Flock of Stars Quilt

It's such a joy to stitch in company. I had been waiting for my Cotton + Steel Bluebird bundle to arrive for two and a half weeks, when it came the same day as my visitors. The plan had been to get as much stitching done before they came so that I was freed up to give them a local holiday, while still hopefully getting this quilt done in time to enter Rachel's Bluebird Sew Off. I'd even basted half the diamonds in left over blues and whites from my Free Spirit quilt to try and get a head start. But the postman drove in only an hour or two before my old bridesmaid and her family. It looked like I might just have to let it go.

But as we sat around the dining table drinking tea, and we talked about the kinds of things that could happen this week, I mentioned this quilt, and how, if it was possible, I'd love to get it done by Monday (Sunday night NC time). And my dear friend Jenny completely embraced the idea as the perfect way to spend time together this past week. And though I quite agree with her, I was still surprised. I'm sure many of my quilting friends would attest, we don't often have people lining up to help us hand sew little diamonds together. But Jenny is warm and generous and confident. She'd sewn a button, and maybe a pouch before. How hard to could it be? It sounded fun! And so, we have spent the last four beautiful days together, stitching stars while we watched the kids play, while we snacked on lunch, and while we called out to the husbands to change the dirty nappies please, because we were on a very important mission. It has been the perfect catalyst for many a good conversation after several years living so far away. What a blessing.

I finished the quilt last night, so glad to have it done, full of rich memories, but admittedly a little disappointed that I sewed up the last stitches as the light was dying. I had planned to write this blog post in the evening after the kids were asleep. And then this morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 to catch the Canowindra Balloon Festival Key Grab. I quickly grabbed the quilt on the way out the door hoping there'd be an opportunity for a few photos. Then, as we were crossing the river into town, we saw the 4WDs and their trailers lined up on the flat next to the water. They were getting ready to launch! We quickly pulled over, and walked onto the flat.

I can't even begin to tell you what a score this was. Pilots decide that morning from where they'll launch depending on the wind direction. So to stumble upon these beautiful balloons rather than wait an hour or so vying for a good spot at the Key, and to have the flat to ourselves, was a wonderful gift. The pilots were warm and generous, inviting us to take a closer look and answering the kids' questions about the flame and flying.

It felt strange photographing such a small quilt, after all the big ones I've been making. Almost like it was out of proportion. Tim's legs look awfully long! And now that we're home, I can see that I just kept being drawn the interesting patchwork shapes of the balloons. It's a rare treat to have the wide open sky as a backdrop.

After they has all drifted off, we drove around to the Key, a large pole sticking out of the ground with a bright key attached. The pilots have to try and maneuver their balloons to reach and get the key. We stood in the crowd for a while, enjoying the floating colours above us, and also glad for the chance to see them so close earlier. After a while I decided to go back to this fence and grab a couple of shots while we waited. It wasn't until after I was going through these later that I realised that I'd photographed the winning balloon swooping in to collect the key!

These Bluebird blues have been a lovely colour to work with this week. In all the long days of stitching, I have not tired of them. But of course, I couldn't help but throw in some specks of pink and red and burnt orange and I'm so glad for the autumnal feel they give it. I decided to machine quilt, focusing around a single star, and I love the movement it's added to the already sparkling stars. Sparkle is usually created with light, and I've enjoyed the challenge to use colour to the same effect.

I've decided to give this quilt to my visitors as a memento of their stay here, and a thank you gift for embracing my hopes for the week. The joy of that generousity will stay with me for a long time.

Be sure to head over to Stitched in Color's Bluebird Sew Off for more beautiful blue!

Tiger Lily and a Cherished Quilt.

This hexie block, like many quilts, grew from a happy convergence of ideas and circumstances. A request from my sister-in-law to make quilts for their beds, my current obsession with anything with a 60 degree angle, and a bundle of Tiger Lily by Heather Ross, a whimsical purchase last year that I immediately felt guilty for. I had no plans for this fabric, I had just wanted the "Small Roses" in Yellow and this bundle ended up being the best way to get it.

I've pulled the bundle out a few times over the past six months and sat uneasily with it. It's such a warm collection, with no relief from aqua or blue. It's almost too sunny for my usual taste.

When I saw this block on Pinterest, it struck me as a great one for fussy cutting big prints, like these forest designs in Tiger Lily. I already had 2" diamonds and hexagons (which I cut in half), that meant the centre hexagon sides needed to be 4". So I asked Tim if he could cut me some 4" hexagons (hexies seems too small a word for these monsters!) on his newly completed laser cutter. Too easy!

The excitement surrounding a laser cutter that can cut EPP shapes for me warranted diving back into my stash and giving Tiger Lily another go. I decided to fill it out with other prints and solids, within the same colour palette. There's something about adding solids to this line that helps it breathe a little for me. I don't really need another hand piecing project at the moment, but writing it on a list just didn't get it out of my head. I just needed to make one block. And then I could put it aside. Promise.

4" hexies are a huge 8" across. Big for English Paper Piecing, but not so huge by normal quilting standards, and certainly not too big for this print. Those girls in the tree fit inside the hexie perfectly, don't you think? Each finished block is 8" along each edge. It's nice having an English Paper Piecing quilt where the fabric does half the work for you!

I sat auditioning border prints until I was happy with these ones above. And then, as you'll see below, I swapped out the low volume print. It needed something with a different scale. All the flowers were the same size, and, well, floral. The crosshatch I eventually settled with gives it a nice balance.

I love 2" diamonds, mostly because they so nicely fit in a 2.5" strip. I fit 6 diamonds almost perfectly along a strip cut from the short edge of my fat quarter. 

I stitched the border together in sections, first attaching the brown inside border to the top two sides of the pink diamond, and then joining the pink and white crosshatch. 

 And then I stitched the border to each side of the 4" hexagon. Because my stitching isn't perfect, it was great to have some clover clips to hold the edge of each seam evenly so I didn't accidentally push the border right over the edges. Once the hexagon was stitched around, I just had the six corner seams to do.

I called this quilt-to-be "Cherished" because I thought it would be perfect for any much loved kids line with beautiful illustrations, or those big, elaborate prints we find so hard to cut into. For a single (twin) sized quilt, I need 28 blocks and 4 half blocks. I hope to make these slowly (very slowly!) over the next year or so. That's if I can stop myself from designing a million other fun quilts that only a laser can cut! 

Watermelon Summer + Skipping Stones


I had such happy mail today! My special, curated, summery little bundle of Aurifil Thread for Ms Midge, purveyor of very fine thread...


...and this beautifully brooding new collection by Anna Maria Horner, called Skipping Stones for Free Spirit. And did you notice those Filigree reprints? Swoon!

I chose these threads for watermelon and Splice icy poles. And today was the perfect day for them to arrive, the kind of warm, summer day where you enjoy stepping outside, enjoy the windows wide open, even enjoy hanging out the washing! Not too hot, and just the right amount of breeze. These are the colours of swimming pools and swimming costumes and bright beach towels. If you've already signed up for Ms. Midge's monthly Aurifil club, you'll be getting these in your happy mail box too! Otherwise, they'll be available for purchase in her shop next month.

The stormy cottons are for a new project for Free Spirit. I can't share much yet, but I couldn't help taking photos of these for you. Lovely, rich, neutral reprints of some of my favourite florals. They are far from your usual, stark, geometric low-volumes. They remind me of lace, and those silhouette brooches my grandmother wore. Warm and friendly.

Free Spirit Quilt Top


This is how high I got up the ladder before my fear of heights set in!

I've spent the last two weeks working as hard and fast as I can to get this quilt top done in a timely manner for Free Spirit. All that's left is to applique a big white logo across the top and quilt it, and then ship it off to Charlotte, to Free Spirit HQ, so that they can take it to Quilt Con West next month!


So I thought today you might be interested in hearing a little about my work with Free Spirit?

In about September last year, I was approached by Free Spirit's marketing department in an email saying that Anna Maria Horner had recommended me as someone who might be interested in mapping some virtual quilts for her upcoming lines. The email was such a surprise, as I'm sure you can imagine, that I had to read it three times to see if I'd understood it correctly. And I didn't understand it. What was mapping? And what were virtual quilts? Anna Maria Horner knew who I was? And if I wrote back with these questions, was I giving myself away that I was completely in the dark, and therefore, possibly the wrong person for the job?

I took the plunge, politely, but excitedly replying that I was very interested, if they could just let me know exactly what I was interested in.
It turns out 'mapping' is designing, using the pictures of the fabric designs. I would design a quilt (actually, three or four quilts) on my computer with the images of the fabric line and submit them for consideration. They would get back to me with their favourite, and I would write a pattern for them.


I really enjoy the work. And if I may say so, I think I'm good at it. Though, that's not to say I haven't had to learn a lot. It's a very different process writing a pattern for a quilt before you've made it. My usual quilting process involves a lot of trial and error at the best and quickest way to put together blocks or quilt tops. I can't go through that process here. Often I tend towards scrappy quilts that play with value, rather than two-colour blocks, which makes cutting instructions really tricky. And I don't think I have ever, ever, sat down and thought about how much of each print I need and what exactly I need to cut before diving into a quilt. I usually just start cutting until I feel like I have enough, which is usually only about half of what I need. I sew it together and then start cutting again. And I guess, most importantly, while I'm making the quilt, I often make changes, because of how I feel about it now that I'm working with it, or because I've built on my original plan.

But quilt design on a computer is a completely different animal, and it's one I've learned to really love. I've had to learn that even in a scrappy quilt, I should use a similar amount of cuts per print, making the pattern much easier to read, and to write. I've learned, as I come up with new blocks or layouts, to ask myself "Could I actually describe that to someone? How?" and, "Do I even know how I would put that together?" It's easy to get creative with lines on a computer. It's a whole other thing to sew fabric together in the same way. The whole process has felt like learning a new science, or a new language. It's like the grammar here is different to the way I'm used to speaking, but I can find other ways to get my message across.

I've been amazed to see old designs I discarded on a previous job, suddenly come to life with a completely different line of fabrics. It's helped hone a sense of what brings different fabrics out, what do different styles need to look beautiful.

The lovely folks at Free Spirit have been so kind and open to me learning these things, happy to answer my questions, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I've worked with lines that are exactly my taste, and I have more ideas than I can use. And I've worked with lines that are so different to what's in my stash, but the challenge of making something I'm really happy with has been so satisfying. I wish I could show them all here now! But I'll wait until the quilts have been shown at Quilt Market.


And then, about six weeks ago, I was asked to design this quilt, a special request for the Free Spirit Booth at Quilt Con West in Pasadena next month. Actually, again, I designed three quilts. I mapped the cityscape at the top of the post, the medallion quilt above, and the one I'm making. My brief included using a colour gradient, from purple to aqua, and the Free Spirit Logo in white. I really, really love the other two quilts, but I'm so glad they chose this one. It does make me feel like a Free Spirit. And it's also the simplest design, a good thing for me because I'm making it on the other side of the world.

Still, it's taken about twice as long as I anticipated to sew it up. I've always been terrible at guessing such things, and my optimism got the better of me here too.  I've been so fortunate that Tim is at home these days, able to look after the kids and the food and our other needs. Working from home is a challenge! But it still feels like a gift that I can tell my kids, who have walked right past Tim in the kitchen to come ask me for a sandwich, that that's Daddy's job this week. Oh, and to have my very own coffee connoisseur in the next room!


And my very own Quilt Critic. Here he is telling me what I didn't quite achieve in the design. We've been married ten years next month, and I'm glad I've learned to appreciate his feedback, and then still hold it up confidently against my own! And I love this quilt. I really love it. I can't wait to start the next challenge of appliqueing the logo. I can't wait to use some very new, yet to be released, wideback cotton for the backing! And I can't wait to see it hanging in the Free Spirit booth at QuiltCon.

Will you be there? Will you take a photo for me?

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.