Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don't Ever Feel Like You HAVE to Leave a Comment...

I've been struggling with the Geese Tracks quilt for a little while now. I knew it needed another border (or two) but kept changing my mind about things. Mostly the color was giving me fits. This quilt does fall a bit outside my normal comfort zone when we're zeroing in on the color choices.
The Geese Tracks quilt
When I finally settled, it was a simple process to cut out the squares needed for the border. Wallah, done! Then it just sat there again. Now, some of you would say that I was probably having a tough time going forward because something was lacking with the border idea. Or is wasn't complete. Or maybe I was second guessing the colors I chose? Maybe it didn't even need a border.*ack! Everyone has ideas. And personal opinions too. That's the charm of quilting--it's all rather open ended.
Getting ready for the border
So this is my quilt, making me wonder exactly what was holding it back. I think putting off the making was just delaying the fact that I knew it wouldn't look quite right to YOU--with this latest addition as the last and final border. And isn't that exactly how we present it here on the blog when we take a picture at whatever particular stage the last stitch was taken? "Here it is? Do you like it 'as is'?" Maybe. Or maybe not! Oh the joys of being open about quilty progress....

If I don't even know for sure what's going on here, how can I expect you to comprehend? At least I have the images of the last border in my mind! (And sort of scrawled on a piece of paper I'm hoping desperately to interpret!) At which point the poor quilty blogger gets absolute radio silence. lol You know it happens 'cuz we've all been there before haven't we?*sigh
Border strips
Well, just so you know for sure, I'm not planning for this to be the last border. How could it be when all along the quilt has been made with this last border idea in mind? I wasn't totally sure how to get there and I've been afraid to get it Wrong. You know, with a capital 'W'. So.... Two rows of squares? Personally I think it needs more.
Border two squares wide....
Three squares? Almost too wide. But I'm leaving it anyway. For now. The only thing I know for sure, is that fallback border ideas are not working for me this time around. We all have our preferences, but at some point it starts looking suspiciously like a shhh... rut. Every single idea is getting the second, third and even fourth guess.
Border three squares wide....
Am I growing? Learning? Going out on a limb destined to fall with a big crash? I'll say it doesn't really matter no matter what happens here. It's called moving forward and I'll either do something good or I won't. It's really that simple. At the end of the day it's just fabric and hello? I have a seam ripper. And please don't get too excited about the last border. It's not super original or even extra-special wonderful, it's just something I want to do with more of those black flowers. You know, just to see if I can.*wink

And seriously, don't ever feel like you have to leave a comment on this blog just to be nice! I won't be crushed or too scared to post partial quilt projects again. For the most part I'm just trying to put my stuff out there in an open way so that others can see that quilting isn't always straightforward and struggle-free. It's simple to post about the good times, a little more complicated to explain the inner workings of our process...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Big Stitch Quilting

Ah..., what a crazy, busy weekend. Late Saturday afternoon I decided to load my girls in the car and head to the city (an hour drive from where we live) so they could get Easter dresses. An old tradition around here, but one that's been neglected the last couple years due to the bad economy.
Hand quilting 'Spring Forward'
We had a great time, but I guess my little (ha!) girls are not die-hard shoppers anymore. They've lost the habit somewhere in the reorganization of life as they knew it before the forced frugal regime.*wink  As soon as they realized that finding shoes to go with their lovely, new dresses would start shaving time out of their precious day off, they bailed on me super quick and started talking about Zappos. Hey, what? I capitulated quickly once I thought it all through though. Anything that results in more quilting time for mama, I'm good. Back to my hoop and big stitch quilting adventures!
Stitching the border
So far I've used the #5 Perle Cotton thread on the flower, the narrow brown sashing and now the brown border too. I'll be straight up with you about this thread, it's not my favorite size to work with. I do love the chunky look to it, but it is much harder (initially) to pull through the fabric without making a run. I finally remembered the tip Meredithe (thank you from the bottom of my heart!) gave me about pulling the knot through the back side of the quilt when starting and then of course when finishing up too. I've forgotten the finishing up part a couple times and about put a monster hole in my quilt trying to 'pop' the knot through. Believe me, pulling the knot from the back works out MUCH better. For some reason it doesn't leave as many little tiny runs in the fabric pulling straight from the back and if/when it does, I'm not as stressed about the results. Win, win.
Stitching tulips
To my surprise, (I'm always startled when an idea presents itself out of the clear blue and I immediately implement it without weighing pros and cons for days on end) I decided to combine several different sizes of thread in this quilt. I've combined big stitch quilting with machine quilting before, but on this quilt, I'm combining #5 Perle Cotton big stitch quilting with regular hand quilting stitching too. I wanted some of the stitching to recede a little so the regular hand quilting is in areas where I don't want the stitching to compete or distract from the boldness of the #5 thread. If I'm going to the trouble of using #5 Perle Cotton, I definitely want it to shine!

I've also used the #8 Perle Cotton thread to outline the stem of the flower and on the leaves. It's a very interesting combination to me and as I'm switching back and forth from the different threads, it's extremely easy to notice (and appreciate) how much smoother it is to just 'slide' the #8 thread through the fabric than the it is with the #5 thread--lots less resistance as the thread is not nearly as thick. Then, when I switch to the regular hand quilting weight of thread, it absolutely feels like I'm flying in comparison. No kidding--huge difference!

If there's nothing else to learn from this quilt, I'm figuring out that the true meditative qualities derived from hand quilting are much more apparent with regular hand quilting thread than from big stitch type quilting. But don't worry, I am NOT giving up my Perle Cotton love anytime soon. Just commenting on the obvious!

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Little Flock of Geese

Ahhh....Working with all these greens feels wonderfully refreshing. It's been a long time since I worked with this much green in one quilt without adding in a ton of brown fabrics. ('Cuz that's what I generally do--add brown.) And actually, in case you hadn't noticed, there IS brown in this quilt too! I just tried to be a little more discreet about it.
Flock of Geese
The creamy subtle looking plaid is something I just happened to notice lurking around in the clearance bin sometime last year. I bought everything that was left on the bolt (maybe 2 yds. worth) and really, really wished I had seen it earlier when there was more of it to take home with me. I try hard not to go crazy about clearance fabric because I always wonder if it's the price that makes me think I like it or if I really do like it. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. But cream fabric does have a way of getting used around here and I do love plaids so.... great combination! And hmm.. not regretting this impulsive purchase for one minute now that I see it in action!
Possible block
I'm planning on making 21 blocks with 18 flying geese units each, {20 blocks to use in my quilt and then one extra}. Always nice to have one to toss out completely or pull in and out as the layout is being figured out.
Flock of Geese
The crazy thing is, I'm not even halfway through this quilt top and I'm already making plans for my next green quilt. It's obviously contagious. I'd advise you not to look if you're the least bit vulnerable.*wink

On another note, I want to just mention that if you don't receive a reply back to your comments here on this blog it means you're a 'No Reply Commenter' which is a super easy fix! Lori has a link on her sidebar that will give you instructions on how to fix this if you're having problems with bloggers never returning your comments. I always try to find a way to search out your e-mail and get a response back, but well, sometimes it's just not possible--there are no e-mails linked directly to you or maybe you're google plus and I'm not. If you have a blog I'll even try and reply back in your post comments, but I won't do that for long! I want to comment about your gorgeous quilting there, not my trifling efforts! If it's a privacy thing, then no worries--just know that your comments are always loved and appreciated around here anyway!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More Decisions for Muddy Creek

I sewed the next border onto Muddy Creek, adding some strips of lighter fabric in. I'm really trying to give this quilt a primitive look--not sure how successful I've been thus far. I'm leaning heavily towards using the plaid for the next border, keeping it simple, and maybe basic basket blocks for the one after.
Muddy Creek
Yep. More baskets. Me and baskets. Baskets and me. I just can't stop.*wink  Right now it looks a bit of a mess, but my design wall is super cramped and I didn't feel like taking everything off just to get a better picture.

I am slowly plugging away on my Cactus Basket blocks too. Hand sewing is oddly relaxing in it's own way and that's just what I need. So many interruptions these days that I don't feel like I'm focusing very well on any one project.
A little hand sewing
I have a kid in college getting antsy about coming home for semester break--calling home just to chat, a senior in high school counting down the days until all her projects are done and trying to qualify for state in track, a 16 yr. old who just moved up to varsity doubles in tennis and is also trying to learn how to drive (can I just say how terrified I am to teach my kids how to drive?), plus a restless 13 yr. old who doesn't have a baseball team this year so is having to settle for 'managing' the boys high school team and rambles around the house dropping crumbs everywhere and leaving every cupboard door open. My short term memory is getting completely overloaded these days and if it wasn't for the whiteboard calendar in our dining room, I'd never even know where I was supposed to be. On the couch quilting? lol

Monday, April 7, 2014

Third Finish of the Year!

Plain Jane is finished! I can't believe how much texture there is throughout and how much more obvious it is after washing/drying the quilt. I literally did this little gulp/gasp thing just taking it all in.
Plain Jane
Wowsers..., isn't it incredible when our quilts just keep on surprising us? We think we have it all figured out, but it's not over till the last stitch, till it's washed and dried and we can see it with all the lovely bumps and crinkly crumples.
So much lovely texture
There's so much I love about this particular quilt, starting from the basket blocks clear through to the hand stitching. This entire quilt is made from my stash too, using all kinds of fabrics I was starting to think might be waaay too dated to blend properly into the background like I like them too. It will definitely make me think harder about some other fabrics I've been reluctant to use recently!
Not so 'plain' anymore
There was also a lesson in this quilt about never giving up on a quilt top if you're ever unsure if it's truly finished or not. I came back to this quilt top at least a year later (maybe more) and added the applique on. At the time I finished the rest of the quilt top, I literally had no ideas for add ons. And it was a nice enough quilt top the way it was. But... down the road, on one of those days when I pulled my quilt tops out of the drawer and considered, it looked plain and even kind of down in the dumps about not having any embellishment. I ignored the feeling in my gut a time or two but eventually I couldn't help myself and started throwing some of my applique parts and pieces at it until I had an idea for what this quilt needed.
And more texture...
I get comments all the time that this quilt top is not a 'Plain Jane' and that the name doesn't seem to fit. I know it doesn't. Now.

The BACK of my (experimental) improv. quilt
And yes, Plain Jane was the third finish of the year because I slipped another quilt into the queue. I made a small improv. quilt for Sherri Lynn Wood when she put the call out for volunteers to 'test' her quilt directions for the book she's publishing in 2015. It was an extremely frustrating process at first because I am completely unfamiliar with true Improv., but it was also fun and even a bit exhilarating after I got the hang of it. Or maybe I didn't ever really get the hang of it because my quilt wasn't one of the quilts chosen! A bit of a disappointment for a few days and then I snapped my chin back up to face forward again. Really, it was a great experience for me with lots of good stuff to learn.

I'm not supposed to share the front of the quilt with you until the book gets published, but the back will hardly give you clues to any special pattern directions! The hand stitching was all done in Perle Cotton in big fat circles (a first for me) across the quilt. You will definitely be seeing more of that from me as the quilting went lickety-split and I looove the look of it. Even though I really don't like the whole 'I did this wonderful quilt, but I can't show you 'cuz it's special, blah, blah, blah' kind of posts, I decided to show you a pic of the big stitch quilting circles for when I refer back to them. And you know I will. All about how I'm going to do better at them this time around and you're not left scratching your heads wondering when I ever did them the first time around.....

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oooh, How Fun To Start a New Project!

Don't you just love the feeling of starting a new project? All the fresh colors and possibilities... I must confess to having this one cut out for awhile, squirreled away and waiting for the perfect time to jump in and start sewing pieces together. These greens have really been pulling at me lately, probably because of the very long winter we just came out of.
My new Flock of Geese quilt
All of these flying geese units were cut out using the Easy Angle method, something I've been wanting to reacquaint myself with. I used Bonnie Hunter's great directions to get started and after my initial uncertainty, things went really well. I've had the Easy Angle ruler and the Companion Angle ruler for years now, but for some reason I had switched to a different method a zillion years ago and never went back.
Lovely to see these sewn together...
Gotta say that for me, these geese are turning out to be much more accurate with this method. Will know for sure after I get the whole pile sewn up and ironed. (I do kind of have a tendency to start drifting on my stitching after I've been at it for awhile!)
Binding for Plain Jane
I've also been working on the binding for Plain Jane, mostly in the evening while my daughter is working on her senior project. She's trying to put together a family cookbook that is consuming boat loads of her time and definitely trying her patience too. Not being an experienced cook, she needs a lot of help interpreting all the recipes she's been receiving from our very large family. I've tried to work on hand piecing while helping her out, but I keep getting distracted and then find something sewn wrong yet again! Much better to work on something simple like binding which can practically be done on auto-pilot.

A big thank you to everyone who was kind enough to give feedback on my previous post. As a mostly self-taught quilter, I often hesitate before posting anything that will come off sounding like 'advice' or look like I'm trying to set myself up as an expert. How wonderful to see that the on-line quilting community is big enough to accommodate quilters from all walks of life and/or experiences.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Courage to Feel Creative: Habits of Creativity

I've noticed a few comments lately about 'mojo' or to be more specific: the lack of. In the Urban Dictionary, the meaning of mojo is this: a magic charm, talisman or spell. I personally prefer thinking of it as my drive or want-to. Still... why do we want to rely on something as ephemeral as mojo to get us busy in the quilting room?
Instant access to sewing machine
I don't feel like a random, whenever the mood strikes, oh-no-it's-time-to-make-a-baby-quilt kind of quilter these days and I think this is probably why: I've developed some Habits of Creativity in the last several years. Yep. When that fickle mojo goes on vacation, I can always fall back on something far more dependable these days. Here's how it works:

1. First of all, you have to have a dedicated work space. It doesn't have to be fancy or isolated from the rest of the household but it does have to give you instant access to your sewing machine, rotary mat and iron. There is no compromise here. If you have to take your sewing machine out of the closet or move it out of the way for dinner, you're already sabotaging your 'get up and go'. Find a corner and make it work.

2.  You need a fabric stash available in your home. Have it immediately washed and ready to go. The stash doesn't have to be huge or especially diversified. You just need fabric that you're gonna want to play with and/or start a project with. You can take care of the details later. The important thing is having fabric available when you're ready to get going. And I don't mean when you get back from the store.

3.  Keep a notebook in your purse, by your bed, in your desk and in the quilt room. Use it. Write, draw and record impulsive thoughts and glimmers of inspiration.

4.  Collect quilt books, magazines and patterns that inform, inspire or instruct. Stalk quilt blogs on the Internet. Read about creative people, their habits and the quilting process. Be curious.

5. Set up a Pinterest and start hoarding inspiration. Get a bulletin board and pin real things. Be colorful, brave and whatever else you do, don't over-think things in this department. You have no idea the type of quilter you'll be this time next year.
 The Bulletin board
6. Write out a personal inspiration page. This is crazy important, because this is YOU, the quilter, distilled down into something very potent and strong if you pay attention to the details, which I know you want to do. Be detailed and specific. Focus in on things like patterns, colors, styles, fabrics, structure, applique, words, character, scrappiness, fabric prints and every other thing that makes you love a quilt. Use your descriptive words to further delve into the things that particular appeal to you in the realm of quilt-making--words such as 'quirky', 'traditional', 'sweet', 'fun', 'modern', 'graphic', 'formal', 'Amish' etc. Be thoughtful about this exercise and then pin it on your bulletin board. Update it every couple years. Think about it.
Multiple on-going projects
7. Be brave and work on several different projects at the same time. Work on each phase as it becomes convenient, appealing, or even tedious. Don't downplay the possible results from tedious work--mindless sewing can lead to incredible breakthroughs! Be open to sewing according to your moods. When it times to attack something and clear it out of the stack, be ready.

8. Make routines: Daily, weekly, set amounts of time or even parts of the day--just do it. Work, Do, Make, Create. It takes an effort and commitment which your habits will now make possible. Remember, even little chunks of time eventually produce an outcome. Work, work, work. It's not all gonna be lightning bolts of inspiration and goosebumps of anticipation.

9.  Always make time for prep work. It's fairly tedious, so get it out of the way! Over and over and over this will benefit your feelings of creativity as you are continually and immediately ready to move on into the next phase of a project. 

10. Have a portable project and have it ready to go on a moments notice. Get used to packing it with you even you're convinced it's unnecessary. Stolen moments working on a Forever type project are golden. Be prepared.

11.  Create shopping lists for fabric, threads, batting, template plastic etc. as needed and keep it in your wallet. Plan ahead for the essentials and don't be stuck having to wait for an order in the mail or a convenient time to shop.
Slow quilting
12.  Think about making room for a design wall. Use it! Or use the floor. It doesn't have to be expensive, complicated, glamorous or take over your quilt room to work properly.

13.  Leave time for projects or phases of projects to simmer and INCUBATE. Study what you've accomplished. Consider your options. Allow time to dream about solutions and let your subconscious work through the possibilities. Come back again and again to 'just check in'.

14. Then, when it's time (or you have no other choice): tackle your projects head on. Work to find solutions. Don't let fear rule your quilting world. Mistakes can sometimes lead to something incredibly brilliant. Besides, no matter what the designers want you to believe, there's always gonna be more fabric to love.
Prep work
15.  Consider working in a series. Narrow your options and then gradually open them back up again, thereby possibly kick-starting a whole new kind of brainstorming. You'll never know till you try.

16. Explore, try and LEARN. Be open to challenges, new methods, tools, classes, experiences and even ugly fabrics or colors. Do not limit your imagination or allow yourself to stagnate.

17.  Be willing to have interconnections with other quilters such as quilting groups, bees, QALS, BOMS, quilt-shares, linky parties etc. Push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone but at the same time, make sure you don't get overwhelmed. Figure out the proper balance because it's hard to flourish in a vacuum. Everyone needs feedback.

18.  Make time for play-time. Don't think, just DO. Use your scraps, be creative or work small. Try being frugal and/or upcycle. It all works.

19.  Improve your skill level. You can't break the rules properly until you know them for what they are. 

20.  Believe in yourself. Make an effort to find the foundation of who you are as a quilter and strive to perfect on that vision. Don't bother to make comparisons with quilters you admire because you'll either come up lacking every single time or lose sight of what's important. Consider starting a blog or keeping a diary. Be honest and be real.
Inspiration and information
21.  Start, Finish, Start, Finish. Rinse and repeat.

22.  BE in your quilting space. Be in your quilting space. Be in your quilting space. Get the idea? Absorb, clean, organize, play with fabric, make interesting stacks and combinations of fabric or hunt up a perfect fabric, look at every UFO--audition and consider, give yourself permission to jettison partially formulated ideas and projects, make lists for shopping, ideas and goals, re-do bulletin boards, pin Pinterest pics, and/or think. Forget about avoidance--it gets bitter and clingy. Dream about the next project. Be daring and START something new! You don't have to LIVE here, you just need to be comfortable in the space.

23. Take time to look at your beginning, middle and current progress. Pull out all of your quilts and/or quilt tops and reflect. Understand where you've been and where you might be heading.

24. Take advantage of times of Illumination. Get right to work. Shove everything else out of the way. Take advantage of free flowing ideas and inspiration. Capture the spark!

25.  Consider including Slow Quilting type projects in with your regular quilting projects: hand piecing, EPP, hand quilting. Make time for introspection and thoughtful quilting.

26. Listen. Trust your instincts. Key in to your intuition and gently cultivate the same. Don't push through a balky idea if something is hovering right there out of sight. Patience has its rewards you know.
Starting and finishing
27.  Be a time saving machine: iron properly, trim, chain piece, figure out the best methods for how your particular mind works with where your skill level currently resides. Efficiency can be gained by not making critical mistakes that make you best friends with the seam ripper or causing re-do's. As you gain experience, difference methods might become faster or make more sense.

28.  Occasionally be open to combining ideas, projects, stacks of fabrics and/or quilting pieces. Don't feel like you have to isolate anything. Let ideas meld and watch new sparks and layers occur.

29.  Fill up the well. Take walks, read books, spend time with family, take vacations. Refresh.

30. Give quilts away. Put your heart and soul into a quilt, give it some love and then freely give it away.

In closing: I admit to times when I'm less interested in quilting than others. There are weak areas in my 'Habits of Creativity' development and I get stuck in the ruts or cower in my safe little comfort zone just like everyone else. Ha! Do. I. ever. The important thing is: I don't stay in that place for very long these days. I may not be an artist or a professional, but I'm a great quilter and you know what? I'm kind of excited about that these days.

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