Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Quilt Soup

I wanted to get some hands-on time with an Innova long arm quilting machine. I decided it was time to jump in by taking a class at the Virginia showroom of the Longarm Network. They were offering a class called Quilt Soup and it seemed a good fit for me.
Their shop is big and bright and filled with thread and machines. Definitely my kind of place. The staff is super friendly, helpful and so supportive.
The Innova longarm is a great machine and when I'm ready to upgrade they are at the top of my list. The support is excellent and they don't just sell you a longarm, they empower you to be your own technician which is something I love. I'm not afraid of working on my own sewing machines as long as I have the support I need to do so. For this reason I'm confident this is the machine for me.
The class introduced several quilting motifs and encouraged us to use the many different books out there to incorporate as many as possible into the piece. I likely used way more swirls than I needed, but they are such a great filler. I'm so glad I took the class. It really helped me feel like I'm on the right track with my creative journey.

So, if you want to practice your free motion quilting on your domestic machine, or try out some things with your longarm I recommend you pull out a couple of those panels you bought for some crazy reason and get stitching. You never know where your creativity will lead. Besides, it is only fabric and thread.

Monday, November 28, 2016

In the Mail Monday

I was recently introduced to this quilting idea book and thought it would be a great addition to my growing quilting library. I will often go back to my bookshelf when beginning a quilting project. I want to find something that will work with the project on the frame.
My latest shipment of thread came from Superior Threads, too. At this rate I will never run out of thread. I do like having so many options when quilting or top-stitching. I need to quilt more things.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Charity Quilting: Leftovers

I spent some time working through what seemed like an endless bin of 2.5" squares leftover from so many charity quilts. I pieced up enough 9-patch blocks to make a dancing 9-patch. I grabbed a fun print and made up a top. This makes saving up all those 2.5" squares make so much sense!
I also pieced my last jelly roll race quilt top that I had started a couple months ago. Purples and greens, some of my favorites.
One afternoon I quilted them up.
Machine-finished binding and some labels and they were ready for drop off with Annapolis Quilts for Kids.
Here is my bag of quilts, five in all counting the three from my last charity quilting post.

2016 Charity Quilt Count: 46

If you're looking for me today, I'll be working on Bonnie Hunter's latest mystery quilt. Maybe I'll get last year's mystery quilt quilted before the end of the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Snarky Embroidery

If you are like me, you do a search for "mean cross stitch" or "foul language embroidery" when you want a quick giggle. Warning, most of what you find won't be safe for work, or children, or sensitive souls. I am not a child, nor sensitive, though I can be childish at times.

A friend of mine recently turned 49 and isn't exactly excited about the prospect. When I tried to wish her a happy birthday, she said "meh" with a shrug. I said "all your dreams are dead" and she cackled. I felt compelled to mark the occasion appropriately by creating something no one else would ever give to her.
I started with these awesome letters from Urban Threads Embroidery called Inked Alphabet. They have so many awesome designs and I love when I can make one of them really shine. I pulled the letters to join with a font within my embroidery design software. I thought this was a good match. I picked really subdued colors for this. I want the work to draw the eye, not the colors. I set the machine to stitching and worked on other things while it churned away embroidering mean words and breaking the thread.
Once it was stitched out, I drew some lines as guides and got quilting. The spiderweb-like effect wasn't really planned. I did want rays shooting out from the D in dreams and I managed that. Overall I'm pleased with the quilting. The quilting was hand guided on my long arm quilting machine frame. The finished size is 10" high by 12" wide.
Not everyone will really get my dark humor; I get that. Someday, you will look back on your life, and I truly hope you look back on the many wonderful things you've done. When I turn 50 I'm going to accept that all my dreams are dead.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How I Block my Knitting

I've been working on Stephen West's latest mystery knit along since it started. After weaving in what seemed like a hundred tails it was time to block. I've had several questions about how I block my knit projects so I thought I should share on the blog. Pictures are a wonderful thing. NOTE: this shawl is made with superwash wool/nylon blend yarn. Other fibers may not react the same way.
After weaving in the yarn ends it is time to block. Do you have to block you knit or crochet projects? Absolutely not. Why do you block a knitted piece? To give it a defined shape and open up lace designs. I also like to wash my piece before blocking to remove anything it may have picked up during the knitting process. It takes weeks to finish a shawl and during that time the project is toted around in a bag, handled by me during work, and occasionally touched by other people. A wash is in order. One more note about blocking, this is really for natural fibers such as wool or cotton. Acrylic yarn won't take to blocking very well.
Shove that shawl into a bowl and wet thoroughly with cool water. Sometimes it is easier if you fill the bowl, squishing the work into the water, and walk away for 10 minutes or so for the fiber to soak up the water. Washing is also a good way to release any dye that may be lingering in the fibers. Don't worry too much about it being picked up by other fibers. If dye isn't sticking to the yarn in the first place it isn't likely to stick to it in another place. It is about the chemistry required to fix the dye to the fibers.
I use a squirt of dish soap when washing my hand knits. It isn't any kind of fancy soap. If you are worried about harsh chemicals, you can use baby shampoo or any of a hoard of soaps designed for the purpose. I squeeze and scrunch and turn the lump of knit fabric around in the bowl. I don't stress the fibers too much. Rinse well.
I place a colander in the bowl to keep it from sitting in the sink. You can just use your bowl after you turn out the knitted piece. If you have time, you can sit the wet shawl in the colander and walk away for 15 minutes for it to drain a little on its own before you squeeze out the excess water. I usually fold the shawl in half and squeeze the water out from one end of the folded piece. I don't wring the shawl, I only squeeze. You aren't aiming for a dry shawl, you are aiming to make it so it doesn't drip on the way to the blocking mats.
When you reach the end you will have a very damp shawl. Some people roll the work in a towel to remove even more moisture but I have the space to leave a shawl for a day or more and I like to have plenty of time to work with the piece. The drier it is when you start the less time you have to work with it. Time for the exciting part!
Gather your tools: foam matting, t-pins, blocking wires, knit blockers, and a yard stick. I included links for most of these things are at the end of this post.
For this shawl I wove my blocking wires along portions of the top and stabilized that edge. This is how I usually begin. I begin in the middle of the longest edge and work out to either end. I then go to the middle at the bottom edge and work my way out to the ends. You don't have to block as aggressively as I do. If you only wet the work and laid it flat you would change the shape. This is one of the magical things about blocking your work. When the piece is completely dry, you can pull all your pins and wires. The piece may relax a little, so if you want defined points you should be a little more aggressive with the blocking.
Use the wires for long edges, pins for pointy bits and blockers for sections that would take too many pins or won't work with a wire. The wire is also great for defining a line of points like I did on this Bosc Pear shawl. It allowed me to pull all the points out with a pair of blocking wires and keep them in a line much easier than it would have been with the 20-30 pins it would have taken without the wires. If a line of stitching seems to be wavering in a way you don't like just smooth it with your hand until it is more to your liking. The wet fabric is pretty forgiving.

Design: Building Blocks by Stephen West, pattern on Ravelry
Foam matting: anti-fatigue matting from Lowes
T-pins: You can find these at most craft or craft stores and from Knit Picks
Blocking wires: Knit Picks blocking wires
Knit Blockers: Knitters' Pride from Amazon
Yard stick: Best price is usually at a home improvement warehouse

Friday, November 18, 2016

Travel Knitting: Garter Breeze

Because travel begs for a new project, I grabbed a print out of Garter Breeze off my printer and a collection of Knit Picks in Stroll Sport before leaving.
The 120 stitch cast on slowed me down a little, but not much.
I hope I don't run out of yarn before I reach the bind off for this one as it seems Knit Picks no longer has this yarn available.
The pattern is by Stephen West and is available both on Ravelry (it is called Smooth Move) and in his latest book West Knits Best Knits.
I made good progress during my trip. I also spilled my coffee into my lap and my knitting on the first day there. Washing your knitting the hotel sink while it is still on the needles is an adventure.
I'm still working on it now that my travel is done. This will be an amazing finish. When I finish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Odds and Ends

After the reveal of the Building Blocks shawl from Stephen West I'm still working on the final sections. Don't let my slowness fool you, I will finish this project! The weaving in will be the death of me, so if I have 10 minutes or so of free time I will sit still and weave in some ends. Because, no matter how much I wish, there is no weaving-in faerie.
What can you do with Electric Quilt besides make blocks or plan layouts? You can print up a worksheet to decide on your quilting plan. I printed the quilt design with block outlines so I could see the blocks without color.
I used my Frixion pen to make some scribbles, trying different things until I found some I liked. I use the Frixion so that if I decide I don't like a single design I can easily erase my marks. You can erase the lines with the end of the pen, or make a pass with a dry iron to remove all the marks in a single pass.
I found that a local craft store had these letters on sale. While the photo is horrible because of the light from the window, the encouragement is awesome! It is so nice to continue to add to my creative space.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Adding Charm

Last month I needed an easy project. I pulled down my ever-growing stack of 5" charms and pulled some squares to make fun crib quilt. How does one get a disturbingly tall stack of 5" charms? Just trim your scraps to size and keep doing this without a plan to get rid of the darn things. It does mean I can work up a quilt pretty quickly if I need to.
I didn't have a person to give this quilt to, but I figure it will make a great gift for someone's new addition to the family at some point in the future. I had two yards of green flannel that would be perfect for the back of a cuddle quilt. It might shrink and crinkly but that won't change the warmth it will provide.
A simple basket-weave quilting design worked up quickly.
It also created this amazing texture!
I will have to use this more often now that I see how wonderful it is.
I was going to cut binding, but I was pretty sure I could find five 2.5" strips in my stack of strips. Yes, I cut those from the leftovers, too. Within minutes I had what I needed to make a perfectly wonderful scrappy binding. Overall, a great project. Now I just need to find it a home.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Charity Quilting

I spent some time working on some more charity quilts for Annapolis Quilts for Kids.
Whenever I drop off quilts with Quilts for Kids I pick up a couple kits. Working with local quilting charities is a great way to get started with quilting or just to practice the skills you already have. They can offer pre-cut kits and introduce you to quilters at all levels of quilting.
I like to know that I'm able to give back to my local community while doing something I love.

Megan at The Bitchy Stitcher recently wrote an excellent article on how no one should compare themselves to others. It was a great read and I highly recommend both her humorous stories and her more serious pieces. She is creative, and funny, and just plain awesome!

2016 Charity Quilt Count: 44

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Full Yard of Brains

Remember when I shared my recent Spoonflower acquisition? Well, I sat still long enough to put together these smart head-coverings.
I spent some time making one to ensure I knew what I was doing. Cutting and sewing is pretty straightforward.
I finished all the edges with my serger for a durable finish.
Then I zipped through the other three. For the record, these are great to cover up your questionable hair choices. They also double as the perfect last-minute Halloween costume.

To pick up your own, you should pop over to Spoonflower and support Francine by buying one brain-kerchief or a full yard of brain-kerchiefs.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Un-paper Towel

There are now loads of people offering alternatives to paper towels on Etsy. They are made out of many different fabrics and can add a nice touch to your kitchen. They also make a nice house-warming gift for that frugal friend. I had a stack of squares of flannel leftover from more than a few projects and deciding it was time to hem the squares and share my process.
I always press my fabrics. This helps me cut straighter. I cut my squares to 11.5" by 11.5". This will yield a towel about 11" by 11" after hemming. You will get three towels out of 1/3 yard of fabric and maybe have enough left over for a couple little (6" by 6") towels, too. Cut them to any size that works for you, just realize that you need enough size to hem them with the serger.
For speed and a nice finish, I use my serger. I set up for a narrow 3-thread rolled-hem. I use a Polyarn from Superior for the top looper to make a smooth rolled-hem. Check with your manual to set up your machine. I practiced with a few scraps to get the hem I liked the best. You may like a wider hem that covers more of the edge. Do what makes you happy. 
I stop with the needle about 3 inches from the edge of the fabric so I can round the corners.
About 3 inches from the corner is where I grab onto the fabric to pull it across the bias to guide it through the machine. The machine will continue to feed the fabric. Keep hold of the edge and guide it around the corner.
I didn't round the last corner. Instead I just stitched right across the edge. I might add a loop to these in the future, but I figure as an un-paper towel it really just needs to be a rag that doesn't unravel during use or going through the washer.
There really isn't much waste when doing this with the serger. I put the cut away fabric around the finished towel to show that you only lose a couple square inches when you round the corners.
I worked through my stack of squares and even made some little ones (6" by 6") that will be good for wiping small things or used as a coaster.
If you decide to use these directions I would love to see photos of your project. Make sure you are not a no-reply blogger if you leave a comment on this post. If you are a no-reply blogger I won't be able to reply to your comment to get you my email so you can send in a photo.

You can find my tutorial for cloth napkins in the side bar or here.