Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why This Quilt Works

I’m a big fan of Art Gallery Fabrics. The company taps into some great fabric designers—Maureen Cracknell, Bonnie Christine, and Amy Sinibaldi are a few of my favorites—who create beautiful, modern collections. Plus, the quality of the product can’t be beat. Between the high thread count and super-soft hand, Art Gallery’s fabrics carry a sense of elegance that others don’t.

I’ve been meaning to make an AG-only quilt for a while, something that would be a sort of cross-section of the company’s fabric lines. My friend Kim made a plus quilt back in 2015, using some AG charms from a swap I helped organize, and I loved it. Using her project as inspiration Swiping pretty much every aspect of her project, I started with a fabric pull.

I had charms from the same swap, some scrappy bits from projects past (like this one and this one), and some yardage that I could play with. Almost all of it went into my quilt top.

Here is the finished flimsy, my first of summer 2017 ...


I’m pretty excited about the results. The quilt includes a lot of disparate fabric lines and colors, but I think it works. What follows is how I approached thinking about the fabric pull and the design.

Developing a Cohesive Palette

As I culled through the AG fabrics I had on hand—from tiny trimmings in my scrap bin to the large cuts in my stash—I noted the recurring colors. In particular, there were off-greens like teal and mint, mustard, grey, all shades of pink, and blues that bordered on periwinkle. Those colors were my lowest-common denominators, and I used them to judge whether fabrics made it into the quilt. That’s not to say that other colors were avoided; a particular fabric needed to contain some aspect of that palette.

This palette got me thinking. AG fabrics play so nicely together. They don’t coordinate color-wise like Cotton and Steel fabrics do, across designers and collections, but there is a modernness to AG’s color selections that is evident in its many fabric lines. This is a contrast to other manufacturers whose fabrics I buy. Take Moda, for example. There’s no common palette in its fabric collections, even those I consider to be more modern. Sure, it’s easy to spot a Bonnie and Camille palette or French General palette, but Bonnie and Camille fabrics do not play well with French General fabrics. This is not an earth-shattering revelation, just an observation of how different fabric manufacturers use color. : )


Establishing an Overarching Design

In my mind, this project is not a scrappy quilt—a fraction of the fabrics came from my scrap bin—but I found myself implementing the same strategy I would to make a scrappy quilt. I like to use a strong, predictable design when I’m sewing something scrappy, and the plus blocks here do the job well. (Other scrappy quilts of my include Obsession and Good Day Sunshine.)

And I like to repeat certain fabrics—I’m convinced that simply using some fabrics again and again creates cohesion. That’s where my yardage came into play. Some fabrics are used for a just a block or two because that’s all I had in my scrap bin. When I had yardage that played into the palette I developed, I used those prints throughout the quilt top.

Using the Power of a “Bridge Color”

At QuiltCon 2017, in Savannah, I attended Tara Faughnan’s Playing with Solids workshop. This class promised to push us participants out of our color comfort zones. During our three hours together, Tara encouraged us to minimize unnecessary chatter and rely on our own instincts to develop two-color combinations quickly, without overthinking.

During this class, she mentioned what she called “bridge colors.” These colors—including hues like mustard, navy, and olive green—are super versatile. Using them can bring harmony to what may otherwise seem like a visual cacophony. (That’s my definition of the concept. I didn’t think to jot down many notes during the class!) Bridge colors are apparent in Tara’s recent finishes (see here), and I’d argue that my use of navy in the AG quilt works as a bridge color, creating cohesion between the main color palette and all the other colors that make an appearance.


The concept of bridge colors reminds me of articles I’ve read about—would you believe it?—bridesmaid dresses. I have worn my share of unflattering bridesmaid dresses, but some wedding-planning authorities encourage brides to dress their entourage in a color like navy, plum, or wine. Could those options be considered bridge colors because they work with most hair and skin colors?

Why do these bridge colors work in such different contexts? Could it be that they’re not straight-on blue, purple, and red but colors that have a depth and complexity? I’m not sure. It’s interesting, though, and I’ll be more mindful of my use of these colors in future quilts, for sure.

So do you think this quilt top works? Does any of my rationale ring true with you? Do you find yourself approaching projects of your own in a comparable way?

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Proliferation of Pixies

Earlier this year, I was on the lookout for a project for a swap. The guild I belong to—the NHMQG—had never done a swap before, and I wanted something interesting enough for quilters of different skill levels to sew. I had my eye on Fabric Mutt’s Pixie Basket tutorial since its debut, and those sweet mini fabric baskets seemed like a good contender.

I was smitten! My first basket came together in less than an hour, and I had all of the necessary supplies on hand. (A layer of batting and muslin gives it some substance—no special interfacing required.) I showed my creation to the guild’s board and set the swap wheels in motion.



The basket for my swap partner sewed up just as quickly as my trial run. That second basket led to two more (for quilty friends who needed a little pick-me-up), and baskets #3 and #4 led to even more (for teachers at the end of the school year). In fact, my year-to-date total is 15 Pixie Baskets! I’ve given away all but the first one I made, filling them up with gift cards or chocolates or fat quarters.

The pattern proved to be a decent way to use up scraps, and I put some cherished bits into these wee receptacles ...

These three baskets feature fabric from Rae Hoekstra, Heather Bailey,
and Lizzy House.

Fifteen Pixies are too many to fit in one picture!

Even the insides are pretty. : )

There are a few other patterns I’ve made en masse—that is, three or more at a time—including drawstring bags, totes, other totes, pouches, and tissue cozies.

How about you? Do you have any go-to patterns when you need a quick gift (or 15!)?

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How I Machine-Piece Hexagons

To read more about the finished hexagon quilt, click here.

Earlier this year, I dispelled the myth that partial seams are something to avoid. As it turns out, they’re downright easy. So I was thinking, could the same be said of the dreaded Y-seam?

To see whether I could conquer this technique, I decided to make a baby quilt out of hexagons. I consulted a few tutorials, cut my hexagons, and went for it. After machine-piecing a dozen hexagons or so, I ripped out each seam and started all over again. : (

I decided that if I had more information upfront, with more pictures, I could have saved myself the hassle. Perhaps you learn that way, too? If so, here’s how I pieced my first-ever hexagon quilt, with Y-seams that I’m proud of!

Cut the Hexagons Accurately

I have an AccuQuilt Go! If you’re sewing with hexagons, you do not need a fabric-cutting machine, but since I already owned one, I decided to invest in a hexagon die for this project. This die cuts hexagons in three sizes, and I cut my fabric with the largest of those, the 5-inch hexagon. (I think the smaller sizes would have been too fiddly to work with.)

Alternatively, I could have cut the hexagons with a specialized ruler (like the Hex N More) or have bought precut hexagons.

Make a Template and Mark the Hexagons

I made a template for marking my hexagons by running a piece of cardstock through my AccuQuilt GO! (I wouldn’t make a habit of cutting paper with my machine, but I figured doing it once in a while wouldn’t dull the die.) It is the same size as the fabric hexagons I cut. If you hand-cut your hexagons or bought precuts, you could do the same by tracing one of your hexagons onto cardstock and cutting it out.

After you have your cardstock template, draw lines a quarter of an inch from each side and punch a hole at the intersections of those lines. (I used a 1/16-inch hole punch to do that.)


Then, using this template and a pencil, mark the six intersections on the wrong side of each hexagon.

Sew the Hexagons in Group of Threes

The instructions I consulted recommended laying out the hexagons, sewing the hexagons into columns, and then sewing the columns together. I had better luck, however, sewing my hexagons into groups of threes and then sewing those trios to others.

When I’m working with groups of threes, I can consistently sew a nice Y-seam. When I add a group of three to another group of three, I still have good control and produce a beautiful Y-seam. On the other hand, when I’m working with columns, I’m always working with big, awkward chunks of fabric, and it’s harder to get my seams as precise as I would like.

Here’s how to sew these trios together, one seam at a time ...

1. After deciding on the layout for your hexagons, sew two adjacent ones together. This entails matching the corners of the hexagons, right sides together, and sewing from one mark to the other on the edges you want to join. Note: If you sew beyond one of your marks, you’ll be sewing into the seam allowance, which can cause unpleasant puckers on your quilt top. Also: Sewing hexagons requires sewing on the bias a lot—be careful not to pull or distort those bias edges as you sew them.

Check out this example that uses dark red thread to show where the seam starts and stops. I used my hand wheel to start precisely on the pencil mark, and I pinned the two hexagons together before sewing. I also backstitched at the beginning and ending of the row of stitches.


When you’re done with your seam, don’t press it. Your two hexagons (now shown in my fabric of choice for this project) will look like this …


2. Match the corners of the third hexagon with one of the first two hexagons, right sides together.


3. Finger-press the first seam out of your way, so you don’t catch it in the seam you’re about to sew.


4. Use two pins, one along the seam you will be sewing and one along the seam allowance you want to avoid sewing into.


5. Sew the second seam—again, sewing from one mark to the other and not pressing the seam when you’re done. Now your trio will look like this ...


6. The final seam is sewn exactly like the second one. Pin as needed to avoid sewing through a seam allowance. You can see how I fold my fabric, finger-pressing my seams as I go, to get those seams out of the way ...


7. Your finished trio of hexagons will look like this. Please note: I pressed my seams for the sake of the picture, but it’s best to wait until later to press.


Sew Your Groups of Three Together

You’ll follow the same principles to sew two trios together ...

Sew one seam at a time, without pressing the seams, and pin as necessary to avoid those seam allowances.




Piece the Top in Chunks

Even though you’re sewing manageable trios instead of columns, at some point you will need to deal with large swaths of hexagons.

My hexagon project was a small baby quilt, about 31 inches square, and I opted to sew the quilt in quadrants and then sew those quadrants together. There was nothing precise about how I divided up the blocks, though. I just kept sewing until all my groups of three (or random singles, because there were a few of those by the end) were used up. My sections ended up looking pretty random, more like blobs than quadrants ...


Divide up your quilt top in whatever way works for you. It may help to take a few pictures of your layout with your phone. That reference will ensure you don’t sew anything incorrectly!

Press Your Seams

At this stage, you can press your seams. Start with the intersection of any trio of hexagons, and press the seams to one side. In the picture below, I pressed the seams counterclockwise around the intersection, but I could have just as easily pressed them clockwise.


The way that first intersection is pressed affects the intersections adjacent to it, as you can see in the next picture. The two top intersections are pressed clockwise, and the bottom two are pressed counterclockwise.



Remember that you are working with many bias edges. Try not to distort the fabric as you press.

Continue until you have pressed the entire quilt top. 

Finish Your Quilt

With all the seams press, you can trim your quilt top and complete your project.




I think the key to a positive hexagon-piecing experience is patience and precision. Start small, with a baby quilt like I made, to see whether machine-piecing hexagons is for you. If you give the technique a shot and have any thoughts on fine-tuning the process, please share in the comments. Thanks!

To read more about the finished hexagon quilt, click here.

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