Frogging in the Frost(Byte)

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So…. yeah.  I’ve had this kicking around for a while now and I found I kept making excuses not to do anything with it.  Slowly I’ve come to the realisation that this is because I really, really don’t like the way the quilting has gone on it, and there isn’t a lot I can do to salvage it because it’s slap bang in the middle of the quilt.  Eugh.  To quote pretty much every grumpy toddler I’ve ever met, I DON’T LIKE IT!

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Once I realised this was the problem though, it allowed me to admit the possibility of changing it.  If I really don’t like it that much and it’s stopping me from making any progress, maybe I should remove it and start again?  To this end, the other evening I grabbed my seam-ripper and started my frogging: “Rip-it!  Rip-it!”  I’ve only managed to unpick a small corner so far (I blame my horribly erratic FMQ stitch lengths and the hard-to-see thread) but I already feel like this is the right thing to do.  To be clear, I’m just getting rid of my terrible fail-feathers (fail-thers?) and the pebbling and the scratchy zig-zagging, but I’ll leave the general structure of big wonky hexagons – they help hold the layers together and I can work with them.

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And do I have something else planned instead?  Yes, kind of.  For months this project has been folded up and abandoned in various places in my craft room and those gorgeous fish on the backing fabric have been beckoning to me, making me feel bad for neglecting them.  I can ignore them no longer, so the new plan is to start by quilting from the back around some of those wonderful fishies, and then decide what else (if anything) to do next.

Cute koi!

A change of quilting thread is also likely because I’ve discovered blues I like better than my original choice.  Or maybe I’ll use metallics, since I’m a glutton for punishment like that.  In any case, there is a Plan, but first I have to get rid of all the crap I put on there before I knew what I wanted.  Ho hum.  All mistakes in life should be this easy to fix!

A Trio of Cushions

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And they’re finished!  😀  I used a simple envelope+buttons arrangement for the backs, luckily my favourite haberdashery stall in a local market had just the right buttons in just the right colours:

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And here are some close-up shots:

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You can read more about the fronts here and here.

I must say a big thank you to the people who offered suggestions on how to finish off the quilting on Elsa, it really was a help!  Lifting the “ground” level brought everything together much better.  And after doodling around a bit and trying a few of the suggestions (and screaming in frustration at my white rayon, which decided to HATE almost all my assorted needles for some reason – the “right” one turned out to be a microtex 80/12), I ended up with this:

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It’s not at all what I thought I’d end up with, but I think it works.  🙂  I got a great tip from Carole Gold about using tracing paper to test and stitch FMQ designs, and although I wasn’t able to use it this time because it turns out we have nothing like that in the house (not-quite-moving house really sucks), it’s a great idea that I’m definitely going to try on other projects once I’ve grabbed myself a roll of baking paper to use.  🙂

Linking up with Let’s Bee Social, Free-Motion Mavericks, Can I get a Whoop Whoop? and TGIFF.  🙂

Let it go, let it goooo!

Here’s the third cushion cover that I’m making as a Christmas present (the first two are here).   It’s for a little girl, so I chose to do Elsa from Frozen as an applique – her mum tells me she’s a fan.  I found some wonderful metallic-finish fabrics at a recent craft show and dug out a slightly shimmery white from my stash and I was ready to rock some Frozen goodness.

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And what would Elsa be without some magic-y icy swirls?  I doodled a few up in Inkscape and appliqued them with a wonderfully frost-coloured fabric:

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And no matter how hard I tried, the shiny bits (well, all the bits are shiny) refused to photograph well.  🙁   I used a different colour of the swirl fabric for the outer border, which brings the top up to the same size as its fellows (20.5″ square).  The Elsa applique was secured with machine satin stitch in a variegated teal thread and the swirls were done with an icy-looking metallic thread.  And I will not be rushing to do satin stitch around iddly-tiddly little fingers again in a hurry!

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As with the Minecraft cushions, my first action was to quilt in the ditch all the way around the border to secure all the layers together and make a nice boundary.  My plan after that became somewhat nebulous, but I decided to start with the obvious things, so I quilted (with the same teal thread) around Elsa and then broke out the metallic thread to do the same around the icy swirls.

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As I did so, I started to add in random flourishes and twiddles and joined some of the applique swirls together in whatever manner seemed appropriate at the time.  My confidence grew as I quilted each swirl and I worked from bottom to top, so the upper swirls are a bit more elaborate as a result!  I’m probably going to go back and add a few more twirls in on the lower bits.  At this point, though, I’m a little stumped.  I cannot decide whether to leave the ice-swirl quilting as it is or add further quilting in the background to make it look more snowy.  I like the magic-y bits and I don’t really want them to be lost, but the rest of the top looks a bit “bare”.  To delay any firm decision in that direction, I dug out some pale blue rayon thread and started quilting the “ground” instead.  I made it a bit more wavy than I’d initially intended, but I think it’s just about ok.  I’ll do more lines of quilting below those two, probably spacing them further apart as I get closer to the bottom of the panel.  Yay progress!  🙂

Linking up with Let’s Bee Social and Free-Motion Mavericks (when it goes live).  🙂

Sssssssssss………… BOOM!

Christmas is coming, they tell me.  Thanks to the nature of crafting, it feels like I have to start thinking about Christmas presents in August to have a hope of finishing anything!  But I’m off to a good start here (shhhh-I-know-it’s-October-already!), with themed cushions for my cousin John’s three children.  Here are the first two.

The two boys are great fans of Minecraft, and the Minecraft characters make fantastic subjects for patchwork thanks to their pixelly designs.  I chose the Creeper and the Blaze, partly because I wanted to use Bali Pops to make them and I happened to have a green set and red-orange-yellow set:

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Figuring out which colours to use where was harder than I thought it would be, especially with the Blaze face; the Red Hots Bali Pop contained fewer dark browns than I remembered and they weren’t as dark as I remembered, either!  But the Creeper came out very well; I added in a couple of greys and a black from the Licorice Bali Pop set as well.

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I decided that I didn’t want the main designs of the cushions “disappearing” over the curve of the cushion pad, so I added complementary plain 2.5″ borders to bring the size up to 20.5″ square and frame the faces nicely.

For quilting, I couldn’t resist practicing a bit of my FMQ.  I’ll freely admit right now that I’ve never played Minecraft (Terraria is my dig-it-craft-it-fight-it sandbox game of choice), and I’d always slightly assumed that Creepers were animated angry bushes!  After a bit of research I now know that they’re not, but I couldn’t resist quilting my Creeper face with a “creeper” pattern of leaves!

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This one is hiding in the bushes, clearly!

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Before doing the FMQ, I outlined the eyes and “mouth” with black straight stitching and also quilted in the ditch all the way around the border.  There’s some ends to tie off and bury and I quilted a few extra leaves into that gap in the middle at the bottom, too.  A bit of a trim and an envelope back (I have two solid green fat quarters ready and waiting for that duty) and I can call him done!

I used plain calico to keep the back tidy and not shedding fluff everywhere, and I actually really like the look of the quilting on that side, too:

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Almost a shame that it won’t be seen much!

For the Blaze, I decided that only a flame pattern would do – except that I’ve never quilted a flame in my life!  However, I refused to let that put me off, threaded the Pfaff up with variegated orange thread and let rip.

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….and apparently it worked.  Mostly.  They aren’t the most amazing flames ever (I had more than a few directionally challenged moments), but for a first go I’m very pleased with how they came out.  Once again, I’d outlined the eyes and gone around the border first, then I quilted the flames in layers that were roughly 2 squares high, working my way back and forth up the face from the bottom.

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Definitely more of a challenge than the leaves, but I like it and would do it again (on the right project!).

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And here’s the back.  Again, I’m almost sorry that it won’t be seen much.  Ah well!

I hope I get a chance to finish these off soon; life is looking uncertain again and I’d like to actually finish something for a change!  I also have a more girly cushion for my cousin’s little girl to share soon, it is very sparkly.  🙂

Linking up with Free-Motion Mavericks and Can I get a Whoop-Whoop!

How Not to Do a Commission

Follow these hot tips for an authentically frustrating and stressful experience!

First, make sure the client is a friend of a family member – this means that backing out or saying “no” is that bit harder.  Oh, and they’re only paying for the materials, not your time.

Next, make sure the client has no idea what you do or how a quilt is constructed.  Ideally, they should also have no idea about size, colour or design and no apparent interest in discussing any of these points.

Lastly, time the commission so that it coincides perfectly with a really stressful event in your own life, such as a house move that falls through *after* you moved out of your old place.

Congratulations!  Now you’re all set for maximum hair-pulling and ARGH! moments!  😀

Grizzling aside, I think it actually came out ok:

These are also the only WIP shots I have of this quilt, since I only got re-united with my camera a few days ago.  I usually like to have a good progression of WIP pictures, but it simply wasn’t possible this time.  🙁  The brief was for a “king-size” quilt for a wedding at the end of August.  However, I couldn’t get any dimensions other than the standard measurements for a UK king-size mattress, which I based the size of the centre panel on.  And I did manage to eventually get a colour brief of “maybe blue, definitely NOT brown” and some fabric picks to work with.  I took it upon myself to throw in some cream-coloured fabric to warm things up a smidge.  Given the circumstances, I shamelessly chose the simplest design I could think of – rail fence with some sashing.  I think it actually took me longer to figure out how to sort out the sequence of 2″ squares around the centre than it did to piece the rails together.

With the borders, the quilt has ended up being approximately 80″ x 90″, so it’s a bit on the small size for a “proper” king-sized quilt, but there should be at least a bit of spare quilt to hang over the edge of the bed.  It’s also easily the largest thing I have quilted to date.  Nearly all of the construction and quilting was done while camping out for three weeks with my aunt and uncle, so I’m feeling like it’s lucky there’s a quilt at all.  Also, I now feel I very much owe my aunt and uncle a quilt too – this beast would never have reached the quilting stage if they hadn’t engineered a chance for me to borrow the floor of the local village hall to do the pin-basting on and let me take over half their dining table and living room with quilting stuffs.

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The rail-fence centre is quilted in straight lines, with some wavy lines courtesy of the pre-programmed stitches of the Pfaff.  Originally, it was all going to be only straight lines everywhere, but the cream border was crying out for something extra and luckily I’d bought some cream-coloured thread of exactly the right shade and weight, so I essayed a filler design of leaves to hold everything down and give it a necessary finished look.

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It came out pretty well, I think, and I discovered an important truth about leaves – they can be almost any shape at all, but if they have a sort of point and a mid-vein then they’ll look like a leaf!  I call this the “Quilter’s Fancy” Tree, aka the Lolwat? Vine.

It’s almost complete now – all that’s left is hand-finishing the binding, which I’m about half-way through already, and burying some thread ends from the quilting on the stripy outer edges.  And I should probably sort out some manner of label to add to the back, once I discover the names of the happy couple…

Linking up with WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, Let’s Bee Social, Free-Motion Mavericks (when it goes live), Can I Get A Whoop Whoop (when it goes live), TGIFF (when it goes live; I ought to be done with the binding by then!)

Japan Fan Club – FINISHED!

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This is my proud face:  😀 😀 😀 😀  It’s taken over a year, but at last mum’s new Japanese-style door curtain is finished!  (Ummm, just in time for us to move out of the house it’s useful in, but oh well!)  It’s also well in time for Mother’s Day this Sunday and for the A Lovely Year of Finishes challenge for March.  🙂  Mum’s seen it in progress, but I’ve managed to keep most of the final quilting and finishing secret, so I don’t think she knows it’s done yet.Japan_Fans_FINISHED2_2

The backing is some fabric from mum’s stash, and was just the right size for this project.  Most of the quilting was done before the back was added, and only a small amount of in-the-ditch quilting around all the gold sashing was done afterwards to hold the sandwich together nicely and stop the backing flapping about a lot.  For this I used a gold-coloured (NOT metallic!) Aurifil on top and grey YLI soft touch in the bobbin, which has blended in really nicely with the back.  The top stitching all around the quilt was done with grey YLI soft touch and seems to have worked well, though it does show up quite a bit on the black areas.Japan_Fans_FINISHED_4

Now it’s done, there are a few things I think I would have done differently.  I’ve never done a turn-through backed quilt before, and if I did another then I would be wary of doing such dense quilting.  The quilt “pulled in” quite a bit because of the background quilting on the grey areas and that affected how flat (or not!) the quilt lies and made trimming it square tricky.  I should also really have done the foundation quilting in the ditches first, not last!  I did this for a reason – because I wanted to use that quilting to hold the three layers together – but in practice that was a bit of a silly way to do it!  The dense quilting really affected the squareness of the blocks and there was nothing much to brace against to mitigate the effect.  The backing worked out astonishingly well, though, and I’m very happy with how neat and square it is.

All in all, I am ever so pleased that this has come out looking even slightly like I imagined/hoped it would!  Fingers crossed mum likes it on Sunday and that it keeps many draughts away!  🙂

Linking up with TGIFF, Can I Get A Whoop Whoop? and ALYoF!  😀

More FMQ, More Fans

I’VE FINISHED THE CLOUDS!!!Japan_Fans_1003_2

I decided to experiment with the tension some more, dropping it from 4.6 to 4.2 and then to 3.8.  Based on how the last few blocks look at that tension, I’d say 3.8 is a winner.  There seemed to be no adverse effects on the back, either; I hate it when my thread grows tension legs!

You can see (just about) that I’ve started doing some quilting on the red bits of the window frame.  It’s essentially a squared off, slanted zig-zag between the two seam lines.  I’m doing these free-motion and finding that straight lines and FMQ is an uneasy combination!  They’re quite wibbly.Japan_Fans_1003_3

I started off completely free-hand, no marking at all, which worked but was slow because I had to juggle FMQ and figuring out if I was going in approximately the right direction.  Then I remembered (and found!) my new water-erase fabric pen and decided to do some guidelines because I’m better at following a line.  And then discovered that, even with a pen, I can’t draw a straight line!  Not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about the not-straight FMQ lines.  It has made the FMQ go a bit quicker, though, and I’ve found an angle to work at that I can manage fairly well in all necessary directions; initially I was rotating the quilt around the needle at every corner and it was doing horrible things to both quilt and needle.Japan_Fans_1003_1

Despite the wobbles, I’m not going to start using a ruler or a walking foot for this – better if it’s ALL kind of wobbly and organic-looking rather than a mix of wobbly and machine-precise.  I’m pretending it’s wood grain!

Mum can’t see why I would want to do this free-motion rather than with a walking foot.  I tried and failed to explain the need for practice to achieve better control over the movement of the fabric and needle and thus better results in future.  I admit, this doesn’t look as amazing as I’d like it to look, but I’m not going to get any better if I don’t do more of it.

At this point, almost all the red on one curtain is done, my plan is to finish that off and then do the same on the black frames.  Then put the back and the hanging loops on, do some minimal in-the-ditch quilting around the frames to hold the whole lot together and it’ll be DONE!  In time for Mother’s Day on Sunday!  I can’t wait!

Linking up with Free Motion Mavericks, Let’s Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts and WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced!

Japan Fan Club: The Pfaff QE 4.2, Metallic Thread and FMQ

It sounds like the beginning of a dodgy pub joke, doesn’t it?

The Pfaff QE 4.2, metallic thread and FMQ walk into a pub.  The landlord looks up and says, “Sorry, I don’t serve mangled anecdotes.”

Ahem.  Anyway.  I am pleased to report that not only am I finally getting to grips with my FMQ demons, I’m doing so with metallic thread!  And it is WORKING!Japan_Fans_0503_1

(Well, kind of.)

I’m trying to do a sort of stipple effect that replicates that swirly, stylised cloud look often seen on oriental drawings and prints, with mixed success.  Sometimes it comes out quite well, other times I get lost, trapped in a corner or my hands decide to move in a direction other than the one I had in mind.  And I definitely have quilting density issues.Cloud swirl close up

However, at least I’m managing to do FMQ without lots of skipped stitches and broken thread, which is a MASSIVE win for me.  I have had the odd skipped stitch, true, but on the rare occasion it’s happened I’ve felt it was my fault for moving the quilt at the wrong moment rather than weird Pfaff-diva strop behaviour over a wrong thread/needle combo.

Japan_Fans_0503_4Initially, I started off by using white cotton piecing thread in the bobbin and my metallic thread on top in a vague effort to be a bit thrifty with my pricey speciality thread.  It worked, ish, but the white thread made its presence known, especially at any point where I made a sudden change in direction and it was pulled through to the front by the top thread.  You can easily see the build-up of white thread on the pointy bits.  :s  Not great.  Despite fidgeting with pivot height, tension and even balance, I couldn’t eliminate this effect, so after doing (and arguably making a mess of) six blocks I tucked the whole lot away until I was in a mood to tackle it afresh.

After I signed up this project as my goal for the March ALYoF challenge at Sew BitterSweet Designs and Fiber of All Sorts, I figured I’d better have another bash at it, so after polishing off some work this morning I pulled it all out, set up the Pfaff for FMQ, and got stuck in, this time with metallic thread in the bobbin as well as on top.  For any interested Pfaff owners looking for settings and pointers, here are the settings I used:Pfaff metallic FMQ settings

Feed dogs dropped, IDT system disengaged, and I’ve set up a personal stitch based on stitch 1 with the length set to 0 (because I found that if I used a pre-programmed stitch then the dratted thing kept resetting itself while I wasn’t looking) and no auto thread tie-off or cutting.  I’m using the new FMQ foot that Pfaff brought out recently, which feels like it’s doing a more competent job than the wider plastic one.  The needle I’m using is a Schmetz 80/12 metallic needle.The new Pfaff FMQ foot

You can see that I’m also using a straight-stitch plate (and have the corresponding setting enabled in the tools menu on the machine), and a Supreme Slider.  Oh, and I have a lil Teflon bobbin ring in there, too, that’s supposed to help stop thread nests.  And my wonderful (and wonderfully cheap at a whole £1.50!) FMQ gloves, without which I cannot grip and move the fabric effectively.Yes, theyre just light-weight gardening gloves!

Yes, they’re totally just light-weight work gloves, but they’re brilliant!  I’ve been reliably informed that thin cotton pimple-grip riding gloves work very well too.  Who needs to pay silly money for “special” quilting gloves?  😉

Basically, ALL of the FMQ gadget bases are covered!  I love the straight-stitch plate and can’t see it coming off the machine much – the Pfaff’s great at piecing anyway but this just makes it even better.  <3

Japan_Fans_0503_2With metallic thread also in the bobbin, the look is better.  I’m not convinced that the pull-through effect of the bobbin thread has been eliminated, though I think it is better with both threads the same.  And at least it’s much harder to detect now everything’s the same colour!

My muscle memory for the quilting pattern is improving the more I do it, though I’m finding that it’s quite an intensive process both mentally and physically, so I take little breaks often to loosen up.  I think my machine’s bed is a bit high relative to my seat height, but there isn’t a vast amount I can do about it at the moment.

Starting and ending with metallic thread

This stuff is seriously sproingy.  It honestly has a mind of its own, which makes it somewhat incompatible with the Pfaff’s built-in thread catching, tie-off and cutting features because of its irritating habit of coiling wilfully and never being in the right place at the right time.  Metallic thread has taught me about the importance of bringing both threads to the top and securing them before starting to sew in earnest, since I’d already had trouble with the metallic straight-line quilting.  It’s almost become second nature already.

Bringing the bobbin thread to the topTo bring the bobbin thread to the top, I position the needle where I want to start and use the handwheel to lower the needle to just above the fabric.  Making sure I have hold of the end of the needle thread, I give a couple of gentle taps on the pedal lower the needle and then raise it again, and a gentle pull brings up a loop of bobbin thread.  This can be easily caught and brought all the way through with the point of a seam ripper.  (Using my seam ripper for tasks other than seam ripping makes me very happy!)Japan_Fans_0503_5

Holding both threads, I sew slowly and do several very tiny stitches before setting off “properly”.  At the end of my quilting, I reverse the process to end the thread.  It’s a bit more wasteful of thread than the Pfaff’s own tie-off and cutting mechanisms, but more effective and neater.  I did have an oops moment fairly early on, though, when I managed to break a precious needle at the end of a quilting line:Japan_Fans_0503_9

I think I was pulling the needle thread too tightly and when I tapped the pedal to drop the needle, it hit the stitch plate and snapped.  I was furious with myself!  The second needle is faring better though, and I’ve completely done one curtain and am almost half-way through quilting the second. WOO!

Japan_Fans_0503_12After I’ve finished all the cloudy bits, I’ll need to decide what to do about the window frames (I think they will be quilted at least a bit, they look odd now next to the heavily quilted windows) and the back (attach next, or after more quilting?).  Decisions, decisions!  😀

Linking up to Free Motion Mavericks!

A Billion WIPs

Doing that WIP Wednesday Thing again!  Does twice count as a habit?

I’ve been muddling along with quite a few different projects recently.  Why is finishing things so hard?  But actually, I am beginning to feel more on top of my current projects.  Woo!

Continue reading A Billion WIPs

Grounds for Cautious Optimism

After my woeful efforts with FMQ on the Pfaff the other day, I dodged further quilting adventures in lieu of doing more piecing for my Damask Suns quilt while I waited for my FMQ bits ‘n’ bobs to show up.  After Quilt Club on Friday, I popped into town to see what thread alternatives I could find at the haberdashery stall in the market, and plumped for some reels of polyester Guetermann thread to try, plus some plain white cotton for piecing because I’d almost finished my current reel (1000m of thread goes nowhere when you’re doing patchwork!).  When I got home I found that my new open-toe FMQ had arrived, and Sunday evening I finally had a chance to try it out, along with the new thread:

Left: Top.  Right: Bottom.  Funnily, the bottom looks better.
Left: Top. Right: Bottom. Funnily, the bottom looks better.

Well.  Although I think there’s still room for improvement, the very brief trial of new foot + Guetermann thread was very encouraging.  With the same thread in both needle and bobbin and an 80/12 needle, I dropped the feed dogs, took off the IDT, set the machine to the spring foot setting and the stitch length to 0 and doodled a little on a charm-square quilt sandwich.  Immediately, I was pleased to note that the thread did not break and no stitches were skipped.  WOO!  No, seriously.  That’s a BIG THING for me.  The tension seemed off, however, and decreasing the tension bizarrely seemed to make the problem worse, not better.  I could see big loops of bobbin thread being pulled up through the fabric during sewing and on tighter curves it looks like the top thread is pulled too tight, yanking the bobbin thread through the layers.  Hrmmm.

Continue reading Grounds for Cautious Optimism