Friday, 30 January 2015

Home in a Log Cabin

Tonight we had a fire. We took the kids down to the gully in their pyjamas and they climbed trees and old feeders while we talked about our plans for the year, reminisced about travelling days and swapped funny memories.
In two weeks, 10-15 students will join our little community. They'll study a diploma in Biblical Studies, they'll work on surrounding farms to cover their tuition and board, and they'll have time and space to think, ask questions, grow up.
In the meantime, we're working at establishing a good homeschool routine, getting used to living a whole lot more than 30 seconds from the local supermarket, and spending my spare minutes sewing. I think perhaps it was that count down, and all the thinking and planning, that gave me the extra push to cross another old quilt off my WIP list, and an easy one at that, with just the hand-quilting left to finish.

This quilt has been in progress for about 18 months! I made a whole heap of quarter log cabins, inspired by the book Sunday Morning Quilts. And then I laid them on my bed and become overwhelmed by all that movement and colour. I kept just 16 blocks for this quilt, added this wide sashing, and the rest, I made into a lap quilt.
I backed the quilt with a mix of Drawing Room prints, which are home decor weight, and makes the quilt slightly heavier, which I like. I gave it a light machine quilting about a year ago, bound it, and planned to hand-quilt it slowly while still using it on our bed. Well, slowly is the word for it. It takes a long time to hand-quilt a queen size quilt! But oh, I love the effect.

When I lived on my farm as a kid, we lived in 5 caravans, with the plan that my dad, a builder, would build our house on the hill, in parts as we could afford it. The house never eventuated, but Dad built a log cabin annex off the main caravan we used a kitchen, with trees from the property. It was in that log cabin, that we first learned about simplicity, resourcefulness, creativity, gratitude. My dad was a skilled craftsman, and I'll always think of that place as a home, rather than an in-between, make-shift arrangement. I enjoyed thinking back on those days, with renewed appreciation for my dad's work, while I stitched my own log cabins, now in my own farm house.

And as soon as I make the curtains and some matching cushions, I'll show you it's new home on our bed! For now though, you can enjoy it in our beautiful gully.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Colours I Feel.

Have you even thought about the colours that make you feel something? I hadn't until recently. And I feel a bit silly about it. But maybe that's the normal progression of things. I buy things I like, I make things from them. I discover I don't really like it. I learn from the experience. It's ok to be learning.

I've always liked the rich, saturated colours of designers like Anna Maria Horner. And interestingly, my earliest quilts reflect that clashy, happy feel. And then somewhere a long the line, I made quilts, like those above and below, according to an idea I had. I could use these colours, with grey and half square triangles. I could take my boyish prints and cut them up small. I'll use this particular line I've been given and follow this pattern. Can I tell you a secret I only occasionally let you know back then? For my first year of serious quilt making, I felt like only a very few reflected who I was and what I liked. Why was that? I used to think. What's the disconnect? What is it about some quilts that make me go, meh, and others that give me tingles?

Well, a little while ago I started a Pinterest Board. I named it Colours I Feel. And I started adding anything that gave me that feeling I've been trying to express in my work. I find it hard to express them here in words (which is partly why I quilt!), but they include things like my sense of identity, passion, satisfaction, beauty. It turned out to be a very useful little exercise that helped me pinpoint what exactly what makes me go YES! in a quilt. Want to hear them?

1. I like clash. I think I've always known this, but while making quilts a couple of years ago, I kept playing with limited colour pallettes. Then any clash I tried to throw in just didn't work. Even when I was making scrappy quilts, like the one above, when I stuck to just reds and blues, it sat flat.

2. I like pink. It's funny. I didn't buy pink for a long time. Not till Evie, at 18 months, decided she was going to choose what she wore. And there had to be pink. I started making pink pinnies to sell and keep. I started making pink quilts with the scraps. But what I've discovered is that what makes a quilt feel complete to me, is having those various shades of colour in the mix. Not just the primaries.

3. I like low volume. It's probably to my detriment that I rebel against what lots of other people are making. Because when low volume became really popular, I kind of snubbed my nose at it. But over the years, and then with my pinterest boards, I've learned that I need my quilts to have a bit of breathing room. I'm still figuring out how I like traditional blocks (I love my red and white quilt! But scrappy blocks with a plain white background have never really appealed to me...), but I love pockets of saturated colour balanced with light.

So for February's Do.good Stitches block, I'm asking the Care Circle for some scrappy, improvised, string play. I'd like a bright mix of colour concentrated in one section, bordered by low volume prints. For those who prefer structure over improvisation, I'd be very happy with a log cabin, with brights on one corner, and light colours on the other? or a basket weave pattern? Or maybe Anna Maria Horner's feather block?

Below is what I made after a couple of hours of simple play. They're not very complex, but boy, I love them!

And I'd love to hear from you? Do you have a certain mix of colours you know you like? Or are you still learning?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Red Sky at Night - Ohio Star

It has been said that history is told from the viewpoint of the victors. So when I studied my history degree in my former life, focusing mainly on Western, Twentieth Century history, I got a great sense of the significant men (historians wrote mostly about the men) that helped form our world today. I loved learning about the contexts that gave rise to various decisions, the pressures on different politicians, the hard winters that lead to wars won, the influences of wives, or worldview, or a single quiet woman who refused to move from her bus seat. The more I understood, the more colourful were the scenes in my imagination.
But in a way, it's made becoming an ordinary mum, with an ordinary family, sometimes seem, well, grey. Because what do I know of ordinary women in history that I want to be like? I kind of have this vague idea of women in history that fit with our usual stereotypes, like 'denied an education' or 'stuck in the home', or trapped in marriages with unfaithful husbands. In fact, I don't think I learned once in my history degree about strong, creative ordinary women who didn't make the papers. I guess if they weren't in the papers, there's nothing left of their lives, right?

Well, because I've always wanted to be an historian, and I'm now a quilter, I thought I'd do a bit of research about the different blocks in this series just because I would find it interesting. But as I read about the stories of these women, ordinary women before the mass manufacturing of fabric, I became completely fascinated with the way they put fabric and shapes together in their home, with their daughters and friends, because it wasn't really all that different to the way I put fabric and shapes together, and enjoy sharing it with you, and hope to pass it on to my children. For them, it seemed much more from necessity. And today it feels a lot like a luxury. They needed protection from warmth, they needed to preserve the good parts of the warn out clothing and other household items. But the functional reasons for these quilts didn't stop many women from thinking about design and colour and beauty, regardless of family income or education. Squares and triangles were the simplest ways to use small pieces of fabric, but they could also be made into stars, a whole plethora of stars, as we'll see this year, along with other shapes inspired by ordinary household items and even political ideals and social commentary. These women may not have made it to my American History from the Civil War to the Present class, but some of their quilts, and even more of their block designs have survived. And as a creative person who grew up in a very functional family, I find this extraordinary, and very exciting. 

I'm starting off our quilt with the Ohio Star, popular since the mid 1800s and known by several other names including Eastern Star, Western Star and Texas Star. It was used as a political symbol during various presidential campaigns and during the annexation of Texas. The fact that it has been known by so many names is also reflective of the influence of migration westward across the American Frontier. This star was used in quilts prepared for travel, as gifts to bid farewell, and probably also during the many long miles travelled to their new home. As different people used the design, it became familiar in their region, and named accordingly.
I chose this one because I find it striking that the social and political climate so influenced quilt design in the 17th century, and perhaps vice versa, but also because it's a quick, simple, yet beautiful way to dive in. And I like this method. It feels a bit like a magic trick.


For this block you'll need:
RED: 1 x 8" square and 4 x 4.5" squares. (I'm using Kona Rich Red)
WHITE: 1 x 8" square and 1 x 4.5" square. (I'm using Kona White)
1. Start by putting the 8" squares right sides together, if they have a print, and sew around each edge.

 2. Give the square a little press so it sits together flat, and then cut across both diagonals.

3. Next, cut into each of these triangles again, through the middle, making sure the base of the triangle you're cutting lines up with the lines on your ruler.

4. Open up these triangles and press them towards the dark side. Find their opposite pairs and sew those together.

5. At this point, I usually press the seam open to avoid bulky seams. You should now have 4 hourglass blocks.
6. Trim the hourglasses to 4.5" by lining up the 45degree line of your ruler through one diagonal, and the 4.5" marks at each end of the other diagonal.

7. Lay out your block with your red squares in each corner, white square in the middle, and your hourglass blocks forming a red diamond and white star points.

8. Sew together in rows. Take the first two blocks in each row and chain piece them. Then add the third square to each row. I press seams away from the bulk here (towards the plain square), but you can press how you wish. Then sew the first row to the second, and then add the third. Press seams open.

And we've made our first block! If you blog about yours, come and add a link in the comments because I'd love to see. If you're on Instagram, don't forget the #redskyatnightQAL tag. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments and via email. You'll be able to check back and find old tutorials on the Red Sky at Night page tab, and in the Red Sky at Night album on Facebook.
Thanks for sewing with me!

Jodi. x

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Red and White Quilt

Last year, while staying at my parents' place, I just couldn't get comfortable in their spare bed. It was too hot for the heavy doona, and too cold with just the sheets. The next morning, groggy and caffeine deprived (my parents don't drink coffee), I told my mum she needed a quilt on the bed.
"Can you make me one?" She asked, "And can we keep with the red and white theme in the room?"
Like a bolt of lighting, almost as good as coffee, ideas started crowding my mind. I started a Pinterest board so that I could be sure we were heading in the same direction. Mum liked the sampler quilts. I'd always wanted to make a sampler quilt. Mum turns 60 this year.
Yes. This was going to be fun! I bought a grid book.

I thumbed through the pages of my Farmer's Wife book. I'd always loved the quilts made from that book, but I'd never made the jump, held back by those darned templates. I'm just not the kind of girl to start something big and long if the first step is arguing with my printer. It really kills the mood. And 6" squares? I just wasn't sure I could commit to a queen size quilt of 6" squares. I thought about making them 8 inches, but that makes the 9 patch blocks tricky, and 9 inches makes the 4 patch blocks interesting. They would have to be 12 inches. Seven down and seven across. 49 of my favourite traditional blocks that could be made with only two colours, or adjusted to work. And, most importantly, cut with a rotary cutter. Yes!

I toyed with the idea of making it a pattern, but what I really wanted was a reference, here on the blog, that could be turned to for inspiration down the track, not locked in a pdf, on a computer, to be made when we get around to it. So I've decided to write a tutorial for each block, one a week, which will take us till the end of the year. Won't you join me?

While I've been making the blocks, I've been reading about their history, many over 100 years old. Even though most are connected to a place I don't call home, I've already connected to their stories. Women preparing to pack up their homes to make a better life for their families, making special gifts for friends or newlyweds, celebrating a birth, or even just drawing inspiration from everyday life. As a woman striving to live simply and meaningfully, I often experience self doubt about the place of quilting in my life. This year I want to dive into the long history of quilt making, and celebrate this craft as an important and worthwhile act of creative expression. So I'll be sharing what I can find about the blocks and telling my own stories along the way.

I've named the quilt Red Sky at Night. I'll be giving it its own tab on my page, and adding the tutorials there in a gallery as I go. If you want to make along side me, feel free to pick just one a month, or your favourites, if you want to make something smaller. And use the hashtag #redskyatnightQAL on Instagram to share your work there.

Ooh! I feel a little tingly! A bit like I did when I committed to a whole year without fabric shopping. I usually shy away from year-long goals, but when I have embraced them, the effort and the learning has been well worth it. I look forward to sharing it with you here! Starting Monday!

Joining in with Wip Wednesday

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Kona Kaleidoscope Quilt

I've discovered (perhaps not for the first time) making this quilt, that I'm not really one for following patterns. I have stared longingly at the kaleidoscope quilt in Denyse Schmidt's Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration for what feels like ever. But when I finally pulled my fabric out to cut, inspired by Heidi's Sew the Library, I thought, Hey! Splitting the colours between warm and cool would be fun! 

And then when I realised I had the right Accuquilt dies for a kaliedescope block, I didn't look twice at templates included in the book. I didn't even realise until after this photo above was taken, that Denyse's blocks are actually different!
And then, when I finished sewing up these little wheels of colour from various Kona solids from my stash, the idea popped into my head that black and white corners would be a fun change for me. I'm not sure I've ever used black and white solids together in a quilt.
So I've ended up with something entirely different altogether than the quilt I've loved in the book so long. But the process of changing directions, coming up with new ideas, taking risks, are the fun parts of quilt making for me. I think it's also why I love quilt books. They light a tiny spark of creativity that takes me down a path I wasn't expecting.

And can you tell how much I love photographing quilts in my new backyard? So many angles to choose from, and not a single ugly suburban roof top in sight!
Linking up with Fabric Mutt for Sew the Library!
And with Fabric Tuesday.
And this quilt is now for sale in my Etsy shop. :)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Accuquilt Go Review

A few years ago, every second blog I read was given an Accuquilt Baby to review, with mixed reception. At the time I was mostly making pinafores and if I was quilting, it was mostly simple squares, strips or triangles, and though I loved the thought of giving one a try, I could never justify the expense, not just of the machine itself, but the cutting dies that go with it.
The following year I got really serious about using my scraps from those pinnies, and I started to doubt my earlier assumption about those costs. It takes a lot of time to cut 2.5" squares from random-sized shapes! Maybe it would help me use up those scraps more efficiently. I let the idea sit for a year or so.
Then for my birthday last August, Tim walked into my local quilt shop, without my knowledge, and bought me an Accuquilt Go fabric cutter. I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was, touched not only by the gift but by the thought and action also. The package came with a 'Value Die' (a mix of co-ordinating squares and triangles), and Tim also bought be a hexagon die to start with.

Since then several people have asked me my opinion about this neat, (not so) little gadget, including some in the comments under my last post. It got me thinking that every quilt I'm working on at the moment has been cut using the Accuquilt, and that every idea I have is influenced in form and size, by what dies have I have to make it easier. So I thought I would share here how I use my fabric cutter and how it's affected my making. 

The Accuquilt actually works without any motor, electricity, batteries or computer. The dies are shaped blades, hidden in foam mats. When you place the fabric over the blades, and cover the fabric with a cutting mat, the 'sandwhich' is rolled though the Accuquilt with the help of a handle. The rollers push the cutting mat down onto the blades, cutting through several layers of fabric at a time.
The first quilt I finished that was cut with the Accuquilt was my Rising Balloons quilt, made with the large Drunkards Path Die, which my mum gave to me that same birthday. This was my first attempt cutting and sewing curves in quilts (though, I'd sewn plenty of sleeves in my time and it's not all that different). It took me about half an hour to iron all the fat quarters and cut a 9" strip from each. Then it took about 45 minutes to roll those strips through the Accuquilt, 6 at a time. Those cut blocks gave me a quilt 180cm (70") squared. A 9 inch strip gave me about half an inch each side of wastage, and a 3" strip at the end, which I then rolled through on the Value Die to get the pieces for the unfinished quilt above. I've since used the Drunkards path die for this quilt, and let a friend use it at a sewing retreat last year.

The next die I bought was the 3" finished half square triangle die, which cuts four triangles, 6 layers at a time. I used it for my Nine Patch Dash quilt, the Flying Geese Quilt above. I then used some Christmas money to buy the 6" quarter square triangle die and the isoceles triangle die. The first goes with the 3" triangles to make flying geese, the base of my Mountain Campfire block. The latter, I'm using for a quick kaleidescope quilt in solids, and the 3" triangles make the corners. I love that I can build my collection as the budget allows, and plan new quilts that use more than one die together. This has actually been the key to my use of the Accuquilt. I thought it would be to eat through my scraps faster (and this is still my hope!), but mostly it's stretched my designs and helped to me try new things. I love that it's not only easy to cut quickly, but it's also easy to do it the kids around or helping, as there's no exposed blades; or with visitors, because it's not noisy; or in the evening because it's portable and doesn't need to engage my brain.

While reading reviews last year, a lot of people commented on things like waste and fabric getting caught in the joins between blades. For me, the waste has been minimal compared to the time saved. I simply measure the width of the shape with my ruler and add a half inch allowance so that I have a quarter inch overhang on each side. I haven't bought the larger (5" or 8") square dies because I did think that would be a waste not justified by any time saved. I have, however, invested in the 2.5" squares die which cuts over 50 squares at a time!
I have experienced fabric threads getting caught, or not cutting properly on the join, which can be frustrating, but I've found if I have scissors handy, it doesn't take much to get into the groove of snipping those bits as I lift the fabric off the die.

Someone asked me this week if I thought an Accuquilt was essential. And I don't think I would ever naturally answer yes to $300+ question like that. I don't like the idea that anything gadgety or expensive is essential. I like the idea that quilting started with needle and thread and the good parts of a worn out shirt or blanket. But looking back on my making the last six months, I think I'd find it hard to go back! I am curious to see if, as I develop my ideas into patterns, by Go Cutter gets abandoned under my desk so I can make them accessible to everyone. I think though, I'll always now have a mix of quick quilts, new designs, and slow experiments on the go at any one time. And I'm sure my Accuquilt will feature in most of them. Time will tell!
Feel free to ask any other questions! I'll answer them here or via email.