Saturday, July 6, 2013

[Quilt #4] [Quilt #5] Space Quilts. Masterpieces for My Little Misters, Part 2

So I started 2012 with new resolve to finish these quilts, but also hatching the hope and plan for Quilt #6, and the space quilts got set aside for a bit.  This turned out to be a very good thing!  I'd started quilting the space quilts when I had to set them aside, but I learned so much with Quilt #6 that it ended up making the space quilts so much better.

I learned about batting.  So far, I've been very devoted to using 100% cotton, and so the space quilts were pinned to an all-natural cotton batting that stretched and tore easily.  With Quilt #6 I had reason to use Warm and White batting, though it is 12% something other than cotton, and I immediately saw the great benefit of that, especially since the space quilts had those large, almost-10" photo motifs!  I had started quilting the space quilts as close to 4" as possible, which meant quilting had to happen within the photo pieces and I was completely unhappy with how all that was turning out.  

So.  I learned to do what has to be done, even if it's going to make you cry over it the whole time.  I unquilted the first space quilt to replace the batting and start over.  I seam-ripped black stitching on black fabric.  It took a couple of weeks' worth of evening times.  But I did it, because I sincerely wanted these two to be the best quilts I would ever make.  

I unquilted the one, replaced the batting on both, repinned and stepped back to figure out the opportunities of only having to quilt 10" apart this time.  I'd also learned, from the process of Quilt #6, the value of a walking foot on your machine.  Though it was tricky to find one that fit my Kenmore-that's-older-than-me, the internet helped out spectacularly and I was no longer afraid to quilt around the squares, meeting at corners without puckers.  

I splurged on an online Craftsy class that was very helpful, "How to Quilt Large Quilts on a Small Machine," and watched parts of it over and over before setting to work.  By the time I started quilting these two babies for real, I was ready to get them done and I made hard, but precise work of it.  My shoulders and back ached from carefully pushing and pulling and turning those quilts under my sewing machine needle, but I got them done.  And I'd learned so much, and most of all,  I'd done the great and beautiful job that I had desperately hoped I could do.  I even hand-finished the binding!  And my boys absolutely love them.  In a way I'm glad I didn't finish that first Christmas, because all the work I did on them after that, the boys saw and experienced, and they know that these are something special, and they understand just a little bit more of how special each my little astronauts are to me.  

[Quilt #4] [Quilt #5] Space Quilts. Masterpieces, for My Little Misters, Part 1

As a family, we're into space stuff.  Included in the Top Ten List of most awesome things I have experienced would be the crazy Easter Sunday we left after church to drive down to Titusville, Florida, arriving after 2 in the morning and laying out with a crowd under the stars while we waited, and followed the countdown, and saw the launch of STS-131, Discovery.  Night launch.  Amazing.  I get tears in my eyes recalling it, and our young sons' reaction to it.

That was our first close-up launch experience, and we were addicted.  We followed along at home on NASA tv and online and with three more drive-downs we were able to see 2 more launches live and in person, including the very last.  And for a couple of years, all our boys could talk about was space shuttles and rockets and wanting to be astronauts.  

And over a full year I looked at space-themed fabric online and gradually made purchases.  Only the best for my boys, but after seeing all that beautiful, fine fabric together in one place, I was completely intimidated by what to do next.  I relied on what we were taught in Landscape Architecture school: when you're stumped, look at pictures, lots of them, until you get excited and find inspiration and direction again.  And they taught us that before the internet!

I still had no idea what I was doing as far as quilt design goes, but one of the fabric lines I'd chosen was printed with actual NASA photos, so I was working with incorporating images that were roughly 10" square.  I scoured the internet for images of quilts that included square patches of fabric without being too static in their layout.  I knew I didn't want to simply frame and sash the images, I wanted movement and variety.  Finally I found this image, the blog from which it was taken being, unfortunately, no longer available:  

The varying sizes and shades of the blocks seems to make them appear and recede - like the fictional movie images of travelling through space.  I took some measurements from the photo, converted them to what they would proportionally be based on using 10" images, then printed out the above photo in black and white.  (Lots of landscape architecture drafting skills and tricks coming into play!)  From the black and white photo I was able to number the fabrics from light to dark, and when I laid out my space fabric collection from light to dark, I had almost exactly the same number of fabrics to work with.  Suddenly this quilt design process became as simple as mathematics and I was able to move forward confidently with my rotary cutter.  

Making 2 quilts at one time was certainly an undertaking.  Part of me wanted to move forward and do one start to finish, than the second start to finish, leaving the possibility for tweaking things and finding quicker/better ways with the first to use on the second.  I was honestly afraid, though, that the first one might be so overwhelming that I may not finish the second one, so I went with the production-line method.

I bought fabric during 2009 and 2010.  I started cutting early 2011 and worked very gradually on them until that Christmas.  I had hoped to have them finished before that Christmas, but I was trying to keep the project a secret, meaning I could only work on them late at night, and I only got as far as finishing the tops and pinning them up with backing and batting.  

That Christmas morning after all the presents were opened, I spread the unfinished quilts out on my bed and called the boys to come look.  My youngest was too young to realize what they were, but my oldest one gasped and jumped for joy.  It was a reaction more than I could have hoped for!  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

[Quilt #3] By Request, from family

It was such an honor to be asked by my aunts and great-aunt to make a quilt for a shower gift for my cousin.  It was plenty frightening, too, as I'd only made 2 before and didn't feel ready to take on a commission, but I'm usually not one to turn family down!  My cousin had a little boy and was expecting her daughter and they wanted to give her a special quilt.  They sent me pictures of the nursery with freshly painted green walls, black furniture, and pink accents; and with all that in mind I went to Hobby Lobby.

I found a really fun group of fabrics that had all the right colors that would work nicely in the striped layout I wanted to try.  So far I'd only done squares, and so I was looking forward to trying something different.  I was also expecting the striped layout to be simpler to quilt and that turned out to be true, mostly.  I once again couldn't resist the urge to piece the back and learned why you must very carefully choose how you piece the back if you are wanting the quilting threads to match the fabric.  I changed bobbin thread about 756 times while quilting and it was so frustrating!  But, once again, it turned out quite pretty and everyone in the family was so proud and thrilled!  I was too, and so happy that something I'd made would be a part of a little girl's fond childhood memories.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

[Quilt #2] Throwing myself into quilting, for a friend and for community

My first quilt was biting off more than I can chew since I had no idea how to make a quilt and I knew no person in real life who made quilts.  I knew how to sew, and my first one was on the small side, and I almost always have excellent Beginners' Luck, so it turned out just fine.

But the second time around... let's just say I tend to learn things the hard way.

I blame it on an online board called amitymama.  It's something that got started in the early days of online group communication - a message board for young moms who liked to do things the all-natural way.  It met a great need at a time in my life when I was home with two tiny boys and no car to go anywhere and no money to spend if I could.  I learned a lot from those women.  I began to see how I could find my place within a community, (even if it was an online community) and how I could both learn and contribute at the same time.  I longed for the way, as a community, they looked out for each other and took care of each other, shouldered burdens and wow those mamas knew exactly the right way to say "I'm sorry you're going through such a hard time" that made you feel so supported.   But technology is tricky, other sites came around, this one is still there but not quite what it used to be.  One thing they did sometimes was to send quilt blocks to the mama volunteering to make a quilt for someone who needed it.  That cooperation, that kind of giving, inspired my soul.

So when a friend of mine, a local police officer, was brutally attacked and stabbed multiple times by an insane thief, and came very close to dying, I knew I had to make a quilt.  This terrible attack was so horrifying to her family and many close friends, as well as the community at large.  So many people wanted to do whatever they could to support her in her very long recovery, so I told her sister if she would send the word out to get fabric to me, I would make her a quilt.

My, the fabric that made its way to my home!  Lots of it and lots of different colors and prints.  I had no idea how to pull all of it together.  My abilities at that time were nothing beyond piecing simple squares, and after hours of staring and arranging and rearranging, I had something.  Two somethings, actually - with that much fabric I had to piece the back.  I was so grateful to the ladies at our local quilt shop who helped me pick out border and binding fabric - I had no idea how to pull all those colors together.

Finally it came down to quilting it.  I had so little idea how to go about it, and it was so much work in my little machine, so many pin pricks as I learned how to work it all under the needle.  The fear of failure made me cry some nights, and the push to get it done caused me so much anxiety.  But I did get it done, and she loved it, and she felt from it not just the love from the individuals who contributed to it, but from her community as a whole.

I learned a lot about how to make a quilt through this - by doing things the wrong way and having to redo them.  I learned why often, quilting was historically done by a community of women coming together to do the work, and I longed for that kind of community in real life.  I met a few ladies at the quilt shop, but I still didn't know where to start talking or asking questions.  After this quilt though, I knew there would be another, and probably another, and maybe a few more after that.  I knew that although I would stare at my progress for too many hours and still have to take things apart and redo, and though I would cry to myself late nights wondering why I get myself into such projects - although it seemed like the most impossible thing for me to ever get good at - I knew I wanted to become a quilter!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day Stylin'

For my man's first Father's Day I made him a camp shirt, and made our 2 month old son a jumper out of the same fabric.  Then 2 years after that I made them matching camp shirts.  Now that 2 month old is  now 8 and he's got a 5 year old brother.  3 camp shirts seemed a bit daunting, but I was willing to give it a try.

Now, though I have boys and though they are young, they are surprisingly opinionated about fabric.  They wholeheartedly agreed that Parson Gray's Curious Nature was the winner, so we went to the website where my youngest son's eyes fell on the photo of the vest and tie set.  "MOM!  Can you make THAT?!"  Well, with a response like that I should at least try!  I got the other two men on board and bought Simplicity 4762, which has both men's and boy's vest and tie sizes.  And here's what we got, for church on Father's Day.  Love my boys!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Group Gifts: Seven Tote Bags

A friend asked me to make 7 tote bags for her to give to her daughter and her daughter's best friends as a high school graduation gift.  And since I love a good production line, I couldn't resist!

This is a simple reversible bag; back when I was in college a friend of mine gave me one like this, and I used it until it wore out.  It is SO easy to make!  Here is a pattern for one version of it.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And Another Stuffed Owl

My friend who needed a shower gift also needed a gift to take to a one-year-old-girl's birthday party, themed "Look Whoooo's Turning One!"  And with a stack of leftover Joel Dewberry, Modern Meadow lying right there on the ironing board, I just had some fun all over again!  It's a fun little challenge to find eyes and beak out of the fabric prints, and I think this little guy turned out to be just plain adorable.  So do my kids.  They've put in their orders.  As well as the husband of the friend who needed the gift.  Might be ordering some Parson Gray rather soon!