Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crazy Quilts, Session 2: Marking and Stitching Motifs

Sometimes, like on this crazy quilt that I (Teri) found in an antique store not too long ago, the focus is primarily the fabrics. This particular quilt is quite beautiful in its simplicity, using silk ties for the blocks, all rectangular in shape, with ribbon for sashing. The only stitch used as embellishment on the seams between the blocks, as well as on the ribbon, is the herringbone stitch. The magic of such a quilt is the study of the variety of fabrics from the neckties. What a lovely memory quilt this could be! This is surely an idea for me to file away for someday (hopefully in the far distant future) to use the many ties in my father's collection. When I was in high school, my dad would ask me every morning if his tie matched his shirt and suit. How I'd love to see all those ties put together, creating warm and wonderful memories. I need to make sure he doesn't start cleaning out his closet and giving away his ties!

Many crazy quilts, however, have fancier stitching done on them, with stitched pictures of flowers or other motifs embroidered in the patches. Sometimes they were even painted on the fabric. You can see several examples of elaborately stitched crazy quilt motifs by looking at the quilts from the American Crazy Quilt Exhibit that were on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art last fall by clicking here and here. The selection of such motifs and how to mark them and stitch them was the focus of the second session in our Crazy Quilt—Start to Finish class. 

Once again, we were able to examine some precious samples of vintage blocks in various stages of completion. We showed you a few of the blocks that Sue brought in last month to share during our first session. On Saturday, she arrived with a pizza box filled with all of the blocks that she had acquired at a yard sale. Now that was quite a score! Who needs pizza when there is a box full of goodies like this?!?

We were able to study and admire the intensive work that this stitcher had accomplished. Her method of construction was much different than ours. From the blocks, it appears that she just turned under the edge and basted the pieces onto a piece of muslin. When the decorative stitches were applied, she then removed the basting stitches. Most blocks had a combination of fabric types, but some were consistent.

This  block was comprised of all silks. She painted the rose on the white, which is actually a piece of ribbon and the only piece not turned under on the edges. 

The pieces on this block were all velvets, basted to keep the edges turned under.

The wonderful students in our class all came with homework completed and blocks made. (It is easier to get a class of stitchers to do their homework than it was a class of fourth or fifth graders to do theirs!) We spent a bit of time reviewing and practicing some basic stitches—stem and outline stitches, backstitch, and knots. Everyone was feeling comfortable with those stitches pretty quickly and were eager to get to the motifs. 

First, we discussed the different methods we have used to transfer the designs onto the crazy quilt squares. Sometimes, the method chosen will be partly determined by the kind of fabric used. For instance, it is easy to transfer a design using transfer paper and the stylus of the Sewline TRIO pen if you have a cotton or satin. The transfer paper comes in white and black, so it will show up on various colors. It doesn't work well, however, on wool or a fabric with a nap, such as velvet or corduroy. For those fabrics, we have tried tracing the design onto several materials: tissue paper (like Golden Threads Quilting Paper), tear-away stabilizer, and even Press'n Seal®. The traced image is then attached to the block, stitched, and then carefully removed by holding the stitches and gently pulling the tracing material away.

Transfer materials, clockwise from left: Golden Threads Quilting Paper, tear-away stabilizer, Glad® Press'n Seal®, a sample block with a design transferred to the center and one traced on Press'n Seal®, and ®Loew Cornell Transfer Paper with the  Sewline TRIOmarking pencil at the bottom.

Here, the design was traced on tear-away stabilizer and pinned on the block to stitch it.

This design was transferred onto the block using the transfer paper; the stitching will cover the design lines.

Studying the blocks to get ideas for motifs and thread colors to choose

The heart was drawn onto the block freehand to stitch the buttonhole heart pictured in the book above. 

Another design drawn on the block using the transfer paper

Practicing stitching a motif using the Press'N Seal® wrap with the design traced on it 

It was exciting for us to see that there was such a variety of methods being attempted in class. It will be fun to see if our stitchers settle on a favorite method, or if their techniques vary depending on the fabric they are using. I have found success with the transfer paper and tear-away stabilizer, but Kara really likes the Press'N Seal® method. I am going to have to try it; I can definitely see its advantages, since it would temporarily adhere to the fabric without shifting or needing pins. There is always some new technique to try!

How about you? Do you have a favorite method of transferring an embroidery design that we have not mentioned here? Please share!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Creative Minds: Can They Work Together?

"Just wondering if you had any creative differences and if so, how did you overcome them?"

This was a question asked by one of our readers, and although I answered it, there was so much more I (Kara) could have said about our two-year creative journey, which included our quilt inspiration and a business start-up, so I thought I would tell the rest of the story in a blog post.

Teri and I have been friends for over 20 years and have quilted together for many of those. Our quilting adventures have included navigating Pennsylvania back roads together, sleeping many nights over the years on her parents' pull-out couch, and a cheap motel incident (you can read about that here), just to name a few. Our husbands are good friends as well, and they patiently put up with our quilting shenanigans. Given our long and not-so-illustrious history together, we know and understand each other pretty well. We sometimes speak solely in sarcasm, thus Teri's gift of this mug to me for my birthday one year. 

Our primary form of communication

While we can be very opinionated, especially when talking about color, we are both willing to compromise and pick our battles. During the creation of our Fairy Tale quilt, we had just a few differences of opinion, starting with the selection of which fairy tales would make it into the quilt. My favorite fairy tale was the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, but Teri was not familiar with that particular story and thought it was too close to the movie "Frozen," so it didn't make the cut. Although the story hardly resembles the movie, I gave up on that battle with the hope to someday make an entire quilt based on The Snow Queen and its seven stories. Not too long after our Snow Queen discussion, we got together for a trivia competition, and the answer to the final question was "The Snow Queen." I thought it was a sign, but Teri thought otherwise, so we had a glass of this particular vintage and moved on.

A quite decent fairy tale pinot

Both Teri and I are very particular about color, but we each gravitate toward different colorways.  I tend to like brighter colors, and Teri prefers more tonal variations. Our original plan for this quilt was to do two quilts; one in bright, pure colors with just fabric appliqué and another in more muted colors with lots of embellishment. We decided to start with the brighter quilt, and it quickly became obvious that only one quilt was going to get finished. Teri still has hopes for a more tonal version of this quilt, but for now, we are happy that we were able to finish this one.

A representation of the colorway we used.

During one of our Pennsylvania fabric adventures, Teri happened on a bolt of striped fabric on sale. I didn't see a good use for it, but Teri, being the greater visionary, bought the whole bolt for someday. Well, it turned out that "someday" came as we were figuring out the borders for our quilt top. One of the stripes in that fabric was perfect for our inner border, as it looks a lot like book pages.

I saw no future for this striped fabric, but I was wrong.

Throughout the the two years of working on this quilt, we had many instances of one of us saying exactly what the other one had been thinking. This happened so often that it became quite humorous at times. The last instance was after the top was finished and ready to be sent to the quilter. We were going to be taking the top in that day and needed to decide what type of quilting should be done. The quilt was on the design wall, and I began to describe to Teri what I had envisioned. I turned back to look at her; her jaw dropped, because I had said exactly what she was going to say to me. We had never really talked about the actual quilting before, so we took it as a sign that our quilting plan was a good one. 

Both Teri and I envisioned swirls and feathers in the border

There are many other stories that we could tell about how we came to this point, but here is the real reason why we were able to accomplish what we have over the past two years. Both Teri and I share a strong faith, and this journey would not have been possible without that faith. When I answered our reader that it was by the grace of God that we were able to join our creative forces, it was because Teri and I truly believe that. The last two years have involved a lot of give and take and a blending of our creativity in order to make an idea become reality. Not only have we gained a small business, a growing blog, and a beautiful quilt, but our friendship and faith has grown immeasurably along the way. We are so blessed to have you, our readers, willing to travel along with us as we continue on this story-laden path. Thank you!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fairy Tales Through the Needle's Eye

. . . upon a time, there were two friends who loved to stitch together. They had taken classes, gone to quilt shows, made wedding quilts, joined guilds, and worked at The Elly Sienkiewicz Appliqué Academy as a stitching team. One evening, about two years ago, they were sitting at a meeting of the  Baltimore Appliqué Society. Just before the speaker began her lecture, Kara whispered to Teri, "Have you ever seen a Baltimore Album-style quilt with fairy tales?" Throughout the rest of the meeting, wheels of inspiration were turning in their heads, as both friends loved fairy tales as much as they loved to appliqué.

As soon as Teri and Kara reached the car, the talk began. Which fairy tales would they stitch? How many should they choose? How large should they make the blocks? They brainstormed during the entire 45-minute ride home. The next day, they had each done exhaustive internet searches to be sure that there were no such quilts. They discussed and finalized the list of stories they wanted to use, including some tales from the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. The next weeks were filled with planning. Which blocks would be picture blocks, which would be wreaths, and which would incorporate papercuts? They wanted to stay true to the style of Baltimore album quilts, so they intended to include each of these major styles of album blocks. Designs were drawn, colors were chosen, and background fabric and a few base fabrics were purchased. And the friends began to stitch.

Two years later, the top was completed, and they took the quilt to Bellwether Dry Goods to be hand-quilted. And this past Monday, they went to pick up the completed quilt. The stories had come to life. Kara and Teri were thrilled!

Here are a few highlights from the quilt.

The spinning wheel and briar roses from Sleeping Beauty

Cinderella's glass slipper

Little Red Riding Hood with her basket of goodies for her grandmother

One of Snow White's seven dwarves, in front of the magic mirror

Andersen's Nightingale singing with the emperor's mechanized bird

The Ugly Duckling in the nest

Thumbelina in a walnut shell being pulled to safety by a butterfly

The ship that intrigues the Little Mermaid

Beauty approaching the Beast's castle with the rose her father picked for her

Can you find the Beast hidden in the tree?

Jack climbing the Beanstalk on the left border . . .

. . . with the cow at the bottom

Jack descending the beanstalk with the golden harp on the right border

There is no sashing between the blocks, so the quilting design provides that separation.

Teri and Kara are delighted with the completed fairy tale quilt and cannot wait to share it at the Baltimore Appliqué Society meeting next week. Unfortunately, the Snow Queen interfered with their opportunity to share it at a lecture that they were scheduled to give earlier in the week. They have many plans and ideas for fun projects to continue telling these fairy tales through their needles' eyes. 

The two friends are already discussing their next quilt project. Which fairy tales will they stitch next? What stories would you tell through your needle's eye? 

Kara and Teri don't know what adventures their quilt may have, but they do know that any quilt about fairy tales will surely live happily ever . . . 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Crazy Quilting—Start to Finish; Session One: Constructing the Blocks

We have begun our ambitious crazy quilting class with seven lovely and talented ladies. As we mentioned in a previous post, Crazy Quilting—Start to Finish, we have created a six-month crazy quilting class that teaches our students how to piece their blocks, stitch and embellish them, and finally put them together in the format of their choice.

Taking photos of the class models for reference

All our ladies had been eagerly awaiting this class and were ready to get started. Each student was instructed to bring at least 24 different fabrics, which could include cottons, silks, satins, or any other fabric they liked. We did have some fancy fabrics for sale to help their collection, but some of our ladies had been collecting fabrics over time, just for a future crazy quilt.

A rainbow assortment of silks, satins, and velvets

Many of these fabrics were sourced from thrift stores.
One student's collection

Each lady received four different patterns, as well as a fabric Little Red Riding Hood vintage postcard print to use as a center for one of their blocks. Most of the patterns were put together the same way, by having a center piece and then sewing each section around that center piece. We had the ladies bring in four 9" squares of flannel to be used as a base for the block, and Teri demonstrated how to construct the block with the flannel base. The flannel base provides a great support for the future block embroidery, and it also helps manage some of those slippery fabrics.

The first piece is centered on the base.

The second piece attached.

As each piece is added, the excess
underneath is trimmed away.

Ready for embroidery

After the demonstration, the ladies got to it and began constructing their blocks. 

Getting ready to choose fabrics
Going around the center block with the next piece
Checking if this fabric is a good fit

This block is ready to be trimmed to its finished size.

Such beautiful, bright colors

We designed the patterns to be 8.5" finished, so having 9" base allowed for a little wiggle room as we pieced. An 8.5" square ruler was used to bring the pieced blocks down to their finished size.
Trimmed and ready to go
After the block was finished, the ladies basted around all four sides, and their blocks are ready for next month's embroidery session.

Some of our students' finished blocks:

The silver fabric in this block is a lacy overlay.
Most of these fabrics were found at local thrift stores.

As an unexpected treat, one of our students brought in some antique crazy quilt blocks that she had purchased. The blocks were in various stages of completion, absolutely beautiful, and she has more of them to bring to the next session. We can't wait to see them, and we will be sure to share them with you as well.   

Such lovely embroidery

This unfinished, basted block is mostly made of silk.

Another block a little further along in regard
to the stitching

Everyone was able to complete one block and will have the other three ready for our February meeting, where we will be focusing on motif selection, transferring design, and stitching the motifs. Thank you for joining us as we build these crazy quilts, and please come back to see the outcome of our next session.