Green Deconstructions

My Pantone color challenge quilt was finished just in time for the guild meeting on Wednesday!  Here it is complete.


It was so much fun seeing how everyone had interpreted the challenge!  Almost thirty members of the guild had made a mini with this same green fabric, and every quilt was so different, reflecting its maker’s interests and unique skill set.  Some were whole-cloth and intricately quilted, others were more traditional or more abstract.  One that I thought was an overhead view of a forest turned out to be a microscopic close-up of algae!  You can see the pictures on CJMQG’s Instagram page.

So I left off last week with the promise of chopkeys, which I used to make the three-dimensional shapes.  I learned the technique in a workshop with the accomplished Rami Kim (whose gallery of exquisite works you can see here).

To make a chopkey, you need templates in two sizes: one for the foundation fabric (which can be muslin, since it won’t show), and a larger one for the fashion fabric.  To make a triangle with one-inch sides, your foundation template should be a triangle with, say, 2″ sides, and the template for the fashion fabric should be a triangle with 3″ sides.  Once your fabric pieces are cut, pin the corners of the fashion fabric piece to the corners of the foundation fabric piece, like so.


You’ll then have some extra fabric between the corners.  Squeeze it together in the middle of each side (approximately), and fold it to the right on each side, and pin.  Then, moosh down the poof in the middle, gently, and it will form a triangle!  Fabric magic, no?  Then press and steam, to make crisp folds.  (More complete instructions (plus templates) can be found in Rami Kim’s excellent book, “Folded Fabric Elegance,” from which you can also learn other cool techniques for fabric manipulation.)*

I figured I could make shapes with as many sides as the fabric would put up with, so I drafted my own templates for each of the regular polygons up to the nonagon.  I had to draw some practice shapes to make sure that the resulting chopkeys would be big enough to baste onto hexagon templates, so I could sew them into the quilt.  Here’s the square one being basted.


Even so, I did need to make some adjustments when it seemed like the resulting shape would be too big or too small, but they all came out, even the nonagon!


The folds around the edges did make it slightly more challenging to sew these pieces to their neighboring hexagons, but since I was working by hand it was only a little fiddly.

Now, if you’re wondering how the blue crevices came into it, here’s what happened.  I had made all my hexagons and demi-hexagons and was sewing them together to make the left side of the design, working inwards.  I got to a point where it was getting a little cumbersome to add a new hexagon to the growing section, so I started making a new section with the rest of the colored hexagons, figuring I could join those together first to make sure they were all in the right place, and then join all the sections together later.  I was thinking as I did this that the upper-right quadrant of my design was kind of boring, and I’d have to do something creative with the quilting to make it interesting, but I wasn’t sure what that should be, and I felt strongly that the design needed another element, but that an intricate quilting motif wasn’t necessarily it.

And then I laid out one of my sections on the blue batik to make sure I did want to use it for the binding.

And suddenly it occurred to me: I had plenty of this fabric, and this whole design was sort of about abstract disintegration already.  Why shouldn’t it disintegrate a little more?

And with a little more thought and a pair of new, smaller hexagon templates, I had this.

And now I didn’t have to sew my sections together!  Or sew on several of the remaining green hexagons for that upper-right corner.  🙂

I removed the templates from each of the crevice-edge pieces one a time, basting the loose edges with cotton thread as I went.  (Nylon thread might have melted under the steaming that was coming next.)  I then removed the rest of the paper templates, steam-pressed each section, and glued it into place on my blue background, just like I’d done with the floating hexagons.  I didn’t appliqué the edges; I just assembled the quilt sandwich and started quilting!


(Sorry these photos are a little dark.)

It ended up being a really simple quilting design, but that worked.  I usually backstitch rather than going to the trouble of burying ends (bad, I know), but for this project I felt a little more finesse was called for, and I knew it would show if I did it every time.  The thread is a variegated green Mettler Silk Finish, which I used in The Garden of Light Green Meditations last year.

So, once the quilting was finished, there were a million ends to bury.


I also ended up adding a small stitch at each corner of the chopkeys.  I had planned to add a little decorative stitching just inside their edges, but in the end decided to let them speak for themselves.  The stitches at the corners were just to make sure they didn’t eventually unfold themselves.  I made them with coordinating thread to keep them unobtrusive.

I’m REALLY  happy with how the whole thing turned out.


This is sort of my first foray into abstract design, and I feel like it ended up even better than my original concept.  It’s my first pieced back, as well!


Coming soon: a long-awaited post about a gift for a friend, and a tutorial for a technique I devised to hang a quilt on the wall with picture-hanging strips.  Stay tuned!


*I am not affiliated with Rami Kim; I recommend her work because it is excellent.


What’s up, April?

…And another month goes by before I post again.  Predictable, no?  Especially on the heels of a resolution to post more often.  Well, we’ll see what adding “Blog” to my to-do app on a repeating basis will accomplish.

I think part of why I haven’t been posting lately is that I’ve been working on a couple of projects that, until recently, were secret.  I still won’t post about one of them, because it’s a present for someone and she should really get to see it first, but my Pantone Color Challenge quilt has been out on Instagram for a couple of weeks now, so let’s talk about that for a while!


The challenge was issued by the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild, of which I am an enthusiastic member.  Pantone’s Color of the Year is “Greenery”, so those of us who signed up for the challenge were given a half-yard cut of Kona Lime, which was judged to be equivalent, and told to make a modern quilt with it measuring 18″ square.  I tend to think of myself more as a post-modern quilter; I like breaking categories and defining my own artistic space, but I also love rising to meet a challenge, and I decided I wanted to make something REALLY modern for this one.

After a couple of weeks of thinking about it, lying in bed one night, I came up with this:


I’ve got a special love for hexagons, since they were my grandmother’s favorite shape to work with, and the hand-sewing in a small EPP project like this is a great way to unwind in front of Netflix.  The color mix was inspired by my much-beloved collection of Rowan shot cottons, which I acquired last year in a splurge of self-indulgence (along with some of their lovely woven stripes) and hadn’t used yet.  The column of geometric shapes, I planned to make three-dimensional, using the chopkey technique that I learned in a workshop with Rami Kim two years ago (more on that later).  The hexagons of diminishing size, I planned to make by sewing bands of green fabric around the edges, but I later decided that that would make them look like they were receding into the background, while I wanted them to float on top.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once I had the design, my husband helped me do a fabric pull.


Basically I just laid the greenery fabric in the bottom of the laundry basket, dumped my whole collection of shot cottons and woven stripes out on the dinner table, and the two of us went through and tried things next to the green fabric. When something worked, we threw it in the basket.  My husband doesn’t make things himself (except physics theories) but he has excellent color sense, and I often ask him to help when I’m making design decisions.

I then had to make a second version of the sketch.  The first one was just a free-hand thing and didn’t use the right measurements for regular hexagons, and since this project had to finish to a specific size, I needed to know how many templates to cut and what size they should be so I could actually fit in the whole design.

That produced this, which you will notice still does not have actual regular hexagons in it, but does have the right number of irregular ones to make an 18″ square.IMG_4188  And if I hadn’t done the second sketch, I wouldn’t have known that my column of geometric shapes would have to end in not an octagon, but a nonagon!

I decided where the colors should go within the design  and assigned each colored hexagon a letter, which I in turn wrote on the template piece that each color was basted to.  For the smaller floating hexagons, I followed an interesting technique that I learned from Modern Handcraft’s Modern Hexies Tutorial.


First, you cut and baste the hexagons to templates, just as you would for English Paper Piecing.


Here’s my smallest one.

Once the hexagons are basted (with cotton thread), you press and steam them, to make sure they’ll hold their shape.  Then, cut the basting stitches, take out the template, position them on the fabric where you want them, and glue them down instead of sewing.  If you don’t apply glue all the way to the edges, they appear to float on the background!

I’ve been really happy with the results.


Next time, chopkeys!

Marigold is Finished, Part II

So we left off last time with the question of Marigold’s sashing. (See previous post to read Marigold’s story from the beginning.)  Or is it called a facing?  I think I’ll go with facing; it’s less confusing.

In a quilt-as-you-go project, the quilted blocks have to be joined together and the raw edges covered, which is accomplished by joining them with a facing both front and back.  Traditionally, the last step is sewing down one edge of all the back facing by hand.  You attach the front facing just as you would sashing when piecing a quilt top, and on one of those seam lines, put the back facing and the back of the quilt right-sides together, sew the facing down, and then fold it over.  So three edges of your two facings can be attached by machine; easy peezy.  But then, you have to either sew the last edge down by hand, or top-stitch it through the entire quilt sandwich.

That’s exactly what I did last year with The Garden of Light Green Meditations.


As you can see, it has a narrow green facing on the front (blending into the sashing around each block), and a corresponding black facing on the back.  You can see it in the corners in this picture.


I cut my black facing to be folded double, like a binding, and to finish just a little bit wider than the green facing.  I followed the steps for attaching the front and back facings, but instead of sewing down the last edge of my black facing by hand, I fastened it down with basting glue, turned the top of the quilt up, and stitched in the ditch along the edge of the green facing, catching the last edge of the black facing on the back.  This worked almost perfectly; there were a few spots where I didn’t catch the black facing and had to go back and hand-sew, but it was only about a half-hour of hand-sewing instead of the rest of my natural life.

But this approach wouldn’t work with Marigold.

It worked with The Garden of Light Green Meditations because the front and back facings were the same size.  With Marigold, I wanted a wide sashing on the front, but a narrow one on the back, to make the batting join more neatly.  So, as I so often do, I agonized for several days before coming to the conclusion that I’d been right in the first place: apply the back facing like a sashing, and sew down the front facing/sashing with topstitch.


Having sewn down the back facing (right side to the back of the block sandwich, sew, flip over, press, right side to the back of the next block sandwich, sew, flip over, press), I pressed over the seam allowance on one side of my gray facing/sashing strips.  img_3822

I then lined up the folded edge with the points of the diamonds, glued the folded edge down, and folded under the other edge to match the points of the other block.  Then, topstitch!


This of course gets more challenging as the assembled pieces grow in size.  (The pink post-its are there to mark which way is up.  They wouldn’t actually stick by themselves, so I added safety pins.)



But it never became too difficult.  I really recommend quilt-as-you-go for projects like this, with a few large blocks.  The Garden of Light Green Meditations had forty-one ten-inch blocks and sixteen setting triangles, and while quilting them individually was fantastic, joining them all with two facings took all eternity.

And once the front sashing was on, it was a simple matter of binding and adding a label.  And then waiting for a nice day to do a photo-shoot.


The finished quilt measures 63″x82″, and I’m very proud of it.  It’s listed for sale on my Etsy store, and I hope I’ll be sending it to a good home very soon.

In the meantime, onward!!

Marigold is Finished!


Wow.  What a long way I’ve come with this project in a year!

Marigold, which started out as a stack of unfinished vintage blocks, is now a completed quilt, and posted for sale in my Etsy store, The Velvet Pincushion.  It’s a twin-size quilt, 63″ by 82″, sashed and backed with modern quilting fabrics and filled with 100% cotton batting.

This is the first picture I ever posted of Marigold.


That was a year ago, when all I had was a stack of vintage blocks I’d bought at the Courthouse Quilters’ UFO auction.  (If you don’t know, UFO is a quilter’s acronym for Un Finished Object.  Not that we generally tend to accumulate those…)

There were/are twelve blocks altogether; the middle of each is a LeMoyne star made of scraps from, I’m guessing, somebody’s shirts, showcasing a sweet collection of vintage fabrics.  Each star is surrounded by flowers made of matching diamonds, a different color for each block.  There are brown ones, pink ones, blue ones, red ones, and one each of green, black, and purple.


I decided to pursue this as a quilt-as-you-go project, so that I could quilt precise straight lines on these beautifully geometrical blocks. To do that, I needed to make twelve individual quilt sandwiches, layering each block with a square of batting and backing fabric, which meant I needed to choose my backing fabric before I could begin.


I felt so lucky to find this fabric.  I thought it would work really well to showcase the quilting on the back, and contrast with the light gray sashing on the front.

Of course, no sooner had I layered all the blocks then I noticed that some of them had some very marked shadowing around the seam allowances.


What project worth doing doesn’t have a few bumps in the road?

So, after a few hours (days) of un-layering all the blocks, carefully trimming the seam allowances so as not to accidentally cut the quilt top, and re-layering the blocks and pinning, the quilting began!


I quilted the diamonds on each block in a coordinating color.  On the front the effect is quite subtle, letting the fabrics speak for themselves…


…but all those threads show through on the back and mix in with the printed pattern for this fantastic textured effect.  (Yay!)


It was in the middle of quilting the blocks that I took my several-month hiatus.  It wasn’t intended to be several months, but we went to Europe for several weeks last summer, and then I went back to work teaching at a local community college, and I sort of picked at things again during August, but then I had some medical difficulties in the fall and, well, anyway.  I took it up again in January, and re-opened my Etsy store long before I’d actually finished the quilt, just to get it open again.

Once all the blocks were quilted, I got my husband to help me settle on exactly the right arrangement for my many-colored blocks.  The glory and struggle of having him help me arrange colors is that he absolutely will not stop trying combinations until it’s perfect.  I used to think this was unspeakably aggravating, but I now know that the results are worth it, so I keep my aggravation to myself and just say “Thank you, darling.”

Between the two of us, we arrived at this:


We even rotated each block to make sure that any matching fabrics in the inner stars weren’t too obviously in the same position as each other.  That’s how dedicated we are.  🙂

Once the arrangement was finalized, I stacked my blocks in rows, labeled each row with a pinned-down post-it, and began what’s probably the most difficult part of quilt-as-you-go: assembling a quilt out of pre-quilted sandwiches.

It’s done with sashing: every join has to be covered both on the front and back of the quilt.  I’ve done this before, last year with The Garden of Light Green Meditations, but for that quilt I was using a half-inch sashing on both front and back.  For this one, I was using a half-inch sashing on the back and three inches on the front.  How to make this happen?

Find out next time on The Velvet Pincushion!

Christmas Quilt Piecing, Part II

…And I’m back!  There’s quite a bit of catching up to do…

I finished Christmas Quilt 2017 during a retreat with my quilt guild last November.  If you’re just tuning in, every year I make a quilt to be raffled off at a Christmas Store that my parents help to run; it helps fund a community for adults with special needs.  This year’s (or by this point, last year’s) quilt is a Trip Around the World, done in Christmas colors.

This design is made up in quadrants, and each quadrant is made up of strips of squares, which are cut from strip sets that I sewed in color order.  (Sounds confusing, but actually very simple to do.)  The quadrants are made up of the same strips, just rotated to create the design, so the strips for the four quadrants can be made up in matching sets.  This is more efficient, and I could be sure I was doing them all the same.  The strips for the left side had one additional square for the center column.

I then laid out each quarter of the quilt top, sewed the strips for each one together in pairs, and assembled each quarter of the quilt one at a time.  By the time I got to the quilting retreat, I’d finished three quarters of the quilt top.

The strips are oriented one way on the left side of the quilt, the other way on the right.  As long as you get that right, you can assemble the top and bottom halves the same way.

I used cotton batting as usual (I got a truckload of Warm & Natural last year), and backed the quilt with the dark gold leafy fabric that appears in the quilt top.  It’s customary (as I learned after some considerable web research) to quilt a Trip Around the World in diagonal lines that intersect at the seams, but I wanted to do something a little different.  I decided to quilt it in concentric diamonds, to follow the pattern of the piecing, and chose coordinating threads to switch between: red, gold, and white.

(I love that picture.)  It was a bit of work to keep turning the whole quilt under the machine again and again, but eventually I finished the last big diamond and could do shorter lines to finish the pattern repeats in the corners.

I bound the quilt with the green plaid fabric.  All of this happened in a day and a half at the quilting retreat.  At this point, I was practically completely out of time before I needed to mail the quilt so it could be there before the Christmas Store opened, so as much as I wanted to make a label and sew it on, at this point I had to just sew down the hanging sleeve and sign the back with a Micron pen.

And here’s the quilt hanging up in the Christmas Store!

I’m always proud to get one of these finished, and I’m particularly proud of this one.  I feel it’s a step forward in design for me, one of the best things I’ve ever made.  As I said, I had to send it off almost immediately after I finished it, so we didn’t get to spend much time together, and I’ve kind of missed it after mailing it off to Texas.  Have you ever felt that way, missed a project after you’ve given it away?  I’m certainly not sorry that the Christmas Store got the benefit of the raffle tickets, but I wish I’d finished the quilt sooner so that I could have it around the house for a while. (shrug)

It’s good to be back on the blog, and I’m sorry I was gone so long.  Let this mark a new season of craft blogging for me!  And you can follow me on Instagram (velvetpincushion).

Next time, the continuing stories of Marigold and Verna!

Christmas Quilt Piecing, Part 1

The piecing process for a “Trip Around the World” quilt is simple in terms of technique, but complex in terms of steps.  The only techniques required are straight cuts and seam-matching, which can be mastered by any careful beginner.  The steps for assembly, on the other hand…

As I wrote in my post earlier this week, you start by cutting strips.  The strips should be 1/2″ wider than the finished squares are supposed to be; in this case, the finished squares will be 2″, so the strips are 2.5″.


I then divided the design into sets of three or four adjacent fabrics.  You could, of course, sew all the strips together in one giant set, but when you sew long strips together, it’s easy for the strip set to curve and warp, and of course, it would be hard to make a straight cut across 23″ worth of sewn-together strips and all those seams.  So, smaller sets; less likely to curve, easier to cut.

I’ve now sewn together all the strip sets for the Christmas Quilt.



The white-and-red set at the right is for the alternating squares in the center.


Next, I started cutting segments from the strip sets.  You cut across them, perpendicular to the strips, to make sequences of squares.  The segments should also be 1/2″ wider than the finished squares are supposed to be, the same as the strips, to ensure that they’ll actually be squares.  They don’t look square when you cut them, because the seam allowances on two sides have been sewn already, so it’s important at this point to double-check your measurements.


(These aren’t all the segments.  I only cut up about half of each strip-set, enough to get started with.  A few years ago I hurt my wrist with a marathon rotary-cutting session, so now I heed my husband’s advice (“Stop hurting yourself!!”) and limit my cutting to reasonable quantities at any given time.)

I then went through my design and sub-divided it into rows.  I lined up the rows for each quadrant, so that I could see in detail where the rows repeated and didn’t.


You can see that almost all the rows do repeat, except for the one in the center.

It’s the assembly of the rows that’s the complicated part.  You take the segments that you cut in the previous step, and sew them end-to-end in the right order to make the row.  Because the pattern for each row is different, most of the time the pattern won’t line up perfectly with your strip sets, so you’ll also have to add on or seam-rip off a square or two, on one or both ends.

Here’s my first row!


I decided to start in the center since it’s the row that doesn’t repeat, and since it’s only in the middle that the alternating red and white squares are part of the pattern.  For the fun of it, and to make sure I was grasping the principle, I also made the row immediately above the center, and sewed the two together.


It’s wonderful to see the pattern begin to take shape, and I love how all the different patterns and textures are working together.

More rows coming soon!

Meditations on a Quilting Motif

I’ve been having a very difficult week.  I won’t get into why.  Personal things, plus some boundary issues with a very persistent student, and so on and so forth.  I hit a bit of a boiling point on Tuesday, a couple hours before I had to leave for campus for a round of student conferences, and in a fit of needing to do something, I started quilting Verna.


I’d wanted to start in the middle, but I’d also wanted the bit in the middle to be particularly intricate, and, naturally, I let that stop me from beginning the quilting for the last several weeks.  Driven on the spur of a moment to find a solution, I measured the square, drew one of the same size on a piece of paper, and drew my design on the paper.  I then pinned the paper to the quilt (matching it up as best I could with the square underneath it), and quilted the design through the paper.

This is a perfectly good method for quilting intricate designs, with only one disadvantage; you have to remove all the little bits of paper after you’re done.

So, after a lovely half hour with a pair of tweezers…


That evening after the student conferences, I free-handed the rest of the white triangles.


I’m very happy with the results, and am looking forward to quilting the rest of it.  For the black triangles in the center, I’ll be doing a meandering line in red.

It’s this experience that has led me to understand a benefit of crafting that I’d never really thought about before.  Crafting is fun, of course.  There’s creativity, with its opportunities for mind-broadening and self-expression; there’s the soothing repetition of knitting in front of the TV; there are the manifold tactile pleasures of handling beautiful materials, and watching something new grow under your hands.  But there’s also this: sometimes, when everything is crazy, when your life defies control and reason and the best intentions, and you can’t do anything to make it saner… sometimes you just need to feel like you know what you’re doing.

Even if it only involves a quilt sandwich and some thread.