Category Archives: Quilting

Productive Procrastination

Did you know that “productive procrastination” is a thing? I’m talking about choosing to do something valuable while actively choosing not to do something else valuable. For example, you could choose to dust your living room rather than call your mom. Or vice versa. What I’m not talking about is getting lost for hours in Pinterest or Instagram photos, searching for inspiration you’ll never actually act on. Or clicking through Facebook or online news ceaselessly, looking for something new to read or respond to.

Right now, I’m putting off writing about my trip to Peru, and all the tasks that are included in that: identifying photos to share; framing my memories so they are meaningful for you, too; considering how those memories have shaped my creativity, even just a little. And I’m also putting off re-starting one of my quilting projects with the benefit of my new perspectives.

Instead, I am working on another VA Hospital quilt. Certainly that is worthy of the time involved. I can’t pretend that it is a high priority — there is no deadline. On the other hand, there’s no deadline for my purely creative adventures, either.

It started when I opened a drawer of orphan blocks, parts, and binding leftovers. I found a bunch of these, dull and dismal puss-in-the-corner blocks. (They didn’t qualify as a UFO by my definition, as they were not “a project” themselves. They were just orphan blocks, parts waiting in inventory until useful or otherwise disposed of.)

They finished at 6″, more or less. The fabric is not particularly nice. And they certainly aren’t pretty. But could they be useful?

(This reminds me of the very silly public television show, The Red Green Show. He is famous for saying, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.“)

So what can you do with 10 not-pretty blocks? I decided to use them within a disappearing 9-patch quilt. Mix them in with enough other, prettier fabrics, and they’ll be okay.

When I make disappearing 9-patches, I like to use an accent color for the centers of the 9-patches. It also is helpful to have value contrast between the large corner patches and the side-centers, which become the “legs.” As I picked through fabrics, I decided to stick with dark greens and dusky blues for the corner patches, rusty oranges for the accent center patches, and lighter pieces for the legs.

I made nine large, ugly 9-patches using 6″ finish blocks. All the blocks were unpieced except my green and tan puss-in-the-corner blocks.

After completing the 9-patches, I sliced each into four pieces, arranged them, and stitched them into a quilt top. The top is now finished.

Disappearing 9-patch top. About 44″ x 62″.

(Honestly, it’s better looking in person than it is in the photos.)

I’ll need to build a quilt back, quilt it, and bind it. But it will wait as I have another task to tackle in the next few days, one with an actual deadline.

What are you working on? Are you procrastinating, forging ahead, or doing both in turn? 

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Five Quilts in Four Weeks

Between the middle of September and four weeks later, I started and finished four quilts, and I also put the binding on a fifth one. This isn’t my preferred way of working but deadlines piled up on me. Here is a quick run down:

When I returned home from a high school reunion, Jim informed me that brother-in-law Dan was granted an “honor flight.” According to the website, “Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials.” Dan’s trip to DC was scheduled for less than two weeks later. I wanted to make him a quilt. Coincidentally, another brother-in-law, Sonny, was also taking a flight in mid-October. One quilt wouldn’t do; I would make two of them.

When I need to  make a quilt in a hurry, I often design it using Electric Quilt software. Currently I’m using EQ8 (version 8.) I designed similar quilts for both men. The medallion format with which I’m so familiar uses block “borders” for these, making sizing simple.

Dan’s Honor Quilt. September 2018. About 66″ square. Photo by Jim Ruebush. Border blocks (hourglasses and puss-in-the-corner) finish at 8″.

Sonny’s Honor Quilt. October 2019. About 61″ square. Photo by Jim Ruebush. Border blocks (rail fences) finish at 6″.

Both quilts were easy to execute, but Sonny’s was actually much simpler. It uses all one block style, alternating blue and red, and solid white as the only background fabric. The only complexity in Sonny’s quilt, in terms of the block borders, is the blocks combining half-square triangles and rail fences. It took a bit for me to work it out, but in truth it was really easy to do. If I ever make them again, I’ll show you how.

I used all stash for both quilts, except borders and backs. Both used lots of smaller pieces for the blues and reds.

In the midst of making these, I realized my sweet neighbor Heather’s baby shower was in early October. I planned to make a quilt for the baby, but he isn’t due until December, so I wasn’t in a hurry. With the shower coming up, that changed things!

I used the same rail fence blocks that were so quick for Sonny’s quilt. Once the front was finished, I gleaned leftover parts from another project to make the back, turning the quilt into a two-sided quilt. All fabric was from stash.

Heather’s baby quilt, front. October 2018. About 46″ square. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Heather’s baby quilt, back. October 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The fourth quilt was a hostess gift. Jim and I went to Peru! (We’ll write about our trip soon, on Our View From Iowa.) One of the meals during our tour was at a family home. The tour company recommends bringing a small gift for the hostess. It’s a way to connect with the family, as well as show gratitude and have a way to say something about your own home.

My original plan was to take a small wall-hanging that’s already finished, but it wouldn’t fit nicely in our carry-on suitcases. Instead I started a new one, with the primary design being a map of Iowa. The fabrics chosen represented the corn and soybeans grown here, as well as the broad blue skies. Using a quickly-traced outline of Iowa, I cut the assembled cloth to size and appliquéd it to a background fabric. On the left (west) and right (east) sides of the map, the blue stitching represents the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Hand-stitching through the map, and machine-quilting through the background, completed the design. On the back I adhered a label, written in Spanish, to explain what the image is and how it represents Iowa.

Un Mapa de Iowa. October 2018. About 15″ wide.

Last but not least, I also put a binding on a VA hospital quilt, which was finished except for that. It will be donated at my next guild meeting. No photo of the finished quilt.

It was a busy month for quilting, and as you may or may not have noticed, I didn’t write here at all during that time. As soon as the Iowa map quilt was finished, we left for Peru, giving another two week gap. One thing to note is, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get started again. Hopefully this will break the ice and I can shift into semi-regular posts again.

Thanks as always for reading.

Still a Beginner

Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time writing a blog post that was bad — stupid, indulgent, unpublishable. No, not really all that, but sort of a waste of time, and not good enough to simply revise.

I was indulging myself a bit with how long I’ve been blogging, how many posts I’ve published, how many comments.. yada yada. Who cares, really? It was boring even to me. 🙂 But so you don’t think too poorly of me, I was trying to answer a question posed in one of my Facebook groups recently. One of the members asked bloggers, “How do you find the time or inspiration on what to post about?

The short answer to that question is, sometimes I don’t find the time. And sometimes I do. All kinds of things inspire my writing. I write about what I’m interested in. Sometimes that’s projects I’m working on, sometimes it’s design ideas or tutorials, sometimes it’s current events, sometimes it’s things that light my imagination, like a museum trip. Now and then I just whine about something quilting-related. 🙂 I always always have things to write about. The real issue for me is, if I’m spending my time writing, what am I not doing while keeping the blog up to date? It’s hard to allocate my time well.

I am not worried about growing my audience, because I write primarily for myself. No one is paying me to do this. But there are people out there, (hello, people!) and I enjoy sharing with others. I enjoy teaching and try to craft my posts carefully so they are useful in some way to readers. If I truly were just using it as a personal diary, it wouldn’t be the way it is.

***

Even though I have a few blog posts under my belt, and have made a few quilts, I’m still a beginner at both. There’s still plenty I don’t know how to do, or haven’t done enough to actually get good at it.

For example, I’ve been working on appliqué projects this year, from simple flowers on the ¡Fiesta! quilt, to all the Hands and Hearts, to the more elaborate Rooster,  to the crazy mask. Each one has taught me more about how to envision shapes in space, how to choose colors and fabrics, and how to attach them appropriately for the purpose.

I’m very much a beginner in this area, both from a technical standpoint and a design aspect. It’s a whole new way of using my brain. I want to be really good! but I’m just not yet. And I need to remember:

When learning something new, be patient.
Allow for your work to look like a beginner’s.
Just keep at it and things will improve.

Here’s my new start on an old project.

I actually started this two-and-a-half years ago, which for me is a really long time. I began it with a sketch, created by drawing and cutting shapes, and then tracing around the shapes to establish approximate position.

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And this is what I said about it at the time: “I’m planning to do old-fashioned needle-turn appliqué, without all the glueing and pressing and fusing and fussing that some of the other techniques use. This will be relatively primitive, both due to my skills and my intention. The colors I’m choosing are joyful, not stuffy. I’ll show you progress as I make it.”

HAHAHA! Yeah, the intention was to use needle-turn appliqué, but then I realized I don’t really enjoy it, and the project would never get done. Not only did I change applique methods, I also changed fabrics for everything but the stems and the paler leaves, which were already stitched down. The first ones I chose were too muted, not strong enough to stand up to their background. The more saturated colors work better than the ones discarded.

The next modification to it will be the addition of a bird in the lower right corner.

***

And speaking of beginning, a different member of that same Facebook group asked today about a “scant” quarter-inch seam allowance. A variety of responses were given, from “it doesn’t matter as long as your seam allowance is consistent” to “it DOES matter if you want things to fit.” The best answer included a link to this video, which explains exactly why a good seam allowance matters.

Some other good tips for beginning quilters are here, including in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!

More on Tariffs and Quilting

I wrote the other day about upcoming tariffs and their effects on the quilting industry. The main point of my post was to define terms — what is a tariff? and what is a trade deficit? — and to note that the proposed tariffs are targeted to consumer goods, including fabric and other craft goods, from China. You can find a list of the targeted goods here.

A great new source for information on tariffs is this podcast with a trade law expert named David Gantz. It’s about 35 minutes and is presented by Just Wanna Quilt, the research project led by Elizabeth Townsend Gard from Tulane University.

A primary concern to quilters is woven cotton fabrics. From what I could learn, approximately 30% of imported woven cottons are from China. (There are a number of woven cottons on the linked list, starting on page 125.) Of course, woven cottons include lots of different things, right? There are denims and broadcloths and dress fabrics and flannels and decorator fabrics. Lots of things, including quilting cottons.

There is some good news about quilting cottons. Though I can’t find any stats on this, according to Abby Glassenberg’s new Craft Industry Alliance post, “The majority of premium quilting cotton sold in independent quilt shops are imported from Korea and Japan and will not be tariffed.”

If you look on the end of a bolt, it shows country of origin. People who’ve looked in quilt shops seem to be saying that this is true, the majority show Korea or Japan as the source. However, as reported by Abby Glassenberg, there are quilting fabric companies who have recently started having digital printing done in China. A source of mine says digital printing allows better color control and smaller batches. I’ve been told that the ink toners for digital printing are more environmentally friendly than screen printing colors. These factors make digital printing an attractive alternative, and China, apparently, does them well and cheaply.

This doesn’t speak to the proportion of quilting fabrics at Joann’s and other big-box stores that are from China. I don’t know anything about these numbers.

More importantly, I don’t care. To me, it doesn’t matter if Joann’s buys all of their fabrics from China and “quilt shops” buy all of their fabric from other countries. Other than pure intellectual curiosity, I don’t care.

Here’s the thing: as long as I’ve quilted I’ve heard people say “I’d never shop at Joann’s” and
“I’d never shop at Walmart for fabric.” There has always been a “good fabric comes from quilt shops” and “I don’t buy fabric from Joann’s because it’s icky” vibe from a lot of quilters. But you can’t tell what’s good or bad by where you buy it. What’s important is how it looks and feels and holds up to the purpose. I’d love to set up a blind test for those who think they can tell the difference.

It would pain me personally to see an increase in quilt snobbery. I’d hate to think that, because I can afford to shop at a quilt shop, I shouldn’t care what happens to those who shop at Joann’s, either because that’s the only store around or because that’s what they can afford. It reminds me of those who don’t care about food deserts, where people have their gas station quick mart to get groceries and not much more, and then make opinionated remarks about how those people should just buy better quality food. This issue of tariffs makes me concerned that same style of snobbery will show itself even more than usual in quilting.

Let’s not be like that. Let’s be supportive of quilters and other makers, regardless of where they buy their materials. Let’s look at the issue of tariffs and how it will affect quilting, not how it will affect ourselves personally. Quilters are generous. We give quilts, we teach, we share. Let’s be generous with our attitudes, as well.

Mirror, Mirror

Recently I showed you how I made a mask, starting with a six-sided paper cut-out. The framing for the face, shown in burgundy, started with a single piece of paper. Even though there are pieces cut out of it, the frame is continuous around the outside edge.

It certainly doesn’t have to be. Consider using, say, three pieces of paper that are the same, but arranged symmetrically around a center point. It would give the same type of symmetry as you see with the mask.

Here’s another paper cutting I did in six sides. I cut it into thirds. Hmm, I like the separation. Then I wondered, what if I only had one of them but wanted to see what it looks like with three? And what if I change direction? That’s something I can’t do if it’s all in one piece.

In the last two of those photos, you are seeing one segment of the original cutting, as reflected in mirrors. Using mirrors gives me a lot of flexibility. For one thing, I don’t need to cut multiples of an intricate design in order to see the possibilities; I can have just one. Also, I can see more than three images (two in the mirrors plus the actual paper one.) For instance, I can see what it looks like if I have four images.

Using mirrors isn’t my original idea. I’d already been thinking a lot about symmetries and playing with paper cutting when Toby Lischko visited my guild. Her presentation to us was about using pairs of mirrors to find interesting patterns in our fabrics. I also took her New York Beauty workshop and used her mirrors to choose the focus of my block center.

The turquoise fabric offered an infinite number of choices for fussy cutting, and I could try them out with the mirrors.

Toby offered mirrors for sale, but she ran out before I had a chance to buy mine. She also has them on her website, shown as Marti Michell Magic Mirrors. Not surprisingly, Marti Michell also has them for the same price, $13.98.

I was so impressed after the workshop, though, that Jim and I searched online for a substitute solution, at a lower price. 🙂 We didn’t find just the right thing, and other priorities took over. I had a bit of serendipity recently, though. While walking through a department store, about to close because of bankruptcy, I noticed two small mirrors hanging on a costume jewelry rack. Everything in the store was for sale. Everything! So I asked how much they would cost. I bought two mirrors for less than $4. (Last week my 14-year-old granddaughter bought two mannikin’s arms for 50 cents apiece. Because who doesn’t need two mannikin’s arms?)

Handy for scratching your back! Photo credit to my daughter.

The next challenge was how to get the mirrors to stand up at the correct angles. (Toby’s/Marti’s mirrors come pre-hinged, but you still have to set the angle.) After trying different possibilities, Jim and I both thought of using velcro (hook-and-loop) to hold them together. Between the two of us, we had both self-stick squares of velcro and also strips. We put squares of hooks on the back and cut short strips of loop-tape to grab them on either side. The angle can be set either with a protractor or simply by checking for how many images are created. (Remember, there are 360° in a circle. There are 120° in each third of a circle; there are 90° in each quadrant; and there are 60° in each sixth. To see three images, including the actual thing, set the mirrors to stand at 120° apart.) If needed, a simple piece of tape can be run across the top to hold the angle desired.

I have some other projects in mind that can make use of the mirrors, so while I wasn’t prepared to spend $14 and shipping for them, they are well worth the investment made.

Some people make the kaleidoscoping “stack and whack” quilts. I can’t imagine doing that, even though some look fabulous. I’ve also seen a lot of fussy cutting for hexagon projects, and mirrors could help visualize those. Have you ever explored shape symmetry in your quilts? Have you used mirrors to do so? Tell us about it in comments.