Saturday, July 30, 2016

Chloe, My Handi Quilter Sweet 16

I've just introduced a new machine to my sewing room, the lovely Handi Quilter Sweet 16. In the end, I decided on that one over a traditional longarm as it fits my space so much better and I can sit down. Plus, it's less of a shift from quilting on a domestic sewing machine.

In addition to the main machine, I also ordered the table overlay and the TruStitch regulator, as well as one table extension. I'm using my pressing table to function as the extension on the other side.

The quilt shop I ordered it from, Gentler Times, delivered and set it up for me. It will be a bit of a learning curve but I'm so excited to use her! I named her Chloe. Hopefully after I've used her for awhile I can post a more detailed review.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Snowdrops Reversible Infinity Scarf

Even though I like to crochet, I've mostly stuck to stuffed animals and rarely bother with anything wearable as I tend not to like the clunkier look and feel. However, when I saw the Snow Drops Reversible Cowl, I really wanted to make it. I had recently acquired some gorgeous iridescent blue yarn (Kollage Mirage) and thought it'd be beautiful paired with white.

The pattern produced a cowl that was about 34 inches around, but I find that length to be awkward, so I decided to make mine nearly 60 inches around so that it can be wrapped around twice. That way it'd actually be useful in the winter. The lace side and non-lace side are done separately and joined later, but I know better than to join and then wash / block. I just cannot trust that the blue yarn won't bleed onto the white, I've had far too many sad experiences with something like this. So I blocked them individually and washed all the extra dye out of the blue yarn before I joined.

I think it looks nice, I love how the blue peeks through the white lace. It is quite thick due to being crochet and being 2 layers joined together, but it'd be cozy in the winter.

National Quilt Museum ~ Paducah, KY

I was visiting in-laws this weekend, and we decided to hit Paducah for the National Quilt Museum. Photography of any kind wasn't allowed in the exhibits but I got a few pictures of the outside and lobby area.

We asked for the guided tour, and the first stop of the tour was a little conference room. The guide mentioned the famous wooden quilt, and I, having heard of this quilt, looked around but all I saw was a simple quilt hanging on a quilt rod. Then, the guide said that WAS the wooden quilt, and I did a double take and gasped. The quilt on a rod, that looked so real, was made of wood! It was incredible.

The exhibit was so amazing. The amount of work that goes into some of the intricate quilts was unbelievable, with so much beadwork and hand applique. I alao enjoyed the beautiful modern and abstract quilts, and they gave me a lot of ideas for how I can incorporate that kind of look into my own quilts. I wish I could have taken photos, but alas, the most I can say is, it's not so much a quilt museum, as an art museum (mostly of the contemporary variety) where textile is the medium. It is fabulous and definitely worth a visit, quilter or not. Some of my favorites included a Lord of the Rings inspired quilt that was mostly thread painting, a 3-D piece of textile installation on metal rods, and a quilt that had embedded little cellular phone chips on it. I was delighted to recognize 2 modern quilts by Jacquie Gehring in the Midwest exhibit.

After the exhibit, I wandered into the gift shop, and there was a whole room devoted to every quilting book I had ever wanted. Everything on my Amazon wish list was in this room, and I wish I could have spent hours here! However, I had brought my 4 year old along, and she was running out of patience, so we left before I could browse to my heart's content.

Now that my head is swimming with ideas, I'm just dying to go quilt.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Piecing Cheats

Everybody has their strengths, and I discovered fairly early on that my piecing skills are pretty much going to lag behind my quilting skills. Piecing is supposed to be fun, but it's not very fun when I'm about to throw my machine with frustration over sewing a curved seam. (Yep, that almost happened.) It's not very fun when I'm about to cry because after hours and hours of work, the seams STILL don't match and it looks horrible. I want to keep it fun, but I also want to do some of the really beautiful stuff I see out there, and I do care about quality. So here's what I do to simplify.

When I see a piece of work or pattern that is above my level of ability piecing-wise, I always look for ways for me to achieve a similar look but doing it in an easier way. Here are some of the potential ways to make it simpler to do:

Can I applique it?

I hate piecing curved seams. I really, really hate them. When I first tried to do them on a Drunkard's Path block, I nearly broke down in frustration. I had bought a Curved Master presser foot, but it was completely useless to me, even when I manage to sew a curve ... it does not flatten into a square. However, a similar look can be achieved by appliqueing the curved piece, using either raw-edge or turned edge.

Can I use English paper piecing?

I like tumbling blocks a lot, I find the 3-d effect mesmerizing. I also like stars made up of diamonds. However, I find that level of precision piecing to be above my ability, so instead I make it with English Paper Piecing, which allows really really precise looking seams, and I applique it onto the background fabric. It looks just as good, if only a little thicker. (Think of that as extra insulation)

Can I make the piece oversized and square it up?

If I made half-square triangles using exactly what the specification was, by the time I try to square it up, it will probably resemble a diamond. Maybe it's my piecing of bias seams, maybe it's my pressing, but I cannot seem to get it right. But if I make it just a little bit bigger, I have plenty of room to square it up and it will look perfect.

Can I break down the block into easier components?

The LeMoyne star is made up of diamonds and Y-seams. Blech. Instead, I can achieve a very similar look by converting the entire thing into half-square triangles, which are much easier to work with. I do have more seams in this case, but it's better than not making it, or making it really badly.

Can I swap out that block for something else?

Sometimes, I just have to call it quits on a block. It's just not working. That's when I look for a block in that size and swap it out. Not only do I have something more "unique", but I don't have to force myself to do something I hate. After all, only I should dictate what I want to have on my quilt, and so what if it doesn't look exactly like the pattern picture?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Scraptastic Irish Chainish Quilt

I love using perfectly coordinated fat quarter packs to make a quilt, but I also love the scrappy look. It's not wasteful and allows me to say hello again to old favorites. When I saw this scrappy Irish Chain quilt at Kelly's Kwilts I knew I was finally ready to make an Irish Chain quilt of my own.

In order to be really scrappy, I cut out a total of 448 squares (half white, half from scraps) of 2.5" sq, and 112 squares (half white, half scraps) of 4.5" sq. That sounds like a lot of cutting, but I managed to do it fairly quickly and had a lot of fun too mostly because of the Stripology ruler from Creative Grids designed by Gudrun Erla. I saw it demonstrated at Quilt Fest and thought it was brilliant. It is my most expensive ruler, but completely worth it as it makes cutting strips accurate and really fun. In fact, I find every excuse to use this ruler!

After getting all my squares, I chain-pieced one white square to one colored square. Then, to make it really random, I mixed it all in a bin. I then grabbed pairs and put them together randomly. I only just started, but I will need to make 28 16-patches and 28 4-patches.

I wasn't feeling too sure when I was stitching individual squares together, but as the blocks came out one by one, I knew it was going to be great. The impact of scraps is undeniable. After all, despite their randomness, there's one common thread ... my taste.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Amigurumi Showcase

I taught myself to crochet because I wanted to make amigurumi, which is Japanese for stuffed dolls. I was at Stitches West in 2013 when I saw Ana Paula Rimoli's Amigurumi On the Go, and I bought it after a brief look inside, even though I didn't know how to crochet. I was determined to learn it. Soon I was so addicted that I did it nonstop, and my hands started to hurt. I figured I just had to work through the pain, and I kept crocheting. Within days, my hands started cramping up painfully, and I woke up every morning with trigger fingers. I never stopped, but I did switch to more ergonomic hooks and also took more breathers, and eventually (2.5 months later) my hands had completely healed.

If hand pain was the price I had to pay for crochet, it was worth it for all the stuffed animals I made over the last few years. It's interesting that although amigurumi started as a Japanese concept, the dolls that the English patterns made had a very different look and style. Most of the Japanese patterns seem to produce tiny dolls best suited for display and collecting, while the English authors produced dolls closer to stuffed animals that kids can play with. I want to share some of my favorite designers as well as my all-time favorite creations.

First up is Ana Paula Rimoli who was the one that got me into amigurumi to begin with with her adorable patterns, and she's known for giving faces and personality to inanimate objects ... like a birthday cake. I enjoy her patterns despite the extra work that embroidering the faces on require.

If Ana Paula Rimoli is the one who inspired me to want to make amigurumi, then Stacey Trock of Fresh Stitches is the one who really taught me how to do it. My very first class on Craftsy was Stacey's Amigurumi Woodland Animals, and through there I really learned how to crochet in the round and how to put stuffed animals together. Stacey's animals have a distinct style. They're simpler with virtually no embroidery, and they're bigger and cuddlier and much more suitable as toys for little kids. Also, her animals look different from everybody else's because she mostly only crochets through the back loop. I made a TON of animals with patterns from Stacey, here are my favorites:

And last but not definitely not least, my favorite designer is probably Little Muggles. Her animals are probably the cutest I've ever laid my eyes on. Yet ... I don't know what her brand of magic is, because I can *never* get mine to look as good as hers. There's something about the magic of facial placement that she's mastered that I have not. Nevertheless, here are my favorite Little Muggles dolls:

While most of the animals I made are available for my kiddos to play with and lovingly tear up (as long as I have a photo of them looking their best ...) I did make a few that are hiding in my closet, that are just for me. Naturally, they pertain to Japan-o-phile side of me. Here I have a Koopa Troopa, Lil Melody, and 2 Totoros.

Finally, I've only made one amigurumi in my life that I designed based on a photo, as there was no pattern available. I made Kumagoro which was a stuffed bunny from the anime Gravitation. It is my most proud creation simply because I used no pattern.

Even though I don't make amigurumi so much anymore, I had a great time making these and who knows, I might make more in the future.

Friday, July 15, 2016

In Search of the Perfect 1/4"

I've completed a few quilts, but I have not mastered the most basic element of piecing, the scant quarter inch. For a lot of the projects I picked, it didn't matter, because as long as I was consistent, it was fine. However, that is no long-term solution, so I'm experimenting to find out what adjustment or feet or pressing method will get me the perfect quarter inch.

I'm using the method of sewing together 3 strips of 2.5" across, then measuring, and hoping the end result is perfectly 6.5". For each foot / needle-position combination, I'll first press to the side, measure, then press open and re-measure.

Test 1: Zigzag foot at needle position 3.5.

Pressed to the Side: Just shy of 6 5/8
Pressed Open: 6 5/8

Test 2: Zigzag foot at needle position 3.3

Pressed to the Side: 6 7/16
Pressed Open: 6 1/2

Test 3: Quarter-inch foot (no adjustment)

Pressed to the Side: A few hairs more than 6 3/8
Pressed Open: A few hairs less than 6 1/2

The closest was using needle position 3.3 and pressing open. It seems when I first press to the side, it's not very accurate, but if I press open and *then* to the side again, it's much closer. That's a lot of work, but worth it if I want more accuracy and nesting seams as well.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

English Paper Piecing Placemat Set

I was taking the Craftsy class Quick & Easy English Paper Piecing but didn't want to make a tiny sampler quilt, so instead I decided to make a set of placemats featuring these motifs. (I resized and changed a few of the designs to suit my purposes.)

I used a combination of solids and batiks for the motifs, and set them on a black Kona cotton background. I love Kona cotton ... it just feels so substantial. For the binding, I used a black-based batik. I really have a thing for batiks, I don't think I've met a batik I don't like.

Since the placemats are only 12.5" x 18.5", it presented a great opportunity to practice free-motion on a real project without getting overwhelmed. I still find free-motion kind of scary, and it feels like a runaway horse sometimes. It takes a few ugly stitches before I get "in the zone", and it's still remarkably easy to slip-up. However, despite my fear, I really love free-motion quilting. I used a combination of free-motion and walking foot to create a different design for each placemat.

Left: Grandma's Flower Garden

I did some dot-to-dot quilting to draw emphasis on the flower garden, and filled all the negative space with pebbles for rocks. Pebbles are one of my favorite designs, and I'm pretty good at them, but they're very time and thread consuming.

Right: Flowers on a Stem

I echoed inside the petals to add more detail and did a satin stitch to simulate a stem. (This is my first time using a stabilizer, and what a difference!) For the background, I did a meandering clover design, which is stippling with some 3-petal clovers stitched in. I really struggle with meandering I find.

Left: Hexie Columns

Since the columns did not go all the way to the edge (which I regret), I extended the design in the quilting, and then filled it with some back-and-forth lines, which I find quite easy to do. For the background, I did a simple lollipop design. This was a very fast design and very easy to do as long as I'm not aiming for perfection.

Right: Pentagon Ring

For the motifs I quilted a flower on each pentagon, and I filled the background with swirls. I like swirls a lot but do find them rather challenging, but it's definitely worth practicing.

Left: Honeycomb

I did lots of dot-to-dot flower designs in the motif, which I really like to do. For the background, I did a filler flower design which wasn't particularly difficult, but I'm not a huge fan of it because at the end, you can't really see the flowers, you just see texture.

Right: Double Star

I utilized visualizing each 4 sets of diamonds (a wing of a star) as a single dimaond and quilted a dot-to-dot design with echoes. For the background, I quilted paisleys, which I really really enjoyed. There are several versions of paisleys that I've seen, and this one is definitely a easier and more casual feeling one, which I really like. There's not a lot of traveling in this version.

Left: Tumbling Blocks

I could not decide on what to quilt inside the tumbling blocks, it seems anything I do will take away from the beautiful 3-d effect the blocks give, so I ended up not quilting it and just stitching in the ditch to secure them. For the background I did a grid, to give the illusion of this block lying on a geometric plane.

Right: Triangle Star

I did another dot-to-dot diamond design with echoes (yes I love those) and quilted the background with echo shells. I love echo shells ... they're both really easy and really beautiful, and I really enjoyed quilting these.

Left: Ring of Fortune

I quilted a feather in the round on the motif, which is my first real feather. I'm sort of on the fence about feathers ... on one hand, I really like them and the elegance they add, and they're also really fun to quilt. On the other hand, feathers scream traditional. For the background I used a walking foot and simply echoed the shape.

Right: Star Wheel

The motif is quilted with a spiderweb design, and I quilted straight lines on the background. It's not a very exciting design, but at the time I wasn't confident about using free-motion over the background.


I think staring at the placemats and trying to come up with a custom design for each motif was the most time-consuming part. I seem to really like dot-to-dot designs as they're both geometric and easy to do. Toward the end I can tell I'm getting more confident with moving the fabric around to do the design I want. I'm slowly building up confidence in free-motion and building my "toolbox" which consists of designs that I like and find easy to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Aztec Chullo

I've made many hats since I began knitting, but this hat was a first in many ways. It's the first time I made a hat with earflaps, which for some reason I used to fear, it's the first time I worked some fair isle in the flat (which is about as little fun as I've heard), and it's the first time I tried a magic loop technique that does not cause too-tight turns (I'll call it the Magic One Loop).

The pattern I used is from Vogue Knitting The Ultimate Hat Book. It's called the Tasselled Chullo, although I didn't end up adding any tassels as I'm really not a tassel kind of person.

I really hate modeling for hats so in my place is my trusty hat stand.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

New Quilting Setup

I recently made some adjustments to my craft room to reflect what I foresee spending the most time doing in the near future ... quilting. I mapped out the floor plan and played around with a configuration until I found one that worked to gives me both the flatbed machine I want and ample space to the side and to the back. I also have room carved out for a Handi Quilter Sweet 16, if I wanted to get one in the near future. (The floor plan was created using the FloorPlan app for the iPad ... it's crashes a lot and the furniture selection is abysmally scant, but for mapping shapes and moving them around the room, it's great.)

I acquired this flatbed sewing table from Leah Day Designs. I've seen specialty quilter's sewing tables that had both an extension on the left as well as flatbed features, but it's much much more expensive than this setup I have. I moved my old sewing desk to the left of my station so that it both functioned as an extension during quilting and also a pressing surface. I replaced my old ironing board and made a custom pressing board the size of my table so that the desk multi-functions. I also got a cheap folding table and pushed it against the wall to add more space to spread out. Finally, I acquired a Jennoop quilting suspender frame to sit above my Pfaff.

I'm very excited about this setup. Having a flatbed sewing environment is great, and I'm happy to never have to see the Pfaff extension table again. I also really love this giant pressing surface, and it should make pressing yardage considerably easier. The only negative about the flatbed table is that I have to remove the plastic insert to change the bobbin, but that is a small price to pay.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Longarm Dilemma

I'm in the market for an entry-level longarm machine, but it's a big decision so I'm indecisive. I have my eye on a Handi Quilter Sweet 16, as I like the idea of being able to sit down, it takes up less space than a traditional longarm, and being able to move the quilt instead of moving the needle means it's not a paradigm shift from quilting on my sewing machine.

Yesterday I went to my local Handi Quilter dealer to try the machine. It feels different certainly, but I love the stitch regulator and the visibility offered. One of my biggest problems on my DSM is that I cannot see behind the foot very well. Though I know the regulator is like training wheels, it does offer beautiful and even stitches when I want to concentrate on nothing but the design itself. I like to go really slowly and stitch really precisely. I recognize that it's a lot better to stitch slowly than to stitch quickly and have to rip ... ripping takes longer and is a lot less fun! However, the regulator obviously has limitations of it's own ... that is, I always need to make sure it's at a position that it's moving at the same rate as I'm moving the quilt. If it's lying in a corner or bunched up and doesn't recognize my quilt movements, it's useless ... as I discovered when my stitches suddenly looked very unregulated.

While there, the salesperson also asked me if I have considered a traditional longarm with a frame. Though the idea of bringing home something so big scares me, I've always been curious what it's like to stitch on a traditional longarm. I tried my hand at the Babylock Coronet, which is on a frame and is a bit more expensive than the HQ Sweet 16, but not prohibitively so. If I had never done free-motion ever, it would have been easier to stitch doodle by moving the machine, but I'm already used to moving the fabric and don't even think about it anymore in terms of design, so now moving the machine feels a bit odd to me. The Coronet has a built-in stitch regulator, so my stitches looked good, but my lines were definitely wobbly and my work looked worse than on the sit down. However, I know it's because I'm not used to the movement and the awkwardness will go away with practice.

So I'm torn about which machine to get. The HQ Sweet 16 has on its side a slightly cheaper price tag, the ability to sit down, a less steep learning curve, and most importantly, it will fit in my sewing room. The Coronet will not fit if I get the frame that will fit queen-sized quilts so I'll have to place it in the open where my young children can access it, and that's not appealing at all. Even if that's not a concern, it's still very inconvenient if it's removed from all my other sewing supplies. However, I know once I'm used to it, I'll probably be able to quilt faster on the Coronet.

Tough choice ...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Isacord for Quilting

Ever since my Gutermann's thread started breaking during free-motion quilting, I switched to Isacord. I loved Isacord initially, but I've used Isacord enough now to be able to give a more fair evaluation of them. Here's a breakdown of the good and bad of Isacord.


Price - Isacord is really cheap. I get mine at bulk from Discount Embroidery Supply, and it is literally *half* the price of Gutermann's, and significantly cheaper than Aurifil.

Ease of ripping - Ripping is inevitable, but I've discovered Isacord is really easy to pick out stitches with. Earlier today I stitched a flower, then decided it didn't look good, so I ripped it out. I was amazed how easy it was to rip. I can probably pull a thread through 10 stitches at once in one swoop, which is much better than if I used a grabbier thread.

Strength - The single best thing about Isacord is how strong it is. (Some might argue that that strength will cut through my quilts ... but I don't worry about that. Quilts are made to be used. I think it's kind of an urban legend anyway until I experience otherwise!) The strength means it just doesn't break. I travel a lot, I stitch over really thick seams, I definitely put a lot of strain on it ... and it doesn't break.

Colors - So many colors to choose from, and a lot of variegated colors to play with!


Hard to secure - The safest way to secure Isacord is to bury the thread. That takes a long time so I don't like to do that, but I've found I can't just stitch over it or take tiny stitches ... it's just too slippery and it will pull out too easily.

Tension - I've rarely run into tension problems with Gutermann's, but with Isacord tension problems are a lot more common. With every new bobbin, I needed to check it out a piece of test sandwich.

Weight & shine - Isacord comes in 40, so it's a bit heavier, and it's also quite shiny, making it stand out on the quilt more. That might be good for some, but I like the quilting to blend in and to lend texture, not to steal the show, and Isacord seems to want to be the star.

Can't piece with - Because Isacord is so slippery, it's not a good choice to piece with, since it's very easy for it to unravel. That means I need to end up switching threads a lot, which is time-consuming.

I'm fairly happy with Isacord despite the cons, but I think I will also try some of the other brands that people seem to highly recommend. The most common one I hear about is Aurifil 50, though it's significantly more expensive, I'll see if it can work for me. If it breaks often, it's a deal breaker.

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