Thursday, April 20, 2017

Good News Week

I’m gonna give it to you straight - I’ve had a crummy week.

We've all had them. Nothing *really* terrible happened, but things kinda started out a little bit in a funk and then just kept going downhill. Until the other day when I received a bit of news that made my heart very sad. Nothing earth-shattering or health-related - thank goodness, no one close to me is sick or injured.

It was one of those soul-crushing things that just happens - and it happened to me. I can’t share much more than that right now, but hopefully I’ll be able to share more details soon.

In the meantime, I have a lot of great things going on and I really need to get out of this funk. Do you know the feeling?

To escape from the mud, I’ve got a hankerin’ to do something positive and soul-lifting, but I need your help. Can't do this alone. I thought we all could benefit from a little good news, and I’m declaring that it’s Good News Week on the Hummingbird Highway!

Let’s have some fun with this

It’s this simple: Share some good news.

Share a photo of your child or grandchild in their Easter finery. Tell me a funny story about your pet. Show a picture of a beautiful plant in your garden. Tell me about the first hummingbird you saw this season. Make me laugh with a silly tale. You just finished a great book (be sure to share the title! -maybe it's The Versatile Nine Patch *wink!*)

Share something really big like the birth of a baby, or a grand vacation. Or a little miracle like a spring-time flower bud, or something as simple as the completion of a first quilt block.

Just share something happy.

I’ll start . . .

My good news is that I finally finished this quilt! No, it's not a pattern, just a favorite traditional block. I started it (at least five) years ago, and I worked on it a little bit here and a little bit there. A few months ago, I sandwiched it and started hand quilting it. It’s done. Quilted, bound (who binds a quilt with white fabric? Oi!), and labeled.  This makes me VERY happy!

Okay, now it’s your turn.

Share your Good News story with a comment on this blog.

Go over to the Hummingbird Highway Facebook page and write a post on my page. Pictures or text, either or both. Tag me, @Joan Ford. (make sure you get the right Joan Ford, there are a few of us out there!)

Is Instagram your thing? Post a photo to instagram and be sure to tag me @hbridhwy and use the hashtag #goodnewsweek

Don’t want to share publicly? That’s fine, send me your good news in an email. Click here to send a short good news note.

Let's have a good smile together! Feel free to share this post!

Happy Good News Week and
Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Years ago (lotsa years ago), I took an art illustration class and the instructor used this book, The Norton Book of Light Verse, for some inspiration for one of our class projects.

It’s filled with whimsical poetry, most of it pretty short, quick to read, and not very deep.

For some reason, I picked it off the shelf this week and found a little poem that I thought would be fun to share.

Since it’s Spring, and eggs are a staple to celebrate all things Spring, this little poem seemed to fit the bill for this week.

Enjoy. . .

Happy Easter! 

Happy Passover!

Happy Spring!

Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quilting the Sandwich

After posting the article last week about making the quilt sandwich from my travel project, I heard from a few of you asking about ‘big stitch’ quilting.

In my mind, there’s really not much difference between big-stitch quilting, and ‘regular’ quilting. The stitching motion is the same, meaning the needle is inserted at a 90-degree from front to back, and again from back to front. At all times the needle stays on top - not like stitching cards when you were a kid - where your hand keeps switching from the top to the bottom of the project to pull the threads through.

The fabric inside the hoop is given a little bit of slack before the hoop is secured in place to help lift the quilt sandwich to achieve the 90-degree angles on both sides of the section being worked. When I hand quilt, the right hand (with a thimble on my middle finger) does most of the work with the needle, but the left hand does a lot of pushing and positioning of the quilt.

During any given quilting session, my index fingers on both hands get a work out, preferably without drawing any blood in the process.

For big stitch quilting both the needle (usually a size 6 sharp or embroidery needle) and the thread (usually a perle cotton) are bigger. I like this pack of needles from Colonial Needle, because it has a nice variety of needles to choose from.

For hand quilting - big stitch or otherwise, I start in the middle of the project and work outward. Whereas for machine quilting, I start all over the place - as long as I've been diligent with my pin-basting.

In addition, I start several strands of thread at once. You can see all my tails here in the middle of the hoop (red arrows). I’ve just moved my hoop to this spot.

Then I quilt each strand as far as I can go, and it’s time to move the hoop again. See the red arrows have moved, with the stitching progression?

One thing I do that may be somewhat unusual, I don’t knot the threads then bury the knot in the layers. Especially with big stitch quilting, the perle cotton knots can get pretty bulky and I don’t like tugging at them to move them to the batting in-between layer. In theory the holes in the fabric where the knot pops through go away, but I dunno, I just don’t like doing a tug of war with some of these knots after putting in so much work on the quilt top. Plus, all the tugging weakens the thread even before I take my first stitch, IMO!

Instead, I start with a really long strand of thread - like 4 or 5 feet long, find the middle of the thread, insert the needle and make the first stitch and pull through until the thread tail is about half the length, then start stitching in one direction (as a righty - I usually stitch from right to left). Later I’ll come back to that other end and work it in the opposite direction (after flipping the hoop around so I can keep working right to left).

You can see where I started this strand (the red arrow on the right side of the picture). The thread end is waiting there for its turn. The circled bit on the left side is that same strand of thread, after following the stitching along the ditch (between the burgundy and creamy-green prints)

Once the thread is all used up, I try to leave about 3” on the needle, then take a teeny tiny back stitch before weaving the thread back and forth in the batting layer in between the last few quilting stitches. No knots.

You know, I have a question. Sometimes a process like this is hard to describe with photographs. I've been considering enhancing my newsletters with some short video clips, but to be honest, I'm a little chicken to venture into a new (for me) media. Would you like to see more videos in future articles? Let me know what you think!

Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Making a Sandwich

Last week I discussed the travel project I finished when I visited Niagara Falls a few weeks ago. From a Mountain Patchwork pattern called Square Dance, I completed this quilt top, after several years of working on it in dribs and drabs as my travel project.

Time to get it ready for quilting! That means sandwiching and basting.

This is one of those quilty things for which there are about a million different methods. With pictures, I’m going to do a quick walk-through of the method I use to sandwich (layer backing, batting, and quilt top) and baste (temporarily secure the layers) of the quilt.

By the way, there are lots of ways to do this, but if you’ve chanced upon a tutorial featuring Elmer’s Glue as the means of holding the layers together - to be blunt . . . that one’s not recommended. Not in my book, anyway. Puleeze.

A side note: I’m going to hand quilt this with big stitches. Big stitch quilting usually involves a thicker thread (like a perle cotton) and larger needle. Generally speaking, it less precise and more forgiving than ‘regular’ quilting with quilting cotton thread and between needles. For hand-quilting, typically, you should thread-baste the quilt sandwich. . . but I’m not a fan of thread basting. So I pin-baste - the same method I employ for machine quilting. You may say, but doesn’t the hand quilting thread catch on the pins? It does. But that doesn’t bother me as much as thread basting does. So you see, it’s a trade off.

On with the tutorial. . .

Start with the backing. In this case I pieced two similar pieces of fabric with a bit of leftover border material in between. Seams pressed open. You might be thinking: how clever. Truth be known, I didn’t have enough of either rusty-brown color to do the whole backing so I used one strip of each. They looked weird right next to each other, so I added the border fabric in between. Looks like I planned it that way! Don’t tell anyone my little secret, okay?

I have a finished workroom in my basement with a Pergo floor. That stuff is hard as nails, so no worries that the pins will scratch the floor. I start with some painters tape, the 2” wide variety

Then tape one side of the backing to the floor. Notice that I leave very little space in between tape.

Then I secure the opposite side of the backing to the floor. As I place the tape, I gently pull the backing to smooth out any rumples.

Then the ends. I lift the tape and adjust as needed.

The idea is that the backing is flat, and taught against the floor, held in place with the tape.

I roughly measure out some batting. I like Hobbs Heirloom Wool—nice hand, transitions seasons beautiful, wonderful for hand and machine quilting, and it’s machine washable in the gentle cycle. A puff of steam miraculously removes any folds and wrinkles.

Place the batting on the backing, roughly aligning one corner to maximize any scraps - this stuff ain’t cheap so let’s get the most out of the leftovers!

Next the quilt top. This top is pretty big, so I start with it folded so I can align one side with the batting and backing edges. Notice I didn’t trim the batting yet. I put myself right in the middle and smooth out any rumples with my hands working from the center outward. This will also create the velcro effect - ‘sticking’ the quilt top to the batting. (and it feels nice to smooth your hands over the finished top).

Now trim about 1” away from the quilt top edge.

These beautiful batting scraps will be perfect for a runner or three.

Kwok-Clip. Love this tool. Makes pinning so easy.

Use the tool (or an old spoon) in your left hand, to lift the pointy end of the curved safety pin. . . .

Then with the pin end lifted, close the pin with your right hand. Of course, this is completely reversible for left-handers.

Now I place my mushy butt in the middle of the quilt, and, starting at the top corner (if I were thread basting, I’d start in the middle and work outward - I have found that where you start doesn’t matter with pin-basting) create a pattern within the block and pin, pin, pin.

This part can be a nice time to think, listen to a book or music, or just get into the zen of the repetitive motion.

Make sure a fist placed anywhere will touch at least one pin, more is better. You want the pins to be placed kinda like cookie dough on a cookie sheet. Not too close, and not too far away.

I like to get the pin-pattern set up, then walk away. I’ll work on the pinning in a couple sessions or in one marathon session. It usually takes about an hour to pin-baste a decent sized quilt like this one.

Then, it’s time to remove the tape, release the quilt from the floor, and get quilting. Since I’m going to big stitch hand quilt this one, I’ll use a hoop, and remove pins to accommodate the hoop.

As I quilt, I like to think I’m re-claiming my pins for the next project.

Here is the next to-be-finished project, so you can see. The hand quilting is almost done. I like to mark small sections at a time with an air-erasable pen. This quilt has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Soft pastel colors, perfect for springtime.

During the summer months, unless I’m using a table to support the quilt, I switch gears from quilting to other types of handwork, like embroidery, cross stitch or appliqué. All that fluff on my lap in the hot summer months will cause a quilter to melt!

Hmm, maybe that’s one way to de-mush my butt! (Probly should stick with a walking plan . . .)

Happy stitching!
Joan Ford

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Travel Projecting

Three weeks ago, now, I met up with my quilty friend and fellow pattern designer Brenda Miller in Niagara Falls. I showed you some of the pictures from our tourist activities last week.

But we both brought our sewing machines and a project or two to work on in the hotel room while  we chatted about various and sundry quilty and non-quilts topics.

Brenda created a small project from Terry Atkinson’s new book, Simple, Fun and Quickly Done. You can read about Brenda’s project here.

As for myself. I travel quite a bit. And I have one project that I keep ready to grab as I pack up my stuff for any trip. It’s always some sort of hand-work project - like hand piecing or embroidery, or even some combination.

Many years ago now (at least five years ago for sure) I started working on this pattern from Mountain Patchwork with a fat quarter bundle of fabric designed by Gudrun Erla.

Long ago, I precut and marked all the pieces for each block and put them into little mini block kits. I stuffed the kits in a vinyl pouch with everything I needed to work on a block - needles, pins, embroidery and piecing thread, an extra thimble, and scissors - everything. All I had to do was grab the pouch and stuff it in my suitcase.

And I worked on the blocks one by one in the evenings while I was away over the years. This project was reserved only for road trips. I rarely worked on the blocks at home. On the quilt cruise this past February, during my 'off' hours, I finished the 20 blocks! So I took them with me to Niagara Falls along with fabric for sashing and borders.

While Brenda worked on her Terry Atkinson project. I was determined to go home with a finished quilt top.

Each block is hand pieced and ‘double-stitched’ per the Mountain Patchwork instructions. Then embroidered in the block’s center sashing strips.

The block is pieced like regular hand-piecing along the seams, then stitched again to secure the seam allowance with a visible running stitch. The technique was originally used to reinforce well-worn bits of clothing as they were sewn into quilts. The result has a more textured look with visible double-stitched running stitches.

Over the years, my embroidery improved and got a bit more detailed. You can tell the earlier blocks from those completed more recently.

The quilt top is done, it’s quite large - keepin’ it real here - yes that’s some garlic from last summer hanging on the closet door. I really need to use that up before next growing season starts, right?

I can’t wait to really finish it with, I think, some big-stitch quilting. That part I’ll do at home in the evenings with a good movie or audible book.

That means, it’s time for a new travel project. I chose this hand-pieced project that I started a couple years ago. Yep, like before, I’ve done some advance cutting and marking for the hand piecing. This isn’t part of any published pattern, so I’m not sure where exactly I’m headed yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a nice journey - literally and figuratively.

I’ve already started packing my travel case (Isn’t this one fun? It’s from Yazzii and it has lots of little compartments) with all the essentials so I’m ready to hit the road again, but maybe not for a couple more weeks.

Do you have a ready-to-go travel project?

Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Rainbow Connection

Sometimes it’s nice to get away for a little one-on-one time with a fellow pattern designer. My good friend, Brenda Miller of Among Brenda’s Quilts and Bags, and I were chatting a few months ago and decided that it would be a good idea to meet up, spend some time sewing and chatting for a weekend somewhere.

Brenda lives in Strathroy, Ontario (near London), and I live in Syracuse, NY. Looking at a map, the obvious half-way point was Niagara Falls. We made our reservations (actually Brenda handled the reservation part) for the first weekend of March, two weeks ago.

We spent some sewing time in our room overlooking the Horseshoe falls. Our room was a suite with a very small table that accommodated our sewing machines and not much else. And we both brought along some hand sewing to do while chatting.

And of course, we got out to see the Falls. Here is a little tour of our escapades.

Chilly cheesy grins with the American falls as the backdrop.

Dave and I were just watching something on public TV that stated that Niagara Falls are the most photographed park location in all of Canada. I don’t remember the exact wording on that fun fact, but let’s face it. They are beautiful and very photogenic!

And of course, being tourists had to do some site-seeing. Gift shop time with Monty the Mounty.

Maple leaves, and maple leaf texture in the sidewalks! Oh, lovely Canada!

A little early in the season for many of the typical Niagara Falls attractions, but we found some things open. Bird Kingdom? D’ya think!?

Lots of beautiful feathered friends inside!

For a couple bucks you get a little cup of nectar to hold in your hands. The lorikeets know the drill! When they see the cup, even before it’s filled with nectar, you are their new best friend!!

It has been a very long time since I’ve seen the Falls at night. The view from our room provided the best view. 

On Sunday, our last full day at the Falls, the weather predictions were expected to be well below freezing. Over night the temperatures dropped severely. At sunrise, the mist from the falls took on a life of its own, rising high into the air as the mist and sunlight mingled.

As we ventured out, the landscape, especially nearest to the falls was changed. Common items underwent a very uncommon transition. Grass blades look like frosty noodles or worms. 

This street lamp close to the Horseshoe Falls was transformed by wind and freezing mist to look like something from Pirates of the Caribbean!

A common garbage bin is transformed by freezing falls mist.

The areas directly overlooking the falls were also transformed, like icy sea monsters instead of early spring plant life.

Popcorn grass.

The guardrails along the walkway are also beautifully transformed with coats and coats of frozen accumulated mist from the falls.

If the sun is out, you can always find a rainbow. The pot o’ gold is a bit more elusive.

No better way to warm up after a day of spectacular views in the cold than a nice dinner (and dessert!) with a spectacular view.