Author Archives: Melanie McNeil

About Melanie McNeil

Quilter, Designer, Teacher, Writer

I Love Blogs That

* tell stories
* tell about process, if the blog is about making
* use words thoughtfully
* inspire the reader
* show the writer cares about the reader.

These are blogs I follow, and this is the kind of blog I want to create.

I’ve been blogging at WordPress for more than four years. And I’ve enjoyed reading here for just as long. However, many of the bloggers I used to follow have dropped out of the process. They no longer write, or at least, not using the same url. I’d love to find a few more blogs, thoughtfully written, to follow.

Do you have favorite blogs to recommend? What do you look for in blogs you follow? They can be WordPress blogs or anyone’s!  They can be quilting blogs or any kind! Please tell us in comments. ALSO please stop back through, comment on other comments, add more as you think of them! Let’s have a conversation about great blogs we enjoy. I’ll look forward to your thoughts.

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Finished: Christmas Is Coming!

Recently I told you about the looping problems I’ve had when machine quilting. Even with the tension good — top and bottom threads balanced so they meet within the quilt sandwich — there’s been some extra loops appearing on the back of the quilt. Though no loops would be best, an occasional loop is likely to happen and is something I can shrug off. However, a lot of loops in a small area is messy looking and structurally not stable. It shouldn’t happen, and if it does, it is a problem to be fixed.

I took my bear’s paw quilt off the frame and put on a test sandwich. When a lot of effort and adjustments didn’t lead to the quality I want, I took the machine to the factory and worked with a technician to get things fixed. When I brought it back home, I tested the machine again by quilting a table runner.

Things looked pretty good, but I still didn’t feel very confident. At that point I decided to mount my Christmas quilt on the frame. This quilt is not intended as a gift, so the stakes were not very high.

I use free-motion quilting for most of my quilts. What that means is I guide the machine stitching by hand, without a pattern or a computer program. Also, for most of them I do an edge-to-edge or allover design, rather than choosing different designs for separate borders or other segments.

This quilt, called “Christmas Is Coming!”, didn’t warrant special quilting, in my opinion. The design impact is in the fabric and piecing, not in the quilting.

I often use a great big double meander — cross the quilt surface once with a big meander, and then cross back the other way, ribboning in and out through the original stitching line. Doubling the line allows you to fill more space if needed by sweeping out a little farther from the first line, or tracking closer where stitches are nearby. It creates a nice, soft texture, and it’s super easy to execute.

The double meander seemed like a low-risk way to test my machine again. If there were unacceptable looping, unstitching would be relatively easy because of the open design, and restitching would be simple, as well.

Here is the finished quilt.

Christmas Is Coming! 67″ x 67″. December 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The quilting was easy and the stitches were generally of pretty good quality. There were a couple of small areas with a little messiness on the back, but they were limited and very close to the edges. I decided to ignore them.

Once quilted, I added the green binding with machine stitching to finish. There’s so much I love about this quilt. The twisting red and gold ribbon border, the green packages with red bows in the last pieced border, and the dizzy geese block in the center all add to the festive look. I love so many pretty fabrics, few of them designed and sold as seasonal ones. I enjoyed using up a lot of scraps to complete the packages and the puss-in-the-corner blocks. And I really like the Y-block pinwheels in the corners. And it was fun to make. Over all it really works for me — you could say it’s the complete package!!

If you’d like to see more pix of this project before it was quilted, you can find them here.

Once this project was off the frame, I started again on my bear’s paw quilt. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well, and I stopped. For right now, the project is waiting until I can get back to it. That won’t be for several more days. Hopefully at that point, things will go better and I can get the quilting done.

 

Stripes Two Ways

When my son was very little, most shirts I bought for him were striped. Soft knit, pullover shirts, their stripes were horizontally arrayed in reds and blues and greens. In summer they were “muscle shirts,” sleeveless Ts, and in winter they were turtlenecks. But almost all of them were striped.

This photo is of Son when he was two. On that day he was covered in stripes and spots.

OHmygosh, wasn’t he cute??

But when he was a little older, he called a moratorium on stripes. No more stripes. The declaration created some conflict as he was growing out of his striped shirts, but he was a boy who knew his own mind. There was no use buying shirts he’d never wear. I asked why stripes were not acceptable.

“Grown-ups wear stripes, and I am not a grown-up,” he told me.

“What about plaids? Will you wear plaids?” I asked.

“No. Plaids are just stripes two ways.”

Then one Christmas when he was about six, his beloved grandparents gave him a flannel shirt. Soft and nappy, it had stripes, two ways.

He wore it to please them. Once. Maybe twice. And then it hung in his closet for twenty-some years.

If you know me, you know I easily get rid of things that are no longer needed. But I never could get rid of this little shirt. For a long time I imagined making a pillow out of it, as my sister had done with his Dan Marino sweatshirt. (When he opened the Dan Marino pillow, he exclaimed, “I have a sweatshirt JUST LIKE THIS!”)

Still, the shirt hung in his closet. Until this week. After washing it, I cut it apart, front from back, sleeves from body, cuffs from sleeves. There was surprisingly little useful fabric in it. But with piecing, there was enough to cover a 12″ x 16″ pillow form.

The button placket serves as the closure for the cover. I’ll tuck a note in the chest pocket to tell him the pillow’s story, with the memory of his grandparents and his firm declaration that plaids are just stripes two ways.

Cheshire Cat?

Now you see her, now you don’t? Yes, that’s me! Two weeks ago I opted out of my own 30-day challenge, stopping at 20 days in a row of blogging. And since then was Thanksgiving, with several days of family fun. Besides that, I’ve been trying to finish some projects — don’t know if you know this, but the end of 2017 is rolling right up! (And not a moment too soon, huh? Heckuva a year, and not all in the good way…)

Right now I have three quilts in progress. Two are from my medallion class. Christmas Is Coming! needs binding attached.

The other is the bear’s paw quilt, which is still on the frame. Well, in fact, it is AGAIN on the frame. It is again on the frame because I’m having thread tension trouble on my longarm. Remember this?

This was the worst of it, but not the last of it. After struggling with getting the tension settings improved, I decided to take the quilt off the frame and putting a testing sandwich on. Prior to taking it off, I basted all the way around the edge, and also used great big stitches to baste through the body of the quilt. The basting stabilized the piece, so layers would stay put for returning to the frame later.

My test sandwich got covered with stitching. I managed to get the top and bottom tension adjusted well, but still had intermittent messy looping areas on the back. When the tension is BAD and there is looping, it’s because the tension is bad. When the tension is GOOD and there’s looping, it’s often because the thread is catching somewhere, like a rough spot in the thread path. I’ve done this long enough to know some of the places to look. (I have a long list of them, if you are interested.) I worked through all those things that I could. While it improved, it still wasn’t as good as it should be.

I called the company and spoke with the head technician. He agreed I’d done all the right things and asked me to bring the machine to the factory. Fortunately, that’s only about a half hour away from me, so I took it the same day. After two hours working with a technician, the best we could come up with was replacing an inexpensive part, the last thread guide above the eye of the needle.

Before returning to my bear’s paw project, I wanted to test it again on something small. Son’s fiancee likes seasonal decorating and I hoped to make a table runner for her for Christmas. I figured that would be a good project to test quilt. After all, if there was looping on the back, it wouldn’t matter. When used as intended, no one would see the back!

I tend to make things more, rather than less complicated. So I had to fight my instincts and make this a simple project. I made three puss-in-the-corner blocks with fussy-cut centers. (Yeah, I couldn’t go all the way to simple!) I set them on point and framed them with a border. I had a piece of appropriate fabric for the back. So I loaded it all up and quilted it.

(There is more to the story of how the quilting went and what happened next. That part of the story will come later this week.)

The last step on the table runner was the binding. I had just the right amount of just the right fabric. However, when it came to attaching it, I wasn’t sure how! All my quilts prior to this have had squared 90° corners. This also had 45° angles. Have you used them before, or other angles than 90°?

This morning I watched a video tutorial that explained how.

Here is my finished table runner.

The table runner has the edge of red binding. Underneath it is another quilt on the table.

Taking a couple of extra minutes to fussy cut the centers made these simple blocks look fancy.

Can you see the figure-8 Christmas tree stitched into this setting triangle? Another easy way to make an easy project look more intricate.

I’m off and running again. Thanks for reading! I always read comments and try to respond promptly. If I don’t get back to you soon, it’s because I’m offline. See you soon!

Twenty and Done

Today is day 20 of my 30-day blogging challenge. If you weren’t in on the beginning of it, I challenged myself to publishing a blog post every day for 30 days. My intention was to recommit to writing, and to interacting here, because my sense of engagement had slipped and my interest was low.

It was a great experiment for me, and I’ve enjoyed it. But I’m done.

Oh, I can find plenty of things to write about. I’ve appreciated your thoughtful comments. And even though I try not to worry about stats, it’s been fun to see the increase in views here over the last weeks.

Mark Lipinski wrote about making for obligation in Quilting Arts Magazine, June/July 2015 issue. While choosing quilts for a trunk show, he realized that the stacks of quilts had been made for “fast magazine turnarounds and book deadlines, hasty class samples, or as fabric company showpieces for trade shows.” He felt they were well designed but devoid of his personality. They didn’t represent what he wanted his quilting legacy to be. In response, he initiated what he calls “The Slow Stitching Movement,” to share a newfound commitment to create wonderful, meaningful quilts.

Quilting for obligations and deadlines was not satisfying enough for him. He needed to change his approach to creating.

I can find plenty of topics to write about, just as I can find plenty of quilts to make. In truth, though, quilting and writing for obligations and deadlines is not satisfying enough for me. Writing every day for a challenge such as this creates an artificial goal. The goal, and of course I defined it for myself, is to write and publish. The goal is not to write and publish something meaningful to both me and those who might read it. In school we called that “busy work.”

Writing for the 30-day challenge has been useful. It does remind me of the pleasures of writing. But that achieved, it’s time to withdraw from the challenge, and to commit instead to creating something wonderful and meaningful. Next time I post, it will be because I have something I’m excited to share. That’s not to say all the things I post will be legacy pieces, but it won’t be busy work.

Thanks as always for reading. Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂