25 June, 2015

A Year of Talking Quilts - First Cuts

There are generally two camps when it comes to cutting fabric - those that are nervous to do it and those that can't wait.

The nervous ones of us are worried about wrecking the fabric. Worse than that, we've put the fabric on such a high pedestal that a rotary cutter is far, far beneath it. In that case, the fabric is so awesome it can't be cut.

We've all been that quilter at least once.

Most of the time, however, we can gleefully cut up our fabric, excited at what is to come. Cutting represents the first real hands-on step of making. Before we cut it's all been scheming and dreaming. Before fabric is cut it only represents quilt potential.

That, by the way, is precisely why we should cut it. Fabric isn't a stock or money in the bank. It's value only comes from being used. Admiring it on the shelf lets you know that there is more pretty in the world, but actually using the fabric for what it was intended for, gives it true value and purpose.

Just like there are two camps when it comes to fabric I find that there are two types of cutters - those who cut every single piece of fabric out before they sew a stitch and those who cut as they go.

The first group are generally following patterns with very specific instructions. Indeed, patterns are almost always written with cutting instructions first. Gets this bit out of the way so you can get to the real business of sewing. But if you make a mistake and don't have extra fabric, then you need to cry or get creative. Or both.

The second group cut as they go. A little bit here, enough for a few blocks there. It is more stop and go, for sure. But it is really just another route to the same finish. If you are improvising, testing a concept, or unsure how many blocks you want to make, this is likely your chosen path. This route can both save and waste more fabric, depending on how much you cut and end up using.

Personally, I don't often cut everything first. When I am designing quilts for publication, this is when I do it. In that case I usually draft the pattern, check my math a million times, then cut everything. This effectively gets me testing my own pattern. If I have to, I will go back and make changes or cut more. But when I do cut first I am always surprised at how quickly it all comes together afterwards!

Because my true love is improv piecing, and often using scraps, it isn't often that I am spending a lot of time cutting and prepping for this kind of sewing. I might grab scraps and start, or cut a bit and play. After stopping and regrouping I will decide what more I need. Or if I even need more.

No matter what kind of quilter you are, there is something so satisfying about the sound the rotary cutter makes. Almost like the scrape of wet sugar on a plate, but uniquely its own. It is always the start of something good.

Since we're talking about cutting, I wanted to give you a few tips on successful cutting:

- Always have a sharp blade in your rotary cutter. If you are getting frustrated with your cutting, change your blade.

- Cut to the lines on your ruler, not your mat. (In fact, I have my mat flipped over so it is a soft grey, not that awful green).

- Before you make your first cut, and periodically as you cut, square up your fabric. Almost everyone tells you to line up your selvages, line up the ruler on the fold, then make a clean cut on the edge. Just make sure that when you line up your selvages the fabric is hanging straight. If it isn't then you need to shift the selvage edges right and left until it does.

- Make sure you close and lock your rotary cutter after every cut. Every. Single. Time. Even if you are the only one in your sewing space, please do it. I've seen too many injuries from open cutters. Better yet, invest in a retractable one.

- If you do not have the luxury of a cutting table, use your kitchen counter. Your back will thank you for the extra height. That is, unless you are short and it is more comfortable on a regular table.

- Never leave your cutting mat in direct sun or in a car. Then warp and will never go back in to shape.

- Replace your mat every few years, more or less depending on how often you are using it. Self healing only goes so far. But if you are cutting based on the lines on the ruler, not the mat, you can rotate and flip it to give it a longer life.

- This should go without saying, but pay attention to what you are doing when you are cutting. Trust me, my missing fingertip can explain to you why.

This is the fourth post in a year long series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process. 

22 June, 2015

Just One Slab - 2 Years Later

It is the anniversary of the big Alberta Flood. Two years ago the rains came and washed the water from the mountains and it all came downstream, both thundering and seeping. It cleared away and stole people's histories and homes. Quilters around the world rallied and delivered quilts and blocks to provide some comfort to those flooded.

The Just One Slab campaign was launched to allow people to contribute a single block, or more, to relieve efforts. I worked with local volunteers to get the 2300!!! slabs into quilts. Donations came in for batting, backing, and binding. People helped organize and finish quilts. It was incredible. I thought I would get maybe 200 blocks, but I did not expect this response!

The first round of finished quilts went with the Quilts for Calgary door to door donation. Quite a few went out directly from quilters who finished the quilts to neighbours and friends directly affected. More were donated through Quilts for High River. For a few months last fall I sat with over 30 quilts in my dry basement waiting. They were destined for a seniors home in High River, but we were waiting for the facility to reopen. When it did I hand delivered those quilts. Now I have a handful left to deliver, likely, to some long term care residents who never received a quilt and spent much time in distress two years ago. There are also some blocks left and those are going to be sent down to Flood Texas With Love.

On this anniversary I realized I never did share the last round of photos from that donation in the fall. My plan was always to photograph each and every quilt. Some got away from me as quilters finished and donated on their own, so if you missed your block, rest assured that it got used.

18 June, 2015

Oh Canada Quilt - In Red

This particular quilt was started after the shooting at Parliament Hill in the fall. A strong sense of patriotism came over me, and many others. I took solace from the news and this incomprehensible act in my studio. It was nice to reflect and find comfort in the act of sewing.

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of our Maple Leaf flag. With Canada Day coming it got me inspired to finish this quilt. Such a fun holiday, everyone is in such a good mood, there are barbecues and fireworks, and we are reminded at what a diverse and great population we have. It all seemed to be good motivation to finish the quilt top.

Not only that, it was nice to finish the quilt with positive feelings, with joy in my heart not pain. Sewing can do that, turn your mood around. But the quilt can also hold your mood. Taking a break helps change that, if you want to do so. That was exactly why I took a break. The imagery of our flag is joyous to to me and while it gave me comfort to make the first few blocks, I wanted the final quilt to be happy.

This version is a bit different too. Instead of making slabs and using those for the reds, I collected a bunch of different red fabrics. From flowers to geometrics to hockey themed fabric, it is all there. And because no two reds are the same, each block still looks distinct. I made it exactly the same size as my original Oh Canada quilt, which is a really good lap size.

Remember, in honour of the Maple Leaf's birthday, the Oh Canada pattern is on sale in my shop. Free shipping for the printed pattern and only US$7 for the PDF version.

16 June, 2015

Diamonds, not Squares. Plus, a new Improv Log Cabin Class

There has been a jelly roll of Doe fabric and a stack of screen prints patiently waiting their turn to be used. Every time I opened up my stash closet they taunted me, asking to be used. But I needed to clear space - mentally and physically - before I starting something new. I finally felt prepared to do just that this week.

A few hours of play and experimenting with a new shape and I'm very happy.

Diamonds. Not squares turned on their sides like a certain cereal marketing campaign of a few years back. Actual diamonds. It all comes down to the first shape you start with. Just a slight change in the angles on the corners and a whole new world opens up.

Playing with basic techniques in new ways is a wonderful way to explore improv. Log cabins are one of the oldest techniques in the quilting handbook, but that doesn't mean your log cabins quilts have to look old.

I'll be teaching Improv Log Cabin Variations at the Wonderfil Threaducation Centre next week. Come out to play, explore shapes, and dip your toes into the improv pool.

June 24
6:30-9:30 pm
Call 403-250-8262 or register here.

Even the trimmings are pretty. I have a friend who makes mixed media collage and she periodically takes my little trimmings. She's already got her eyes on these.

12 June, 2015

Lilac Lovely - Improv Curves

Not a spec of white in this quilt top! In fact, quite the opposite of low volume for me. It is so rich and saturated in its colour. I absolutely love it.

As much as I love a perfect circle, I adore improv curves. Then again, improv is my language. There is something absolutely freeing about cutting a random curve and making it work. It requires letting go of sewing expectations. Frankly, that is the best part, in my opinion.

This particular quilt top started with a stack of 20 fat quarters, a rotary cutter, and a large ruler for squaring up. It comes together much faster than you think it does.

If you are interested in learning more about this technique join me at My Sewing Room this summer. I'm scheduled to teach this a few times and would love to have you join me.

July 10 6-9 pm
August 9 1-4 pm

Call 403-252-3711 to register.

09 June, 2015

Letting Me In - Benefits of Being a Quilt Teacher

We sat laughing and secret sharing around a nondescript table in a junior high Home Ec room. Stories of siblings, child birth, and road trips. After a particularly racy story one of the ladies leaned over to me and whispered, "I hope you won't tell anyone this."

When I am invited to teach to a guild, in particular, there is something very special that happens. These are generally a group of women that know each other well, have spent many a Saturday or evening together sewing and chatting, and likely know a few secrets about each other. At best, they are there for each other when things are bad and celebrating together when things are good. At worst (and it really isn't worst) they know each other's fabric preferences and what kind of sewing will make them jumpy. Then there I am, a stranger thrust into the group.

Yes, I'm invited. Indeed, that is the reason I am there. They want to learn, to glean from the information and inspiration I can share. It is my job to be there and make sure they have a good day, with some challenges and more than a few a ha! moments.

The other people in the room are there because they chose to be there. Maybe they want to learn from me specifically? Or perhaps they sign up for every course the guild offers because they like to take classes? Sometimes they just want the day to sew and a class gets them out of the house (and away from family!)? Either way, they are taking time out of their lives to gather and sew. More than that, They are gathering together in a group that likely knows each other. Some better than others, but in a guild class the students generally know each other and I am the stranger in the room. It is a privileged position.

Conversations happen over the machines that will not happen anywhere else. Sometimes I am included in them, other times I am the observer or even the interloper. It is part of my job to judge when I am welcome in the conversation as much as it is to teach them how to make a perfect circle. And it is definitely part of my job to keep my mouth shut when we leave the room. The classroom is essentially a sacred space. Like an AA meeting, or a stitch and bitch at home, what is said there remains among the people there. As the teacher, I must respect that wholeheartedly.

As the teacher, I also see it as my role to create that special space. In a store or workshop setting where students don't necessarily know each other I like to build an atmosphere where there is chatting, sharing, laughing, and even a few secrets as we sew. If you know me or have ever taken a class with me you know that I am not one for keeping silent. So even if you don't talk, I will! It isn't about filling air time, however, it is about building trust and sharing. I want to invite you into my world so we have a shared story at the end of the day, not just some quilt blocks.

This is one of the reasons I love teaching so much. Of course I love to get people inspired and spread new techniques across the land. But it is the notion that I am invited in to a shared space and there is immediate trust that makes my job special. Knowing that people trust in me and feel so comfortable with me is a mark of success in my eyes. So no, I won't tell anyone what we said, no one at all.

04 June, 2015

Flood Texas With Love

Well, we know too well the power of water. But thankfully we also know the power of quilters and community.

Texas has been hit hard with flooding recently. I was contacted by Sara and Karri about using the Just One Slab concept for their own efforts to make quilts for people affected by Texas flooding. Of course I said yes! So now they, themselves, are accepting donations of Just One Slab to help Flood Texas With Love.

All the details of the donations are here, on Sara's blog. If you can swing Just One Slab, or a donation to help out then all the details are there.

It doesn't take long to make a slab. And trust me, they add up! Beautiful quilts, comfort of strangers. It is all worth an hour of your time to make and mail a slab. Each slab should be squared up to 15.5'' x 15.5''.

From Sara's post...

If you can't make a block(s) you can donate through Paypal to sara_stetson@yahoo.com in any amount.  All money will be used for quilt materials (batting/backings/thread/binding), shipping and long arm services. Any excess money collected will be donated to the Red Cross of Central Texas.  (I am happy to provide documentation if requested to show the donations are used correctly!)

Please email me at sara_stetson@yahoo.com or send me a private message on Instagram @supersara20 when you are ready to ship your blocks and I will send you my mailing address.