Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Australian-ish stars

This quilt is made for my co-worker, Australian obviously, who's husband was ill with leukemia and passed away earlier this year. He was a lovely man--they are all a lovely family--and i hope that this quilt will give them some small comfort.

Green and yellow/gold are not my favorite color combinations but they are the national colors of Australia. the Australian flag also features 7-point stars which is possible to paper-piece but i can't even imagine regular piecing those! i also wanted to finish the quilt sooner than later so i picked an easier block.  here's my interpretation of Australian Stars. i didn't notice that i had misplaced one blocks until i took these pictures--oh well--humble blocks :-)

i didn't give them the quilt 'til Christmas but i had been hoping to make it fast and in the middle of making this quilt, i really felt the slowness of quilting. this isn't a hard block to make, and i actually had pre-cut yellow strips from another quilt, but this seemed to take forever because i had a self-imposed deadline. 

i quilted words onto the quilt which makes me think that would be a really cool quilt pattern for a smallish quilt (this was just barely doable because you have to quilt from left to right (like writing) which would be hard to do on a domestic machine with a queen size-quilt (though if you had a long-arm, that would be really easy i'd think). i wrote out the words, "And these three remain, faith, hope and love. and the greatest of these is love" from 1 Corinthians.

A friend asked if the back was supposed to be a representation of a sewing machine or a house (on the side). and no, it's just leftover scraps :-)  i think this is the last of the Crate & Barrel fabric that i bought close to 20 yrs ago now(!) for a dollar a pound.

Clipped Seams

When seams get too bulky, i clip the seams in the middle--especially useful for flying geese. i got this tip from Carrie Nelson's blog (or book?) of Miss Rosie Quilt Company fame. you need really sharp tips for this--i use Fiskars scissors that has the micro-tip (see below for a photo of the scissors). Carrie says it hasn't affected her quilts and so far so good for me as well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ironing help

I'm pretty sure i got this tip from the late lamented Siimply Quilts--when ironing a several of the same unit, iron the first one, then off-set the next unit on top and press that--the extra heat will help the 1st unit--and so forth.

what i also find useful, is that if i have a lot to do, and i need to smooth out the following units, i get out the ironing pad (a thick silicone pad--it came with one of my irons but i don't remember which one) so i can just leave it face down in-between picking up the units. saves on the wrist action.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

start of a new quilt

finally done quilting that stack of quilts and now to the fun part--cutting into fabric for a new quilt!

this is Strawberry Fields (Fig Tree for Moda).

and as the concurrent leaders-and-enders project, i'm using up the 1800's scraps for a courthouse steps block.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


i have two more borders to quilt (a new-to-me simple design of leaves and flowers) and then i'll be done with this batch of quilting. this one is my 3rd bed-size quilt (2 queens & 1 king)  and i also did two baby quilts (those took less than half an hour each). can't wait to get started on a new quilt--sewing is my favorite part, quilting, not so much.

i did an all-over pattern of simple flowers and stippling on this quilt--i get inspired to do more than the normal stipple when i start (this is a really busy pattern so i wasn't looking for anything fancy) (not that i really know how to do anything fancy) but get bored 10 minutes into it but then think it's too late to change my plans.  i also always think the quilting is turning out terribly while in the middle of it, but when i'm finished and looking from afar, it always looks pretty good to me :-)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Brother PQ1500s

If you are searching for a solution to skipped stitches for the Brother PQ1500s while free-motion quilting (FMQ)--here it is:  STRETCH NEEDLES!! (also keep your stitch length to 0 and lower your feed dogs--that helps a lot)

(edited to add: stretch needles are NOT needles for stretchy fabric (those are ballpoint needles). stretch needles have a longer scarf which helps to avoid skipped stitches (but i don't know why)
i just have to write this down for posterity 'cos the journey to this point was heart-breaking (well, to me it was).  for years now, i've been sewing on a Bernina (i think it's 150 or 160)--a mid-level Bernina which i loved and had no complaints about except that 1) the arm was normal sized which meant it was hard to stuff a queen-size quilt under it to quilt, but i did and 2) it broke down after 10 yrs or so. it was repairable but it would also cost $500!!!!  my friend reminds that i had 10+ yrs of amazing precision and lovely sewing but i'm still a little bitter that it broke down when it was such an expensive machine and also because i did bring it for yearly (or so) maintenance which was pricey (because it was a Bernina).  as much as i admire the machine, i'll never get another one (unless i win the lotto).
right before the Bernina broke down, i had already been looking around for a new machine. a long-arm was out of the question (though i still dream of getting one).  i also knew that  i rarely used any of the fancy stitches on the Bernina and i straight stitched 99% of the time. some bloggers were talking about their Juki straight stitch machines and that seemed like an ideal solution. googling around, i also learned that Babylock and Brother had comparable machines.  i went to visit a Juki dealer (who no longer is one) and specifically asked for the 2010 model. the dealer did her very best (and succeeded) in talking me out of the machine. i still can't figure if she was inept or if she was hoping to just sell me a more expensive model because i literally went in and said i wanted her to order one for me to purchase and she told me how Juki's are now made in China and are no longer reliable. it was very odd. 

in the meantime, i had tried out the Brother at a quilt show and it worked great. Babylocks are sold by a LQS that has a shady reputation so i wasn't that interested in buying from them  (that same LQS is now the Juki dealer). i did find a store (30 miles away so not too close) that sold Juki's, tried it out, and it seemed comparable to the Brother--so at this point, price was the only issue.

the Brother was anywhere from $200-$400 cheaper than the Juki! i got it for $600 on-line. i felt a bit guilty because a local dealer sold the machine as well but their asking price was $200 more and they wouldn't budge on the price. i have to say though, they have been nothing but kind when i've brought in the machine under the warranty.

the good thing about buying the machine online was that, even though it sews great out of the box, like any machine, there are quirks and learning curves--and if i had  bought my machine from the local dealer (they're about 1 mile away from my house), i would've been bringing it in every other day because of questions i had--instead i had to figure it out myself. little things like learning how to use the automatic needle threader, or cleaning out the bobbin area & case frequently (little dust balls will cause skipped stitches when piecing). 

piecing is lovely on the Brother--absolutely no complaints there. i was in love (and so happy with  my bargain price) for months--until i had to FMQ my first quilt on it. it was absolutely awful. skipped stitches ALL the time. i could hear and sense the machine when it skipped a thread but there was nothing i could do about it except go over it again which looks awful. the worst was right next to a seam--going over a bulky seam was possible but not when sewing right next to a seam.
so i would just have to go back and forth on the skipped part and hope for the best after washing it--but it looks terrible! i'm not a professional quilter but i've quilted all my quilts on the Bernina, so i know it wasn't user error--but a machine problem.  it also made me sad to think that even though i'm not selling my quilts, that i couldn't sell them with that nasty looking quilting on it. 

i brought it back to the local dealer (twice!) who checked the machine and said there wasn't nothing wrong with it. now the technician is also one of the owners of the store, and i could be wrong, but he has this honest vibe about him--i didn't think he was lying to me, i just thought this machine, this "Brother" just couldn't handle FMQing like a Bernina could. 

i googled endlessly to see if there was a solution out there. a blogger with a juki said she sometimes had problems with skipping but using a heavy top-stitch needle helped, so i went and bought some 100/16 top-stitch needles--nope! the dealer suggested titanium needles because they slip in and out a touch faster and this is a timing issue (but since it sews two pieces of fabric together perfectly, it's not really a machine problem) but that didn't help either. so frustrating.

i started dreaming of buying a juki after all. fortunately/unfortunately that shady LQS is the only juki dealer in town now so that stopped me. also this machine was only a year old--not crazy expensive like my Bernina, but not one to just throw away either. i thought about re-selling it, but felt uneasy about selling it to a fellow quilter knowing that it couldn't FMQ satisfactorily. if you're only planning to sew straight stiches and to FMQ, only 50% of the functions were working!

i don't remember exactly how i heard about it, but i got wind of a Brother 1500 yahoo group so as a last-ditch effort, i joined to the group. looking through the archives, this was one of the first topics to pop up--skipped stitches!! and the solution was so easy--STRETCH NEEDLES! it almost seemed too easy but i went out immediately and got a pack of them and that was it--not a single skipped stitch afterwards. (well, one or two, but after adjusting the stitch length and remembering to lower the feed dogs, all is well). 

it's almost too good to be true--but it is true! i had to write this all down for catharsis--but also hopefully to help other Brother owners out there who are googling for help. i just finished quilting two queen-size quilts and in the middle of a king-size one and it's going perfectly--i'm remembering how peaceful it is to just sit and FMQ. hooray!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Six Degrees

Never say never. i remember thinking that i didn't like medallion quilts but here we are. Pattern is by Carrie Nelson of Miss Rosie's Quilt Collection, called Six Degrees. the pattern book is older, published in 2005 but the patterns are still ones that i want to make.  i used a FQ bundle of Vintage Modern (Bonnie & Camille for Moda). originally the center star points were the same aqua blue as in the outer border but when i had the quilt on the basting table, the star points were just not standing out enough. there was no way that i was going to rip up the center of the quilt, so i appliqued the triangle points onto the stars--up close you can see a tiny sliver of the original aqua underneath but you would have to squint!

Saturday, January 4, 2014


made with a jelly roll - Hullabaloo by Urban Chiks. pattern is Summer Breeze by Kim Brackett (Scrap-Basket Surprises). i made one of my first quilts for this friend around 20 yrs ago(!) and now this is for her baby. she does NOT like loud colors so this fabric line seems subdued enough for her (it's not about the baby--it's about the mother)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas sewing 2013

as little gifts to friends, i sewed up these Christmas ornaments (over 30 of 'em) using the selvedges from a FQ bundle--Vintage Modern from Bonnie & Camille for Moda. pattern from Ellis & Higgs blog.

At the kids' school, i teach sewing to the 4/5th graders in A's class. found this super easy tutorial to make stockings, to use to teach the kids. i told my co-worker about it and she mentioned that one of the charities she works with, gives out stockings to homeless Veterans filled with toiletries. the kids didn't want to participate, but i ended up making 13 of them to give to her. (only the top one is patchwork, the others are just plain fabric.) can't find the link/blog name for the pattern--i like how the pattern is somewhat reversible or at least without exposed seams.