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 . . .

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.


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.


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!

Quilt for Dad

dadquilt2Back in November, I decided to make quilts for both my mom and my dad for Christmas. In November. For Christmas. Yeah, that was a bit ambitious. I decided to use the same block—falling triangles— for each and the same background fabric, a batik from Me+You. But for Mom’s quilt I used Kaffe Fassett fabrics in bright reds, pink, and purples. And for Dad’s quilt I used blues.

Dad and I have a long history of blue. His eyes are clear blue, and I can’t help but give him blue shirts for gifts to set off his eyes. I can’t even tell you how many blue shirts I’ve given that man over the years. A lot. Plaid shirts, denim shirts, a very occasional striped shirt if it’s not too flashy. A lot of blue shirts. So when it came time to choose a color for his quilt, of course it would be blue. And because I’m a bit of a blue girl myself, every fabric came from my stash.


Come Christmas morning, Mom opened up a bright, colorful quilt top (more to come on that one in a later post). And Dad opened a partial top made with blue fabrics. The look in those blue eyes when he opened that partial quilt was pretty priceless. You see, despite my mom being a quilter, he had only one quilt that was his own, and it was on its last legs. He really needed a new quilt.

So, while my plan had been to finish Mom’s quilt first, Dad’s got moved to the front of the line. He didn’t want the quilt as large as I had intended to make it (he just wanted a nap quilt rather than a bed quilt), so that was easy. And he didn’t want cotton batting, which isn’t quite warm enough for a Wisconsin winter nap. After a bit of discussion, Mom and I decided I should try wool batting.

I brought the two quilts home from Christmas and started working again on Dad’s. The center of the quilt was done, so I just added the scrappy border. For the back I used a few pieces larger pieces of fabric from the front.


I pin baste my quilts, and basting the wool batting was a breeze. That batting stuck to the fabric like nothing I’d ever seen, so there was no shifting of the layers while I basted.

And quilting it was a lot easier than I thought, too. Wool is very lightweight, so it was easier to move around my domestic sewing machine than cotton quilts of that size. Wool batting is lofty, and so the quilt is puffier than a cotton quilt, too.

dadquilt4I kept the quilting very minimal, just echo quilting the triangles and a square design in the border. It was the fastest way to quilt it, in my mind, and honestly, I knew Dad wouldn’t care too much about the quilting.

dadquilt8And I added a label, of course.


A few technical notes about the quilt: I used 8″ squares for the falling triangle blocks instead of the 10″ squares in the tutorial. This resulted in the 6.5″ blocks that I used in the quilt. The quilt finished at 61″ wide and 77.5″ high.

dadquilt3When I washed the quilt, the fabric (which I hadn’t prewashed) shrunk up and made the quilt extra crinkly and puffy.

dadquilt_washedThe quilt should arrive today—a bit late for Christmas and a bit late for his birthday, but hopefully in time for some more winter naps.

Scrappy Improv Blocks Tutorial

improv10As 2017 begins, so does the next Bee Hive Swap at the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild. The hive has eleven members, and each month one member presents a block. The other members of the hive make the block and give it to the member who presented it at the next meeting. I learned so much last time, making blocks that I wouldn’t think to make for myself, so I signed up again this year. And I was selected to lead it off by presenting my blocks at the January meeting!

I struggled to come up with a block that I liked, so I kind of came up with two of my own. These blocks are scrappy and improv-y, and the common fabric that I supplied will help to give the quilt a cohesive look. Below are instructions if you’d like to make these blocks yourself.

Materials for two 12½˝ blocks

  • Fabric scraps at least 4˝ long
  • 1 square 6½˝ × 6½˝ neutral fabric for Block A
  • 2 strips 3½˝ × 6½˝ neutral fabric for Block B
  • 2 strips 3½˝ × 12½˝ neutral fabric for Block B

improv11. Cut scrap fabric into pieces about 4˝ long and various widths between ¾˝ and 2˝. Feel free to cut these without a ruler for a more improv look. Sew pieces long edges together. Again, feel free to sew in an improv fashion, following the lines of the cut edges. Press the seams to the side, but either side is fine.

improv2a2. Continue to sew strips together. After you have 4 or 5 pieces together, spray with starch or a product like Flatter to keep the sewn strip flat.

improv33. You’ll need a total of 51˝ of sewn strips to make both blocks, but I recommend making multiple strips, rather than one really long one. See strip lengths below. Trim the sewn strips to 3½˝ wide.

Block A

improv44. Sew two 3½˝ wide scrappy strips to the top and bottom of the neutral 6½˝ square. Trim ends. Press seams to the center.

improv5As you can see, the back is tidy, but the strip seams aren’t all going in the same direction. That’s just fine.

imrpov65. Sew two trimmed scrappy strips at least 12½˝ long to the sides of the 6½˝ square. Press seams to center. Trim to 12½˝ square.

Here’s what one of my longer strips looked like before I trimmed it to 3½˝. It’s getting a little crooked already, making trimming to 3½˝ wide tricky. That’s why I don’t recommend trying to sew one strip the full 51˝ long.


improv7Block A is complete.

Block B

improv86. Cut two trimmed scrappy strips 6½˝ long. Sew these long edges together for the center of Block B.
7. Sew one neutral 3½˝ × 6½˝ strip to the top of the pieced center and one to the bottom. Press seams toward the neutral fabric.
8. Sew one neutral 3½˝ × 12½˝ strip to each side of the center. Press seams toward neutral fabric.

improv9Block B is complete.

Once I get all the blocks from my hive members, I plan to alternate the A and B blocks for the finished top. I can’t wait to see how the blocks turn out!

Christmas 2016: Gifts Given and Received

tattoosHappy 2017, everyone! Before I start blogging about new projects, let’s do a bit of catching up from over the holidays.

Greg and I traveled up to Wisconsin to spend time with my family for Christmas. It was fun and busy with lots of game-playing and food-making. Christmas eve day was a bit slow around the house, so I let my niece Stella open one of my gifts for her: tattoo markers!

Tattoo-U markers allow budding tattoo artists to draw images on skin. The drawings wash off easily at first, but once the images set for about three hours, it takes a bit of scrubbing to remove them.

The first tattoo I received from Stella was a lovely rainbow with purple clouds. She wrote the S in the center when I asked her to sign it.


For my second tattoo, I asked for one of her fancy lady drawings. She drew her with red hair just for me.

lady-tattooOther family members received tattoos of Christmas trees, video game controllers, and more. I love getting gifts for that sweet, creative girl.

We didn’t exchange names this year among the sisters and husbands. Instead we were to bring a gender-specific gift valued at about $15. Since all the females in the mix were my sisters, I wanted to make something family-centric that any of them would enjoy. After a good bit of brainstorming, I finally came upon the idea of making a mug rug featuring The Horse We Forgot.

When we were little, my dad got my sisters and me a horse named King. With four daughters, how could a horse not be a huge hit? Well, none of us really took to the horse. And he kept getting out while my dad was at work, so Mom wasn’t too crazy about him either. Before long, King got shipped off to my grandfather’s farm where he lived a happy life being ridden by my cousins.

One day when we were in our twenties, we were sitting around, talking with my brother-in-law Craig, and someone said, “Didn’t we have a horse once?” After a good bit of discussion, we were 90% sure that yes, we did have a horse at one time. Craig, of course, could not believe anyone would forget having a horse. But we had.

Since then, it’s been a bit of a running joke. So I decided to make King the focus of my sister Christmas gift. I found a paper-pieced horse pattern and tracked down a picture of King for color reference. (Note: While it appears not to be the case, King did, in fact, have four legs.)

chrissy-and-our-horseI put the block together with fabrics from my stash. And then I embroidered “Never forget” at the top.

king_paperpiecingI quilted it with some simple lines and tried to make the words pop a bit more.

king-mug-rugFor the backing, I used a cool horse print that Mom and I got during my tour of Wisconsin fabric stores in October.

king_backMy youngest sister, Jenny, ended up with the gift. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite get the joke because she had forgotten, again, that we’d had a horse.

On the receiving side of things, my Mom did a little fabric shopping for me! One of the women at the OHCraft Sew-In this year got this Carolyn Friedlander layer cake, and I was totally jealous, so I was pretty excited to open it on Christmas morning along with other fun fabrics.

fabricAnd my silent-auction-loving sister, Carrie, gave me this pretty (and super soft) cowl.

cowlIn upcoming blog posts, I’ll share with you the quilts I gave to my Mom and Dad for Christmas. (Well, Mom got a quilt top, and Dad got a partial quilt top.) Plus I’m hoping to have those quilts displayed on the super fancy quilt photography rack I got from Greg.