So I decided to make a Polaroid quilt as a sort of I-spy quilt for friends who have two young girls.

I started making blocks and soon realized that with blocks this small (mine were 3 1/2 x 4 inches) you need a lot of blocks to make a quilt. My plan called for 196 to be exact. It became clear that I wasn’t going to come up with that many unique images from my stash, so I asked my mom to help me out. From her stash, she gave me some great novelty fabrics: Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street, and Peanuts prints plus lots and lots of food fabrics.

At a sewing retreat at the end of September, I got to work cranking out the blocks. My piles steadily grew, although I didn’t get to put much up on the “finished” wall. After bumming fabrics off a few follow retreat attendees, I left with all 196 blocks done.

Next came the layout. I found some lightweight denim fabric and thought that would add a level of coziness to the quilt. So I started by sewing sashing strips to the sides of the blocks.

The last name of the family receiving the quilt starts with an E, so I set my letter E block at an angle. It took a bit of trial and error to get the angle right and placed within the sashing grid I had in mind.

Because my columns of blocks weren’t close to being perfectly aligned, I offset the rows, which also added a little movement and variety. To make the quilt a bit longer, I added a second lightweight denim fabric on the top and bottom.

Because we’re all about the jokes, Greg and I added captions to about 20 of the images before I sent the quilt out to be quilted. (Unfortunately, the ink ran when I washed the quilt, so the captions got pretty smudgy. It was a bummer, to be sure, but I was glad it happened to me and not to our friends the first time they washed it.)

Holly Seever did the longarm quilting for me, using an allover pattern of grouped flames. I figured that there were enough individual things going on that an allover pattern might help unify it a bit.

On the back, I sewed together larger cuts of the some of the fabric used on the front. Finding the matching fabrics on the front and back might be another fun game to play.

This past weekend, I finally give the quilt to our friends! They seemed to have fun looking at all the images, and I hope it keeps them cozy and entertained for years to come.


Charley Harper Mural

When my sister Carrie, her husband Doug, and my mom came to town in August, they had a list of a few things they wanted to do. One thing on Carrie’s list was to see the Charley Harper mural at the John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati. Thankfully she provided a link, because huh?

It turns out that in 2015 the U.S. General Services Administration launched a database of public art held and on display in federal buildings around the country. (Carrie works at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, so she’s kind of tapped into government things.) She searched the database and learned about the Charley Harper mural.

So after a day walking around Findlay Market and Washington Park, we went in search of the Federal Building. After only a little bit of trouble, we found the building, and the other piece of art: an American Eagle on the outside of the building. Then we went in and came to the realization that we were actually in a federal building. So we were asked our business (“To see the mural.”) and went through security.

The mural consists of two panels, each about 13 feet x 18 feet, that are tucked behind a bank of elevators. The right side of the mural is shown above. And you can sort of get the scale from the photo below.

Me, Mom, and sisters Brenda and Carrie

Both panels are just filled with super cool tile animals.

We spent so much time there it was kind of crazy. But there were keys on the wall identifying each of the animals, so that was fun. And we couldn’t get over how each animal was so artistically rendered with simple squares and triangles. Talk about ready-made quilt inspiration!

So, watch out Traveling Companion. Now in addition to checking for local fabric stores whenever I travel, I’ll be looking for potential stops on the federal art database, too. I’m sure there are many more hidden treasures out there!

Quilt Block Roundup

puppyblockIt’s been a while since I shared the blocks I’ve been making for the Hive swap and various charity projects, so here are some that have come across my sewing table.

That adorable puppy block is one I made for a Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild member who is making a quilt to be auctioned off by a local pet rescue. The pattern is Dog Gone Cute by Sew Fresh Quilts, and the pattern creator generously gave her permission to copy the pattern so Guild members could all pitch. Each dog is just a bit different, and the quilt turned out pretty darn cute.


I’m still in a Bee Hive swap with CMQG members, and one recent block was fun and scrappy. Elizabeth asked us to cut a 12.5-inch square of a solid fabric (or one that reads as a solid) and to make a 12.5-inch square with narrow strips of fabric.

HST Bee block 1

Then she asked that we use those two squares to make make two half-square triangle blocks. Super easy!

HST Bee block 2

Next up is a little paper-pieced block I made for Tara. She provided the Tea and Coffee Cups pattern (a free one) from Piece By Number and a swatch of a teal color that she wanted each block to include.


A person on Instagram with the handle Crafty Cop is a police officer who is making quilts for families of police officers killed in the line of duty. She put out a call for 12.5-inch Raspberry Kiss blocks, and so members of CMQG made some to send. She asked that all the backgrounds be low volume and the Xs be blue. The tutorial we followed was from Heritage Threads.


Finally, this past month, Susan from the Hive swap asked each of us to make four Polaroid blocks. The centers of each are 2.5-inch fussy-cut images. Then narrow white strips of fabric are added to look kind of like the frame around Polaroid photos. These were so fun to make. So fun that I couldn’t stop making them and have started my own Polaroid quilt. I ended up making five blocks for Susan just in case the shark block wasn’t her style—but it was.


I love that participating in swaps and charity projects means I get to try so many different blocks. Some I know I won’t try again (that puppy was a bear!), but know that you’ll see some of these again in future quilts.


Homeward Bound Quilt and Lesson Learned

Back in April of 2016, I wrote a post about this quilt top. I was struggling with the quilt, and the post was about how I took it to a Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild meeting and the ladies there encouraged me to finish it. I got some encouraging comments about the quilt here, too, and one of them was from Kara, a dear friend since high school, who has been a supporter of my blog since the beginning.

Well, all that encouragement wasn’t enough to get me to finish the quilt quickly, but I did finish it. In fact, there was a bit of a push to get it done before I left for Wisconsin at the end of July this year. Because I decided to give the quilt to Kara.

That decision was easy after I learned a little lesson this spring. In April, another friend from high school, Lynn, died. She was my high school locker partner, we went to the same college, we took vacations together, and I was the maid of honor at her wedding. When I was in Wisconsin for her funeral, my Mom (an avid quilter) said she had always thought that, when the time came to give away her quilts, she would give a particular yellow and black one to Lynn because Lynn had liked it so much. And Mom was sad she couldn’t do that anymore.

Lynn’s death was a really crappy thing, and I have struggled to make sense of it. But if I can’t make sense of it, I guess I can at least learn from it. So Lynn’s death taught me this: Give the quilt. Show your love. Do it now.

So Kara got her quilt. It was a complete surprise, of course, since we hadn’t given each other gifts in years. It turns out Kara had inherited a quilt rack but didn’t have anything to put on it, so the quilt came in handy that way, too. Kara said this bright, quirky quilt reminds her of both me and Lynn. That works for me.


I’ve always had an affinity for telephones. My mom and dad started dating while they were both working at the local phone company. Mom was an operator and knows a lot about area codes and geography because of it. Dad was a cable repair technician and retired from the phone company after over 35 years. He would call the house sometimes while he was checking a customer’s phone for a daytime chat.

So I have a tendency to notice telephone quilt patterns. There are several cute ones, but this paper-piecing pattern by Cynthia Frenette struck a cord (ha!) because it looks just like I remember the phones at our house looking.

I decided to try my hand at the pattern by making a mug rug for Mom. The phone is red, of course.

It’s really a fun block to make. The finished block is 10 inches square, so most of the pieces are large and even the small ones are manageable. It’s also a great way to use up scrap fabric. The circles for the dial need to be appliquéd on. I wasn’t trying to make a masterpiece, so I just fused them on for raw-edge appliqué. Easy enough.

The block was so fun that I decided to make a wall hanging for myself. I picked solids from my stash in some of my favorite colors. I used two different fabrics for the dials. Neither has numbers, but I think they get the idea across.

Next, I needed to figure out how to quilt it. I really prefer simple quilting that emphasizes the piecing, so I ended up just outlining the phones.

I did a tiny zigzag around the circles to keep them from fraying too much.

And look! There’s the outline of the phone on the back!

I did the same quilting on the wall hanging. I used quilting to separate the earpiece and mouthpiece from the handle because, as a kid, I liked unscrewing those pieces and looking inside.

I was looking for an easy project that would make me happy. And these telephones definitely did the trick for me.


Star Wars and the Power of Costume

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Star Wars. I remember seeing the first movie in the theater, and I have seen all the original movies and the latest ones, too. I remember being very, very scared of Stormtroopers (or the White Guys, as I called them). But when I started hanging out with Greg, Star Wars became much more a part of my life. He was a total Star Wars kid. He had/has all the toys. He has watched all the movies many times (including the prequels). He inserts a Star Wars quote into normal conversation at least once a week.

So when the Star Wars the Power of Costume exhibit came to the Cincinnati Museum Center, there was no doubt we would go. And because Greg’s parents were very much a part of his Star Wars history, the four of us went together.

It was pretty great. The exhibit included actual costumes that were used in the filming of the seven episodes: the original three, the three prequels, and 2015’s The Force Awakens. Many of the costumes were in open displays so you could get a close look at them without glass in the way. And it included just about everything a fan like me would want to see.

It was so exciting to turn a corner and see old friends.

And new friends, too.

It was fun to see the Princess Leia costumes and have a better sense of just how tiny Carrie Fisher was.

Even though I never saw the prequels, I always enjoy looking at pretty dresses, so I spent a good bit of time admiring all the Queen Amidala costumes they had on display.

I love the buttons on the sleeves of this one.

I saw this one from the back first and admired the single line of stitching. Then I saw it from the front. Beautiful.

Her wedding dress was made from an old Italian bedspread. The costume designer spent the whole night before filming adding pearls to the dress to make it extra special.

This wonderful dress was worn by one of the handmaidens. The fabric accordions so it clings to the body and then expands down at the floor.

The exhibit included many of the bad guys, too, of course, including the scariest in my mind: Stormtroopers and Sand People.

The exhibit made nice use of platforms. In this example, they show how Emperor Palpatine went from good guy to bad guy.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the concept art that was sprinkled throughout. Amazing stuff.

Like this original art by John Mollo for the Cantina scene.

And the evolution of a Wookiee images.

The exhibit was light on creatures. I guess foam rubber doesn’t hold up well over time. But Chewie was there, an Ewok, and of course, Yoda.

At the end was a bonus exhibit of Star Wars toys! Kenner, the company that made all the figures and play sets, was based in Cincinnati, so this exhibit included a history of the company and lot of toys, many of which we have in our basement.

I was pretty sure I needed a photo of Greg and his parents at this point.

The exhibit is at the Museum Center until October 1, 2107, and I highly recommend it. There are interactive elements throughout to keep the kids engaged. And if you’re as lucky as we were, you might get to see the look of awe on an eight-year-old boy’s face as he stares up at a towering Darth Vader. Pretty cool stuff.

Quilt for Mom

As I mentioned in a previous post, my bright idea for Christmas gifts was to make coordinating quilts for my mom and dad. Dad’s was shipped and arrived at the beginning of March. Since then, it’s been keeping him—and the occasional visitor—toasty warm.

In April, I finished Mom’s quilt and delivered it to her in person. It’s the same pattern and has the same background as Dad’s quilt, but I made it with the Kaffe Fassett fabrics my mom loves.

I actually started Mom’s quilt first, so I have some of process shots to share. The block pattern I used is Falling Triangles. The tutorial in the link starts with two 10-inch squares of fabric for the quarter square triangles, but I made mine with 8-inch squares, which resulted in 6-inch finished blocks once the additional background strips were sewn on.

I made 84 blocks for the quilt center, 7 across and 12 down. With most of the fabrics, I cut just one 8-inch square, resulting in 4 blocks of that fabric. For other fabrics, I cut two squares. I didn’t end up using all the blocks I made, however.

Many of the fabrics were pulled from my stash; I bought the two polka-dot fabrics, the stripe, and a couple others to round out the selection.

Once I had the layout set, I had a hard time keeping my triangles oriented correctly as I sewed. So I marked every other one with a V for vertical, which made sense at the time.

With the center sewn, I added a border of squares and rectangles using all the center fabrics. The math didn’t turn out right to have all 4-inch (finished) squares, so I threw in a few 2 x 4-inch (finished) rectangles to make it work.

Next I added a border of the background to bring things down a notch. And then I amped it back up with the border fabric. It turned out so bright and fun!

Rather than try to quilt this giant quilt (it ended up being about 70 x 100 inches) myself, I asked Holly Seever to longarm it for me. She and I talked a bit about what I had in mind, and then Holly came back with a plan.

She quilted swirls with tails all over the center, Xs and figure 8s on the squares and rectangles, smaller swirls in the background border, and finally, feathers with swirls on the border.

The quilting looks great on the back, too. For that I used a Kaffe Fassett wide fabric and some leftover fabrics from the front. (A note of warning about wide/backing fabrics: Since the fabric is around 108 inches wide [instead of the usual 42 inches], the fabric has to be folded more times to fit on a similar size bolt. That folding makes it harder to cut a straight cut of fabric. Tearing the fabric [with the grain] would result in straight edges, but cutting can get really skewed. In fact, Holly said this backing was skewed about 10 inches, so she had to be careful of how she loaded it on her longarm.)

I bound the quilt with the border fabric. And, of course, added a quick label, too.

Even though Mom is a quilter herself, she appreciated having a quilt made just for her. And I enjoyed making it for her. I had never made a quilt with fabrics from just one designer, so it was fun to see how well they went together even though they were designed years apart. Even the backing fabric has many of the exact colors as the binding fabric.


February Hive Doings

myhiveblocks4At the February meeting of the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild, the members of my Hive gave me the blocks they made. (Read all about the Hive Swap and my quilt blocks here.) It was so fun to see how everyone’s blocks turned out! Christy did some major fussy cutting on the blocks above.myhiveblocks3As did Abby, who managed to work in some book fabric in the left-hand block and the word “Wisconsin.” Pretty cool.


myhiveblocks1All of the blocks turned out great. And the good news is there’s more to come. Three people weren’t able to get their blocks to me in February, so I’ll have Scrappy Improv blocks coming for the next few months. Once I get them all, the quilt should come together very quickly (one would think, anyway).

At the meeting, my Hive received our instructions for the February block. Yo is the February Hive Queen, and she designed her block. She provided instructions for it and asked that the wider fabric be a large print and the narrower fabric be a solid.


I tried to use colors that I thought were in Yo’s typical palette, which isn’t really my typical palette. So that’s always a gamble. But hopefully she likes it!