Hacking, messing, fussing and quilting

I’ve been trying to finish my Wizard of Oz quilt, which was cut and pieced shortly after the fabric hit the quilt shops in late 2007, early 2008. By the time we moved back to Houston in 2014, the ditch quilting had been completed. A year ago, it was pulled out of the UFO heap to tackle the free motion quilting portion of it and it’s still not done. Fitting the chosen quilt motifs has slowed down progress, but I think I’m finally over the hump because the quilt is nearly ready for binding. In the meantime, here’s a look at all the fussing:

This was the original quilting plan:

I started with the Autumn Breeze motif, which was intended for three of the rows containing square-in-square-in-square blocks. To better fit the motif inside the block, I printed it in two sizes, combining the inner curlicues from the smaller size with the larger sized outer curlicues.

This motif turned out to be a dud:

After quilting all four blocks with it, I ripped out all the stitches because the design didn’t fill the block well, plus the corner loops were too small, even after my feeble attempt to enlarge them.

I finally settled on a stencil with the pumpkin seed motif in the corners and curved, crisscrossing lines filling the rest of the square. I had to reduce the size of the corner motif so it would fit better, but in the end, this motif was a huge improvement over the other one.

This wavy lines motif was chosen for the other four blocks in rows 2 and 4 to break things up. The only thing I did beyond sizing it was to flip it for two of the blocks.

The borders presented yet another challenge. Once I had the corner section sized, flipped and rotated so it looked good in the space,

there was the challenge of dealing with the collision of the sections in the middle.

How to fill that space????

After much tracing, doodling, fussing with French curves and lots of erasing, there was only one solution left, which was to fill the space with a single, large curlicue.

The opposite borders were handled the same way, but with the curlicue going in the other direction.

More photos to come next month. Stay cool out there and thanks for checking in!


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. . . you have to rewrite the pattern, which I’ll explain in a minute. But first, is this one of the coolest blocks you’ve ever seen?

About a year ago, while paging through a quilt magazine, I saw an advertisement for a book with a quilt containing this block.

Once I had the pattern in my hands, I studied the cutting instructions for it on and off for a couple of weeks and they just weren’t gelling in my brain. Does this ever happen to you?

To organize the cutting instructions in a way that makes sense to my compartmentalized brain, I descended into geekdom and made a spreadsheet. This block contains a whopping 83 patches, so it took a while to parse everything out, but I got there eventually.

For copyright purposes, quantities and dimensions have been replaced with the # sign. The intent here is to show format and organization.

In a perfect world, my preference would be for all cutting instructions to be presented in a single block format, or at least, include that option. Oftentimes, I will deviate from the number of blocks or fabrics referenced in the pattern, rendering irrelevant the number of patches to cut. Yes, I can do the math to get there, but statements like “cut 480” are not as straight forward as I would like.

Single block cutting instructions would also help those of us who like to make a practice block to verify construction – or worse, catch mistakes or omissions in the pattern before charging ahead. I recall a quilting friend who cut all the patches for an entire pattern only to realize there was an error in the dimensions of one of the pieces when it came time to sew the block together. Having cut into all her fabric, she had nothing left to work with.

Now that this block’s cutting dimensions, piecing sequence and pressing directions have been tested and verified, and my vintage scraps have been tamed and confined, I’m wondering if I really want to tackle any more of these blocks. I’ll have to sleep on it – still, this block is really cool . . . .

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In the green zone

Last November around Thanksgiving, I got a hankerin’ to tame the green and cream scraps in my stash. Six months later, two new scrap quilt tops emerged. The first one has more than 96 unique green fabrics and at least 70 creams.

The original plan was for a 7 x 8 setting, but while raiding my green stash in an effort to use as many as possible, I lost count while cutting and ended up with more 2” squares than needed. Round two of cutting followed and the top grew to 8 x 8.

Making 64 25-patch blocks became monumentally tedious but the result was worth it. Below are close ups of a few of the blocks so you can get an idea of the variety of prints in this top. I chose mostly medium and dark green prints with a few lights and brights thrown in. Traditional prints dominate the mix, but I also included some contemporary, vintage reproduction and landscape prints to add interest. I even fussy cut a couple of patches.

Do you have any of these fabrics in your stash?

As I worked on this top, I depleted several green fabrics that had been in my stash for years, some acquired 20 years ago. While depletion was the goal, the thought of not having any more of those specific greens made me a little sad. Does anyone else get this feeling when they use up the last of a fabric?

My intention for making this was to give it away, but as it was being sewn together, John’s interest in it grew – a lot. For several years now, he has been asking for a bed sized quilt with wool batting, so it will go to him.

This is the second top:

It’s from a simple, but super cute pattern which can be found here:

I modified my version by using 6-inch squares rather than charm squares because I wanted a bigger quilt without having to cut a whole bunch of extra patches. I also did something I never thought I would do which is to combine a batik with regularly printed fabric. Using white or off-white for the setting squares and 9-patch blocks didn’t look right but I wasn’t sure of a substitute color or print. As I was wandering around this little shop about a mile from my house, I spotted this batik.

Out of desperation and to appease John who was with me that day, I tentatively pulled the bolt off the shelf because he has always warned me against editing too soon. Still, I was certain it was a reject. What happened instead, as I laid out the green print squares I had brought with me, was that the top came to life in a way I hadn’t anticipated. John and I looked at each other and all I could say was, “Crap! You are always right!” We laughed and walked out the door with four yards.

The setting triangles presented a challenge. Even though I had a healthy supply of green yardage in my stash, I hoped that at least ONE would be the right green, as I really didn’t want to go shopping for it. After emptying an entire dresser drawer of green fabric, these were the final options:

The winner was an RJR Jinny Beyer fabric from 2005-2006 (bottom right).

The backs for these quilts are also scrappy, but I’ll save that for another post. Thanks for stopping by. Happy scrappy quilting!


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Amicable divorce

I finally admitted to myself that the relationship wasn’t working. It was time to divorce my sit-down long arm and find a new quilting partner. At the end of January, I filed the papers (posted it for sale) and was fortunate to find a buyer.

The new owner picked it up a couple weeks ago and my sincere hope is that the machine will be a better fit for her than it was for me. The machine is well-built (right here in the USA) and the company’s support and customer service are first-rate. Still, as hard as I tried, we could not get in synch with one another, primarily when it came to thread choice. I’m a cotton fan, while the machine preferred polyester, and we fought regularly about it.

The frustration of coming to terms with our break up was amplified by the fact that, off and on over six years, I weighed the decision to move him in with me. With the whole experience now in my rearview mirror, the most logical (least amount of guilt) perspective is to accept that it was a bad investment (really, more like the wrong investment), learn from it, cut my losses and move on.

And move on, I did. Meet my rebound new quilting partner, the Bernina Q20. Its advantages were instantly noticeable:

  • It has a stitch regulator
  • The bobbin can be wound by the machine (eliminating the need for a cumbersome, stand-alone bobbin winder which didn’t perform well)
  • The thread holder sits on top of the machine, freeing up table space
  • It is capable of stitching with a standard sewing machine needle
  • Tension adjustment is simple and easy (This was my biggest issue with the previous machine and I spent hours upon hours trying to figure out which machine component to adjust, to what extent and in what combination to get the desired result – The tension dial? The bobbin screw? The thread path? Yikes! I nearly lost my mind.)
  • It comes with a bobbin tension gauge
  • The table comes apart for moving

More relationship updates to come, but for now, I’m looking forward to spending lots of quality time with my new quilting beau, who, by the way, has no issues with cotton thread.

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Time travel

We traveled back in time to 1977 last week when we attended the Houston Symphony’s performance of Star Wars.

Watching one of our favorite movies of all time while listening to the music played live was a moving experience, evoking strong feelings of nostalgia and awe – almost as if we were seeing it for the first time. Can’t wait for next year’s performance of The Empire Strikes Back.

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Hi-tech pillowcase

When I saw this techie print fabric at a shop in Fort Collins, Colorado, last fall, I had to get it.

Our younger son is close to graduating with a computer engineering degree, so it seemed appropriate to make a pillowcase with the fabric. I chose a medium-dark solid for the trim and opted to use the same print for the cuff.


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A visit to New York’s Garment District

It feels weird to say this because for so many years we didn’t, but we’ve been traveling. Last weekend we were in Colorado to visit the kids and this past week we were in New York for three days. The New York trip was unexpected, and when John announced that he was going in place of his colleague, I decided why not? It would not cost much, as the lodging would be paid for and I could fly free on John’s Companion Pass.

In Colorado, I caught the Christian Dior exhibit, which was fabulous, although some of the dresses were displayed much farther away than I would have liked.

Still, it was a treat to see such amazingly beautiful, well-made clothing up close (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the details) and compare Dior’s creations with those of his successors. This one, called Miss Dior from the spring-summer 1949 collection, took my breath away:

In New York, we had a jam-packed schedule, starting with the first day when we arrived early enough to catch a matinee of the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.

This bigger-than-life singing and dancing extravaganza, complete with 3-D glasses, was a lot of fun, but probably just a do-once-check-it-off-your-bucket-list kind of thing for us. We were surprised at how large the theater was, including the stage, which at one point held a double decker bus big enough for 36 dancers.

John estimated that the length of the stage was 4 times that of the bus; the depth, 3 times. Also impressive was watching the orchestra move to different locations throughout the performance, starting with being in front of the stage, then under the stage, then above the stage, then behind the stage and returning to in front of the stage. Maybe this is normal in theater world, but we still marveled at it.

John was especially impressed with the twin Wurlitzer theater organs (circa 1932), each containing 4,178 pipes.

On the walk back to the hotel after the show, we wandered over to Rockefeller Center.

On Friday, we had a couple of hours to wander through the Museum of Modern Art and grab some lunch before our early evening flight, but the highlight of this trip for me was a visit to the Garment District (W 34th to W 42nd between 6th and 9th Avenues) on Thursday while John was working.

We were staying at a hotel on 54th between Park and Madison, and my boss kept encouraging me to take the subway, even handing me his Metro Card. But I wanted to walk, and really, I was up for it after being confined for 4-5 hours the day before in airports, airplanes and taxis.

Just past Bryant Park on W 42nd and 6th, I spotted dress forms in the third-floor window of this building.

To save time and footsteps, I had made a list of shops to visit on each street, with a heavier preference for those with trims and buttons than fabric, although one shop on W 38th had some bolts of cotton marked down to $3.99 a yard and I scored these two homespuns:

A couple of fabric stores were located on the second floor of a building like this one on 7th.

One shop was dedicated exclusively to linen, so I popped inside to check out all the beautiful colors and different textures of linens offered.

I lingered at Beckenstein Men’s Fabrics on W 39th (far left in photo).

After seeing hundreds of bolts of beautiful shirt fabrics, I realized that designers and manufacturers of ready-to-wear shirts over the past 10 – 15 years are unaware of or have chosen to ignore shirt fabrics that do not contain the girly colors of pink, lavender and lime green. My sense is that they’re ignoring the older professional male since John hasn’t purchased work shirts from traditional retailers in more than a decade.

I saw a gorgeous stripe fabric and debated whether to rebel against the market and buy a couple yards to splurge on a custom shirt for John for Christmas, but I didn’t because he wasn’t there to pass judgment on the fabric and I wasn’t sure exactly how much to buy.

By far, my favorite shops were those with trims and buttons. Check this out – floor to ceiling compartmentalized boxes of buttons in any style, shape, color and size. If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist!

This was only one of the walls with buttons!

More choices than you could ever dream!

This shop on 6th

had a button shop inside its trim shop.

Here’s a peek:

One must-see shop that kept cropping up in all my online reading about the Garment District was Mokuba, and it did not disappoint. Definitely high end, their trims and ribbons were gorgeous, luxurious, elegant; not a single dud in the entire store – one of each PLEASE! Check out a few of these:

I’d never seen pleated, striped grosgrain ribbon before.

One trim shop had rolls of zipper tape in dozens of colors, allowing them to cut any length you wanted, after which they would add the pull and the stops to complete the zipper. This same shop also offered grommet setting.

Wandering through the garment district was fun for a lot of reasons, but one big reason for me is an appreciation for small businesses and the uniqueness that they offer. I’m numbed by big box retailers and the monotony of their selection, and seldom go to one for anything other than basics such as rotary cutter blades and sewing machine needles.

If you’re ever inspired to check out New York’s Garment District, I would recommend starting early (most shops open at 9:00), taking a water bottle and wearing comfortable shoes. You may also want to carry a little cash, as some stores, even if they sell to the public, may not take your credit card for purchases less than $20.00.

Thanks for checking in. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The cross stitch project I started while our house was under construction is done and hanging in my sewing room. The framer suggested that it be hung on point and I wrestled myself out of my comfort zone and agreed.

The frame (almost not found from among the hundreds available) is ideal: a speckled gray/green/brown which blends perfectly with the outer stitched border

It’s good to finally have something pretty adorning the big, blank, sterile section of wall above the printer table.

Thanks for stopping by!


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A guide to cross stitch sanity

My ADD tendencies pushed me into another cross stitch project, one of a three-part series with a garden theme and very different from the types of patterns I typically stitch. The finished image is small, measuring only 3⅞” x 5¾” and is jam-packed top to bottom with color changes, many of which require a single stitch immediately followed by the burying of the thread tail because a repeat of that color is nowhere close by.

For copyright purposes, most of the pattern has been blurred, but you get the idea.

Keeping track of my stitching position and nine shades of green was driving me crazy, so I did two things: massively enlarged the pattern (~400 percent) and gridded the ground cloth.

The pattern as originally published measured 7¾” x 5⅜”, with each 10 x 10 graph paper square measuring only ¾”: insanely tiny.

I scanned the image and printed it on E-sized paper with the final image measuring 31″ x 21¼” with each 10 x 10 graph paper square measuring almost 3 inches. Yes, it’s big and a bit unwieldy to handle, but reading the chart is now a breeze.

In addition to marking the horizontal and vertical centers on the ground cloth, I also added grid lines in the same location they appear in the pattern.

It was tedious, to be sure, but highly beneficial for keeping track of my stitching position.

For all you stitchers out there, I hope you find this helpful. What are you stitching?

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In the cross stitch zone

I finished a cross stitch project while on vacation earlier this month

Fern Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

and took it to the framer yesterday. Finishing it inspired me to pick up where I left off on this one, number three of five in the Heirloom Quilts series by Linda Bird:

I made a small upgrade to the organization system I created two years ago for the embroidery floss colors required for a project, which you can see here. Instead of using sheets of paper, I cut 1¼” x 2½” scraps of Aida cloth,

overcast the edges and added labels to the bottom which contain the floss color number and chart symbol. The cloth holds up much better than the paper, so it was worth the effort.

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