Revisiting Unfinished Quilts

There are a couple quilts that were started a few years ago that got put on hold for a couple reasons. Having an injured elbow was an excuse to procrastinate revisiting a quilt project that was being difficult.

A quite legitimate excuse because free-motion quilting was not something I could do. Now that the elbow is better, I have to get past the reasons why they were set aside before the elbow became another reason.

trimming quilt blocks

For this quilt, I tried several quilting patterns and ripped out several before deciding to just have several different quilting patterns in the quilt. Using a quilt-as-you-go method means each piece can be quilted differently. Plus, I was one block shy of having enough for a 5×6 block quilt. It was always easier to find something else to work on than to plow through scraps to see if there was something for that last block.

When I pulled it out of the pile of things to get done a couple days ago, I found that it needed the one block plus a total of ten blocks needed to be quilted.

Yes, this is a quilt-as-you-go type of quilt. I call the method Unit Quilting. It is a construction method that I developed over 25 years ago. It has since been published in an article I authored, titled A New Curve to Quilt-As-You-Go in American Quilter’s Society magazine American Quilter, summer 2003, vol. XIX No.2.

One of the things that is special about this technique is not even taken advantage of in this quilt. With Unit Quilting, quilt-as-you-go is not limited to standard block construction, but can accommodate curves and irregular shapes. The banner photo at the top of the home page for this blog is a close up of a quilt made using Unit Quilting method. Here is a picture of the whole quilt:


Each color area was quilting as a separate unit. The term unit better describes these non-block shapes. Then they were trimmed, sewn together and seams were bound. Much easier than trying to quilt a large quilt.

Unlike the quilt that is in progress, all the units in this quilt all have the same quilting pattern.

Hopefully, in a few days there will be more progress to share.


Experimenting with quilt techniques

This is a close-up of a small reverse applique sample quilt in progress. Each of the circles is being outlined in a hand embroidered stem stitch using hand dyed perle cotton thread. It is a subtle, but effective outline that gives the circles more definition.

quilt sampler 3

The purple fabric was layered on top of a piece of blue fabric and then the two were stitched together in a grid. Some of the rectangles of purple layer were cut away to reveal the blue fabric underneath.

Then pieces of the colorful batik fabric was stitched as circles to the back of the blue/purple sandwich. On the front, the blue and purple layers were cut away inside the circles.

All the layers were backed with flannel for batting and a cream colored fabric for backing . Then the whole thing was machine stitched two more times along the grid lines.

Next, it was time to play with some thread embellishing. The circles were machine stitched around numerous times to give them an outer glow and hand stitched along the edge to give more definition. Hand stitched lines along a few of the grid lines add to the movement and balance in the quilt design.

The impetus for this quilt was twofold: 1. to experiment with raw edge machine reverse applique, and 2. to work without the constraints of traditional quilting rules.

The second one is an exercise in developing more freedom in designing and creating quilts. That does not mean that no rules were followed in making this quilt, just not traditional ones. Rules help to get predictable results. And once one has achieved a certain level of mastery of traditional rules in a given art form, then they are able to achieve predictable results.

Certain rules make sense for certain applications. That is how many traditional quilting rules were probably established. Most quilters have heard about making your stitches short enough that they are not toe nail catchers. That was a reasonable rule back when most quilts were made for the bed, but not necessary for art quilts that hang on the wall.

By understanding the basis of traditional rules, then it is possible to bend or break rules and make new rules with effectiveness in achieving desired results.

With the change in the purpose of quilt to a decorative art, the many of the same rules do not need to apply anymore. Setting aside those rules creates an opportunity to experiment with techniques that will yield different results.

quilt sampler 1

There was a third reason why I am working on this quilt. Having just had minor surgery on my foot and having finished my latest temari, I needed a new project to work on while I keep my foot elevated.

In the picture above, I have my foot propped up on a footstool with a couple pillows while outline stitching the circles on this quilt. I have my bright task light to make my job easier and I have my wonderful dog to keep me company.

quilt sampler 2

The idea of experimenting with new ideas and breaking rules must have been contagious. My sweet dog decided that she would try out napping on my end of the sofa behind me instead of on her denim quilt next to me. She must have thought it was a successful experiment since she stayed until I got up much later. She knows that the rule is to be on her quilt if she is on the sofa. She has stretched this rule to the point that often only a small part of her is on her quilt, like she is here. Truly, she is a kindred spirit.

Annual Quilt Guild Meeting

On Saturday, I attended the Richmond Quilt Guild’s annual quilt guild meeting for all of our guild chapters. Each chapter had a table set up to show off some of their beauties.

bits and pieces table

hospitality table

not sure whose table

not sure whose table 2

friendship circle table

james river heritage quilters

Yes, those are temari you see at one of the tables. I was asked if I would show some of my temari on our chapter’s table. The two small quilts in front and center are also mine.

temari and quilts at guild meeting

Getting ready for our guild quilt show coming up later this year, a few members from each chapter made don’t touch quilt signs which of course are quilts.

don't touch 5

don't touch 4

don't touch 3

don't touch 2

The one I made is in the center row, slightly to the right of center: white dog on yellow background with words “Pet dogs…not quilts!” I designed the quilt in Word on the computer, using a copyright free image, and then printed on fabric. I used pastel dye stick to color the image background.

don't touch 1

There were many attendees, but that is just a small fraction of the total number of members from all the chapters.

guild meeting big picture

There was the usual business part of the meeting with each chapter giving a report for their chapter including such things as programs, finances, charitable giving, etc. Throughout the morning, there were many door prizes from gift certificates to fabric stores to lovely items such as the tote sitting on the floor in the foreground of the picture above. Of course there was a pot luck luncheon with a fabulous array of homebaked goodies. I did not get to stay to hear the guest speaker as I had to go somewhere else.

Knot Quilt Almost Done

Almost, meaning it is closer to done than not done. The front is finished but there is still work to be done on the back which includes a rod pocket, hand sewing the inside edge of binding on back and a label.

knot quilt 2

After making the quilt top, this quilt project got derailed by two things: temari and lack of inspiration.
I just could not find the solution to how it needed to be quilted. So, I let it hang on the sewing room wall for months, until one day I decided to tackle it, but with no better ideas than before. Fortunately, after several failed attempts, it hit me that instead of having the quilting following the knot patterns, it needed to emphasize the oak leaf hydrangea leaves.

And it worked. To outline the leaves, I had to add lines where the leaves would have shown through the knot design since I wanted the leaves to be continuous and not cut off by the knot patterns. Quilting outlined the leaves and the major veining of them and then the rest of the background was quilted in another color.

knot quilt 11

Since there are some large areas of less densely quilted areas near the edge, those areas tended to bubble up. To cure that and to make sure the quilt would lay flat, I basted along just those areas then tugged on the lose thread end to ease the fullness out until it lay flat. Then I tied off the basting thread.

knot quilt 7

The next step was to attach binding. No amount of wishful thinking would help me find the perfect fabric either in my fabrics or at a store. I could have used a navy blue to go with the almost solid navy blue lines, but it would have looked too heavy. Any dyed fabric would look solid, heavy and just not right with it because this quilt top is white colored with fabric markers and pastel dye sticks.

The only solution that I would be happy with is to make binding that went with the quilt design. Whit fabric was cut and pressed into single fold binding. Next, using the same blue fabric marker used for the major knots, I colored the edges to imitate the bands in the knot work.

knot quilt 8

As you can see from the picture of the back, that only the front binding on the quilt has been sewn in place. The raw end was trimmed and folded to the back.

knot quilt 12

When I flipped the quilt over, I really liked how the quilting on the back looked but decided the leaves could use a little more color to separate them from the background a little more. Out came the pastel dye stick again. First, a little red, then orange, and finally (not shown) some highlights with yellow. After the back is finished, I will post a picture of it.

knot quilt 9

For the back binding, I found a scrap of fabric that complimented the orange backing fabric nicely and would look good with the navy blue thread that the front binding was sewn with. That is important to me because the outside edge of both are sewn together using color chosen for the quilt front binding.

To hold the back binding in place without distorting with pins, I used fusible web tape. Then the binding is stitched along the outer edge. I stitched with the top side up so that I could be sure to stitch down the center of the blue line on the edge of the binding.

knot quilt 10

While stitching the outside edge, when approaching a corner, I paused to add use my fabric marker to continue the line around the corner at the end of the of the overlapping binding. I could have done this before, but did not think of it till I reached a corner. The were two reasons to continue this line: 1. it looks more finished and in keeping with the closed knots in design and 2. the stitching would have shown there and looked out of place.

To learn how the knot patterns were generated, go to my previous post on this quilt, Knot Quilt Not Done.


3D Quilts- real, not illusory

Making things in 3D, real and not illusory, is a challenge I enjoy. I think it started with a couple origami books that probably my father bought when I was a child. I made every model in both books. I went on to making other paper models of things like polyhedrons, imaginary birds, etc. when in college.

I moved on to quilts, then came back to 3D by combining 3D and quilts. Both of the following quilts were made last year.

corrugated tessellation #1

Corrugated Tessellation #1

Technically, by the commonly accepted definition of a quilt as having two layers of fabric with a batt (which is sometime fabric or other material) in between and stitching holding together the three layer, Corrugated Tessellation #1 is a quilt. Although it has more than three layers, what and how it is quilted might be considered questionable my some. The top layer of fabric is machine stitched to a layer of stabilizer. The black back fabric encases a couple layers of heavyweight stabilizer (which are stitched together). And finally the folded top is hand stitched to the flat back with beads in the valleys. The beads on the peaks serve not only decoration, but hold the shape of folded intersections.

corrugated tessellation #1 close up

This small quilt is 12″ x 12″ x 1″. It utilizes a lightweight stabilizer as the batting on the 3D part and a heavy weight stabilizer for the 2D part.

Blue and White Double Pleat Square Tessellation Garden

Blue and White Double Pleat Square Tessellation Garden

Another small 3D quilt. It is approximately 15.25″ x 15.25″ x 1.25″. The blue fabric is one piece (except the border) and the white flowers are separate units tucked into the folds of the blue fabric. Both the white fabric and the hand dyed blue fabric were hand colored with texture rubbings using pastel dye sticks. When the pleats were folded, the textures were not visible until the pleats were pulled up and stitched together with beads to form square flowers.

blue and white double pleat close up

The quilt is self batted, meaning the folds of both the blue and the white fabrics become the inner layer that is used as the batting, with the layers held together with machine quilting.

I tend to not like picking favorites, since each quilt has something about it that makes it special, but this is one of my favorites.

Instead of limiting myself to just quilts, I have expanded into anything fiber, and lately it is three dimensional that holds my interest.

Note: the pictures are not very good representations of the quilts for two reasons. It is difficult for me to photograph them and one of my photo bulbs died so the lighting was even more compromised.

Knot Quilt Not Done

knot quilt- just the top

knot quilt- just the top

The design for this quilt was made using the Perlin Knot Generator. This is an online widget that is fun to play with. To start and stop the animation, you press “toggle animation”. I made a bunch of designs by randomly selecting the toggle button and then used a snipping tool to capture and save the images. From a couple of the designs in this quilt, I rearranged some elements to create my own design.

This quilt top has been hanging on my design wall above my sewing machine, teasing me every time I come to get supplies for making a new temari. I think is begging to be finished. Sometimes what goes on the back  of one of my quilts is suggested by what is on the front or how it is going to be quilted. I just have not thought that far ahead, but….

Hmm, an idea about knots has popped into my head. I’m thinking it will be a combination of machine quilting and hand ties (then the knot quilt will have another kind of knot).

I think that at least basting the top to batting and backing won’t put to much strain on the injured elbow, so I will hopefully get that done over the weekend. I just have not decided what to do for the backing.

About the quilt top: It is a whole cloth. The design was traced with a graphite pencil onto the fabric using my homemade light box. I used some fabric markers. They worked fairly well, but had a tendency for the color to pool wherever I started, stopped, or paused, hence the lack of uniformity of line width. At first this bothered me, now it doesn’t. I think it was this issue combined with me new infatuation with making temari that drew me away from finishing this quilt. To fill in the lines, I used pastel dye sticks. And for the background pastel dye sticks were used to make rubbing of oak leaf hydrangea leaves and rubbings of a basket weave texture plate meant for embossing.

Now, it is time to move on and make progress towards finishing it.

Holiday Bazaar

temari display at craft bazaarThis past Saturday, I participated in the Holiday Craft Bazaar, hosted by the American Sewing Guild at a local church. The picture above is of my table which had (from left to right) sterling silver earrings made by my son, temari, quilted boxes, folded fabric ornaments, re-usable fabric wraps and bags with tags sets, and fabric origami butterfly pins (scattered around table).

The quilt and the large temari were for display only. The quilt was for a backdrop to hide an ugly rack.

While sitting at my table, I worked on making a new temari. There were several people who knew that the embroidered thread balls were temari, but many asked about what they were and how they were made. It was fun to share.

Oversized Crazy Pieced Foundation Bird Block Quilt

oversized crazy pieced foundation bird block

oversized crazy pieced foundation bird block

Currently, I am working on two quilts. Well, actually more if I were to count a couple of quilts that have been set aside for when I am inspired to finish them.

One is made with an odd fabric that I could not figure out how to use it until recently, but that is not the one in the picture. Maybe that one will be featured in another post as it had its own set of interesting challenges.

The one pictured here is the other one I am currently working on. It started as a foundation block I found on McCall’s Quilting website. It is the Bird Block, a free foundation-pieced quilt block pattern by Melinda Honn. My quilts are typically my original designs, completely, but I made an exception this time.

I wanted to start right away because I was eager to try something: using crazy pieced fabric for the fabric pieces in an enlarged foundation block for a small wall quilt. So, I found a foundation block on internet and enlarged it from the originally intended 5″ x 6″ size to 18″ x 18″. To do this, I enlarged the design 300% taking it up to 15″ x 18″ and then I added a vertical 1 1/2″ strip to the left and extended the units on the right side by 1 1/2″.

I crazy pieced scraps of fabric create larger pieces to use for the pieces. When the oversized block was done, I added a border.

The top is done and basted together with batting and backing. Now it needs to be quilted and finished with binding, rod pocked and label. Oh, and for the eye, it might make a fabric covered button.

I’m thinking for my next oversized, crazy pieced foundation block quilt, I will design my own block, one based on one of the birds that visit my yard, but not until this  one is finished.

Releafed- a quilt



This quilt began many years ago as a sample, experimenting with direct printing using a dye product for which the printed image develops in the sun. It was a fabric sample that hid in my fabric scraps until one day several weeks ago I came across it while was searching for something small to do between other larger projects.

The center fabric that was printed from real leaves with Inkodyes in a purplish color looked like it needed more color to bring it to life. To color in the printed leaves, pastel dye sticks by Pentel were used. The scattered leaves had no focal point and therefore not very interesting to me. That is probably why the piece of fabric languished in a box of scraps for years.

Taking a leaf from an Oak Leaf Hydrangea in our garden, I made rubbings to give the design more depths with a second layer of leaves. These rubbings were made using pastel dye sticks and then more color was added by coloring them in with the dye sticks. A pigment pen was used to sharpen the edges of the leaf rubbings.

Still, it was missing something. Using a piece of mesh fabric, I filled the background spaces with rubbings of the mesh. The background rubbing did several things: grounded the leaves so they were not floating, connected the leaves, and added a color that finishes a split complimentary scheme. The complimentary color for purple is yellow, so the yellow green and the yellow orange are the split compliments.

The quilting pattern is a simple repeat that I made on the computer from the tip of a leaf in a rotating pattern. The quilting was kept simple so it was not a distraction from the leaf prints and to keep the project short and simple.

The purple border and the orange tan binding finish the quilt and tie into the colors in the center.

This spring for the second year in a row, many of the trees in our area were stripped bare by inchworms. I was very relieved when the trees releafed. Unfortunately, I believe that many homeowners had bare trees taken down due to mistakenly thinking they were dead.

This quilt also got releafed with a second layer of leaves. I am also relieved that the leaf print sample was finally turned into a lovely quilt. I saw potential in the fabric and could not scrap it permanently.

The “Releafed”  quilt was an enjoyable and rewarding project.

Charity Leaf Quilt

full view

full view

This quilt started without a plan, except to finish up scraps of yellow, orange and red fabrics from a previous quilt project. The scraps were cut into rectangles that were 4″ by whatever length could be cut from a piece. These 4″ wide pieces were sewn together to form strips.

In making this quilt, I set up some rules and then deliberately broke them.

I decided to trace leaves on all of the light colored pieces, then colored each with texture rubbings. The exceptions were a leaf on a medium value piece, two  paw prints instead of leaves and leaving one light colored piece empty.

leaf detail

leaf detail

paw print detail

paw print detail

For the alternate rows, I found a purple fabric that was long enough, but not wide enough. A light purple fabric was the right size to stretch the purple, but to contrasting. So, using the same texture that was used in the leaves, I textured the fabric to darken it and tie it in with the rest of the quilt design. I split the purple off center and inserted the textured fabric then cut the pieced purple into horizontal strips.

For the quilting pattern, I wanted to tie it into the leaves and visually reinforce the horizontal lines. In the wide warm color rows, I chose to create a undulating vine with alternating leaves. So the quilting pattern would be more dynamic, the leaf direction alternates with each row. Also to prevent the pattern from creating columns of repeating leaves, the start of undulating line was offset an inch with each row. For the purple rows, to reflect the vine pattern, I used a undulating wave stitch that was also stitched in an undulating wave. The seams between the rows were quilted with a zigzag on the seam.

The perfect backing fabric was a few inches short of being long enough. This problem was solved by adding a wide strip of the light colored purple with a label in it horizontally. I did not measure the length correctly and it was still short by about 1/2″, so another narrower strip was added at the other end of the backing. The mistakes along with setting up rules that were broken add more character and interest to the quilt than it would have otherwise had, making it a better quilt.

quilt back showing one end with label strip

quilt back showing one end with label strip