Saturday, March 30, 2013

Done is Good!

It is always good to finish a project -- a sense of completion warms my heart!  My Sarah's Revival quilt is finally finished -- the hand quilting extended across nine months -- if I hadn't had so many other fun projects to work on, it would have taken me about two months to hand quilt it.  But even though "done" is good... so is working on tons of different projects!  So here is Sarah... drum roll, please!

And here are some close-up views of Sarah; I love using two different quilting motifs in borders; in this case, I used both cross hatching (on the outer side of the vine) and slats (on the inner side of the vine).  I also felt like I needed to quilt something in those dogtooth borders, so I quilted a little 5/8-inch circle in each one.

Here's a view of the corner of Sarah; I loved making those cornerstone circles as well as the feather fan between the swags.

Here are the four center blocks.  My pattern says to use the same green fabric in each center block but who says you have to follow a pattern?  Even if it's my own!  I used four different green fabrics.  I like scrappy quilts - what else can I say?

I used a red and off-white toile fabric on the back of the quilt.  I love quilting with toile backings; they hide lots of things you don't want anyone to notice.

Someone asked, in the comments, what kind of thread I use for hand quilting.  I'm not too persnickety -- but I love YLI ( it comes on a nifty fat wooden spool), Gutermann, Coats and Clark's Coats Cotton (the kind that is a Glace Finished), and Mettler.  There are so many good choices -- and for the most part, I like them all as long as they are 100 percent cotton -- plus they have to be 40 weight, 3 ply threads so they can withstand any tugging and pulling.

I also got a LOT of emails asking me how I pre-shrink my battings.  First, let me say that I don't care if the manufacturer says its batting does not shrink or does not have to be pre-shrunk.  I have tested sixteen different battings and they ALL shrink -- cotton, cotton-poly blends, polyester (yes, it shrinks too!), things with scrim and things without scrim, wool, silk... and so on.  I don't like my quilts to look all puckered (unless they are utility quilts, in which case, I don't care); I like them to stay just like they are before being washed (not that I have ever had to wash my quilts... but once in a great, great while... you have to).  So on anything that is not a utility quilt, I preshrink the fabric AND the batting.  Here's how I shrink the batting.

1.  Take the batting out of the packaging.

2.  Unfold the whole thing so that the water can get into all of it, once it goes in the washer.

3.  Set the water temperature on hot.  Or warm if your washer heats the water up right away.  If I set mine on warm water, the last drop in the tub will finally be less than frigid... so I set it on HOT.

4.  Fill the wash tub with water.

5.  Shove the batting down in the water.  You can do this while the tub is still filling if you want to get a head start....

6.  The batting (no matter what kind) will want to rise to the top.  Find something that will not poke a hole in the batting and push the batting down under the water.  You can use your hand but it might get scalded if your water is as hot as mine.  I use a wooden spatula just because it's handy.  I'm sure there is something better but I like handy things.

7.  Once the batting is submerged, let it just s--o--a--k-- ... for about 15 minutes.  Do NOT let your washer advance to the point it starts agitating the batting.  For me, that just means I leave the top of my washer open/up.

8.  After the batting has soaked for a while, turn the dial to the SPIN cycle.  I don't care if it's high spin or low spin -- just whatever will spin the water out of the batting.  Let 'er spin!

9.  Once the spin cycle is complete....

10.  Take your batting and tuck it in the dryer.

11.  I set the dial to time-dry for about 15 minutes.  I know it won't be dry in 15 minutes... but I'll go back and check it in a while and if it's still pretty wet, I'll set it for another 5-10 minutes.  I do that a few times until the batting is basically "nearly dry" -- which means not bone dry. 

12.  Take the batting out of the dryer -- mine is still a tad moist but not much.

13.  I then throw it on the floor in my entryway... you could also use a big bed or flip it across a shower rod or lay it across the back of a sofa... you get the picture... and I let it air dry the rest of the way.

14.  And then... magic!  It's ready to load on your machine or quilt frame, or ready to be basted so you can start quilting!  Here, you can see that I'm using this batting (100 percent wool) on my new quilt.  I'll show that quilt to you next... right after I show you one more thing about shrinking things.

I get asked a lot about how you (or even should you) wash fabric you get in kits.  My answer is YES, you should wash the fabric and here's how.  You can just stick it under the faucet with warm/hot water running and then let the fabric dry atop some towels.  Or you can dip it all in a sink full of warm/hot water and then let it dry on towels.  I don't recommend putting it loose in the washing machine, as you're likely to end up with a shredded, tangled mess.  Unless you have one of those nice zippered lingerie bags!  You can pick them up in stores like Bed, Bath, & Beyond.  Here, you can see I'm washing some scraps I got from my local quilt shop.  They will come out untangled and ready to press.

 And NOW... the big "reveal" is here!  I finished my Twirly Balls and Pinwheels quilt.  Well... you saw it last month, when I finished the top, but now you get to see the totally finished quilt!  Here's the first peek:  it's one of the blocks.  You can see that it is one of those spiral blocks -- known as Rising Sun, Wagon Wheel, Fly Wheel, Circle Saw, Wheel of Life, and Oklahoma Star.  I like my name:  Twirly Balls.  It's just a lot easier to remember.

Here is the quilt in my longarm machine -- I wanted to point out that I quilted around every single one of the 1,696 one-inch half-square triangles in this quilt!  I am a firm believer that quilts should be quilted on machines just like they would be quilted by hand... so I outline quilt around every pieced piece and appliqued piece... and then I go back and quilt some more in the open areas.

Here's a close-up view of me quilting around all the applique -- I use a straight edge ruler to do this and drag the machine with my right hand.  It is what works for me.

And here's a view of more blocks and pinwheel sashings... I just LOVED making this quilt - probably because I loved the cheddar in it - otherwise, I'm not sure I'd have been nearly as much in love with it.  Brown quilts aren't often my idea of pretty quilts... but add a little gold and cheddar, and I'm happy as a clam!

And finally, here is the finished Twirly Balls and Pinwheels.  I'm working on the pattern now -- writing patterns for block-of-the-month quilts can be tough... but this won't be a block of the month.  Well, not quite!  I'm writing a single pattern for the quilt.  If shops want to kit the quilt as a block of the month, I'm writing kitting instructions for that (i.e., customers would buy the pattern in Month 1 and get the fabric in monthly installments with a mini-list of instructions... or they could buy the pattern and all of the fabric... or they could buy the pattern and just use their stash).  This was a fun quilt -- hats off to Fanny Tod who inspired this quilt with her version, made in the mid-1800s; it can be seen in Quilts of Virginia - you'll recognize the quilt there, even though she used a different block, because she used those striking pinwheel sashings.  Thank you, Fanny!
I used a cheddar fabric on the back. I loved that fabric when I bought it, but I could never figure out how to make it work in any blocks.  I loved it so much that, fortunately, I bought enough for the backing! 

I was worried about what the back of the quilt would look like because the quilting in the black border was done with black thread. Would that look awful on the backing fabric? Actually... no!

I was also worried about getting this blog done on time... last week was the annual "Spring Retreat" on Galveston Island that I co-chair with a friend, and it ate up all my free time for a while.  At our retreat, we set up on Wednesday morning... and sew, sew, sew until we take everything down on Sunday.  I got tired of expensive retreats... who needs them?  So when Patty D and I planned this retreat, we made it simple:  1) no block exchanges, signature strip swaps, mystery quilts, community service quilts, demos, workshops, or stuff that takes us away from our own projects; 2) plenty of space and great lighting; 3) lodging is not included - to keep costs down, people can commute (20-25 miles), otherwise, they can stay onsite in the hotel or rent a beach house on the island; 4) meals are on your own - there are plenty of restaurants on the Island, some within walking distance, and there's an affordable bistro onsite; and 5) the best part of all:  it costs all of $45 for 4 days... and we give everyone a $20 gift card to our local quilt shops so it really only costs $25 for 4 days.  How sweet is that?  Have your guild retreats become expensive?  Think about simplifying them.  Sometimes I think we all tend to overthink and overplan events.  Simple is good!  The picture below was taken early in the morning before most of the quilters returned for the day.  We had space for 96 quilters -- such fun!
The best part about a retreat (other than working on projects, eating out, and not thinking about laundry) is being with friends.  Everyone had such fun - quilters can be such crazy ladies -- look at all the smiles!!!
Oh -- and the other best part about a retreat is seeing what everyone else is working on!  Here's my friend Jerrianne's Mary Mannakee block...  Jerrianne is an expert applique stitcher and I've always loved her fabric choices.

One of the gals at the retreat was working on my Friends of Baltimore blocks.  Dottie has a penchant for doing tons of embellishment.  I could learn a lot from her!  Here's one of her blocks (yes, I know it's sideways... Blogspot is not cooperating tonight!).  Look at the tendrils wrapping around the vine - and all of the stitching on the broderie perse flowers.  Bravo!

This flower (the yellow one below, on a different block) intrigued me -- it's ruched, but not like I've ever seen ruching done before.  Dottie - teach me!

And what did I work on?  Well... several things.  Let me back up a bit.  Last October, I spotted a delightful alphabet quilt in Mary Koval's booth at the Houston IQA quilt show.  I snapped a couple pictures (with permission, of course).  Here's the top half of the quilt...

Isn't it just too cute?  Below is the bottom half of the quilt.  The quilt is from a Nancy Page pattern published in the 1930s.

I liked that quilt so much that I came home and drew up my own blocks, based on Nancy's patterns (which are not copyrighted any more).  I started embroidering and appliqueing them at the retreat.  Here are the first six letters.

And here's the last three letters that I managed to finish... I still have six letters left.

They blocks will be cut down to 7 inches -- and sashed with wide sashing, as the original was done.  This is just such a sweet quilt!

I also worked on my new Baltimore blocks.  As a refresher, here's a mockup of the blocks...

One is in a straight set and one is on point.  Yes, I'm making two of each block.  Yes, I know I have issues... there's probably a syndrome named for it... but I don't care; I'm in denial and not looking for a cure any time soon!

I'd show you my progress on the blocks (they're both way past half way finished) but I'm going to save the "reveal" for later this year when some other pieces fall in place.  I have already designed two more blocks - I'm not sure you can see them as well because I didn't color them in yet.

I can't wait to start making these blocks; the one on the bottom just begs for a wonderful print reverse appliqued in the fluting of the vase - and I've got just the right one!

One of the things that happened at the retreat was that one of the gals brought a quilt with her that she had made in a workshop on precision piecing that I taught several years ago.  I've long believed that you do not learn to precision piece by making 12" blocks; you have to give yourself a challenge that MAKES you learn precision.  My workshop, therefore, involved making a quilt with 4-1/2 inch blocks that had half-inch squares in them.  Yes, I said half-inch squares.  It MAKES you sew with precision!!!  So... when a bunch of gals saw Becky's quilt, they asked me to teach the workshop at our guild's next sew-in.  Here's my quilt... it's been folded up for years, so it's pretty wrinkly, but you get the idea.  It's just shoo-fly blocks and double nine-patch blocks set within borders. 


So why am I telling you all this?  Because I'm starting to venture out and do lectures and workshops for guilds.  I had stopped doing them when family matters overrode life, but I've got more freedom now and I'll be offering workshops on precision piecing as well as applique and lots of other things!  Here's another project that I worked on at the retreat:  red and white twirly balls!  You might think I'd get tired of making these blocks but  I've actually already had a few request to teach them in workshops.  They're mind-bendingly FUN to make (and no, you don't have to make 1,696 one-inch half-square triangles for the sashing)!  Here's a draft design of red and white scrappy twirly balls set with three-strip sashing strips.  Sweet!  The workshop I'm putting together is for a smaller quilt with fewer twirly balls. 


That's all for this month -- it was a month of finishing things.  And now, I wish you all the most glorious Spring ever - full of retreats, fun projects, and things getting DONE!

Happy quilting -

(c)2013 Susan H. Garman


  1. I love your last few words - that's all for this month. I have read every word and again I am in awe at your work output. Always something new to learn . Happy Easter to you.

  2. I love how you quilt your quilts and normally as i am not a machine quilter I do not care for them as much but I loved how you did yours! what great custom quilting.
    Your retreat sounds like so much fun, I have never gone to one but normally I look at the price and it is too much, of course like you say if you are not in that area you must get a hotel room but the retreat itself with just working on your own things is a bargain.

  3. I look forward to your post every month.I also share the link with a group of friends. So inspiring, if a bit daunting - I could never keep up your pace! Thanks for a great Easter present.

  4. Congrats on your two fabulous finishes! That Sarah's Revival is stunning! And lovely quilting on it, too! And the Twirly Balls quilt is fantastic! So much great movement, the sparks of orange and yellow really make it pop! Love it! And thanks for the info on washing batts.....I've never done it, but might have to give it a try now!

    And I totally agree with the retreat nice that you could all get together for such a reasonable cost! It should be all about the quilting and fun, and not about being fed and fancy rooms! Well done!

  5. Can't wait for a workshop in my area-North Texas.

  6. WEll that was a big post. Thanks for the advice about the batting. I don't mind a bit of shrinkage but not when it adversely affects the quilt. I'll try your technique on my next project.

    You work is ALWAYS admirable!

  7. It seems like I always post the same comment 'Your work is inspiring and fabulous. You are such an artist.' Again that is true. I admire your talent. Thanks for sharing your quilting journey. I look forward to your post in April.

  8. Your quilts are absolutely stunning!

  9. Would you believe I have just finished the first block of Sarah's Revival. I am loving it. You had me the first time I saw it which was as a BOM here in Australia (from Quiltsmith and yes I am a little behind) I have 16 more blocks prepped and ready to go by needle turn. Thank you for a wonderful pattern and I am see happy to see you wonderful completed quilt. Thank you and well done. Just beautiful.xx

  10. Congratulations. I have just started the second block of this quilt as ah BOM through Quiltsmith in Australia. Thank you for a wonderful pattern. It is now my "carry everywhere" project. You had me at the first viewing and then I found you in blogland. Thank you sew very much. I also have a small group of friends ( 8 - 10) who travel 1 1/2 hours and stay for 3 -5 days twice a year, doing whatever pleases us for less than $100 and that includes our accommodation. You get sew much done but time just flies. Sew till our/your hearts content! Xx

  11. I look forward to your blog every much inspiration and learning in each one! Glad you're getting out on the teaching circuit again...would love to see you get out to NC one of these days!

  12. Wow! Just: WOW! :) So many fantastic things to drool over. Congratulations on the two big finishes! Sarah's Revival has been a favorite of mine and an intended future project for a while now. I love the scrappy greens in the center - perfect. And Twirly Balls - how striking with that black border!!

  13. Wow! I'm soooooooooo impressed. again. And humbled.

  14. Sue, your work, as usual, is over the top fantastic! How you get so much accomplished is still mind boggling to me.
    Very happy to hear that life has settled down and you can venture out to teach. I only wish I lived closer so I could take your precision piecing class.

  15. The two quilt finishes are absolutely beautiful. I am always in awe of your work.
    I will have to try washing my batting, as you suggested, next time. Thanks for sharing your technique.
    I love that you answer questions and share what works for you. I am a hand quilter and I am always interested in what works for other people and the tools other use.
    Until next month.

  16. Beautiful quilts, I love both Sarah and Twirly.
    Great great job!

  17. Amazing, amazing quilts and what a great blog!!! Love the retreat pictures...retreats are so fun. Don't know if you remember me, but we swapped back in the prodigy buttonhead days!!! So nice to find your blog.

  18. Hi Sue,

    Do you sell a pattern for this appliqué quilt? Thanks. Liz

  19. Beautiful quilts! Thank you for sharing. I have a suggestion regarding pre-shrinking pre-cut fabrics....even small ones. Hear goes: Put kit pieces in kitchen sink, add hot water, let soak for a while. THEN, here's the best idea ever...Most folks have a salad spinner in their kitchen cabinet. (1) Gently squeeze your fabric pieces w/o distorting the shape. (2) Carefully place them around the sides of the salad spinner (you can even layer them). (3) Now SPIN the salad spinner!!! excess water left in the fabric. It's ready to lay flat on towel to finish drying. There's no distortion of the fabric at all. Much faster than most methods.

  20. Salad spinners are wonderful for pre-washing my kit fabric pieces. Lay fabric flat in the sink to soak in warm water. You can "squish" it gently...don't distort the shape of pieces. THEN lay flat around the salad spinner (can layer same colors and fill the sides of the spinner, and SPIN! WaLa...All water is spun out of fabric. Carefully take out of spinner and lay flat on a towel to dry. GREAT way to pre-wash fabric pieces! This works great for charm packs and 10" squares.