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.

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?

A new finish.

The kids are cleaning their teeth. The baby is awake but happy on my bed. Her crusty hour begins around now. So I'm taking this 2 second window to pop over, show off my CARE Circle Spinning Stars quilt before I put the big kids to bed and settle into an evening of breast feeding and old TV reruns.

I asked the CARE circle girls if they could make me a single Spinning Stars block with a green and aqua centre, white/low volume ring, and alternating yellow and orange corners. I arranged them to get the most contrast I could between the blocks. It was fun making this quilt again but in completely different colours. The main challenge? Anna Maria Horner doesn't have an inch square for scaling purposes on her template. We ended up struggling with block sizes a bit.

Oop. There goes the baby. I miss this space! But I do find Facebook and Instagram easier to update. Follow me there (@jotickle)!

Over and out. xx

Bee Catcher

Apparently I'm in a bit of a blogging and making slump at the moment. I blame it on the weather. Spring seems to have hit early this year. And my kids. For the first time ever, while preparing a vege garden, they have not systematically come behind me to destroy it. We've been shopping for hay, we've been planting blueberry bushes, we've been enjoying the new buds on the pomegranate tree. My camera and phone all the while, have laid abandoned inside. I usually have a running commentary in my head as I go through my day, all of life potential fodder for my blog, but I've felt compelled lately just to experience the moment and let it flitter away, never to be recorded.

I've felt a bit guilty, which is strange, because I haven't promised a regular update to anyone, except perhaps, to myself. I seem to be the kind of person who baulks at commitment. I'm highly driven to complete things sprung from internal motivation, but as soon as I commit to someone else's project, or push past the motivation of my own, something in me falls asleep. Is this common? Is it left over from school and uni days, dragged from one deadline to the next? I used to think I was motivated by deadlines, but now I think I was just trained to push myself to meet them. Is anyone else out there like this?

I've felt the same with my online quilting bee, Scrappy? Sew Bee it! Thankfully, I've had a very gracious and relaxed group of new friends to initiate me into the world of monthly quilt block making. I really enjoy only making one or two blocks, having a quick project over in an hour or two, but somehow, earlier this year, I found myself seven or eight months behind! I'm embarrassed to even share it here, but the reason I am, is because when, in May, I decided I would try to catch up before my month in June, I discovered some important things about the way I work and why I couldn't achieve something as small as a block a month. I thought I'd share it with you in case you can relate.

I think the biggest single difference for me with my usual sewing habit, and making a block for someone, is the way I make a start. I rarely use patterns or shop or make sure I have the right materials before I start. My most comfortable way of making is to turn on my iron and machine and sit down. Sometimes I have bursts where I do a ton of cutting, but mostly I have a couple of things on the go so that at any time I can just walk into my sewing room and sit. Sitting is my default.

But with block making, the beginning steps are very different. It starts with turning on my computer, checking Flickr, downloading or clicking the link to a pattern, sometimes printing (my least favourite, because my printer hates me). This long list of prerequisites was not at all clear in my mind when I would finally sit down to make a block and, drawing a blank, end up picking something else to work on. It sounds obvious, but I really had to train myself to go to my laptop first rather than my sewing room. I had to remind myself to read all the instructions rather than look at a picture for inspiration and just make up the measurements and colours.

It's been an important learning curve for me to understand that I wasn't behind because I was lazy or disorganised. I just needed to teach myself some practical skills that went against my natural inclinations. I just needed to break it down into tiny steps. What about you? Got any extra tips for getting bee blocks in on time?
Now, I just have one more block to do today, and then I'm heading back outside to enjoy the sunshine.

Fabric Fast Month 8 ~ Happy Mail

Well, I'm past the half way mark of my year long fabric fast, my challenge to myself to not buy any fabric for a year and to sort and use my scraps. I wrote a little while ago of my weariness of this challenge, especially with lots of delicious new fabric lines coming out, but my recent influx of happy mail has well and truely quenched my thirst for opening packages and any lacking I felt about my stash.

I was given the opportunity to write a tutorial for Lily's Quilts using two fat quarter bundles from Abakhan Fabrics. They arrived a couple of days ago and I immediately jumped in and started my fabric book. I'm really enjoying the flat solids and stripes compared to my usual scrappy look.

My next exciting bundle to arrive was a charm pack by Dear Stella, of their Spring 2013 lines. 125 squares of fabric that I don't already own. I have a friend who always buys a fat quarter or charm pack of lines she likes so she can see them in person, whereas I've always bought lots of a few prints. Since quilting more, longing for more variety in my stash, and being surprised by the kinds of prints I end up using all the time, I'm pretty sure my buying habits will be siginficantly different once I start shopping again (thought hopefully not increased!) In this load of prints, I've found plenty that I know I wouldn't have chosen online, but would end up using a lot.

While I was on holidays I found out I won this Collage 10" layer cake from Fabric Bubb! It's so fun! And it gives me my very first newspaper prints. One challenge with my fabric fast is the growing use of low volume and text prints replacing white in my sewing bee. I made sure I stocked up on white before embarking on my fast! But I didn't even think about the others. A year is a long time in the quilting world!

My wall of leaves is growing rapidly following my turn as queen bee in June for Scrappy? Sew Bee it! I love that this is going to be a quilt I could never make on my own. The range of prints and colours is so vast, it's going to have a character all of its own. I love it.

And then finally, a very special one. This half yard bundle of Briar Rose by Heather Ross, arrived a couple of days ago, my birthday gift from my mum. Thank you Mum! It was fun posting a photo on my Facebook page asking whether people would open it immediately or wait a week, till my birthday. I was surprised that most people couldn't have waited, those that would have loved the idea of opening it on the special day, loved the suspense, the ritual. Not being from a very gifty family (we all love that Mum gives us a set amount each year, in our bank account), and being terrible at gift giving myself (at least, the being organised and creative part), those things weren't as important to me as the fun of ripping into the envelope the moment I'd posted the photo, so I could see all these beautiful, happy prints. I will wait to cut into them, but only because I plan to use them for the Penny Sampler!

I do feel so very thankful for these additions to my sunny sewing room. It does feel a little bit like cheating! But I also know it's the encouragement I needed to get to the end of the year. It also feels like a reminder of why I chose this. I definitely love the choosing, the waiting, the receiving, just as much as the making. And I'm sure you can relate that it's much easier to put colours together on a computer screen with a glass of wine after the kids have gone to bed, than to sleepily make my way to my machine! But here I am nearly 8 months later and my buckets of scraps or shelves of fabric don't look significantly depleted. If I feel like I am lacking, it's because of changing trends, not because I'm running out. I am looking forward to that first shop in January 2014, but I hope this has set me on a more sustainable path.