Thursday, April 21, 2016

Catching a Creative Wave

With just one sleep and a few hours left before we head out for the Scrappy & Happy Quilt Cruise with Stitchin Heaven Travel.

I simply canNOT wait! For the three days that we're at sea we'll be quilting away on the too-much-fun-for-words quilt, Runaway Thread. The banner on this newsletter shows the very edge of this fun quilt.

Making the Runaway Thread project can generate a few extra scraps, and we certainly wouldn't want to leave any scrap left unused, so this past week (yes, with less than a week to go--I can sometimes be such a Last Minute Lulu!) my creative brain won't rest until I prepare a couple of project extras for the lucky quilters on the trip!

Here's another sneaky-peek that's coming along for the ride:

And what's a party without some party favors? Just a peek, wouldn't want to spoil the fun!

Hope to see you on board! And if you missed this boat, there'll be another in January. . . just sayn'

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fancy Stitching

As a quilt book and pattern author, I can get tied up with the technical stuff involved in the process of developing quilt patterns and making samples. I can make a scant quarter inch seam with the best of them, but sometimes I like to try things that might take my skills a little off the beaten--or should I say "quilted'--trail.

Whether or not you've joined the Splendid Sampler experience online, perhaps you've noticed that many of the 'Splendid' blocks featured here in this newsletter or those that keep popping up online in several social media outlets, feature hand embroidered embellishments, like this block, designed by Alyssa Thomas of Penguin and Fish.

Some 'Splendid' blocks don't feature any embellishment at all, but a little bit of hand stitching adds just the right amount of interest or texture to a block--Splendid Sampler project or otherwise--to make a plain block pop.

Hand embroidery is one of those things I twiddle with from time to time. I can do a really consistent chain stitch and running stitch, but the other, 'fancier' stitches, not so much. I need a little practice, and a good teacher. What better way to hone these skills than with a project that I'm building just for me! Then I don't have to worry about stitches out of place for photography or for samples.

For example, here's a Portuguese knotted stem stitch, adding texture to a block center.

And I'm getting some help. Well, sort of. My friend Shelly Stokes of Cedar Canyon Textiles introduced me to Mary Corbet and her website a couple months ago. Mary's site is loaded with exquisite samples and helpful demos for all kinds of hand embroidered stitches. . .

A floral embellishment. . .

How about a buttonhole up and down stitch with added color from French knots and straight stitches? I need to work on this one a bit more to get comfortable with it. Even so, I'm happy with my first attempt.

I highly recommend Mary's site and her newsletter, if you're like me and would like to hone your hand embroidered embellishment skills.

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Vermont Get-Away

Last Friday, I jumped in the car, headed to Vermont, with the temperatures feeling a lot like springtime, a bit humid, even. By the time I got back into the car to head home on Sunday afternoon, it was cold, windy and snowing for my journey.

In between, the weather and all of our friendly accommodations at the Strong House Inn in Vergennes, Vermont were just right. Our project for the weekend was 99 Bottles--a lapsized quilt with a ba-zillion (or so it seems) miniature 9-patch blocks.

As you can imagine, as with any quilt project, there's a fair amount of work to be done. . . There's fabric selection. . .

 . . . Cutting . . .

 . . . .sorting and arranging. . .

. . .  Pressing issues for sure. . . .

. . . a little bit of pinning and sewing. . .

Eventually, you get a few tiny blocks. Then those become bigger blocks . . . and somewhere down the road, a quilt appears. Like magic!

But with all this sorting, cutting, pressing, and sewing going on, someone has to keep us nourished. Our Innkeeper Mary proved up to the task with fabulous meals throughout the weekend. Including a fluffy pancake breakfast featuring yummy world-renowned Vermont maple syrup!

And the atmosphere. Perfect for quilting, lots of windows and natural light.

By Sunday, everyone made great progress and was well on their way to throwing down 99 Bottles!

In the end, any quilting retreat is really about new friends, old friends, great food, comfortable accommodations, lots of quilty fun, and a hot cup of tea with a maple cookie to wrap up the day.

If you missed the fun this time, I'm so sorry, but we'll see you next time. . . right?

In the meantime,

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stemming it Up!

At the Lancaster AQS show a couple of weeks ago, I was completely sucked into one of the booths featuring brightly colored fabrics and kits. One particular project drew me in.

Between the workshops I was teaching, I had plenty of time to deliberate listening to the advice from two angels on my shoulders . . . you know how they are. . . Buy it! . . . Don't buy it . . . Buy it! . . .  As luck would have it, the 'buy it' angel won, and I brought the quilt kit home with me. A treat for those times when I really want to work on something just for me.

Well, the project in question has lots of applique and lots of 1/4" bias stems. The other day, I pulled out some of the fabric destined to become stems to make some to have ready when the block is at the 'stem stage.'

I thought you might like to see how I make them. . . so here goes.

Like so many other things in quilting, bias stems can be made many different ways. For wider stems, I simply like to use the back basting applique method I've discussed before. But for the 1/4" variety I like to make a tube first. I like to cut a corner of the stem yardage at a 45 degree angle to start. Then I cut 3/4" strips along the bias. Yep, they're really narrow!

I fold the fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. With the 1/4" foot on my machine, I place the fabric under the foot with the folded edge aligned with the edge of the foot, needle in needle-down position. And sew. I like to use a stiletto, or, as in this case, the pointy end of my Clover Hera Marker, to guide the fabric under the foot. I sew slowly and use both hands to keep the fabric from wobbling as it progresses.

This results is a tube. Notice the really tiny seam allowance. I could have started with a 1" strip, and sewn a bigger seam, but then I would have had to trim the seam allowance before the next step. This way I have less fabric waste. Those seams don't have to hold up over time, they just have to secure the tube long enough for me to applique the stem in place (you'll see what I mean in a few photos).

Next I head to the ironing board with my 1/4" press bars. I've had this particular brand in my sewing stash for years. Karen Kay Buckley has a similar product which I like, but the 1/4" bar is just a tiny bit too wide to fit in my 1/4" tube.

I insert the rounded end of the bar in my fabric tube, and shift the seam so it's on top, so I can see it . . .

. . . then press the seam to one side with the iron, with the stick still inside the tube.

Then I slide the stick out of the fabric tube, and press the stem once more.

The stem is now perfectly flat, and that tiny seam allowance is fully hidden on the underside of the tube.

Here's a closer look.

I keep some made-up stems handy in my sewing basket, ready for action when my block is ready. The bias cut allows the stem to make gentle curves easily. I use applique pins to secure the stem in place, then secure each folded edge to the block with a tiny, regular old applique stitch. I could also use a fabric glue pen instead of the pins, but I like the pins because I can use them as a visual connection to where I left off my stitching.

And there's a close-up of the sewn stem. . .

At some point, I'll share a little more about this project. For now, you just get to see the stems!

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Back in January, I decided to set some objectives for the year. The target: My unfinished objects. Rather than making long lists of quilts to complete, I decided on making a modest plan, keeping it focused, and making it fun. You can read more about my process here.

While there's still plenty of time left in the year to achieve my goal to complete 12 already-started projects during 2016, I'm finding the hardest part is staying focused on one thing at a time.

From the outset, with the first part of my year heavily loaded with pattern-writing commitments, I knew real progress wouldn't really happen on my targeted projects until later in the year. Even so, I do have some progress to report:

The Scrappy Star quilt is finished!

Big Stitch hand quilting is complete, and the binding even has an accent flange. The flange was cut and stored away years ago, and I'm surprised I was able to find it for this quilt! It's going to be given to a military family.

It even has a label.

I've chosen another project for hand quilting. It's underway.

I'm taking my time and doing an awful lot of quilting in each of the 4" and 2" blocks. It's all good!

I need to have an 'alternate' project at the sewing machine. I've had several fabric scraps with these little 3-1/2" squares. I've fussy cut the squares and I'm in progress of converting the squares into mug mats and place mats. Progress is slow but steady. I've set up a stack of in-progress place mats on a Steady Betty, and placed it on an open drawer in my sewing machine table--it's a like a little make-shift shelf, so I can reach over and grab a quick piece to put at the end of a string of chained pieced units. It works for me!

I haven't decided if I'm going to count each place mat and each mug mat individually or as a whole toward my goal numbers. . . hmm

How about you? Are you getting lots of projects done in 2016. . . and more importantly, are you enjoying the process??

Happy Stitching!
Happy Easter!
Happy Spring!
joan ford

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This is Where I Draw the Line

I've said this before: for as many techniques as there are to make half-square triangle (HST) units, my favorite method is placing two fabric squares right sides together, drawing a diagonal corner-to-corner line on the back of one, sewing a 1/4" seam on both sides of the line, cut apart, and press.

I prefer cutting my squares a bit over-sized, so I can trim them to a perfect square after pressing. If the squares have been cut the mathematically correct size (using dreaded 7/8" measurements), then no trimming should be necessary assuming all my steps were done accurately.

I like this method because I think it gives me the most control over the whole process. I even like drawing the lines! (If you don't understand this, review reason number 5 from last week's post about pre-washing!)

What could possibly go wrong?

Yep, I'm about to do a whole article on drawing the line on the fabric. What could be more basic? Can I use the lines to my advantage. . . or disadvantage? Let's explore.

The Skinny on the HST Line

So here I am, making HSTs, and I start out by drawing the line on the back of one of my squares. I place my ruler so it lines up perfectly with opposite corners. . .

Drawing Lines

 . . . then draw. Ready to sew. . .

Drawing Lines

. . . Not so fast. Take a closer look at the line. When you align the fabric square points with the edge of the ruler, the thickness of the pencil creates a line just a tiny bit to the right of the diagonal center of the square. (It'll be a little to the left if you write with your left hand.)

Drawing Lines

Pfft. No big deal, it's just a little bit off. . .

Drawing Lines

However, when you sew the seams, one side will yield a smaller HST, the other a larger HST. Still, no biggie, if you're trimming after sewing, there will still be something to trim for both units. . .

That's true, but many of the current popular patterns rely on smaller pieces and those mathematically correct 7/8" sizes: Dear Jane blocks, pieced tiny animals, aprons, and fruits, Splendid Sampler™ blocks, Row by Row Experience™ projects.

Houston, we have a problem.

Instead, when drawing the line to make HSTs, slide the ruler over just a hair to the left of the points (or right of the points for lefties), enough to accommodate the width of your pencil, pen, or whatever writing instrument you're using.

Drawing Lines

Like this . . .

Drawing Lines

Then draw the line . . .

Drawing Lines

Spot on!

Drawing Lines

Stitch-and-Flip Corners

Sometimes a line just a hair to one side of the exact diagonal can be an ADVANTAGE. Take those stitch-and-flip corners--for a snowball block, for example.

Drawing Lines

This time you WANT to align the ruler with the fabric square points, and draw the line just slightly to one side.

Drawing Lines

Some may say that I'm splitting hairs here, but by drawing the line just to the side of the square's diagonal, you are creating the scant seam line--in other words, you're making accommodation for the thickness of the fabric in the turn of the fold once the unit is pressed.

When you draw the line to one side of the diagonal, then align the square on the corner of the larger unit. Make sure the line is closest to the outer edge of the larger square.

Drawing Lines

Then sew on the line. This is so much better than trying to figure out where to sew a little to the waste side of a line drawn along exact corner-to-corner diagonal line. At least I think so. 

Drawing Lines

When you press the stitch-and-flip unit, if you've sewn on the line carefully, the corners should be pretty darn close to stacked up. This gives you much more confidence to clip the lower layers, one or both, to reduce bulk in the seams.

Drawing Lines

It's an itty-bitty variable, but with so many variables in piecing, why not have this one thing a bit more under control?

Drawing Lines

The last word on Drawing lines

I don't like to bash quilty tools, because everyone likes different things for different reasons. And you choose the tools that work best for how you sew.

That being said, there are a number of tools like this one. It's a gadget that helps you draw the sewing lines on both sides of the diagonal. Use the center line on the tool to align the corners on the fabric square, then draw on both sides of the tool to make the sewing lines. Eliminates guesswork where the seams should go.

And it makes sense, the tool (whatever brand, not just this one) is exactly 1/2" wide.

Drawing Lines

However, drawing the line on both sides is awkward (at least I think it is), and the resulting lines aren't 1/2" away from each other. They are just a little bit more than 1/2" away, thanks to the width of the marking tool. Does it matter? You decide.

Drawing Lines

A Recap

    1.    For HST's slide the ruler slightly to one side of the diagonal to draw the guide line
    2.    For stitch-and-flip units, align the ruler point-to-point to draw the sewing line

Happy Stitching!

joan ford