Sunday, April 15, 2018

To Bee or Not to Bee?

It's been 4 years since I last participated in my quilt guild's yearly bee. When our president Neva asked for interested parties last fall, I was finally ready to sign that paper again.

Here's how our bees work: There is a maximum of 12 spots for each year (one person for each month, Jan. - Dec., and if we get 11, we skip July, our non-meeting month). Each month, one quilter is the "queen bee" who decides on the pattern/tutorial/theme and can choose to pass out fabric, too. Each person in the bee makes a block, and then brings them to the next month's meeting to share with the whole guild. Then, the queen bee makes a quilt from all the blocks! Our bee is so popular that a second bee ran last year, the "New Bee" (newbie, get it?) for quilters who wanted to make simple blocks only.

Flying geese bee blocks from the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild, 2014 - my longest running WIP (UFO?)

Here are the reasons I love quilt bees of any kind (I've also done Round Robins, which are my favorites): you get to contribute to a quilt for someone (bonus points if it's for a friend). You can try different techniques and explore your piecing likes and dislikes. The opportunity arises to use precious fabrics or scraps from the stashes of other quilters. Most of the time, bee blocks are a quick make, and can be a fun, inspiring project. Blocks usually turn out unique to each maker; working together creates beautiful work.

Here are the downsides. Relying on other people can be tricky. I have been involved in a very hairy, still-unresolved-after-YEARS (literally years) quilt bee situation. People drop off the map, don't get in touch, etc. It's frustrating and hurtful to all parties involved. Quilts are personal, emotional, and financial investments.

The first blocks of my traveling curve-themed round robin quilt, which is now being quilted. More on that hopefully this year!

On the less dramatic note, blocks *can* be time consuming. It might be another difficult deadline to complete, depending what's already on your plate (this is the main reason I refrained from signing up the last few years). You might receive instructions to create a quilt block that you are really uncomfortable with. In my other guild bee experience, a queen bee asked for reverse applique, and no matter how much I tried, I could not make the block look the way it was supposed to. I felt bad because it was supposed to be a part of her quilt - I still handed it in at the meeting, but it always haunted me.

For a guild bee, there's generally less risk involved. These are people you see every month or so, whether or not you know them well. You can ask for help in person if you need it, and there are no mailing costs (unless you can't make the meeting). And best of all, this time around, it's given me an opportunity to make a quick block/palate cleanser before I work on my own more thought-and-time-consuming work. So, into the bee I go. My month is July, and I'm starting to cobble together a plan for my beemates! I'll certainly blog about it further when the time comes.

So, have you joined a quilt bee? If not, would you like to? What do you like/dislike about the experience?

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Otter Raft - A Finished Quilt

Four years ago, I made a secret quilt for my husband, the giant Dr. Who churn dash quilt (that blog post includes "8 Steps to Making a Quilt for your Significant Other"). That quilt has been used just about every. single. day., sometimes for hours on end (so at this point that's 1,460+ days). It's been washed many times, and some of the quilting has even come out. It's cozy and truly a staple in our home.

About a year ago, I found out that Mike loves sea otters. LOVES them. How I had not known this fact after being a couple for almost 12 years, I'm not sure, but it was nice to know there are still some surprises left to discover. :)  Ha. So, when I saw Elizabeth Hartman's "Awesome Ocean" pattern and showed Mike, he was SO excited and immediately started begging for another quilt (even though it's labelled a manatee in the pattern). With that level of enthusiasm, I really couldn't say no.

The first pic, while in his natural habitat: "I can't force a smile!" The second pic was a genuine smile, so I whipped out my phone to capture it. :)

If I purchase a pattern, which is pretty rare (since I like creating my own designs), I usually stray away from the original layout. This pattern was no different since the original design contains all the cute sea animals. For my recent collaborative quilt with my niece, we chose just three animals and the coral.

While I'm thrilled with the results of both sea animal quilts, the cutting expectations for them were no joke. Phew. I cut out the pieces for 8 otters and labelled them all with pieces of Post-Its and Wonder Clips, separating each otter in a plastic bag. After that huge effort, I really didn't want to sew them together, so they sat in one of my plastic project bins for a few weeks. Eventually, I got tired of seeing them sit there, so I started chain piecing, and eventually some faces appeared. They are so cute and just a little squinty eyed, since I refused to use pins. :) Honestly, I wouldn't have them any other way.

Once the otters themselves were done (a bit quicker than I expected; I think we had another big snow storm that week), I gave Mike a few options for the layout. He liked the idea of otters swimming in different directions (yay!). I had purposefully created a blue background light to dark (like many of my quilts) to create some interest, so I used that to inform the final layout. And I loved creating the ombre binding (pictured below) to match with the changing quilt background!

Did you know that a group of otters in water is called a "raft?" My wonderful guild friend Linda looked it up at our last sewing day as I was cutting out the approximately 1.5 million pieces to make 8 otters (okay, slight exaggeration). So, a quilt name was born.

I used Aurifil thread 2715 (Robin's Egg), 4140 (Wedgewood), and 2745 (Midnight) to quilt overlapping waves using my walking foot. I usually quilt more densely, but figured I could always add more if necessary. With the Mammoth Flannel backing, the whole quilt washed up beautifully. Mike has commented several times about how warm it is, and it's easy to see why it's the current quilt of choice on the couch for both of us.

Pictured with lots of past projects including my guild's quilt made for me, purple fabric woven pillows from Shannon of the Jersey Shore MQG, my recent paper-pieced pillow, and Bouquet now hanging on the wall. I love a colorful house!

So with that, I created another quilt for my significant other, this time not in secret. Though parts of the process were tedious, these are the best kind of quilts that I make! The reaction is priceless, and I'm sure there will be more. We still have plans to create a Middle-earth map quilt together to hang on the wall, after all...

Linking up to Needle and Thread Thursday, Crazy Mom Quilts, TGIFF.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Over time

Within the last two years, I noticed something markedly different about my piecing skills. After nearly 8 years of sewing, I'm at the point now where I can confidently pick up nearly any pattern (possibly even paper-piecing! What?) and be able to sew it together without major mishap. Points will exactly or just about line up with little effort or pinning, half-square triangles will come out exact or just nearly exact, and the finished block size might be off by 1/8 of an inch, if at all. This, to me, is just about quilting perfection. Not that I've aimed for perfection, but this is how I stand.

A block just sewn for my guild's bee for next month. I had never made this block before, and in the past been iffy with the sewing-white-corners-on-the-black-square step, but lo and behold, it just happened effortlessly.

Back when I started sewing 8 years ago, when everything was new and required so much concentration, I never dreamed that I'd be able to piece the way I can now. I think it's the culmination of practice nearly every day for 8 years. Not just physical practice, though - also reading about sewing on blogs, Instagram, and in books for 8 years straight. Forcing myself to follow a traditional block of the month program back in 2013. Taking a few in-person classes. Interacting with my in-person quilt guild and ogling their work close up every month. Attending quilt shows. Observing how other people sew and forcing my mind to learn in a new or different way. My brain consumed this information and doled it out bit by bit when needed.

Some people set out as beginner quilters expecting everything to come out exactly perfect. And it might! For most people, though, it takes years. This is like any other skill. Piano players, chefs, pitchers, bicyclists (after a year and a half of spin class at the gym, I'm really understanding it!), etc. You develop a rhythm and consistently practice. And in the end, you will see those results.

It was hard to wait, but I'm really beginning to see how years of work pay off. What step of sewing has unexpectedly become second nature to you?

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Modern FMQ QAL: April (Month 4)

Are you quilting along with the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild? It's super easy and fun! Every month, I post several links to tutorials in this Google Doc for the Modern Free Motion Quilt Along. Each month has a theme, and you choose your current free motion quilting skill level to follow a tutorial or two.  

Our goal is to practice free motion throughout the year and come out on the other side with a small sampler quilt. At guild meetings, we're bringing our quilt sandwiches in to share, and you can share from afar (outside the guild) on Instagram with the hashtags #modernfmqqal and #cjmqg. Find out all the details on this page over on my guild's website. All fun, all FMQ, all year!

This month, we're exploring curves and waves - a precursor to more circular quilting! The tutorials I posted range from beginner - intermediate/expert, and, just like the last three months, I combined a few different motifs in my quilt sandwich. I've also made an effort to change thread colors to vary up the quilt; here, I experimented with Aurifil 4060 (Silver Moon - variegated gray) and 1126 (Blue Grey).

One of my absolutely favorite modern free motion quilting motifs is the Bear Claw by Christina Cameli (see top right). It's so easy to quilt and a perfect filler for a background where you'd like some texture. I followed that with some big spirals, and then to the left, I tried LuAnn Kessi's clam shells. I'm itching to try some of the other variations she posted about. This one is very forgiving.

It's fun to see the backs of my quilt sandwiches in all their Anna Maria Horner fabric glory. It will certainly be interesting to see how they all look once the quilt is pieced together later in the year.

Next month's theme is bound to be interesting (and maybe a bit more challenging). Keep quilting, and stay tuned! 

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