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Archive for the ‘My Quilts’ Category

A while back, I received an e-mail from a prospective client asking if I’d be interested in creating a wall quilt from a logo she had already commissioned from a graphic designer. She was building a mountain home – a dream home, really – and was celebrating this event with artwork. I don’t usually create art quilts from other people’s designs, but I met with her, liked the design and the client, and took the job.

Lesson 1: When a door opens, you don’t have to go through it. But it’s a good idea to look through the open door to check out the opportunity.

Logo DesignThe logo artwork was a line drawing with a basic color palette. The client wanted the resulting quilt to be prominent in her new home. She wanted it to be big – 9 feet by 9 feet big. I work in a small studio with no room for a quilt that size to hang during construction. We settled on 6 feet square, which still felt like a monster size. In fact, I needed to construct a portable design wall to accommodate the project, but it was doable.

Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Negotiation isn’t a dirty word and it doesn’t always mean that someone’s trying to take advantage. This negotiation helped me set limits and contributed to the overall success of the project.

Working within the color palette, I gathered fabrics. Too many fabrics, really, but it was good to have choices. I spent a lot of time collecting, auditioning, and selecting fabrics from a wide array of sources. I used commercial cotton, batiks, raw silk, and rusted fabric. In art quilt class yesterday, one of my students was talking about a recent quilt and said she had been a slave to one of the fabrics, changing every other fabric to try to make the piece work but clinging to this one special fabric. Finally, she realized she had to jettison that one problem child fabric and the piece came together. Her experience sounded familiar. The fabrics for the borders and corners of this piece – the browns and greens – gave me fits. I had one or two fabrics that I thought were perfect and I clung to them. In the end, I had to give them up and that helped break through my quilter’s block.

Quilt on the BerninaLesson 3: Make decisions but be open to changing your mind. Not all decisions are good ones, and you may not be as stuck as you think you are. Just because something looks great in one context doesn’t mean it will work well somewhere else.

This quilt was the hardest wall quilt I’ve ever made. I could go on about how the circle in the square layout gave me heartburn or how the miles of handmade bias binding took forever to make or how moving the piece from the design wall to the sewing machine caused the pinned pieces to shift, forcing me to hand baste every piece in place. All of these things are true, but every project brings challenges. So what made this piece so difficult? Fear. When I take on a project, it never occurs to me that I might not be able to successfully complete it…until I’m knee-deep in alligators. This piece was bigger than my typical work and that made the challenges seem insurmountably bigger. I was in an almost constant state of fear that I would not be able to complete this art quilt as I had envisioned it. If you know me, you know that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Usually, that works for me, but not for this project.

Lesson 4: Work hard and trust your instincts. If you’ve honed skills over decades of education and experience, trust that you have the tools to identify problems and that you will find a way to resolve any issues. Get out of your own way and do the work. It really will all work out.

Quilt in placeWhen the quilt was completed, my husband and I took it to the client’s newly completed mountain home and installed it. Through the entire ride to the client’s house, I worried. Would she like it? Would it be good enough? Would it hang flat enough? Would the rod I chose fit with the rest of the house? Would, could, should. When it was time, I unrolled the quilt on the floor and held my breath while my client took her first look at her new art quilt. I needn’t have worried. She was happy, I was happy, and I felt myself release more tension than I knew I had been carrying. We crouched around the quilt as I pointed out special fabric choices and showed her where I had made quilting decisions to commemorate aspects of her house and its construction. She was interested in as much information as I could give her and I was bursting at the seams to share every detail.

Lesson 5: Outcomes are often much worse in your imagination than in reality. I had imagined the worst. What if she hated it? What if she didn’t love the colors I used? What if, what if, what if? In reality, she loved it. We artists are a fragile bunch, at once proud of our work and fearful that no one will like it and, by extension, us. I’m not sure how to change that in myself, but I hope my awareness will help boost my confidence.

I’m working on a new commission now for a different client. When it’s completed, I’ll post about this art quilt of three generations of wedding gowns. For now, let me say that I’m keeping an open mind through the process, trusting my instincts, and trying not to worry about how the client will react. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

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This is the first stop on a 10-stop blog hop exploring how quilters and sewists got started quilting and sewing. The complete list of blogs with links is at the end of this post.

Bridesmaid Dress

Linen bridesmaid dress I made from two patterns

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t sew. Whether I was pulling yarn through fabric with a fat, blunt needle or making simple clothes for my dolls, I’ve always worked with fabric to make things. The girls in my family all learned to sew on Mom’s Singer sewing machine. Sewing was a useful skill, and we mastered that along with vegetable gardening and basic cooking. Through middle and high school, I wore some really embarrassing homemade clothes. Tim Gunn would have said they looked like “Happy Hands at Home,” but I was so proud of my creations.

In the early 1980’s, my sister Vicki learned quilting from a friend of hers. Her friend would accept no money for the lessons; she taught quilting on the condition that her students would teach others. Pay it forward. Everything was done by hand with modern tools like sandpaper templates, sharp pencils, and scissors. Vicki and I shared a love of needlework. As soon as she learned to quilt, she taught me.

My first project was a simple navy and white sailboat pattern made with half-square triangles painstakingly hand-pieced and then hand quilted. I made the block into a pillow and gave it to my sister as a gift. The pillow is long gone with no pictures to prove its existence, but I can present my first quilt as evidence of how much I had to learn.

Puff Quilt

My First Quilt

My grandmother made puff quilts; you may know them as biscuit quilts. Nana constructed each puff by hand, pieced them together by hand, and finished the quilts by hand. She cut up nylon stockings for stuffing each puff and used worn out clothing and scraps from homemade clothes for the decorative puff tops. She made a quilt for my brother, working long days to finish it. I had never seen anything so beautiful; oh, how I wanted one. Ultimately, I made my own. I learned so many lessons on that quilt: test any pattern changes you want to make, think things through, and plan. My king-sized, flannel-backed monstrosity of a puff quilt weighs more than a bag of potting soil. Enough said.

Cyndi Souder's Quilt

Power Suited Him, part of the Power Suits Art Quilt Collection

I quickly made the transition to machine piecing and, more slowly, to machine quilting. I took classes that intrigued me and read every book I could get my hands on. I met other quilters and learned something every time we sat down to work together. I had found my people. And I had found my art form. Bodies change and clothing no longer fits; walls don’t outgrow their quilts.

Let's Go! Recently seen at Sacred Threads 2013.

Let’s Go! Recently seen at Sacred Threads 2013.

Now I am a professional quilter. I make art quilts and celebration quilts on commission. I teach art quilting and I’m inspired by my students every time we meet. I travel to give lectures and workshops, and I teach at the IQA Quilt Show in Houston. I realized my lifelong dream of being a published author this spring with the publication of Creating Celebration Quilts.

If I had a week with no responsibilities, I’d quilt. Whether I’d attack my pile of UFOs or start something new, I don’t know. What I do know is this: quilting calms me, excites me, fulfills me, and makes everything right in my world.

Please visit the other blogs on the tour to learn more about how we become who we are: quilters.

Aug 1. Cyndi Zacheis Souder 
Aug 2. Becky Glasby
Aug 3. Cheryl Sleboda
Aug 4. Barb Forrister
Aug 5. Jackie White
Aug 6. Tracy Mooney
Aug 7. Lisa Chin
Aug 8. Laura Krasinski
Aug 9. Catherine Redford
Aug 10. Sylvia Lewis

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Creating Celebration Quilts Book CoverI love making quilts that celebrate something — events, milestones, the lives of lost loved ones, or even a special vacation. I relish the design decisions, the fabric choices, the execution, and the joy of seeing the quilt completed. I have made many, many celebration quilts. Some have been for myself, but mostly they have been for others.

I wrote Creating Celebration Quilts to help you design and create your own Celebration Quilts. Using the skills you have now, you can create quilts that are personal, meaningful, joyful, and healing. In my book, I have included four sections to help you through the process:

  1. The Celebration Quilt Worksheet will help you design your Celebration Quilt and offer you things to consider as you work through the process.
  2. A Closer Look follows five Celebration Quilts from concept to completion, including quilts made from a commercially available foundation piecing pattern, from a roll of precut strips, from a large collection of bow ties and a bulletin board full of quotes, from tee shirts and traditional nine-patch blocks, and from clothing and artifacts belonging to a spirited man I wish I’d met while he was still with us.
  3. The Celebration Quilt Toolbox contains tips and suggestions for taming difficult fabrics, using photographs, approaching the quilting, incorporating quilted words, constructing show-ready hanging sleeves, and adding complete and meaningful labels.
  4. The Celebration Quilts Gallery is filled with ideas and inspiration with examples of baby quilts, wedding and anniversary quilts, quilts that celebrate the lives of lost loved ones, and quilts that celebrate family, family traditions, birthdays, accomplishments, events, and travel.

When I teach Celebration Quilts as a class or workshop, I am always surprised and moved by the stories I hear. Often, the quilters I meet are planning quilts to honor family members and we talk about the linens, clothing, and collections that have been left behind. Sometimes quilts are planned to commemorate weddings, anniversaries, births, and graduations. I’d love to hear your stories…what do your quilts celebrate?

Leave a comment by Sunday, June 30, 2013, and you will be entered into a drawing for your choice of either a free copy of my book or a free consultation on a celebration quilt you’re planning or working on.

Creating Celebration Quilts is available on my website and at quilt shops everywhere.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Celebrate with Quilts!

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Beach

Join me in the Caribbean!

I love it when I can combine a bunch of favorite things in one event, don’t you? Next March (2014), I’m teaming up with Quilt Retreats at Sea and Artistic Artifacts for an eight-night quilting cruise where I can enjoy:

  • Travel to warm places while it’s cold at home
  • Spending time with my hubby
  • Spending time with quilting buddies (quilters I know now and quilters I will meet)
  • Sharing my favorite original quilt pattern with other quilters
  • Giving out prizes and surprises
  • Food, food, and more food
  • Ocean view
  • Sewing!
Cruise Project, Ocean View

Friendship Chain, Purple Rain Colorway — Fabrics will vary

Sounds good, right? I’d love it if you’d join us! We’ll leave Baltimore on Friday, March 28, 2014 on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. Our ship was refurbished in 2012 and is just beautiful! Click here to read all about the ship. Our stops include Port Canaveral, Florida; Nassau, Bahamas; Coco Cay, Bahamas; and Key West, Florida. We can have beach time, shopping time, sightseeing time, and just lazy time. We’ll return to Baltimore on Saturday, April 5.

On three of our days, we’ll be at sea, having fun piecing a quilt. I’ll be teaching the techniques you’ll need to successfully complete our quick and easy project. This is my favorite pattern, Friendship Chain. Back before the Dawn of Time (when I was in elementary school), we used to make these zigzag bracelets out of paper chewing gum wrappers. This quilt reminds me of those bracelets, hence the name. I can almost smell the Juicy Fruit gum!

Tangerine Sunrise Colorway

Tangerine Sunrise Colorway — Fabrics will vary

Quilt Cruisers will get to choose from two colorways: Purple Rain and Tangerine Sunrise. Our sewing machines are being provided for us along with an expert to troubleshoot as needed and keep us rolling in full bobbins! But the best part about our quick and easy project is that I will cut the kit for you. When you sit down to work, you will not have to cut strips or subcut blocks — it’ll all be ready for you to get started!

If you are a fast worker (and you know who you are!), you might want to bring a small UFO or two. While the ship has lots of distractions for your free time, you may finish your quilt top and want something to work on during the optional Stitch-and-Sail sewing times.

Toward the end of our cruise, I’ll have a surprise project for you to work on. We’re going to have lots and lots of fun!

Cruise Ship

Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas

So, what’s included on the cruise? The Friendship Quilting Cruise Package includes:

Snow on the Deck

March 2013 in Virginia – Wouldn’t you rather be in the Caribbean in March 2014?

  • Eight nights aboard the Grandeur of the Seas
  • All port fees and taxes
  • Prepaid onboard gratuities
  • Trip/travel insurance
  • Two group cocktail parties
  • All onboard meals
  • Onboard entertainment
  • Quilting classes and instruction
  • Project kits and materials
  • Open Stitch-and-Sail sewing times
  • Group events, prizes, giveaways!

I’d love you to join us! For more information or to register, contact Quilt Retreats at Sea. If you have any questions, e-mail me.

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A little while ago, I had the chance to do an interview with Pat Sloan for her radio show on American Patchwork and Quilting Radio. We covered a lot of territory, talking about the Power Suits Art Quilts, the tribute quilts I make, and my new book, Creating Celebration Quilts, due out in Spring 2013. Pat’s always a lot of fun and I really enjoyed talking with her. To listen to my interview:

Don’t forget to let me know what you think!

Image for my appearance on Pat Sloan's radio show

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Recently, I was free motion quilting a baby quilt and I was interupted by skipped stitches. Everything would be perfect for a few inches and then I’d have to stop and rip. Since quilting is supposed to be fun (and this wasn’t), I did some research, started experimenting, and finally fixed the problem. Here’s what I learned – along with some words of wisdom from a few of my quilting friends.

What are Skipped Stitches?

The needle holes show where the stitches were skipped.

In free motion quilting, skipped stitches are when the needle carries the top thread into the quilt sandwich, but the thread does not form a stitch. The needle may leave a hole when it pulls out of the quilt, but the top thread also pulls out of the hole. Skipped stitches can come one at a time or several in sequence. I have a tolerance for one here and there, but groups look bad and I rip them out and try to figure out what’s causing the problem.

What Causes Skipped Stitches?

Skipped stitches are caused by incorrect timing in the stitch formation process. For stitches to form properly, the hook and needle’s bottom position must be timed just right. There are factors that can affect this:

  • How you prepare your sewing machine for free motion quilting
  • Thread size and quality
  • Needle size and type
  • Presser foot choice
  • Presser foot pressure
  • Your free motion quilting technique

As you make adjustments to solve the skipping problem, remember to change one thing at a time and test on a quilt sandwich that matches the quilt you’re working on.

Machine Preparation

Everything you need to clean your machine

  • Make sure the machine is threaded properly. This sounds simple, but a small oversight can cause big issues. Michele Scott, quilter, author, teacher, suggests turning the machine off and back on to restart or reboot to reset anything that may have become “goofy.”
  • Michele Scott also suggests trying a single hole or straight stitch throat (stitch) plate. The smaller opening leaves less room for the quilt to flap as the needle punctures the quilt sandwich, pushing it down and pulling it back up.
  • Reduce the top thread tension. Start with small changes, but don’t be afraid to approach zero. Just keep checking where the stitch locks (top thread with bobbin thread) to make sure you’re fixing your skipping problem and not causing a tension problem.
  • Make sure your feed dogs are down. I know, but check anyway. If you can’t cover them or lower them, then set the stitch length to zero to keep them from moving.
  • Make sure the needle is inserted completely and properly.
  • Clean the bobbin area and make sure there are no errant threads hiding there. Oil, if appropriate.
  • Victoria Findlay Wolfe, artist, quilter, and owner of Bumble Beans, Inc., suggests getting rid of all those dust bunnies hiding under your throat (stitch) plate. You may be surprised by how many you find!
  • Shannon Shirley, an award-winning quilter, says she gives her machine a good cleaning. Sounds like a great idea!

Thread

Successful combination of thread for this baby quilt

  • Use quality thread. This will cut down on lint (bonus!) and make a nicer stitch.
  • Try a different size thread. Sometimes really small threads can be too small to be caught by the hook. If this is consistently a problem, take your machine in to be serviced and explain the problem. This is an easy adjustment.  Try a thread that’s one step larger to see if this is the issue.
  • According to Kathy Lincoln, who teaches machine quilting, some batiks grab the thread fiber, interfering with good stitch formation. If batiks are giving you trouble, trying a finer thread could be the solution.

Needles

  • Dull or damaged needles can cause skipped stitches. Change your needle.
  • Use the right needle for your machine. I like Schmetz for my Bernina.
  • Microtex/Sharp needles work well with tightly woven fabrics, like batiks.
  • Topstitch needles have a bigger eye, which can be helpful if you are using larger thread.
  • Needles that are too small can cause flapping (why do they call it flagging?). Start with 80/12 and move up from there.
  • Kathy Lincoln says this about needles: It may seem counter-intuitive, but try going from a sharp point to a ball point needle. The ball point will separate the fibers instead of cutting through them.

Bernina presser feet, left to right: #15, #44c, BSR with clear plastic sole

Presser Feet

  • Start with whatever foot your machine manufacturer recommends. Generally, a darning foot is fine.
  • My Bernina foot #15 is my go-to foot for free motion quilting.
  • If flapping (flagging) becomes an issue, go for a foot that has more surface area, like Bernina’s #44. If you’re using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (the BSR), use the clear plastic sole. The idea is to provide as much coverage around the needle as possible to cut down on flapping.

Presser Foot Pressure

  • If the skipped stitches are caused by flapping, then increasing presser foot pressure can help reduce the flapping. While the presser foot does not actually ride on the fabric while you are free motion quilting as it does in regular sewing, increasing the pressure can limit the space within which the quilt sandwich can flap up and down.
  • Change presser foot pressure in small increments (On my Bernina, I change in increments of 5, starting with the default 50 setting) and test, test, test. For the batik baby quilt, I finally fixed the problem with a presser foot pressure set at 85.

Technique

  • Don’t push the fabric too fast. If you can’t slow your hand speed, then increase the machine speed.
  • Use your hands to keep the target section flat and firm (but not stretched or tight). I keep my hands flat, fingers at 12:00 and thumbs pointed toward each other at 3:00 and 9:00. Think of the stereotypical film director framing a shot with his hands. The area between my hands is where I stitch. Yes, you have to reposition your hands pretty often and, yes, it’s worth it.
  • Try to keep a steady, consistent speed.
  • Make a test sandwich out of the same materials you are using in your quilt. Test before you move to the quilt. Seriously. I like to skip this, but it’s best to play it safe. Use it to test tension and stitch quality.
  • I have an anonymous quilting buddy who says she switches off her machine and heads to the kitchen for an adult beverage. Hmm. That sounds like a plan. Take a break and start fresh later.

If nothing here works, then your machine timing may be off. You may need to take it in to your machine tech for service. Be prepared to sew at the shop and demonstrate the skipped stitches. Take your quilt or the test sandwich with you to the shop.

My baby quilt has a batik top, batik backing, and thin cotton batting. I was quilting on my Bernina 820 with Superior Threads’s King Tut (cotton 40-weight thread) in the top and Aurifil Mako (50-weight cotton thread) in the bobbin. The winning combination was a 90/14 topstitch needle, 1.25 top thread tension, the Bernina Stitch Regulator with the clear plastic sole set on BSR 1, and the presser foot pressure set at 85.  Now I just need to finish the binding!

For more information about this quilt, read my previous blog entry.

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If your quilt is ever going to hang in a show with pipe-and-drape construction, then your quilt needs a proper sleeve. This sleeve needs to be a 4″ tube, finished on both ends, roomy enough for the show pipes, and sturdy enough to hold up under the wear and tear of quilt show life. Here’s how to make it.

1. Cut the Fabric

From a sturdy woven fabric, cut a strip 10” wide by the one inch less than the width of your finished quilt. If your quilt is 18” wide, then you would cut a 10” x 17” strip of fabric.

Step 1: Cut

2. Finish the Ends

Hem the 10” ends of the unsewn sleeve by turning under ¼” hem, pressing, turning under another ¼” hem, and pressing again. Then, stitch in place. This covers the raw edges and creates a strong end for the sleeve. In case you care about thread color, this is the stitching that will show on your sleeve. Choose accordingly. The contrasting thread in the picture is for you, dear reader.

Step 2: Finish the Ends

3. Construct the Tube

Fold the strip WRONG sides together so that the hems are at each end and the tube is now 5” wide. I press at this stage to make things easier. Stitch along the raw edge side, taking a ½” seam allowance. Then, BASTE along the fold ½” from the edge. Yes, it sounds weird, but it’s important to do this.

Step 3: Construct the Sleeve

4. Finish the Sleeve

Press the sleeve so that the seam (raw edges) and the basting (folded edge) are nested together, one on top and one against the ironing board. I flip the seam allowance in one direction and the folded edge in the other direction. The task becomes more challenging for longer sleeves.

Step 4: Nest the Seams

Step 4: Finish the Sleeve

5. Attach the Sleeve to the Quilt Back

Pin the sleeve to the back of your quilt, centered left to right, about 1” below the top of the quilt. The raw edges should be toward the quilt and the basted fold should be away from the quilt. Do not take the shortcut of stitching the sleeve into the binding. Yes, it will save you time – unless you actually want to use the sleeve without it showing from the front. Resist the temptation.

Step 5: Attach the Sleeve

Now, hand stitch around all four sides of the sleeve, including the ends where the sleeve is open. If you don’t, the people who hang your quilt are likely to slip the pole between the sleeve and your quilt instead of inside the sleeve, leaving potential yucky residue on your artwork. When you stitch, try to catch the sleeve and the quilt backing only. If you go all the way through, your stitches will show on the front. If you catch too much batting, the quilt front could dimple a bit.

Step 5: Attach the End of the Sleeve

6. Finish the Sleeve

Now, rip out the basting that you stitched ½” away from the fold. This makes the outside of the sleeve a little longer than the side that’s against the quilt back, creating ease to go around the pole. If you don’t create this ease, the top of your quilt can appear rounded when the pole is in the sleeve. If you’ve seen this effect, you know why you want to avoid it.

Bonus Tip!

If you’ve decided not to bind the quilt, but use an escape hatch (or knife edge, pillow case construction, stitch and flip – whatever you want to call it) instead, cut the opening you use to “birth” or turn the quilt where the sleeve will go. The sleeve will cover the opening and your secret will be hidden. Laura Wasilowski calls this the trapdoor or encasement binding technique; check it out in her book Fusing Fun! Fast Fearless Art Quilts. Or click here to read Melody Johnson’s explanation of the escape hatch technique. I learned it from her at QSDS…but that’s a story for another post.

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