Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Embroidery stitches

Next week is our posting window for the Big Stitch Swap. I was a little late getting started due to the FQ retreat but I got moving this week and am well on my way to getting it done.

So far, I've embroidered this lovely Lilipopo girl on some scrummy grey Essex linen. She is going to turn into the front of a pouch but I have to finish the flowers and then I have some surrounding detail to add. Then I need to figure out what I am doing on the back. I have a number of plans, I just need to pick one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Still Recovering (FQ Retreat report!)

It is a whole week since I got back from London, and I'm only getting to put my thoughts in order now! I had such a fantastic weekend. But since I got back its been go, go, go and I haven't had a minute.

Ok -so, I'm going to try to try very hard to give you the short version. But I'm warning you now, there is a lot in this post. I failed miserably in being short.

First up, preparations. I was, to be very honest, a bit blasé about the whole preparation issue. I got the supply list well ahead, and I glanced at it without really giving it any thought. I signed up for the nametag and sample swaps on the Flickr group. Then, a few days before I went I thought I should probably get my stuff together and realised I had a LOT more to do than I had thought. I also TOTALLY underestimated the effect of all the fabric and stuff would have on my carry on case space. Happily, due to the extremely hot weather, a couple of lightweight summer dresses were all I needed to bring with me, clothes wise, and I decided one pair of sandals would work just fine. Of course, I totally overpacked on the fabric front but that was ok.

So I got gathering my fabric and supplies:

And I got making on my swap items for the sample swap.

I had found Cindy when I got off the Tube from my friends' house, which left me a little more confident about meeting everyone else. I think almost the very first person I laid eyes on when I went into the hall in Baden Powell House was Hadley - and it was like meeting an old friend, which is exactly what it was, despite the fact we'd never met. Straight away she handed over some goodies - what better start to the day! I had won her blogiversary giveaway earlier that week, so my winnings were included. She also had put together a little pack of essential pins, needles etc to save me the trouble of bringing it all over with me. I was delighted.

I recognised lots of people and got chatting straight away. Really, I couldn't have asked for a better start, it was so lovely to meet people like Trudi and Nicky and Di who I had been chatting with for years.

We quickly went off to our first class, which, for me, was foundation paper piecing with Tacha. I find it really difficult and counter intuitive and was looking forward to getting to grips with it. I have to say, for me, this class was one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Tacha was a great (very patient) teacher, and there was no one that I felt I knew really, really well in the class. That was probably the best thing that could have happened, for me. I got chatting to a lot of people, some who I knew a little, some who I didn't know at all. We had so much fun. At one point, I was laughing so hard (at my own ineptitude) that I was crying. And I actually got something achieved - a little post box. Look at that heart. Have you any idea of how many teeny tiny bits of fabric make that up? That
was the bit that made me cry giggle uncontrollably.

I came away from the class in awe of Joanne's paper piecing skills and I felt I had found some new friends too. Not to mention, also feeling a bit more confident about tackling the other pattern pieces to finish the Mail Organiser.

That evening I went for a lovely dinner with a host of friends, almost every one of who I met for the first time that day. It was just fantastic to finally be able to sit and talk with them face to face, over a glass of wine.

Saturday morning started bright and early. My first class was with Trudi in Free Motion Quilting. Now, I would be lying if I didn't admit that this class was "the one" for me in this retreat. It was the one I was most anxious to do and the one I looked forward to for weeks beforehand. And it absolutely, 100%, delivered on my expectations. It was, quite simply, awesome. Trudi is a fantastic teacher. I came away invigorated and inspired and feeling like I could actually do some of the stuff I've been admiring on blogs for years. We started off practising, getting the feel of our machines, figuring out different threads. It was doodling, on fabric. Fun, lots of fun. My favourite bit is that daisy.

But in a couple of short hours I was able to do this - not perfect, by any means, but getting there:

Not bad, right? I'm loving that Aurifil 28wt yellow thread. Such lovely definition. Shamefully, I haven't managed any more practice since I came home, but its high on my list.

After lunch I had a FMQ design class, again with Trudi, which was equally good and involved lots and lots of doodling. Then I had a quilt maths class with Lynne. Really, it was late in the day and I never was very good at maths. I found myself transported back about 25 years and giggling far too much at the back of the class with Joanne - that's me at the back. Apparently my report reads "must try harder".

Saturday evening was a whole pile of fun. It started with the swaps. I had signed up for the sample swap, and made the little mug rugs in the picture above. I ended up in a group with Hadley, Cara and Bettina and I got a lavender pouch, a fab zippy pouch and one of Hadley's gorgeous bags. This was a little ironic, because the week before, I won Hadley's blogiversary giveaway and won another of these bags. I just knew we would end up in the same group, no way was that not going to happen. But I didn't have any issue because the bags are just gorgeous and also, I live in a house where my bags are appropriated as fast as I acquire them by my 6 year old daughter. So she was very impressed that I came home with 2, so she could have one, and better still, it was the same as mine! Thank you Hadley, I've been using mine since I came home and love it.

After the swap, I finally had one of my quilty dreams come true. Cindy had brought her Fluffy Sheep Quilting shop with her for the quilt market and I had begged volunteered to help her out. So I played with all her fabric we set up her stall in a very pleasing-to-the-eyes arrangement and then we joined lots of other peeps on the terrace to grab a bit to eat. I had a lovely chat with Karen and Nicky :-) Then I pretended it was my fabric shop I helped Cindy at her stall at the quilt market.Possibly I was not a great assistant, as I appropriated some of the fabric for myself instead of selling it. Those top 3 FQs on the left were hers. I also abandoned her and went shopping at some of the other shops too. I got a charm pack from Karen (Blueberry Park) and I picked up some lovely FQs at the Village Haberdashery. You can also see some bag buttons in my picture there. More of that later. Really, I was pretty impressed with myself. I think this is a remarkably restrained fabric shopping expedition.

After the quilt market, there was a fun quiz, and a raffle. I sat beside Jen Kingwell at the quiz and bent her ear about things I have been thinking about had a really interesting conversation with her. In the raffle, I was really lucky, I won a scrap pack of Art Gallery fabrics. I thought that was a bit serendipitous. I had had at least 3 conversations with Cindy's customers earlier that evening about how much I loved Art Gallery fabrics, how beautifully soft they were to work with, how much I loved the quality. So I thought maybe it was karma :-) When I got the pack, I didn't think too much about it. Then I got home and opened it out and realised what a jackpot I hit. Aren't these gorgeous? What a fab scrap pack!

There as other stuff too - Siblings Together quilts, other swaps etc. The quilts for Siblings Together were fab and I found myself wondering if we could try do do something similar here in Ireland despite the small numbers of people involved. Saturday evening ran pretty late. I found myself on the Tube back to Isleworth between 11 and midnight and was surpised at how there was standing room only at that time, and how civilised it was. But at that stage I was flagging a little and found myself late for Lynne's Touchdraw class the next morning. I eventually caught up with everyone else, and was really happy with this class. So many possibilities!

My last class on Sunday morning was with the very lovely Jen Kingwell, in Hand Quilting. Now, you know I love hand quilting. Its my go-to technique to give a project a little something special. And its not too long since I finished hand quilting my Made to Measure quilt. But my technique is very much self-taught, and I have encountered a number of nerve issues in my neck from poor technique.
So it was really lovely to listen to Jen and have the opportunity to ask some questions. I definitely have a few ideas for how I might adjust and improve my technique and felt really inspired coming away after looking at her beautiful work. She gave us a lovely little finger pin cushion to take away. I really thought she was an inspiring person, and after seeing her quilts in real life, making one of her patterns is on my bucket list for definite.

When the class ended, that was it. Time to say a sad goodbye. Of course, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the farewell, and we ended up out on the street, but it was a kind of fitting end to be all gathered together like that on a little strip of path in central London! We came away with a bag full of goodies. FQs, thread, charm packs, mini charm packs. Lovely stuff.

Two picture, because some of my stuff got mixed up with Cindys. When it was all over, I wandered around Kensington, picked up some gifts for the kids, then went back to my friends who I stayed with and had some lunch and more catching up. Then it was off to the airport and back to Cork where I found my my kids pretty much standing at the door waiting for me at 10.30pm that night.

My verdict? FQ Retreat 2014 was fantastic. It was not as crowded as I anticipated and I got to speak to or get to know so many people. I met old friends and made new friends. Yes, it was expensive. After stalking the flights on Ryanair and Aer Lingus for 2-3 months, I got a really great deal on my flights, but between ticket price, travel, spending money etc it still worked out at a big cost. I am very lucky to have friends living in London, and they kindly put me up for the weekend, despite having a very new baby (yes, having a little cuddle was a definite highlight, as was spending some lovely time chatting with them.) But with 3 kids and family holidays to pay for, spending in excess of €500 on a weekend for myself is a big indulgence when money is tight. But, oh so worth it!

It was worth it in lots of ways. The classes were great. Really great. I learned loads and loads. Plenty of new techniques, and plenty of improvements on my current techniques. I've been sewing for 6 years now and sometimes I am shocked by the things I don't know. The social aspect was fantastic. A lot of work went into making sure no one was left out, people had someone to meet up with etc. I was lucky not to need that because I had a lot of people I knew, but I thought it was great. Before I went, I was totally focused on completing that circle with my online friends and meeting them for real. I wasn't there 24 hours before I realised that one of the biggest things I would take away with me was the new friends I made. But, most important of all was the inspiration I came away with. It was so interesting looking at what other people were doing. People wore their own handmade dresses (it was entirely not obvious they were made at home, they looked so professional and beautifully finished. Sometimes, it was only when I recognised a fabric print I realised that the dress was handmade). People travelled handmade. There were beautiful bags, pouches etc. Oh my goodness, the bags! I came home filled with bag-making fervour. You need to watch this space. I can't wait to get started on that. I've been saving, pinning and printing bag patterns all week. My head is spinning with ideas. I came home feeling totally inspired on the sewing front. I know I haven't posted all week, but I've been sewing. I've finished a quilt (more tomorrow), got well started onto a 2nd, and am half way through my Big Stitch Swap item. I've made a trip to the local fabric store for interfacing (can't make bags without interfacing). I'm ready to sew.

This was my first retreat. The first year I was in the middle of a very difficult pregnancy, last year, my baby was too small to go off and leave for 3 days. So I have nothing to compare to. But I have this to say. FQ retreat 2014 was ah-MAZ-ing.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I WILL conquer this list: FAL Q3

Right. Q2 was a washout in every possible way - 2 finishes, minimal sewing and very little blog reading (I need my quilty inspiration more than ever right now.)

Finish Along 2014

Q3 WILL be different. I will finish this list so let's keep it nice and tight.

1. Finish Kieran's quilt. I haven't blogged this but I am 2/3 done with making a quilt for my friend at work's little 2year old who is very sick and will be spending a lot of time in hospital in the coming months. Need to get this finished and sent to him ASAP.

2. Cheerio Quilt for Miss E. The big girl needs a new bed quilt so I'm making this one for her.

3. Hexie heaven - turn the hexies into a bag panel (sidekick tote most likely. Although the super tote could sneak in there)

4. Tumbling blocks quilt. Finish it. (Yes it's been on the list for 3 years now. About time to kick it off this list.)

5. Spiderweb quilt - I need a couple more blocks to arrive for this quilt, and I need to make a few more myself to bring it up a little bit size wise.

6. Finish the Little Pearl dress for miss R. It just needs the buttonholes and the front ruffle. Easy, right?

7. Finish miss R's cardi.

That's it. Let's get finishing. Linking up to lovely Katy.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

FAL Q2... A sad little list of finishes

This quarter didn't really go to plan. I looked down my list earlier in the week and hung my head in shame. I only finished 2 measly projects from my (admittedly ambitious) list. In my defence it has been an insanely busy few months for me at work and with the kids activities finishing up in a whirlwind of end of year concerts etc, the time just flew by.

So it's a big fat fail on most of my projects.


But the two successes I had were great. First up, my Made to Measure quilt which I finished only in the last few days.


And the other item I had was another cushion with my blogger bundle fabrics, to coordinate with the original one I made. This turned out pretty well - but I just realised I only blogged the progress pictures and not the final result. Didn't it turn out pretty? It is now residing on my sofa along with 2 others I made and very cheery.


So they are my two little finishes. I'm linking up to Katy and hoping Q3 is a bit more productive!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Made to Measure Medallion Finish

It seems slightly surreal that this quilt is actually finished. I have been working on it for a long, long, long time - started last April, to be precise. So, 15 months...I know that's not a record for a quilt finish. I know this because I have a quilt top hanging in my sewing space awaiting quilting for coming up on 3 years now. (Sssshhhhhh. Don't tell.)

I also feel like I've been working on it forever because it has been such a challenging, intricate piece of work. I know there are plenty much more complex quilt patterns out there, with more difficult sewing required, but I find medallions pretty challenging and this had a LOT of tiny piecing. Those little star cornerstones were the worst bit - there was a lot of heavy sighing as I cut them and no small amount of swearing as I pieced them.


And all (ALL) the HSTs and the trimming.

That's why it took so long. I had to build myself up to each of the detailed borders. (Or I'm just lazy. I'm a sucker for a quick 'n' easy quilt pattern.)

Plus, the fabric choices weighed heavily in my mind the whole time I was making it. This was a  kind of "suck it and see" quilt. I made it up as I went along. I kind of had jewel tones in my head as the theme and I worked along those lines.

Part of me wishes I had chosen a low volume grey print for that big "quiet" border in the middle instead of the dotty cream print, to cool the tones a little. Also my pink and orange hst border merged into itself more than I intended, but I had gone too far with it before I realised. And no way could I face cutting all those HSTs again. But I still think it works ok. Possibly slightly differently than I originally intended, but lovely all the same.

I do absolutely adore that huge 2nd last border with the HST-turned-into-flying-geese. I think the fabrics work so perfectly right there and the mix of low volume prints as background was exactly what I wanted. When I saw that, that was what made me wish that I had used the low volume instead of the cream border. But hey ho, that's how it goes.

Some insane part of my brain insisted that this quilt should be hand quilted. I've done lots of hand quilting in my time, a lot of mini quilts and one lap quilt, but this is the first time I've entirely hand quilted a proper size quilt without doing some machine stitching in the ditch to secure it.

I was nervous about it, but it worked really well. Very honestly, I found the weight of the quilt and its size very hard to manoeuvre when working on it, particularly at the start when I was quilting the centre and I had a lot of trouble with my neck ending up with an irritated nerve which caused constant pins and needles down both arms into my little fingers for weeks on end. That also delayed the finish by weeks as the doctor insisted I put down all my crafty stuff for 2-3 weeks to let it heal enough to treat. So I'm not sure I would tackle a project this size again by hand - weeks of physio to resolve it was not on my list of anticipated outcomes. But having said that, I do absolutely adore the process of hand quilting and I think the issues I had were solely due to the size and weight of the quilt - possibly my technique is not the best from a health perspective. And there is no getting away from the fact that I really enjoyed sitting on the sofa hand quilting it in the evenings. It's much more sociable than sitting at my machine, away from my hubby in another room. So I won't be abandoning the hand quilting. Just maybe keeping it to slightly smaller projects :-)

Hand quilting looks so great too, and this pattern really lends itself to the hand quilted big stitch look. I used perle cotton #8 in a variety of colours and shades and quilted mostly 1/4" inside or outside the seam lines except in that big cream border where I quilted triangles to add to the interest.  I think my very favourite part of the hand quilting is the central star.

The hand quilting looks really great on the back too. The backing is the ever-used IKEA Nummer fabric. It was a particularly good choice for this quilt, as the black and white complements the front, and the quilting shows up so well on it.

I found a fab dotty grey and white print on a black background in The Crafty Fox in Drogheda the last time I visited my mum, and I knew as soon as I laid eyes on it that it was perfect for the binding for this. I don't know what the print name is, all I know is that its a Northcott fabric. I love how it frames the quilt. I took the lazy way out and machine stitched my binding. By the time I got to that stage, I was hand-stitched out and the pins and needles in my hands and arms were returning and I needed to get it done in time to wash and dry it before delivering it to my mum and dad on Sunday. So I speedily stitched the binding down and it was done. Must do more machine binding - it was so quick! Although I do love hand stitching down the binding normally.

I know I moaned about the cornerstones earlier. But truly, they were totally worth the effort. They look fab all done and lined up, don't they?

So, now this quilt is off to my mum and dad to celebrate 40 happy years of marriage, a milestone they hit a couple of weeks ago. (Yes, I am late. But I don't think they will mind!)

Some stats - this quilt measures 80" x 80" so perfect for a double bed, or would even work fine on a king size without draping down the sides. It's made from Sarah Fielke's Made to Measure pattern in her book Hand Quilted with Love. Fabrics are a wide and varied mix mostly from my stash. My Irish friends contributed lots of the oranges for the pink and orange HST border in an impromptu scrap swap when I asked for some help :-) Batting is Simply Cotton. It is machine pieced, and 100% hand quilted with perle cotton #8.

It is, without doubt, my favourite quilt I've ever made. And certainly, my biggest quilting achievement to date. If I have learned one thing in 15 months of making it, it is that it is most certainly worth taking the time and putting in the effort to make something detailed and lovely. Quick and easy (my go-to) is not the be-all and end-all. Hope my parents love it as much as I do. (Ok, well, I know my mum loves it as she has seen the quilt top at various stages of development and raved each time, so I'm pretty confident!) To paraphrase Mr Bennett in his conversation with Elizabeth at the end of Pride and Prejudice, I couldn't part with it to anyone less worthy. 

Linking up to Katy as one of my (sad, short little list of) Q2 finishes.

Finish Along 2014