Sunday, June 1, 2014

New Blocks, New Quilts, and More

The month of May was a whirlwind of activities for me -- the local guild quilt show, out-of-town lectures and workshops, family events, new design, and more.  There is so much to share that I'm going to save some of it for next month:  the photos from my guild's quilt show!  This month, my blog will show you some things I've been working on and photos from some workshops I led over in Marble Falls - and photos that fellow quilters have sent to me.  Let's get started! 

First, I made a lot of progress on my Target Practice quilt in May.  Here's its status as of today.  As you can see, it is not quilted... but it's not finished, either.  I am going to add a small border of chained squares to the top before I quilt it. 

Below is a rough draft of the chained squares border I want to add to my quilt.  As you can see, the quilt above and the drawing below are not alike.  I like to draw mock-ups of my quilts in Electric Quilt just so I can determine the size of borders that will fit nicely.  Clearly, Electric Quilt does not have my Target practice block, since it is an original design -- so when I did the mock-up, I just substituted other blocks as "place holders" - so that I could "size up" the outer border.  I think that the chained squares border will frame this quilt nicely.  I will probably use smaller squares than the ones shown below, though.  Can you see how my thought process works, though?  People ask me about how I design quilts.  This shows a piece of the process:  figure out your blocks (type, size, color), figure out your sashings and cornerstones (type, size, color), figure out all the other borders (all at the beginning or one-by-one as you sew...)... and figure out the size and color of the floaters (those little strips between borders that make the borders fit) you need so you can assemble the quilt top with ease.

Other than the chained squares border, I only have one thing left to do:  add a circle to the center of each half block along the half-block border.  I didn't stitch them in place before I added this border because I wanted the little cheddar circle that overlapped the floaters (floaters are those un-pieced strips that you put in a quilt to make borders "fit" right).  You can see in the picture below that the half-circle is empty -- it will have a whole 5/8th-inch circle centered across the horizontal intersection of the block and the floater.

The other project I worked on this month was designing new Baltimore album blocks.  I keep a notebook and files full of pictures of antique quilts.  This was one of the ones that caught my eye this week (see below). 

I love this quilt because of the wonderful colors and because it is so quirky.  Notice that 1) the border is just wavy lines sewn onto the long sides of the quilt, 2) there are three different blocks -- one with the tulips, berries, and leaves; one with berry vines and birds; and one with only3 tulips -- and their placement is pretty non-symmetrical; and 3) the stems are RED!  I decided to make a combination of all of those options and after a few tries, came up with the design below; the block is to be set on point.  I didn't have room to make the tulip stems straight - I had thought that I could do that with a bird between the tulips.  Instead, I curved the tulip stems and put the bird in the middle.  I thought the design was pretty thin - meaning it had little visual impact, so I added some extra leaves and a rose and leaves on the vase.

I'm going to give you a quick lesson on stem-making.  I like using metal bias bars to make stems because they get really hot (be careful in using them!).  The first thing I do is to cut 1-inch wide strips of fabric, fold it in half lengthwise (wrong sides together), and stitch the length of the strip, with the distance of my stitch line from the fold becoming the width of my stem.  Here you can see the strip stitched - with the excess seam allowance trimmed away after I stitched it.

Next, thread a bias press bar (one that fits the size of the tube) into the tube you just sewed.  

Twist the tube such that all of the seam allowance (I trim it to less than 1/8th-inch width) is on ONE side of the bias bar.

Here is a close-up of the seam allowance twisted in place on the bias bar...

With the bias bar inside of the tube, press the length of the stem.  In my case, the stem was longer than the bias bar, so I just pressed the part that had the bias bar in it.  I like to use steam when I make stems -- it helps set the folds.

Now.... I take the bias press bar and push it further up into the tube.  In the picture below, the arrow at the top points to the tip of the bias bar, peaking out... and the arrow at the lower left shows where I stopped pressing the tube before and will resume pressing the remaining length of the stem.  To complete the process, I just have to twist the seam allowance to the underside of the stem... and press it... and presto!

All of that was prelude to a nice little tip.  I keep a bottle of water (which I use to fill my iron - I just keep refilling it with tap water) by my pressing mat.  Those metal bias bars can get QUITE hot.  I pull them out quickly after I've pressed a stem (and I try to leave about an inch at one end of the bias bar that is not pressed with the iron, so I can hold that end without scorching my fingers) and dip it into the water bottle.  It cools the bias bar quite nicely!

Now you finally get to see my block.  It is far from being finished, but as you can see...
  • The stems are red - I thought that was a great idea
  • I baste ALL the pieces of my block in place before I start doing the applique - in this case, I've already appliqued one leaf, the stems,, and one tulip.  The rest are ready to be stitched.  Getting an entire block ready like this makes the stitching go so much faster and smoother... and it makes it easy to take with me and work on at a bee or elsewhere because I don't have to take a light box or the pattern.
  • If you look at the draft pattern I drew, I had added a rose and leaves to the vase.  When I chose the fabrics, I decided to use a print fabric; the rose/leaves would not have shown up on it - and although I auditioned other fabrics where the rose/leaves would have worked well, I thought this print added more visual interest. 
  • Also, I really liked those little birds in the antique blocks, so I figured out how to put one in my block.  It took some work and a lot of re-drawing... but the bird got in there!

I laid the block out on my carpet in my sewing room (which serves as my design wall...), just to see how it would look with my other Baltimore blocks.  Of course, it'll look a lot better once the seam allowances have all been sewn under the motifs... and when I have ALL the blocks done!
Some of you may not recall, but I'm making a 15-inch on-point version of each new block, along with a 15-inch straight-set version of the same blocks.  My next step was to see how this on-point pattern would fit onto a 15-inch square when set straight.  I put my 15-inch ruler on top of the on-point blocks.  And oops!  I knew this would be an issue... but I wanted to see how much adjustment I'd have to make in designing a straight-set block.  Oh my... a lot!

I pulled more lengths of freezer paper off of my roll -- it's what I like to design on because I can erase it a lot without muddying up the surface.  I would love to use vellum, but freezer paper is a lot cheaper and easily available at the grocery store.  After about 3 tries (and a lot of erasing), I finished drafting the straight-set block.  I managed to fit in a bird... along with the other motifs.  I may still add a couple little leaves and I may add the rose/leaves on the vase.  I'll wait to decide until I've chosen the fabrics. 

I have barely begun to prepare the units to applique onto this block.  Taking a look at the picture below, you can see that I've basted all but the berries in place -- I still have to make them and then the block will be ready to start stitching. 

By the way -- I've decided to call this block, "Potted Tulips."  Why?  Because everyone who saw it said, "Wow - those leaves look like marijuana leaves!  Of course, my question back was, "And you would know this because...?"  So.. Potted Tulips it is.

I also took time to design another Baltimore album block.  Lately, I am really liking "simpler" album blocks -- they have a charm all their own with their bright red and green colors and their airiness.    The block I designed was based on the one below, which comes from an unknown quilt maker.  The picture may not be the greatest, but I the layout of the vase and flowers was very pleasing to me and was enough to get me started on a new block.  Here's the antique block, below.

And below was the pattern I drafted, based on the antique block.  I had to work to fit in all of the motifs and keep the leaves and flowers from being tiny - I removed some of the leaves.  The vase looked rather plain, so I did a "cut out" in it and will weave little stems in the cut out. 

Here's the straight-set version of the block.  Again, I had to do a bit of redesigning to make the motifs fit.  Notice that I removed those little do-dads on the top/center flower.  I might take them off of the on-point block, too.  I think this will be a really sweet block when it is done.  Normally, I don't like doing a ton of leaves on a block -- they are tedious!  But in this case, I think they add such a nice balance to the overall block.

Maybe next month you'll see some progress on these blocks -- and even a couple more blocks.  I have a goal of getting at least nine blocks done before I go off and teach at Baltimore on the Prairie in September.  Oh my - another reason to keep this blog short -- I need to sew!

The opportunity to spend time with the gals (and one fellow) at the Marble Falls Quilt Club in Marble Falls, Texas, kept me on the road this past month.  Marble Falls is about a 4-1/2 hour drive from home, but a beautiful trip.  This guild is a TON of fun!  I did a lecture and two workshops with the guild - and I felt right at home, which is unusual because I'm such an introvert.  Everyone there was so friendly, so happy, and so sweet. 

One of my favorite parts of visiting any guild is the "Show and Share" portion of the meeting.  The gals there really treated me, as several of them brought quilts they had made using my designs.  Here was one - Ruffled Roses.  I love the way it looked!

Another gal had made two of the same quilt ("Shivery Snowman").  I hadn't seen this quilt made up in a long time, so seeing these two together was a true delight. 

The choice of bright fabrics for the snowmen was a real treat.

This next quilt blew me away!  In April, Sara had taken my workshop on making New York Beauty quilts.  Oh my -- she FINISHED her top!  I am in LOVE with the fabrics she chose.  She used a focus fabric that was red with some blue birds and flowers on it... and she used all those colors in her blocks and sashing.  Isn't it just stunning?  I particularly like how she fussy cut the circle in the center of the cornerstones -- they were gorgeous!  I don't often get to see the finished products that come from workshops I've taught, so this pasted a huge smile on my face.

And here is a nearly-finished Lily Rosenberry.  It's in the middle of being hand-quilted, which is quite a task for anyone to take on.  Wow! 

 Here's some cool bluebonnets.  We Texans do love our bluebonnets...

They are gorgeous flowers...
Particularly when they cover the roadsides and the pastures in the Spring (I took these photos at my daughter's ranch on Easter weekend).
One of the Marble Falls guild members showed how you can use orphan blocks -- it's a great way!  Just use them when you make a bag, a purse, or a backpack.

The workshops I taught were on how to add borders... and make the pieced borders "fit" without having to chop off half of a star or a half-square triangle, or any other shape.  This was not a workshop I offer... but they asked if I'd teach them the technique, since I use it in many of my medallion/border-on-border quilts.

Everyone was so happy -- and so tickled with the results and the added tips I threw in.  My friend, Jeanne Sullivan ("Simply Successful Applique"),  had flown in from Annapolis, Maryland, and had joined me on this trip -- so she snapped these photos; usually I don't have photos of me in my blog.  Thanks, Jeanne!

Sometimes, when you add a border, there is only a small gap between the quilt center and the new border.  In the case below, the gap between the quilt center and the half-square triangle border allowed only a quarter-inch floater (border) strip.  Oh my - how do you sew quarter-inch border strips in place without having them wobble all over the place?  I demonstrated how:  stitch a 3/4-inch wide strip to the quilt center.  Press it in place.  Then... add the new border strip to the tiny little strip, pinning it carefully.  Here is the tip:  STITCH THE TWO UNITS TOGETHER, USING A QUARTER-INCH FOOT, WITH THE LEFT SIDE OF YOUR PRESSER FOOT ALIGNED WITH THE PREVIOUS STITCH LINE.  Instead of using the seam allowance and sewing a quarter-inch from it, use the previous stitch line... because the stitch line is straight, while the seam allowances on pieced block borders are often wiggling all over the place. 

Here's the result, below - a perfect, straight, even 1/4-inch wide floater strip!  It's a fail-proof method if you follow the instructions.

Cindy finished adding all of her borders - fitting them perfectly - and I got to see the results the next day.  Her work is beautiful!

And here is Sue K's finished quilt top.  Figuring out how to add borders and have them fit, as it turns out, is kind of a fun little adventure!

Here's a picture of all of the progress made in the second workshop - thanks to Gail H for the picture; she was the one who invited me to Marble Falls, and was a very gracious interface with the guild.  Thanks, Gail!

While I was in Marble Falls, I had the true pleasure of staying at my friend Mary's ranch.  She is fortunate in that she has a quilt shop in one of the guest houses on her ranch.  It's not open to the public, but her guild can come and shop there once a week.  Otherwise, it's just a hobby that lets her indulge in her quilting passion.  Her shop is in a huge room which displays fabric, notions, and quilts.  Let's ooh and aah over some of those quilts; Mary loves quilts that use reproduction fabrics.
I feel like I've died and gone to heaven when I'm at Mary's - the stress in my life just washes away.  I indulged in my own passion for quilting and purchased fabric for my next two quilts while I was there.  Whee!!!

And here is the sweetest lady I think I have EVER met -- she is so down-to-earth, so gracious, so generous, and so loving.  You can't help but love Mary!  She was working on this Giddy Up panel quilt for a wee one in her extended family.  It is perfect for a future little cowgirl!

I am in awe of Mary's piecing abilities.  Her work is simply flawless.  Look at this block...

And how does she do it?  Simple:  she presses every seam open.  EVERY seam.  It obviously works.  It will be my challenge to start trying to piece like Mary does.  She's my role model for perfect precision piecing!

Here's another of her blocks.  She had a whole stack of them done... and more to come.  She not only pieces well - she pays attention to directional prints.  Note here that she kept all of the blue prints going the same direction.  Attention to detail is one of the keys to quality results.

While I was at the ranch, Marcy W was there, too - and stopped sewing long enough to show me how she used a new ruler -- the "Rapid Fire Lemoyne Star" ruler.

She showed me how, in just a matter of a few minutes, she could make this Lemoyne Star block with absolutely perfect center intersections.  Woo hoo!  Naturally, I walked into Mary's "shop" and bought one of those ruler templates!

Before I close, I want to share some photos that quilters have sent to me.  I love seeing what people have done when they use my patterns (actually, I love seeing what people have done with any pattern, mine or not!).

First, Gail Smith entered her Hugs and Kisses quilt in the NQA quilt show in Columbus Ohio in late May.  She received an Honorable Mention - congrats!

Gail had Donna Derstadt quilt the quilt.  Gail said "I have to say that it is my FAVORITE quilt."  Wow!

Diane Dodds sent me pictures of her Omigosh quilt  She entered it in a show in Ottawa in May and she won Second Prize in Medium Size Bed Quilts.  Diane noted that the pictures were taken before she put the binding on.  First, here is Diane's ribbon - aren't they fun to look at?!!

Here is Diane's quilt laid out on the floor (not bound yet...).

And here is a close-up of the quilting.  It looks really great - I am often asked how to quilt Omigosh - but this looks better than any of my own suggestions.  The quilting was done by Diane's friend, Karine Chapleau.

 You rock, Diane!  Thanks for sending the pictures.

The next two pictures are from Ruth Quinn.  She made Lily Rosenberry using line green and bright pink.  It reminds me of ice cream sherbet - so pretty.  You can see more of Diane's work on her website,

When you see a close-up of the quilting on this quilt, you cannot help but marvel at its beauty.  Diane did the quilting on her quilt -- using a design by Desley Massino.  Diane asked for permission to use Desley's design and she gave it to her; you can check out more of Desley's work at -- you will definitely drool when you see her masterpiece quilting abilities.  Ruth's work is equally phenomenal, though - check it out, below.

Another pair of photos came to me from Cheri Walker.  She recently finished making Ladies of the Sea using my pattern, and is going to enter it into the Des Moines APQS show.  The quilt currently hangs in her living room and is a reminder of her yearly trips to Galveston.  We live in such a small world; I have a house on Galveston Island and the family has spent many a weekend there with me.

Here is a close-up of Cheri's quilt.  She used Hoffman batiks on a Kona cotton background and although she loves to hand applique, she made Ladies with a machine applique technique.  All of the applique is blanket stitched with King Tut variegated thread.  Cheri machine-quilted her quilt on her home sewing machine.  She stippled around the applique and hid shapes in the background quilting - including star fish, seas horses, dolphins, mermaids, and even a seagull perched on one of the ship masts.  Don't you just love surprises like this?  I certainly do!

I want to thank the gals who sent me pictures this past month -- seeing the work of others is always very inspiring!

That's all for this month... I could go on and on (after all, my guild had its biannual quilt show in May!) but I'll save the rest for a future post.  I haven't forgotten that I'm going to show you all how to use the Draw function in Word, either.  It'll show up here someday.

And I wish to thank everyone who posted a comment following my last blog.  Five names were drawn randomly and have now received a copy of Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks magazine.  Congrats!

In closing...  Happy quilting to each of you! 


(c)2014 Susan H. Garman


  1. Sue,like so many others, I look forward to the beginning of a new month to read your blog! Thank you for taking the time writing these posts which are always full of advice and inspiration. I just wanted to mention that this past weekend my husband took me to the Waverley Patchwork Show (Victoria, Australia)and to my delight there was many a quilt there quilted by Desley.

  2. Each month I look forward to reading your blog post - always so many beautiful quilts to see. You always give some helpful hints as well - it is a joy to see your quilts, I always love them all and many are on my list to make - now if I could just live long enough!

  3. Wonderful quilts. I love racing your blog. So interesting to see Lily Rosenberry done in bright colors. Thank you for taking to time to share all the loveliness with all of us.

  4. I love when the first of each month comes along-your blog is waiting for me. This one doesn't disappoint! Your talent is beyond outstanding; I wish I could take a class with you someday.

  5. 798152599968The very nice quilt guild, private quilt shop in a ranch, pretty blue flowers, quilters generously sharing their tips make it tempting to want to move to Texas. Giddy Up is so CUTE. Saw Hugs & Kisses at NQA Show - beautiful. Wonderful post. Thanks.

  6. This month's Blog was wonderful. I just now had time to read it at my leisure. Do you know what type of batting Ruth Quinn used in her Rosenberry quilt? Thanks for taking the time to write such a helpful blog.

  7. Love your blog, and very interesting to read how you plan your next step on your quilts, always such beautiful quilts to see !

  8. Your blog is on my top ten and every time I read it, I learn something new and get so inspired. Thank you very much. To see how you take an old block and redesign is very interesting process, one I've never done. Maybe someday. Hope you accomplish what you plan and I look forward to your next post.