Monday, 1 December 2008

My December is red

Dear Cassie,

It is December already. The summer with yellow blooms is long gone and winter with frosty flowers is upon us, the day breaks with blue moments and before long it is again blue and even though it is dark and one feels like bed time, it is only four in the afternoon. The day is less than four hours long, it sounds bad, but this season has its best to offer too; the moonlight on white snow or the flames of northern lights in freezing nights, soft candle light in dark rooms and the glow of fire, the feel of a warm cup in cold hands with lovely scented glögg with raisins and almond chips. Very romantic… at times… luckily with a click of a button I can change the scenery, hit the sharpest beam of the lamp at my hands and craft away.

I am not sure what got hold of me last Friday and steered my little wagon on the road towards my local fabric store (is there a shortening for that like LYS in the knitting world?). There I was pulled to Christmas fabrics and table cloths and before long I was happily loading my car with a bag filled with new fabrics, for napkins and some other Christmas-sy items. Linen cloth I find very, extremely difficult, to resist and thus most of the bag was full of that. Beautiful red and natural beige linen and a heart full of fabric dreams and a head full of determination.

To my own astonishment I did take the sewing machine from long hibernation and we were instantly connected and singing together Christmas carols. This is what my weekend was made of.

This cotton is very sturdy and feels good and was sheer pleasure to work with. I made ten napkins of it for Christmas Eve rice pudding breakfast and finished few stars to decorate the table. These stars will have names embroidered to the back side and will mark the places at the table.

I washed and ironed and pressed and sewed and ended up having perfect mitered corners. I sewed the little stars of linen,used fray check on the reverse side when turning them right side out and filled with polyester and hand sewed them closed. Appliquéd stars and added tiny beads (they are so small that they are almost impossible to see) and some embroidery.

Used some of the leftovers for these ribbons.I can’t get enough of red at this time of the year. I know some people prefer white Christmas, or blue, or some pick different theme and colour for every year, but my December so far has always been red. And usually by January first, all the red is packed away until next December. I wonder if this will ever change? There is no need to, right now red is good.

Wishing you lots of red stitches this season,


PS. Will not talk about Yellow Flowers with you now. Will talk about them later.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

a bit of quilting

Dear Lene,

I'm so sorry. I realize that I've 'dropped the ball' on my end of the blog here lately. It's really just the excitement/worry/planning that going away on a big trip entails. I haven't talked about it much on Fine Stitches, but my planning for the trip to Iceland (I leave on Friday) is just consuming me. I rarely go anywhere, and a trip like this (a big one for me, at least) is taking way more of my time and energy than I really expected. I think you knew otherwise, but were kind enough not to make me nervous by warning me.

A while ago, I took a few pictures of a quilt that I made a few years ago. It's primarily quilted, with minimal piecing. I think if I were to sum up my favorite thing about quiltmaking, it's hand quilting.

This quilt was finished in April 2008. I called it (Not Quite) Twelve Bars, and the piecing is copied from a quilt in Amish Kinder Komforts by Sara Miller. (It's also shown in Amish Crib Quilts from the Midwest.) The quilt is now in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center, and can be seen online HERE.

This is the front of the quilt. It's mostly diagonal cross-hatching, with two feathered wreaths in the center. The borders are undulating feathers. I know I made my quilt before the second book (mentioned/linked above) came out - the first book had less clear pictures of the quilting, and so I just did whatever I felt was right.

Here's a closeup of the border.

And here's a picture of the back - also pieced. I have to admit, this quilt served as a valuable lesson. I used a batting for it that I had never tried before. The batting had gotten good reviews, and so I bought some and used it for this quilt - without trying it out ahead of time.

This was a huge lesson. The batting, 100% cotton (I can't or won't remember the brand or name right now - I think I've blocked it out of my mind) was new to me. And unfortunately, had a tendency to have small lumps in it, which with my dark-solid fabrics pulled out to the front of the quilt every few stitches. It caused little white 'pills' on the front of the quilt. "Bearding", to the extreme.

Never again, never, will I use a batting for an extensive quilting project without trying it out or test-quilting with it ahead of time. I managed to shave or snip off most or all of the offending little lumps from the front of the quilt, and it's been washed - but only once.

At the very least, I won't be trying new battings out without at least a resounding recommendation from another hand quilter. Ever since that project, I've stuck with tried and true battings, ones that I'm familiar with and know the properties of, at least for heavily quilted quilts like this one.

There's another cautionary story related to this quilt - about disintegrating black fabrics. But I'll have to save that for another post. Hopefully I'll be back to more of a normal routine after I get back from my trip in mid-August. I feel guilty about not writing more here, and not doing more work on my Tulip quilt, but life has intervened recently (in a good way - no complaints).


Sunday, 20 July 2008

Almost too bright

Dear Cassie,

Oh, it has been a while since I wrote. First I left to the bookbinding course to the south of Finland and while I was away you were knitting for your trip to Iceland – you lucky one! I know your trip is coming close and you need to prepare your thoughts to be able to enjoy the woolly island the most.
I don’t quite know how you do this to me, but since you picked up the knitting needles, me, the copycat followed right behind you and started knitting again – a lot. Then you talked a bit about spinning and here I am finding myself obsessed with spinning lace weight… I am not blaming you, actually I am having the time of my life with all the crafts, but this is more or less how it went. Once again, you lead the way, I follow behind ;-).

I have put few stitches on the Piney Quilt but none on the Yellow Flowers. I had two Piney blocks prepared and I thought that I would start sewing them but then I realized that I had cut the stems the wrong way. And sometimes the smallest things can grow to be huge obstacles. I am thinking of cutting the pieces to the flowers so that I can start sewing them together and the same time I can sort out my red fabrics. Again, I had no idea I had so many.

I was organizing my photographs the other day and I came across some bright pillows I made a long time ago. There is no better time to upload them than now, in the middle of the summer when even up here the scenery is filled with different bright colours and there are plenty of birds.

Maybe you should go and get your sunglasses…!



Thursday, 3 July 2008

bindings and such

Dear Lene,

I know it's been a while since I wrote - I'm afraid that your being gone for a week has made it hard for me to write anything here. It almost feels like I'm talking to myself (although of course I realize that the blog isn't private and that there are other people reading it).

Right before you went away, you said in an email to me, "Don't worry about the blog nor sewing. Take a break from quilting if you feel like it and spin and knit and relax that way." -- I'm afraid I really took your words to heart. I've spent the last four days maniacally knitting a sweater. A silly sweater (lace) that will be fairly useless for warmth in Iceland, even in August.

But I promised some finished things. Unfortunately, I only have one so far, but I'm working towards a goal of finishing up some old projects as well as working on the tulip appliqué project.

I put bindings on two quilts - the first isn't quite finished yet. It's a quilt I made a few years ago, and the fabrics were so busy I decided to have it simply machine quilted by my friend Bonnie at Quiltville.It's just a simple double four-patch quilt, in two fabrics.

I didn't have enough of the blue left over for the binding, so I chose a solid red. Unfortunately, it's really too hot here right now to work on the binding - it's a twin sized quilt and I'm afraid that our summer weather is making it impossible for me to even think about having it on my lap to finish up the handwork for the binding.

However, I did finish one very small quilt. This was a class sample for an "Amish" color and design workshop I used to teach. Somehow, it got completely finished (with the exception of the binding) and sat around with raw edges for a few years.

I really love this quilt. It's made in Cherrywood hand dyed fabrics, with some from other companies as well. Now that it's completely done, I have no idea why I didn't put the binding on sooner - it only took me part of one morning.

Here's a detail shot of the hand quilting.

I wish there were piles of other projects just lying around that only needed binding. I'm afraid that all of the others are unfinished hand quilting projects, for the most part. I'm very tempted right now to work on a few of them, but I think appliqué is probably the most suitable for the summer heat.

I'm looking forward to your return, and hoping that you are having wonderful time while you're away.


Friday, 27 June 2008

an embarrassing parade of UFOs

Dear Lene,

I'm so thrilled that your Piney/Peony project is making you happy! I sent Family Ties and Legacy to you because they were two books that inspired me, relatively early in my quiltmaking. I think prior to that I had mostly machine pieced, but those books made me into a hand piecer. I still reread Legacy from time to time.

Unfortunately, you've kind of opened a can of worms here. In the neverending push to reorganize the sewing room, I started a pile of unfinished projects from Family Ties to show you. Most of these were made quite a while ago (really sadly, I've misplace my oldest quilt project notebook for the time being and can't give you exact dates for when these were all made. Definitely the 90s, though.)

So, in no particular order, and with some commentary ...

A single Princess Feather block. Which should really be used as the center of a medallion. (Some day!)

A single Eastern Star block. Hand pieced.

Aha! Evidence of a finished project. These are two leftover blocks from a twin sized quilt that I made and gave away. I don't have a digital picture of the finished quilt (nor a scanner to scan the one picture I do have) but this block isn't actually in the book. If you look on page 167 of Legacy, there's a photo of a pile of blocks. I drafted this based on one of them. It's a great pattern and made a gorgeous quilt (all 30s repros, as I remember it). If I do find the notebook I'll post the pattern's cutting instructions to you (if you're interested). [Come to think of it, I can just redraft the pattern, even if I can't find the notebook for a while.]

Five Snowball blocks (I'm starting to sing "The Twelve Days of Christmas in my head about now!). Unfortunately, there is no more of the background fabric to be found in my stash. I think I could make a cute baby quilt with these, even without making more blocks. They remind me of soccer balls, somehow.

Four Butterflies. Again (and alas) no more of the background fabric to be found. Another baby quilt, perhaps?

"Bluebirds in Easy Applique". The original in the book was done in wools with buttonhole stitching. This background fabric I do have a bit more of. (Has that helped me to finish it? Not exactly...)

Ahh... *almost* finished! The "Full Blown Tulip" quilt is baby sized. Just needs more quilting....

One lone Dutch Tulip block. I don't think I ever intended to keep going with these colors, but I do adore a curved pieced tulip. Another one for the lifetime list of quilts I want to make.

Grecian Star, another single block. It's a big one, 17". Now, maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I have a pile of them pieced, in another set of fabrics. I just didn't get around to photographing them. (Another day, maybe.)

A single "Trees in the Park" block.

Whew. There's actually more, but I started to get a little overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

Now, to be honest, I don't consider a single block a UFO, not really anyway. Sometimes it's more like a swatch, a trying out of the pattern to see if I like it. I've discovered they can be used up efficiently by setting a block on point and then adding borders - even a single 12" block makes a great little medallion quilt that way. Now, have I done that with any of these? Umm.... no. But I could, someday. Or that's what I keep telling myself.

I'm afraid that now that I've shown (even just a glimpse) into what I've got that's still in pieces here, you're going to get worried about me and the Tulip quilt that I'm working on. I have to admit, I've been slacking off. I haven't worked on it much this week, with the excuse that I was too busy cleaning and reorganizing in the sewing room.

But really, I do finish quilts sometimes. Hopefully soon I can show you a few. I'm working on getting bindings on two of them right now.


Thursday, 26 June 2008


Dear Cassie,

This will be a short one, but I just had to pop here to show you this…
I thought that I would knit something while thinking of further quilts and quilting patterns and the border for the Yellow Flowers. Yes, the border is giving me a lot to think about and since I really don’t have a solution right now, I had to find something else to keep me busy. I am really not a kind who can sit with idle hands.

I tried a couple of sock patterns but found no luck nor love there.
Family Ties (ISBN 1-55853-134-3) has been by my bed side ever since you gave it to me. I really love the title: Family Ties “Old Quilt Patterns from New Cloth” – that sounds so simple. The whole book feels that way, the patterns are beautiful and quiet and there is nothing flashy in them. The first time I looked through the book, I stopped at Piney (Peony) and it has happened every time I open the book.
So this is the humble beginning of many happy hours to come.


Monday, 23 June 2008

all four blocks done

Dear Cassie,

Really, I don’t mind seeing all things blue…

Small things moved me also some time ago, the smaller and the more complex the better, but all of a sudden, the phase passed and now I seem to be into all things big and simple. It was all of a sudden, I did not go gradually from small to big, but jumped right from one end to the other.

While I was hand-sewing these huge blocks together I thought that maybe once again I have gone overboard. From the tiny hexagons to these huge and bold flowers… for sure there has to be the middle ground there somewhere. I know I said sometime ago that I plan to sew everything by hand (I will sew the binding partly by machine) but I guess I did not realize it would mean sewing seams that are more than 2 meters long and I am having second thoughts.

All the blocks are done. There was sense of relief and accomplishment after I had pieced the blocks together. I thought about adding something to these blocks all the time while appliquéing and pondered about adding flowers to the borders but so far nothing worked. So my plan today is to add plain off-white borders with no flowers and no leaves. You have kept telling me from the very beginning that quilting will be a great filler. So I will take your advice and start planning quilting designs after I have added the borders.
I have learnt a lot – about everything:

of colours - some combinations worked better than others and I have favourites among the flowers

of shapes - some are heavier than others and while at times I have felt that the shapes are too bold, I have also found beauty in the simplicity

of fabrics - some are easier on the hands and easier to fold while others cause problems with fraying and others by being too dense

of appliqué stitches - I have gone from ladder stitch to fell stitch, back to ladder and then again to fell... and the last block was done totally with fell stitch

of different methods of appliquéing - at first doing more or less everything with English paper piecing, then only partly adding freezer paper on top to the mix and then finally without any freezer paper at all

and I went from trying to be very precise to more or less free hand work.

I am very aware of the fact that I am not even half way there yet but still I keep dreaming of new quilts...

I keep coming back to this one frequently, but so far I have just admired it. As much as I love slow-sewing, there are times when I wish it just was not quite that slow.



Thursday, 19 June 2008

crazy little blue things

Dear Lene,

Apparently, with you gone for just a couple of days, I've totally lost steam. Yesterday I didn't manage to do anything on my third block (this in spite of the fact that it really is going faster without the freezer paper). I guess I need your presence to keep me going.

This morning I pulled out two piles of blocks that I had told you about. Started years ago - admittedly at a very stressful point in my life, when I really needed something to focus on.

These are the Dear Jane blocks I did - I think from about 2000-2002. I worked on them in the midst of a very stressful move from one apartment to another.

They're all entirely hand-sewn. I was able to have my handwork in one tiny work bag, and still keep sewing while my entire life was in boxes.

Somewhat unfortunately, I made them all blue. I'm not sure why I got going with that (other than the fact that my blue fabric stash is just enormous), but as you know blue is just not my color. Ultimately, I got bored with them and they've been living in a tin in the closet ever since. Every once in a while (like today) I take them out and think about setting them together. Somehow. I think that's the problem - they don't really move me, I have no idea where to go with them, and yet ... I put so much work into them that they really deserve a life outside of their tin.

The next set of blocks are from Linda Franz's Quilted Diamonds book.

These I actually like, but once again ... they live in a tin. Also all hand pieced. I obviously was on a teeny-tiny piecing kick for a while, but the fever seems to have passed and now I have lots of little blocks (and diamonds).

Just to show you that I've also been bitten by the English paper piecing bug:

hexagons [Edit: that would be octagons!] and squares - blue squares (maybe I don't dislike blue as much as I say I do?)

Stars in hexagons. Again... a lot of blue (but these have pink and purples too).

I really do like the fabrics in this one.

Now, can you please get back and keep me on track here? I'm afraid I might do something crazy. Or something else in blue.


Monday, 16 June 2008

second block done!

Dear Lene,

I know I've been bad about taking pictures of the blocks I'm working on. First we had that heatwave, and now we're into our third day of clouds and thunderstorms here. Fortunately, I prefer that to the heat, but the rare sunlight we've had has made it difficult to find just the right time to take pictures. But I tried my best, to keep you updated.

Here are the first two blocks, finished except for the center reverse appliqué:

The reason I'm waiting to do the reverse appliqué is because I wasn't sure if I was going to have enough of the blue for it. I have other blue fabrics that are similar, though, so I figured if I run out, I can use an alternate fabric at the center. I'm still not sure which fabric I'm going to use for the swags in the border - I'm hoping to have enough of the green, but I may go with blue. (Or maybe the blue will be used for the binding instead? I'm really playing this by ear, as I go along.)

When I was basting down the center yellow piece for the third block, I had a funny parakeet moment, and managed to grab my camera just in time:

That's Moe the parakeet, who just discovered pins for the first time. What I did was to lay down the piece with freezer paper still attached, pin down the seam allowances, and then remove the freezer paper and baste just the fabric down to the background.

For the first two blocks, I left the freezer paper on, and worked around it. Normally, this is one of my favorite methods of appliqué, but with the 22" square yellow piece, it just wasn't practical. After reading the comments about this method, I decided to try something else for the third block. I had thought I was going to mark at least the inner curves (the deep ones at the base of the scallops) with white chalk, but when I tried that I just wasn't happy with it.

Of course, when I finally took a picture, you can't see the white chalk marks at all. But I did spend some time wiping them off in frustration - it really was worse before.

What I decided to do in the end was something new for me. I recently found a small size hera marker in one of my sewing supply tins. I had never used it (it was still in the packaging) but had probably bought it because it was different than the other ones I have, with one end that was pointy - almost like a plastic awl.

I tried using the pointy end of the hera marker to press turning lines into the fabric, and was really pleasantly surprised by the result. I had to lay the freezer paper back over the yellow fabric to do it, but that was easy enough.

I'm very happy with how it's going, and will probably use the same method for the fourth block. Next time, though, I'm going to mark the turning lines before I remove the freezer paper. It will stabilize the fabric a bit more.

When we had started up with this whole idea, I mentioned another four-block quilt I had started a few years ago. I think I said something about lots of leaves being too fussy. I pulled the block out and ironed it (although you can't tell at all from this picture!) and re-examined it.

I really like it, and I realize now that the Tulip quilt I chose to copy is a much harder pattern to sew than this oval wreath pattern. Oh, well. Maybe it will be my next project.

I chose to work on the wreath quilt totally freehand, although I did baste the pieces down using a pattern, I didn't mark any lines. It works out just fine for these smaller pieces, unlike the large piece at the center of the tulip quilt. I found the block with a needle still in place:

I've been really tempted by it - to just pick it up and sew a few pieces down, but I'm resisting the temptation. I'm telling myself it can be my reward for finishing up the tulip quilt top. I only have a quarter of this one block sewn, but have all the fabrics set aside for the entire quilt. Something to look forward to....


PS - I'm not ignoring your hexagon madness. But may I make a suggestion? Step very slowly and carefully away from the hexagons. They seem dangerous.