Friday, March 8, 2019

Color Harmony Sampler Quilt

This quilt has been in process for over two years, and I just put the finishing stitches in it last night!

These color harmony sample square blocks were made in February of 2017 for a post all about using a color wheel at

I used a CMY wheel and fabrics matching all 12 fully saturated colors on the wheel, plus white, black, and some gray tones. The goal was to create a patchwork square using HST's that reflected one of the traditional harmonies found on a color wheel. (Find all the details about these harmonies in this post here.)

Below you can see the 12 harmonies, in each row, from left to right:
Row 1: achromatic black/white, monochromatic, and achromatic with grays
Row 2: diad, triad, and analogous
Row 3: complementary, split complementary, and double complementary
Row 4: tetrad, polychromatic, and another polychromatic (because I love all the colors!)

I played around with the samples to find an arrangement I liked, and joined them together with some slightly off-white fabric as a background.

Then I folded it up and stashed it away. For awhile - a long while! When I got the top out again, I sewed side panels on to finish it off.

I hung the top on my design wall to make sure it was all good before moving on to quilting (here's Bea Arthur just hanging out with me, the quilt top behind us). While the top was up there I noticed the side panels were a whiter white than the sashing used to stitch the blocks together. Which looked horrible. So I picked the stitches out of the side panels and set the top aside for another day when I could focus on trying to match fabrics.

Months later I did look for a more suitable match, but couldn't find the exact shade of off-white to match. I settled on a warm white that was close enough, and knew I might be able to address the color difference later on with quilting.

On to basting, always with my trusty studio assistants there to lend a helping...furry paw!

And again this project was set aside for months, as I didn't have a clear idea of how to attack the quilting. However, it made an excellent bed for Sir Isaac, who often left behind some fur and drool (which is why I washed this quilt as soon as I could!).

I started quilting with an idea of creating geometric lines over each patchwork square, but after getting about 1/3 into the project I realized it wasn't working. Back to picking out all the stitches to start from scratch with a new plan for quilting. This meant ripping out ALL the quilting stitches, taking the layers apart, pressing it all to try and remove the holes from stitching, and then re-basting it all back together again.

This time, I added 1/2" lines of stitching to each patchwork square, mirroring some of the shapes but taking some in different directions. Each of the 12 patchwork squares is quilted with a different design.

To help camouflage the slightly different off-whites in the center and on the sides, I stitched the inside off-white with a cream colored thread to make it warmer, and I stitched the outside panels with white thread to tone-down the warmth. It actually worked quite well, and it's very difficult to see a difference after quilting. Phew!

As soon as quilting was finished, I washed the quilt to remove some of the cat hair and drool, and set it straight to dry before blocking and trimming.

My first attempt to finish the edges of the quilt was to add a facing, but the facing ended up creating too much bulk at the edges, and created a shadowed edge that I really, really hated. So, again with the seam ripper, I picked the stitches out of the facing and added a very narrow binding instead.

Which was exactly what this quilt needed.

Because it's been washed, there's lots of nice texture throughout. I love the crinkly, puffy look to a washed quilt.

I think the washing may have also helped to blend the two off-whites even better as well. 

So happy to finally have this project finished, it means I can move on to something else! The challenges with this quilt were realizing that some things I tried along the way weren't working, and I needed to spend the time to make it right (instead of just finishing it in a hurry). In a way, these frustrating road blocks forced me to put this project aside several times - because having to un-do hours and hours of work was driving me crazy. Still, now that it's finally done, it's a good thing!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My Colossal Blocks Baby Quilt at WeAllSew

I finished this giant tumbling blocks baby quilt a few weeks ago, and the Colossal Blocks Baby Quilt tutorial series has just been posted today at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog! Click right here to find Part 1 of the series.

Did you happen to catch the Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America exhibit last year? It was amazing! If you didn't see the exhibit, there's a beautiful book all about the event you should look for, it includes wonderful photos and information about the designers showcased in the exhibit. I bought a copy and it's become one of my favorite tea-break books to page through.

What inspired me most from the exhibit was the extraordinary color palettes used by the designers in everyday objects. I saw lots of bright pinks alongside yellows, blues, and greens. Not to mention the amazing toys gathered together in the exhibit (like The Toy or Eames personal collection of tops) that incorporated bright colors and bold, geometric shapes.

Those bright colors and bold shapes were totally the inspiration for this baby quilt.

I think this little quilt expresses that Midcentury playfulness, what do you think?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sewing Table Update

I've been sewing in my updated studio for a little more than a year now! I'm still loving it, but am ready to make some fine-tuning adjustments. This weekend I tackled my sewing table, which used to be my desk when we lived downstairs. You can see it just to the left of the room there in the photo below.

Originally I planned on replacing this table in the sewing studio with something different, but it's been mostly meeting my needs.

Except when I'm quilting for long periods of time. After quilting for about an hour or so I'm experiencing really bad shoulder and upper back pain. The table is just too high for me to comfortably work with my hands and arms when quilting.

There's a few options for getting the sewing machine down lower to easy my pain, like setting the machine down in the table, or lowering the entire table.

Cutting a hole in the top of the table to set the machine in isn't really an option for me because I love to switch up the type of machine I'm sewing with often - from using vintage machines to current model BERNINA machines. I opted instead to lower the entire table, making any machine I use with it in a better position for sewing and quilting.

Here it is before modifications (by the way, it's is an Ikea dining table). You can see the table is taller than my drawers next to it, and it's taller than my red topped table I use for extra space (Isaac is sitting on it in the back there! He "helped" with this entire project).

My goal is to cut the legs shorter but also give myself some extra leg room under the front apron board of the table. So, I removed the 4 legs and the front apron board.

My super handy husband cut the legs exactly 2 3/4" shorter, and trimmed down the front apron board to allow for more leg room.

Then I just needed to put it all back together and add a few felt pads to protect the floor.

And it works fantastic! The table now sits flush with my drawers and my red topped table.

I spent some extra time over the weekend quilting with absolutely no shoulder, back, or neck pain!

Success! I'd love to know what type of table or cabinet do you sew on, and what are your tips for preventing back and shoulder pain when quilting?

Friday, January 18, 2019

1961 Singer 500A

Brand new to my collection is this pretty Singer 500A that I thrifted earlier this week! Okay, so I did own one of these previously, but it wasn't in great shape, the thing didn't sew great, and I just didn't enjoy using it (and so I got rid of it).

However - I've seen many people rave on about this model - and so when I found this little Rocketeer in a thrift store for a great price, it seemed like the right time to give the 500A another try.

It certainly helped that this 500A is portable in the original carry case. My first Rocketeer was in a totally craptastically worn out cabinet, and I never found a case that worked well for it. So it kind of just banged around in my sewing space.

The original case has a niche sized perfectly for the accessory box, nice!

And the case contained all the original cams, feet, and accessories. Double plus-good.

The foot control and cords came in this funny little bag with a snap, which I've never seen, but looks like it could be original to the machine since it is a portable model.

It keeps the foot control and cords from banging around and scratching the bed of the machine, and keeps the cords from getting caught in the top of the case.

The side cover opens to show a threading diagram, which is great because there are lots of extra thread guides on this model (and missing any one of them can affect your stitches!).

The top flips open to reveal a stitch guide, spool pins, bobbin winder, and a place to use stitch pattern cams. It really is a good looking machine!

First stitches with the Rocketeer were not great. Lots of tension issues with the stitches and the stitch selection knobs were very stiff. Not to mention how LOUD the machine was! Yikes!

Time for a little TLC, and I spent a few nights cleaning and oiling the Rocketeer after putting Fidget to bed.

When out of the base, I found this on the front edge of the machine. I've never seen a serial number sticker like this before - have you? I wondered if this was possibly a school machine, or issued to some other type of organization. It's a mystery!

Finally, the machine started to purr, and the stitch quality was looking much better. It DOES sew nicely, and it isn't much louder than my 301. Here's a few snippets of my Rocketeer in action...

This one is definitely a keeper, welcome to the family little Rocketeer!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Value Study in Fabric

This project was just an experiment to see how this idea would pan out. With all the books I've read on Color Theory, I was thinking a lot about how to create different values in solid colored fabrics without having to hand-dye different color lots to get the desired effect.

One night when I wasn't sleeping (and thinking about color, fabric, and quilting - doesn't everybody?) I had the idea to try an overlay of near-transparent fabrics on top of solid colors to create the look of tints and shades of value with one solid colored hue.

So this is the project I worked on the whole weekend of the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild fall retreat last October. I love retreats for concentrating on one project, there's no real reason to stop sewing if you don't want to!

I selected a fine netting from the special occasion/bridal section at the fabric store (after spending an entire afternoon looking at different transparent fabrics). Some of the fine tulle netting had a sparkle finish, some was super-shiny, but this kind had a matt finish which seemed like it would blend well with solid colored woven cottons.

In the photo above you can see the layers of the tulle in black and white on top of the same color blue cotton fabric. From farther away, the white and black blend with the solid color to create the illusion of a tint and different shades of the same hue.

After a full day of doing nothing but experimenting with bits and pieces on this technique, I discovered that basting the netting to the cotton worked best to kind of hold it all in place while stitching together the patchwork.

I think it took another day or so to complete all the basic squares in the design, which I organized in a kind of 12 step color wheel in the photo above. I used the CMY color wheel as my inspiration, and matched the 12 colors on the outside of the square to the CMY color wheel. The four squares inside are all achromatic, from white to black and a few grays. Which kind of makes this a CMYK min-quilt!

Here's what it looked like after stitching all the squares together.

The top REALLY pops with color and value, better than I imagined.

Part of this experiment was to see how the netting worked in the process of patchwork and quilting. It is a fragile material, will tear easily if you catch it on anything, and is difficult to press. I put a few small holes in (not that you can really see them) just from working with this piece. Some holes were from not being super-careful when moving the piece under the sewing machine needle, one was from thread snips, and one little hole was from a seam ripper.

At first I just stitched in the ditch, but it was clearly not enough quilting. The layers of netting created bumps and funky shadows over all the pieces. This is where I had to rip out the facing and add more quilting to each of the squares - it's just 1/2" quilting echoing each hue in the piece.

I wasn't sure if the netting would be shifty or slippery and puckery when quilted, but it actually did pretty well! And looked much better after adding the extra quilting.

The only downside was that I lost a bit of  area along the entire outside edge because it got a bit frayed and funky after I ripped off the old facing, and I can tell the outside edge isn't as nice and straight as it was at first.

But, since this was purely an experiment, it's all good! It looks great on my design wall, and I'm looking forward to trying this technique out again in the future. But first, there's 3 other in-progress pieces that need my attention!

Erika Mulvenna
Value Study, 2018
Cotton woven fabric, nylon tulle, cotton quilt batting, polyester and monofilament thread.
22 1/2" x 22 1/2"