Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Happy New Year, everyone!!  2013 vanished before our eyes and now another year is standing in the wings, waiting for us to fill it with energy, enthusiasm, and memory-making events.  So how did you end 2013?  Did you accomplish your goals?  Did you do all you could to make each day wonderful?  I hope so.  December, for me, was filled with tons of family activities; I hardly had time to quilt.  I did manage to take my 6-year old grand daughter aside to finish a quilt she started.  She chose the fabrics and cut them (with much careful oversight from me!) into rectangles with a rotary cutter - and then sewed them together on my Bernina (again, with much careful oversight from me...).  The week before Christmas, I showed her how to use my Gammill - and SHE quilted her quilt!  Yes, I did the loading and the threading and put the needle where it needed to go before the machine started moving, but SHE did it!  Here is little Daisy's polka dot quilt.  
It is exactly what every 6-year old, almost 7, needs to curl up with on a cold wintry day... but she decided she also needed a little pillow... and so, together, we made one with the leftover rectangles:

Not every child wants to learn to sew - but Daisy is intent on doing anything I do... whether I am ready for her to do it or not!  Here she is, standing on a stool in her striped socks, so that she could see her quilt on the other side, learning to quilt on the longarm.  How cool is that?!

Daisy has always been intimidated by my machine -- until I showed her the Gammill circle-maker -- all she had to do was put a stylus in a circle (of the size she wanted), and move the machine along the template until the stitching around each circle was complete.  It gave her the freedom to stitch without fear.  I think many of us have some of that anxiety when we are learning something new.  Below is the circle maker -- and you can see it above, with the stylus guided by Daisy's hands.  Teaching people of all ages to quilt is so rewarding to me.

Here is the back of Daisy's quilt; she chose a plush white minkee for the backing.  It makes for such a soft, cuddly quilt.

I thought I'd share some thoughts this month about how I develop patterns.  There are tons of ways... but maybe some of my ideas might spark an idea for you. 

At a retreat in Athens a couple of months ago, a quilter named Sandy showed me a picture of an antique block and asked how she could replicate the block.  I got excited by the block picture -- I didn't recognize it at the time, but it is one that is called Georgetown Circle.  I'll show you the block in a minute... but briefly, it has a Lemoyne Star in the center, concentric circles divided into 16 sub-units, and a ring of dogtooth points on the outside of the circles.  Sandy may have thought I was nuts when I said, "Cool!  Let's draw it out -- it should be easy.  First, we need something to make circles, though!"  We headed for the retreat kitchen and retrieved bowls, plates, pans, lids... anything that gave us a variation in circle sizes.  Plates and small bowls are great for drawing circles - but sometimes it is hard to find the right size.  Here are a few from my own kitchen; I find that hunting down the perfect circle often becomes a great treasure hunt (okay - so I'm weird...)!

When plates and small bowls don't give you the right size (remember - to fill a 12-inch block, you often need something larger than a dinner plate!), try for large mixing bowls and pan lids.  Sometimes pans work, but if you want to use the pan as a template for drawing a circle... that darn pan handle can be a nuisance.

Once Sandy and I had the right sizes for the circles, it was just a matter of drawing them up on freezer paper, drawing intersecting lines across them, much of just by "eyeballing" the middle... and suddenly there was a pattern that could be used as a paper foundation for making a Georgetown Circle block.  Sandy went home... made her block... and just sent me a photo it:  she did a wonderful job making it -- I can't wait to see the finished quilt some day.


What is funny about this block and the pattern... is that once I drew the pattern, I was enamored with the block... and I started seeing it everywhere.  The day after I drew it, Sandy and I saw a drawing of it in a booklet we saw when we went over to see a local guild's quilt show in Canton, Texas.  I came home from that weekend and I saw the block in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns book.  Next, I saw that Di Ford had made a quilt with the block in her Primarily Quilts book.  And what is even funnier... is that later in the week, I decided to start cleaning up my "quilt storage" room; lo and behold, my very own Georgetown Circle block appeared before my eyes!  Here's a close-up...

Is this serendipity or what?!!  I had bought the quilt with these blocks in it at a guild auction a dozen years ago because it was so crazy-looking; I called the quilt my "Funky Wheels" quilt.  It is still just as quirky and crazy as the day I first saw it, and someday I hope to make a replica (though I will definitely make different fabric choices!).  Isn't it grand?!  Okay - maybe it's not everyone's favorite, but I sure like it!
So... life is full of fun and surprises, isn't it?  Speaking of which... I got a fun email from someone this past week.  It cracked me up: 

"Setting the scene:
No kids, no visitors, so sleeping in on Christmas morning.
At 8:00 a.m., someone rings the doorbell.  Oh, there is going to be heck to pay if hubby's sister is standing on my doorstep.  Look out; no one there.  Look down - a USPS Priority box on the porch and he brought up the newspaper too!  Thought you would like to hear something GOOD about the post office!"

I had gotten an order for a pattern through my website... and rushed to the post office like a crazy lady so that it would arrive by Christmas.  And it did!!  Yes, life is full of surprises.  We like them when they make us happy!  And I love making people happy.  I had another customer who had ordered a block-of-the-month and I sent it out the day the order came in... but by the Saturday before Christmas, it had still not arrived, and it was intended as a gift from Mom to one of her quilting daughters.  Oh dear!  So... I packaged up a duplicate and shipped it off, overnight express, with the post office promising it would arrive the day before Christmas.  Bless those postal workers who were still at work late Saturday when I arrived at the post office... they got the package off and to its destination on time!  Mom and daughter were thrilled - and Mom said that they, along with another daughter, are taking a class from me at Common Threads in Waxahachie, Texas, this spring.  It's nice to make happy endings for people -- and nice to know it's easy to make friends.

Well, once I got my mind focused on that Georgetown Circle block, I couldn't get it out of my head.  but first... a few other quilts are waiting for me to give birth to them.  How do I begin, when I start a quilt?  First... I pull a stack of fabrics that I might want to use.  If I don't pull them, and just go hunt down the next piece, one at a time, it takes me twice as long.  I pull all the options and put them in a stack together, or a box, and that way, when I'm ready to choose a fabric, I go straight to the box and don't have to search through my whole closet for the next piece of fabric.  I knew I wanted to use soldier blue and cheddar in my quilt - with blue and white/off-white shirtings.  Here's my fabric selection -- first, the blues...

...then the gorgeous cheddars that add so much spark to a quilt...

And the shirtings that use blue in the design motifs - aren't they great?

My block of choice?  Really... it was a block that I drew up late one night because I didn't have a single bit of "take-along applique" to work on at a retreat.... you know, the kind of applique that you can throw in a little project bag and take along to a bee or the doctor's office.  Here are nine of the almost-finished blocks (and I just noticed that a circle fell off of the top left block!); I already know I'm going to call this quilt "Target Practice":

I drew this block up and fell in love with it -- it's simple, easy to make, and the variation of colors in it (even though there are only two - blue and cheddar - there are a variety of light through dark shades and prints) makes your eyes dance!  Here's a close-up of the block -- you can even see the loose threads because I haven't sewn down the circles yet.

How did I make all those "rick rack" V's and points?  Easy.  I made a template out of plastic, cut it out, and marked the pattern on the fabric using the template and a white-lead ceramic pencil on the dark fabrics....

...and a Pigma pen to mark the pattern on the lighter-colored fabrics.  These lines become my "turn-under" lines for needle-turn applique.  I just trim away all but a 1/8-inch seam allowance, clip the inside V's, baste it to the background fabric, and start stitching away.  And I do ALL of the blocks at once so that I can put the fabric away and have all the blocks ready to work on.  I wouldn't want to run out of applique projects, would I?

So... you might ask... what am I going to do with these blocks?  How am I going to set them?  Here's some insight into my thought process when I design.  At first, I thought that I'd just design borders to add, one at a time... but I decided that might not give me the result I wanted (meaning sometimes surprises aren't so wonderful!).  I went to my computer and cranked up Electric Quilt (EQ - a software program that can be used to create patterns for quilts)... it's an easy and intuitive program to use and I use it often when designing quilts.  It's not always that I want to use the blocks in EQ or that I even use any of the output (templates, patterns) -- it's just that with EQ, I can audition different blocks, different borders, and different sizes -- and I can figure out what size the "floaters" (unpieced filler borders that you insert so when you add a block border, it FITS) need to be; EQ is very handy in that respect.  The picture below is an early mockup of what I might do with those "Target Practice" blocks.  You will note that the blocks in the middle don't look like mine, above -- but they were the closest thing I could find in EQ to "mimic" the center of my quilt with its 9 blocks.  And what blocks are the ones that I used in my EQ mockup?  Amazingly enough... yes, they are the Georgetown Circle blocks!  It's so strange how that block keeps popping up! 

You'll notice that I have arranged two lines of a "rick rack" motif as inner borders -- I had decided that I wanted to do that to carry the rick-rack motif of the blocks out into the borders, with enough space between the two lines for a line of little 5/8-inch circles - again, to repeat the circle motifs used in the blocks, themselves.  I didn't draw the circles in the mockup (too much work!).  On the outside border, I have put outward-facing blocks -- these blocks will actually be Target Practice half-blocks when I make my quilt (I don't know why I didn't use the Georgetown Circle blocks here).  I thought adding these half-blocks would give the quilt a nice, cohesive look.  I left a big "open" border inside of the half-blocks because I like to leave places for some fancy quilting.  The quilting may not show up well against a shirting background... so that open border may fall by the wayside before I'm done.

That was an early option... then I had another thought.  What if I rotated the half-blocks and made them face inward?  I thought it would give the quilt a better "frame."  I did a mock-up using EQ, and changed the inner borders around a bit, too.  I did a bunch of different versions, and here is one of them:

I thought from the beginning that I would use 1/2-inch sashing strips between the center blocks; that size provides a nice balance with the narrow rick-rack motifs of the blocks, themselves.  But what if I changed that way of thinking?  What if I made 3-inch wide sashing strips out of that shirting fabric and had the blocks "float" in the quilt?  With the EQ program, you can always see the finished size of the quilt, and I wanted a method for making my quilt larger.  Using 3-inch instead of 1/2-inch sashing strips suddenly made the quilt quite a bit larger, which I really liked.  I moved the rick-rack border out... and made the half-blocks outward-facing once again.  I thought it was an improvement -- it gave the quilt more "room to stretch the eyes" in the quilt center.  Still, I felt like the quilt was a little small -- I like quilts that are bigger than 75 inches and smaller than 90 inches in size.  Quilts that are bigger than that are just hard to handle and hard to do much with (unless you have a specific bed you want to use them on), and smaller quilts are fine but there is less room to repeat the dominant motifs such that the quilt has a nice, cohesive look to it.  All of this information is a lead-in for saying... I decided I needed to add more borders to make my quilt a bit larger!  I tried several inside borders and several outside borders... and came up with this design, below.  It's got three-inch inner sashing strips, the rick-rack motifs (and I'll put tons of little circles in the space between them), outward facing stars... and a nice squares-on-point outer border. 

I think this is getting close to what I might end up doing... but I never know until I finish the quilt, exactly where it will take me!  Remember - the blocks in the mock-ups above are not the right blocks; I will be using my Target Practice blocks.  You have to use a bit of imagination to see it all!

In the meantime, I also found time (forced myself to find time, I should say!) to work on my third Baltimore Glory blocks -- this is going to be a new Baltimore album quilt, but it's going to be a bit different than my earlier quilts.  I'm doing TWO patterns - one will have on-point blocks and one will have straight-set blocks.  I have had a yearning to do an on-point Baltimore quilt for a while - and to keep all the on-point blocks "standing up" - that is, they won't be leaning to the left or right; that always throws me off when I see a quilt with vases and flowers leaning or upside down!  There is still a lot of work to be done with these two blocks - more applique, lots of embroidery, plenty of berries... and then I have to write the pattern for everything.  I NEED MORE HOURS IN THE DAY!

Here's the same block - sort of - re-designed as a straight-set block.

In cleaning up my sewing room, I also decided I needed another "take-along" project.  I have always wanted to make a crazy quilt - and quite a while back, I made fan blocks using dupioni silk on a shot cotton background.  I want to put different crazy-quilt embroidery along each blade of the fans - so now I have all the thread, blocks, needles, and sampler books packaged up to "take along" when I need something to work on.  Yay!

A couple of months ago, our guild invited a speaker to lecture on antique quilts.  She brought along quite a collection for a 2-hour workshop.  We didn't sew - she showed quilts and we all commented, oohed, and aahed...  here is one of the quilts she showed.  Isn't it delightful?

I like old quilts - particularly when they have something unusual about them.  I thought this one had a really interesting border -- I've never seen an outer border on this kind of quilt.

Here's another lovely old quilt - Ocean Waves.  Did you notice that on the lower right side, there is a block or set of blocks that are colored a bit differently than the others?  It has yellows and pinks in it.  I think that makes a quilt interesting. 

This quilt was made amazingly well.  I still catch my breath when I think about how quilters of 100 or more years ago had few of the tools and notions we have today.  These quilts were perfectly made without a single rotary cutter or fancy set of scissors and needles.  How did they do it?!  Look how perfect those points are!

The next quilt caught everyone's eyes because of the star blocks - can you see the "doves" in them?  Given the age of these quilts, their condition was amazing.  So what is unusual about this quilt?

First of all - look at that red block in the picture above.  Would you ever mix two different fabrics to finish a block just because you ran out of one of them?  It seems that it was a pretty common thing to do yesteryear.  The blue block also uses two different blue fabrics - though at least their use is symmetrical.  Interesting, isn't it?  But what was really interesting about this quilt?  Take a look at the picture below and look at the bottom border.  Do you think the maker just couldn't bear to not use all the blocks she'd made, so she loaded up one side with her extras?  Or do you think she started out thinking she would make a quilt with 42 star blocks... and decided that using an alternate "empty" block was a much faster way to finish the quilt?!!

That's Jeanne Fetzer to the left, by the way - she was the lecturer and owner of all these quilts.  Lucky Jeanne!  Lucky us, that she likes sharing her bounty!  Here's a close-up of that lower border.  It's a mystery...
This particular quilt (below) had me thinking once again about something my friends and I decided when we saw the Legendary Quilts from France, last year.  I believe we are all just a bit too timid in our quilt making; we want everything to be exactly right, exactly perfect, exactly as planned.  But maybe, just maybe, once in a while we should relax... and do something crazy.  Okay - what am I talking about?  Look at the quilt.

It's a beauty - the blocks appear difficult to make, at first - but if you think about it, you can do what I like to call "deconstruct" the blocks and suddenly they do not appear so hard to make.  These are not a bunch of squares set on point... instead, look at them as a four-patch.... with pairs of triangles sewn onto each side... and then triangles added to the whole set, making it a square block.  Okay, that probably sounded really confusing but I think it would be an easy-to-make block.  Take a closer look, though and see if you can figure out what I mean.

But when you take a closer look... take a REALLY closer look.  THIS is what I mean when I say we are all a bit too timid (or at least I am):  when on earth would you ever make a two-inch square out of two or even three scraps?  Especially if the fabric was a stripe or a plaid?  Ha!  I just love the quirkiness of this piecing job!!!  And who would mix all these plaids and stripes.. and polkl dots?!!  Would you have the guts to do this?
One last quilt from Jeanne's lecture -- these are simple butterfly blocks from the 1930s.  We've all seen them or something like them.  What was funny, though, is what Jeanne said someone called them (and unfortunately I didn't catch who that was):  Roadkill Butterflies.  Too funny! 

So what else am I working on?  Not a lot, at least quilting-wise.  So I thought I'd show you just a few more things.  My friend Jerrianne E is making a Mary Mannakee quilt -- using just nine blocks.  Jerrianne loves cheddar as much or more than I do, and uses it a lot more than I do in place of reds and golds.  Her use of cheddar in these blocks is wonderful!  When she brought the quilt center to a bee, we ogled the blocks endlessly.  Her applique is superb.

And when a couple gals held up the blocks so I could take a better photo... we all oohed and aahed yet more!  Jerrianne is working on the border of this quilt -- it is going to be a blockbuster!

Another thing I wanted to show you is what my friend Marsha is working on.  She has my Afternoon Delight block-of-the-month - and to stay organized, she uses page-sleeves for each pattern, and for the finished block.  It's a great way to keep everything neatly in place.  I especially love that Marsha is using Thirties fabrics for her quilt, on a soft yellow print background.  This will be a most cheerful quilt when she's done with it.

I took a couple of days and quilted two quilts for my guild's annual auction.  The auction isn't until August of 2014... but at least these quilts are now behind me.  The tops were generously given to my friend Jerrianne by her hairdresser - his stepmother hand pieced them.  She donated them to the guild and I am quilting them because we all know that a top will bring in only about a third of what a finished quilt will bring in - at least in our guild's auction.  This first quilt is just a scrappy set of squares.  It's not a beauty - but who cares?  It's a wonderful utility quilt.

I quilted the quilt with just a random set of swirling feathers.  Here's one close-up... I love quilting feathers like this!  It softens an otherwise pretty garish quilt top.  There's nothing like getting a gal all dressed up (with formal feathers) to make her look good!

And here's a better close-up.  I used navy thread across the top of the quilt because it would "unite" all the scrappy squares in the quilt top.  When you quilt a quilt, do you ever think about using a non-traditional thread color?  Do... it can make a nice difference!

Another of the donated quilt tops was this Lemoyne Star.  You would not have believed how wrinkled and warped and wavy this whole quilt top was when I got it.  I feared the worst when I loaded it on my machine -- how could I ever get those uneven sashing strips and those wonky stars to behave?  Well... one thing I've learned by taking on the quilting of all these old quilts, is that blocks made with lots of bias cuts are a LOT easier to make lie flat than straight-pieced blocks cut on grain.  If a block can stretch out really crazy, it can be forced flat pretty easily.  So... the quilt actually ended up being wonderfully flat and even.
I had to laugh though... too timid?  In the choice of fabrics and use of cheddar as a background fabric?  This gal certainly wasn't in the least bit timid!  I also want you to note the quilting in this quilt.  It is very lightly quilted -- a quarter inch inside of each stitch line throughout the quilt top, plus a circle in the cornerstones to add visual interest.  Adding more quilting would have overwhelmed the quilt.  Sometimes "quilting the snot out of a quilt" is not the way to go... sometimes, simple is better.

Here's one more picture and a though before I close.  When I was cleaning off my desk, I came across this little drawing that I did several years ago -- representing the nursery song, "Rock-a-bye, Baby, in the tree top..."  I am thinking about doing a series of blocks for a quilt, each with a different childhood song appliqued.  What do you think about that as an idea for a new quilt design?  I'm working on it....

Last, but not least, someone asked a few months ago if I would talk about how I set goals.  At the time of year when we all have some sense that we should be making resolutions, making goals is a good thing to think about.  My goal setting is simple:  I am a list maker.  I make lists all the time -- usually on little index cards that I carry around and click off things as I get them done.  At the beginning of the year, I make long-term goals:  what do I want to accomplish this year?  The list includes household tasks, family tasks, quilting activities, yardwork, social activities, personal goals, etc.  If possible, I set timelines with these goals -- approximate points in the year when I think I can either begin working on as well as accomplish the goal.  I often note these on my calendar, with reminders -- so I know if I'm on track or not.  Doing all this keeps me focused - if I don't set goals like this, time escapes me and I can pitter away an entire day, week, or month with nothing to show for it.  This is not to say that I have to be busy all the time -- it's just that I love to get things "done!"  For the shorter term goals, I also make lists -- these are also done on index cards.  Often, I start with a list of the days of the week and then start filling in what I will work on each day... invariably, I don't get everything on the list done, as life has a way of interrupting the best-laid plans... but at least it's a way of waking up in the morning and not neglecting what I can knock off the list -- today's list had "finish blog, prepare guild budget template, mail packages, and clean out pantry" on it.  So far... I just have to go clean out the pantry and I'll be done!  That means I have free time tonight!!!  And it's NEW YEAR'S EVE!!!!
For all of you, I hope you have a wonderful New Year full of happiness, love, and good health.  I could probably wish for a lot more things for you, but if just those three things came, I'd be happy.
Best wishes for 2014 -- and happy quilting!
(c)2013 Susan H. Garman


  1. Happy New Year, Sue!

    As always, another fantastic post! I look forward to them each month! And I could comment on each of your great topics, but I'll just say Daisy is adorable! What a great pic! :o)

  2. "Sometimes "quilting the snot out of a quilt" is not the way to go... sometimes, simple is better."

    Yes!!! One of my pet peeves is seeing quilts with so much random quilting on them that it detracts from the patchwork design. My favorite way to quilt is to stitch in the ditch and then do some fancy quilting in any big blank areas. Also, I love how when you do "quilt the snot out of" a quilt you respect the patchwork or applique design.

  3. Seeing your blog is always the highlight to the new month - and this month a highlight to the new year. Happy New Year, Sue! Thanks for all the inspiration!

  4. Happy New Year. I love the new Baltimore Quilt - can't wait for the BOM. I'll have to quickly finish Afternoon Delight.

  5. Happy New Year, Sue! I hope 2014 treats you and your family well.
    So hard to believe another year has gone by, isn't it?
    I think nursery rhyme applique blocks would be adorable. I love all the quilts you highlight, even the wonky ones.

  6. What a wonderful read! Happy New Year, Sue, and may all your goals become realities!
    I love your idea for a nursery rhyme quilt. Daisy is so lovely, she is lucky to have a grandmother like you who lets her learn so young!

  7. I love your blog and especially this one. Your granddaughter is a delight. Thanks for the ideas for setting goals and for the good wishes for 2014. Back at you, gal.