Friday, May 23, 2008

A Different Kind of Quilt

It all started with this:

It's the hem of a linen skirt I found on one of my thrift store forays a couple of years ago, right around the time I started collecting linen---another piece of fabric that was calling out "Take me home!" 

As they come in, the clothes get washed, then cut apart and put away, awaiting critical mass and enough time. The first linen quilt to come together was the one I'm currently hand quilting, and ideas for a second one are percolating around a set of reds that needs a few more members. A few weeks ago, I was playing with the linens again and another idea came together. 

I've been wanting to try out the fancy stitches on my new machine, and the embroidered linen skirt was a starting point. Here are a few trials:

I decided to not get complicated, and stuck to straight lines of programmed stitches. Even that, though, has plenty of scope for variation. I had a lot of fun with the entredeux foot, too.

I also looked through my linens and put together a nice collection:

I have a couple of other colors in small scraps, too. Printed 100% linen is not all that common, and I'm lucky that the floral goes so well with the solids. (That print at the bottom is 50/50 linen/cotton, and while the colors are good, I'm not sure it will stay here.)

And what to do with this little treasure trove? This past winter, I discovered Spirit Cloth. Jude's work is amazing and mesmerizing, and I spent many happy hours with her blog and photo collections. (Do take a look, if you haven't visited there yet!) In particular, I was entranced by her  Treehouse Quilt. Weaving fabric strips together was a whole new direction. And raw-edged fabric strips, too! I don't expect to ever come close to her artistry, but I've been very much wanting to try a woven fabric quilt project. 

I decided to stay small, which is certainly not my usual inclination, but seemed the best approach with a new technique and limited time. The finished size will be a little more than 24 in by 24 in. The strips will be embellished with machine embroidery, then woven with each other and also into the border. (I'll cut little slits in the border to thread the strips though.) All the strips will have raw edges, with a few threads removed to form a narrow fringe. 

Since this is my first attempt, I'm not sure how I'll handle the rest of the steps.  I will probably build the woven layer on top of a thin muslin, then layer with batting and backing. I'll hand quilt. I haven't decided exactly how to finish the edges, but I'd like to avoid a separate binding.

Fortunately, even though I'm really busy with work right now, it's work that doesn't drain my brain as much as indexing does. Here's hoping I can keep making progress on this. 

Saturday, May 17, 2008

This and That

I can't believe it's been two full weeks since my last post. Yes, I've been wrapped up in work again, but I've been getting in some needle-and-thread time, too. 

Last weekend, I couldn't ignore it any longer. Warm weather had arrived, and I had to start hauling out my really summery clothes. Discovering the alarming number of worn out and stained items spurred me to unearth several lengths of fabric I've been carrying around for literally 20 years, and make a duplicate of a favorite but very worn dress.

Fortunately, it looks better on than in this photo. But in any case, it's primarily a trial run for some better, prettier fabric that I hope to get to soon.

I've been working away on the hand quilting, still with my left hand. It's looking better and going faster, although "fast" is a relative term here.

Here and there, I've found time to make progress on getting the two star quilt tops ready for machine quilting. I made two more large blocks, and I have to transplant one more row of the sashing pieces from the large top to the small one. After that, the small one will need a simple border.

I'm still mulling how to get these quilts basted. Safety pins, straight pins, and spray adhesive are out. I was going to hand baste with small stitches, but the time factor is just too daunting, and besides, the quilting frame is otherwise occupied (forget the floor or even a table). Having a long-armer baste it is a possibility. Thinking a little further outside the box, I figured, what the heck, I'll try using a Flynn frame and water-soluble thread to baste by machine. I don't expect to have particularly good control of the frame, but it's just basting. It's going to be an interesting experiment.

Last but not least, here are a few photos of white-flowered crabapple trees on our grounds. They're really spectacular this year. You'll notice that many of our other trees still don't have their leaves fully out. Spring is on the late side, even for southern Wisconsin.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Expensive Needle Threader Appreciation Day

With an abundance of extremely inexpensive needle threaders available, I didn't see much point in one that cost more than $10 (sometimes available on sale for less). Now I do! I literally would not be hand quilting without this little gadget. 
Yes, it's ugly. No form-follows-function elegance here. The designer couldn't even be bothered to pick a cheery color. But can this thing thread needles or what?! My eyes are not what they used to be, but I can still thread an ordinary needle. However, threading quilting needles goes beyond seeing what I'm doing. The eyes are so small that even with a perfect thread end, I can't get the darn things threaded. 

One solution is using larger needles and getting the ones with the largest eyes. But I use lots of tightly woven fabrics and sometimes hand piece them and occasionally hand quilt them. Large eyes are not good. And even they are not quick to thread. Ordinary needle threaders still require substantial effort and time, break easily, and sometimes are too thick to work with my needles. Enter the Clover Desk Needle Threader! This baby just works. Drop in the needle, place the thread, push the lever down. Done. I even abused it unmercifully, trying to get it to thread John James size 11 applique needles. It took as many as six or seven tries for each threading, and I could hear the poor mechanism clunking against the needle end, the needle itself sometimes popping out of the needle port with the force of it. I was sure I had wounded it, maybe killed it. But no. It still works like a charm on my size 10s! (It may work on certain brands of 11s and 12s; it works on larger-eyed needles also, although not the huge ones.) I've had it for a couple of years now, and it's still working like new. To be on the safe side though, I bought a second one. 

What special little gadgets do you all have that you simply couldn't live without?

Friday, May 2, 2008

New Thread, Happy Quilter

Yesterday, I found a much better thread for this quilt. The greens are lighter, and there's more yellow. I got a second thread too, one with only yellows. The green/yellow one is in the left fan. Hard to see in the photo, which means it's somewhat more noticeable in real life but still muted. The partly done fan on the right has only the yellow thread. This is really subtle, and I plan to use it only here and there. 

Still stitching with my left hand. I've included using a quilting spoon. It was awkward at first, and pretty discouraging to have to figure it out---it felt like a major regression---but it eliminates underneath-finger pricks, use of fingernails to move the needle, and sideways pressure on the fingers---all worthy things to avoid. I can tell that I'm relaxing more, knowing that my fingers are much less likely to get poked. Another benefit is that it actually works and works well! It certainly does a great job on the stitch length I'm aiming for, and I can see potential for standard short stitches, too. Heaven knows what it's doing to the tip of the needle, but so far there's no noticeable effect. 

I see definite improvement in stitch quality and am hoping for a speed increase soon. Right now, I'm somewhere around the 4 or 5 hours per square foot rate. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This Thread Isn't Working

The quilting thread I'm using is variegated in colors that go perfectly with the quilt top, and the thread itself is great. But the dark green in it is just too dark and too frequent for what I had in mind. I wanted the quilting to show up, but, well, not quite this much. The photo damps down the contrast a bit. It's more obvious in person. 

The lighter parts of the thread are much better, though, so I'm going to look for yellows, golds, and light greens. And hey, the fabric colors in this photo are so close to real!--even though I took the photo under a fluorescent lamp. 

By the way, I was going for a casual look, with large stitches, but the lines are definitely wobbly and the stitches uneven. This is because though I'm right-handed, I did all this stitching with my left hand. The hardest part was controlling the depth of the needle-travel. I didn't have much fine control. The next hardest task was getting the knack of tilting the needle enough but not too much, and bending the quilt sandwich to get the stitch length right. Meanwhile, I kept forgetting to pay attention to the direction of the needle. The whole process is very slow, too. It really shows how much right-hand skill I take for granted.  

And why, you may ask, am I learning to quilt with my left hand? I make my living via the computer and spend significant personal time on it too. What with mousing and the keyboard layout, my right hand, arm, and shoulder get overused. Right now, I'm only a few steps away from developing significant problems. I have my ergonomic keyboard set up to give my left hand more to do, and I'm trying the same thing with hand quilting.