Monday, 26 January 2015

Red Sky at Night - Ohio Star


It has been said that history is told from the viewpoint of the victors. So when I studied my history degree in my former life, focusing mainly on Western, Twentieth Century history, I got a great sense of the significant men (historians wrote mostly about the men) that helped form our world today. I loved learning about the contexts that gave rise to various decisions, the pressures on different politicians, the hard winters that lead to wars won, the influences of wives, or worldview, or a single quiet woman who refused to move from her bus seat. The more I understood, the more colourful were the scenes in my imagination.
But in a way, it's made becoming an ordinary mum, with an ordinary family, sometimes seem, well, grey. Because what do I know of ordinary women in history that I want to be like? I kind of have this vague idea of women in history that fit with our usual stereotypes, like 'denied an education' or 'stuck in the home', or trapped in marriages with unfaithful husbands. In fact, I don't think I learned once in my history degree about strong, creative ordinary women who didn't make the papers. I guess if they weren't in the papers, there's nothing left of their lives, right?

Well, because I've always wanted to be an historian, and I'm now a quilter, I thought I'd do a bit of research about the different blocks in this series just because I would find it interesting. But as I read about the stories of these women, ordinary women before the mass manufacturing of fabric, I became completely fascinated with the way they put fabric and shapes together in their home, with their daughters and friends, because it wasn't really all that different to the way I put fabric and shapes together, and enjoy sharing it with you, and hope to pass it on to my children. For them, it seemed much more from necessity. And today it feels a lot like a luxury. They needed protection from warmth, they needed to preserve the good parts of the warn out clothing and other household items. But the functional reasons for these quilts didn't stop many women from thinking about design and colour and beauty, regardless of family income or education. Squares and triangles were the simplest ways to use small pieces of fabric, but they could also be made into stars, a whole plethora of stars, as we'll see this year, along with other shapes inspired by ordinary household items and even political ideals and social commentary. These women may not have made it to my American History from the Civil War to the Present class, but some of their quilts, and even more of their block designs have survived. And as a creative person who grew up in a very functional family, I find this extraordinary, and very exciting. 

I'm starting off our quilt with the Ohio Star, popular since the mid 1800s and known by several other names including Eastern Star, Western Star and Texas Star. It was used as a political symbol during various presidential campaigns and during the annexation of Texas. The fact that it has been known by so many names is also reflective of the influence of migration westward across the American Frontier. This star was used in quilts prepared for travel, as gifts to bid farewell, and probably also during the many long miles travelled to their new home. As different people used the design, it became familiar in their region, and named accordingly.
I chose this one because I find it striking that the social and political climate so influenced quilt design in the 17th century, and perhaps vice versa, but also because it's a quick, simple, yet beautiful way to dive in. And I like this method. It feels a bit like a magic trick.

OHIO STAR BLOCK TUTORIAL:

For this block you'll need:
RED: 1 x 8" square and 4 x 4.5" squares. (I'm using Kona Rich Red)
WHITE: 1 x 8" square and 1 x 4.5" square. (I'm using Kona White)
 
1. Start by putting the 8" squares right sides together, if they have a print, and sew around each edge.

 2. Give the square a little press so it sits together flat, and then cut across both diagonals.

3. Next, cut into each of these triangles again, through the middle, making sure the base of the triangle you're cutting lines up with the lines on your ruler.

4. Open up these triangles and press them towards the dark side. Find their opposite pairs and sew those together.

5. At this point, I usually press the seam open to avoid bulky seams. You should now have 4 hourglass blocks.
 
6. Trim the hourglasses to 4.5" by lining up the 45degree line of your ruler through one diagonal, and the 4.5" marks at each end of the other diagonal.

7. Lay out your block with your red squares in each corner, white square in the middle, and your hourglass blocks forming a red diamond and white star points.

8. Sew together in rows. Take the first two blocks in each row and chain piece them. Then add the third square to each row. I press seams away from the bulk here (towards the plain square), but you can press how you wish. Then sew the first row to the second, and then add the third. Press seams open.

And we've made our first block! If you blog about yours, come and add a link in the comments because I'd love to see. If you're on Instagram, don't forget the #redskyatnightQAL tag. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments and via email. You'll be able to check back and find old tutorials on the Red Sky at Night page tab, and in the Red Sky at Night album on Facebook.
Thanks for sewing with me!

Jodi. x

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Red and White Quilt

Last year, while staying at my parents' place, I just couldn't get comfortable in their spare bed. It was too hot for the heavy doona, and too cold with just the sheets. The next morning, groggy and caffeine deprived (my parents don't drink coffee), I told my mum she needed a quilt on the bed.
"Can you make me one?" She asked, "And can we keep with the red and white theme in the room?"
Like a bolt of lighting, almost as good as coffee, ideas started crowding my mind. I started a Pinterest board so that I could be sure we were heading in the same direction. Mum liked the sampler quilts. I'd always wanted to make a sampler quilt. Mum turns 60 this year.
Yes. This was going to be fun! I bought a grid book.

I thumbed through the pages of my Farmer's Wife book. I'd always loved the quilts made from that book, but I'd never made the jump, held back by those darned templates. I'm just not the kind of girl to start something big and long if the first step is arguing with my printer. It really kills the mood. And 6" squares? I just wasn't sure I could commit to a queen size quilt of 6" squares. I thought about making them 8 inches, but that makes the 9 patch blocks tricky, and 9 inches makes the 4 patch blocks interesting. They would have to be 12 inches. Seven down and seven across. 49 of my favourite traditional blocks that could be made with only two colours, or adjusted to work. And, most importantly, cut with a rotary cutter. Yes!


I toyed with the idea of making it a pattern, but what I really wanted was a reference, here on the blog, that could be turned to for inspiration down the track, not locked in a pdf, on a computer, to be made when we get around to it. So I've decided to write a tutorial for each block, one a week, which will take us till the end of the year. Won't you join me?

While I've been making the blocks, I've been reading about their history, many over 100 years old. Even though most are connected to a place I don't call home, I've already connected to their stories. Women preparing to pack up their homes to make a better life for their families, making special gifts for friends or newlyweds, celebrating a birth, or even just drawing inspiration from everyday life. As a woman striving to live simply and meaningfully, I often experience self doubt about the place of quilting in my life. This year I want to dive into the long history of quilt making, and celebrate this craft as an important and worthwhile act of creative expression. So I'll be sharing what I can find about the blocks and telling my own stories along the way.


I've named the quilt Red Sky at Night. I'll be giving it its own tab on my page, and adding the tutorials there in a gallery as I go. If you want to make along side me, feel free to pick just one a month, or your favourites, if you want to make something smaller. And use the hashtag #redskyatnightQAL on Instagram to share your work there.

Ooh! I feel a little tingly! A bit like I did when I committed to a whole year without fabric shopping. I usually shy away from year-long goals, but when I have embraced them, the effort and the learning has been well worth it. I look forward to sharing it with you here! Starting Monday!

Joining in with Wip Wednesday

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Kona Kaleidoscope Quilt


I've discovered (perhaps not for the first time) making this quilt, that I'm not really one for following patterns. I have stared longingly at the kaleidoscope quilt in Denyse Schmidt's Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration for what feels like ever. But when I finally pulled my fabric out to cut, inspired by Heidi's Sew the Library, I thought, Hey! Splitting the colours between warm and cool would be fun! 
 

 
And then when I realised I had the right Accuquilt dies for a kaliedescope block, I didn't look twice at templates included in the book. I didn't even realise until after this photo above was taken, that Denyse's blocks are actually different!
And then, when I finished sewing up these little wheels of colour from various Kona solids from my stash, the idea popped into my head that black and white corners would be a fun change for me. I'm not sure I've ever used black and white solids together in a quilt.
 
So I've ended up with something entirely different altogether than the quilt I've loved in the book so long. But the process of changing directions, coming up with new ideas, taking risks, are the fun parts of quilt making for me. I think it's also why I love quilt books. They light a tiny spark of creativity that takes me down a path I wasn't expecting.


And can you tell how much I love photographing quilts in my new backyard? So many angles to choose from, and not a single ugly suburban roof top in sight!
 
Linking up with Fabric Mutt for Sew the Library!
And with Fabric Tuesday.
And this quilt is now for sale in my Etsy shop. :)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Accuquilt Go Review


A few years ago, every second blog I read was given an Accuquilt Baby to review, with mixed reception. At the time I was mostly making pinafores and if I was quilting, it was mostly simple squares, strips or triangles, and though I loved the thought of giving one a try, I could never justify the expense, not just of the machine itself, but the cutting dies that go with it.
The following year I got really serious about using my scraps from those pinnies, and I started to doubt my earlier assumption about those costs. It takes a lot of time to cut 2.5" squares from random-sized shapes! Maybe it would help me use up those scraps more efficiently. I let the idea sit for a year or so.
Then for my birthday last August, Tim walked into my local quilt shop, without my knowledge, and bought me an Accuquilt Go fabric cutter. I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was, touched not only by the gift but by the thought and action also. The package came with a 'Value Die' (a mix of co-ordinating squares and triangles), and Tim also bought be a hexagon die to start with.


Since then several people have asked me my opinion about this neat, (not so) little gadget, including some in the comments under my last post. It got me thinking that every quilt I'm working on at the moment has been cut using the Accuquilt, and that every idea I have is influenced in form and size, by what dies have I have to make it easier. So I thought I would share here how I use my fabric cutter and how it's affected my making. 



The Accuquilt actually works without any motor, electricity, batteries or computer. The dies are shaped blades, hidden in foam mats. When you place the fabric over the blades, and cover the fabric with a cutting mat, the 'sandwhich' is rolled though the Accuquilt with the help of a handle. The rollers push the cutting mat down onto the blades, cutting through several layers of fabric at a time.
The first quilt I finished that was cut with the Accuquilt was my Rising Balloons quilt, made with the large Drunkards Path Die, which my mum gave to me that same birthday. This was my first attempt cutting and sewing curves in quilts (though, I'd sewn plenty of sleeves in my time and it's not all that different). It took me about half an hour to iron all the fat quarters and cut a 9" strip from each. Then it took about 45 minutes to roll those strips through the Accuquilt, 6 at a time. Those cut blocks gave me a quilt 180cm (70") squared. A 9 inch strip gave me about half an inch each side of wastage, and a 3" strip at the end, which I then rolled through on the Value Die to get the pieces for the unfinished quilt above. I've since used the Drunkards path die for this quilt, and let a friend use it at a sewing retreat last year.



The next die I bought was the 3" finished half square triangle die, which cuts four triangles, 6 layers at a time. I used it for my Nine Patch Dash quilt, the Flying Geese Quilt above. I then used some Christmas money to buy the 6" quarter square triangle die and the isoceles triangle die. The first goes with the 3" triangles to make flying geese, the base of my Mountain Campfire block. The latter, I'm using for a quick kaleidescope quilt in solids, and the 3" triangles make the corners. I love that I can build my collection as the budget allows, and plan new quilts that use more than one die together. This has actually been the key to my use of the Accuquilt. I thought it would be to eat through my scraps faster (and this is still my hope!), but mostly it's stretched my designs and helped to me try new things. I love that it's not only easy to cut quickly, but it's also easy to do it the kids around or helping, as there's no exposed blades; or with visitors, because it's not noisy; or in the evening because it's portable and doesn't need to engage my brain.


While reading reviews last year, a lot of people commented on things like waste and fabric getting caught in the joins between blades. For me, the waste has been minimal compared to the time saved. I simply measure the width of the shape with my ruler and add a half inch allowance so that I have a quarter inch overhang on each side. I haven't bought the larger (5" or 8") square dies because I did think that would be a waste not justified by any time saved. I have, however, invested in the 2.5" squares die which cuts over 50 squares at a time!
I have experienced fabric threads getting caught, or not cutting properly on the join, which can be frustrating, but I've found if I have scissors handy, it doesn't take much to get into the groove of snipping those bits as I lift the fabric off the die.

Someone asked me this week if I thought an Accuquilt was essential. And I don't think I would ever naturally answer yes to $300+ question like that. I don't like the idea that anything gadgety or expensive is essential. I like the idea that quilting started with needle and thread and the good parts of a worn out shirt or blanket. But looking back on my making the last six months, I think I'd find it hard to go back! I am curious to see if, as I develop my ideas into patterns, by Go Cutter gets abandoned under my desk so I can make them accessible to everyone. I think though, I'll always now have a mix of quick quilts, new designs, and slow experiments on the go at any one time. And I'm sure my Accuquilt will feature in most of them. Time will tell!
Feel free to ask any other questions! I'll answer them here or via email.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Slow Quilt


I did not come to quilting via the traditional block. I came to it with a bunch of squares, next to my machine, all sewn together randomly with as little up and down to the iron as possible. I still like to make a quilt that way. But in the last year, I've come to appreciate the quilt block. Not just the look of them. I've always loved how they looked. Now I am learning to like the making also.


I cannot say enough how much I am enjoying this new line by Maureen Cracknell. Wild and Free is a sweet mix of basics, low volume and stand out prints. I pulled together a bundle of about 15 prints because this Luminous Field welcomes so many other colours to the mix. But eventually I settled on this limited palette, including only Sarah Jane's Glow Friends as an extra, and leaving the Folk Plaid for the backing.


When I was a teenager, we lived on 100 acres, about 4 hours north of Sydney. Before we lived there, it was a weekender, a horse riding retreat owned by a couple who divorced and sold the property in the settlement. When we moved, in the middle of winter, there was no electricity, no house, just a bunch of sheds, two caravans, 16 horses, an old Land Rover, and the most amazing view of the mountains. Every night, we heated our dinner over the campfire, then heated our water for washing up and showers. Then we sat around the fire to keep warm before bed. I felt like I had the most wonderful family in the whole world! These prints remind me of those peaceful and adventurous days (though I'm sure they were challenging for my mum!) before electricity and TV re-entered our life.


I'm cutting this quilt, mostly with my Accuquilt, in small sections. I haven't done the maths to tell me if I'll have enough fabric to make a queen size quilt. I don't really have the head for that kind of thing, so I'm making it block by block, laying it out on my design wall as I go, so I can match up the Sun Tracks, and the Woven Path fabrics. They are such perfect prints to play with in this way! And the repeat is big enough that each on-point square looks slightly different.


I've had the funny experience over the last few weeks of grieving finishing a quilt too early. Whenever I've gone into my studio and thought about what I've felt like making, I've settled on my Flying Geese quilt. And then I remember that I finished it just after Christmas so I could give it to my brother and sister-in-law! So I'm taking this one in slowly. I haven't settled on a quick chain peicing method yet. I'm still doing one block at a time. Then I put it on the board. Then I stare at it for a while. Then I grab a cup of tea. And then in the in-between times, I'm working on a faster quilt, one that doesn't need a bird's eye view, and that I'm not so emotionally attached to. Because I don't want to rush this. I want it to stay with me as part of my memories moving back to the country. I want it to evoke those feelings of quiet and adventure, of taking chances and fresh starts.

Linking up to Wip Wednesday and Fabric Tuesday.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Use Your Words Quilt.


I have my first finish for 2015! And I usually try to avoid clothesline photos, but when your new clothesline is old wobbly fencing wire woven through old timber planks, next to an old rusty bath tub and blue shipping container, it's worth a try, right? Add to that a husband away for the week, and a break in the rain, and it's practically fate!
This was my already cut, post Christmas haze quilt. No thinking. Just plug in and play. So while I fed fabric through my machine, I let it's therapeutic hum take my mind around all the events of the last few months, and various things that lead to me being here today.


When I was about 15, I wrote a music essay for school. I remember putting a lot of thought into how I would frame the arguement and bring it all together. My teacher handed it back with high praise. She told me she thought I should pursue journalism as a career. It meant a lot to me and I thought about it seriously. I chose all my subjects the following year that involved a lot of writing so I could improve. And then at the end of the year, I applied for a week long work experience with the local News station.
After a week talking to people about their pets, listening to the police radio chatter in hope of some disaster and doing a story about a school musical, I was utterly discouraged. What was the point?
I finished school the following year, tired of writing and completely bewildered as to how I could use it in a 'real' job and I went to Poland instead and became a missionary in an old Polish castle.


It wasn't until recently, when I was considering my name change, and thinking about what I love most about this part of my life, that it was the writing that stood out to me as a really important process of my making. I enjoy quilting most when I'm doing it to say something. Not necessarily preachy things or teachy things. I just like telling my story and having your share yours.
I chose these texty prints because I thought the Drunkards Path blocks in circles might look like thought bubbles. They don't. But I still like how graphic it is. And almost 3-dimensional. Unisex. Grown up. All those parts were pulled off like I hoped!


And here I am, 20 years later, enjoying the fulfillment of those encouraging words way back then, and in such a different way than I could have ever imagined. Proof that if you use your words kindly, you never know the long lasting fruit that can grow ever so slowly inside someone's heart.  


Linking up with Finish it up Friday