Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Short Comment Follow-up...

I thought I would quickly respond to some comments that came in, before I forget to answer.  First, thanks to all for your comments; I read them and am inspired!
  • The Bed of Roses quilt that was at Road to California in January was mine; I won a second place ribbon on it, too!  I am starting to encourage friends to enter their quilts in more shows -- if you know you are going to enter a quilt, it will make you a better quilt-maker!
  • For those who are timid about doing needle-turn applique.... just do it!  You will be amazed at how quickly you can pick up the techniques.  Take a class or two, also -- I still take classes, and I still learn something every time I do
  • I sometimes ink around my applique templates (freezer paper or mylar shapes) with a small-point Pigma pen, particularly when the shape is supposed to be perfectly symmetrical.  Then, I cut out the piece, and turn the seam allowance under as I applique it in place.  This method allows me to use the inked line as a guide:  when it does not show on the top, that's the turn line!
  • My thoughts on the Frixion pen:  if it works for you, go for it.  I do NOT use it, nor do I use any other type of markers like blue or purple washaway markers, other than chalk, mechanical pencils with ceramic lead (white lead only!) or even regular lead, and Pigma markers.  I don't even use starch, Best Press, or other fabric finishes.  Every single one of these things, I have found, can cause more problems than they solve -- with each (washaway markers, starch, fabric finish, etc.), I have had occasion for fabrics to bleed, especially reds and dark navy or black.  It's just not worth the hassle when a pre-washing fabric, a good steam iron, Pigma pens, ceramic/lead pencils work just fine.
  • Almost every quilt I've made has a pattern for it (there are exceptions) - check your local quilt store first and if they can't get them, go to my website,  I am still updating some of my older patterns and bringing them up to my usual standards; my older patterns did not have all of the tips and measurements that many of you have now come to expect!
  • Hand-quilting across layers of applique is a breeze for me because I don't use a running stitch; I'm an old stab-stitcher, and love how it relaxes me to do hand-quilting.  Because I poke the needle down from the top, pick it up from underneath with my other hand on the bottom and then poke it back up and catch it on the top, I can just about quilt through concrete!  It takes practice but I have total control with stab-stitching.  Just remember to always have your quilt frame parallel to the floor and your needle perpendicular to the floor and your stitches will be even on the top and the back.
Thanks, everyone, for your support.  Please remember that my comments, above, are just MY opinion.  If you have a different opinion, I am FINE with that!  Everyone develops the tools and techniques that gives them the best results. 

Now... if I could just find that bottle with time in it... oh heck.  I probably couldn't afford it.


Friday, February 1, 2013


Happy February to everyone - a month full of holidays with Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, President's Day, and more.  For me, it's a time to catch my breath after January, and see if my goal setting is on track or if I've already fallen behind.  In truth, I'm behind because it was only today that I finally sat down and figured out what I want to accomplish for the year!  I have lots of ideas... lots of projects... lots of hopes... and I plan to have fun doing all of it.  Life is good!

This month I will share how many of my ideas flow from one quilt into the next -- it's an exercise in creativity for me:  to take something I like and use it again in a fresh way.  At the same time, you can view some of my quilting; I do believe that quilting can help bring a quilt to life.  And finally, I'll close with some comments about your comments and various emails I've gotten.  Let's get started!
Mama Said was a quilt I made several years ago.  I wanted to make a quilt that would honor my parents, and this was the result.  The nine blocks celebrate what I was taught to do - and those living verbs remain with me today.  You cannot see it in the picture below, but each block is surrounded with embroidered phrases that also "taught" me something.

Here's a close-up of one of the blocks; in it you can read some of the phrases that are embroidered around the block.  I had so much fun creating this quilt!

After I finished Mama Said, I took several of the blocks and used them to "play" with various border options.  I wanted to explore how to create different borders and how to let one idea flow into another creation.  In this first one, Share, you can see that I used the same border motifs but changed the overall color scheme - and the quilt block was enlarged quite a bit.  Sometimes creativity does not have to be more complicated than changing sizes and colors.

Here's another large wall hanging using one of the Mama Said blocks, Trust.  I loved this quilt because it was the first time I tried making quarter-square triangles and using them in a border.  Those quarter-square triangles are 3-inches in size.  I chose to explore letting applique overlap the pieced borders behind it.  It gives a quilt another dimension and sense of depth to do that. 

Here's a close-up of the word at the top of this quilt -- I loved adding different motifs as I created this quilt. 

And here, in Laugh, is one more of the "child of Mama Said" quilts.  This is smaller - about 2 feet by 3 feet - but I love its simplicity.  In this quilt, I took the Laugh block and added borders and then quilted it with a delicate cross-hatching.  The colors are different than the other colors, too - I like seeing how different colors give a different feel to a quilt. 

Here's a close-up of the quilting in Laugh - it was so much fun to see this quilt come to life with the quilting!

I hear complaints all the time about people who love my quilts but don't applique.  I have an answer for them.  You don't have to know how to applique to do an applique quilt!  No - I have yet to meet a quilt (other than, perhaps, a complex Baltimore album style quilt) that I can't turn into an embroidered quilt.  Below, Redwork Mama Said accomplishes the same thing that the appliqued Mama Said did, with its words and motifs.

Even the phrases that were appliqued around each of the original Mama Said blocks are included in this redwork version; take a look at the close-up, below.

So... can you see how you can take just about any pattern and turn it into a variety of different-looking quilts?  I see it all the time when people send me pictures of their quilts (and thank you, to those of you that do!) -- I love seeing how quilters take my ideas and add different motifs, use different colors, enlarge or shrink blocks... it's great to know that creativity is alive and well!  Further down in this post, you will see how someone took one of my designs and did something amazingly different with it. 

But first!  Here is an old pattern of mine:  Classic Santas.  This quilt is what I have always called a "jumble" quilt -- lots of blocks, various sizes, all laid out in a totally non-symmetrical arrangement.  I loved making all those different Santas, and the pattern tells the source of the Santa; each is from a different country and is associated with the customs of that country. 

Here's a close-up of one of the Santas -- the Swiss Samichlaus who rides in from the wintry forests on a little donkey.  Announced by the gentle tinkle of bells at the door, he is invited in and gives gifts after asking the children in the house about their behavior and their prayers.  He leaves after shaking hands with everyone.  You can see, in this close-up, some of the quilting that adds to the quilt, with curls in the flowing beard.  When I hand quilt, I always echo around every bit of applique - and in this case, I echo quilted around the applique.

I liked Classic Santas a lot... so much so that I decided to re-make it, but with an entirely different look and feel to it.  Below is my Classic Santas done entirely in white, off-white, creams, tans, and taupe colors.  The setting - there is no "jumble" here - is very symmetrical.  I love this quilt because the warm colors remind me of Christmas baking:  melted butter, brown sugar, cookies, graham crackers and marshmallows...  I can just smell Christmas when I see this quilt!  I will point out that the large 8 inch open white border gave me a large space in which to quilt a meandering feathered vine.  I love spaces like this; they give us a place to rest our eyes, and also pull our vision toward the center of the quilt.

And here is the same Samichlaus block -- doesn't he look different?  But it's the same pattern as the red and green Santa above.  Take a look at the fabrics here -- to make this quilt even more warm-looking, I used quite a few metallic (gold) fabrics that added to the overall richness of the quilt.

Here's another example of taking a block and using it again.  First, a green feathered star quilt:

Here's a close-up of that feathered star block.  Feathered stars are classic blocks.  They are often viewed as difficult to make, but I find them fun.  I said fun, not fast!  There are a lot of pieces in a feathered star - which is what makes them take so much time to make.  I often teach feathered star workshops because people want to make this block but need to know how to do it with ease.

Here's another quilt - Stars for a New Day - that uses the same feathered star as the center block.  In this quilt, I made the center of the feathered star plain; the rest of the quilt carries the complexity of the overall quilt.

And here is another medallion-style quilt with a central feathered star.  In this quilt, Washington Medallion, I used another feathered star, but because the rest of the quilt was not as detailed and complicated (meaning the blocks were larger and had fewer pieces), I simplified the feathered star.  See how you can take the same block and use it in a different way in a different quilt?  Sweet!

But don't think for a second that the simpler feathered star makes the quilt less interesting.  Oh, no.  In this case, I let the quilting carry the interest forward in the quilt.  Check out the quilting in the detail shot, below.

Here is another of my favorite blocks:  The Coxcomb and Currants block.  I love it and have used it over and over again.  Note that I used a busy print for the background; some quilts can handle prints like this as the background fabric.  It keeps the quilt from being boring!

Here's the first quilt I used it in.  I haven't quilted it yet -- that's on my list of things to do this year!  But I just love how this quilt looks and already have a picture in my head of double feathered wreaths in the open blocks and a feathered vine in the border.  I just need a few more hours every day to get started on all these projects.   Ha!

That very same block was used again in this quilt...  Coxcomb Medallion.  Note that the currants in the center block are in a color gradation, to add interest.  And the corners of the interior swag border have the coxcomb flower in them.  Repetition pulls a quilt together.

When I made the quilt above, I made a double set of all of the pieced blocks.  I took them and added a pinwheel border.  Again, can you see how one quilt begets another?  It's not hard; you just have to be intentional about it. 

And here, again is another of my same coxcomb and current blocks.  When a group of friends all decided to do a round robin, I decided that my starting block would be a coxcomb and currants block.  Here it is (it also includes some of the next rounds of the round robin additions).  Again, the berries in this block were done using a gradation of medium to dark red fabrics.  I like doing that when it makes sense; it adds interest to a block.

And here is how the quilt looked when it was done -- note that the center of the block (the flower) was repeated as cornerstones in the center white border.  Yes, repetition helps pull a quilt together.

Here is another quilt from that round robin - my friend Marsha F started with the center block... and when it was my turn to add a border, I added that border of red semi-circles with green circles in each, just outside of the star border.

I had a lot of fun creating that border... and when I made Bed of Roses, below, I used that same design as the final border.  I think it's interesting how designs tumble forward from one quilt into the next.  Maybe that's part of why we see so many blocks in the old Baltimore album quilts that are duplicated... before copy machines were ever invented!

Here's another example of tumbling one idea forward from one quilt to another.  At one point in the past, I was enthralled with four-block quilts.  I made this quilt, called The Washingtonian because I made it while I was living in DC and working for NASA for an extended period of time.

Here are two close-ups of that quilt - first, of a pineapple block and second, of the border.  Check out the quilting in these blocks; they add to the quilt's look.

That pineapple block was about 22 inches square.  I decided to use it, set on point, to demonstrate how one block, when set on point, can "grow" a quilt quite quickly.  In this quilt, called The Houstonian because by the time I made this quilt, I'd moved back to Houston to serve as the Johnson Space Center's Associate Director.  In this quilt, a 22 inch block set on point becomes a 31 inch block, and with added borders, it easily makes a 45 inch lap quilt.  Not bad, eh?

What I love about setting blocks on point is not only that they quickly enlarge a quilt; they also give me very nice area for adding hand quilting.  Check out the picture below....

I hope you notice, in the picture above, that there is not a single border motif... rather, I used several different quilting stencils to add borders to the setting triangle.  Sometimes, to make a stencil fit, you have to be creative!

Now... remember earlier when I said I'd show you how someone sent me a picture of a quilt they'd designed using one of my patterns?  First, here is the quilt I made - Sleeping Beauty.  It was based on a quilt made in the 1800s by a 17-year old girl.  I loved her notion of using black prints with a sprinkling of other colors.  Look closely, and then...

take a look at this quilt, ShapeShifter, made by Nancy Arseneault of Tucson, Arizona.  In this award-winning quilt, Nancy broke with all historical precedents and set her New York Beauty blocks on point.  She said that left her with some difficult choices:  how would she fill in the large corners?  She began by extending the sashing and added more of those little stars at the end, like exclamation points.  She then added the outer dogtooth border.  When she went to quilt Shapeshifter, Nancy did lots of quilting in the ditch before quilting feathers in the open spaces.  But that's not all Nancy did.

Look at the detail picture below.  Aside from the lovely ribbon she received, she bound the quilt and then added felted balls, attached with little beads.  Nancy said she chose the name of her quilt because "as it developed on my design wall, a friend said that every time she saw it, she noticed different shapes in the patchwork."  Congrats go to Nancy for a well-designed quilt, incorporating exquisite technical merit!

One more thing... go back and look at the original Sleeping Beauty quilt.  See how one pattern can be deftly changed and become an entirely different quilt?  That's what I love seeing -- send pictures if you make my quilts, whether they follow the pattern to the letter or divert substantially.  Your pictures inspire me to keep on designing new quilts!

So what have I been working on lately?  WAY TOO MANY NEW THINGS!  If I could settle myself down and work on just one project at a time, I'd probably make much more progress...  at least on that one item.  Instead, I'm working on seven or eight different projects at a time, switching back and forth at a whim.  I HOPE that next month I will have more to show you, but for now, I'll just give you a little clue:

That's right.... that's at least forty different pinwheel sashing strips for one of the quilts I'm working on.  I have another twenty done... and another forty to go.  I'm hot on the trail!  And then the other projects... well, I'll just wait and see how far I get.  I might even surprise myself!

Now... a few comments.  This past month I've gotten a couple of heart-felt emails through the COMMENTS you have made.  I love your comments and read them as soon as they appear.  I learn a lot about what you like and what you want to see.  Here's the problem, though:  sometimes, you ask me a question that needs to be answered.  Unless your profile includes your email address, I can't answer you!  I can add another comment to my own blog post... but sometimes the question I am asked is far too personal... or asks for detailed instructions on some facet of a pattern... or... well, you get the idea.  If you want me to answer you in these cases, I MUST have your email address!  Either add it to your profile, or email me off-line (I DO read my emails and I answer 99.9 percent of them).  My email address is included in my profile and I've now added it to the sidebar (though I may remove it from the sidebar if I start getting weird spam...).  Please.... please...  I don't want any of you to think that I am ignoring you!

Someone else asked if I might consider posting more often than once a month.  I would LOVE to do that!  Really!  The only problem is... well, I just think that you wouldn't be as happy with a short little post every few days... versus a long post with lots of information in it.  And the bigger issue is that it takes time to prepare these focused entries; today I started preparing the photos just after noon and when you take out a three hour break to have dinner out with my sweetie, it's now past ten, which means this post took almost 7 hours.  Phew!  No wonder I only do this once a month!  So for now, just look me up on the first of the month or a day or two later.  I'll keep updating... and once somebody (please!) invents those extra few hours in each day, I'll start posting a lot and a lot more often!  Also... if you'd like to see me post or write about something in particular, zap me a note or make a comment.  I'm always looking for something new to think about and write about.

In the meantime... my sewing machine is crying for attention, my quilt frame is begging to be tended to, and yes, my vacuum says it needs a little aerobic activity in my sewing room.  I guess I'd better answer their calls.

Happy quilting!
(c)2013 Susan H. Garman