Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What is a boat shuttle?

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to finish a quilt made from the Treadle On "boat shuttle" block exchange. I started quilting it back in October, but decided I didn't like the way I'd quilted a couple of sections so took a while to pick those stitches out. I finally got that stitching out last week, with a little help from my "cat attachments," and now just have to decide how to quilt the borders.

If you are not a collector of antique sewing machines, you are probably saying, "what the heck is a boat shuttle?" So here's a little sewing machine history.

When the first inventors tried to come up with a sewing machine, their first idea was to put the needle all the way through the fabric, just as in hand sewing. Didn't work. The mechanism that worked was a chain stitch, which has a single thread. It works well and the chain stitch is still used today, for example I opened a bag of cat food a couple of days ago that was closed with a chain stitch. But the problem with the chain stitch is that it has to be secured at the end or it pulls out and if it is cut, bye-bye stitching.

The next big development, and the one that is used today, is the lock stitch. It uses a spool of thread on top of the machine and a bobbin of thread under the bed of the machine. The earliest lock stitch machines used a transverse shuttle. That's a long bobbin in a long shuttle and it moves in a straight line. The shuttles for the transverse shuttle machines were usually open on one side and the bobbin dropped in. They look kind of like a little boat so we call them boat shuttles.

One of the purposes of the Treadle On list is to encourage people to use their treadle and handcrank sewing machines, so we have regular block exchanges. Sometimes they are for a specific brand, or for machines of a particular time period, sometimes open to any machine. For the boat shuttle exchange we also included another class of machines that have an open top shuttle, those made by the American Sewing Machine Company. This company came up with its own arrangement, a tiny round bobbin which drops into a tear-drop shaped shuttle. I've been researching the company for a while and from what I've found they were probably the first company to use a round bobbin. But the bobbins were tiny and didn't hold a lot of thread and the company didn't make it into the big leagues.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How I started quilting

On the Stashbuster list someone asked how we all started quilting. That brought back such a great memory that I thought I'd share my response here, too.

Picture two women sitting on the floor in a living room with two huge garbage bags full of fabric - scraps, strings, remnants, mis-sewed pieces, you name it. With every piece pulled out we're saying 'ooh, look at this one,' 'oh, how pretty,' etc. That was November 2000 and is the date when I changed from wanting to learn to quilt to being a quilter, even though it was four more years before I finished my first quilt!

I'm at least a fourth generation quilter, though my mom is more of a top-maker. Growing up the quilt on my bed was a 1930s bow-tie that my mom and great-grandmother made. I started sewing my own clothes in ninth-grade and made various patchwork and quilted items over the years as part of my sewing.

Summer 2000 I found a vintage sewing machine (1930s Singer 15-91) at a thrift store, brought it home and in researching it, discovered the Treadle On list. With their help I bought my first treadle and in November a group member who lived near Atlanta invited me to spend the day with her and another member who was visiting. My brother-in-law and family lived near her, so I drove up on Friday and headed to her house on Saturday. The three of us looked at and talked about her sewing machines, then went to a couple of antique shops. Then the other visitor had to leave and the two of us went to a quilt store that was about to close.

It was my first visit to a quilt shop and I bought some beautiful fabric for my first block exchange, which was coming up. Then my friend mentioned that she wanted to make a log cabin quilt but that it would take a long time for her to get enough scraps. The shop owner invited her to help herself from a box full of strings. After my friend took a small bag full, the shop owner took over. She pulled out a big garbage bag and dumped the box in, then started pulling out scraps and remnants from under her cutting table. When the first bag was full she started filling a second. We took those bags back to my friend's house and spent hours digging through them. Her husband said we were like two kids on Christmas morning.

My friend insisted on sharing with me and the fabric I brought home with me was the beginning of my quilting stash, and I still have strings and crumbs from that windfall in my boxes.

In 2001 I participated in my first block exchange and after about three years of block exchanges I decided I had better learn to finish a quilt. I finished my first quilt, a BOM in Christmas fabrics, in 2004 and haven't stopped since.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Getting past quilter's block

There are times when I want to sew, but can't quite figure out what to work on. That's where I had been the last couple of weeks and it was driving me crazy. I was still picking out stitches in the black and red quilt, so I couldn't finish quilting it, and I have a rule, only one "quilt" being quilted at a time - I'll squeeze in a small item, but I just don't have working space for more than one layered and pinned quilt in progress. I had stopped working on the Shakespeare in the Park (SITP) while I worked on Christmas items, and wasn't ready to get back to it, and I had finished all the Christmas sewing - just a few small items.

Fortunately, I finally got back to work. Last Wednesday night I pulled out the SITP. After the first round of triangles the Snail's Trail blocks were a tiny bit undersized. I had debated remaking them, but decided instead to make the rest of the rounds a bit larger to make up for it. Since then I have managed to cut and sew the rest of the rounds for the Snail's Trail block, except the last triangle on the last round.

I got most of this done yesterday, while watching "Tin Man" and "Alice" on Syfy. For anyone who hasn't seen these re-tellings of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland," they are well worth the time to watch.

I'm doing SITP with a cream background and scrappy blues and purples in the Snail's Trail blocks. The star blocks have some pinks in them, too. I think it's going to be beautiful, but it is quite a challenge with all the pieces!

I'm also making progress on the red and black quilt. On a couple of evenings when it was too cold to really work in my studio, I sat in the living room unpicking stitches and finally have it down to the last few to pull out. Yesterday I re-pinned the two sections I'd picked out, and quilted one more section. The quilting was a bit of a challenge since my Pepper cat decided he had to sit on the quilt as I quilted it. So now I have two sections and the border to go. I'd like to finish this one up before Christmas, so I can move on to some other projects.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another reason to love my Davis VF treadle

I do all my sewing on my vintage and antique sewing machines. From piecing to assembling blocks to quilting and binding to other types of sewing. In fact, the newest sewing machines I have are a 1988 Singer and an early 1990s serger. The serger gets a little use once in a while, but since I don't make many clothes these days, not often.

My Davis Vertical Feed treadle is one of my top favorites. It's like a walking foot but is better termed a needle feed. There are no feed dogs. Instead, each time the needle comes up, it and the presser foot move forward, then move backward on the downstroke, bringing the fabric with it.

It's wonderful for straight line quilting because there is no worry about the fabric creeping along at different rates and ending up with pleats and folds in the backing. So I use it for any straight quilting, like stitching in the ditch, or echo quilting, anything other than free motion. Even if I never used it for quilting, it pulls its weight when it comes to applying bindings. Before I started using this machine my bindings would always try to twist but with the Davis, it's smooth and straight all the way.

Well, this weekend I discovered another use for the Davis, sewing fleece! I'm making some Christmas projects that required hemming fleece, and, remembering how it always stretches, I decided to try the Davis. Perfect! No stretch, no overlap, no uneven edges.

Just another example of how my oldies get the job done.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quilting and un-quilting

I'm starting to really love doing little wall hangings. It's so easy to try out new ideas and techniques, finish them up and move on to something else. Great for art quilts, but doesn't do much to keep you warm, of course.

I wrote a few days ago about the Treadle On list doing a group quilt-along, based on the Hundreds of Triangles pattern. I hadn't planned to start another quilt, but I tend to avoid triangles, so thought it would be a good exercise. Then it occurred to me that it would make a great background for an applique, so my "Hundreds of Turtles" was born. I did the triangles in various shades of blue, quilted it, crazy-pieced and quilted one turtle and cut out three more for shadows, then appliqued the turtles to the background. I used lots of quilting motifs and various threads. I thought about adding some embellishments, but decided to keep this one simple.

My other sewing right now is finishing up a few small Christmas gifts, and picking out the quilting from a twin-size quilt that I wasn't happy with. This quilt has a large pieced center section, set on point and quilted in the ditch. I had started the quilting on the four large corner sections a couple of weekends ago and got two sections done, but wasn't really happy with the quilting. The following weekend I tried a slightly different approach on the third section and liked it so much better. So, I'm removing the quilting in the first two sections. Wow, does it take a long time. But I think I'll be much happier with the result and fortunately I'm not on a deadline.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Time flying and good things and sad

You know it's been too long between posts when you have to look up your password to get into your blog! I have been sewing and "creating" but haven't been in the mood for posting. In August I wrote that my dear, sweet, Merry dog was going downhill. A few days after that post, on August 26, I lost her. It has been difficult to adjust to the huge, doggy-shaped hole in my life. But I was fortunate that until her last week or so she was comfortable and happy to just keep me company as I worked in my office, sewed or sat in the living room. Some of us are lucky to have a once-in-a-lifetime dog, and I was double blessed to have her for almost 17 years.

Back to sewing topics! My Tybee Fireworks II went to the Houston show as part of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative and sold. I was very pleased. A friend of a friend was going to take a picture of it hanging but by the time he got there it had sold. TFII was one of a series of four similar works, one I'm keeping and the other two are in progress and will be put up for sale when I decide what direction I want to go, online or shows or both.

Right now I'm working on a different, but similar project. Recently on the Treadle On list our fearless leader proposed a triangle quilt as a group project. I don' t need any more projects (who does) but realized that I have avoided working with equilateral triangles. Bias and points and all that. So I decided I'd challenge myself to do a small piece, to get more comfortable with the shape. Once I started thinking I realized the triangles would be a great background for a small appliqued wall hanging, so that's where I'm going now. I've found that starch is your friend when doing these triangles. I like the Dryel Starch Alternative, but am having a terrible time finding it, it's no longer in the local stores and is hard to find online.

Progress is pretty good, with the background assembled – 45 3.5 inch triangles – and the applique in progress. I'll post more when it's closer to a finish.

Friday, September 11, 2009

from photo to quilt

A couple of weeks ago I did some exercises with Photoshop, and came up with some interesting images, as I previously posted. Over the past few days I've tried some ideas for translating one of them, the palm tree in a bubble, to fabric. The first try was a 15x18 quilt that used a lot of free motion quilting and thread work. I think it's a pretty good start, except my bubble was too dark so there wasn't enough contrast for the palm leaves. The second effort was a postcard and I used scraps of batiks to create the background. Once again, the contrast could be improved, but I had fun stitching the palm leaves.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

fun with Photoshop

A couple of days ago someone on the quiltart list posted a link to a site where two people had done some Photoshop image swaps. One created an image and sent it to the other, who took some element and created a new image then sent it back. Kind of a photographic round-robin. I didn't save the site or I'd post a link. But the work was fascinating and after looking at only one series I decided to play in Photoshop myself.
I found that pictures of my quilts offered great opportunities to play. Here's a picture of my "Peacock Blues" and the image, "Rose Window" that came from it.
To do this one I selected a portion of the center of the quilt and copied it to a new layer. Then I used Polar Coordinates, Glowing Edges and finally Plastic Wrap filters on it. The actual image is much brighter than it appears here, and reminds me of a stained glass window.
A second set I did is a little different. It is a photo of a palm tree I took on Tybee Island, Ga, and an alien version of it. For this one, I selected the area
around the top of the palm tree and then selected inverse. In the inverse area I did Solarize, then used Image Hue/Saturation to adjust the colors until I liked them. Then I inversed the selection again to get the top of the palm. I used Hue/Saturation to adjust the color there, used Lens Flare to add the lights, then used Spherize. Hope this inspires someone else!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little bitty quilt completed

I had hoped for lots of sewing time this weekend, but that didn't work out too well. But I did get a few things accomplished, most important being finishing a 9x12-inch quilt to donate to the Alzheimer's Quilt Initiative
This was a challenge on one of my email lists, to create at least one small quilt to donate, as there is a goal of 1,000 quilts to take to the Houston show to auction to raise money for Alzheimer's research. This is a great effort and I had an idea I wanted to try, so I started work a couple of weeks ago on two little quiltlets.
Tybee Fireworks 1 is a combin
ation of pieced nine-patches, bias-pieced waves and an appliqued lighthouse. It is heavily quilted/free-motion embroidered to
 create the shading on the lighthouse, the fireworks and the ocean waves, with just a few beads to add some sparkle. 
Tybee Fireworks II, which is very similar, is almost finished, just need to add the beads.
Other than that, my quilty activities this weekend included finishing washing and folding the fabric I bought the previous weekend; selecting fabric and pre-cutting for a Twisted Bargello class I'm taking with my guild next weekend; making a few blocks for a Split Nine-Patch and working on some exchange blocks. 
I had hoped to do more, but my very elderly dog 
had a bad weekend. I was up most of the night Saturday night with her, and spent a lot of time helping her get in and out of the house, etc., all weekend. It's very difficult for me to see her declining, as she's been my constant companion since she and her sisters were adopted as puppies in fall 1992. We've always considered October 1st as her birthday, which makes her 16 years, 10 and a half months old. She had surgery last year in October to remove a tumor on her neck. That gave us a good 10 months more together, but it's still difficult. This is a picture of her shortly after her surgery last year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A treasure trove of ideas in magazines

I enjoy magazines, but seldom buy them. For one, my budget doesn't allow, for two, I don't need anything else filling up my shelves and for three, when it comes to quilt magazines, I know I won't use the patterns in the magazines. I design my own quilts, or choose my own fabrics for traditional blocks or quilts others have designed (usually classes).

But last week my guild held a White Elephant sale as part of our meeting, and I picked up a dozen magazines. I was thrilled to find several articles on techniques that I could use right away. One technique was for curved seams and was perfect for a miniature quilt I'm working on right now. Another was part of a series on free-motion quilting, another on making rubber stamps and another on using fabric paints.

So many great ideas -- it makes me want to get busy in my studio -- and maybe re-think my "no magazine" rule.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to the blogging

I started this blog to discuss the sewing I do for sale, and had another for my personal sewing. But I lost the other to technical problems and never got off the ground with this one. I've decided it really doesn't make sense to have two sewing blogs, so, this is it.

Last month I made my annual trip to North Carolina for the North Carolina Treadle On Gathering and Academy (TOGA). Treadle On is an online group devoted to using "people-powered" (treadle and handcrank) sewing machines. I warmed up for the trip by completing three quilts, one for a raffle prize and two for gifts, came home with 100 yards of new fabric and tons of ideas. I've been in quilting mode ever since -- it doesn't hurt that quilting gives me an excuse to stay in the air-conditioning, always a plus in South Georgia during the summer!

I'm trying to hit a balance between old projects (UFOs) and starting new ones, and am trying out new techniques and working to improve my free-motion quilting as I go.

That's the story behind a little 30-inch table topper. I'm calling it "Pepper Squared" because my cat Pepper has claimed it as his favorite nap spot. Several years ago I got a bag of fabric scraps that included a stack of seven-inch (plus or minus) squares in several colorways of various prints, some brights, some country colors. After I washed the fabric, the edges were a little ragged and I set the squares aside in my scrap bin. Somewhere along the way I saw an episode of "Simply Quilts" with a technique for making Square in a Square blocks by cutting the corners off a stack of squares and trading out the centers. The secret was all in the measuring and marking. Recently someone on one of my email lists mentioned this technique and included a link to a clip showing it. I remembered those old mis-matched squares and pulled them out that very night. 

One night to cut and start sewing, another night to finish the blocks and assemble them into a top, a third night to square up, sandwich, quilt and bind. Fastest I've ever finished a quilt, but it was only 30-inches square. 

My challenge to myself was to use only the blocks in the pile of squares. I ended up with 38 blocks from that pile of squares, and tossed out two with low contrast, using 36. Second challenge was to try out the cutting technique, and third was to do an all-over free-motion quilting pattern. Most of the time my quilting follows the design of the blocks.

I'm very pleased with the results from this oddball bunch of scraps!