Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hooray, I Made a Runner!

Have you encountered one of those quilt patterns that you can’t shake? It could be a matter of days or, in my case, years, but it’s something you have to make? That was my experience with this table runner, discovered on Flickr years ago. It’s fairly simple, not bucket-list-worthy, yet I knew I needed one of my own.

Well, I made it—hooray! And not a moment too soon. The sideboard in my dining room has been sporting a Christmas runner my mom made. (I’d like to say that I put it out early, for Christmas 2017, but we both know that’s not true.)

I am pleased to present the non-Christmas runner
I made for my dining room.

I had a layer cake of French General’s Petite Prints Deux on hand and toned down the fabric’s bright salmon and berry with some Essex Linen in flax and some burgundies from my scrap bin.

Everything was looking rather traditional for my taste, so I bound the project with Kona Pewter, to give it a little something. My internal monologue throughout the binding process told me to stop. I would hate the gray binding and have a lot of “unsewing” to do! Once I saw the runner on the sideboard, though, with a silver-framed mirror above it and silver knobs below it, I knew I made the right decision.


Kona Pewter did not disappoint!

Technically, this runner is finished. However, when I set it out on my sideboard, I was faced with some unsightly waviness. It won’t lie flat. I’m currently debating what to do to remedy the situation. I’ve blocked projects in the past, but I’ve always done so before they were bound. And since this runner is decorative—I had no intention of putting food on it or washing it—I let it slip that some of the fabrics were prewashed and others weren’t. Actually, one of the fabrics I prewashed for this quilt project and it bled so badly that I omitted it from that quilt but included it here.

Ack! I’ll let you know how what I decide to do.

The waviness that plagues my otherwise lovely runner.

To make your own lovely table runner, see this block tutorial from Don’t Call Me Betsy. To share your words of wisdom regarding the waviness, comment below. : )

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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. (For the plus block pattern, see the image at the bottom of this page. 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.

Linking up to Let’s Bee Social, Needle and Thread Thursday, Tips and Tutorials Tuesday, and Finish It Up Friday ... 

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Take That, Y-Seams!

Learn how to machine-piece hexagons here.

My sewing projects tend to fall into one of two categories: those that I plan far in advance and those I jump into on a whim. My main objective with the former category is usually stash or scrap busting—I want to enjoy the thrill of using up what I have on hand. The method to my madness with the latter group of projects is almost always skill building. I come across something I think will be a challenge and want to prove to myself that I can make it.

Earlier this year, in a QuiltCon class with Mary Fons, I learned that partial seams are no big deal. Since then, I’ve been thinking ... could the same be said of Y-seams, another quilting skill that gets a bad rap? I was determined to find out.

I considered hand-cutting the hexagons for this project—I own Jaybird Quilts’ Hex N More ruler—but I couldn’t muster the energy to use it. Then I thought I would buy some precut hexagons, but I passed on that that option, too. Only a few manufacturers offer hexagon precuts, and the fabric selection is very limited. I ended up buying a hexagon die to use in my AccuQuilt GO! fabric cutter. At the end of my endeavor, I had a nice pile of hexagons cut from my own stash.

And then I started sewing Y-seam after Y-seam and finished this baby quilt ...

Could this be the start of a new infatuation with hexagons?


Look at that Y-seam dead center. Beautiful, right?!

I used part of a layer cake of 30’s Playtime 2015, a Chloe’s Closet collection for Moda. By cutting the 10-inch squares diagonally, I got two 5-inch hexagons and two 2-inch squares out of each layer. I supplemented those with a few prints and solids from my stash. In total, I used 85 hexagons, which created a 30-inch by 31-inch baby quilt. I’m calling it my Happy Hexie Baby Quilt because it makes me so darn happy to have conquered Y-seams. Someday, it will make a baby happy, too, I hope!

I used those 2-inch squares from the layer cake on the back.

This baby quilt was finished off with a sweet floral binding from the stash.

Have you sewn hexagons by machine? (If you haven’t, I’m working on I’ve posted a tutorial about how I approached the task.) Do you hand-piece hexagons? Or does the thought of sewing hexagons—by machine or by hand—send you running?

I’m pretty psyched about this wee quilt. I’d like to go bigger next time and more modern. : )

Learn how to machine-piece hexagons here.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Instagram Is Messing with My Head

When it comes to social media, my platforms of choice are this blog and Instagram. The beauty of blogging is that I can go into detail about my quilt-making experiences, perhaps encourage someone to try a new technique, and assemble an online journal of my projects over the years. Blogging takes time, though, and the writing and the photography cut into my sewing time.


Here are some in-progress shots that I haven’t posted on Instagram.
I’m piecing these hexagons by machine.

Instagram is a nice alternative. Its emphasis on pictures is particularly appropriate for the quilting community, and I like to see what everyone else is working on and to get feedback on projects of my own. Unfortunately, I think Instagram is doing me more harm than good these days. I post sparingly—just once a week or so—but I always keep up with the posts of the 200-plus people I follow. What’s the problem with that?

It’s affecting my creativity. I am consuming every day, often multiple times a day, on Instagram. It keeps me informed, but I think it’s undermining my creativity. I need to stop processing what everyone else is doing and to focus on my own projects. If I need inspiration, it’s better to page through an art book, take a walk in my little New England town—pretty much do anything other than look at quilts!

I’m making this runner, from French General fabric, for my dining room.

It has me trying to keep up with my cohort. I can’t help but compare what others are creating, achieving, and finishing on Instagram to my own projects. And all that comparing is giving me a bad case of the I-shoulds: I should be publishing my own patterns! I should be monetizing my hobby! I should be [fill in the blank]! The I-shoulds never serve me well. I need to focus on what I want to do and how I want to spend my time.

My dedication to using all my scraps is evident in this patchwork,
whose squares finish at an inch and a half.

Bottom line: This is a better space for me, and I’m going to focus more on my blog and reading others’ blogs. I won’t disappear from Instagram, but if I’ve connected with you on that platform, I won’t be as in the loop as I have been in the past. Forgive the dearth of likes and comments!

Is any of this resonating with you?  How do you keep your own involvement with social media in check?

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Friday, May 26, 2017

My Easy-Breezy Beach Quilt

Mother’s Day 2017 was the kick-in-the-pants deadline I needed to finish two quilts. The first went to my mom. For that, I used a jelly roll I had on hand in colors I know she likes. The second went to my mother-in-law and was designed to coordinate with the living room in her new beach house.

I found the inspiration for the design on Cindy Lammon’s Instagram feed. (Check out the quilt here and here.) Cindy’s use of a dotted chambray as the background fabric was, I think, brilliant. I initially wanted to replicate it, but based on the fabric swatches my MIL provided me and the selections in my fabric stash, I went in a different direction.


Instead of going with a dark background, I went with my beloved Kona Snow. I pilfered some 10-inch squares from an Aria layer cake, by Kate Spain, that I had on hand and fleshed the fabric pull out with selections from my stash and yardage I bought specifically for the project. The result is light and airy—perfect for a beach house!



I even bound the quilt in Kona Snow. Considering the amount of color already in the quilt, the blue or green bindings I tried looked gaudy. A light binding might not be the most practical option, but it reinforced the easy-breezy feel of the project.


The biggest lesson I took from making this quilt was the importance of homing in on a palette. At first I thought I would use the blues—all the blues!—from my stash. Once I had a few blocks sewn, however, I realized that I needed to focus on a few select colors. Using my cut-up Kona color card, I decided that Aqua, Navy, Bahama Blue, Aloe, and Cadet were my priority for the quilt ...


I was pretty proud of myself for breaking into a beautiful layer cake for the sake of this quilt. Usually, I keep my precuts together and use them—whether they’re charm packs, jelly rolls, or layer cakes—in a single project. It was worth it here, however, and I still have probably thirty 10-inch squares of Aria to use in future quilts.

What do you have to say about that? If you’re a precut buyer, are you diligent about using a precut in just one project? Or do you throw caution to the wind and use some of a pack here and there?

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Five Weeks and Counting

Dear readers, as I write this, I am a whirlwind of quilt-making activity. My boys have five more (short! precious!) weeks of school before summer vacation starts, and I am doing everything I can to be productive before we slip into our summer schedule. I have three finishes to share with you in the next week or two, and then I’ll be starting something new. : )

My first finish is this, a throw-size quilt for my mother for her (belated) birthday/Mother’s Day. It might also cover last Christmas—I can’t remember. When it takes 20 to 40 hours to make a present for someone, I think it should count for multiple gift-giving holidays!


This quilt was a long time in the making. It wasn’t complicated—actually, the block design, by Patch the Giraffe, is straight-forward. What was difficult to work with was the fabric. I used a jelly roll of the Lady Mary collection from Andover’s Downton Abbey line. The fabrics themselves are lovely, but they don’t work well together as a collection. There is no clear focal fabric, no design to anchor the group. And although armed with a few dozen 2½-inch strips of these fabrics, I didn’t have enough variety to make an interesting quilt. My solution was to buy more fabric, almost exclusively from other Downton collections, to try to make it work.

I started working with the burgundy, dark blues, and tan from the original jelly roll.


I omitted a few fabrics with cream backgrounds because they didn’t create enough contrast with the Kona Snow I used. The cream background below is the exception. In addition to burgundy and dark blue dots, it contains some purple ones, which helped me expand my palette and add some different fabrics to the mix.


These traditional dots, surrounded by purple, are not from the Downton Abbey line. They’re sweet, though, and worked well with the other designs ...


The top needed a little something else, so I added a swath of pink in the border and bound the project in the purple dot.


The result may not be a “Michelle quilt,” but I think it’s a good stab at “a Mom quilt made by Michelle.”

The funny thing is, my mom is a quilter. I’ve made a handful of quilts for other quilters (like this one and this one). After all, who could appreciate the time and effort I put into a project more than another quilter?

What’s your take on making quilts for quilters? Have you given one of your creations to someone who could have made it for him- or herself?

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