Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5th Grade Raffle Quilt Update: All Blocks Quilted, On to the Borders

I just wanted to post a few quick photos of the 5th grade class raffle quilt that I've been frantically working on for the past few weeks.  The original due date is TOMORROW, but I have an extension until next Friday (whew!).  The actual raffle or silent auction or whatever isn't until May 15th and 16th. 

50/3 Mettler in Upper Left, 40 wt YLI Variegated Thread Everywhere Else

I finally got all 22 blocks quilted and I've just started stippling the borders.  I know that I originally said I was going to just do "minimal quilting or tie the quilt," but I lied.  I did free motion quilting in each block, outlining the shapes and figures in each child's painting (the paintings were scanned and printed directly onto fabric using EQ inkjet printer fabric sheets and an Epson inkjet printer) and then I filled the backgrounds with a variety of free motion quilting patterns to make each student's artwork more dimensional.  Hopefully everyone likes how I "decorated" his or her block, because my seam ripper is put away in the drawer and it is STAYING THERE!

I played around with a lot of different fill patterns and threads, sticking with a gray Aurifil 50/2 in the bobbin to save time and switching between 60/2, 50/3, 40/3 and 30/3 cotton threads for the needle.  At first I thought I wanted lighter weight thread that would blend into the fabric and disappear, but the heavier variegated threads really grew on me for this project -- I think they are a nice complement to the bold lines of the students' artwork.

I found a great Kaffe Fassett print for my border, and I'm stippling around the little "fireworks" print thingys with variegated YLI machine quilting thread:

Back to my quilting!  I'm linking up with WIP Wednesday over at Freshly Pieced.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Charlie Chaplin in "City Lights," with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in City Lights, 1931
Last night we all climbed into the TARDIS (which is bigger on the inside) and traveled back in time to 1931 to watch City Lights, a silent Charlie Chaplin film on the silver screen, accompanied by a live orchestra and a live audience roaring with laughter (because silent films were not, in fact, silent at all).  All of which is totally and completely true, except for the part about the TARDIS (we've been watching a lot of Dr. Who reruns as well). 

Actually, the film was screened at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in 2014 with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performing the original score to the silent film, just as original audiences would have experienced the film back in 1931 when it was a new release.  Jacomo Rafael Bairos, the energetic young conductor whom our sons remember from his tenure with the CSO Lollipops family concert series when they were much younger, led the orchestra in a rousing rendition of Chaplin's original score.  It was absolutely fantastic.  We loved it, the kids loved it, and I wish this wasn't just a one-time thing. 

Also, I had not known that Charlie Chaplin not only starred in his films, but also wrote the films, directed the films, AND composed his own musical scores.  Note to self: Find a Charlie Chaplin biography next time I'm at the book store.

That's all you get -- a quilt is calling me from across the room!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

5th Grade Raffle Quilt: And the Quilting Begins!

I just wanted to post a few quick photos of the 5th graders' raffle quilt in progress.  The top is assembled with borders and I stitched in the ditch around each batik block frame with my walking foot. 
Loving the XL Throat Space on the 750 QE

As you can see in the photo above, I was able to use my walking foot to stitch in the ditch inside each block frame, pivoting and turning the quilt ninety degrees at the corners.  I was able to scrunch up the entire length of the quilt in the throat space when I was quilting around the outer blocks. 

So now I'm finally able to do the free-motion quilting in the blocks.  I'm outlining the flower, leaf, and branch shapes in the children's artwork first, then filling in the background with different fill patterns to give the artwork some dimension.  At one point I considered adding some machine trapunto behind some of the shapes in the artwork to make them really pop out, but then I had a reality check when I looked at the calendar and remembered that my deadline is May 1st for this project. 

I started out using some 40 weight variegated YLI machine quilting thread in the needle with 50/2 Aurifil in the bobbin.  I want to stick with the gray bobbin thread because I really don't have time to be constantly changing the bobbin, even though I am changing colors in the needle thread to complement each student's art work.  The 40 weight thread looks okay for some designs, but it's not my favorite and I wasn't wild about how the stitches looked on the back of the quilt with the 40/3 top thread and 50/2 bottom thread combination.  So I switched to a smaller needle and got out my 60/2 cotton embroidery threads, which work better for quilting designs that involve backtracking anyway.

My stippling is getting better, but I am not in love with how that feather thing came out at the top of this block.  Ah, well.  At least it kind of echoes the veining on the adjacent leaf.  Somewhat.

So far I have quilted 5 of the 22 blocks.  We have a busy weekend planned, and I have several meetings and appointments early next week that cannot be rescheduled, so I may need to ask for an extension.  The actual Night of the Arts event when the class projects will be auctioned off is not until May 15th. 

Of course, the more I'm typing, the less I'm quilting!  I'm linking up to Design Wall Monday at Judy's Patchwork Times. 

UPDATED 4/29/2014: I'm linking up to Esther's WIPs on Wednesday, too -- because I'm still quilting away like a mad woman and I don't have time to post new pictures yet!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WIP Wednesday: 5th Grade Raffle Quilt Continues

School Raffle Quilt On the Design Wall
I've been busy working on the 5th grade raffle quilt and I've made a lot of progress over the last few days!  We had the students' acrylic paintings scanned in at high resolution at the UPS store, and I printed them onto the EQ Printables Inkjet Fabric Sheets without any trouble at all.  I set my Epson inkjet printer to highest resolution, matte photo presentation paper, and completely filled each 8 1/2" x 11" fabric sheet with the students' artwork.  I love how clearly every detail of the artwork transferred to the fabric sheets -- brush strokes, even faint pencil lines and incomplete erasures that were visible on the original paintings. 

Peeling Away the Cellophane Backing After Printing
It was late at night when I finally finished printing all 22 sheets, so although the instructions said to let the ink dry for 15 minutes, I left mine to dry overnight before peeling away the cellophane backing.  The backing came off fairly easily, but I noticed too late that, by starting at a corner and ripping the backing away diagonally, I distorted the grain of my fabric pieces.  Next time, I would loosen the backing all along the top edge of the sheet first and then pull the backing straight down in the direction of the fabric grain to avoid having to straighten all of the fabric afterwards!

After peeling off the backing, the fabric sheets had to be soaked in distilled water for 10 minutes to rinse away any excess printer ink.  To speed this process along, I grouped my fabric sheets according to their predominate color and soaked several sheets at a time. 
Soaking in Distilled Water to Remove Excess Printer Ink
I used a white plastic dish pan, which made it easy to see that ink WAS indeed coming off into the water, so I had to dump it out and refill the dish pan every other batch or so.  I went through three gallons of distilled water by the time all of my sheets were finished.  Then I had to iron them with a bit of steam in order to remove wrinkles and straighten the grain. 

Batiks from the Stash for Framing
Although I'm mostly happy with the results of this process, the printed images on fabric look more muted and pastel than the vibrantly-colored original acrylic paintings.  In order to make sure that the quilt would capture the energy and spirit of the original artwork, I decided to frame each block with a 1" wide strip of complementary batik fabric from my stash.  The printable fabric sheets from EQ have a high thread count and a very tight weave (which enables them to capture such high resolution images) and a similar crisp hand as batiks, which makes them an even better choice for this project.
Framing Artwork Blocks with 1 1/2" CW Batik Strips
Also, since I have 22 blocks to work with, I opted to stagger the blocks with two columns of 5 and two columns of 6 blocks, offset.  This arrangement, along with the low contrast between the art blocks and the batik frames, has the added benefit of minimizing the harsh grid effect that I have seen in other school quilt projects.  The goal is that people viewing the finished quilt will notice the artwork on the fabric blocks without being distracted by my layout.

14 Down, 8 Remaining!
My design wall has been invaluable throughout this process.  First I laid out all of the artwork blocks until I had a nice, balanced arrangement, and then I was able to audition different batik frame options with the blocks before actually sewing strips in place -- which saved me from having to reach for the seam ripper and change anything that I'd actually sewn to a block.  At this point I have 14 of the 22 block frames attached, but I have selected all of the fabrics for the remaining blocks.  It takes me a lot longer to make those decisions than it does to cut the strips and sew them to the blocks.  Hopefully I will finish framing the remaining 8 blocks today and maybe even get started assembling them into columns.  I'm going to need some kind of half rectangle at the top and bottom of the two shorter columns (the ones with 5 blocks rather than 6).  At one point I thought I would use the hand marbled fabric that you see at the bottom left corner of my design wall, but now I'm leaning toward using some of the gray scribbles fabric (which you can see a strip of along the right side of the photo) that I pulled from my stash to use as backing.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to the machine quilting phase.  I'll stitch in the ditch with monofilament between blocks and in the frame seams, but then I'm planning to do some free motion quilting fills within the blocks themselves if time permits.  Finally, I'll bring the quilt to school once it's quilted so the students can sign their blocks with Pigma Micron acid-free permanent archival fabric pens.  Maybe they can even do a little surface embellishment with beading or embroidery.  I know for a fact that they all learned to do some basic embroidery stitches in a different project from last year's art class.  Gotta love a school art teacher who teaches my sons embroidery!  :-)

I'm linking up with Lee's WIP (Works In Progress) Wednesday linky party over at Freshly Pieced as well as Esther's WOW (WIPs on Wednesday), and then I'm getting back to work!

Friday, April 11, 2014

5th Grade Raffle Quilt is On!

Coming Soon to Quilt Fabric: 5th Graders' Abstract Nature Paintings
I know you were all shaking your heads in pity when I told you I had agreed to make a class raffle quilt in three weeks with my son's 5th grade class.  It's not started yet, the kids don't know how to sew, there are no sewing machines at their school, and I have only very minimal class time with them.  Also Spring Break is next week.  But I like a challenge.

So my idea was to print students' original artwork directly onto fabric with those inkjet fabric sheets that go right into the printer.  Since we are in a bit of a time crunch, I talked with their art teacher to see whether they had already created anything for her class that would work for the quilt project.  She showed me these fantastic abstract paintings that our class made earlier in the school year incorporating leaves, flowers, and other items they collected outside the school.  I love the bright, saturated colors and the fact that each one is unique, but they are unified by a common theme and medium.  I think they will look great on fabric, don't you?  Well, I met with the students at lunch today to discuss the project, gave them some options for creating new art versus using the existing abstract paintings, and was DELIGHTED when they voted to use their abstract paintings.  We took them straight to the UPS Store to be scanned in (the paintings are larger than my scanner flat bed at home) and now, as long as I don't run into Unforeseen Difficulties during the printing process, I should be good to go.  Maybe I'll add some sashing strips to frame each block, but other than that, I'm planning to just sew them all together as simply as possible.

Depending on how much time I have when I get to the quilting phase, I might stitch in the ditch around blocks and then add free motion quilting within the blocks, or just quilt an allover grid, or (worst case scenario) tie the quilt with yarn if I'm REALLY running out of time. 

Cross your fingers that all goes well with the printer.  I bought a 25 pack of fabric sheets and I have 22 students, so that leaves me only three extra sheets for oopses and experimentation with printer settings.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In Which I Am a Cheating Cheater Who Cheats, and Also a Crazy Person

Perfection!  But I Cheated...
 So, remember my post a few days ago when I was lamenting that this yellow applique petal came out with a crooked and overly-acute point in my first attempt at needleturn applique?  Well, I went ahead and cheated by preparing four of these petals with preturned, starched edges.  See how perfectly the petal is shaped when I do it that way in the photo above?  Knowing I could get it that accurate using the starch and press method is what made me so critical of the needle turned results.

This does not mean that I have given up on the needle turn method altogether; I was just getting antsy and wanted to get started with the actual block instead of spinning my wheels with practice samples.  So I have stitched two of the four perfect yellow petals to the coral petals so far, and I hope to complete the last two in today's carpool line and music lessons.  Then I'm going to try starching the completed units before I needle turn applique the coral petals to the larger brown petals, starching the brown fabric as well, and see whether that doesn't help reduce the distortion I experienced in my trial runs.  Another idea I had was to use the heat resistant plastic templates I made to help me finger press the edges of my applique shapes prior to stitching them down.  I've been trying to pinch along the chalked line of each shape as directed in my Piece O'Cake book, but I feel like my pinched edges come out more like a series of short lines than a smooth curve.  So maybe pinching the fabric around the edge of a curved plastic template edge will help with that.

In other news, I have officially gone stark, raving mad, and have volunteered to create a raffle quilt with my son's 5th grade class for a school fundraiser.  The completed quilt needs to be turned in to the PTO by May 1st, and we haven't started it yet.  We have 24 or 25 students, very limited class time, and no sewing machines at school.  So my idea is to have each student contribute one block to the quilt, which I will sew together and very minimally quilt or tie in order to meet the deadline.  Since there is no time to teach them all to sew, I am thinking of using those printable fabric sheets and scanning in the students' original artwork and/or photos, printing those onto the fabric, and then sewing the fabric squares together to create a quilt top.  The other idea was to have them draw on plain muslin with fabric markers, but I thought the printable fabric would probably come out better and allow a higher level of detail -- also that way the kids can work on their artwork outside of school, using whatever medium they are most comfortable with, or even contribute a drawing they have already made. 

EQ Inkjet Fabric Sheets, photo courtesy Amazon
I've never used the printable fabric sheets before.  If anyone reading this has experience with this product and can give me some tips or pointers, I would really appreciate it!  I know it has to go in the inkjet printer, not the laser.  Do I need to color set after printing with that Bubblejet stuff, and if so, how does that work?  Are some brands of fabric sheets easier to work with than others?  I see EQ, June Tailor, and even Avery make fabric sheets and the prices do vary from one brand to another, but I'm not looking to make this project more stressful by skimping on materials and giving myself a lot of extra grief!

As always, advice and suggestions are greatly appreciated.  :-)

I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesdays linky party.  Esther is offering a beautiful Easter table runner pattern today, too -- check that out here.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ruler, Ruler, On the Wall!

Ta Da!  Peg Board Ruler Wall Installed!
I am so excited about the ruler wall that my husband put up for me over the weekend!  We bought plain brown peg board from Lowe's and then Bernie painted it Sherwin Williams Antique White, the same color as my studio walls, so it would blend in.  I have all these great specialty rulers that used to live in a pile inside a cardboard box.  I couldn't remember which rulers I had, let alone find the one I was looking for quickly, and the box full of rulers was taking up space on top of a cabinet on the opposite side of my studio from the cutting table.  Now, I can see all of my rulers at once, quickly find the best one for whatever I'm cutting, and they are all within easy reach of my cutting station.  I even had room for my pattern weights. 

A Place For Everything; Everything In Its Place
It's a beautiful thing, don't you think?  I would like my sweetie to paint and install some more of this peg board in my room for storing my embroidery hoops, but I think I will need to either bribe him with cookies or wait until this basketball playoffs stuff is over.

Anders' Quilt Is Finally Quilted!
Meanwhile, Anders and I finished quilting his very first quilt today.  Hooray for Anders!  It's hard to get the quilting to show up in photos.  He quilted a grid pattern using the walking foot on my Bernina 750 QE with nylon monofilament thread in the needle and 50/3 cotton Mettler thread in the bobbin.  I marked the grid for him with chalk lines and used the special ditch quilting sole for the walking foot so it was easy for him to steer that little guide bar along the seam lines and chalk lines.  He did a fantastic job on his first quilt and his lines are very straight.

Quilted Grid, Minky Backing Side
You can see the pattern better on the backing side.  I was nervous about the Minky backing, which can be challenging to quilt with because it stretches, it's polyester rather than cotton, and the wrong side of Minky is very slick and doesn't stick to the batting the way that a cotton backing fabric would do.  When I've used it for quilt backing in the past, I spaced my quilting lines much farther apart and was disappointed by the sagging that resulted after the quilt was washed, when the cotton fabrics and batting continued to shrink and the backing turned into elephant skin.  So I prewashed Anders' fabrics in HOT water so they would preshrink as much as possible ahead of time,  I starched the quilt top heavily before layering it, basted with adhesive spray, and then pin basted as well, and we got no shifting whatsoever.  Not one single wretched pleat on the backing side where quilt lines intersected!  Anders' enthusiasm waned near the end of the quilting (can't this be ENOUGH quilting, Mom?!) so I agreed to quilt the remaining lines for him while he finished up some Chinese homework that is due tomorrow.

Monofilament Nylon Quilting Blends with Busy Print Fabric
Now I just need to square it up, trim away the excess fabric and batting, and bind it for him.  He has chosen a wide satin blanket binding, which looks great with Minky backing, but getting the top and bottom edges of satin binding to align nicely can be tricky and I don't think that's a beginner-friendly project.

What's next for Anders?  He picked out this adorable stuffed frog pattern when he was helping me shop for applique fabric, and he's planning to sew a frog from his Minky quilt backing scraps.  I haven't read the pattern instructions yet, but it should be a fun project for him, don't you think?

I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  If you have a moment, click through for a nice helping of inspiration!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3: Needleturn Applique Experiments Continue

This Is Only a Test!
I have planned much, and accomplished nothing.  Well, that's not true -- I've been practicing and experimenting with my new applique project; I just have nothing to show for it because the bit I've been working on is lousy enough that I won't be using it in my quilt. 

My Crooked and Overly Pointy First Petal
I showed you last time how my yellow center petal point came out misshapen and skewed to one side, but I decided to continue making this petal anyway as a practice run, to try out the needle turn applique methods for inner points and a rounded curve. 

It is not going smashingly well.  For one thing, my fabrics are very soft and limp from prewashing them, and I don't like how that feels in my hand.  The chalk line seems to smudge as I'm handling the pieces to stitch them together, and that -- along with the limp fabric hand -- is making it harder to see exactly where the edge should be turning as I'm stitching.  That's why my curves are not perfectly smooth.  This was irritating me enough that I stopped in the middle of stitching my coral petal and made all new templates for this block out of the heat resistant plastic so I could pre-turn my edges with liquid starch and an iron, as I did for my previous applique project.

Plastic Template, Starch and Press Prepared Edge Method
I tested this out on a brown petal, and was quickly reminded that I had trouble getting nice inner points with the starch and press method.  See how I couldn't quite get all the way into the corner with the iron? 

Also, it look longer to press the edges around the template than I had remembered, and even though I set the iron on medium heat, my template plastic still got cloudy and threatened to warp even after just one petal.  Annoying!  Grrr! 

Having reminded myself why I was trying to learn the needle-turn-as-you-go method in the first place, I went back to stitching my sample petal by turning the fabric edge under along the pinched "finger pressed" chalk line with my needle as I was stitching.  I suppose it isn't SO bad, is it?  I could try another brand of chalk pencil to see if it smudges less, and I can try pressing my applique fabrics with a light starch to give them more body and stability and see if that doesn't also help to keep the pinched finger pressed edge crisp and precise throughout the stitching process.
That curve is not totally perfect, but maybe I will improve as I go along.  The inside corner was not as bad as I thought it would be.  And the outside points look fine from the front, but somehow I'm creating a pinch of fabric there that I can see when I lay the work flat or check from the back side:
Unsatisfactory Corner Puckering from the Back Side
See what I mean?  But the first corner is worse than the second corner, and this petal is only for practice, anyway. 

MEANWHILE...  My husband is expanding my design wall today so I can fit all of my Jingle blocks on the wall at once and hopefully figure out the pieced inner border this week.  Hooray! 

Jingle Blocks on Newly Expanded Design Wall!
He went to Home Depot to get more screws, but I couldn't wait.  I had to start rearranging blocks on the wall before he even gets it completely attached to the wall!  This is my tentative layout for this quilt now that I was able to see all of it at once.  I tried to space out the blocks that have the brightest yellow in them so hopefully that's balanced enough now.  I also discovered that I miscounted when I was cutting out those red poinsettia fabric setting triangles, because I'm short four of them.  Now you can also see the empty space between my wide red block border and the center applique medallion.  I have not trimmed the center medallion yet, and I overcut my red setting triangles, but I'm still nervous about how to calculate the pieced borders in between so that they will fit correctly without puckering.  The books that I've consulted talk about building your quilt design from the center outward, like if I had just made the center medallion so far and added borders one at a time until I liked how they looked, and THEN calculated what size those outer blocks needed to be in order to fit the inside. 

So what I'm thinking I'll do is plan to have a plain fabric border on the inner and outer sides of my pieced border, and hopefully I can oversize those enough that I'll be able to trim it to fit what it has to attach to at the end.  And hopefully that will result in pleasing, I-meant-to-do-that proportions.  That is the hope.

Now I need to get everything off the wall again before Bernie gets back with the screws!