Tag Archives: Friends

My Favorite Fabric Purchase in 2018

You know those big dinner salads you can get at some restaurants? The greens cover a platter, and there are a variety of toppings, and at least two condiment containers for the dressing. You can eat and eat and eat and eat. Your dinner companions can finish their entree as you just keep eating, with little apparent progress on your meal. Using fabric stash is like that, with the added problem of the server coming ’round and putting more salad on your plate now and then.

Some people measure stash in and stash used over a period of time, a calculation that is not interesting to me. Since all my fabric collection is in a fairly small space, it’s easy to see when it’s increased or decreased. Most years in October, I do a “state of the stash” post to review it. This year I didn’t, but the text of the post would be similar: It changed! I have a bit more! or a bit less!

As I look at this quickly-passing year, I do notice how my stash has changed. It is a bit smaller than a year ago, and I didn’t buy a huge amount this year. As always, most of my projects relied heavily on stash rather than new purchases. And as always, my favorite fabric purchases are those I used right away. 

I did buy mostly new for two projects. Georgia’s graduation quilt is from white and light grey, at her request. I rarely use grey, and white is not typical, either, so this was a rather hard quilt to make. I don’t remember the size, but it covers her queen-sized bed nicely, so something like 96″ square.

Georgia’s graduation quilt. Queen-bed sized. May 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Almost all of the grey got used up in Georgia’s quilt. The leftover greys became the back of Heather’s baby quilt. Leftover white went on the front.

Another project that required new fabric was the wedding quilt for Son and his bride. To make Hands and Hearts, I needed to buy solid black Kona for the background, and a variety of batiks for the hands. The green batik in the wreath and corner Celtic knots was from stash, as were the components in the Claddagh ring and the fussy-cut hearts. The hearts actually came from something purchased in 2007, so it’s one of the older pieces in my cupboard.

Hands and Hearts. 29″ x 29″. July 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

It would be hard to pick a specific favorite fabric from 2018. Since I don’t think of myself as a fabric collector, the best fabrics are those that are most useful. Sometimes that means they’re quite ordinary. Solid white, solid black, pastel batiks, grey and white prints. None of these are exciting, but the quilts they made were gifts of love.

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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.

Retreat Report

After showing my prep work for last weekend’s retreat (here and here,) I thought I should also share a follow-up about it.

The retreat was scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday. During the week prior to the retreat I had a mild cold, and on the night before it was to begin, we had a forecast for several inches of snow. Between the two conditions, I decided to stay home on Friday and join the other quilters on Saturday. Even so, I sewed most of the day Friday, except when I was napping.

This morning I finished applying borders to this strip quilt for the local VA (Veterans’ Administration) hospital. It measures about 39″ x 59″.

Saturday I started fresh. After checking in at the retreat center and setting up my machine and stuff, I got to work sewing this baby quilt top. I had a little bit of cutting to do, but most of it was ready to go. It is about 38″ square.

And on Sunday I made blocks for a third quilt. They are all sewn but not pressed, so I’ll share them another day.

Since I usually work by myself, and often without teevee or music going, it was very different to have friends around me. I enjoyed listening to their conversations and getting to know some of them better. I think my sewing efficiency was better in some ways and worse in others. Certainly I got a lot done in the time, and I’m pleased with that.

Next steps are to press the other blocks I made and assemble them into a top. Then prep backs and batting for all three and get them quilted. With a lot of other things on my plate, I won’t guess how soon that will happen.

Black Sheep Manor

Some quilts decide to be made, regardless of our intentions. Such was the case for Black Sheep Manor. This is a quilt I would not have made, if not for seeing a panel print earlier this year at a local quilt shop. The full panel had 15 small panel motifs with a country estate theme. The faux-crackled, tea-stained background with black print featured a sheep, two manor houses, a squirrel, two trees, and other assorted illustrations. This is not my typical style.

But Jim and I have friends, smart, funny, warm people, who’ve recently moved to a home they call their “Black Sheep Manor.” When I saw the black sheep on the panel, I had to get it. The quilt called to be made.

The Center Block

The black sheep had to center the quilt, but the small panel finishes at 7″. The size is better suited for a pillow or placemat than the focal point of a lap quilt. I’ve written before about enlarging center blocks with frames of various types. Adding variable star points doubles the size, and making a star-in-a-star quadruples it. But as much as I like stars, this little sheep called for something else.

To highlight and enlarge the sheep without other distractions, I chose to set it with an economy block setting. The simplicity draws the eye to the middle. Using strong value contrast with the subtlety of tone-on-tone prints emphasizes the block structure, as well.

The pattern design on the brick-colored fabric is of wheat stalks, and the pinky-tan setting triangles are printed with a deer motif. Both suit the small-farm life of our friends. These two fabrics, along with the sheep panel, set the theme for the rest of the quilt.

The Inner Borders

Beyond the economy center block, the first border of half-square triangles bursts forth to further enlarge the appearance. Here again, simplicity serves the purpose of enhancement rather than distraction. I did try a different arrangement of HST using two borders, and the effect was messy. As Jim reminded me, KISS is often the best policy. 🙂

The darker rust print edge around the HST finished the look of the center. Rather than the center appearing as a 7″ square, it is 22.5″.

The Middle Borders

Outside of the narrow rust strip is the second most important piece of the quilt. Though the sheep literally plays center stage, the wording personalizes it. Anyone could like black sheep, but there is only one Black Sheep Manor. The wording is hand-lettered using fabric markers. I printed the words on paper and then arranged a light box with an overturned plastic tub on top of a CFL utility light. I taped the paper to the plastic tub. Freezer paper on the back of the fabric stabilized it, and I taped that down, as well. I outlined the letters with a very fine-tipped pen, and then filled them in with a heavier marker.

Framing the wording on either end, and below the sheep block, are strips from the width-of-fabric panel print. On the left and right borders are paper-pieced triangles that finish 2.5″ x 3.75″. They are proportioned differently than flying geese, which lets them fit the space evenly as well as suggest pine trees. The corner blocks are of the broken dishes format.

Black Sheep Manor. Approx 58″ x 58″. September 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The next pieced border is of larger HSTs. The HSTs repeats the shapes of the inner border, but the shifting orientation keeps them from simple repetition. It also prevents them from making a dark line on either side of the border, so it is more open and airy.

Also note the narrow strip borders on either side of the HST. These are one of the lightest values in the whole quilt. Using the light color is a bit unexpected, and it keeps the quilt from descending into dinginess.

The Outer Borders

The next border is a style called “piano keys.” I cut the piano keys border to finish at 6″ and planned to make shoofly corner blocks. Instead, I chose four of the other small panel pieces and cornered the border with them. Once their decorative “frame” was trimmed off, they finished at 5.25″, so I trimmed the piano keys to match. Aside from the corner blocks, the piano keys border is mostly dark in value.

The piano keys are made with 28 strips on each side. I made the strips into blocks of four strips each. Each block has a red, a brown (or black,) a blue, and a green strip. These are two warm and two cool. I assembled the blocks in haphazard order, and then assembled the borders only making sure that no two strips of the same color touched each other. Aside from very minimal rearrangement, the placement is random, but the colors and “temperatures” are well-distributed. This was easy! And more importantly, it is not formal or regimented, but casual.

The last border of another rusty print frames the whole. I didn’t know what width I wanted until I tried it. No elements of the quilt are very large, so a relatively narrow border worked better for proportions.

The Fabric Choices

Almost all of my quilts have at least one scrappy border. They help to integrate the multiple pieces of similar color that I use within a quilt. This quilt differs by being scrappy throughout, giving it a casual and homey feel.

Even with scraps, the look is consistent. All the colors have a golden tinge. The reds are brick red and rust; the greens are olivey; the blues all have a touch of teal; and the browns and blacks are warm, not cool. The tan or “background” fabrics also tend toward golden, not grey.

However, if you look more closely at the fabrics, you’ll notice I didn’t take the fabric patterns too seriously. They range from 1800s reproductions to a small piece of a circus print, to Kaffe Fassett. The color and value were far more important than the style of print.

To keep the dozens of fabrics from leading the quilt into chaos, there are places without scraps. For example, the center block has only three fabrics: the black sheep panel, the inner brick red triangles, and the outer tan triangles. The brick red and tan are repeated with the same fabrics for the broken dishes corner blocks. The inner strip border and the final border echo the brick red, varying it somewhat toward rust. The two pale strips borders use the same fabrics. The panel corner blocks with the piano keys emphasize the sheep by repeating the same fabric style. All these points of repetition help calm the appearance.

Except for the panel (which demanded I buy it and make a quilt with it,) all of the fabrics are from my stash, including the back. The vast majority is from scraps and small pieces. Very little is from yardage. It’s been a very long time since I worked with mostly scraps and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Quilting

I had a hard time deciding how to quilt this. I didn’t want the stitching to run rampant over the little sheep, but I also didn’t want to custom quilt the entire piece. I compromised by quilting the center very simply, with an outline of the sheep, a simple fan pattern on the brick red, and triangles of leaves and loops on the tan. For the rest of the quilt, I did an all-over leaves and loops design.

My Overall Assessment

I really fell in love with this quilt. As noted at the top, this is not my typical style, with the black-and-tan-and-country feel. But I often think my very best quilts are those I make for specific people, and I think this is one of them. Another reason I love it is because I couldn’t have made it before now. The design shows a level of expertise that I’ve developed over time. The paper piecing is a new technique for me this year. Hand-lettering the banner isn’t something I would have tried until recently. Besides the look, I enjoyed the process. The ease with which it went together is rare. Each step of the way, decisions were simple, but from a strong sense of direction, not merely from habit.

My friends received the quilt and are thrilled. They’re happy, and that makes me happy.

Hugs and Kisses, Given and Received

Today I gave this quilt to a friend.

XOXO, aka Hugs and Kisses. 48″ square. Finished June 2014.

Why? Because it was her quilt. I made it without an owner in mind, but it has since become apparent that I made it for her.

I think it will come in handy soon, while she recovers from upcoming surgery. She is tough. I’ve no doubt she’ll be up and around quickly. But while she is not, while she is resting and gathering strength, perhaps this will provide some comfort.

hmm… I am thinking as I write. Perhaps it is not for her recovery. Perhaps it is for her preparation. Maybe the strength she needs is before surgery. Yes. I think that’s it. In that case, it is good timing that we were able to enjoy each other’s company today, and that I could share this blessing with her.

Yes, I think that’s it.