Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy Holidays!

I've been in town over the holidays, taking some time off. I've been feeling sort of grinchy and anti-social this year, maybe in part because it's been overcast, warm, and humid for weeks. I pulled the 15-91 out of the closet for a good oiling and some exercise over the holidays. I'm still working on string blocks. This is quilt top #4, which I finished sewing together this morning:

I had two 4-inch tall stacks of blocks, but I had blocks left over after quilts #3 and #4, so I'm sewing a 5th quilt. I'm going to use some background blocks in this one. I wonder if I have enough of the gray background fabric...

Monday, November 23, 2015

I'm so fancy

I decided to quilt feathers on this eBay quilt top. It is taking longer than expected, I have more than 5 hours of quilting in it and am maybe halfway done. I've never done feathers before, but these are turning out well. I haven't decided how to quilt the borders of this one yet. I call it the Q-bert quilt. I was experimenting with using wool batting in it. I like the soft, poofy feel of it. It seems to remain soft despite some fairly dense quilting.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Vintage Singer 99

Sometimes when your friends find out you sew, they gift you with sewing machines. This is a Singer 99 that a friend of mine inherited and gave to me (thanks Brad!). We converted it to hand crank a couple of years ago because it was missing the knee control (this one was operated with a knee lever rather than a foot pedal) and the wiring was scary (original cloth-wrapped cords). This machine dates to 1926. The machine is actually in reasonably good condition, despite a few nicks the decals and paint are in good shape, there is minimal rust, and the needle goes up and down when you turn the wheel. However, life got in the way, and the machine got put in a closet for a couple of years. But I wanted to play with the sewing machine again, so I pulled her out for a good cleaning and oiling.

And boy, did this machine need cleaning! Years of lint had collected in all sorts of spots. Apparently, we forgot to clean the machine before putting it away, and so did the previous owner. I've been taking everything apart, clearing out as much lint as I can, and dribbling oil everywhere two moving metal parts meet up. The machine is now reasonably clean, and I tested the stitch and it is perfect. The only issue is the bobbin winder, which does not work. The rubber tire on it that rests against the hand wheel doesn't actually touch the hand wheel, so it can't operate. I located the adjustment screw and tried adjusting it, but it won't adjust far enough to work. My husband can't remember if he changed the hand wheel when he converted it to hand crank, but I think he must have, and the replacement hand wheel must be a slightly different size. I have ordered a set of 3 replacement tires in 3 different sizes. With luck, one will fit. In the meantime, I successfully wound a bobbin for the machine on the Megasaurus (my MegaQuilter), which takes a different bobbin, but one of a similar size.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Riding the Pony

I've been getting used to the Pony, my HQ Sweet 16 sit-down quilting machine. The only way to get comfortable with a new machine is to use it, so I quilted two quilts on it during the past month. I've been saving up quilt tops to finish on the machine for the past several months. I also purchased a couple of quilt tops on eBay to practice on--a nice low-risk place to start. I started with a scrappy vintage bow-tie quilt top that probably dates from the 1930s-1950s. I quilted diagonal lines of flowers on it using beige/gold Aurifil cotton thread.

What I didn't fully realize when I got the Pony was that it only takes cone thread. You have to order a horizontal spool pin separately in order to use spools of thread on the machine. What I also realized, after reading info on the internet, is that a lot of long-arm quilters don't like to use cotton thread. They prefer poly thread because it is less linty and stronger. I've never used poly thread before, but after using cotton on the first quilt, I understand what they mean when they say cotton is linty. I did have one thread break incident, so I reduced the tension a bit and had no more problems after that. Anyhow, I've ordered cones of a variety of different poly threads to experiment with, as well as some extra bobbins and an extra bobbin case. I'm going to hold off on getting a horizontal spool pin for now.

The bow-tie quilt is nearly finished. Here it is, quilted and trimmed and with the binding pinned on prior to sewing it down. I also prepared a hanging sleeve for it.

The second quilt I finished using the Pony is one of my scrappy 1/4-log cabins. I used a smoky gray Superior SoFine 50wt poly thread. It seemed to slide through the machine easier than the cotton thread. I quilted this using an overall maze pattern.

I call this layout 'dragon scales.' I sewed the first half of the binding down this morning and prepared a hanging sleeve for it.

Overall, the Pony is working well. After finishing one or two more quilts, I'll post a review of the quilting machine.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Look, a Pony!

Guess what arrived at my doorstep late last week?

Yep, the Pony has arrived (if I were a guy, this would be the equivalent to getting a motorcycle). I waited a day to unbox it because I needed time to rearrange and clean the sewing room to make way.

And this is the Pony, a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen quilting machine, all unboxed and ready to go. I found some My Little Pony decals for it on the internet, but I haven't decided if they will fit. I watched YouTube videos from the manufacturer that showed how to set the machine up and get started. I was able to begin to play on a practice quilt sandwich almost immediately after getting it set up.

This is the current studio layout. It's a tight fit having three machines in a room this size, but I'm making it work. I'm going to have to cut the table in the front shorter so it will fit the space better. And put some real legs on it. I didn't get as much time to play with the Pony as I wanted this past weekend (we had family in town), but I took some time this evening to start working on quilting a vintage top that I got on eBay a few months ago.

And no, the cat wasn't helping.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Look for the Blog, & Why I Haven't Been Finishing Any Quilts Lately

The blog has a new look, and a new title. Just because. I hadn't changed things up for a couple of years and I wanted to look at something new. I'd still like to put some quilt blocks in a banner across it, but I'm not sure how to do that, maybe I'll fiddle around a bit more and run a few more google searches to see if I can figure it out. In the meantime, the friendly bookshelf blog wallpaper makes me happy (I love books! Even though this is mostly a blog about quilting). I changed the title from 'Nene Quilts' because no one is sure how to pronounce that (it rhymes with teenie). So I'm ready to quilt with a shiny new blog look.

So this is my temporary studio layout, soon to be changed when the new quilting machine arrives. Although it isn't supremely messy, pretty much every horizontal surface has something on it. I've mostly been sewing on Red Dot (the Bernina with all the red buttons) for the past couple of months. Red Dot is set up on the temporary table in the center of the room (why yes, that IS laminated pine boards set on top of two TV trays). Red Dot is going to have to move for the new machine, but I haven't figured out where yet.

And this is why I haven't been getting any quilts finished lately. These are the 3 projects that I am simultaneously working on. I still haven't run out of either red and yellow squares or scrap fabric strips, so the 1/4-log cabin blocks continue to be stitched. I started stitching 4" tumblers together--these sew up fast, I love one-patch quilts. I have been alternating lights & darks, but I haven't decided if I will offset the rows or not. I've also started stitching on my 'Tree Everlasting' quilt, although I still have a fair bit of cutting left on that one. The 'Tree Everlasting' pattern would actually make a really good leader/ender project. It utilizes all 2 1/2" strips (if you use the Easy Angle ruler to cut the half-square triangles), which is a really common size, and there are really only two pieces to cut--rectangles and half-square triangles. I guess I've been using all 3 projects as leaders/enders, since I am switching back and forth between them. Of course, if I'd just stuck to one project, I'd probably be finished by now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quiltfest 2015

Yesterday DH and I drove over to Jacksonville for the annual quilt show--this one seems to be the biggest in Florida. The local quilt guild organizes a bus trip to the show every year, but DH likes to see the quilts & doesn't care to ride the bus, so we drive over on our own. I picked up a bolt of batting and some teal fabric, since my fabric collection doesn't have much of that color.

I took a few pictures at the show, but I don't want to post them here because I didn't take time to write down the quilters' names, and I don't want to post them unattributed. I guess what struck me about the show was how very precise and ordered the piecing/applique work was on some of the quilts. This is mainly noticeable when only a few fabrics are used and when sashing is used, since it tends to emphasize the grid in block-based quilts (I rarely use sashing because of this, and I like to either set quilts on point or offset the blocks or otherwise try to de-emphasize the grid--there is a part of me that rebels against too much regimentation). There were also art quilts at the show that didn't utilize any grid, but traditional, grid based quilts were pretty common. The idea of order vs. chaos interested me. I think it would be interesting to play with that and design a quilt that started out with a perfect, traditional pattern, and then morphed into something more chaotic. You could do it with applique or with a pieced quilt. Another idea for the file...I think I have too many quilts in my head.

While I was at the show, I took the plunge and ordered an HQ16 sit-down quilting machine--it's like a long-arm machine, but it is set stationary in a table rather than on a frame. I've been researching this type of machine for quite a while, and I think it will work out well. More on that at a later date, I don't know how long it will take to get it shipped and set up.

As far as what quilty projects I've been working on goes, for the past week, nothing. I was out in the field, looking at wetland restoration projects, and although I considered packing a sewing machine, in the end it just seemed like too much additional luggage--I already had a suitcase, 2 backpacks, a cooler & a crate of field gear. It was a long, hot week. We haven't cooled down noticeably this far south, even though autumn has begun.

This morning I worked on cutting fabric for a Tumbler quilt--this is a traditional pattern that Bonnie Hunter has been using as a leader/ender project. Bonnie didn't give specific measurements for the tumbler, but she is cutting hers from 2 1/2" squares using a wedge-shaped ruler. I wanted mine to be a bit bigger and to taper more, so I drafted one on graph paper that is 4" tall and 1" wide at one end and 3" at the other. To me these look like stretched half-hexagons. I like Bonnie's idea of "self-bordering" the quilt by using all dark value tumblers at the edges. I've cut quite a few but haven't sewn any together yet. I still have more 1/4-log cabin blocks to work on and I have also been cutting fabric for a "Tree Everlasting" quilt.

I would get a lot more done if I didn't work on three projects at once.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Improvisational Patchwork...???

I went to a Becky Goldsmith workshop last week. I know Becky is a Master of Applique--but I am not hugely into applique, and her improvisational patchwork workshop sounded more interesting, so that was the one I signed up for. The workshop got off to a bit of a rocky start--working improvisationally isn't easy for everyone, and quilting seems to attract a fair number of people with orderly minds who like having a set pattern to work from and exact measurements to cut, and asking them to just dump all that and start improvising left a few folks struggling a bit with where to start. Once people started cutting though, it started going more smoothly.

I decided to start a beach wallhanging, since I've always wanted to do one but somehow have never got around to it. I pulled all my beachiest fabrics, and a few random ones that weren't so beachy, and packed them up for a day of sewing. I got part of the beach and part of the sky pieced, but didn't even begin on the sea before it was time to go. Mine is the one in the middle. Becky had some interesting ideas about how to transition between the beach and the sea, we'll have to see how it works out when I get going on it again. I must admit that I wrapped it up in a tablecloth at the end of the day and haven't touched it since. I'm still deep in several other projects right now, so I'm not sure when I will get to it.

What intrigued me at the workshop was that one of the other quilters there started working on a 1/4-log cabin wallhanging, which is what I have been working on at home for the past couple of months. I had not consciously considered the 1/4-log cabin blocks that I've been working on as improvisational patchwork. How do you define improvisational patchwork? To me, the 1/4-log cabin blocks that I've been working on are a pattern, albeit a loose one (sew several scrap strips of fabric to two sides of a 2-inch square, trim to 7-1/2 inches square), so I didn't really consider them improvisational. I thought improvisational piecing involved less planning and less regularity, but I guess these blocks straddle the line between improvisational patchwork and regular piecing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Scraps & Strings

Since my scrap bins have become sort of overwhelming, I decided I needed to do something to reduce the volume (note that I have two other bins just like this one, plus a large basket). I found a set of blocks under my ironing table that I started a few years ago--sort of like log cabin blocks, but with strips sewn on only two sides. The nice thing about the blocks is that they don't require a foundation--you don't have to sew them to paper or muslin--and they don't require any background fabric, unlike some other traditional scrappy patterns. The center squares are actually made from leftovers from other projects. This results in maximum scrap usage.

This is my first layout, on the diagonal. I call this one "Dragon Scales." I did buy some royal blue Kona cotton for the border triangles, but almost all of this quilt is straight from the scrap bin.

This quilt is a twin XL size. The layout in the photo is missing two or three rows on the top. It was so long it was too tall for my design wall--the ceilings are only 8 feet in my studio! However, I quickly realized that an extra-long twin quilt wasn't even beginning to make a dent in the scrap pile, so I continued to make blocks. This is layout number two:

This one is called "Floating Squares." I added blocks with red corner-squares to the yellow-orange ones for variety. I really like this series of quilts, these blocks have a lot of energy and are easy to make. They finish at 7", which seems to be a good size for the scale of my strips. I am continuing to make blocks for layout number three, because I really have a lot of scraps left. In keeping with the goal of using up what I already have, I have pieced a backing of horizontal stripes for the "Dragon Scales" quilt from quilt fabric I had in my fabric stash. I tend to buy lots of smaller cuts of many fabrics rather than large amounts of a single fabric, so I rarely have enough of any single fabric for quilt backings. I was pulling out some possibilities for the backing for the "Floating Squares" quilt and think I found a winner:

This is great! It's a pre-printed craft panel with ducks on it, probably dating from the late 1980s. My Mom gave me a bunch of her fabric last Christmas when she was clearing out the basement in preparation for a move. There are two duck panels that are about to become part of a quilt back, complete with pre-printed instructions for how to construct some kind of goofy craft involving stuffed ducks. I know when I was a teenager I thought these were cheesy and deeply uncool--but now I also think they are funny, so I'm actually looking forward to finding these ducks a new home on the back of a quilt.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Just Eye-Candy

I have been sewing my scraps and strings into 1/4 log cabin blocks. I'm aiming big for this one, since it's not like I'm running out of scraps or anything, maybe a large twin size (I mostly do large lap quilts, since they are easier to manage with my quilting set-up). I think I'm a little past the half-way mark. Unless I decide to change the size again (queen-sized...?). I don't have pictures yet, and I'd rather wait for daylight to get good ones, so today you get finished quilts from the past 2 or 3 months (or older).

This Quilt of Valor has already been donated. My last post was about making another quilt from the leftover stars from this project. This set of stars actually resulted in 3 quilts--this first one dates back to 2011.

And just for fun, here is the one I that is on my design wall right now (you saw it in my last post, but here you can see all 3 together). Pretty interesting the way you can use different settings and alternate blocks to change the look of a quilt. This is why I continue to be fascinated by quilting, after so many years--there are so many possibilities!

Here is the Grayton Beach quilt, all finished in fun brights. I wasn't sure if the blue was going to work with the yellows and greens, but it did. I tried taking the yellows and oranges out of the border when I was putting it together, because I though they were maybe making it too bright, and the result was awful. All the sunshine went out of it. So I added them back in. Some quilters are afraid to use yellow in their quilts, but it is one of my favorite additions. I have a much more difficult time using black or white in my quilts.

This is the only black and white (with red!) quilt I've ever finished. The pattern is a 'snail's trail' variation. The large-scale bordered rectangles are on the back of the quilt.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

More UnFinished Objects

I spent some time basting the purple hourglass quilt and sketching out designs for the quilting. I usually sketch some on paper and then place a clear acetate (like they use for overhead projectors) directly on the quilt and draw the design at the proper scale.

I tried several designs and picked a couple that I like. I started machine-quilting the quilt, but then I got sidetracked (SQUIRREL!). While looking in the cupboard under the ironing board for acetate, I found a couple of unfinished projects that I pulled out. I decided I was more in the mood for piecing than quilting, so I spent the past week working on unfinished piecing projects instead of quilting. The first one is directly related to the Quilt of Valor that I recently finished. I had 11 9-patch star blocks left over, and a couple of experimental blocks that utilized the same grid spacing to mix with the star blocks. After putting them up on my design wall, I decided that it needed to be another quilt, not a wallhanging. So I needed to make 24 more star blocks and 23 more setting blocks to make a whole quilt.

Here it is, up on the design wall. The blocks aren't sewn together yet and I haven't finished cutting the borders, but I made good progress and got all the remaining blocks pieced and pressed.

The other unfinished project that I have brought out and begun to work on again is a set of 1/4-log cabin blocks. It's a string-piecing project made of scraps from other projects. If you sew a lot, you make scraps. My scraps get tossed into a plastic bin under the sewing table like this one:

I have 3 of these bins. I love string quilts, but obviously I haven't been keeping up with my scraps. A lot of my scrap quilts have been traditional patterns like Spiderweb and Rocky Road to Kansas that use strings but also have a background fabric. Using a background fabric gives the eye somewhere to rest and emphasizes the geometry of the pattern, but it means you use quite a bit of background (usually 2-4 yards), and not so many strings. The 1/4-log cabin pattern will have no background, only a border of blue setting triangles to give the quilt a nice edge and draw it all together. All the better to use up more strings.

I thought that maybe I could use up one of my 3 scrap bins, but after pulling out a lot of strings and ironing them and contemplating how much fabric yardage you can cram into a very small space, I now think (ahem, KNOW) that is an unrealistic goal. However, there will be lots of string quilts in my future, with very little background fabric.

I also sewed the last 3 'crap' blocks into a quilt top and pieced a backing for it. No spoilers, though, I'll post a picture of it later.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I've Been Working on Lately

I've been working on finishing this quilt top. It's a little more traditional than my usual work, but there's nothing wrong with going old-school now and again. Several years ago, I cut most of my 1/4-yard cuts (fat quarters) of fabric into 5" squares when Pat Speth came to teach a class at our guild. I cut WAY more than I needed for that particular project, so a lot of those squares got put away. I ran across them again last fall and started sewing up a few 'hourglass' units while working on a different quilt, using them as 'leaders and enders' (google Bonnie Hunter for more information on that one). A week or two ago, the guild had an open-sew session at a local community center, and I used the time to sew the hourglass units into blocks.

We had a good time, and I got a lot done. Over the past week or so, I cut solid purple setting triangles and pieced the top together. I decided I needed to put more blocks in the middle border, so I sewed together strips of hourglass units. I got the last border sewn on yesterday, and I'm working on a plan for piecing the backing.

I've been pulling fabrics from my stash and pinning them up to figure out which ones will work. The focus fabric is a floral that my friend Patty brought back for me from England when she took a trip there. It's been waiting years for the right quilt, and I don't want to cut it up into itty bitty pieces, so it's going on the back in one large panel. I'm taking a little staycation tomorrow, so I'll have time to get the quilt back sewn together, and maybe even get the quilt basted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Patriotic Quilt from the Past

Dug this dinosaur out of the closet--I think I pieced this top around 2009, based on one of the "Nickel Quilt" patterns from a Pat Speth book made with 5" squares. I needed to fix the outer border and didn't feel like it so I put it under the ironing table for a few years.

I got the quilt basted and quilted over the past few days. I was curious about how long it takes me to machine quilt, so I timed myself (I free motion quilt on a Viking Megaquilter that is set in a table, not on a frame). I quilted it over the course of three days in three sessions, 37, 57, and 52 minutes long, for a total of 146 minutes, or 2.43 hours. This is a throw-sized quilt. Machine quilting takes a lot of focus, so it felt like it took a lot longer than it actually did.

I sewed the binding to the front of the quilt, but I haven't started hand-stitching it to the back. I have tried machine stitching both edges of the binding before and it always looks like crap, so I hand-stitch one edge. I actually don't mind hand-finishing it, it's relaxing. This one will be donated as a Quilt of Valor.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

You can buy quilt tops on eBay!

I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize that you can buy quilt tops on eBay (after all, you can buy pretty much anything on eBay). But it wasn't until I was reading in an online forum that a quilter had bought quilt tops on eBay to practice her longarm quilting on that I started browsing their listings of finished quilt tops. Wow! They have lots! And now I have two more UFOs (UnFinished Objects). One of them arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the other should show up sometime next week

SO here is my new project:

Oliver has already decided that is is a good nap quilt. It is queen-sized, so it's going to be an adventure cramming it through the sewing machine when I quilt it.

The top has some construction issues. I could see the border wave in the auction pictures, so I knew about that when I bid on it. The outer border is 100 percent bias edges, so that was unsurprising (bias edges stretch, causing the border wave). I sewed about two dozen tucks into the border after I ironed it to reduce the wave. Not all the block corners come to a perfect point, and there is some fullness in the center of the quilt, but nothing that I can't quilt out. I'm not going to try re-sewing anything in the center of the quilt unless I find some seams that are so skimpy that they might fray open. I didn't find any holes when I pressed it, but I'll do an examination of the seams from the back before I baste it.

I dug around in my fabric stash and found an extra-wide blue-on-blue print backing fabric that is a close enough match to the quilt top. I have decided to experiment with using a wool batting that I got for Christmas last year in this quilt. I typically use cotton or a cotton-poly blend batting, although I have tried 100 percent poly and bamboo; this is the first time I've used wool (and possibly the last, it was kinda pricey). Supposedly the Quilters Dream wool batting can be machine washed and dried on cool. I'll report back if it comes out crib-sized after the first wash. I have been sketching quilting designs on plastic overlays to work out the machine quilting plan. It's a rainy Sunday afternoon. I hope to get it basted today. If the cats will move off of it, that is.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

T-Shirt Quilt - Work in Progress

I have been quilting for 18 years. I have always said I would never do a t-shirt quilt.

So, here is the t-shirt quilt I said I'd never make.

This is the design wall layout, pretty much worked out. There are 14 10-K race shirts with pretty big logos. In order to round out the 4 x 4 block layout, I printed several photos on fabric to incorporate into the quilt; they will get frames cut from the backs of the t-shirts. Printing the photos on fabric was actually pretty easy. I used EQ Printables pre-treated fabric sheets and ran them through an inkjet printer. They came pre-cut to letter-size with a plastic backing; I put a little masking tape on the leading edge to help the printer grab the fabric and fed the sheets in one at a time. I ran a test sheet through the printer (a blank piece of paper with an X drawn on it in pen) to figure out whether my printer prints on the face up or face down side of the paper so I could tell whether to load it fabric side up or plastic side up. I didn't change any printer settings and I didn't have any problems.

I made a diagram to keep track of how it all goes together as I'm working on it. I still need to add interfacing to the photos and put frames on them, as well as trim some of the t-shirts a bit more. Adding interfacing to EVERYTHING is taking longer than I thought it would (and I'm really glad I bought an entire 10-yard bolt of interfacing for this project, I'm most of the way through it already). I'm not used to being this far into a project without having sewn a stitch. This quilt needs a border or two and I have some good border fabric candidates, but I'll wait to post pictures of them until I get more done.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Spring has sprung here and the last of the azaleas are fading away. It has been rainy-ish and semi-cloudy for the past several weeks, and everything has greened up.

Things have been not so fun at work, but I have managed to get some good quilting time in, mostly on weekends. I finished my 'Castillo de San Marcos' wallhanging. I designed the block myself as part of a quilt guild challenge to make your own block to represent Florida. The block is based on an aerial view of the fort at St. Augustine. It is one of my favorite Florida attractions.

I finally finished the second crap quilt. I think I have been working on these blocks since 2009. I finished and posted the first crap quilt last year--my husband has it hanging in his office. I had so many crap blocks left over, I made a second quilt that is reversible--the front is dark text on a light background, and the back is light text on a dark backdrop. I like the back even better than the front. Some quilts I make for others, but this one is all mine.

I found 3 more crap blocks when I was cleaning out my sewing room the other day. No idea what they will become--pillows?