Thursday, August 18, 2016

Straight Plate

This week, I've been catching up on a bunch of piecing with more than a few triangles involved. And I have a simple reminder to tell you about.

Sometimes you can't avoid inserting pieces point first. And that means every once in a while the sewing machine can get hungry, munching the first few threads of the fabric right into the needle plate.

This happened to me a couple times this week. Then I realized that I had the solution right in my sewing machine toolkit. . . . A straight stitch needle plate!

The straight stitch needle plate is on the left (above). The regular needle plate is on the right--notice the small circular hole instead of the longer horizontal slot to accommodate the needle. The straight-stitch plate virtually eliminates that pointy-point of the pieced fabric from getting 'sucked' into the the sewing machine bed.

It's also my go-to fix-it when I have some minor tension issues during machine quilting.

That one little equipment adjustment to your sewing machine can really save your sanity.

Not every sewing machine comes with a straight stitch needle plate, so you may have to head out to your dealer to purchase one. It'll be worth the trip!

Now, I just have to remember to change the needle plate back if I decide to do any decorative stitches. Otherwise, I'll be the proud owner of a broken needle!

Happy Stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Oh, Shoot!

Since I'm still in traveling mode as I write this note, I'll be quick and dirty with this week's update.

Last weekend started out with a trip to Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks for a Syracuse University Alumni event. Our speaker for the conference is the director of the Sport Management program at the Falk College at SU. I completely expected to be bored to tears with sports as the main topic of the event. This was absolutely not the case!

The $500 billion sports industry encompasses more than just the major league baseball and professional football events we see on TV. Many times throughout the discussions, I found myself thinking about how I might apply the topics to my own tiny little quilty business!

And of course, experiencing the venue, a Syracuse University-owned-and-operated Great Camp turned conference center, is a treat all by itself. Even the cookie dessert tray followed the Adirondack theme (see the moose cookies?).

It's not all work and no play during the weekend, Dave and I headed to the Adirondack Museum for Saturday afternoon free time. It was a dog day (see the furry guy in the doorway?)

The view of Blue Mountain Lake from the museum is breathtaking. Having an absolutely stunning day for the outing didn't hurt, either.

Following the weekend activities, I headed to Newtown, Connecticut, headquarters to The Taunton Press. On the schedule was the last big photo shoot for the third book in the ScrapTherapy series, due out in Spring 2017.

We had a loaded schedule of several dozen 'process shots' to take for the how-to sections of the book.

Since this isn't my 'first rodeo' I knew what to expect, and we got right down to work using the samples I made in advance. A very detailed list of photographs to shoot is prepared from the edited text. A first-timer might expect a glamorous photography studio as the back-drop for the photo shoot. The reality: not so much.

Nearly all of the photo-shoot took place on this paper-covered desktop within a bare-bones room! (I'm supposed to be paying attention here, but once the shot is set up, there isn't much for me to do (except sit still!) while the camera transfers the photo to a larger computer screen so the clarity, color, and brightness can be adjusted - so you got a Cheshire cat smile!)

Throughout the process, there were four of us present, each having a different role. Scott, the photographer. Carolyn, my fabulous editor who made sure we got all the pictures we needed to accompany the text. Rosalind, who made sure the pictures told the story that is intended. And moi.

Lights . . . camera . . . more lights. . . computer. . . SEW( . . . and smile!)!

Happy Stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Meet, Greet, and Eat

Last week seemed like such a whirlwind! To start things off, my friend Shelly received a big fat ribbon at her quilt at AQS Quilt Week in Syracuse. On Thursday evening, with the show just over for the day, several Splendid Sampler designers and a whole lot of Splendid Sampler "Splenderettes" headed to Calico Gals for a meet up just about half-way through the Splendid Sampler block introductions.

Pat Sloan, who had planned to be in town for the AQS show, had a last minute family emergency and had to cancel. No worries. Flat Pat came to the rescue to stand in. In fact, Flat Pat paired up with Calico Gals owner, Janet Lutz to greet the Splenderettes as they arrived at the Meet up!

Annie brought her super-organized completed block notebook as well as a big smile to the shop to show and tell. Wow! (By the way, Annie, thank you for the amazing gift!. . . and Barb, too! So sweet of you!)

Bonny (in the green) and Sally (in the blue) were stylin' for the AQS Show, for Row by Row and for the Splendid Sampler Meet-Up. Very fun, ladies!

Patricia gathered designer autographs for her quilt. But Pat Sloan was not there to sign! No worries, Flat Pat stepped right up to the plate and performed her duties!

Splendid Sampler Designers in attendance, Debby Brown (Splendid Quilter Extraordinaire), Victoria Findlay Wolfe (Block 72), me, Joan Ford (Block 84), Michele Foster (Block 24 Inspector Sidekick), Flat Pat, and Jacquelynne Steves (Block #76)

So many blocks and their makers were on display . . . and you could count on Flat Pat for a photo bomb!

All these Splenderettes make a girl hungry. Several of the designers headed to Syracuse's famous Dinosaur Bar-b-que. Flat Pat came too, but didn't eat much . . .

But Flat Pat being the gregarious type that she is, fit right in at the Dinosaur hostess hut!

Back at the show, I took the opportunity to take a close look at more of the winning quilts. This amazing Best in Show winner was spectacular!

Dave and I wrapped up the weekend with a trip to the Downtown Syracuse Arts and Crafts Festival. These Melon Bowls from Vegetabowls just had to come home with me! Aren't they cute?

It seems craft shows make you hungry, too! World Famous Funk N Waffles in Armory Square came to the rescue after a wander around the craft fest. Yum!

With all that excitement last week, what could possibly top it? Well, I'm off to Newtown, Connecticut and the Taunton Press to do the final photo shoot before the next book goes to the layout process. But first a quick weekend in the Adirondacks to slow down!

Happy Stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Facing Cape May

First, a little background. Last year, at the end of September, Hurricane Joaquin was headed toward the New Jersey coast.

This is notable, because I happened to be in Cape May, New Jersey - a lovely tourist town at the very southern tip of the state - on vacation. The town is known for its historic Victorian homes, restaurants, beach front boardwalks, and a quaint shopping area at its center.

When the weather forecasts seemed to have Cape May in the hurricane's cross hairs, I did what any quilter would do. I headed to the stitchery store in town (there isn't a quilt shop in Cape May) while the weather was still nice and purchased a couple of cross stitch patterns, some thread, and canvas. As the days progressed, the weather reports remained full of rain, but fortunately, the hurricane took a turn to sea. No direct hit. But plenty of time and inclination to stitch indoors. My husband busied himself with books, and I stitched. It was so relaxing!

This week I quilted the quilt that started during that wet vacation in New Jersey. For this quilt, I wanted a little different finish. I wanted to face it, not bind it.

I turned to the expertise of my good friend Shelly Stokes. Her quilt, completed over the course of 18 months happens to be on display at this week at AQS Quilt Week in Syracuse - in the winner's circle, of course! Here's a picture of me standing in front of Shelly's fabulous creation which is sporting a big fat ribbon on it! It's an amazing, amazing, AMAZING piece!

Shelly knows a thing or two about art quilts and facings, and she happens to teach an online class on facings, which I highly recommend. You can sign up here, if you choose. (Or you can download Shelly's Three Secrets for Almost Invisible Art Facings from just about any page on her site for free!)

I took the class some time ago, but didn't get to put its technique into practice until this week.

Leave it to me to create a slight variation in the process. Knowing that I wanted to face this project, I gave it an extra wide border, and drew a line where I wanted the quilt to end. Then sandwiched and quilted to that line. (The seagull fabric was found in a shop in Delaware - same trip, isn't it fun?)

Only trouble is that the facing instructions start with a trimmed quilt. I scratched my head for a bit, then figured out how to tweak things.

First I drew lines 1/2" from the edges on the corner and side facing fabrics (the workshop gives you more information about those facing fabrics)

Then I used the quilting lines on the quilt and the lines drawn on the corner fabrics to determine where the facing corner fabric should be placed.

Same thing with the side, top, and bottom facing pieces.

Then sew on that line. I'm skipping a few steps here because Shelly does such a good job explaining each step in detail, one at a time. Much better than this first-time facer!

There is a lot of trimming involved, one layer at a time. Each trim is slightly different from the last one. Trimming, turning, pressing, sewing . . .

And before you know it, my vacation quilt is done!

It's going to hang in my sewing room. A happy reminder from a wet but memorable vacation.

But first it needs a name? What do you think it should be called? Joaquin's Folly? Sorta Storm at Sea? Cape May Capers?

Happy Stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Cabin at the Cabin

A couple of weeks ago, I received a package in the mail from my friends with Creative Grids rulers. I was tempted to dig right in, but needed to stay on task with finishing up the book projects first. This past weekend I headed to my friend's cabin for an summer sewing extended weekend. I finished up on a few things I needed to do--samples for the book and a couple of upcoming patterns. Then I rolled out the 4" Log Cabin Trim Tool from Creative Grids.

Who doesn't love log cabin blocks, right? They are classic, they are flexible (lots of variations can be sewn with a center square and strips or logs sewn in rounds), and they are fun to make (that's essential!).

Like any other Creative Grids ruler, the grippy stuff on the bottom keeps the fabric steady while you rotary cut. And with tiny logs (the block finishes to 4" and has three rounds of logs!) the grippy stuff is essential. The 4" trimming tool is the newest in a series of these log cabin tools, and the only one I've actually tried, although I've heard about the others.

The logs are super-skinny--they finish to 1/2" wide. So that means 1" wide strips. But the instructions that come with the tool suggest to cut strips at least 1-1/4" wide, then trim them down after sewing. So-o-oo, I gabbed my scrap bins and made a test block. Looks nice, right?

 . . . but when you turn it over, I'm not so keen on the little bits of bulk and the wonky-curvy seams that show up at the end of each seam. That's because you don't trim those extra-wide strips until you've completed a full round around the center square. . . .

. . . Here's how it works. You start with a 1-1/2" center square (orange), and a log that's a little wider and a little longer than necessary. Add sew it to one side of the square.

Press, then rotate the block counter clockwise. The problem (in my mind) arises when you lay the next strip on the unit. That bit of overlap at the top doesn't allow you to line up the raw edges all the way along the seam. And that extra stuff sticking out won't ever get trimmed, so it adds a bit of bulk to the back of the block. No big deal, right? It's the back. Who cares? (You don't know me very well, do you?)

To solve this potential issue, using the edge of the trimming tool, I trimmed the top strip so the edge is even with the center square. . . .

. . . Now I can align the entire raw edge of the strip with the log cabin unit. . .

 . . . and sew along the edge.

Rotate, trim, sew, repeat, until you have one round. Now - this is the really cool part of the ruler. They markings on the tool align with the center square, . . .

. . . so you can trim all four sides of the block before proceeding to the next round of logs and sewing.

BUT, that's not how I made my blocks. Seemed like I was adding a lot of extra steps with all the trimming before sewing stuff. Instead, I cut my strips 1" wide, then in 1/2" increments in length. And sewed them like a regular log cabin.

One might think: Then you don't need the trimming tool. However. . .

Log Cabin blocks, even when they are sewn and pressed carefully, can get a little bit of stretch involved. It has to do with the stretchy-ness of the width-of-grain, and length-of-grain fabrics and their interaction with each other while the logs are sewn. Therefore, the tool, aligned with the center after each complete round, allows the block to come back to perfectly square when trimmed. Just the tiniest little bit of fabric trim can make a big difference in a 4" block that incorporates 13 itty bitty pieces! At least, that's what made this tidy-butt quilter very happy!

24 blocks in about as many hours of sewing, plus a few neutral sashing strips and coordinating cornerstones and borders, and the ta-da moment arrives. Now, I only need to sandwich and quilt it and the project is ready to be a wall-hanging or table runner. Aren't the colors tropical-feeling? I used some fat quarters and yardage from the Ink & Arrow Pixies line for the blocks.

And a quick look at the back makes this tidy-butt quilter squeal with joy! No bulky spots, and I even furled the seams at the cornerstones!

Do you have any of the Creative Grids Log Cabin trimming tools? What do you think?

Happy Stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, July 14, 2016

It's Pond Time!

With some crazy book deadlines, this week I'm taking a temporary departure to show you pictures of the recently completed pond in our front yard.  . .

At first, I wasn't sure that digging up the front yard to install a pond was such a good idea, but it's so relaxing, within ear-shot of the soothing running water, that I regularly take my laptop and a small laptop desk to the porch where I can work diligently on text and illustrations for the next book (due in Spring 2017).

When we started digging and the lawn was a mess, I admit that I was a tiny bit concerned. . . but not for long. After only three or four days of mess, a pond emerged! Complete with waterfalls and burbling water!

A few water plants in the main, deeper part of the pond. . .

The koi fish keep the mosquito larvae to a minimum, and they're fun to watch (but hard to photograph!)! At first they did a lot of hiding in the spaces between the rocks. Now, they swim around like champions, especially at meal time. The three are named, Larry, Darrell, and Darrell. (Two of them look really similar)

The frogs just showed up on their own. So far, we have two amphibian squatters. . .one is particularly fond of this lily pad. . .

The water iris is in bloom right now. So pretty. . . .Very delicate lavender color.

Dave insisted on having some eastern prickly pear . . .

And this daylily has nothing to do with the pond . . . it's down by the mailbox. I just thought it was pretty!

Find yourself a peaceful spot this summer, and . . .

Happy Stitching
joan ford