Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Free Motion QAL - Stitching in the Ditch

Welcome to the next installment in the Free Motion QAL. Thanks so much for your patience with me getting this post together, and for being a bit disorganised so far for this QAL - as so many of you pointed out, family always comes first, and it is really comforting to know that I have your support and understanding :o) The good news is that my partner is pretty much better (so long as he doesn't do too much), so I should be on track to keep up with the QAL posts in a more organised manner.



So today I will be talking about stitching in the ditch. I have to admit I very rarely do this before quilting my quilts - I usually do ditch quilting with my free motion foot as I go along (so I stitch along the seam lines as part of my free motion quilting). I am most definitely not an expert on ditch quilting - but I think it has a lot of benefits, especially with a quilt such as the Giant Chevron where the main design element is set on the diagonal, and the blocks are large, and because we will be using a different motif in each of the coloured stripes. The idea behind stitching in the ditch before free motion quilting is that it will stabilise the main seams, and it also allows you to remove a lot of safety pins (if you're a pin baster!) which means you won't have to start and stop as often when you get to the (fun) free motion quilting part. I'll be honest - the main reason I don't stitch in the ditch as a matter of habit is that it is mind numbingly boring, and time consuming, and I'm too impatient to get to the FMQ part. But it really is beneficial in stabilising your quilt top, and will make it less likely that you'll get issues with folds in your backing fabric while you're FMQing. I'm not sure I'm very convincing here - but it really is worth the effort, and it is something I'm going to do more often.

Technically speaking, stitching in the ditch is quilting right in the seams where your fabric joins, and ideally it should mean your quilting stitches don't show. If the seams have been pressed to the side during the piecing process, ditch stitching will involve sewing slightly off the seam line, on the side with just one layer of fabric. If the seams have been pressed open (which is what I almost always do) the stitches will sit right in the seam line where the fabrics meet. Stitching in the ditch should minimise the amount of stitching that shows on the front of the quilt - but I would still advise choosing a thread that will blend as much as possible into the fabric of the quilt top. On a domestic machine, it is easiest to stitch in the ditch with a walking foot, rather than trying to FMQ in the ditch (where you need to have incredible control of the quilt top to ensure the quilting stitches really do stay in the ditch and not waver off to the side).


Most of the time I ignore all this advice. When I quilted my Marcelle Medallion for example, I started by free motion quilting in the ditch in the centre star block and then FMQed the centre star, before moving on to the first border. I'm not too fussy with my ditch quilting, so if a few of my stitches show it isn't the end of the world. I'm pretty sure it's not the way the experts would do it - but it's what works for me most of the time. The main reason I use my FMQ foot in these circumstances is that I much, much prefer using my FMQ than using a walking foot. Having said that, using an FMQ foot for ditch stitching isn't anywhere near as accurate as using a walking foot, as you are much more likely to wobble the quilt when doing it.

If you look closely in this photo, you can see my ditch stitching around the centre blue star does wobble a bit!!

 I have used my walking foot to stitch in the ditch between all the block on my Giant Chevron quilt. I chose to use two different thread colours for my ditch stitching - I initially started out using a light grey Aurifil 50wt thread (Dove grey), but I wasn't happy with how visible the stitches were in the dark charcoal background. This photo isn't the best (the dark grey is much, much darker than this but my point and click camera struggles when photographing dark colours) - but you can probably see that even though these stitches were sitting right in the seam line, the thread shows up a lot against the dark fabric. So I decided to use a charcoal thread in the background, and the light grey through the coloured sections.


Once I was happy with my thread selection, I started quilting in the ditch (just between the blocks) in the coloured stripes. You can see in the photo below, my needle is sitting right in the seam. That's what you want to aim for - and that is why it takes so long. It takes a lot of concentration to keep the seam right where the needle is going, and it isn't something you can rush. When I do this type of quilting with my walking foot, I place my hands either side of the foot, and pull the fabric apart very slightly so that it's easier to get the needle to stitch right in the seam line. Slow and steady! I use a slightly longer stitch length than normal too - I set my machine at about 3.


The stitches are a bit more visible against the navy blue fabric - but I'm confident that once it has FMQ all over it, they will dissolve into the quilt top pretty well. 


You can see that in the lighter fabrics, the thread really does dissolve into the seams, and apart from the odd dodgy stitch (where my concentration obviously wavered!) the stitches are almost invisible. I think a good choice for thread colour is a light neutral if you have mostly light/medium coloured fabrics, or a darker neutral if most of your fabrics are medium/dark in colour.



To start and stop between the coloured stripes and the background, I simply did a back stitch at the beginning of each quilting line. I guess I should be good and bury the threads - but in all likelihood I will just snip them like I normally do ;o) You can see here how much better the charcoal thread works on the background fabric.


I hope you find this a helpful post - if I've forgotten to mention something, please leave a comment here and I'll answer as best I can :o) I'll be back in two weeks with the first video FMQ tutorial, and the real fun will begin :oD

xx Jess

Monday, 1 September 2014

Rambling about my creative process...

A few weeks ago, a couple of my very talented bloggy friends (Beth of Plum and June, and Deborah of Sunshine Through the Rain) asked if I'd be interested in participating in the Around the World Blog Hop. It seemed like a fun thing to do (and didn't involve making anything) so I said yes (obvs!). 


It pretty much involves answering a few questions about my creative process, so here goes!

     1. What am I working on?

I almost never work on just one thing at a time - my pile of half made quilts and quilt tops in kind of scary (think 30 minimum). I have just come to the end of an intensely stressful commissioned quilt, which has honestly burnt me out a bit, and I haven't had a whole lot of motivation for sewing this last week. I've mostly been doing computer work, preparing patterns and setting up things for the Tasmanian MQG (first meeting this week, I am SO excited!). 

Having said that, I am semi-actively working on two quilts at the moment. One is for my soon-to-be 10 year old son for his birthday in October (a maths quilt - he's a total maths geek, and mathematical symbols lend themselves perfectly to quilt blocks!!). The other is finishing up a commission quilt for a magazine (and I only have hand stitching the binding to go). I'm planning on starting a Liberty and Oakshott quilt very soon though - some kind of sampler quilt, possibly a Farmers Wife, or possibly from one of my Japanese quilt block books - so my list of works in progress is ever-growing :o) 

     2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This is SUCH a hard question to answer. Mostly I don't feel like my work is especially unique - I tend to use traditional quilt blocks (sometimes with my own little twist) in quilts which is certainly not different from what others are doing in the quilt world. And I don't feel like I'm all that adventurous with my colour choices - I really like using a wide variety of prints in each of my quilts, but I tend to use a fairly restricted colour palette (3, 4 or 5 colours). As I'm starting to design more and more of my own patterns, this is something I think about quite a lot - but I'm still not sure what (if anything) makes my quilts differ from other people's work. 

I think where my work might differ from some others is in how I quilt my quilts - I custom quilt almost all my creations on my domestic machine, and try to be as original as I can with my quilting choices - not with the motifs, but my placement of quilting designs. I'm particularly proud of the quilting I did on my Block Flower quilt - I think the combination of matchstitck, straight line and curvy FMQ I did is a bit different from most of the quilting I've seen. 




     3. Why do I create what I do?

I started quilting when my partner was working interstate a LOT, so it started out being my 'me' time of an evening, and it really did help me keep sane while single parenting three kids for long stretches of time. I feel so relaxed when I'm sewing or quilting, it is the best mood-lifter I have ever discovered. As time has gone on, it has become more of an obsession, I guess - and I definitely feel my tension levels rising if I haven't sewn in a few days. I've always enjoyed making things, and the combination of colour, geometry, maths and art that is quilting just fits me perfectly. 

Now though, the biggest reason I make quilts is that I grew up surrounded by handmade (a mum who sewed our clothes and a dad who's a ceramic teacher does that to you!) - and so I love being surrounded by handmade cushions and quilts now. My kids all love snuggling under their quilts, which I absolutely love - each and every one of my quilts has been made to be used - and I'm still convinced our house could do with at least another dozen ;o) The fact that I"m a bit obsessed with designing quilts also helps!!

     4. How does my creating process work?

Most of the time I get an idea, choose a stack of fabric and/or start sketching it out or drawing up the design in EQ7. Rarely will I jump into a project without a good idea of where I want it to go (even my improv quilts have a pretty firm plan when I start them.) Some of these ideas get dumped pretty quickly, but others get me really inspired and need to be made. I try not to start coming up with new ideas if I have loads of projects on the go already - or I find I get a bit overwhelmed and lose interest in all of them. I think my most dangerous period with this is when I get a new shiny parcel of fabric and start getting ideas straight away. This does explain why I have so many half made quilts and quilt tops. 

In the last year or so I've been much better with this - I'm tending to work through a project from start to finish in a reasonably timely manner (months rather than years). I still rarely work on one thing at a time though - it takes a pretty special project to get me to focus solely on that (Sunshine Through the Rain was one such quilt. It's still my favorite ever.)


I also have to admit that if something doesn't start turning out how I'd envisaged, I do tend to have a bit of a tantrum and abandon it (again, the huge pile of WIPs) - but I do often go back to those projects after a month or a year and get them to work.

Thanks so much to Beth and Deborah for inviting me to do this - it has been a really hard post to write, and made me think a lot about why I do what I do. 

I have asked a couple of my friends to be the next hop in these posts. Adrianne (who blogs at On The Windy Side) has an amazing eye for colour and design, and is a constant inspiration to me. She is a fellow Pin-prov bee mate and it has been wonderful getting to know her a bit better through that. I'm thrilled we will get to meet in person next year at QUiltcon too!! Adrianne's post is up today (she has been tagged a few times!) so please head over and check it out!

The other person I've asked is Moira (aka Kettleboiler). Moira has a brilliant sense of humour, and her blog posts are an absolute joy to read. Her honesty and no bullshit approach to her blog is incredibly refreshing - and her quilts are beautiful too :o) 

I'm looking forward to reading the posts from these ladies!
xx Jess

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Roundabout Pattern Release!

It has taken me a very long time to finally get this pattern ready for release - I had an amazing group of testers work through the pattern a few months ago and actually taught a class using this pattern back in July - but it is finally available to purchase in my Craftsy shop!



My original 60" x 60" version appeared in Quilters Companion earlier this year, and I have added a 20" x 20" mini quilt or cushion version to the pattern as well. It is a foundation paper pieced patterns, suitable for intermediate quilters, and comes complete with full diagrams, a colouring sheet and the templates needed for creating the blocks. You can find it in my Craftsy shop, where it will be available for half-price for the first two weeks of release.

This pattern is a block based quilt, using a variation on the traditional Schoenrock Cross block. I asked my testers just to make a few blocks, or the mini quilt sized project - but there is always one over achiever. My lovely friend Carly of Citric Sugar managed to put together a whole quilt top (in a week!?!), and it is SO GOOD!



Nicolette of Dutch Comfort made this fabulous version. I love everything Nicolette makes, and this cushion is no different. Her use of colour is amazing as always, and her piecing is just perfection!


Hannah (who blog as Sewing and Slinging) made this beautiful version - I adore the 'odd' block in there, it gives it so much interest!


My lovely friend Ella (who has become a regular pattern tester because she is awesome) made this stunning version for a swap partner - and even hand quilted it. I adore her colour choices. 


And finally Elisabeth (who blogs at Sharks Dinner) made this super pretty version. 


A massive thanks to all my pattern testers for doing such an amazing job with my pattern - each of these ladies will be hosting a giveaway for the pattern in the very near future, so head over and check out their blogs this week for your chance to win a copy. 

xx Jess


Friday, 29 August 2014

Tasmanian Modern Quilt Guild!

For the past month or so, a group of wonderful ladies and myself have been working behind the scenes on something I've been dreaming of for a few years - a Tasmanian chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild. As much as I love the online quilting community, I have been craving a group where we could meet face to face, share our quilts and ideas and build friendships. The online quilting community will always be a huge part of my quilting life, but it just isn't the same as a local quilt guild. When I started teaching (and now working!!) at Frangipani Fabrics earlier this year, one of the most common topics of discussion that came up was our shared desire for a modern quilt group in Tasmania. 


It was just an oftthought idea up until a few months ago when I entered my local quilt show, in which the choice of categories was Traditional or Non-Traditional. I actually entered four quilts (those scattered through this post), two of which I nominated for the Non-Traditional category (more because of how I'd quilted them than the design), but the convener chose (with my agreement) to change the category of all four to Traditional, because they were all block based quilts set in a traditional way. Now I personally don't consider myself a traditional quilter - yes I do use traditional blocks in a traditional setting most of the time. But I don't consider my fabric choices, or quilting style to be traditional at all. I understood why they were placed in the Traditional category (because they didn't fit the criteria of Non-Traditional) but I don't believe they are really traditional quilts.



I've been struggling with whether or not to write about this on my blog, but it is kind of catalytic in why we are forming a local MQG. So I'm putting on my big girl pants and talking about it. First up, I do want to be honest - I didn't enter the show expecting to win prizes. None of the quilts I entered where made to be 'show' quilts, and had various flaws - the main one being that I never tie off my quilting threads, I just do a few stitches on the same spot and snip my threads (terrible, I know ;o) ). I entered to support our local quilt show and to see my quilts hanging in a real show (which was very exciting, especially when you hear people talking about your quilts. Not that I stalked them, promise :o) ). I didn't win any prizes, and this is the part I've been struggling with whether or not to share - I was quietly told that one of my quilts was considered prize worthy, but that because I'd left some sections un-quilted, it wasn't able to win a prize. Obviously I'm a bit disappointed about this, but also thrilled that my skills are good enough to almost win a prize. And it isn't going to make me change how I quilt my quilts - I more often than not leave areas of my quilts un-quilted as a deliberate design element. Unfortunately that is all the feedback I got - they don't give out the judges comment sheets for our local show, which is disappointing as that was another reason I wanted to enter. I'd like to hear feedback on where I can improve my quilts from a judges point of view.



Probably the best thing that came out of my quilts hanging in the show was that it has kindled a lot of interest in forming a local modern quilt guild, and possibly having a modern category in our quilt show next year. I met recently with a group of wonderful local quilters to discuss starting the Tasmanian MQG, and things have started moving really quickly. Thankfully we have had the most amazing support and interest, from both the Tasmanian Quilt Guild and from local quilters. I am beyond excited that my little dream of a local MQG has actually become reality :oD



If you do live in Tasmania, we are holding our first meeting next Wednesday (3rd September). We have a Facebook page if you'd like to keep up to date with events, meetings, workshops and sewing days - and all the details of the first meeting are available there. I'm starting to put together a blog as well, so I'll share all the information about that soon :o) 

xx Jess







Monday, 25 August 2014

Free Motion QAL Update

I need to make a huge apology to those of you who are Free Motion Quilting-Along. I was supposed to post last week about stitching in the ditch, hoping to get on to the free motion aspect of the QAL next week - but I'm afraid it isn't going to happen quite that fast. I have spent the last week panic-sewing a (very exciting but secret) commission quilt on top of the normal day to day happenings with a young family, and have had zero time to even think about blogging, let alone get my QAL posts organised.



I'll be back next week to talk about stitching in the ditch, and then get started on the free motion tutorials two weeks after that. All my deadline stuff is out of the way now, so I'm back on track to actually be organised with this QAL and I promise I will keep to schedule from now on. Thanks for bearing with me on this - I hate not meeting my blogging commitments, but it has just been unavoidable this time around.

xx Jess


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Random housekeeping

Blogging has taken a bit of a back seat for me over the last few months, with everything else going on. Thanks so much to all of the emails and messages you've sent wishing my partner luck with his surgery and checking how I'm going - it means the world to me that I have so much support from my quilty friends. The surgery went really well and he's back home recuperating, which is a massive relief for all of us. And I'm finally getting my sewing mojo back which is awesome!

I need to announce some winners! Mr Random chose Jess, Jen and Alyce for the Pay It Forward winners - I will email you ladies soon and get your address details, and you'll recieve a surprise parcel from me in the next twelve months. The winner of the Block Flower pattern is Karen (aka Capitola Quilter). A massive thanks to all of you who have bought my pattern so far - it is still half price for another week too :o)

I have a few bits of sponsor news to share with you too. Polkadottea Fabrics announced the first round of their Liberty Club last month (which filled up within the first week!) and have just started taking sign ups for round two - head over to PolkaDotTea for all the details. I signed up for the first round, and am absolutely delighted with my first parcel of Liberty beauties - these ladies have fabulous taste in fabric. There are quite a few of us who intend on making a Farmers Wife sampler quilt with these beauties, so there may be an unofficial QAL happening at some stage soon. I'm intending on finally cutting into my Oakshott colour box combined with my Liberty stash to make some kind of sampler quilt (when I get a chance to start!)


One of my other sponsors - Sew Fresh Fabrics - are having a huge sale until this weekend - 30% off store-wide if you use the coupon code summer2014. Peg has loads of awesome fabric in stock, so it's a great opportunity to grab some serious bargains!

xx Jess

Free Motion QAL - My Slacker Basting Method

Welcome to the third week in the Free Motion QAL! Today I'll be talking about how I baste my quilts (which is nothing special, but it's quick and it works), and pointing you to some other really great basting tutorials. There is a linky at the end of the post if you would like to share your progress so far (fabric choices or part made quilt tops are totally fine!)

I must apologise for the dodgy photos in this post - the space I use for basting is really poorly lit so they are pretty bad, but hopefully it will be enough to convey my basting method (if you can call it that). I am a pin baster - so all the tips I'll be giving you relate to pin basting rather than using an adhesive spray. 

To pin baste your quilt, the first thing you need is a flat, hard surface. All the areas in our house that are big enough for basting a quilt are carpeted - so to get around that, I use a couple of really big sheets of MDF board that I place on the floor. They were really inexpensive from our local hardware store (plus my geeky man plays Warhammer fantasy battle, so they double as gaming tables - hence the rivers drawn on here!) If you have kids, they are perfect for zooming cars around on too! And yes, we have exquisite salmon coloured carpet in our rumpus room...


Once I've pieced my quilt back, I place it straight onto the boards, lining one of the edges up with the edge of the boards so I know it is straight - and as you can see I don't iron my back especially well (see, lazy!) This has honestly never been a problem for me though - I very rarely get folds in my quilt backs.


It's a little hard to see the tape here, but I tape down that edge of the fabric that is aligned with the edge of the board, smoothing it as I go.


Then, by gently tugging the far edge, I pull the fabric so it is really flat. As you can see from the photo below, all those little bumps from the first photo have disappeared. If I have space I will tape that far edge down as well, but more often than not I don't bother.


Then it is simply a matter of layering the batting on top. I buy batting on large rolls, so initially I roll the batting over the backing fabric and cut it to size. I start in the centre of the quilt back and use large sweeping motions with my hands to smooth the batting across. If I feel any bumps of backing fabric as I go, I gently tug the backing fabric so the bumps disappear, and keep smoothing the batting down. I normally cut my batting so it is about an inch bigger than the backing fabric all around - no particular reason for this, but it seems to work!


Finally, I lay my quilt top over the top of the backing and batting. I align one of the sides with the edge of the board, making sure it is in an inch or two from where the backing fabric is, and spread the rest of the quilt top out from that side (so the grain of the backing fabric will be running in the same direction as the quilt top). Then it is simply a matter of smoothing the quilt top in large sweeping motions, starting at the centre of the quilt top and working my way out.


To pin baste, I start in the centre seam and place a pin every 4-6". For the Giant Chevron, I am pinning on every horizontal and vertical seam, and half way between these as well (so roughly every 4.5").


So there you have it - my slacker basting method. If you don't have a large floor space available for basting, Pat at Color Me Quilty has a really fabulous tutorial on using a table top and board for basting quilts which is worth thinking about. 

I would love to see where you are all at with your quilts, so if you'd like to link (to a blog post or Flickr photo or IG photo) please link up below :o)





I will be back in two weeks to talk about stitching in the ditch, so you have plenty of time to keep working on your quilt and get it basted :o) And then we will start the real fun!!

xx Jess