The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

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Same Quilt, Different Fabrics

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The PBQ

Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.

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My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.

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The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.

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Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.

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The original pea quilt

The Simple Joy of Binding

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I know that this may sound strange to some of the quilters out there, but I find great joy in  binding my quilts.  After all of the (countless) hours of cutting and sewing and quilting are complete, finishing the binding of a quilt by hand allows the quilter the opportunity to test the quilt out (if working on your lap) and to savor the accomplishment of a another big project well done.

There are so many modern techniques that we employ today:  machine piecing, fancy rulers, long arm quilting, that binding by hand seems to be one of the few traditional techniques.  And yet this is the one time where we really get to sit with our completed piece and be with it before it goes to a new home.  Binding is like the grande finale when you get to see all of your effort come together into something really unique and special.

Despite the fact that I nick my thumb constantly and must steer clear of citrus for days after hand binding, I relish the time to just be with the quilt.

Staying warm yurt style

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The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

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The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

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Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

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Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

The I Quilted This Myself Quilt

Done and ready for snuggling.

Done and ready for snuggling.

My new quilt makes the best couch fort ever!  I know this because after a dreadful Monday at the paycheck producing place, I returned home sodden and mud covered and ready to hide from the world for a little while when I took refuge from the previous 9 hours under the quilt on the couch.  It was more like a tent and it was the best medicine I could have asked for at the time.

But I digress.  This post is not about the healing power of a good blanket and the ability to just shut down.  I love blankets and like Linus, I embrace the comfort of a good wrap.  This missive is about how I, a very amateur quilter accomplished quilting a large (read twin size bed) quilt on my very own, in my small apartment with an heirloom sewing machine.

This quilt kit was a gift from my original quilting teacher and friend which now serves as a wonderful memory of the community that taught me to quilt. Due to the size of the project, I laid out all of the pieces while house sitting last summer and made up the top over time this winter.  I knew that doing the actual quilting would be a challenge given my space and time constraints.  When I found out that I was going to have the house to myself for a whole weekend, I knew that would be the optimal time to just get the project done.

Swirls up close

Swirls up close

I prepped for the big quilting weekend by stocking up on snack foods and fittingly, a bottle of bubbly.  I was so organized for the big quilt binge that I even prepped a bunch of sushi that I could snack on for breaks throughout the weekend.  Oh yeah, I was ready.  When I got home that Friday night and locked the door behind myself, I was eager to put the week behind me and just get the quilting started.  The worst part about the whole project was the preparation.  Due to space constraints at home, I had to move a bunch of furniture in order to spread the fabric out and make a quilt sandwich.  I was pinning the thing for hours on my hands and knees before I could even get ready to quilt.  It is important to get the fabric and batting taut for a smooth quilt.  Well, thank god I’m not a perfectionist because getting everything exact was not an option.  Once I accepted this reality, I could happily begin plotting the actual quilting.

What our apartment lacks in size, it more than makes up for in abundant natural light, which is awesome to work by.   Moving the kitchen table out a few feet into the middle of the space, I had the perfect sun strewn workstation.  Come Saturday morning after a breakfast fit for a day of outdoor exertion, I was ready to begin the actual quilting.  The sheer size of the blanket was intimidating as I tried to maneuver it into the regular sized machine, but I knew that over-analyzing the situation was just a glorified form of procrastination; I had to go for it and find my rhythm.  Because the quilt is free-motion, I let the music I was listening to (a mix comprised of: 90% jazz, 5% Bjork and 5% Cajun) guide me.  Once I got into it, the hours flew by punctuated only by snack and bathroom breaks.   I was in the quilting zone.

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

I found that due to the size of the quilt, my method with the swirl pattern was the best option.  And, as the quilt is very geometric, the pattern gives it a bit of softness and playfulness. I finished the quilt on Sunday around 3 and then because I still had some momentum, I was able to get the binding made and sewed on.  By the time my companion arrived back home three days after he left, I had a new blanket almost (hand stitching aside) done.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Finishing this quilt all by myself makes me happy.  It makes me confident in my ability to take on large projects despite the challenges (time, space, experience).  This quilt is a bit lumpy and I really don’t care.  When I need it, whether for warmth or because I just need a good hiding spot, I will not notice the small things that are not perfect.  Instead, what I see are all of the stitches and I know that I made each and every one of them.

Hokey Pokey. Times Two.

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That’s what it’s all about!

I have a very dear friend that became a mother last year — of twin girls.  In thinking about what I would like to make them, I debated between the adorable kid-friendly fabrics available (hello, sock monkeys!) and something that was bright and would not be outgrown.  I decided on the latter mostly because my former local shop had a fantastic fabric kit full of color and texture available that I could modify into 2 similar yet different quilts.  Perfect for twin girls!

I will be honest, this Hokey Pokey pattern was not my favorite during the piecing stages.  There was a lot of keeping pieces straight between left and right and this is where I learned the value of using chalk to mark my pieces.  However, beyond getting my rights and my lefts confused which, again with the honesty, happens not just with quilting, this pattern did become quite cool once intact.

Stitch in the Ditch Quilting.

Stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

These two quilts not only hold a place in my heart because of who they belong to, but also because they are my first quilts that I quilted (free-motion) on my own that are larger than a wall hanging size.  For the first quilt, I opted to do a modified stitch-in-the-ditch pattern with the free motion foot.  I quickly learned that this is a very tedious way to quilt a top.  I was continually stopping and starting and afterward, I had what felt like a million threads to hand sew into the top.  Despite the time consumption of this method, I am happy with the way that the individual pieces are emphasized with the stitch-in-the-ditch pattern.

See, each piece has been stitched around.

Yes, every single ditch was sewn.

After completing the first quilt top, I was less scared of an epic mess-up on the second quilt (kind of like a second child) so I decided to be bolder with the quilting.

Free-motion in action

Free-motion in action

This time around, I just went for it and was amazed at how much faster the process was then my prior quilt.  It took me about 5 hours straight to complete the top, which really didn’t feel all that exhausting.  Once I was in zone, or sewing with the flow, or whatever it is called when something just works, I felt the quilt top almost completing itself while my hands guided fabric this way and that.   This quilt certainly came out much more textured than the other.

Swirls and more swirls.

Swirls and more swirls.

These quilts are awesome because of the fabrics.  The tops are bright and bold, subtle and strong and I love the juxtaposition between all.  I found the most perfect backing for the quilts, one of those moments where a sunbeam falls upon you like a spotlight as you hoist the fabric bolt into the air in celebration.  The backing and the binding are the same on both of the quilts continuing the theme of similar and different.

Best match ever!

Best match ever!

The twin quilts were fun in many different ways to create.  There is a satisfaction in finishing the whole project yourself and not farming out of some of the work elsewhere.  Although neither of these are ready for inspection by the county fair quilt ladies with their magnifying glasses, I am sure that they will keep two little sweet peas cozy and warm for years to come.

A Job Well Done

Trusty Bernina and English Cider

Trusty Bernina and English Cider

When you spend your working days not working with your hands (sorry but typing doesn’t really count although it does lead to repetitive stress syndrome and carpel tunnel troubles), you crave your time off to use your body and to craft.  At least I do.  This leads to a lot of what other people may classify as work in my spare time, although I consider this relaxing and sanity saving.

Today was a rainy day,  by southwest Colorado standards, which was perfect for getting sh*t done around the house.  I’m not talking laundry or cleaning or organizing, all of which definitely need to happen but never will during my precious weekend hours.  I am talking about tackling projects that need to get finished and out of the house into the hands of recipients.

At 5 p.m. this afternoon, after countless hours of crafting (side note:  I suggest that you never keep track of the actual hours expended during time intensive crafts otherwise you will start calculating your time and start convincing yourself that the manufactured item you saw at ___________ big box store is actually a good investment) I finished up my very first free motion quilt top.  Hooray for me, the first learning experiment is done!  There are still (many) threads to hide, binding to make, binding to sew, oh and a second matching quilt to quilt, bind, etc. but the relief in the accomplishment is still there.  There is such sincere satisfaction in a job completed when you actually get to see your work materialize (pun intended) in front of you.

It is the weekend, a time when we are supposed to relax and unwind from the rest of the week.  If I’m not camping then I’m working away on projects that I want to do, that relaxes me and instills me with a sense of purpose.  As I enjoy the remaining drops of my cider, I am thankful for the slight ache of my neck and my tired eyes from hours of fulfilling hard work.  And knowing that my effort will be passed along to loved ones makes the satisfaction even more precious.