Pirate Quilt Top

pirate quilt 1

When the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild selected the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky (CHNK) as one of our charities this year, the gears in my mind started turning. The home is for boys ages 7 to 17 who have been removed from their homes and are awaiting placement in foster care. When they arrive, they select their bedding, and then they can take that bedding with them when they leave. CHNK asked that the quilts we make be twin size, to fit on their beds.

In thinking of a quilt to make, I immediately remembered some pirate fabric I purchased at a Herrschners sale a few years back. The fabric is a pirate map, all in greens and blues. After examining the repeat, I cut the fabric into 8-inch squares, to get a nice variety of sections throughout the quilt. Next, I hit my too-large stash of blues and greens to see what would go with it. I don’t know if I have made a quilt without a polka dot fabric in it, but I don’t usually use stripes, so I was glad to use this one here.

pirate quilt detail

I cut the non-pirate fabrics into 4 x 8-inch pieces and included the solid blue I wanted to use as a border and some more pirate fabric. For the sashing between all the fabric pieces and rows, I cut 2.5-inch strips of Kona Snow.

pirate quilt detail 2

The design of this quilt was inspired by one that I saw that looked a lot more random. For my design, I decided to establish a pattern for the pieces: one 8-inch square followed by two 4-inch rectangles. The second row starts with one 4-inch rectangle, and the third row starts with two 4-inch rectangles. The quilt measures about 70 x 90-inches—pretty huge for me (even my quilt holder was struggling with it).

For the backing, I think I’ll use a blue feather print and a solid tan; when the pirate side gets to be too childish, maybe the feather side will be more to the boy’s liking. Still a lot to do on this one, but I’m liking it so far!


pirate quilt 2

The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Improv Handbook cover

This past week I had the great pleasure of meeting Sherri Lynn Wood, the author of The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, when she stopped by Cincinnati’s Sewn Studio on her cross-country book tour. I worked with Sherri on the book as her technical editor, and it was definitely one of my favorite projects of last year.

Sherri’s book was a fun one to edit because it is very unlike many quilting books. Since the topic is improvisational patchwork, it really didn’t make sense for it to be a regular project book. And yet, someone trying to learn improv patchwork needs more guidance than having the author say, “Go! Play! Be free!” So, rather than presenting the quilts as projects to follow step by step, Sherri shares a “score” for each quilt. The score offers up limits that you can explore as you try different improvisational quilting techniques. The limits you determine can be as simple as the number of fabrics you use in the quilt, the size of the pieces you cut, or the way that you sew those pieces together. To me, the scores give the “project” just enough structure to get you going but allow you enough leeway to do what feels right.

At the Sewn Studio event, Sherri shared many of the techniques she teaches in the book while making an improvisational piece using fabrics brought by the attendees. First she did some ruler-free cutting of fabric strips. Here she’s showing her method of ironing where she softens the seams with steam and then lets them fall in whichever direction they go.

Improv Sherri pressing

After sewing strips, she made some improv triangle blocks. Then it was time to sew the sections together like a patchwork puzzle, looking for ways the sections fit together naturally.

Improv Sherri sewing

We were fortunate in Cincinnati to have one of the contributors to the book on hand. Drew Steinbrecher was very familiar with Sherri’s techniques from her blog, so he helped her with some sewing and showed us some of his quilts using her techniques.

Improv Sherri Drew

Each step of the way, Sherri auditioned fabrics and asked for input from the group.Improv auditioning fabrics

And at the end, this was the piece she/we came up with.Improv final piece

It was fun to watch Sherri in action and to see the enthusiasm she generated in the crowd. I think everyone—myself included—is ready to try our hand at a little improv patchwork.Sherri Christine


Star Trek Grocery Tote

StarTrek grocery tote

On my last trip to The Fabric Shack, I spotted some fabric that instantly reminded me of my college roommate, Sheila. Sheila was a nerd girl before nerd girls even existed. She was into all kinds of pop culture-y things, but one of the things she and I shared an interest in was the Star Trek television series. I just couldn’t pass up Star Trek fabric on the clearance shelf, so I bought some to make something for Sheila.

StarTrek fabric

The fabric has nearly all the original cast on it (a major plus), but the fabric design was a bit over the top for my taste. I wanted to make something Sheila might actually use, so I had to figure out a way to use the best parts of the fabric (the images of the cast) and downplay the rest of the wacky design.

I pulled all the primary-colored fabrics from my stash to see if I could find something to go with the main fabric. But the primary colors only played up the wackiness. I finally decided that maybe downplaying the wacky parts wasn’t good enough—maybe I needed to cut them out completely.

StarTrek cutouts

After a good bit of studying, I figured out how the pattern of the fabric repeated. Then I cut a piece of fusible interfacing to that size and ironed it to the back of the fabric. This stabilized the fabric so I could easily cut out the characters. Next I found a gray fabric in my stash that I thought would lend an air of sophistication to the project.

The question then became “What do I make?” I toyed around with the idea of a zippered pouch, but the characters were large enough that I wasn’t sure how many I would be able to fit on it. Finally, I decided on a grocery tote—a functional item with plenty of room to inject a little fun. The pattern I used is from the book Stitch by Stitch by Deborah Moebes. The tote pattern in the book is one I made before—it’s cute and it comes together easily.

I cut the gray fabric to the size needed for the outside of the tote. Then I lined up my characters and found that five characters fit along the width perfectly! With the order set, I put a dab of glue stick behind the characters and glued them in place just long enough to get them stitched down. I set my sewing machine to a zigzag stitch and sewed around each character.

StarTrek cutouts sewn

I didn’t want to deprive Sheila of the fun of the whole fabric, so I used it for the interior of the bag. And of course, I had to add a zipper to the interior because that’s just what I do.

StarTrek lining

StarTrek pocket

I used some of those primary colored fabrics for the handles, which made the tote look a bit more patriotic than I intended. But I guess that’s what happens when you sew over Memorial Day weekend.

StarTrek handles

It wouldn’t be one of my projects, though, if I didn’t run into some problems—all of which were caused by me trying to go too fast. The main goof came when I cut the corners to make the flat bottom of the bag. Rather than align the corner seams to make a triangle and cut that off (as the instructions clearly showed), I cut off the corners of the flat bag pieces.

StarTrek wrong corner

This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you try to align the seams and you realize you’ve taken a misshapen gouge out of each corner. The only way I could think to make it work was to make my new corner seam as close to the gouge as a I could. Unfortunately that resulted in the bottom of the bag being 5 inches shorter in width than the top of the bag. Ugh.

One solution was to take in the seams of the bag to make it narrower so it would be closer to the width of the bottom. But that would mean cutting off some of the characters. Which just didn’t seem right. I also thought about cutting off the bottom of the bag and sewing on a new one, but that would have put me dangerously close to the bottom of the characters.

StarTrek tote hanging

So, I decided to leave it as it. Hopefully Sheila will be so swept up in the images of Bones and Captain Kirk that she won’t even notice.

Primary Circles Charity Quilt

Primary Cirlces Quilt

It’s been a while since I donated a quilt to a charity, so I recently made finishing up this one a priority. I started it back in July of last year after I picked up the circle fabric at the Herrschner’s fabric sale last June. I always hear that charities need quilts for boys, so when I saw this fabric for just a few dollars a yard, I couldn’t pass it up.

I had several fabrics that matched the main fabric in my stash, but I didn’t have a whole lot of any one of them. So I played around with what I had and came up with this very simple layout. There’s so much going on with the circle fabric that I didn’t feel it needed much more.

Primary Circle quilt top

I wanted to practice quilting non-straight lines on this quilt, so I kept my walking foot on and made figure-eights around the circles. I wasn’t trying to make the lines perfect, but man, did they turn out wonky. I probably should have tried full out free-motion quilting, but I chickened out. Next time, I might just have to go for it. I quilted simple straight lines in the strips and borders.

Primary Circles Quilting

As luck would have it, I was getting ready to give a presentation on quilt labels to the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild when I was finishing this quilt. So I decided to try a new kind of label that I could show at the presentation.

Primary Circles label

I cut a 4″ x 6″ rectangle and folded over and stitched one long edge. I then pinned the label in the lower right-hand corner and sewed my binding onto the front of the quilt. As I was sewing, I caught the two edges of the label on the back (well, actually, it took a couple of tries to catch the edges and have the label be relatively straight).

Primary Circle label complete

I sewed the back side of my binding as usual, folding it up onto the label in this corner. Since a child will be getting this quilt, I didn’t want to leave the long edge of the label open, so I hand-stitched it down to the backing. I like the way it turned out, and hand-stitching one side is a lot faster than hand-stitching all four!

The backing fabric is some that Mom picked up on clearance. The colors match the front just about perfectly, and I like that the circles kind of look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

After I give it a wash, this guy is going to get donated to Project Linus. Hopefully it will find a good home with someone soon.

Improv Patchwork Workshop

Improv class combined pieceThis past Saturday I attended an Improvisational Patchwork Workshop taught by Heather Jones. My friend Peg brought the workshop to my attention, and I just couldn’t pass up a day of sewing with Peg and Heather.

The workshop was held at an artist’s studio on Front Street in Dayton, Ohio. The space was big and bright with lots of room for our makeshift design walls.

Improv class classroom

Even the walk to the bathroom was cool and art-filled.

Improv class hallway

After we all got settled in, Heather showed us the first of three improvisational blocks: the improv log cabin. Our goal was to make log cabin blocks as improvisationally as we wanted. We didn’t need to measure or cut with a straightedge or think too much about our fabrics. With some suggestions and encouragement, she let us go at it using the scraps we’d brought with us.

My first block was fairly typical for me. Most of my scraps were already cut into strips, so it went together quickly. I tried not to think too much about the fabrics, but I obviously tended toward fabrics and colors I was comfortable with.

Improv class log cabin 1Next, I made one using more subdued colors.

Improv class log cabin 3

For my third block, I decided to make it as wonky as I could. My seams were all at least 1/4″, but some of them were more than that so the strips would have an interesting angle.

Improv class log cabin 4With just a little time left in this part of the class, I started a fourth block using some of the scraps Heather shared with us. I started with the two solids and just let it go from there. I think I might like this one the best of the four.

Improv class log cabin 5

As we finished our blocks, we hung them on design walls near our tables. This design wall includes blocks made by me and Peg and two other students.

Improv class design wall

Next, Heather showed us the stacked coin block. Basically, instead of going around in the log cabin formation with our improv piecing, we built strips and used neutral fabrics to offset the strips. Here are a few of Heather’s samples of the first two blocks.

Improv class Heather samples

My first attempt, again, was in my usual palette. I actually had one more strip of blue fabrics on this piece, but I ripped that off later in the day.

Improv class coin 1

As I was about to begin my second stacked coin block, Peg noted how subdued her block was. So since it was a rainy day in Dayton, I tried making a rainy day block. Yep, that’s about as rainy-day as I get.

Improv class coin 2

The final block Heather showed us was the improv cross. This block consists of three strips of fabric and four neutral squares. Again, the level of improv was up to you—for example, you could try to match up your parts of the cross or not.

Improv class heather

Both of my crosses were fairly straightforward. For the second one, I pieced some of the fabric to add a bit more interest.

Improv class cross 1

Improv class cross 2

After that, Heather encouraged us to play around with our favorite block techniques or try putting some of our blocks together. I decided to make another stacked coin block, but this time I used colored fabric, rather than neutrals, to break up the stacks.

Improv class coin experiment

Then, with all my blocks up on the design wall—something that I don’t use at home—I got inspired to put some of the blocks together. I moved them around, ripped off part of one, and added a bit of extra fabric to make the piece below.

Improv class combined piece

Not too bad for a fun day’s work. The blocks weren’t hard to master, so the fun for me was having the time to play around with them. When I sew at home, I always have a goal in mind, something I’m trying to get done. So having a day to just goof around with a group of like-minded enthusiasts was a very cool thing.

Thanks, Heather and Peg!

Improv class me heather peg

Sawtooth Stars Quilt Top

Stars head onThis weekend I finished what turned out to be my most challenging quilt top to date. It was challenging for a number of reasons but primarily because it was one of my first quilts with the blocks set on point and I made up the setting of the blocks myself. And I’m not very good at quilt math. So, yes, a few challenges to say the least.

Just a quick aside: This quilt is going to be a gift, so in this blog post I’ll discuss how I made the quilt. But I’m going to save the story of the quilt, the fabrics used, and the number of stars for when the quilt is closer to being given. I’ll try to make that within the next two years or so.

The main blocks are standard 12-inch Sawtooth Stars; the smaller blocks are 4-inch versions of the same pattern.

Stars detail2

The Sawtooth Star block is essentially four Flying Geese blocks surrounding a square. As I mentioned in my Gaggle of Geese post, there are lots of different methods for making Flying Geese. For the large blocks, I used the “no waste” method, where you make four geese at a time—just what I needed for this block. I used this post on Thought & Found for how to make the two sizes of blocks using this method. The technique was very easy once I wrapped my mind around it, but many of my geese points came out too close to the edge of the blocks (meaning the points got cut off when I sewed the blocks together). I’m guessing I didn’t use the scant one-quarter-inch seam allowance as directed.

For the smaller blocks, I used the technique where you sew one goose at a time. (Cut a rectangle, sew squares to two of the corners, and then trim the excess from the corners.) There’s more waste with this method, but the fabric I used for these stars were all scraps anyway, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Once I had the stars made, I realized that I liked the bigger stars better on point rather than square. So next I needed to figure out the size of the setting triangles (the triangles you use to make the quilt square when your blocks are on point). This link at the Quiltville site helped a ton. But after I had cut out my setting triangles, I decided to sew smaller stars into each triangle. Super cute, but it kind of messed up my math. Some of the triangles fit fine. But on others I had to add a strip of fabric to make them large enough to fit.

Stars setting block2

Another challenging aspect of this quilt was getting the setting triangles in the right direction. Wow—that made my brain hurt. And as you see, I didn’t get it right on the first (or second) try. Here I needed to take apart and resew three of the five setting triangles I had sewn on. Not a very good percentage.

Stars error

But—holy cow, I am happy with the way it turned out! If I just ignore all those cut off points and wonky additional pieces of fabric, I kind of love it.

Stars right

Stars detail hanging

Now, on to the quilting! And I’m stumped. Any suggestions for how to quilt it? I’m even stumped on the thread. I’d like to use blue thread on the background, but I’m not sure what to use for the stars. Let me know what you think—I’d love the help.

Gaggle of Geese

Gaggle of geese

I spent this past weekend in the company of flying geese blocks. Kara, one of the members of the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild, organized a Make and Maybe Take for the April meeting. Participants are to make flying geese blocks using at least one of two specific fabrics. You can make as many blocks as you like. At the meeting, all the blocks will be pooled together, and one block will be selected. Whoever made that block will win all the blocks. Fun!

Make and Maybe Take 02_15

The two fabrics we were to use are from Valori Wells’ Ashton Road collection by Robert Kaufman. And because Kara is so awesome, she secured a donation of that fabric from Robert Kaufman for us to use. So 15 of us got these little bundles to use in our blocks.

As soon as anyone mentions flying geese, I immediately think of the Circle of Geese paper pieced block that I’ve made a bunch of times (like here, here, and here). So, of course, that was the first block I made with the fabrics. The other blue and green fabric that I added is a vintage piece that I’d never cut into. But it seemed to work perfectly with these fabrics. This block marks the first time I used a print for the background of a paper-pieced block. I usually choose a solid, so I don’t have to worry as much about having the right side showing. But I’ve done this particular block so many times now, I used a print without any trouble!

Circle of geese block

Next I made a block called Birds in the Air. I saw a whole quilt made using different sizes of this block, and I wanted to give it a try. Since I had blues to use for the sky, I decided to go with white for the geese. Click here for the tutorial I followed for this 6.5″ Birds in the Air block.

In the air geese

Next, I made two large individual flying geese blocks and put them together to make an 8.5″ block. For these blocks, I cut squares for the backgrounds, sewed them to the base rectangle, and then cut away the corners. This results in a lot of wasted fabric, but I used my scraps for the paper-pieced blocks I made next. It wasn’t until we were talking about these blocks at guild that I learned a true flying geese block is half as tall as it is wide. So putting two together makes a square block.

Large geese block

Finally, I used up the rest of my fabric with some paper-pieced blocks. For these I paper pieced the individual flying geese blocks using templates from Fresh Lemons. Then I added additional fabric to make square blocks. Both of these ended up being 8″ blocks.

Four geese with stripes

Three geese on white

It’ll be fun to see what everyone else comes up with for their blocks. Kara plans to have two more of these Make and Maybe Takes this year, and I’m really looking forward to them.

Stars for Stephanie

Stars for Stephanie 2 Stars for Stephanie 1

The Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild recently put out a call to help them honor one of their founding members, Stephanie Hicks, who had passed away in February from cancer. They named the project Stars for Stephanie and asked that people from all over make Stephanie’s favorite block, the wonky star, in solids of all her favorite colors. This post on their blog lays out all the details and even includes color swatches to help you pick your fabrics. They’ll take all the blocks they receive and make them into quilts to donate to cancer patients.

So this weekend, I made up two blocks to contribute. Stephanie’s favorite colors are mine, too, so I had plenty of solids in my stash to choose from. The only color I didn’t have was cream, which I must have run out of somewhere along the line.

The tutorial they recommend using is super easy to follow, and it makes wonky squares large enough that I was able to trim them down to size with no problem.

All the wonky star blocks are due to the Knoxville guild on April 18, 2015, so there’s still time to make up a few if you’re interested in participating. And if you’re a member of the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild, we’ll be collecting the blocks at the April meeting so that we can send them all at one time.

Good luck to the KMQG on this project—what a wonderful way to honor a quilting friend.


I Finally Tried Pieced Curves!

Blue and gray curved piecingI started making quilts more than twenty years ago, and I’ve been making them with passion for about ten of those years. For that entire time, I’ve skillfully avoided pieced curves. It always seemed like sewing a straight seam and getting everything to match was challenging enough. But last month at the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild meeting, our education chairperson, Brooke, gave a talk on pieced curves (and reverse applique, both as ways to sew circles). More than just show us how, she issued a challenge for us to try either or both of the techniques and bring our work to the March meeting.

So this past weekend, I pieced my heart out. Brooke demonstrated the technique with templates and pieces that were probably about 5 and 6 inches wide. Once home, I decided to just pull a template from one of my books and found some that were 2.5 and 3.5 inches wide. That’s quite a bit smaller, it turns out.

I cut the pieces in blues and grays thinking that, if the piece turned out, I could make it into a pillow for our front room.

Curved piecing 1

Next came the pinning. Just like every tutorial I’ve read, Brooke stressed the importance of pinning the pieces. With the concave (larger) piece on top, I placed seven pins around each tiny, tiny arc. I started in the center, pinned the sides, and then filled in the rest.

Curved piecing 2Curved piecing 3

The little guys didn’t come close to laying flat. Which made them extra scary to sew. But like Brooke and all the written tutorials suggested, I sewed slowly around each one. And then I pressed the seam allowance to the concave side.

Curved piecing 4

Watching the pieces flatten out as I was pressing them was like witnessing a miracle. Who would have thought that misshapen mass of pins and fabric would ever lay flat?

Blue and gray curved piecing

Obviously I have some perfecting to do—I’ve got some tucks in the concave pieces and my circles aren’t exactly round. But I’m pretty happy for it being my first try. And I do believe I’ll try it again, probably with larger pieces, just to see if that truly makes it easier, as I suspect it would.

Click here to read the minutes from the February CMQG meeting that include Brooke’s demonstrations, with step-by-step photos.

Orange Structured Messenger Bag

Orange messenger front detailEver since I first used By Annie’s Soft and Stable in my kiss clasp purse, I’ve been wanting to try it with my favorite messenger bag pattern. The Soft and Stable gives body and structure to bags that you just don’t get with interfacing and batting. After regular use, my kiss clasp purse still sits up by itself (although the fabric is getting to be a little worse for wear).

Soft and Stable

The messenger bag pattern is one I made last year in blue and orange. So this time I decided to not only make it with the Soft and Stable but to mix up the palette, going with orange and blue.

The pattern I used for the kiss clasp purse suggested that you use a zigzag stitch to sew the Soft and Stable to your cut pattern pieces. Here’s my messenger bag flap stitched and ready to go.

Orange messenger flap

The instructions for the kiss clasp purse called for cutting squares from the corners of the fabric for the boxed bottom, rather than trying to match the seams and then trimming off the corners. I found the square method so much easier, so I applied it to this bag as well. I layered my lining pieces, right sides together, cut squares from the bottom corners, then stitched the sides and bottom. I repeated this with the exterior pieces.

Orange messenger boxed corners

With the corners removed, you can easily match up the side and bottom seams to finish the bottom.

Orange messenger boxed seam

As usual, I added all the pockets I like to have. The interior includes a zipper pocket and a simple flat pocket. As always, I turned to The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam for reminders of best practices when it comes to pockets.

Orange messenger inside panel 1

Orange messenger inside panel 2

I also added a zipper pocket on the exterior. I was a little nervous about this because I would be cutting through the Soft and Stable, which just seemed really thick.

Orange messenger fat lip

In my first attempt (above), my zipper had a fat lower lip. I didn’t get close enough to the fabric edge, so too much of the Soft and Stable pooched out. But I tried again, and I was happy with the result.

Orange messenger side and back

The bag does have great body—I love that it can sit up by itself. The added structure makes the gaps at the sides of the flap a bit more pronounced, but if it’s not tipping over, then the contents should stay put.

Orange messenger hanging

About the fabrics: The orange and white piece is a home decor fabric remnant that I picked up at Creativities, an art studio just a few blocks from my house. The rest of the fabrics are from my orange stash. I kind of liked the idea of a travel theme for this bag, since I think it will be great for trips of all sorts. So I was glad I had some camper and bicycle fabrics to use.

Orange messenger open

Overall, I’m very happy with the bag. I’ll be taking it on our upcoming beach trip, so I’ll see what it’s like to use. But for now, I plan to use Soft and Stable in all my bags.

Orange messenger side view


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