Friday, August 20, 2021

Adventures in Dye

It's been a long time and I'm so happy to be sitting at the computer and writing out a blog post! Of course I have a huge backlog of quilts to share!

Last fall I got an unexpected rebate check from my insurance company. I decided to invest it into turning a "someday I'd like to..." into a checkmark on my quilting bucket list. I ordered 25 yards of unbleached muslin and all the chemicals I needed to hand dye my first batch of fabric. Carol Johnston's DVD "Color By Accident: Exploring Low-Water Immersion Dyeing" was tremendously helpful to me.
As I think I've mentioned before, I have four children. My older three elected to do online school and I knew that I would be pulled in a lot of different directions to help them succeed. My sewing room is tucked away in a corner of the basement and is too far removed to be a base of operations. The kitchen sink, however, is the center of the house. From there, I could effectively manage my troops and get them to meetings on time, answer questions and monitor assignments. Dyeing all this fabric was a tremendous boon for me because in the middle of all that activity/controlled chaos, I could still move forward and make progress on something that was important to me.

It probably surprises no one that I started with blue and purple! I used two colors of dye, Deep Navy and Ultraviolet, to dye 25 yards of fabric. I weakened the dye to get lighter values and I mixed the two dyes in different proportions to have colors that related to each other. This is the palette that I got. I found it to be very versatile and fun to work with. I love that hand dyed watercolor look so much!

In fact, the watercolor look was what inspired my theme for this set of quilts....watery disasters! Just like dyeing fabric at the sink during online school kept me going, listening to a grown up read me a book was just what I needed. Many of the quilts in this series were inspired by audio books that I listened to with the theme of watery disasters. Inspiration doesn't generally just strike me out of the blue. I'm usually inspired when I'm curious, problem-solving or pondering something. Listening to these audio books gave me something to think about and I was able to distill those thoughts into a shape or a feeling that I wanted to explore in a quilt.

Let's start looking at the quilts!

29" x 29"

I was listening to The Finest Hours, the story of the dramatic rescue of sailors on 2 tanker ships that broke apart in a terrible nor'easter storm off Cape Cod while I made this quilt. Coast Guardsmen went out in 35 foot boats over the Chatham Bar in monstrous 70 foot seas to rescue the sailors. Dramatic, inspiring stuff. I lived in Weymouth, Massachusetts for 2 years. (That is South Shore Boston on the way to Cape Cod.) This book definitely brought back some memories!

The audio book was the inspiration for this quilt (down to the snowflakes on the backing), but it's nowhere near the cold, wild ride Bernie Webber and crew took to save lives. Their willingness to serve, even in the worst of circumstances, was truly inspirational.

My favorite part of this quilt is the way the colors work. You know that feeling when you have a peppermint in your mouth and then suck air in? It feels just like that to my eyes. 

"The Advancing Mist"
~42" x 42"

To continue my audio book theme of watery disasters, I listened to David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood. I admire his historical writing so much. This quilt is based on this book.

The Johnstown Flood occurred in Pennsylvania in 1889 after a dam broke upriver. More than 2,000 people were killed in the flash flood that ensued. The book describes the towns impacted before, during and after the flood. You also find out more about the dam's construction, why it broke and who, ultimately, was responsible (or not). There are countless heroes, victims and a really breath-taking study of all the varied facets, good and ill, of human nature. I dare you to read and/or listen and not think about what it means to have moral duties and what it means to be a member of a community.

I used fabrics that I hand dyed and an improvisationally pieced sawtooth to convey the destructive tumult. The flood waters went through several ironworks that had fires blazing, so survivors recounted that the advancing water was a black spray of blurriness, also called a "death mist." The flood waters also picked up a great quantity of barbed wire from the ironworks and sent that crashing downstream.

I used ruler-free piecing and left the quilt edges in a natural shape. It is quilted with monofilament thread.

The interesting thing about this quilt is that it generated an enormous amount of triangle shaped scraps. I had to trim to match the angles for each piece of fabric that I sewed on, so each triangle in this quilt left a smaller triangle of scrap. I was able to use up these pieces in two additional quilts that I'll share later in this post. As is often the case, I like the scrap quilts more than I like this one.

41" x 41"

This is another quilt inspired by audio books that I was listening to. My theme has been "watery disasters" and the book that inspired this quilt was Isaac's Storm (a story of the unnamed Galveston hurricane from 1900) by Erik Larson.

I'm not going to sugar coat it, this book was difficult to listen to. The description of the storm and tragic aftermath were horrifically detailed as was the utter and complete failure of any type of warning system.

Well-documented squabbles were happening in the US government about who had the power to call a storm a hurricane and who was authorized to forecast one. Warnings from Cuban forecasters who knew they had just experienced a hurricane (the same one) and accurately predicted a strengthening path through the Gulf were actively suppressed.

In the end, no one had any warning and by the time anyone had the vaguest inkling that something was coming, it was already too late. It was truly a heartbreaking read.

I chose concentric boxes as a reference to a hurricane and used 18 of my hand dyed fabrics to piece it. It is quilted with monofilament and finished with a faced edge.

"My Kind of Crazy"
42" x 42"

This quilt is a little bit of a departure from my audio book theme of making a quilt based on a watery disaster. I made this while participating in Project Quilting. The theme was "Crazy Quilt." I love traditional crazy quilts, but I had no desire to make one.

I thought about what the elements of a crazy quilt were, and then tried to incorporate them into something closer to my aesthetic.
  • Made with precious fabrics, often scraps
  • Includes irregular shapes that can be angled
  • Includes decorative thread and hand embellishment
I used the scrap bits of hand dyed fabric I had collected thus far and some of the last of my favorite deep purple from a cut up Goodwill shirt. I used the shirt to piece in the angles. It is machine quilted with Yenmet metallic thread and embellished with 12 wt. cotton along the binding.
My theme was chosen for me based on the challenge I was participating in, but I did listen to an audio book while I pieced it. You may have noticed that all the books I'd listened to so far were sad. Um, me too. I desperately needed a break, so I listened to a shoot-'em-up spy thriller. In it the hero was wounded and survived by floating out of Paris in the Seine.  A true watery disaster? Maybe not, be good enough for me. 😁 

"The Waves"
22" x 23"

This is one of those triangle scrap quilts that I mentioned before.

The book that inspired this quilt is 438 Days by Jonathan Franklin. This book is the story of a fisherman who lost engine power and his radio in a terrible storm off the coast of Mexico. He could see the mountains from where he was, but was unable to get to shore. He spent 14 months drifting in the Pacific Ocean, traveling 7,000 miles in 438 days before he landed in a small island in the Pacific and was rescued.

On the surface, it's a survival book. However, I found it to be a story of physical and mental resilience. Alvarenga (the fisherman) concocted elaborate stories for himself about the truck he would buy and would mentally wax every inch of it. He'd take detailed walks to the store to buy fresh tortillas when he was hungry. He would imagine himself rocking in a hammock to sleep better.

It's impossible to read his story without thinking of your own coping mechanisms and imagining what you would do to stay sane. I know I would sing. The song that I kept being reminded of was "The Things I Regret" by Brandi Carlile (here's a link if you want to listen). Alvarenga also thought of his regrets, chiefly his estrangement from his family and vowed to fix those relationships if he survived. He did both.

This quilt was made from the larger triangle off-cuts from "The Advancing Mist." I quilted it very heavily in a free-hand wave pattern with monofilament thread.

31" x 31"

I just couldn't walk away from this batch of hand dyed fabrics without  knowing what else it could do. Most specifically I was interested in the combination of hand dyes with recycled dress shirts, scraps and stash (thus, the name).

I had thought I'd make several different block shapes for this quilt, but once I saw all the wonderful new shapes that were created as the triangles were sewn together, I felt satisfied leaving it with one.

I also decided to use one more surprising element and quilt it in metallic thread. I included one picture in full sun so you could see it in all of its sparkly glory.

I was very pleasantly surprised to get a blue ribbon for this quilt in a piecing category at the Iowa State Fair. Every year I buy 10 entry tags and the 3 quilts that I did the "Meh, they probably have no chance but I'm going to enter them anyway because I'm contrary and I like them" were the blue ribbon winners. So funny. 

40" x 33"

I really thought I'd be done with these fabrics with the last quilt, but then I was inspired by a really strange thing. I was watching "Somebody Feed Phil" with the kids and vicariously enjoying the foods and sights of Copenhagen. At one point Phil mentioned that a feature of new Nordic cuisine is to use local ingredients that are often sourced from the area directly around the restaurant.

That comment made me think of the pile of half-rectangle triangle scraps from "The Advancing Mist" that were still on my cutting table. I had thought that they might be a little too small for even me to consider using, but listening to him made me change my mind.

Freshly inspired, I decided to make a Copenhagen quilt with the scraps located right next to my sewing machine. I vaguely remembered that there is a color called Danish blue, so I looked it up, color matched and began by piecing a small strip to all of my triangle units. I used spray baste to temporarily affix the units as I drew out an architectural wave shape. I simultaneously quilted and qppliqued the pieces down with more waves and more blue. I even used fish for my backing!

If you've never seen "Somebody Feed Phil," you can find it on Netflix. It's one of my favorite series. Watching it will make you want to give someone a hug and I'll gladly consume any media that makes me feel like that. 

So that's what I've been up to. It's been a crazy year and I've been so grateful for my sewing machine, an online library and a stash of fabric to work through. I know that it's helped me keep my head in the game and be there for my kids and my husband. 
I also wanted to mention that I tried a new quilting thing this spring. I was asked by the Lake Superior MQG to put together an online trunk show/presentation about using scraps for one of their programs. I wasn't sure about the whole Zoom thing, but they were so nice and enthusiastic that I've embraced it and presented for other guilds. I've had a great time virtually connecting with other quilters.
The presentation is called "Unlocking the Joy in Scraps." I talk about my process, color/value, storage and how to be inspired by what you have in front of you. If you're interested in me "visiting" your guild, you can email me at 

Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Closet Game

This is a running record of all the quilts I made during the lockdown/quarantine. There are a lot. My cellphone had a catastrophic failure a couple of weeks ago, and I lost a lot of pictures. Many of these quilts will have only one picture, but since there are so many quilts, that just might be for the best. You can find more detail shots on my Instagram page, @pieladyquilts.

The creative theme I used to prompt myself this time was "the closet." In my sewing room, I store many things in that closet. Maybe *too* many. All the quilts in today's post began as bags of scraps, orphan blocks, a stray quilt top or from fabric stacked in that closet. I will go in chronological order.

"Roses and Thorns"⁣
23" x 23"⁣

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." --Abraham Lincoln⁣

Last spring, while I was making the coral Pickle Dish quilt, I needed to rip out part of a seam on one of the arcs. I ended up ripping the seam AND the fabric. I saved the ripped arc and the angled scraps from the project in a plastic bag to work on later. A year later, here we are.⁣

I try hard to be an optimist, but I have to admit that when I dumped out the bag, I saw the "thorns" first. I used all of the angled pieces to create three roses as my penance.

The background fabric is from a men's brushed woven dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill). There was a definite right side and wrong side to the fabric, but I ignored that. I like the subtle variation in color and texture. I also experimented with one of the utility stitches on my machine to stitch in some more texture with invisible thread.⁣

I found the ripped pickle dish arc and a bag of scraps stored in the closet. I normally don't store scraps this way (I just use them instantly), but I had to move on quickly to other State Fair quilts last summer and put them aside to deal with later.

"Love Triangles"
35" x 40"

This quilt began with orphan blocks from my quilt "Love At First Glow." I discovered that I could make the blocks have a glowing effect if I started with the lightest value and gradually darkened the values as I added more rounds. These are the blocks that I made before I discovered that.

I floated these blocks in a sea of Kona Oasis. I chose that fabric because it was a nice medium value and also because I had three yards of it in my stash. Specific fabrics were hard to come by at this point in the spring, and I was happy to use what I had.

I quilted this using the zig zag utility stitch on my machine and pale green thread. I like how the contrasting thread looks on the Oasis background and it was a fun way to deal with quilting the negative space on this quilt.

I ended up with a lot of weird angled Oasis scraps after piecing this, so I took a break from digging in the closet and used those scraps as my inspiration for the next several quilts.

"Not in Nottingham"
20" x 20"

When I sorted through the Kona Oasis scraps, I found that I had two distinct shapes: wedge strips and triangles. This quilt was made with the triangles plus scraps from my scrap bin. I was thinking of sea glass and wintergreen gum while I picked out the fabric.

You know that Roger Miller song from the Disney version of Robin Hood? I hummed it the whole time I pieced this.

Every town
Has its ups and downs
Sometimes ups
Outnumber the downs
But not in Nottingham

I had a comment on Instagram from a quilter that lives in that part of England. She approved of this quilt and we laughed about it together.

"Mysterious Ness"
25" x 25"

This quilt is how I dealt with the Kona Oasis wedge strip scraps.

During the quarantine I was my kids' piano teacher. I assigned "The Loch Ness Monster to my daughter. It's a fun song. There are minor chords that rise from the low end of the keyboard, a silly chorus and then slow minor chords down the piano as the monster heads back in to the deep. She loved the song and I loved the illustration. It was a mustard colored Nessie with triangle teeth in a green sea backed by a blue sky.

These are free-pieced triangles that I trimmed to size with a Half & Quarter ruler that I didn't remember that I had. All the fabrics came from the scrap bin and were meant to be deep-valued and mysterious.

34" x 39"

I thought I had used the rest of the Living Coral scraps in "Roses and Thorns," the quilt I started the blog with today. I hadn't. I found a whole bucket of more triangle-ish scraps from piecing the arcs. I dumped the bucket out and started piecing. Originally I was sewing random colors together, but it felt too chaotic to me. I adjusted to use pairs of similar colors and arrange the quilt in color fields.  I was on a big true crime kick this spring. I listened to the "DC Sniper: Monster" podcast. I think I had a visceral reaction against random and subconsciously imposed order on this piece. Once again, this is a great illustration how improv work is reactive. I still used those original blocks that I pieced; they are sprinkled in as the "surprise" in the color fields. I also pieced in a little private joke. In the orange field there is one single triangle of Kona Oasis that I hadn't used in "Not in Nottingham."
This is quilted with freehand waves in monofilament thread and is finished with a faced edge.

"Oceanic Bullseye"
15" x 15"

This was my ten year old son's entry to the Curated Quilts Youth Mini challenge and his second quilt. He designed, pieced and helped to quilt this. I think he really enjoyed having some alone time with me during the time that we were all stuck in the house together. We had to use a prescribed set of colors, but we omitted some and played with arrangements and different tints of color for a long time. He learned about value and how purposely being imperfect makes art more interesting. When the quilt wasn't accepted for the gallery, he also learned about how it's good to be a little different than everyone else and not "fit" in a grouping, but how marching to your own drummer isn't without a few twinges of discomfort. This quilt is hanging in his room and he is exceptionally proud of it.

"Happy Hatch"
41" x 59"

This was a quilt top that came from the closet in my sewing room. I had it basted and quilted with a few lines of hand stitching. I decided that hand quilting this didn't really enrich the design that much and ripped out the little bit I had done. I quilted this with an elongated zig zag utility stitch on my machine. I think it gives the quilt a really fun texture. 

This quilt was made from the scraps of the quilt I made called "Bucket List," which is pictured below. I added a few extra blues and a navy blue and white maternity shirt I cut up (pictured above).
With "Happy Hatch," I've also decided to check the box on 2020's Pantone Classic Blue. Rather than dedicating an entire series on the color, I'm going to count these three quilts from this year where I swerved into Classic Blue. Even without a stand alone post on the color, I think I have honored it. 
Have you seen the announced color pair for 2021? A bright sunshiney yellow (YAY!) and a drab gray (uhhh...?). It makes me think the selection was trying a little too hard to be metaphorical with the whole light at the end of the dark tunnel thing, but I'll still challenge myself to make a quilt. Color is what you make of it.

It turns out that you can't just make a quilt with one of your children. After seeing her brother make a quilt, my daughter insisted that she have a turn. I found a free pattern from Robert Kaufman called Pixelated Heart. It looked like a perfect pattern for a beginner. I dug in my closet, stash and scrap bins and found enough Anna Maria Horner fabric to use in the quilt. The background is a lightweight denim and we backed it with turquoise minky. I asked Sarah Yoder Parker to longarm it for us and she did a beautiful freehand design of interlocking hearts. This quilt has received HEAVY use. And by heavy, I mean I have to remove it from my daughter's face every morning to wake her up for school. 

There was another very positive outcome of this quilt. While I was digging through my scrap bins to find more pieces of Anna Maria Horner fabric, I found Tula Pink Nightshade scraps. Years ago I bought a fat quarter bundle of Nightshade ON SALE for twenty something dollars. I briefly considered hoarding it, but decided that I wanted to stay true to a personal belief that fabric is meant to be used. I bought it because I liked it, so of course I'd want to make a quilt out of it. A few years ago I made a Nightshade quilt that I still love and still display every fall. I didn't have a clear idea of how much the fabric scraps were worth, so I decided to put it up on an eBay auction and let the market decide what it was worth. I had a couple full faces, a couple partial faces and scraps from the coordinating prints. All told it was about a yard of fabric. The market decided alright. It decided to the tune of $450. With the proceeds, I bought the backing for the scrap vortex quilt I'll share later in the post and with the rest, totally revamped my sad clothes closet. I threw away all my sad, stained, holey mom shirts and some skirts that were older than my oldest child. I went on an eBay shopping spree and bid and haggled my way to a fresh new closet of cute clothes. I bought new leggings, a style of tunic that I love in many different prints and colors, a couple of dresses, skirts, a new pair of sparkly silver Birkenstocks and a new pair of sneakers. I LOVE that playing the sewing closet game solved another closet's problems. 
I will share a picture of the quilt I made a few years ago with the Nightshade bundle just for fun.

"Don't Be Crabby"
31" x 31"

The name for this quilt references the cute crab print that I used for the backing. It also references life events (I took my sewing machine in to a local place for a needle jam and it ended up being a fatal repair. I had to buy a new machine.) It also references the provenance of the fabric used to make it.

Long time readers may remember that I have played the trading game for fabric. I offer notions and/or fabric that I am no longer using for trade. One of the participants told me that she had a great deal of solid fabric that she'd like to trade me. The large amounts of solid fabric ended up being large petal shapes that were cut on the bias. 
This summer I was asked to give a Zoom lecture for the German National Quilt Guild for their Summer Series. All of the other offerings were method workshops, so I wanted to add a tutorial at the end of my Zoom presentation on scraps to give a concrete example of how to use the scraps I'd just spent 90 minutes talking about. I checked in my sewing closet for some likely scraps to use as a demo and found the giant bias petals. I cut them in on-grain strips and started piecing this. I also added some red prints and tonal solids from my scrap bin to get the color proportions right.

 "Stress-Eating Starburst"
23" x 23"

When I wrote about "Don't Be Crabby" on Instagram, I ended the post by saying something snarky about how I pieced that quilt while stress-eating Starburst. I was thinking about that while I was contemplating how to use up the scraps and had the thought that it might be funny to actually piece a quilt with the theme of stress-eating Starburst. I used the red, yellow and fuchsia from the first quilt and color matched an orange fabric to a Starburst wrapper.

I think the whole idea of stress-eating Starburst resonated with people because all of us have had to find ways to deal with the stress, pain and uncertainty that have come with 2020. I was stunned when my silly tongue-in-cheek quilt was so popular. 
In fact, it was the response to this quilt that made me end a years long embargo on Quiltcon. I submitted this quilt along with four others this year. My mom told me it was time to start submitting again, so I listened. As of this writing, the acceptance emails haven't been sent yet. We'll see how it goes.

"The Old Ninety Sixer"
96" x 96"

I have been saving the pieces to make one of these scrap vortex quilts for 4 years. I sew together print strips from leftover backings and facings as part of the clean up process after I finish every quilt. I'll grab random pieces from my print scraps and sew them onto the leftover strips. Then, I cut them apart and store the sewn, unpressed pairs in a bucket in my closet. I also do this with the scraps from quilts I make with prints. This summer, the bucket was full!

I listened to four audiobooks on George Washington while I pieced this. The audiobooks helped distract me from the insane amount of piecing and ironing this quilt entailed. I had just enough pieced fabric pairs to sew this large top, and then gleefully used the leftover backing strips from this quilt to start filling my bucket all over again.

My husband is a notorious cover-stealer (shameless, too) so I am glad to have a quilt that's big enough to give me a fighting chance!

I received the pillow in the picture from Tina, @13quilts, in the Great Pillow Swap I participated in a few years ago. This quilt was also quilted by Sarah Yoder Parker.

The next picture is a closeup of the work as I was piecing it. I even spy a few pieces of the notorious Nightshade fabric!

"Butterflies in My Head"
15" x 15"

I stay home with the kids (4) now, but before the kids I was an elementary school teacher for 7 years. Every few years I have to take courses to keep my teaching license current. This summer I took three online classes. My favorite was "You Can Do WHAT With Google Slides?!" The poor instructor had no idea what he was in for with me. We had to create an artifact to demonstrate evidence of our learning, but at no point did he specify that the artifact have to be related to elementary school. I used this opportunity to start working on another slide show presentation about color.

As I was making different slides about specific color harmonies, I realized that I didn't have many quilts with the double split complementary. This color harmony uses two pair of complementary colors making an X across the color wheel. If you were to make lines connecting all four colors, it would look like a rectangle. For this quilt I used blue-green, red-violet, yellow-green and red-orange. All the fabric came from my scrap bins.
...and I have the receipts! 😄


"Pointed Star of the East"
47" x 65"

This is the quilt that I made with the vintage star block I picked up at a local consignment store that had been languishing in my sewing room closet. This is the second, and final, quilt I've made from blocks that were donated by this maker (or the maker's family). All of the blocks came labelled with paper from a feed store in Wayland, Iowa. the previous quilt was foundation pieced on a bag from a store in Wayland. I think there's a strong case to be made for the original maker's location.

I added modern fabrics and sensibilities to this vintage block for a collaboration that I'm happy with. I did a little quilt surgery to help the block lie flat and then placed it in a context that matched a perfectly imperfect who-cares-if-it's-a-square square. All the fabric came from my stash and is an eclectic mix of scrap, modern text, solids and 30s and Civil War reproductions.

I quilted this with the scallop stitch on my Janome, flipping the quilt 180 degrees every other row.

Also, for just a little inside baseball, this picture is taken in my sewing room where my design wall usually is. The design wall can be rolled  up like a projection screen when I need it to. You can see the edge peeking out at the top.

I was happy to see 6 quilts from this post show up in my Top Nine for 2020!

I also want to share a few things that are coming up for me. I've done a few live trunk shows locally in the past, but guilds have had to make many adjustments to their programs in response to local restrictions. I've created an online trunk show/lecture called "Unlocking the Joy in Scraps" that I give live via Zoom. I have two engagements coming up that allow visitors if you are interested.

Saturday, December 19th at 1:00 EST, South Florida MQG Link here.
Monday, January 25th at 6:30 PT, East Bay Heritage Quilters (EBHQ) Link here.

I've also been trying my hand at fabric dyeing. I cut extra Anna Maria Horner charm squares while I was helping my daughter with her quilt. I sold one of them to a friend on Instagram (I still have a set of 70 left, which is enough to make the Pixelated Heart pattern. Let me know if you're interested) and used the money to buy Ann Johnston's "Color By Accident" DVD. It was exceptionally done and I highly recommend it if you've ever had the notion that you'd like to try dyeing fabric. I have been busy procrastinating writing this blog post by making lots of quilts with my first batch of hand dyed fabrics. I'm excited to share them with you soon. 

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a blessed holiday season!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Prompts and Scraps

I know I've mentioned this story before, but when I was certifying as an elementary teacher, our class was mentored by Dr. D. He was a practicing teacher who had seen it all and a delightful change to the textbook theory. He told us how important choice was to student learning, but that our role as the educator was to provide boundaries to the choices for guidance. He famously said, "You can have anything in the world you want for breakfast! (Pause) Do you want Wheaties or Cheerios?" I love having unlimited creative impulses, but I also love narrowed choices. There's something about working with constraints (whether that be a prompt or a pile of scraps) that unleashes something in me.

Hopefully you like prompts and scraps because that is what this post will be about today.

I followed along with Season 11 of Project Quilting this year and made a quilt (or two) for every prompt. The point of Project Quilting is to start and finish a project based upon the announced theme in one week. I removed the time element for myself and only used the prompt as a starting point. You can visit for more details. The prompts this year were:

1. Notably Numeric
2. Team Colors
3. Put a Heart On It
4. Birds in the Air
5. Give it Away
6. Vibrant and Vivacious

Notably Numeric
"This is 42," 40" x 46."

Last year to celebrate my birthday, I made a quilt with 41 improv half square triangles in it. I felt like the quilt was a good representation of where I was and I thought it might be a good idea to revisit each year as my yearly quilty journal entry.

The "Notably Numeric" prompt was too obvious to ignore.

This quilt was made with 42 pieces of fabric from my scrap bin. I've made quilts with this checkerboard motif before, but  had always used a ruler to straighten the edges of the units before joining them. I didn't this time. The pieces of black "mortar" fabric were necessary to smooth out some troublesome transitions. That decision felt pretty emblematic. At 42, there are definitely some parts of me that are held together with duct tape! I didn't want the black to take away from the design, so I embellished with plus signs in gold 8 wt. thread. That decision is also emblematic. Life is better with a happy outlook.

I was thinking about this quilt when an arborist visited our house this week. Six years ago, my husband snuck out in the middle of the night and planted a weeping crab apple tree outside of my sewing room window as my Mother's Day present. I love that tree. Looking out at it every day (and the beautiful birds it attracts) gives me immense pleasure. I've been so sad this spring because a section in the front hasn't budded or bloomed. The arborist came yesterday to render an opinion. The verdict is that the tree is alive, well and disease-free, but will suffer from a misshapen appearance for years until branches can grow to fill in that space. She told us that if that bothered us, the tree could be removed. Um, no. No. I purchased a lovely, fluffy hanging flower basket to place in the hole that will remain when we prune back the affected part. This is not a disaster, just an opportunity to add a design element to our landscape. Improv to the rescue!

 Team Colors
"McKay," 39" x 39."

I wrote about this quilt in my last blog post, but I wanted to include it again so all of the Project Quilting quilts could be together.

My mother's maiden name is McKay. I was able to visit Scotland when I was in high school and I bought several items with our family's tartan. I thought immediately of those colors and pattern when the prompt was announced. Go team McKay! This quilt's color, fabric choices and geometric design are a nod to the plaid, but certainly not an exact replica.

Put a Heart On It
"Shoofly Kisses," 41" x 47."⁣

For this prompt, you had to have a heart somewhere on the quilt. It could be pieced in or on the fabric. I didn't want to piece a heart and I didn't have any heart fabric, so I needed to get creative.

I thought I'd experiment again with bleach dyeing. Previously I have used diluted bleach and different tying techniques to get some unique patterns. I had the thought this time that I could try drawing with the bleach. I considered how to thicken bleach for far too long before I remembered about bleach toilet cleaner. It is also a diluted bleach solution, but in a thicker gel that would be easier to control. I used a Q-tip and a small bowl of bleach toilet cleaner to make a bunch of hearts. I tried a couple of different reds to see what color I'd find underneath. I got shades of tan and coral. I went with the coral.

I used the hearts in the quilt like they were little sparkles. Each section of small squares has one with a heart on it. I think of them as a sprinkling of sparkles. It reminded me of blowing kisses, so thus the name.

At the time, my not-quite-two year old was absolutely enraptured with these hearts. She learned how to say the word "heart" and began insisting that every outfit she wore include them. It's been sweet to watch her develop her own personal style and preferences. I remember that it was around this age that her older sister got into unicorns.

I had extra hearts left after I made the quilt, so I made a pillow. It is a 16" square.

Birds in the Air
"Heading South," 40" x 40."

Birds in the Air is the name of a classic quilt block. The block is traditionally a HST with one half being one fabric and the other half made of a bunch of smaller HST units. For the challenge you were free to reinterpret the block. That's what I chose to do.

I went to the website for the International Quilt Museum (here's a link) for ideas. You can search in their collections by region, time period and by block name. I was able to search the Birds in the Air section and see many examples of this particular block in action as well as many different interpretations. Quilters have been innovating from the very beginning and there were many stellar examples. One was even from the 1820s! If you spend a few minutes browsing this database, I guarantee you won't be sorry. It's a great resource.

The half square triangles in this quilt are free pieced. I squared them down to a consistent size at the end. I love the interest imperfection gives. I also broke the consistency of the pattern to add the red triangles...except for once when I didn't. Surprise! I didn't have enough of any of the burgundy fabrics to do solid setting triangles, so I creatively pieced them. This was not a disaster, just an opportunity to add a design element. It might be my favorite part of the quilt!

"Birds in the Air, 2." 22" x 22"⁣

I usually like to clean up my space when I finish a quilt top. I completed the top for the Project Quilting prompt of "Birds in the Air" and had a pile of fabric scraps and extra liberated HST blocks left on the cutting table. This is me "cleaning up." 

Those little floating squares were made from a Loominous plaid scrap that I had and just might be my favorite part of the quilt. At first glance they look pieced. It's always my secret pleasure to think I might have encouraged someone to look twice.

After posting this on Instagram, I was encouraged to watch the Yo Gabba Gabba song/video, "There's a Party in My Tummy." (here's a link) I almost fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. My kids thought it was hilarious. I triple dog dare you to watch it and look at the quilt again. I guarantee you'll never look at it in the same way.

It's hanging on the wall by our dining room table and it makes me smile every time I see it and think about the sad carrots in the video.

Give it Away
"Sparkly," 41" x 41."

The point of this prompt was to make something to give away. Just for fun I started with a dark green dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill) and some turquoise string scraps that I had been given. I tried making liberated stars because I thought it was the best use of the strings. When I got bored with a single background color, I added some similar shades from my stash. I kept making stars until I ran out of turquoise strings. I was already feeling a pang thinking that I had to give this away because I was really liking it.

I wasn't sure how I wanted to set the stars, but I left them up on the design wall while I was thinking. During a trip to JoAnn to get some more spray baste, I saw that coral fabric with silver dots. I really, really liked it, so I bought a few yards to take home. I wasn't thinking about this quilt, only that I liked the fabric. My subconscious had different plans. These clearly belong together.

I ran out of background fabric while I was piecing the crazy sawtooth border, so I added the dark green plaid. This also was a men's dress shirt (thanks, Goodwill). I wasn't thinking that the quilt needed an influx of a darker value, but it definitely did. That's why I never get sad when I run out of fabric. More often than not, running out is a blessing in disguise.

My solution to the "give it away" problem was to make another smaller version (14" x 14"). I wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, so I used a random number generator to choose a comment from my Instagram post of Sparkly. This little mini now lives in Georgia.

Vibrant and Vivacious
"Bed Quilt for O," 66" x 86."

In my mind, I have a whole collection of projects that I call the "Phyllis Quilts." Phyllis is a member of my guild that generously shares her scraps with me. I really appreciate it. The turquoise strings in the last quilt came from her. While I was digging through the bags to find the turquoise pieces, I kept pulling out other strings that I liked and began to build a palette of sweet colors.

I began with a square from my own stash and added strings to two sides. When it felt about big enough, I added strips of super lightweight denim and squared it to 11 inches. Four of those made a great big block. I did have to add some of my own fabric to finish the quilt, but the bucket of gifted strings made a great start.

This is a twin sized quilt for my youngest daughter when she transitions from the crib to her big girl bed.

This quilt was quilted by Sarah Yoder Parker. She used a hugs and kisses motif. The hearts in the center move out towards the circles and into the Xs in the sashing. I really love that clever bit of symbolism. I included a picture of the quilt in full sun so the quilting really shows.

I'm always amazed at how much the lighting affects color. That is the same quilt, with no editing of the photos, in shade and full sun.

"Sharp," 35" x 35."

My daughter's quilt left me with a pile of denim strips that I was loathe to waste, so I used them to make a scrap quilt. I added the putty color because it was on my cutting table from a project my son was working on. I added the orange because I'd purchased a fat quarter set of Alison Glass shot cottons that I hadn't put away yet. I think design can be well-considered without being overthought.

Immediacy, thriftiness and "cleaning up" are such a big part of my process. Like I said, I really enjoy working with constraints.

I added two other colors that were very close to the denim for interest. I like the richness that comes from having lots of voices in the choir, even if they are singing the same tune. I added the dark blue for value contrast. When I first started this quilt, I included bits of the coral metallic fabric from Sparkly, but I edited that out. I thought that the dots took away from the sharpness of the hard edges of the shapes. That's how it got its name.

I did work on some other quilts that were not associated with Project Quilting.

"Quarantine Quilt," 20" x 20."

In the beginning of the quarantine, I chose to tidy up my sewing room each night while the kids were showering. I really appreciated the peace I found in those 10-15 minutes. Ordering my space helped me stay centered. While cleaning, I found this bag of thin strips that I'd gotten from Phyllis. There weren't many and they were skinny enough that I wondered if I should even keep them. I decided to sew some together in the morning and see what happened.

And I made this. It feels like right now...kind of an embellished interruption. This was my way of making the space we're in a little better.

"N's Quarantine Quilt," 56" x 56."

My 10 year old son has shown an interest in quilting and we always said that we should make a quilt together, so we did. Every day for his school schedule he does some reading and math, but also piano practice and quilt time with me. The arts are so important! He picked his own fabrics, pieced, sewed, pressed, quilted and stitched. We estimated that he's spent 15 hours making this quilt.

Our hands were all over this quilt together, especially when we were quilting it. He asked for a minky backing (groan) and it took all four of our hands to wrangle that bulky, slippery sucker through the machine to quilt it. That's when I taught him about straight-ish line quilting. I held it together to teach him the "right way" with pins, nested seams and seam gauges all throughout the process. I drew the line at the STRAIGHT line (ha ha). I told him that we could add more lines of quilting at different intervals to distract from the odd wave. I also told him that anyone who got close enough to the quilt to notice and comment on a non-straight line was was also close enough to kick. How's that for a philosophy?!

"Poison," 14" x 14."

Of course there were scraps left over from my son's quilt, and of course I had to make a mini out of them. My addition was to add the red fabric. Every poison needs an apple!

Okay, that's it for me! I hope everyone is finding a way to navigate these crazy times in a way that keeps you whole and healthy. For me it's been sewing, but that's typical.

Have a great week!