Projects Begetting Projects

I’ve had the Central Park Hoodie pattern — and the yarn I’d planned to make it with — for something like eight years. I absolutely adore this sweater. But I felt seriously lacking in the confidence to actually make the sweater. I wasn’t sure about size, and then my gauge swatch was wonky, and I put it aside.

Recently, in the middle of a heat wave, I felt a weird compulsion to make this sweater. Possibly as a method of procrastination. When I need to get something done by a particular time (in this case my state fair entries) I nearly always develop an obsessive need to start a completely different project.

I dug out the pattern and the yarn and started a sleeve as a gauge swatch. It didn’t take me long to figure out that 1) I was not getting gauge or anything close to it in that yarn, though I hadn’t washed it to see if it changed after washing because 2) I was also making the wrong size and needed to go up a size in order to have enough ease in the finished sweater to wear it over anything heavier than a t-shirt. This revelation led to the sad but inexorable fact that 3) I did not have enough yarn to make the size I needed, and the color I had was discontinued. So. Bummer about that.

I regrouped and settled on a different yarn and started knitting. The gauge swatch was pretty close to being right on after washing — I got 17.5 stitches to four inches, and the pattern calls for 17. But since I’m making the bigger size, I think it’ll work out okay.

Russian Join

(In this photo, I was finding how just how many times in a row it’s possible to screw up a Russian join before finally getting it right. The long strand by itself in the photo? That was the one I got right but inadvertently joined the new yarn to a cut-off bit of the old yarn. I finally got it right just after the photo.)

The next thing I realized is that all the little zippered box bags I use for knitting projects are much too small for even a piece of a sweater plus a skein or two of yarn. I tend mostly to knit things like socks and hats, stuff that’s small and squishable.

So I needed to sew a bag. This was clearly the only sensible approach to the problem, right?

New knitting project bag

This is Betz White’s Stitch & Stash bag pattern, which is completely fabulous. You can snap in the top bits and cinch the bag closed to carry it/keep cats out of your yarn. And when you’re using it, you can fold the top down to make a little bucket to knit out of.

New knitting project bag

The large size has enough room for a sweater sleeve plus a couple skeins of yarn (and I’m pretty confident I can fit the back of the sweater in there if I don’t stash as much extra yarn in the bag) and there’s a pocket inside to stash my cable needle, a measuring tape and scissors:

New knitting project bag

I love this bag, both the design and the really fabulous Lizzy House whale print fabric. It feels pretty great when you make something, and then every time you use it you can feel little cartoon hearts of joy popping up over your head.


I got a spinning wheel recently (yay!) and have been playing with string a lot. I had a pound of undyed Polwarth top set aside for when the wheel came since I knew there’d be a bit of a learning curve even though I’ve been spinning on spindles for five years.

I spun up about an ounce of singles and then chain-plied them, just to get an idea what sort of yarn I was coming up with. Well, actually, no. First I spun about a half ounce of singles that started out wildly uneven and got gradually thinner and thinner, completely lost the end when the yarn broke because I was watching Good Will Hunting and got all weepy and lost track of what I was doing, and then I gave up trying to find the end after an hour and a half on the grounds that this was just practice and it was horribly uneven anyway. Then I spun an ounce of singles and plied it.

Anyway. Based on that test skein, I decided that what I was doing was working out okay for me (short forward draw, spun from the fold to make the yarn a little puffier) so I made a little control card with samples of the singles and of the yarn before and after finishing.

Three ounces of singles later, I started plying. I did not actually look at the control card while I was plying, even though that’s what the control card is for. It was upstairs and I was downstairs watching Netflix, and I developed a delusional belief that the yarn would magically come out the same without looking at it.

It did not. It was plied way, way tighter than the test skein, which became obvious when I was finishing the skein. I let it dry and knitted up a swatch and washed it to see what would happen.

Handspun Polwarth with swatches
(Chain-plied test skein on the left, second skein on the right after removing some of the plying twist. Next to the skeins, the control card is at the top, swatch of the super-tightly-plied yarn in the middle, swatch of the same yarn with some of the plying twist removed on the bottom. On the right is the swatch from the test skein.)

The swatch knitted from the super-tight yarn biased like crazy — it’s the parallelogram-shaped one in the middle. So I wound the whole skein into a big ball and ran it through the wheel again to take some of the plying twist out. That turned out pretty well. There are still some odd kinked bits that didn’t work themselves out when I re-soaked it, but overall it’s looking much better now (bottom swatch).

It’s also working up way differently now — I used a bigger needle but got roughly the same fabric density as the first swatch with the extra plying twist. And the stitches look different, too. One side of each stitch is twisted tighter in the parallelogram swatch, making it look like a separate column, rather than both sides being more or less similar little V shapes in the second swatch.

(As an aside, there’s a Knitty article that talks about that weird twisty column issue. For a few years after I learned to knit, I thought it was something I was doing wrong, but it’s the way the yarn interacts with the stitching. And this Knittyspin column goes further into the way both plying twist direction and knitting style (English/thrown vs continental/picked) affect the appearance of the stitches, with lots of swatch examples.)

The third swatch (on the right, made from the chain-plied skein) is mostly an exercise in why chain-plying isn’t always your friend. Or mine, at any rate. The singles in that skein were uneven, much more so than in the second one, and chain-plying tends to magnify any unevenness. With chain plying, you’re taking a single strand and making a big crochet chain with your hands while adding the plying twist. It looks like a 3-ply for the most part, and it’s super useful for stuff like keeping long runs of color in dyed fiber intact. But the thin spots line up with themselves, and so do the thick spots, whereas in a 3-ply it’s more random.

So the chain-ply swatch is pretty much crazytown. The bottom half is twisted tighter (causing the same effect as in the parallelogram swatch) and the stitches are bigger and feel sort of crispy, and in the top half there’s less twist, and the stitches are all happy and soft. This isn’t entirely the fault of chain-plying uneven singles — I’m pretty sure my plying twist was uneven as well.

I’m going on with spinning this stuff (I have something like 10-12 ounces left) and then dye the whole pile of yarn at the end.

In the meantime, though, I sort of cracked and started spinning something with a bit of color to it.

Yay longdraw!

Escape Velocity

I started this piece well over a year ago, shortly before I broke my wrist. It started out as a tiny doodle in a notepad. I constructed a big honking spiral, transferred it to the back piece of an old army shirt (it doesn’t fit me anymore, might as well recycle it, right?) and started stitching.


It ended up in a drawer for quite a while after the Labor Day broken wrist fiasco — even once I had use of both hands again, the bit of work I’d done on it didn’t feel right. I finally picked it up again a month or two ago after thinking about it quite a lot. But after putting a little more work into it, the stitches were messy due to my trying to enlarge the stitches toward the outer part of the spiral, and it also didn’t look like it was going to be anything like what I’d first imagined when I made the tiny squiggly sketch. It looked like this:

Brenda made an excellent suggestion as to how to make the stitches neater. But it still didn’t feel right. I realized the problem was that I was trying to take a super structured approach to recreate the image in my head — but the image in my head was pretty chaotic and the way I was going about it just wasn’t translating it at all.

So I ripped it all out and started over. I stopped trying to plan it and just stitched. And stitched. And kept posting slightly blurry progress photos on Instagram.

For the past two weeks it’s been the only thing I’ve worked on. I’m rarely able to stick to one project at a time, but I really, really wanted to enter it in the state fair fine arts competition, and the deadline for that was today.

I finished it last night (much later than I should have been awake on a work night) and gave it a bath to wash all the water-erase marker off it, hung it up to dry with a fan pointed at it, and laced it onto a piece of half-inch foam board this afternoon to take the entry photo. I just submitted the entry — fingers crossed! The competition is juried and they get tons of entries, so I don’t know how much of a chance I have. I felt pretty nervous about entering since I’ve never done anything like that before — but I realized that if I didn’t enter, my chances of being accepted were exactly zero, so I didn’t have anything to lose, right?

FO: Escape Velocity

It’s the first time I’ve ever done an embroidery project where I just started stitching and figured it out as I sent along, and I’m pretty thrilled with how it came out.

Slow projects

I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching lately, which doesn’t make for particularly enthralling blogging. I’ve been avoiding posting photos in which I’ve made only a tiny bit of progress, but that’s led to a lack of blogging lately.

I probably mentioned before that I’ve switched gears on the hexagon flower quilt. I’ve stopped making hexagon flowers for now while I make a center medallion, and then I’m going to arrange the hexagon bits around that.

EPP Quilt Medallion WIP

I was completely unprepared for the amount of time it takes to sew all those little 1-inch triangles. It somehow creates a crazy time vortex in which it takes three times as long to sew an inch than it takes to sew a whole bunch of diamonds together. But I love the way they look, so I’m going on with it rather than changing things up to avoid them for the rest of the medallion.

During this part of the project I finally figured out why you’re supposed to pin (or glue) the paper template to the fabric before basting. I never do that with hexagons. I just wrap the fabric around and hold it in place, and they usually don’t slip. Once in a while I might have to re-baste one that moved when I wasn’t paying attention, but it happens so seldom that I couldn’t see my way to doing all the extra work of pinning.

Yellow Diamonds

It didn’t take me long to figure out that this approach wasn’t going to fly with the diamonds, though. I’ve been punching holes in the templates to make it quicker to pin. (And yep, I baste right through my templates like a barbarian. I’ve tried basting just on the reverse side, but the templates always pop out on me while I’m sewing, which drives me crazy. The basting threads pull right out when I slide a pin underneath to pull them up.)

The other slow-moving project is an embroidery piece. I drew up a design a little while back:

Sketch for current embroidery project

and have been stitching it up slowly. My original sketch had a lot of running stitch and French knots, which I still plan on doing but didn’t make it into the version that I transferred to the fabric. The long arcs are all in Palestrina stitch, which I’d only done once before. I’m getting quicker at it as I go along. I cut the fabric a lot bigger than the design and am planning to quilt around it once I finish the embroidery. I still don’t have a firm plan as to what I intend to do with it, but maybe a sofa pillow.

I started working in the center, but at once point things went all wonky on me and I bailed and started working the rest of the design. Still need to rip out the weird bits in the center and redo it. (It could be argued that the weird bits make up the entire center, but let’s not talk about that just now.)

WIP with lots of Palestrina knits

On a side note, am I the only one who has a ton of difficulty with blue water-soluble marker disappearing in humid weather? I keep having to re-mark it as I go along because the lines have mostly disappeared. They’re still there but faint enough that I have to mark them again. It’s happened on other projects recently, not just on this blue fabric, so I don’t think it’s just that it fades enough to be hard to see against the blue. I think it must be humidity that’s doing it.

This thing is really tough to photograph. The fabric is a turquoise-y blue, and the colors came out sort of gray and muddy in the photo. I had to fiddle with the color balance just to get them to look sort of the way they do in person.

I’ve been really into these two projects, but I haven’t touched the sewing machine in a couple of weeks and I miss it. I think I’m probably going to dig up a machine project and work on it this afternoon.

Make Needle Threaders Last Longer

Make needle threaders last longer!

When I started doing a lot of embroidery, I tried pretty much every needle threader there is. But for threading stranded floss, I kept coming back to those cheap little threaders that come in a 3-pack for a dollar with the little wires that break at the drop of a hat. I find them so much quicker and easier to use, and the heavier-duty ones that I use for things like perle cotton tend to shred my floss when I use them for lighter things.

But those cheap threaders were making me crazy because they broke constantly. I was going through one or two a week, which was completely unreasonable. I did some searching to try to find out whether there was a similar threader that was more sturdy but came up with nothing. But I did find some great advice: Put a drop of super glue (aka cyanoacrylate glue) on the spot where the flimsy little wire attaches to the holder. (I can’t remember where I saw this, probably on the forums.)

I gave it a try on the two threaders I had, and it worked perfectly. I’ve been using those two for months now. I lost one of them, and the other one is only just starting to look like it’s going to break soon from being bent back into the right shape too many times. Now that I needed to make some more, I figured I’d pass it on in case I wasn’t the only person in the world who didn’t know about this.

Couple of tips: You only need one drop. It’ll spread and get all over everything if you put on too much. I only needed to put it on one side — it seems to seep through the slots to the other side on its own. Then let it sit for at least a few hours. Don’t touch it to see if it’s dry yet, or you’ll end up with a needle threader glued to your finger. (Ask me how I know this!) But if you do get one glued to yourself, acetone (or any nail polish remover that isn’t labeled acetone-free) will take it off.

Waxing Crescent: Experimental Fabric Collage

Last summer one night I was riding in the car on a country road in the middle of the night. Up a hill and around a bend, there was a crescent moon all orange and red and copper. It had just come up and looked so big that it seemed to be practically sitting right on the road at the top of the hill.

I made a very wobbly sketch (I wasn’t driving) and later at home made a better sketch that wasn’t tiny and obviously made in the dark in a moving car so I wouldn’t forget, but I had no idea what I planned to do about it.

Fast forward almost a year, and last Thursday I decided what to do about it and made this thing. This is the first time I’ve tried any kind of fabric collage, and it’s, um, a little rough looking.

Waxing Crescent

Sometime last year I signed up for Wendy Butler Berns’ Art Quilting 101 class on Craftsy because I wanted to try some stuff like this and had no idea how to go about it. I watched all the videos but didn’t actually try applying any of it until now. I was a little intimidated because I hadn’t done any actual free motion quilting at the time I watched the videos, but I’m over that problem at least. What got me thinking about it again was that I watched a couple of episodes of Sewing With Nancy while working on a project recently (Art Quilts: Fusible Collage Workshop Part 1 and Part 2, which are available to watch for free on PBS at those links until September 2014, according to the video page, though I don’t know if it works if you’re outside the US. Also, I had to watch with Chrome — in Firefox I got a weird error message) and decided I needed to do this right now. Does that happen to you? It does to me a lot, usually later at night than I should be starting a new project.

So I dug up the sketch and traced it and simplified it some and found fabric that I thought would work for the various parts and fused some Heat & Bond light to pieces. I also fused Craft Fuse to the back of the background fabric. Wendy Butler Berns recommends Decor Bond instead in the class, and it’s probably a lot nicer but I didn’t have any. Craft Fuse feels a little bit like fusing a thin layer of cardboard to the back, but it did the job and the finished piece is reasonably non-floppy.

I decided the fabric for the road was way too light — it was the darkest gray I had, and it turns out I have no black fabric that doesn’t have have white flowers on it — so I drew all over it with a black Inktense pencil to darken it. I also used that for the shadow under the moon and to darken the cornfield fabric (which was almost perfect but too bright). I used a wet q-tip to spread the ink around to try to keep it from getting away from me, which I’ve had happen with a brush. I also filled in the leaves on the cornstalks off to the left with colored pencil and set it with textile medium.

I did a yarn binding, which I learned in the class. I used some of my handspun. I used four strands and twisted them together as I sewed, then decided you couldn’t really see the yarn because it had squished down and did another round with four more twisted strands.

The parts I’m not thrilled with: The cornfield. Ugh. It’s hard to see in the photo what’s even going on over there. It was really, really hard to approximate a cornfield at night in this small a space (the finished piece is only 8″ by 6″) and I think it ends too abruptly. I should have either made the fabric more jaggedy or extended the plants up above the edge of the fabric some, which I could still do. I also kind of did the stitching all wrong in the ditch on the left and it’s not really working. In general I feel like it needs… something? But I’m not sure what, and it wasn’t really big enough to cram a lot of detail into.

I probably won’t actually bother to try to fix the cornfield — I’d rather move on. I think I might try another iteration of this thing sometime once I’ve had more practice at this, but bigger so the details are a little more workable and maybe with a bunch of embroidery.

Finished Blackwork Project

Last November, &Stitches hosted a blackwork stitchalong — specifically blackwork in any color other than black. They made these adorable templates, and you just can’t turn down a stitchalong with cute templates, right? At least I can’t.

This was only a few weeks after I got the cast off my arm, and I was maybe still suffering pent-up craft insanity because I decided that stitching one copy of the template with the overlapping rectangles was not enough for me. Oh no, I was going to go ahead and do five versions of it, all cleverly arranged, thus guaranteeing that I could not possibly finish the project in November. Or even that year.

The arrangement I planned on wasn’t workable due to issues with the size of the fabric piece I had and the fact that it was cut a bit off-grain, so that when I got to the top left corner I would have had no fabric left on the side at all. When I first measured I didn’t think to check that, just measured how big the finished piece would be and compared that to the dimensions of the fabric.

Since that wasn’t going to work out, I decided to go with a simpler plan.

Finished Blackwork

All the fill patterns I used are from the Ensamplario Atlantio (which is free and is a fantastic resource). It’s done with a single strand of DMC 154 on 28-count cotton evenweave fabric (apart from the outlines, which are two strands).

I finished it maybe a couple of weeks ago and finally got around to washing and blocking it over the holiday weekend. This afternoon I managed to work up the gumption to trim it and lace it onto cardstock (actually mat board — it was the only thing I could find that was big enough and acid-free) which I’ve never done before. This tutorial was a big help. It was a little tricker than I expected because I needed to cut pretty long pieces of perle cotton to work with (even though I started in the middle and worked out to the sides) and I kept getting all tangled up and feeling as though I needed an extra hand. I was also terrible at estimating how much thread I needed, so I still ended up having to tie off and start over again anyway despite starting with an insanely long strand. Next time I try this with a bigger piece I’ll probably just use shorter lengths and deal with having to tie off — it seems to me it’d be less hassle than having to untangle the thread.

Now just need to find a frame for it and mat/frame it!

WIP – Free Motion Quilting Sampler

Just recently I signed up for another Craftsy class, Ann Petersen's Beyond Basic Machine Quilting. I really liked her teaching style in the other class of hers I took, and after I read Sandy's review of the class I made my mind up to give it a try.

It's going pretty well. I'm in the midst of the class free motion quilting sampler project and things are improving rather than getting worse. I've just finished adding in the major elements, and the next lesson is on embellishing the quilting (with more quilting, that is, rather than embellishment with other stuff).

I only just today got around to picking up some trilobal polyester thread, which is what's recommended in the course. I started out using random threads I had around that seemed strong enough to quilt with. My stitching improved immediately and dramatically after switching to to the trilobal polyester, particularly on the back of the piece, which was gratifying to see. The back looking terrible is something I've been struggling with.

In the photo there's still a lot of blue water-soluble pen visible — though it's been so crazy humid that some of it has actually disappeared, even though it isn't one of those air-soluble ones. I also made the somewhat questionable stylistic decision to do my first few tries at feathers in a super bright teal thread — whee!

WIP - FMQ Stitch Sampler

On Thursday and Friday I was out of town for a short trip to Cincinnati. On the way there, Don and I stopped at a great little museum at the Clinton County Historical Society in Wilmington. We didn't get to spend tons of time there due to getting out of town later than expected, but we got to see the main things we were interested in. They have a great cabinet of curiosities exhibit right now, with all sorts of odd historical bits. They have a a couple Victorian hair wreaths, including a great big one that has hair from 97 different members of one family. Every little leaf and flower in it is numbered on the paper backing the piece, and their names are all listed along the sides. There was also an exceptionally creepy clockwork doll that was designed to crawl. There was a photography exhibit as well that was really neat, and a textile room full of cool stuff. I was so caught up with looking at everything that I didn't get any photos, unfortunately.

I made a quick stop at the Cotton Junky quilt shop in Wilmington, too. Road trip fabric is a totally legitimate thing, right? I thought so, too.

Road Trip Fabric!

Now I'm going to go watch that embellishment video. I'm really excited about working on this.

Disclosure: Craftsy link is an affiliate link, which means I may be compensated if you make a purchase through that link. I only use affiliate links for services/products I actually use myself.

Dresden Thread Catcher & Pincushion

I first saw one of these nifty hanging thread catcher bag/pincushion combo things at Whipstitch a while back, and I became sort of obsessed with making one. Seriously, how awesome are those things? Since then I've seen them all over, and one of the first things I did after I finished the sampler quilt was make one.

Now, I didn’t precisely need a new thread catcher. Last year I made this embroidered thread catcher bag:
Thread bin - finished!

I still have it and I still love it, but unfortunately I didn't give even the tiniest bit of thought to interfacing, so it's gotten sort of saggy. It's also a little small — turns out I underestimated the amount of opening space I needed to have available to fling thread snippets at. So I've repurposed that one, and it's now holding the couple of medication bottles that are normally strewn about my desk looking all classy and stuff. Things are neater, I'm still using my happy little embroidered bag (just as a basket now instead) and it stands up much better with something solid inside it. When I was using it for thread, it was slouched all over the place.

For the new one, I went with this pattern: dreamy Dresden thread catcher from Curry Bungalow on Etsy, which is a different pattern by the designer of the one I saw on Whipstitch. The pincushion on this one has a tiny Dresden plate, and I love it to death.

Dresden plate pincushion

That was my first experience with a Dresden plate. Now, I think I might have mentioned in the last entry that I'd been pretty sick recently. (I promise this is relevant.) I actually ended up in the ER late one night with a bad asthma attack and a case of bronchitis. I left there quite a few hours later feeling much better and with a handful of prescriptions, one of them for some very strong cough syrup. Let me just tell you right now that you don't want to make your first Dresden plate while you're taking the very strong cough syrup. The first try didn't go so well. Before sewing it, I decided that the quarter inch seam line on my sewing machine (which I have marked with a stack of painter's tape) looked like it was in the wrong place. And I moved it over, with the result that all my seam allowances were a little too big and the thing would never have made a full ring.

After I was off the cough syrup, I moved the seam line back to its original place and got back to work, and things went much better.

The bag part looks like so:

Thread Catcher

I was a little hesitant to use that blue contrast strip, not being sure whether it would turn out pleasantly contrast-y or too clashy. But I like it a lot.

The bag stays round at the top by means of a strip of Rigilene boning, which I thought was incredibly clever. I happened to have part of a roll of Rigilene left over from an old project, so I was happy to be able to finally use some of that up. The designer sells supply kits for these so you don't need to source your own boning and tile and walnut hulls and rubberized shelf liner, but since I had the boning, tile, and shelf liner already, all I needed was to scrounge up some filler for the pincushion. I considered buying walnut hulls. The options on Etsy seemed mainly to be about 2 cups for $12 or so after adding in the shipping. I found out you can get ground walnut hulls at pet stores packaged as lizard bedding, and I checked out a local shop and found they did have it, but I'd have to buy a 10-quart bag for $15. I'll probably do that eventually, but for this one I ended up scavenging the sawdust filling from my old and extremely beat-up tomato pincushion and packed the top half of the pincushion with that, then filled the bottom with polyfill. It attaches to the fabric-covered tile with velcro, so no worries about it being lighter weight due to the polyfill. (I've learned that a pincushion stuffed only with polyfill is too light for me and will end up on the floor every two minutes — but even with half-polyfill, this one is pretty solid.)

Thread Catcher

I also love the lining fabric, which is MicroMod Arches. That whole fabric line just makes me happy, and I particularly love the tiny orange dots mixed in with the gray in this one.

Thread Catcher

The part that didn't work out so well was boxing the corners on the pincushion and lining. Of the three ways this page shows for boxing corners, I usually do it the third way shown, by lining things up, sewing the seam, and then cutting the corner. The pattern shows the second method (cutting the little box out and then lining up the seam and sewing) which I'd been wanting to try to see if it was less fussy. I didn't have any trouble with the outer bag, but for some reason on the pincushion, and on the bag lining to a lesser degree, I had a really tough time keeping the edges lined up, even after pinning, and I ended up sewing a little bit of a smile shape rather than a straight line. The lining only has minor weirdness, but the pincushion corners are a little odd-looking. You can particularly see it on the right side of the pincushion in the photo above. I decided I could live with it, though. I think the flower distracts attention enough that it's not a big enough deal to bother me any.

I've been using it for a few days now, and I'm really glad I made it. No more finding bits of thread all over the desk and the floor because I missed the opening on the smaller one (which I need to be especially careful of because I have cats, and one of them in particular likes to eat inappropriate objects as a hobby) and it makes me happy just looking at it.

Skill Builder Sampler Quilt: I made a whole queen size quilt all by myself and lived to tell about it

One day a few years ago, I decided I was going to learn to quilt. I had wanted to for a while, but I was a little intimidated. I had done some reading about it but hadn't actually tried it. Then I saw a link to the We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler, which had started not long before, and it looked really approachable. I decided to give it a try.

I got sidetracked a few times. Early on I made about five blocks before bad ergonomic setup got the better of me, and it took a while to get that sorted out. In the end it took me close to three years to finish, but it's finally done. (I actually finished it about 10 days ago, but I've been sidelined by some sort of plague that rolled through my household and by my cat's surgery and still-in-progress recovery, and I'm just finally finishing up the post now.) It's technically not my first quilt, I guess, since I finished a wall-hanging sized quilt last summer, but as far as I'm concerned this is my first one since I started it first and since it was a pretty huge undertaking. It’s queen size, finishing at 90 inches square.

Skill Builder Sampler quilt

I learned a ton of new skills doing this. How to use a rotary cutter, how to sew a scant quarter inch seam (my mastery of this one is debatable some days), how to press seams accurately. Strip piecing, chain piecing. Half-square and quarter-square triangles and flying geese and that nifty flippy corner piecing thing that I still don't know the name of. Foundation piecing, using both paper and fabric foundations. I discovered that improvisational piecing about gives me hives — maybe I'll change my mind someday, though. I did a bunch of different kinds of applique — raw edge using fusible web, freezer paper applique, and needle turn applique, which I want to practice some more since I still haven't got the hang of it. Curved piecing, piecing with templates, inset seams. English paper piecing, which I love so much that I've started a queen size EPP quilt.

It was challenging, but the sampler progressed in such a way that I was pretty much always ready for the next thing. I screwed up a lot, had to rip seams and do them over, had points that didn't match, did the applique stitching on the circles block completely wrong — they're stitched down with sort of a demented whipstitch because I misunderstood the instructions). At one point I became so unnerved by the feathered star block that I procrastinated for months.

There are a ton of mistakes, and it's completely awesome anyway because I finished it and I made the whole thing by myself. And most of the mistakes aren't all that noticeable from a few feet back.

It's not a quilt until it's quilted, right?

The whole time I was working on piecing the quilt, I felt a little nervous at the prospect of quilting it. It sounded entirely foreign in a way that piecing didn't — I already knew how to sew before I started, but free motion quilting sounded more like alchemy than sewing. I needed more help. I enrolled in a couple of Craftsy classes*, Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine and Free Motion Quilting a Sampler. I found them both incredibly helpful.

I also did a practice FMQ project beforehand to get at least a little bit of practice before tackling the quilt.

Craftsy Classes & A Really Helpful Book

Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine is taught by Ann Petersen, and I really enjoy her teaching style (so much that I've enrolled in another one of her classes). She's informative and reassuring, and after watching the first few lessons I already felt better about trying to tackle a queen-size quilt on a domestic machine. The lessons cover design, getting ready to quilt, working on whole quilts, working on split batting quilts and split top quilts, a block by block quilt-as-you-go method, and medallion quilts.

I still haven't watched all of the medallion quilts lesson yet (and have only watched the split batting, split top, and block-by-block lessons) since I was focusing on doing a while quilt at once, but I want to try some of the other methods, too. I keep imagining that quilt-as-you-go might be tedious, but plenty of times I've tried out something that sounded tedious (like English paper piecing) and found that I loved it to the point of distraction, so I definitely want to try out some of the other methods presented.

This class is where I got the idea to use pieces of rubber shelf liner/rug backing to grip the quilt with instead of gloves, and that worked out really well for me. I also tried a pair of gloves with grippy fingers but found them awkward, and I kept having to take the gloves off to deal with threads and such. I know the specialty quilting gloves are sometimes made so you should be able to thread the needle with them on, but I probably won't try them anytime soon since the shelf liner squares worked beautifully.

Free Motion Quilting a Sampler, taught by Leah Day, focuses on quilting the sampler from the free 2012 Craftsy Block of the Month class, and I figured it would be helpful in deciding how to approach quilting my sampler. The first four lessons cover basting (she covers pin basting, and the Ann Petersen class covers spray basting); basics/supplies including info on how to modify a universal free motion foot if you need to and advice on machine settings, FMQ basics, and a lesson on speed and motion where she has a new quilter get started; and stitching in the ditch and hiding threads. She demonstrates free-motion ditching, which is what I used on the quilt. (Mine was very wobbly at first but got a lot better by the end, and I liked not having to use my walking foot, which is a universal one that I tend to have stitch length issues with.) She really encourages not ripping all the little imperfections because spending all that time ripping only gets you better at ripping instead of better at quilting.

The lessons then move into various free motion patterns used to fill the different sampler blocks: stippling, paisley, spirals, wandering clover, shells, squares, pine needles, pearls, pebbling, escargot, square spiral, snake paisley, feathers, spiral chain, desert sand, and feather fans, followed by a lesson on quilting the border and finishing. All of these lessons have tons of good advice mixed in with them. I haven't actually gotten through all of them yet — I mainly used the designs from lessons 5-7, combined with the designs from First Steps to Free Motion Quilting. The class materials download has sketches of all the designs and also a sketch of the entire sampler filled in with the designs she used, which I found really helpful in deciding how to quilt a few blocks that I kept dithering about. I never found the fact that I was quilting an entirely different sampler than the instructor to be a problem — all the advice transferred to my quilt just fine.

I never did modify my foot the way she suggested in the beginning of the class. She suggests modifications to a universal quilting foot (which is what I have) to both stop it from hopping, which she finds problematic, and to open the oval area that the thread passes through to make it easier to see what you're doing. I didn't find the hopping all that noticeable (but the way the foot attached to my Singer 15-91, which I used for quilting, was nowhere near as dramatic as the amount of hopping I got the same foot on my Morse). I do want to remove part of the plastic oval as she suggested, but I didn't do it before getting started, and once I got started I didn't want to risk breaking my only free motion foot in the middle of quilting. I'm going to give that a try before I quilt another big project — I think it'll both make for better visibility and save the annoyance of having to thread through that ring whenever I re-thread the machine.

I also bought a copy of First Steps to Free Motion Quilting* by Christina Cameli (who also blogs at A Few Scraps.) Besides the video classes, I wanted something I could leaf through while I was quilting. I loved this book. The content is split up into roughly 20-25 pages of free motion quilting basic instruction, 45 pages of quilting designs, 24 projects, a section of basic construction technique info for the quilts and other projects in the book, and a section with troubleshooting guides, which I consulted many, many times while quilting. The troubleshooting guides cover thread breakage, skipped stitches, thread loops on the back of the quilt, needle breakage, bobbin thread showing on the top, thread snarls on the back, and bubbles/puckers in the quilt — I found these really useful. (I haven't done any of the projects yet since I've been all about finishing the quilt lately, but there's a messenger bag in there that I'm dying to make. I have a thing about messenger bags. I also want to make the fabric bowls and a fabric basket or two, and there are some beautiful quilts in there that are either simply pieced or use mainly a sprinkling of applique to let the quilting take center stage. The Fireworks and Leaves quilts in particular are beautiful.)

Here's the part where I post a thousand photos

After I did a metric ton of ditch quilting with monofilament, I switched over to cotton thread and quilted each block individually, then quilted in the sashing/cornerstones and the border.

Sometimes I didn't quite manage to pull off what I was trying to do, like the echoing of the design on the reel block. Here I also kept letting go of the quilt before the needle was down, something I'm still trying to get the hang of doing right.
Reel block - quilted

But sometimes I managed to do something that looked pretty nifty.
Sawtooth Star block - quilted

That one has a flower that shows up much better on the back:
Sawtooth Star - back of quilt

The back of the quilt is, for the most part, not all that pretty. Next time I'm going to use a lighter weight thread on the back and see if that helps.

The apple cores that didn't quite want to lay flat? Yeah, that didn't really quilt out.
Apple Core block - quilted

But on the whole, things came out a lot better than I'd hoped for, even though there are a lot of mistakes and little weird bits if you look closely.

Feathered Star block - quilted

Cactus Flower block - quilted

Mariner's Compass block - quilted

Mini Lone Star / Lemoyne Star block - quilted

Alice Brooks Butterfly block - quilted
I love the butterfly, but I'm afraid it might be the winner of the "Most Likely To Need Re-Quilted After a Trip Through the Wash" award. The back is a bit eyelash-y, and I decided not to rip it.

And sometime? I really want to do a string quilt. (Oops. Missed a bit of quilting near the center, didn't I?)
String block - quilted

Resources Used

Here's some of the stuff I couldn't have made this quilt without. I'm sure I'm forgetting things — the other day while in the car I remembered at least three web sites I wanted to list and have no recollection of what they are now — but hopefully this is most of it.

*Craftsy and Amazon links are affiliate links to classes/books that I've used and found helpful.