Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mini Quadrilateral Quilt and Tutorial

Okay Mug Rug Madness, you got me. I had never before seen the point of making a tiny beautiful patchwork quilt and then hiding it (and/or risking its life) under a cup of tea. That is, not until I came up with a quilt project idea that I would need to test out on a smaller scale first. Now I get it: a quick and easy way to try out new and possibly daunting techniques, to try unexpected colour combinations or to just play around with your scraps. Yay Mug Rugs! Thanks to Erin over at Two More Seconds, I might be hooked.

The inspiration for my miniquilt (and the large scale quilt which as of yet lives only in my dreams) comes from this gorgeous modern print I found while perusing Etsy the other day.
Block Abstract Art Print by Melanie Mikecz of twoems 

Melanie's palette choice of bright saturated hues combined with neutrals, and the colour blocks in the design reminded me so much of everything I love about modern quilts. In fact, a lot of her prints look like they would make amazing modern quilt projects. They are so inspiring, you should really go take a peek. At first glance, I thought that I could achieve this look with improvisational piecing, but then I noticed that each quadrilateral colour block intersects at a single point and I would need to make a pattern. I also realized that sewing the rows of blocks together would require use of the dreaded Y-seam, which is why I tried a tiny version of this before committing to a huge quilt.

Choosing the fabrics for this project was a lot of fun. Are you a fan of the blog In Color Order? Well you should be. Jeni's series on The Art of Choosing has really helped me to develop an eye for how to use the fabrics in my stash. I decided that I wanted a palette of neutrals and cool colours, with a few hits of bright pink and yellow for contrast. I also chose to use only solids and colours+white to keep the focus on the geometric quality of the design.

The solids were a combination of natural and white linens, Laura Gunn's Magnolia Lane, Robert Kaufman's Quilters Linen and Pat Bravo's Pure Elements. The prints were from Alexander Henry, Joel Dewberry and Kate Spain. I also used a medium weight turquoise woven, and a lighter weight peach cotton sateen from my stash of fashion fabric.

For my pattern, I measured an 8" square onto the papery side of some freezer paper and added a 1/4" seam allowance around all 4 sides of the large square. Then I took a little ruler and started making 4 sided shapes with intersecting points to fill the square. You really can't go wrong here, but I tried to vary the width of the rows as well as the angles of each shape. Basically, the wonkier your quadrilateral shapes, the better. Number all the pieces, with your numbers facing the same way up so that you will be able to fit it all together again (underline your 6's and 9's!!). After I had carefully cut them all apart, I came up with the idea of drawing some horizontal lines on the pattern to indicate the direction of grain, so you might want to try that too. I just aligned the pattern pieces on the fabric grain as best as I could guess.

I wanted to ensure an element of randomness, so that the colour placement didn't get too fussy and predictable. To achieve this, after I cut out all the shapes, I put them in the randomizer (or "bowl" as some people call it) and then sat at my ironing board, with my stack of fabrics, choosing a piece at random from the bowl and ironing it to the wrong side of whatever fabric came next in the stack. When I had run out of fabrics in my original stack, I picked out all the neutrals and made a new stack, and repeated the process until I had ran out of pattern pieces. This is a variation on the theme of the Paper Bag method devised by the queen of improvisational quilting, Denyse Schmidt. Of course, as supreme ruler of your own quilting universe, you have the power to veto anything the randomizer chooses that you really dislike.
After ironing the pattern pieces to my fabric I trimmed each piece to include a 1/4" seam allowance around all sides (except where the edge seam allowance was already included) with my rotary cutter. Being really careful in this step makes everything easier to line up later. I left the paper patterns on for the whole sewing process to help make sure I was sewing accurately and then ripped them out gently at the end. How you choose to sew your Y-seams will affect how you proceed to the next step. There are a lot of schools of thought on this, and lots of online tutorials and videos to help you out; this was my first time trying to sew a Y-seam with my machine so if you know a better way, go with your gut.

I chose to align each pair and chain piece them, sewing the seam through each seam allowance. I used my 1/4" foot to make piecing faster and more accurate. When aligning the pieces, I poked a pin through the fabric at each corner to be sure that they were lined up properly. It is trickier to get these right than you would assume due to all the funky angles so I checked each one individually to be sure. (I forgot to take a picture of this, so in the photo below, they are already sewn together). Press open the seams and then attach all the pairs to make complete rows. Press again, although not too enthusiastically, you don't want to steam them or distort them too much.I tried unsuccessfully to get a picture of how I sewed my Y-seams together. Please accept my apologies and watch this helpful video from videojug instead. Sew each matching side together, stopping at the center of each seam, then rotate the top row to line up the next pair of matching sides and sew again. Repeat this process of matching up seams and rotating the row until you reach the end. Again, it is helpful to poke a pin through the seam to check that it comes out at the same point on the other piece. I rotated the top row with the sewing machine needle down in the center seam, and I found that the fabric aligned smoothly.
 Look how neatly some of my points line up! A few seams were off by a millimeter or so, but the finished block lies flat and with no waves or wrinkles so I was pretty happy with my first attempt at sewing Y-seams on my machine. I backed my mini-quilt with the beige linen, and used the dark blue quilters linen for the binding. I had a tough time deciding how to quilt this, but eventually went with a light grey thread and my walking foot to make parallel lines of stitching along all the seams. I think it accentuates the geometric pattern perfectly.
And now the obligatory pretty mug rug shot with my cute little cupcake mug from Momiji. I love my little mug, my mom got it for me for my birthday years ago and it always makes me smile when I use it.

So the goal now is to try to translate this project into a full size quilt (or maybe a lap quilt?). Making the full size pattern might be challenging, but I think it is still doable. I am not sure how I would quilt a larger version. I like my quilting pretty dense, so maybe alternating directions of close parallel lines in each block, or even an angular spiral within some of the blocks will accentuate the overall design.

Did any of you make mug rugs for Mug Rug Madness? I would love to hear about your inspiration. I hope some of you try making a cute little quadrilateral quilt like this, it was a great way to practice a tricky skill, and it makes a really modern and spectacular looking block.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pattern Review: Family Tree from CozyBlue

Update: Pattern is now for sale in CozyBlue's Etsy Shop!

When Liz from CozyBlue asked me if I would like a free review copy of an embroidery pattern she was developing based on her custom screenprints I jumped at the chance. I had seen her screenprinted family trees before and I really love them. They are the perfect modern family tree. The design is fresh and striking, I love the clean lines, and that little heart at the center of the tree rings is adorable. These family trees would make wonderful presents for Mother's Day, or for the nursery of a new baby. I made mine for a good friend, as a housewarming present for her new home.

Liz did a really good job with her instructions for transferring the pattern to both light and dark material, and the pattern includes different shapes and sizes of extra leaves, so you can customize your tree however you like. The design is almost fool proof, all the lines are slightly irregular, so even if you make a minor mistake with your stitching, nobody will ever know the difference. Depending on how much extra embellishing you want to add to your family tree, I think this is a weekend project for most crafty people, from transferring the design to framing. 
I really loved the indigo and greenish yellow that Liz used in her print so I kept the colours the same in my project. I have been really inspired by the work of Melissa Crowe and that is where I got the idea to add some felt applique for both added texture and solid colour. If you would like to do the same, I traced the original pattern onto the matte side of some freezer paper, lightly ironed the paper shiny side down onto my felt and then I was able to cut out the pieces easily and accurately. After removing the freezer paper, you can flip the felt pieces upside down and lightly spray them with spray adhesive so that they stay in place while you stitch them down. I used tiny running stitches with a single strand of embroidery thread to hold the felt in place.

Some of my favourite parts: I really love the tiny little french knot umlauts, the perfect little yellow leaves and the tiny stitches in the felt bark. I also love how the concentric rings of backstitching look, leading to the little knot and heart in the center of the log. It was very soothing and hypnotic stitching these rings, turning the piece around and around in my hands as I went.
To frame the finished family tree, I stretched the linen over a 10" square wooden canvas. I think it would look just as good framed in a 12" embroidery hoop. The only problem I had with this pattern is that people with very long names might find it difficult to fit them into the limited center space in the design. I think it would be relatively easy to work around this using a copier to enlarge either the whole design, or just increase the center heart design and eliminate one or two growth rings to make room for the larger center.

Liz is planning to have the pattern available in her shop in the next two weeks, but in the mean time she has lots of other cute stuff available, including all sorts of customizable family tree prints, heart pillows, and adorable welcome baby prints with fabric bunting. Check it out at

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Here is a little peak at my vintage button stash; I pulled out all the pretty greens and a few pearly shell and lacy translucent buttons too. My favourite of the bunch is the little green button with a rhinestone center. I like to imagine that it came off of a kelly green 50's cardigan worn by some elegant red haired beauty.

I don't have any Irish heritage, but growing up St. Patrick's day was celebrated in our house with much enthusiasm. My mom would make all of our food green, which was that special mix of gross and tasty that little kids love. There was a lot of green food colouring involved, some vegetables and lime jello for dessert of course. Nothing about drinking limeade and eating kiwis and avocados for breakfast have anything to do with being Irish, but it was a lot of silly fun, and they are really happy memories.

I hope today you take a moment to think of something from your own past to make you smile. I know we all could use some cheering up. Trying to help in any way we can makes a difference too. I've sent in my donation to the Canadian Red Cross to help with the Japan earthquake/tsunami relief, have you?

And now for something completely different:
Green Bird is tempted by the sunflower aroma wafting out of his favorite cafe...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Retro Oilcloth Shopping Bag

It's not all arts and crafts in the Tiny Apartment, sometimes I make the useful things that people in my life need help with. Still, I like to make practical things as pretty as I can manage, don't you? My sister wanted an upgrade for her wheeled shopping cart bag. The one which came on the frame was made from the cheapest polyester canvas-type material, it was black, ugly, flimsy and poorly designed. We went shopping for some oilcloth and had a lot of fun deciding which retro print to choose for its replacement. Oilcloth was the perfect choice because it is sturdy, needs no lining or interfacing to give the bag body, and is waterproof, which means my sisters groceries will arrive home safe and sound. In the end she settled on a very pretty brown and white traditional print of flowers and baskets, and a cool faux bois wood in dark brown.

I copied the basic pattern for the shape of the bag from the original, adding a more generous flap over the opening, velcro closures for the flap at two positions, so that the lid stays in place even when full (did I mention it rains a lot here on Vancouver Island?), grommets at the top to help the drawstring closure work smoothly, and a zippered pocket at the back.
After sewing this and a few other oilcloth projects I have some pointers for those interested in using this great material for the first time:
  • Wrinkles: lay your oilcloth open flat for a couple of hours in a warm room, or if you are in a rush, use a warm hairdryer at a distance of at least a foot to coerce it to flatten out.
  • Oilcloth doesn't like irons! Finger press, or use the smooth edge of a spoon to press open seams or crease folds. Really, put away the iron, you will have only yourself to blame for the mess created by thinking that you could use a lower setting or a pressing cloth and then melting your project onto your iron.
  • A Teflon foot really helps. Oilcloth is slightly tacky so if you don't have a Teflon foot, you can use masking tape on the bottom of your foot to help your project go smoothly.
  • Use a long stitch length (I set my machine to about 2mm) which is less likely to cause rips.
  • Pin your project only in the seam allowance, or better yet, use binder clips to hold everything in place, as pins will permanently mark oilcloth.
  • For the bow applique, I used some adhesive spray to hold it in place (remember, no pins!), and then zigzagged over the edges.
  • In order to reinforce the seams, which could be stressed by heavy loads, I used french seams to sew together the body of the shopping bag.
  • When you are designing your project, remember that oilcloth doesn't fray, so you can simplify a lot of designs that would require a finished seam if you were sewing with a woven material.
If you have never sewn anything with a french seam, give it a try! The first time I attempted it, it felt funny sewing everything right sides out, but when you are done, you have a strong, clean finish inside. It is a great way to make laundry/shopping bags or little bags for organizing things in your home. Remember to add extra seam allowance to your projects if you use a french seam, as it eats up extra fabric. There is a great tutorial for making simple linen drawstring bags with french seams over at Between the Lines if you are interested in trying it out yourself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Felted Brown Mushrooms and Lichen Covered Rocks

I am working on another small terrarium. The inspiration for this one comes from hiking in the dry open forests of the Gulf Islands. There is not a lot of rainfall in the summer and the forest floor is covered with moss and beautiful lichens. When the first real rain comes in the fall we go on mushrooming expeditions. My favourite wild mushrooms to eat are the Chanterelles, but the smooth rusty brown-capped Bolete mushrooms are always exciting to find. If you would like to try making these little brown mushrooms, check out my needlefelted mushroom tuturial!

My favourite mushrooming field guide is All That The Rain Promises and More... by David Arora. The book is small enough to fit into your jacket pocket, is filled with wonderful photos, and is really easy to use. The best thing is that while it is not a complete compendium of every mushroom species known to man, it has all the really tasty mushrooms you want to look for, and very carefully compares and contrasts these with any local mushroom "lookalikes" which are actually poisonous. The book is also filled with hilarious stories, interesting recipes and poems. It is very unique and I think it appeals to the quirky people who run about the woods on their hands and knees searching for elusive and delicious fungi.

I know that fall is long way away, but don't forget that those elusive Morels come up in the spring! 

**If you have never been mushrooming before, it is wise to go with a more experienced buddy, or join a local mycology society. I have been hunting mushrooms since I was a child but if I am ever less than 100% sure of my identification, I leave it behind.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Intertidal Embroidery Project - WIP

I have been working for a while now on an embroidery piece inspired by the tidepools surrounding the rocky beaches of Southern Vancouver Island. It isn't really a finished work, I feel like it is more of an embroidered sketchbook for a future project. I am using cotton embroidery thread on white linen, with a little silk applique. Above is a Purple Ochre Star, which is the most common starfish where I live. Depending on what part of the coast you live on, Ochre Stars will vary in colour from the deepest purple, to bright pink and orange. The purple variety is the most common here, but in every large pool there are a few salmon pink sea stars too.

One of my favourite things are the sea anemonies. Even though my first instinct is to make things really challenging and complicated, I am always most impressed with artists that are able to use very simple shapes and effortless looking styles to say more. I wanted to show the way the anemonies aggregate and squish together without being too fussy. I really am in love with their irregular oval shapes, made with just radiating straight stitches.
I added some bright green silk applique and heavy satin stitching to make green algae. I also really like the feathery red algae, and it is very easy to get carried away sewing the branching fronds with finer and finer thread.

I am still trying to figure out the best way to make embroidered barnacles. I think that they would look best done in white or light grey on a darker background like navy blue. I would love to see all their angular shapes, like living prisms, feeding with their feathery appendages.

The part of this project that has me stuck is how to execute the embroidery composition so that it looks modern, unfussy and striking. What I have right now is a jumble of things tangled together, which is how they live in real tidepools, but in my opinion is not the most effective presentation. I think that embroidery can be a very modern feeling medium, but you have to be careful with its treatment to do so. I really want to be sure that this project doesn't tread into stuffy "embroidery sampler" territory.
I am thinking about making 3 or 4 small pieces, each with only one or maybe two different species, but linked by style or by how they are framed. I think it might be make them feel more modern to frame them simply in their hoops. What do you think?