The Orphanage Quilt

If old WIPs make a satisfying finish, imagine all the good feelings brought on by finishing six at once! This quilt has been on my mind for along time, back when I asked my Do Good Stitches bee back in February to send me some scrappy improvised blocks. And then as they arrived, I added them to my orphan block pile, wondering when I was finally going to take the plunge and sew this thing together. To say it made me nervous was an understatement. This is not usually how I quilt. It's not a pile of squares sitting next to the machine and sewn together at random and it's not carefully laid out blocks that need concentration and working out. It sits somewhere in the middle, not in a happy medium kind of way, but in a road-less-travelled, throw-the-rule-book kind of way.

My orphan block box is a scraggly mix of leftovers from finished projects and abandoned quilts that started with a bright future but quickly resulted in disillusionment. It is a place of discomfort and guilt, bereft of inspiration.What else do you do with leftover blocks? It's times like this I realise that in my quilting life, more than anywhere else, I am a hoarder.

And it's a good thing I am, don't you think? I used only about half of my leftovers, but with the ones that made their way back to the box, I now feel a sense of peace and purpose. One day I'll do this again. Maybe it can be a yearly ritual. Like a jubilee. Setting those old expectations and dreams and "I don't know what to do with this so you can go here" into a quilt to start afresh with new projects and a little less guilt.

As I was showing my progress on Instagram, a few folks asked me to explain my progress, so I took lots of photos to give you an idea here. Like I said, there's no rules in improvisation. I went mostly by feel.

There's no way I could have achieved this without my design wall. I laid out the blocks, keeping in mind that I want to sew them together without going around corners. So I made them into bigger blocks of 2-4 pieces. Coincidentally, most of these were divisible by 3. That means they were 3", 6", 9", 12", etc, so a little mindful arranging made them fit together easily. When they didn't, I had strips and strips of leftover half-rectangle triangles from my Tent City quilt that I added to anything that was too small, and then trimmed back down if I needed to without worrying about keeping my points intact.

I sewed those bigger blocks into 3 large slabs and was almost going to sew those together when I realised I was out of wadding. This actually felt a lot like providence because I did have long, wide strips of wadding, leftover from other quilts mostly the perfect size for my slabs. The one that was too narrow, I sewed to another and pressed the seams open so it would fit.

I used a Quilt-as-you-go method I first came across on Maureen's blog, which I had only ever used with smaller blocks. I spray basted the quilt top slab to one side of the wadding and then quilted lightly over the two layers. Then I trimmed all the way around the excess wadding. And then I did the same with the other two slabs.

I trimmed the whole quilt a little again, just where there was uneven edges. Then using a 1/4" and my walking foot, I sewed the quilted slabs right sides together. I lay out my backing fabric and taped it to the floor so it would stay taut, sprayed and laid out the quilted top.

I then went back to my machine and first quilted either side of the thick seams to hold them down. Then I used a straight, meandering stitch, basically zig-zagging my way around the quilt. I wanted to try something different and more improvised than straight line quilting, but now that I'm done, I wish I'd stuck with my favourite! I used a mix of hand-quilting, thick variegated Aurifil thread, and my go-to white. It was a fun experiment, trying to keep with the improv theme, but I think simple, horizontal lines would have held it together more.

Undoubtedly, the very best part of quilt-as-you-go is when you suddenly remember that you can use you backing as your binding! I simply trimmed around the backing 1" from the quilt top edge. I then folded it in half towards the quilt, then over the edge of the quilt again, and top stitched. When I came to a corner, I folded the overhanging pieces to the left to make a little triangle. The I folded the same method, folding the fabric in half and then over again to make a neat mitered corner.

I'm not sure if I would usually use a binding this dark, I generally pick out a colour somewhere in the middle, but I love how this all hangs together. In a quilt with a lot more low volume than I usually try in scrappy quilts, I think it makes the darker tones shout out happily.

There is much joy in this quilt, in the trying something new, using something old, freeing myself of quilts hanging over my head, some for years. Some were hard to let go, like my Penny Sampler. I would love to make that quilt again someday! But for now, the colours stumped me, I was never sure about them. Other blocks were a relief to use, like the Ohio Stars and the leaves. The leaves were generously made for me by an old bee and the colours just didn't go together like I hoped. Oh, it's good to see how much I've learned about colour over the last five years! I also love the contrast and interest the lovely flowers add, but I was sad when they arrived late, lost in transit for weeks before getting here. I'm glad they finally have a home!

All in all, this quilt was made by about 20 people from about 15 old quilts! Because half were for do. Good Stitches, it'll be heading to a charity next. A quilt of previously hope-less blocks for someone struggling for hope. Gosh I love long-coming finishes! I love new starts, renewed confidence, and stories with happy endings.

Cathedral Windows - a tutorial

A few months ago, I embarked on a Cathedral windows quilt, and then quickly 'came to my senses' and popped it in the WIP box. Why on earth does someone make a Cathedral windows quilt? It's not like your usual sandwhich of top-wadding-backing. My 'learning as I go' sewing was pretty rough and tumble. And I didn't know if I wanted to go so far as to make a quilt for a bed, but I didn't really want a wall hanging, and we don't really need another lap quilt in the house. I never realised the need to sew with a clear end in mind was so strong in me!

Then earlier this month, I made the decision to dedicate October (#WIPtober on Instagram) to my WIP box. It was full to overflowing with abandoned projects that had been set aside for clearer goals and quilts with deadlines. But for October, I would try to set aside that need for a purpose, and sew just because. I would withhold from starting new quilts, and I would find ways to be re-inspired by the old ones.

So even though it goes completely against the grain, and I feel like I've launched off the runway with nothing in mind except to enjoy the view, I brought out this sweet little project and started to sew. And you what? When I'm really good at beating back that 'Why are we doing this?' voice, I really enjoy fabric origami! These come together in a way so that with each new row added, you have a complete 'quilt'. A change in the process is as good as a holiday, and there's something a little exciting about knowing that when I've had enough of sewing together folded squares of fabric, I'll be done!

There are quite a few Cathedral Windows tutorials in the ether, but I thought I'd add mine to the crowd, because I tried a few different methods and have settled on a mix of them. I'll share my reasons as I go.

Most tutorials start off with a large square, and I cut mine 11". It's too late for me now, but can I recommend 10.5"? That way you can cut off a strip from your yardage or fat quarter, and fit four or two neatly cut from the strip. I've got scraps enough for another quilt!

Most tutorials also ask you to cut a slightly smaller template from cardboard to iron the edge over, but I just knew if I had to stand at my iron working with a template, that this project wouldn't last long. After lots of scouring, I found a tutorial that folded the square like I do below. It uses more fabric (which I why I went 'scrappy' rather than use one print) but I like that this adds weight to the quilt. This can be a great way to use up those hard-to-use, big-print fabrics.

  • First fold your square in half and sew along the shorter edges.
  • Pull down the top edge and pin the two seams together.
  •  Sew along this new join, leaving a hole at the end for turning it inside out.
  • Use a pin to pull out the corners and press flat with a steamy iron. The little hole can be left as is.
  • Now fold the corners into the centre and press.
  • Hand stitch the points down. I just nicked the lower layer of fabric with my needle, rather than go all the way through. 
Many other tutorials have you sewing you squares together before this point to keep the seam invisible, but I found it really hard to keep it all flat that way. Hand-stitching the centres down first and then sewing them together has given me a more consistent size and finish. It's also less awkward, less wrestling, putting it through my machine. I really don't enjoy fabric wrestling!

NOTE: If you want different prints in the 'petals', they need to be added in under these folds, before you stitch the corners down. (measure yours first, but 5" fit in mine) I tried it, but abandoned it. It's really hard to cover over the raw corner edge, and it stressed me out. 

  • Set your machine to Zigzag, around 5mm (1/4") wide and 1.5mm long. Sitting two folded squares up next to each other, zigzag down the middle to hold them together.

I'd already made a batch of nine at this point, so I stitched together another row of three and then added those to the large block with the same zigzag method.

Next, I grabbed the long-held scraps of another project I finished over a year ago. Oh, I love combining old WIPs, don't you? I cut up these squares made of rectangles, sewed them back together and trimmed them to 3".

  • Sit your square over the seam between two folded fabric squares. Grab a fold along the side of the 3" square and fold it over the edge. It should curve naturally.
  • Top stitch around that curve. This worked best for me with my walking foot.
  • Stop at the next corner with your needle down, turn your work around, fold the next edge over, and sew again. Sew all around the 'window.'

  • When you get around to where you began, if you can easily move to another square, keep the needle down, and grab your next piece. You'll have less threads, and a tidier back, if you can stitch these down in runs of four.

I've been working on this for about a week now. Some cutting, some folding and chain stitching in long sessions, some turning inside out in the evenings, or during school time. It's a nice project for having a few different steps you can swap between, depending on your mood. I do like a quilt that can fit my mood. Perhaps that's a good purpose for this one. To be fun and pretty and whatever I feel like at the time.
I'm always impressed by how much I learn, how much I'm forced to rethink things, to engage my creativity, when I give myself time for my old, abandoned projects. Maybe I should make #WIPtober an annual discipline?

Nine Patch Dash

I've hit an interesting little snag in my quilt making, where the style of quilts I've become deeply inspired by don't really fit my natural work flow. Does this ever happen to you? There are a few areas in my life where I am a stickler for detail. I love making a corner or shelf in my house tidy and beautiful. I arrange picture frames just so. But the way I make quilts is with a pile of cut fabric next to my machine, which I then churn everything through in one sitting, then press, then church, press, churn, until I have a quilt top. No design wall, no coloured grid, not too much of a plan, just a kind of idea. That's how I find my zone. It's the way I find easiest to stay motivated, and work in small chunks if I need to.

But lately I've become more and more taken with traditional blocks, especially those that make secondary patterns once put together. After stealing many small moments on Pinterest and Googling images, I was inspired by this one for my next Graduation Quilt, but I was intrigued to see if I could make it scrappy, with a focus on Anna Maria Horner Prints, because I knew my recipient liked them. I played around with a grid and some markers, trying a few different variations before settling on the original, with aqua basics in the negative space. I wanted something more saturated than you can get with white or low volume prints, and more vibrant than grey.

As you can see, the quilt won't end up with the same clear pattern as it does on paper. It does have a shimmery, colourful sea kind of feel that's helping me to keep going, but it's definitely been one of those learning experiences where I spend much of my time thinking, "Oh, if I'd done it this way..." or "I think next time I'll use that colour instead." Add to that the fact that I'm laying out each block before I sew it together rather than picking out random squares next to my machine, and it makes for a whole lot more thinking than I tend to find relaxing! Such is the way with experiments. While it's less fun than complete confidence, there is a kind of satisfaction in growth.

So with my turn coming up as designer for do. Good Stitches' Care Circle, I thought I'd let my bee mates put the work into the complete opposite interpretation of this design, so we can compare the results. I thought I'd share the tutorial here in case anyone else wants to contribute to the experiment? I've been labelling relevant pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #9patchdash if you decide to make one!

I've made my blocks from a 3.5" base, which makes a 9.5" unfinished block.

To make the two-colour cross version, cut one strip of each colour 4" wide, by width of fabric.
From each strip, first cut two 4" squares. My preference for sewing half-square triangles is to cut these in half diagonally, and then sew and trim to 3.5".
(If you are making the traditional churn dash block, you can now cut two pieces from each colour that are 4"x3.5" wide. Cut these in half to get four 2"x 3.5" rectangles in each colour. Sew the different colours together to make four 3.5" squares.)

From the remaining strip, cut:

- One coloured 9.5" x 3.5" rectangle
- Three coloured 3.5" squares
- Eight white 3.5" squares.

(for the alternative block layout, you'll need instead, 6 white squares and 4 coloured squares)

I sewed mine together in strips of three squares and then sewed those lines together into the blocks. And, I found it so enjoyable that I made two lots. So maybe it's the constant learning, arranging, thinking and reassessing that slows me down, and not the old nine patch afterall?

I'm asking the Care Circle girls to make one block (or more if you'd like!) of each in really plain mustard/yellow. I've put some other basics in the picture above so if have those, you can use them, or refer to the colours as a guide. I think it would look great with solids too! I'm looking forward to seeing this contrast between this sunny/flat look and the other rich, turbulent one. Which is more your style?

The WIP box.

Last year felt like a year of letting go. I lost a baby, I shut up my shop in town, I had even denied myself the blissful escape of fabric shopping for the year. When I fell pregnant again, it was a joyful, terrifying, intimate experience. But it also felt like a final breath. I was having my third child. This is where I would bid farewell to my time and inspiration. Good bye Jodi. I'll see you in 20 years.

Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but I couldn't actually fathom ever feeling inspired again. It was like all my creative energy was going into making an alien life form. I stopped selling at markets, I sold all my stock on sale, I put the rest in this box. I had no idea if you were ever going to see me again.

There are lots of little deaths in motherhood. There is the death that comes with loss and dashed hopes, and the death that comes with hopes granted and the consequent lack of sleep. There's the death of one's agenda, personal space, confidence, drinking tea while still hot. I expected those again. What I didn't expect is a kind of resurrection. I didn't expect energy. Motivation. Enjoying my craft again. Maybe it's hormonal, maybe it's that sweet certainty (and fingers crossed - we've had surprises before) that this is the last. This is us now. We are in the next phase. The phase of moving on, and not always starting again, not always in limbo - will we, won't we... And maybe it is as many of my friends have said, that with the third, you feel like you finally have permission just to enjoy them. And enjoy them at home. Because that's where you all feel safe and ordered and creative. And any parts left of you from years gone that said you should be out, doing things that are REAL and IMPORTANT are more easily silenced.

And so, for the first time in over a year, my WIP box is not glaring down at me from the top shelf. It's down, on my sewing room floor, lid open. (actually, I think the lid has been stolen to be used as a shield) And I have ideas. Lots. Enough to make it feel like a little death when I recognise my limitations. But I am thankful for the death that's chosen and not the one that feels like a loss of identity, that is just too tired.

So this year, with a million, beautiful interruptions, my goal is to empty this box. Perhaps it's unrealistic, probably it will be put to one side when Finlay starts to teethe, to move, to eat lego. But right now, I'm enjoying having a goal that is not just to take each day at a time (though I want to do that too).

I'm sure there was something else I wanted to say but the baby has awoken. So I'll show off my first WIP box finish (and our beautiful coast) and chat more next time.

Jodi. xx

Super Simple 15 minute Cushion Cover

So my day started with a knock at the door. It was my lovely new neighbour, whose own day had started by finding one of my new chickens being eaten by her dog. :(
She felt so terrible, and I felt so terrible for her. Pet clashes can be such a terrible thing for neighbours. But I knew her dog couldn't get out but my chickens could, so I assured her that she must have flown over the fence and there was nothing else she needed to do. I went out the back and saw with relief that it wasn't one of my favourites (isn't that awful!). And she went to work and I went to play group. 
Then when I got home, I thought of her again. What an awful way to start the day! And I just felt compelled to give her something to maybe make it nicer and help her feel ok about it.
But what does one give to a new neighbour? I decided on a simple cushion cover.

When I lay the cushion on the fabric, I suddenly thought of a super simple way to throw together a cover. So I thought I'd share it with you here.

I cut along the width of the fabric, next to the edge of the cushion.

Then I folded the selvedges over at each end and sewed them. If you had pretty selvedge, you could leave this bit!

Then I wrapped the fabric around the cushion, right sides facing in and pinned the overlapping edges together.

Pull the cushion out, lay the folded square out flat. I shifted mine a little so the envelope opening would be more centred.

Pin along both sides.

Then I set my machine to an overlocking stitch and sewed up each raw edge.

Turn inside out and viola! A super quick and easy gift in nearly no time!

 I added my little dino boy because I like him. Then I wrote a card saying

"I'm sorry your day started with a dead chicken. I hope it got better from there. :)" 

and left it on her front porch, which neighbours my sunroom, before I had time to talk myself out of it.
Now to clip my chicken's wings! Poor little thing.