From Improv to Precision

As I have said before, I like traditional, modern, and art quilting. So, having finished the improv mystery, I shifted to precision piecing. Northwest Quilters Guild sponsored a workshop with Sally Collins, known for precision piecing and her miniatures.

Now I’ve seen photos of her miniatures, but that just isn’t the same as seeing a masterpiece made with tiny pieces, like Sedona with borders I’d estimate as 1/4″ triangles. I think everyone at Sally’s talk the night before the workshop was in awe.

Our project for the day was a sawtooth star block; either 3″ or 1 1/2″ or both, using the smaller for the center. I chose the latter.

class block

Sally gave us a plan for a finished product to complete at home. Instead of her pattern, I’m thinking of a sampler. I’ll keep the colors traditional; red and white quilts were once quite popular. I’ll use various shades and tints of red and not worry about using the same white throughout. That much I have planned.

Sally didn’t give a method for making perfect blocks on the first try. Rather she listed the points where care needed to be taken, the times to evaluate, and the details that show we were getting off, even by a thread.  And of course, she gave tips for correcting at each of those points, tips which excluded trimming to size (except for HSTs and QSTs made oversize). Also she made us feel a bit better by telling us she too has to rip and resew. She has written a book, Mastering Precision Piecing, which I imagine covers similar ground as the workshop. (They were sold out before I had a chance to browse.)

One of her tips was to put a weight on a piece while it was hot from pressing (no steam) and to let it sit till it was cool. My weight at home is an antique gasoline iron I bought years ago, and it is pretty heavy.

antique iron

At the workshop, we didn’t weight as we pressed.  A group of around 15 sharing four ironing boards could not tie up the boards to weight their pieces.  Pressing mine and weighting it all at once  at home isn’t giving the desired results. I made another block tonight and pressed as Sally instructed to see how much flatter it would end up.

New star, white center

It is better (and easier to work with at each step), but it still curls. Maybe my weight isn’t heavy enough, or my iron hot enough. I did manage to do other things and wait till it was really cool. Or maybe it needs repeat treatment. I’ll have to experiment.

You can all probably quote the times I have said I don’t rip or the times I’ve advised against ripping out. And I am not claiming to have turned over a new leaf. Not every quilt I make demands that degree of precision. But when they do (like the Storm at Sea on my list, or the Mariners’ Compass), I will have new tools to work with.

I had not planned a “large” 6 1/2″ block as part of my miniature sampler; however, I didn’t think the colors through ahead of time in class; I just started. In this quilt I won’t want blocks alternating background colors, so instead of starting over, I added a star. Maybe I’ll make a modern miniature with “oversized” blocks.

6-inch three-star

Oops. I see we are edging toward 6 3/4 instead of 6 1/2.  I think I’ll let it pass. I’ll not be putting same size blocks together anyway.  My conversion to perfectionist is not complete.

Linking up with Let’s Bee Social, WIP Wednesday, Needle and Thread Thursday and Show Off Saturday. Links in sidebar.


Filed under quilting

On Improving Quilting With a Domestic Sewing Machine

Heirloom Machine Quilting: A Comprehensive Guide to Hand-Quilting Effects Using Your Sewing MachineHeirloom Machine Quilting: A Comprehensive Guide to Hand-Quilting Effects Using Your Sewing Machine by Harriet Hargrave

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes it is good to go back to the earliest “how to” books, and this is the first or one of the first on machine quilting. As the title suggests, the goal is to do quilting that looks old fashioned. Still there are hints that are applicable to modern machine quilting. It is, as the title says, “Comprehensive.” There is more detail gathered here than I have seen elsewhere. Some I’d already heard via the grapevine. But when it was written, there was no grapevine. And though it was first written around the 90s, it has been updated with each edition. The latest our library had was 2004. So it didn’t mention Supreme Sliders.

Two suggestions that I found quite useful: If you use a cone thread holder, tape a safety pin near where your machine would feed from a spool. Now, I’d never had issues with how the machine worked without the pin, but using the pin did keep the thread feed more out of my way. I did find the thread getting caught in the coil at the end of the pin so switched to a 2-inch paper clip, which worked well. And a way of holding hands when using the walking foot that minimizes drift of the top layer. (Yes, even with a walking foot, there is sometimes drift–ask me how I know.)

One thing I’d heard before became more doable with her analogy: She compared looking ahead instead of at the needle with the way one’s eyes rove when driving. You kind of see both. I tried it and my curves became smoother and lines straighter. Not perfect yet, but better.

Because of the goal of creating perfect old fashioned hand quilted look, some details were more fiddly than the modern quilter may need; however, one might be an interesting skill to develop: when travel stitching aim to stitch in exactly the same holes of the previous stitching. (I do well to stay on the previous line of stitching.) Hargrave did say it was an advanced skill.

It is a valuable book for anyone interested in quilting with a domestic sewing machine. Skim what you think you know and pause where you see something additional.

View all my reviews


Filed under books, quilting

Clue #6 (sans Stars) and Finished

In the absence of thread, I worked on the Quilted Snail’s mystery quilt. Both need to be finished at the same time, so changing the order is no problem, yet. But I’m not thrilled with Wait and see if it is a “little bit delayed” and no clue of what they call “a little bit.” But back to the mystery quilt.

Finished top

top finished

You may remember that clue #5 asked for three squares on three blocks. Well I managed three, but only on two blocks. Close enough for me. I meant it to look like light reflecting on a sphere . . . it doesn’t.  I think it needs to be lower to give the 3-D effect. Next time.  I did like putting each color on the bottom sphere though.

Here’s where you can help.  Clue #4 asked for meaning to be expressed either with words or symbolically, and I chose symbolic.  How do you read it?  (There is no right or wrong answer here–it is what you see, and whatever you see will be helpful to me.) I’ve actually changed my thinking as it has progressed.

Clue #6 asked for a rectangle on two blocks and six stars.  The three squares are surrounded by rectangles, and at least two are on two squares. Stars?  Time to depart from the clues and take back ownership. The mystery has been fun, and it has definitely allowed for more maker control than most mystery quilts.

I tried something new for finishing.  Usually when I don’t want to frame a quilt with border or binding I face it. But that has given me trouble with the corners. I tried stitching front to back before quilting for a knife-edge finish. When quilting I did get a couple small tucks–a problem with finishing first.

Some suggestions I played with: use an odd number of items.  Instead of moving a circle into the middle block to make a group of three, I added a ghost circle in the quilting.  Instead of creating one big spiral of circles I created two crossing each other and tried to guide with quilting.

Now, a design concept that is problematic to me. A critique frequently heard in the master class was about lines leading off the design. Now, my eyes never leave a design, so I don’t quite have the concept. It is difficult to correct for a flaw I am not sure I see. I’m thinking this one has the potential in two places, as best I can tell. So I tried to control it with quilting.  Let me know (a) if it really had potential to lead the eye off and (b) if so, if quilting is enough to stop it.

Here’s the quilting. quilted

That’s the best I could do for the time of day I took the picture.    Edited to insert better daytime photo.

Shows a bit better from the back.

quilt back

The batting allows for 10-inch unquilted spaces. The larger full circles are 7 inches.

Here are some detail shots.  edited to delete detail shots since detail now visible.

Of interest in thread use: all the quilting took 5 bobbins of thread; the stippling around the smaller circles alone took one whole bobbin. I’ll know to have plenty of thread on hand if I want to do a lot of stippling!

Remember to comment: What “message” do you see?  And talk about the design problem of leading an eye off the “page.”

Linking with Quilted Snail. And since I haven’t had a finish for quite a while,  linking with LAFF, TGIFF, and Finish it up Friday. And linking with art quilts at Off the Wall Friday. And for quilting fun, Free Motion Mavericks. And I crush big time on finishes, so linking with Main Crush Mondays. Here’s hoping others agree with my judgement that this improv mystery allowed enough of my decisions to count as my own.  Linking with Creative Goodness. Check out the linky posts for some inspiration.


Filed under design, quilting

Waiting for Thread

I have quilted all I can with the thread I have.  The thread I ordered, that should have arrived already, has not arrived. At the very latest it should have been scanned at the local post office this morning. It wasn’t. Here’s hoping they simply forgot to scan it and it still arrives today.

Meanwhile, I decided to model the quilt on the bed.

on bed view 1

And a side view

Side view

I try to imagine quilts on beds, and when I design I draw in the mattress dimensions so that I know what will be on top and what will be sides, but I am always a bit surprised when I model it.

Linking up with WIP Wednesday and Let’s Bee Social. If you are new to my blog, the backward trail starts here.


Filed under quilting

Urban Chickens Half Quilted

After finishing the stitching on the white around the “chickens,” I came up with three basic designs for the squares part of the block.  First, spirals.

The red is the first one where I totally misjudged distances and had to fudge and add a round. The second one turned out better. Curves could be smoother and spaces more even. This quilt is for me, and I can live with imperfection. And it is more fun than practicing on squares that won’t have a function. More realistic too, as designs that are easy in small pieces are not always in the middle of a larger piece.

Second, what better than chicken tracks. My first try (blue and orange) looked more like jewelry, but gradually I got there.

The checkerboard arrangement on the first attempt made it easy to use just two colors and quilt continuously. However, when making the blocks, I’d tried to avoid the checkerboard. Since continuous quilting no longer worked, sometimes , as in the lime and teal block, I used spirals in the small squares since they were easier to do individually. So the second design has two variations.  All that starting and stopping was a pain. By the time I got to the three shades of blue, I had decided that thread changes were not necessary. Two boring steps–threading the machine, ending and beginning again–eliminated.

And the third one is based on a design for squares by Angela Walters in her book, Shape by Shape--if she gave it a name, I forgot it. I know she showed it with triangles too, don’t think she showed it with rectangles.  I tried to proportion the indent to the lengths of the sides, but it still was a bit awkward. I’ll have to look at the book again to see if she gave any hints.

This design was harder on the machine than with the pencil practice sketch–not enough room to maneuver the longer lines .(My Featherweight has a 5 1/2-inch harp.) It helped to split the block into two rectangles. It also took a while to keep four sided shapes–I tended to end up with triangles when it was hard to see where I’d been or where I was going. And this was with edge blocks. I decided this design–whole or half–was not for the center.

When I planned out which design to put where I needed a fourth–couldn’t have two of the same designs side by side. So a simple variation on the spiral, making 12 instead of 6.

12  spirals

This one also went into the center where the angular one wouldn’t work.

So I thought four designs would solve the boredom issue of the design I’d started but decided not to pursue. And it did to an extent, but why do you suppose I am blogging instead of quilting?

Here is a link to Michelle’s tutorial for the block in case you’d like to make one.


Filed under design, quilting

Abrupt Shift of Quilting Projects

I’ve been leisurely quilting a bunk quilt , pausing to make a top and some blocks, stopping to read a book or two. And just generally enjoying myself. And then with April appearing, I realized that “plenty of time” no longer existed for the local guild quilt show entry.

I’d been waiting till the bunk quilt was all quilted to post, but with my shift of energies, it returns to the queue. Never one to wait, I’ll show progress.

quilting on blue

You may notice both Pin Moors and safety pins.  I bought some Pin Moors after Leah Day recommended them.  I find them about the same to insert as safety pins, but easier to remove while quilting.  Rarely, the tips fall off when I have to handle a quilt a lot–I don’t know if that is user error in my attaching them or a feature of the device. I’m not giving up the safety pins I already own, but gradually will replace them. Or buy enough that I can have several quilts pinned and ready.

postcard sashing quilting

Originally I’d planned not to quilt on the postcards; however, I pieced battings, and one needed closer quilting than the other, so what I do for one, I’ll do for all the postcard pieces. The print wasn’t made for easy continuous quilting, so quilting on some of the cards is more obvious than on others.

The variation of square spiral on the dull brown came from Angela Walker, Walters, a video somewhere–I don’t remember where.

I was debating whether to do both strips of sashing with the same design or to vary it–I was thinking triangles mignt be a nice variation. And about that time, Night Quilter posted a tutorial for “Wonky Triangles for Narrow Sashing.” Timely indeed! So I was about this degree of finished when I counted days till the quilt show quilts were due.

And got out Urban Chickens.  (Here is the top in case you forgot–I’m always surprised at how much time has passed when I go looking for an old post.)

Urban Chicken quilting

And got going on the design suggested by Kathlee Quilts’ Free Motion Friday. I got into a pleasant zone doing the squiggles, but by the time I’d finished them on  160 “chickens,” I knew I couldn’t handle that much of the same thing for the rest of the quilt, even though I had liked the look. So I am pondering designs for the square parts of the blocks.  And what do I don when I don’t know how to proceed?  Write a blog post, of course.

I figure I need to quilt 8 blocks a day to be finished in time.  It is doable if I forget about leisurely. Here’s to having an idea by tomorrow.

Linking up with Free Motion Mavericks a day late.


Filed under Uncategorized

Visited in March, Reporting in April

I totally missed February at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, so I never did see the plum blossom tree in full bloom. Nor can I tell you if the red rose was still blooming. But I can tell you it wasn’t on March 25. Plenty of other flowers were, though.

Then there are the ritual shots:


The landboat and the weeping willow.  Wasn’t it nice of that tourist to wear red and pose there? If you can’t wait for tourists to move, it is nice when they fit the photo.  The weeping willow looks so lacy in the spring–I think that is one reason I started making the landboat a ritual photo. This isn’t the usual angle for the landboar shot, but it was raining, so I stayed under a roof.


And the bridge.

As to wildlife, there were two mating pairs: scrub jays and ducks. The jays darted in and out, but were too fast for me to get a photo. They were looking for a nesting spot.  After they nest, they will dive bomb visitors for a few weeks.  I did get one of the ducks, though they weren’t into staying still either.

ducksI learned something new–it pays to do the tour each visit, each guide is so different. This one emphasized issues of education, occupation and status. It seems not just any child could inherit the garden; it had to go to one with the proper education and standing! So the wealthy families selected one son to groom for status and inheritance.


Filed under Portland OR