Recently in Quilting Category

Genomics in Quilting


It isn't very often that I can find science that I understand intersecting with a craft that I enjoy -- so I'm interrupting my discussion of log cabin blocks with another quilting/color theory sort of post. Beverly St. Clair creates quilts based on an organism's genomic information.

Genome Quilts by Beverly St. Clair

Many artists have tried to use genetic information to come up with unique art. Some composers have tried to use the 4 chemicals that make up DNA to create music, for instance. But I have to say that these quilts are the first art form that I can really relate to. I particularly like the Hep C Virus quilt.

And given her approach of assigning each chemical a quilt square, it's an approach that could be modified for personal interests and used not only for genetic information, but for almost anything you wanted to "encode" in a quilt.

A Lesson In Quilting


Close to completing my Serenity quilt top, I was at KIP. And I had just blogged about the fact that I thought I was going to send it out to let someone else machine quilt it. So one of the questions that came up a lot on that night was whether or not I was going to go that route. As it turned out Carolyn was at KIP that night and she spent a good deal of time trying to convince me that I should at least try machine quilting Serenity on my own. I protested about my lack of time, lack of equipment, etc. Carolyn gave me a number of good reasons in the opposite direction: machine quilting isn't that hard, doesn't take that long, you can trust the person doing the quilting, and the equipment isn't that hard to find, especially if you have access to a sewing machine. But then she hit me with the kicker: if you don't do it at least once yourself, you've never really actually done any quilting -- you've just sewn the top together. You should go through the whole process at least once. And then she volunteered to give me a lesson.

How could I refuse? Especially when Serenity was supposed to be for my own baby. And the good thing about babies? They are not so picky about how things look. The quilt will keep Miss Z warm no matter what I did to it.

So last Saturday I got to have my lesson with Carolyn. Carolyn has a very nice machine to use for quilting and is a great teacher. I learned about the kind of batting that's good to use; how to create the sandwhich of quilt top, batting and quilt bottom; why you can never have enough safety pins and how to deal with wrangling a large quilt on a small machine. And I also got to do some quilting using some muslin and cotton batting.

Straight Lines Using a Walking Foot

After getting my sandwich pinned together, I got an introduction to using a walking foot (a special foot for your sewing machine that essentially makes sure that the top piece of fabric moves through the machine at the same rate as the bottom piece of fabric). The first thing I did was stitch the horizontal and vertical lines. This helps to set everything in place so that you don't need the safety pins any more. After that, I put on the diagonal lines and the mild curves. Kind of fun, I have to say, and not hard. I also got to try out "stitching in the ditch" using a quilt block that Carolyn shared with me -- this is where you stitch into the indented area created by a seam. Also not hard. And likely to be what I do with Serenity.

Quilting with a Darning/Free Motion Foot

The next part of the lesson was even more fun than the first. Let me tell you, if you like to doodle or scribble, attatching your darning/free motion foot to your machine just lets you doodle with stitches. You can make wild curves, funky flowers, butterflies, strange squiggles. We quilted some straight lines first in order to stabilize the quilt sandwich, and after that anything could be done with the free open spaces. It takes a little practice to get the hang of balancing the speed of moving the fabric with the speed of the machine, but once you've got that, it's an opportunity to be really creative. I'm going to have to get some muslin of my own so that I can play with this on my own machine.

So now I have a basic understanding of quilting, and all I need to do to get Serenity taken care of is to buy a walking foot for my machine (who can complain about a good excuse for new toys?), find some Serenity friendly thread, a boat load of safety pins and some cotton batting.

Thanks again, Carolyn for a great afternoon and being an excellent teacher!

Quilt Fabrics


In the midst of our Tuesday snowfall, I got in my car and headed over to Quiltology for my second quilting class. This class was about preparing the fabric and using our rotary cutting tools. Because of the snow, there were only three of us there with Colette, and it turned out to be a great opportunity to learn how best to use a rotary cutter and just to talk about the state of modern quilting and sewing in general. Really, if you're into quilting or fabric and live in Chicago you should definitely support Colette. She has a lot of good ideas and a great urban sensibility.

The quilt I am working on is called the "Serenity Quilt" and it's a crib or lap-blanket sized quilt. I could have selected my own fabrics, but I loved the blue and green batiks that Colette had already kitted up. Besides, for this project I really wanted to focus on the mechanics of using the sewing machine and understanding how to assemble a quilt. I'll leave the color theory to another project, especially since these colors suit me perfectly.

Quilt Block Pieces

In spite of the flash photography, the colors of these fabrics are captured quite well. For the blocks in the Serenity quilt, you basically have to cut out two different sized rectangular shapes -- simple, but it definitely took more time than I expected it to. Even so, I have a better appreciation for rotary cutting tools and the 12" x 12" gridded lucite square that I bought to help me with the cutting process.

A Possible Quilt Block

Serenity's quilt blocks are very simple -- 4 of the larger rectangles and 8 of the smaller ones. Even though I didn't pick out the fabrics, I'll still get to play with figuring out how I want to put them together. I'm thinking that I'll get out my blocking board and some pins and try out some prototypes over the weekend to see what combinations I like best. The block above was one I put together on the spur of the moment to demonstrate what the blocks looked like.

I'm really looking forward to the next class where I get to be back in front of a sewing machine and we get to hear more about the strategies of putting a quilt top together!

My First Quilting Class

A Whole Bunch of Sewing Machines at Quiltology

For my birthday this year (Monday, in case you were wondering) I treated myself to learning a new craft. You see, there's this awesome new (well, relatively new) quilting store in Lincoln Park, Quiltology. While I never expect sewing or quilting to become my primary craft, I do really really want to get over my current sewing machine anxiety. You can do so many things with woven fabric that just don't work all that well in the knitted medium. Or you can use fabric to provide structure to a knitted item, like a purse or a blanket. And I just love the idea of making a quilt. There are so many fabulous fabrics out there, and there are a lot of shortcuts (like letting people with long-arm quilting machines do the actual quilting) that make a large quilt project something that a dilettante like myself can actually contemplate.

The class I am taking is called "Starting @ Square 1" and it literally starts with an introduction to sewing machines and how to use them, and ends with a simple quilt. Tonight was the first class, so we learned all about how the spiffy Bernina sewing machines at Quiltology work (Quiltology is also a sewing/quilting "workshop" where you can come in and rent time on their spiffy machines if you don't have one of your own). Now, I do have some basic sewing machine know how thanks to my mom, but I wanted someone who could help put some structure around it for me. Believe it or not, it was actually a cool exercise to "sew" on a piece of lined paper without any thread in the machine -- there was no way for me to screw anything up, so I could just play with the speed and get a sense for how the machine behaved.

A Burst of Color in the Front of Quiltology... Plus a Quilt that I Positively Lust After

As it turns out, those Berninas are pretty well behaved machines. I don't think they are quite as nice as my mom's Husqvarna (I thought the bobbin mechanism was a bit fussy) but they are easy to control. And they have a lot of fun electronic features on them. Give a geek girl a digital display and she can be endlessly entertained.

By the end of the class, we'd all stitched without thread on paper, learned how to "turn corners", wound bobbins and threaded the machine and started stitching on some fabric squares that Colette had ready for us to play with . She did a nice job of introducing things without being overbearing or micromanaging. And we got a short tutorial on presser feet and when to use particular kinds of them and also got to try out some of the more specialty stitches programmed into the machine. The class ended with a lesson in cleaning one's machine and a discussion aimed at helping us pick out what we wanted to do for our projects.

The Keyboard Biologist Bonds with A Bernina: Proof that I Used a Sewing Machine

One of the nice things about Quiltology -- she has some "premade" quilt kits where the fabrics have already been bundled together (nothing has been cut out or anything like that). While I could have picked my own fabrics, I didn't need to since the Serenity quilt kit already reflected some of the colors I love best in batik prints, which I am always drawn to when I am in a fabric store (just ask my mom). For me, since this adventure is about getting comfortable with sewing and not so much about color selection (at least not yet -- one hurdle at a time) I really don't feel guilty about taking the easy road and letting someone else put together good color combinations for me.

No homework for this class, but since my mom is coming to visit this weekend, it might be time to get out the sewing machine she loaned me and do a little practicing. Next week in class we'll be focusing on rotary cutting, so I don't have any "homework" this week. However, I did buy a copy of Amy Butler's In Stitches">In Stitches to help get me inspired to sew. And there are a couple of small projects in there that seem like they might be fun to try.

Something Blue


And a little bit green as well. (Not sure why I've got that old wedding rhyme going, it just somehow seemed appropriate to the last couple of days worth of posts).

I didn't start out Saturday morning planning to having anything to do with fabric or sewing machines. But then I asked Mom to help me hem up the edge of one of my cross stitch pieces, which led to a sewing machine moment, which led to the discovery of my mom's travelling sewing machine, Romeo. Since it was Mother's Day weekend, how could I turn down a trip to the quilting store? Where I found this:

Butterflies to Quilt With

And it seemed to go well with a square that I found in that Puzzle Quilts book. As disturbing as it might seem, the first thing I did was take my new rotary cutter to it along with a contrasting striping fabric. The result? Butterflies flying through a field of handpainted grass.

A First Set of Quilt Pieces

Mom gave me a basic lesson in the care and feeding and use of sewing machines so that I could take Romeo home and put my sqauare together. Always iron your fabric. Wash it if you're going to wash whatever you're going to sew later. The foot always needs to be down when you start to sew, and the needle needs to be up when you get to the end of what you're sewing. Start sewing a little bit in from the edge. And I did some simple practice stitching. But, since I have something of a fear of sewing machines (they move fast and are not as reversible as ripping out a knitting project) I decided that I needed to get some more practice before I started connecting fabric that I really liked. So I also got myself a little muslin and cut out some test squares and triangles to start piecing together.

A Test Muslin Square

Tonight Romeo and I did some bonding over that muslin. I guess it's going to take a little while before we are true partners in this experiment. But it's a beginning. And I've given myself permission not to get too upset about making mistakes, since sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn something new.

Something Borrowed

A New Kind of Stash*





A Borrowed Romeo**



*For a closer look at those two fabrics on the left end and why they had to come home with me, click here.

** A Husqvarna Romeo, that is. My mother's "travelling" sewing machine. Her other Husqy would be comparable to this one if she bought it today. And then there's the Huskylock. Mom has excellent taste in sewing machines.