that blank slate again…

I thought I was over it. I thought for sure I could get past it, because I HAVE gotten past it! Even recently! So why am I paralyzed again today???

OK so here’s how the week has been: Monday morning I showed up for jury duty selection, and was ever so fortunate to not have to serve at this point (it just isn’t a good time right now for civic duties). Considering I had NO IDEA how the day (or week or longer) might actually turn out, I didn’t make plans to get any work done. But I knew the next bit of work that NEEDED to be done was adjusting the timing on my longarm machine.

One of my mentors suggested doing it on a weekday morning, so if I had any troubles I could contact APQS service and they’d be there to help. So when I got home, I was fortunate enough to have the time left in the day to attempt it.

I’ve done it before, successfully, so I knew if I just followed the instructional video I would do just fine again. After a bit of frustration (from doing something wrong), and taking a break I finally got my timing successfully adjusted and machine completely cleaned.

To test the timing, I thought why not put up a small piece of plain cloth and make a mini out of it? I couldn’t find a cotton fabric I wanted, sooo, up went a piece of silk.

blank slate of silk

blank slate of silk

Blank slate. OK, break the ice – outline the perimeter. Done.

I saw I had an oblong space, so I decided to do a feather, with a heart at the top, since it was in burgundy silk, maybe that could go in my bedroom.

feather

feather

I knew I wanted to echo it, and then decided to do the curl/paisley/echo thing I’ve come to really like around that, as a filler. Boom. Done in 10 minutes.

red silk mini

red silk mini

Well that was easy.

For part 2 of the story, let’s back up a few days. I’m cleaning and organizing the house, basically, because I’m going to clean the carpets, so I need to move A LOT of stuff out of the way. In doing so, I found this cute little kit I bought in Colorado Springs, which, coincidentally was great for my jury duty experience (and doctors office visit today) because it’s small, handwork, easy to start and stop and tuck into my purse.

First off, I never buy kits. This is literally THE FIRST kit I have EVER bought in my entire life. Secondly, I don’t hand embroider. I am a quilter, and I make quilts. I’ve done a few stitches on some minis for friends, but not anything sufficient enough to call real hand embroidery. And third, I don’t follow directions. That’s not entirely intentional, I am just not good at following orders/directions/recipes, so I tend to sort of do my own thing.

So off to jury duty I go, and bring this little bird thing with me. The selection process did take a little time, so I made some progress, which I continued later in the day. Unbelievably I finished it last night, and added a few beads that look like feed at his feet (not shown in the pic).

first chicken

first chicken

Ultimately, he is part of a mini quilt, with blocks around this one, but I thought, what a fantastic way to stay busy while waiting ANYWHERE!!!!!

So I started another one, but with black background and pink thread (to the right below). I’m going to bend his knee so he looks like a flamingo because I think they are the funniest birds on the planet. So as I start this new one, I tell my daughter, I think I’ll trace some more of these so I can make a bunch of them. She says, “Why mom? Make your OWN drawing!” Well, duh.

stumped

stumped

And here we are.

There are more scratched out doodlings, I just didn’t put them in the photo.

I feel like I am a vast vessel of ideas, but that I can’t bring any of them to fruition. I HAVE ideas, and they WILL work with a line drawing situation like this, I just don’t know what to do!!! I think, oh flowers, BEEN DONE. Ohhh, a tree, LAME. A bird – HELLO  YOU JUST DID ONE!

What I really wish is that I could detail in a pencil line what it looks like to echo emotion and feelings and hope. But I can’t figure out how to illustrate that. I tried a heart with a crown of thorns and frankly it looked ridiculous.

Second best would be to draw out something simple, like a cat or an owl or a bird, and figure out how to take it to another level by changing everything surrounding it (like adding beads, changing up the thread color, leg or tail position, blocks surrounding the embroidery). Sound familiar? Sound somewhat like my monthly block project? I think it does.

But that still doesn’t help remove the feeling from me that all I can do is take something and tweak it. I want to make something unique, and I feel like instead I am taking something of someone else and just changing it, and that doesn’t feel as visionary to me (so maybe I should be confronting myself about not being a visionary here).

I guess that’s something everyone wants – to leave their unique mark. Something that sets them apart, something THEY are known and recognized for. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself , after all, this is my FIRST hand embroidery project. Or maybe I should just stick to quilting.

Nah, it’s too fun to try new things. I just need to stop pressuring myself, and remember to have fun with this, and that’s what it will be. 🙂

 

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T-shirt quilts – the nitty gritty

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt

NO Saints SB Tshirt quilt, quilted with footballs

I guess the reason I feel the need to cover this topic over and again is because well, it’s important. People collect t-shirts from concerts/places/life events/football teams that are important to them. T-shirts cost money, AND usually represent great memories, accomplishments or something important to the owner. Well, quilts ALSO cost money, and if they cost a lot, they are very likely made with care and love, integrity and professionalism. So in essence I feel like by me (an expert on this topic) informing you (the reader) about details to consider, I am helping you to protect your investment.

OK, before I get to the meat of the topic, I just have one more thing to say: IF YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE A TSHIRT QUILT FROM PINTEREST, STOP NOW!!! I’m sorry if that sounds rude, and I’m not trying to be mean; I’m just trying to save you from spending exponentially more money when you have to take your work-in-progress to someone who knows what they’re doing to fix it for you. And I say this from being that person that fixed some pretty difficult works-in-progress.

Well, one more thing: you pay for what you get. I don’t see the website up anymore, but there was a local person a few years ago charging $75 for t-shirt quilts, and they were HORRENDOUS. Not only were they ugly and poorly constructed, but the ‘quilting’ was so sparse that the batting would have begun to fall apart within a few washes.

OK here we go:

1. INSIST on seeing examples of their work. Here’s what to look for:

  • Does the quilt maker have one style? If so, that is exactly how you can expect yours to turn out. Inquire if they have more options to offer.
  • Are the panels of the t-shirts cut so that some of the words/picture is missing? Is that what YOU want?
  • Can you see the quilting stitches? If not, can you see lines that look wavy (like when a curtain drapes)? That could indicate the stitching is not frequent enough to support the batting. Stitching/ties should be every 4-6″ square with standard (poly, cotton or blend) batting.
  • How do the quilts look? Is the maker’s style elegant, country chic or throw it all in the pot and stir? Elaborate quilts can be made from t-shirts, but usually a more extensive pattern will call for a higher cost. So if that’s what you want, discuss it with the quilt maker.
  • If you have sports jerseys, has this quilt maker worked with them before? I can say they are generally more difficult due to the weight, slickness of fabric and stickiness of the logo, and experience is very helpful. Same goes for silk shirts, neckties and crown bags.

If they have examples on hand to show you, that’s even better.

2. Ask them what kind of stabilizer they use. I use that phrase because using stabilizer is NOT an option, it is required. I tell you this as a t-shirt quilt maker AND as a long arm quilter. When it comes time to quilt the layers of your project together, if the shirts are not stabilized, they will stretch and pull, and you will end up with puckers and wrinkles in your quilt or a quilt that is not squared up, and that just does not look good.

I’ve had a regular customer ask me about this, because she was making one and didn’t want it to be so heavy. There are very lightweight stabilizers that can keep the weight down, and a lighter weight batting can be used as well, if that is a concern.

3. Ask them WHERE they purchase their fabric. YES there is a difference in quality. If they give the name of a local quilt shop or start rambling on about this great online store they found, you’re probably safe. Joann’s even has ok fabric. But if they buy at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Hancock’s or even Michaels, then ask to see some samples of fabric they would use in your quilt. If it’s rough, that means it is not as tight of a weave, which means it may shrink more or unevenly, the dye may fade quicker, and that fabric will likely have holes in it in fewer washes.

4. Ask about their process. How do they go from t-shirt to quilt? How do they decide what shirts go where (this question can ensure all your red shirts do not end up in one column)? Do they quilt it on their regular sewing machine, on a long arm machine or do they have someone else quilt it for them for you (could increase the cost)?

On this note, different quilt makers have different pricing strategies and go-to styles. I charge by the size and generally (unless otherwise requested) cut the panels to different sizes to fit in as many as possible, with sashing and a border. One of my esteemed fellow quilt makers charges by the shirt ($28 per), and she uses 2″ squares in various colors to essentially border the shirts or provide spacing, and then a border. It’s ok to call around and ask about these things – you might find the perfect match to your style by doing a little extra research!

memory quilt with tshirt panels

memory quilt with tshirt panels

Baby clothing quilt with panels and 2" squares

Baby clothing quilt with panels and 2″ squares

5. Ask how they finish the quilt. Borders make a great frame for quilts. It also allows for the edge of the front to tie in color-wise to the back of the quilt. And it provides a no-stretch surface for the quilt maker to bind the top and back together.

  • If they do a knife edge finish, that means they put the whole thing together, sew three edge sides together, flip it right side out, sew the last side and then quilt or tie it. This can lead to batting getting loose inside the quilt (by not getting sewn into the edges) and less than exemplary quilting.
  • If they fold the binding over from front to back or back to front, that will secure the edge but ask to see examples of their work, because this can ALSO lead to a very uneven look and really fat binding.
  • If they use a double fold applied binding (also called French fold), you will have a very tight, clean edge to your quilt. Especially if they know how to miter their corners.

a beautifully mitered corner

You should expect to spend between $400-1200 on your quilt, depending on a variety of factors, including number of shirts and desired quilt size. Understand, your quilt maker may be supporting their family and this is their source of income. Their labor is their time and it will cost you. Batting and fabric costs add up as well. I have spent $120 just for the backing fabric on one quilt (the one below)!

king size crown bag quilt

king size crown bag quilt

Because you should expect to pay that kind of dollar, you should also expect a result that is on par with that price. But, YOU have a responsibility here too:

1. Ask questions. I have outlined a few above that I don’t think the average non-quilt maker would know to ask. If there is something else you are unsure of, ASK. It’s not a dumb question, it’s smart for you to become educated about your expenditures in advance.

2. Tell him/her what you want! The scariest quilt I have made in recent times happened to be the last one, and what made it so scary is that she told me to just do whatever. As a long arm quilter I LOVE that, but as a quilt maker, I cannot predict what colors she does or doesn’t like, so I just went with what I thought she might like. Fortunately for me, she loved it. I did too, but it could have been a disaster if she didn’t like yellow. Or purple (the back was tie dyed white/purple)!

tshirt quilt

tshirt quilt

3. They should ask you questions during the initial discussion, like how big you want it to end up (is it for a bed or not), who is it for (male or female, young or older person?), do you want all the shirt blocks to be the same size, specific colors you do or do not want in the quilt, any special deadline or shirt that should be centered…

This quilt was made for a graduating son, and the mother was very particular and involved in the entire process. But I got three hugs at the end, so I think she was pretty happy with the result.

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Tshirt quilt with precise instructions from the mom

Usually people tell me if it is a memory quilt, which is a great tidbit, because I mostly quilt those in all-over hearts and try to keep the color scheme upbeat. This was a memory quilt with not much to use (sudden loss). Included were t-shirts, a sweatshirt, PJ pants and a watchcap. If your quilter has experience, she’ll make anything work for you :).

memory quilt

This was a memory quilt for a baby lost pre-term. The birthing coach had me make it from onesie’s from the other babies she had birthed.

memory quilt from onesies, patchwork style

memory quilt from onesies, patchwork style

4. As a quilter and quilt maker, I can tell you that I try to do everything to my best ability. But I’m not the one paying for the quilt and I’m not the one that’s taking it home. You are, so make sure YOU know what you are getting for your money.

If you are unsure, reach out. You can also Google ‘tshirt quilt photos’ and find more than enough fodder to peak your imagination. Best of luck!

Monthly Block – June version

June version

June version

Here we are again – another month has passed and summer is upon us. And yet again, my inspiration has come from an unexpected source.

Early last month I had a young lady call me inquiring about a quilt. She wanted one made for her Marine friend coming home after summer, in reds, white and blues. Since I was already up at the quilt shop at the time, I looked around to see what I could find. There was a great fabric with overlapping flags, so I bought some as well as reds and blues that matched. I had already wanted to build my stash a bit in those colors, so I purchased all that, knowing there was a chance the quilt would never come to fruition.

Which I think is the case. No harm done though – I got some fabric that I ended up using much sooner than anticipated. And if I do ultimately create that special quilt, I can buy new fabric :). Yay me!!!

After I had purchased it, I left it all out on my file cabinet, sort of as a set, in case I needed to use it all together. So when I looked at the drawing for this month’s version (like I said last month, I wanted to set this month’s block on point), I realized this fabric set was perfect!

I kept it simple by choosing one blue, one red and one cream to compliment the flag fabric, although I could have used multiples of each and had a scrappier look. I used red and blue pens on my drawing to test out different settings, meaning, where each color should go and which color should make up the arrow. Once I colored a few different blocks, I made my decision (you can see on my drawing where I circled THE choice).

I did have a bit of a setback… because of the way I chose to lay this out, there were two blue triangles per ‘triangle block’, which needed to be opposite from each other for the pattern to work. So I sewed together the white/blue half, and then put the red/blue triangles next to them to ensure I sewed them together correctly. Once I thought I had it right, I sewed and ironed them all. And I did it wrong.

oops

oops

Needless to say, I had to rip the seams on all the red/blue blocks and iron them flat and then SEW THEM PROPERLY and then IRON THEM AGAIN. I HATE ironing. Oh well, had to be done. Just know you aren’t alone when you make silly mistakes!

Here’s what the blocks looked like once assembled:

June blocks

June blocks

When making a quilt top, you can choose to straight set the blocks or set them on point. In this month’s case the blocks are on point. In either setting, you can have every block be the same pattern, or alternating blocks can be solid, or a different block.

I chose to alternate the blocks in this quilt, mostly because I didn’t want to have half blocks along the edges of the top. But because of that choice, you can see that the pinwheels are gone.

Set on point

Set on point

I could have had every block be of the same pattern, with the edge triangles surrounding them (but inside the border) solid. Maybe next time.

The real beauty of this quilt was that I only had to construct NINE blocks, versus the 25 or 30 in the other quilt tops. This made for a VERY fast assembly, and a smaller top, but I decided to do a multiple border to grow it a bit, and I liked the way it framed the quilt in all the colors within.

Multiple borders

Multiple borders

You can also see from my drawing that I had planned on using the flag fabric (represented by red and blue squiggles on my paper) between the red and blue borders. When I laid it out to see how it looked, the flag fabric was too busy and just made all the flag fabric pop out instead of being the background for the blocks. So I changed the middle (narrow) border to the cream.

June drawing

June drawing

So let’s compare again:

“The” block –

"THE" block

“THE” block

January result – all scraps in turquoise, bright pink and green (and white)

finished quilt top

finished quilt top

February result – scrap white and purple dyed, sashing matches center blocks (focal fabric)

February quilt

February quilt

March result – different center, but magenta and purple and white match it. I placed the white and purple triangles specifically to ensure the pinwheel came out

march quilt

march quilt

April result – crayon box threw up. center squares were inspiration, all brights were scraps that matched lines in center squares. totally random placement

april quilt

april quilt

May’s version – I think this should be called sunburst

may version of monthly block

may version of monthly block

Here is the quilt WITH the border –

may quilt top with border

may quilt top with border

And here’s June –

June version quilt top

June version quilt top

I think this might be my new favorite!

June version quilt top

June version quilt top

See how many different quilts can be made with just one block and a little imagination? Don’t be put off by a quilt pattern photo in colors you don’t like – give the pattern a good, hearty look, and consider how YOU could make it with fabric you DO like! It might end up becoming your favorite quilt!

 

Fear of the blank canvas

I will never forget that moment, frozen in time. It’s like a Polaroid photo in my mind, with sentiment and smell and emotion attached to it.

It was a warm, sunny summer morning, and I was sitting with my friend Chrissy on the concrete steps behind her house. We were shaded by the trees and back awning, sitting there in our shorts with art supplies strewn around us. I was six.

We were coloring some pages and decided to stop coloring pages with lines on them and instead draw what WE wanted. Excitedly opening the book of paper on my lap, I grabbed my instrument and froze. I didn’t know what to draw. My mind was blank.

I was sure at that moment that my entire system of creative juices had completely dried up for the rest of my life. Of course, as a six year old, that wasn’t entirely devastating, more of an inconvenience. So we ran off to play in the yard instead.

Many years later, I still experience that ‘fear’, but I know I’m not alone. I also know that when I let myself stress about it I actually CONSTRICT the process (my shrink told me so). So after relaxing a bit, I go to some great resources (books, internet sites) to get those juices flowing.

Recently I was making a farewell gift for someone, and knew I wanted to make something special, and have it be comprised of quilting rather than a quilt pattern, since that is really my forte. What did that give me? A blank slate.

the blank slate

the blank slate

It happens that the giftee was moving out of state. It also happens that at that time I was making a tshirt quilt for a client and had the shirts on my sewing table. I went over to them to arrange the shirts and de-stress my mind about the blank slate. And there it was: my inspiration!

my inspiration!

my inspiration!

I thought this would be a great going away gift – a flag of Texas made from thread! WHEW!!!

I used the tshirt panel to make measurements on my blank slate and quilted the outlines. Using painters tape, I made the outline for the star.

the outlines

the outlines

I stitched hearts in the white, lines in the red and meander around the star in the blue. I plan to make another one I liked it so much!

the Texas flag

the Texas flag

Often, the blank canvas freeze comes over me, but I’ve learned to adapt and overcome.

I knew I wanted to outline the churn dashes on this quilt, and try the curling feather in the border. But I had no idea what to do in the remaining space. So I laid on the floor under the quilt with my books and started looking through them for inspiration. They are little softcover books by Darlene Epp and contain mostly simple stitches, but are great for fueling creativity!

churn dash

churn dash

I drew some ideas out but wasn’t entirely pleased with any of them. Then I went to Flickr, which is my other go-to place for creativity. I knew I wanted to incorporate the feathers from the border into the blank spaces, but also knew with a confined space (around the straight lines) and those being ODD shaped spaces, I had to do something viney or with echoes. So I looked up feather quilting photos.

I found a few that urged me to draw some swirls and paisleys with echoes and single sided feathers around some. The feather tied into the border and the echoes would allow me to fill in any weird or small spaces. Ahhhhhhh, victory!

Voila!

feather swirl paisley echo

feather swirl paisley echo

SOOOOOOO pleased with how this turned out (as was my customer)!!! I have plans to use this stitch again soon!

The moral of the story is this: don’t let the emptiness of a blank slate overwhelm you. Don’t let your analysis of what to create paralyze you. Draw an idea out and if you like it, quilt it! If you don’t, modify it and draw something a little different. Walk away if you need to so it can marinate a little bit, and then try again. Keep trying until you like what you draw and then QUILT IT!