Monday, June 26, 2017

Getting Back to Work

My Blog-cation is over.  We went to Seattle to celebrate the high school graduation of a granddaughter.  We had a great visit and loved driving across the country.  Wyoming was a green, patchwork sprinkled with antelope and angus cattle.  The desert was even green.  The drive home took us up one range of mountains and then down into desert, then back into high country and down again onto the flatland several times.  The western USA is an oversized roller coaster with endless, stunning vistas!   A good time was had by all, but it is nice to be home.

Unfortunately my poor house is in chaos right now with stuff all over the place.  Empty suitcases are still in the living room.  I am back to refinishing my mother's trays, but now that it is warm enough, I moved all the painting paraphernalia out of the sewing room and into the garage where I will continue to work on it.  Nice to get that mess out of the way.  Now my sewing is strewn all over the room to bare the table for a plywood top.  I work on a rectangular folding table, which generally works well, but it dips about 1/4 inch or more in the middle, which means my sewing machine tips away from me as I sew, and it bounces when I really get going. I tried a piece of wood under the back edge, which helps, but DH noticed the problem one day and suggested a plywood top, which is now under construction.

You are probably familiar with this kind of folding table.

Meanwhile we purchased annual flowers and they must get planted in my containers before they wilt.  The Golden Years of Empty Nesting!  Where are they?  The nest just fills up with other things, but not gold!


Later:  The board is done and fits on the table perfectly.

5/8 inch plywood on top supported by the substantial edges of the table.
It is heavy enough that it won't slide.

I covered it with some flannel-backed plastic tablecloth material that I discovered in my stash.  When on earth did I buy that?  Anyhow, it is the perfect material which which to cover the plywood...sort of like upholstering it.

Fabric ready to put on the board.  Styrofoam to sit behind the machine.

I also covered two pieces of 1-inch styrofoam cut to fit around the back of my machine.

Styrofoam covered.  

The raised surface prevents my quilts from falling off the back of the extender table and hanging up on corners when I am quilting.  Even 2 inches behind my machine makes a tremendous difference.The wrinkles in the tablecloth fabric from years of being folded have already relaxed and will not be an issue.
Completed table top.

I thought to take a picture of it all set up ready to sew, but the new surface didn't show enough after I put the extender table on the machine and set out all my tools and stuff, but I know it is done, and it will make sewing easier.  

TIP:  Sometimes a solution takes time away from quilting, but it is important to have your equipment fit your work style, so in the end it is worth it.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish a comfortable surface on which to work.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Blog-cation Time

That's right.  My blog is on a short vacation.  Still varnishing.  Gardening and hauling rocks.  No sewing...and now no writing.  Take care and enjoy the summer while it is here.

These photos show life in the mountains.  I take my camera on my daily walks to record fun, funny and interesting encounters.

Young bull elk with emerging antlers, laying in the neighbor's yard.

Soon-to-be mama elk.
End of pregnancy blahs!

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you enjoyment of summertime.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

This 'n That

My brain is working on other things this week.  I am varnishing trays that my mother painted 50 years ago.  With usage over the years there has been some damage to the finish.  The only place I can varnish is my sewing room because I can keep it somewhat free of dust and dog hair by closing the door.  Meanwhile my thread painted portrait languishes because varnish, mineral spirits, brushes and paint have taken over its space.
What a mess!
This is a great time to take the sewing machine to my service person for its annual cleaning and adjusting.  I highly recommend that you do the same.  I sew 2-3 hours most days and it is ready for its check-up every May.  You get the best results when you take good care of your machine.  Just like a car.

Remember my post on folding fabric?  Well it looks great, but when I went to add a couple more fabrics I found it difficult to manage the long, folded pieces (about 10" x 6").  It is just hard to maintain the fold on both ends while squashing the rest of pieces in the drawer to make room for the new.  The most efficient way to do it is to remove the drawer, set it on its side, add the new fabric and replace the drawer.  Nuisance.

Long fold turned out to be inefficient.
Solution:  Fold each long piece of fabric in half.  This makes a smaller, fatter package individually, but doesn't take up any more space.  Much easier to manage.  I can go through a drawer and make the extra fold on all the fabrics in about 5 minutes.  When there is significant yardage it is hard to make this fold so I just leave it long.  It is thick enough to manage easily.

Much easier to manage.
I'll just do a drawer each time I go to my fabric storage shed.

Sew some happy seams this week.   I wish you a modicum of efficiency.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Spring Sprung a Snowstorm

We were hammered last week as the sky darkened and snow fell for almost 36 hours.  I have never seen so much snow.  Our fence was buried and we had snow sculptures on everything sitting in the yard.  BBQ sculptures.  Birdhouse sculptures.  Bird feeder sculptures.

BBQ Sculpture
The trees were gorgeous with laden branches and pristine snow around them.  Dixie quickly took care of that as she dashed around enjoying being a "snow-dog."  The downside was loss of the Internet and since our phone is Vonage, an internet connection, we were incommunicado.  How dependent we are on the Internet.  It is wonderful, but also a chain.  What do you do when you don't have the Web?   Sew!  That worked until I ran out of thread and there was no way I was going down the winding, slippery, mountain road to get a spool of thread.  I wasn't even going into our little town, which is only one mile away.

The African violets know it is Spring, but someone forgot to tell the weatherman.
I took pictures.  I shoveled snow.  I dug a path to my sewing storage shed and hauled in some more fabric to fold.  I made bread.  I straightened out some of the messes on my computer.  I watered my new airplants.  Truly, if you get creative, you can find plenty to do and still enjoy the snow.  It is so beautiful.  I do worry about the little swallows and nuthatches that have nested in our big birdhouse, but is hasn't been very cold, only enough to turn a lot of rain into snow.  Now the sun is out and I am sure it will melt away quite fast...unless more is on the way.

Deck Sculpture
I read an article in the latest "Discover" magazine about how our brains need solitude, meaning time without analytical, technical thinking.  Some call it "flow," others call it daydreaming, and I call it free motion thinking.  I do this most mornings as I lie in bed waking up.  I don't have to get up until I want to, but am usually out of bed by 6:30.  My mind wanders around when I am walking the dog or shoveling snow.  I do it when I don't have the Internet.  It is a time for letting your thoughts go where they want to, even to bizarre places, but it is a time when creative ideas seed the other part of thinking, which is the part that puts the pieces together.  It is important to use both kinds of brain work to stay balanced.  Your brain needs go off to strange places sometimes.  You are not being lazy, you are maintaining mental health and fostering creativity.

 Sew a happy seam this week.  I give you permission to relax and do some free motion thinking.

A little bit of whimsy.
(Ancient birdhouse on driftwood with white, snow hat

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Spring Has Sprung

I sit down to write about quilting, but must admit that I haven't sewed a stitch this week.  We have had our first bout of nice weather and just had to get out in the yard.  We emptied all the rocks out of our faux pond and cleaned them off.  Next we will lay down landscape cloth and put the rocks back.  It will be so nice to see the pond without weeds.  We have occasional heavy rains here in the mountains so we designed the pond as a catch basin to slow the water down and reduce erosion.  Normally it is fake with no water in it.  While DH does the rocks, I dig dandelions.

As the yard improved the sewing room disintegrated.  Now I have to go in and straighten things out to get ready to sew again, but I can carry on for blog purposes with the next steps of creating my thread painted portrait.

I now have three copies of the design (scroll down to last week's blog to catch up).  The copy on mylar I leave on the foam core board, and set it up for viewing and checking as I progress.  I am going to cut out fabric pieces along the lines drawn on the paper patterns.  The beauty of this method is that you can see what the portrait looks like before you thread paint.  If a color is wrong, you can replace it with a different fabric before it is too late.

Copy #2.  The one that does not have the little red markings I place on my light table and cover it with a silicone pressing sheet.  Tape the paper pattern to the back of the pressing sheet or secure both paper and pressing sheet to the light table.  The point is to avoid slippage of either one while you work.

TIP:  I use a plexiglass sewing machine extender table as my light box.  The light is provided by an OTT light folded out flat.

TIP:  Set out another pressing sheet on your regular ironing surface for use with fusing, and for ironing freezer paper patterns to the fabric.  I even have a protective cover for my iron.  All this is to reduce the amount of errant fusible gumming up my equipment.

Protective cover on my iron.  Pressing sheet on the ironing board (left).
I also keep a little Clover iron hot for tiny pieces.
sub-TIP:  Keep the ironing space separate from the cutting space if you can (I didn't).  See below what happened to my extra pressing sheet.  Next time I will tape it to the ironing board (at least at the front) so the scissors can't slip underneath and slice it while I nonchalantly cut my fabric.

Copy #3 is going to be cut into pieces as patterns for cutting the fabric.  I cut only one piece at a time, starting with the lightest value.
**Roughly cut a piece of fusible (I like Soft Fuse) a little bigger than your pattern piece and fuse it to the wrong side of your chosen fabric.

**Then on your protected ironing surface, lightly press the paper pattern shiny side down to the right side of the fabric.  The fusible side sticks to the pressing cloth, but pulls right up leaving the fusible where it belongs - on the back of the fabric.

**Lift up the fabric and paper pattern as a unit and cut the fabric around the pattern.  The first pieces are those of lightest value.

**Any edges with red markings will need about 1/8 inch extra fabric, seam allowance so-to-speak, in order to slip under the next darker fabric.

**Proceed as described moving to darker and darker fabrics.

Once you have finished cutting your first piece, pull off the freezer paper pattern and stash it where you can find it.  I collect all my cut pattern pieces in a pie tin and set it aside where it won't get dumped.

Pattern pieces in case I need them again...and I did!
Place the fabric piece on the pressing sheet aligning it carefully into its special place as guided by the paper pattern guide underneath.  Lightly touch it with the iron in a couple of places so it adheres to the pressing sheet.

TIP:  Be careful:  your light table surface is probably not designed to be an ironing surface.

Below see the start of the fabric part of the design.  It is on the pressing sheet, which is over the paper pattern, all of which is taped to the light table.

Getting started.
  I didn't like the grayish tone of the swirly fabric.  Lips are too pink.  I removed those offending fabrics and ran to the fabric store where I found a perfect white to brown ombre.  Glad I saved the pattern pieces and didn't have to make new ones.

Below is the finished fabric creation of my portrait.

Success!  Ready to thread paint.
Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you good sewing and some time outdoors.

Monday, May 8, 2017


I have tried twice unsuccessfully to create a thread painted portrait.  The thread painting went great.  I find it easy and relaxing.  Color choice was the issue.  I took a class from Lea McComas awhile back and she suggested doing the portrait on fusible Pel-tex (or Tim-tex).  No quilting required except maybe the background.  I fused background fabric onto it,  printed my portrait on fabric and fused it down.  Everything was fine until I got to the shadow side of the face.  Way too dark.  By the time I knew I didn't like it, it was too late to take it out.  Thread painting is a bear to remove so I didn't even try.  I did the whole portrait twice and still didn't get it right.

TIP:  You've heard me say it before.  Let it sit and percolate.  So I did.

Lea McComas does her big, photo-realistic quilts by fusing fabric down onto four layers:  background, canvas, batting and backing.  As usual I am using her basic method with a difference.  Sometimes I don't follow directions well.  In order to avoid ruffling at the outer edge resulting from heavy stitching I am stitching the face on canvas.  I have made a separate background, which I will quilt.  Then I will cut out the finished, stitched portrait and stitch it to the quilted background.  I have done this before and have been pleased with the results.  That is the overview of my plan.

TIP:  You don't  have a design wall?  Try a flannel-backed tablecloth.  You can see mine with the bottom turned up in the photo below.  Why turned up?  Only because my sewing machine is right there and the fabric being stitched sometimes gloms onto the flannel and knocks the whole thing catty-wampus and then I have to crawl under the table to pick up fallen pieces.

Now to start.  There is a lot of prep work for a project like this so I will give you the short version of my method for a 12x 16 inch portrait.  If you want more in-depth instruction I recommend Lea McComas' book, "Thread Painted Portraits."

Photo, posterized full size photo, mylar drawing on foam core board;
unquilted background in the back to the right.
1.  Create a full-sized, black and white, posterized version of your portrait with 4-6 value divisions.

TIP:  If you want you can do your posterized version in color, but drop the opacity way down so the color doesn't distract you.  That is what I did in the above photo.

2.  Tape the posterized photo to a foam core board and cover with a sheet of mylar.  Using a black, fine tipped Sharpie draw around all the lines delineating the different values.  The pen lines can be erased with a little rubbling alcohol on a Q-tip so don't panic if you make a mistake.

TIP:  The fine tip Sharpie is the only one to use (so I am told) because the others don't erase with alcohol.  I had some that wouldn't come off from my last project and found that "Goo Gone" does the job too.

3. Trace the lines from the mylar to freezer paper.  You can see through easily to trace.  Give each value a number:  #1 = very light.......#5 or 6 = the darkest value, and write that number in the appropriate spaces on the freezer paper.  Make another freezer paper copy exactly the same.  (See - it is a lot of busy-work, but believe me it is worth it.)

4.  All the pattern pieces are now marked except the itty-bitty ones.  On one paper copy, starting with the lightest value, use a red pencil and make tiny arrows wherever that piece bumps up against a darker value.  This will be a guide to remind you where to add a little extra when cutting your fabric so it will go under the darker fabric.  Don't worry about the itty bitty pieces.  We'll deal with those later.

Pattern pieces defined and marked.
Shows the posterizing better.  I tried doing all the labeling
on the computer.  Forget it.  I went stark, raving mad!
Now you have two copies and the one on mylar.  You will find that you use them all.  That should do you for this week.  Check back next week to see how I use all those copies.

Sew a happy seam this week or do some drawing instead.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Apropos of Appraisal

I promised to write on the subject of quilt appraisal.  My daughter is a Certified Appraiser and sent me her brochure so I admit I am using much of her information as inspiration for this post.  With my first show entry I had my quilt appraised because it was going to be away from home in the hands of strangers and the post office. It is an interesting process and I now have all my show quilts appraised and those appraisals are registered with my insurance company.

Why?  If your quilt is damaged or stolen you will have documented proof of its value.  If you donate your quilt to a non-profit organization, or are gifting or selling it you need proof of its value for tax purposes.  An appraisal will also be needed for estate valuation.  "Insurance companies require a written appraisal done by a certified appraiser to document losses due to fire, flood, theft, damage, or loss." [Elli Molstad].  Most quilt shows also require documentation of your quilt's value.

Does it cost money?  Yes.  My daughter charges $45 in WI and my appraiser in CO charges $50.

What is the background of a certified appraiser?  They spend at least two years learning about and practicing with both new and old quilts.  They know fabrics, threads, history, current market value and are qualified to ascertain workmanship as well as many other factors.  Their knowledge is amazing.  They become certified after passing rigorous testing, both written and practical.

How do you prepare for an appraisal?  You must keep track of the hours you spent making your quilt (ripping and redoing don't count!).  You must keep track of the products you use and their cost.  Is the design original?  If not, by whom was it created?  Is your work done by hand or machine?  What methods have you employed (piecing, appliqué, painting, etc).    You also prepare a list of your quilt awards and sales.  I have a little notebook beside my machine for keeping track.  Below is the template that I prepare for my appraiser.  All this data is applied in the formulation of an opinion of the value of the quilt.

Template in Excel
Finally, make an appointment and enjoy the process.  Most shows have qualified appraisers on hand to evaluate your quilt(s).  It takes about 30 minutes to go over a quilt and do the documentation.  My appraiser has a little printer on hand so I can walk out with a 3-page documentation in hand.  Some appraisers mail you the paper after the fact.

The value is determined by replacement cost, but there is no guarantee that an insurance company will give you the appraised value, nor does it guarantee that you can sell it for that amount.  It does provide information for recovery or sale, and is proof that your quilt is not just a bedspread purchased from the nearest big box store.

The first quilt I had appraised is only 40 x 40 inches (below).  I was stunned in 2011 when the appraiser valued it at $2975.00.  I had no idea quilts could be so valuable.  Suddenly my husband began to take note of my quilting with far greater appreciation!

Reverie 40 x 40
So, now you have the scoop on appraising a quilt.  I urge you to consider your works of quilting art as candidates for an appraisal.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to appraise the true value of your hard work.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Folding it all Up

Does your fabric turn into a bird's nest by the end of a project?  I thrive on being neat and organized, but something happens when I get into creating.  The fabric seems to fly all over the place or is hurriedly squashed into an already overcrowded storage space.  I have to do something about this now that I am starting on a new project.  My stash was at least organized to the point that it was stored by color.

Before I could get started on my new quilt project I needed to assess my fabrics to see what I could use.  I came up a bit short so have to make a run to the fabric store, but in the meantime I went through 4 stash drawers and refolded every piece.  You think that's nuts?  I had those thoughts kicking around in my head too until I managed to condense two drawers into one because the fabrics are all folded the same way (more or less) and take up less space.

I got this idea from a You Tube video and adapted the process to my needs.  I store my fabric in an outdoor storage shed in stacking towers with drawers.  I label them with the appropriate color name.  It is a nuisance to go out there especially in the cold and fuss through a drawer to find the right fabric.  Using my new method I can easily see every piece of fabric in the drawer. I have decided that every time I tromp out to the shed I will bring a couple of drawers into the house and refold the fabric.  It is also a great project for getting reacquainted with my fabrics, and I have been able to weed out a few fabrics for discard.  What on earth compelled me to buy those in the first place?

So, how do I do it?  I fold the fabric so its width is almost the length of the drawer and roll it all up over my 6" wide ruler, pull the ruler out and it is ready to put away.  If there are any loose pieces of a particular fabric I lay them on the bigger piece and roll them up inside....all nice and tidy.  Anything too small to go around the ruler (very few) I fold into squares that slip down in the front of the drawer.  I draw the line at ironing out the wrinkles.  That would really be nuts!  I am not obsessive-compulsive.

Folded.  It is a bit uneven but is a cut, used piece.  Unlike a show quilt it can be
somewhat imperfect, but close.
The only trouble I have encountered is that if the drawer is not reasonably full, the fabric tends to wilt and fall down.

Not quite full.
I can add another color or category to that drawer, or I can lay the fabric down neatly and lift the folded edges of the stack to see what I have.  I could also buy more fabric!  Lots of options.  Since some of my drawers are above my head and I have to stand on a stool to see in them I find that positioning my fabric lengthwise allows me to see them all.  If I set them width-wise, it is hard to see what is in the back without pulling the drawer out of the tower.

Width-wise vs lengthwise plus a yellow anomaly.  Will I redo the white/yellow box?
Probably.  It was the first on my folding spree.
So now  you can see what I do to amuse myself between projects.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you an organizing opportunity.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Complete, Finished, Done!

Two quilts completed this week.  I know you have seen my dog ad nauseum, but it is now trimmed and sports a border.  Those two tasks really made her worth looking at.  As I have said before, much of the quilting is under par, because there were so many problems with the fusible.  I have to call this project a real learning experience.  I still love this little quilt and am now able to look at it with joy instead of disappointment.

No hanging sleeve on this one.  Pardon the safety pins!
The larger, spiral quilt is also done.  I can't let you see the completed quilt until it has been accepted into a show, but as soon as that happens I will post it.  The binding went on beautifully and as I write this there are only a few more stitches to complete the hanging sleeve, which will be completed by the time I post this.

Hanging sleeve with a few more stitches to do.
Note the basting stitch in the lengthwise center of the sleeve.  It will be removed when the hand stitching is done.   It will provide 1" of excess fabric to create a tube that will accommodate a pole from which the the quilt will hang.  The quilt will hang straight and won't bend over the pole.  It is a pain in the neck to have to put this on when you are all done, but just smile and do a nice job.

What does it take to enter a show?

1.  Make a quilt with great care and precision.  Do your very best from the beginning.  The binding and back must also be excellent.  Keep track of the time you spend constructing your quilt.

2. When it is completed block the quilt carefully and accurately so it is perfectly square or rectangular, measuring the diagonals as well and the sides.

3.  Sew a hanging sleeve on the back.  This allows your quilt to hang straight if you have blocked it carefully.  Do this before photographing it because you want it to hang perfectly straight in the photo.  You don't want to try to skew it digitally.

4.  Photograph your quilt or have it done by a professional.  Many show sites today give you directions for doing your own photography.  They usually want an un-retouched photo of the whole quilt and a second one showing detail.

4.  Will you  have it appraised?  You might be very surprised at its value.  Now is the time to assemble the details.  That is a subject for another blog!

5.  Find a show you want to enter.  Most (but not all) shows today are entered via the computer, but either way they give you specific directions, which may differ from show to show.  You MUST follow these directions so read them carefully.  Fill out the forms.  Pay the entry fee (not refundable).

6.  Wait to hear whether your quilt made it into the show and then follow more directions for getting it there.

For the first time in a year I am off and running on a new project.  Well, not exactly new.  I have started this one twice and failed because I was having trouble with a shadow.  This is a portrait of my grandson and he has a shadow on one side of his face.  He has dark skin and I have consistently thread painted that shadow too dark, and I don't like that.  So off to try it again using a different technique, which I will share as it moves along.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you the joy of a finished project.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Probing Problems

My daughter asked me, "Mom, do you ever make a quilt that doesn't have problems?"  When I answered, "No," she just had a good laugh.  I guess it comes from designing my own quilts and encountering the unexpected along the way.  I am always trying new things and some don't work out as well as others.  So, how do you go about solving problems?

1.  First you have to get past denial and admit that you have a problem.  I finished the binding completely before I discarded the denial, but it still looked horrible.  Discouraging.

2.  Identify the problem.  That was easy.  The binding looked like it had heavy, lumpy cording inside.  In all the quilts I have done I have never had anything like this happen.

3.  Decide what to do.  Do I leave it and forget showing it?  Do I throw it away and forget it?  Do I take off the binding and do it over again?  I have put a lot of time and work into this quilt so I chose to redo the binding.  As I ripped I moved on to #4.

4. Analyze the problem.  Have you ever thought about what happens when you take layers of fabric and batting and then stitch through them?  Bear with me.  Every line you stitch compresses the fabric and batting, and ultimately shrinks the quilt as shown below (exaggerated).  The line representing the quilted fabric began the same length as that representing the unquilted fabric.

When you have a lot of quilting it causes the outer edges of the quilt's fabric and batting to ruffle.  The more quilting there is, the greater the amount of ruffling.
That edge ruffle includes fabric and batting.
I have a narrow border on which I quilted feathers.  I stitched the binding on before I did the feathers so I would be sure not to catch the feathers under the binding.  I had never done that before and was quite pleased at the the time because it had no puckers and seemed perfect.  Then I stitched the feathers.  Now I realize that I sewed the binding onto all that ruffley stuff and probably had inadvertently incorporated too much binding length.  I also have two layers of batting (wool and low loft cotton) plus the fabric for top and bottom.  All in all that was a lot to squash into the binding, resulting in a heavy, lumpy binding.

Ruffled edge of my quilt.
5.  Devise a solution and do it!.  First of all I removed the binding.  I needed to flatten the outer edges of the quilt to remove the ruffling so I quilted lines very close together around the edge of the quilt.  The thread is the same color as the fabric.  These little lines are not perfect, but most of the stitching will be inside the binding.  It was tedious, but the edges squashed down flat.

With all that manipulating I decided to re-soak and re-block the quilt to be sure it is perfectly square.  I washed the binding fabric and was able to re-use it.  I have applied it now and am in the process of hand-stitching it to the back of the quilt.  That was a lot of work, but I channelled my inner bulldog and will be done in a couple of days.  It is looking excellent so I have been vindicated.  It may be the best binding I have ever done!

I must say that I have never encountered a problem like this, nor have I heard or read about it.  I hope my experience will help some other quilters.

TIP:  If your edges are ruffled, quilt them flat before binding.

"If  you fear the unknown and don't pursue adventure, you're missing out on such amazing opportunities and experiences." [Discover Magazine, "Athlete, Interrupted", May 2017, p 22].  This can be applied roughly to quilting.

TIP:  Get out there and have a new quilting adventure.  How many times have I said that?  Oh well, so true!  Sometimes you get a fabulous result.  Other times you have a learning experience.  Both are valuable.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you productive adventures this week.