Quilters Lead Pieceful Lives.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sesame Street

Made for the new great-grandchild of my mother-in-law's friend, this colorful and adorable quilt is sure to be a long-time treasured companion.

...and the back:

It is from a free pattern!  The large figures are fussy cut from a panel. The rest of the setting pieces, sashes and borders, and binding are all from the associated coordinated fabrics.

The quilting is free-form stiple. I used matching threads in most of the areas, and transparent monofilament in the rest.

Hard to believe I've made over 130 quilts and this is the first time the Sesame Street characters have made an appearance. So I would like to dedicate this quilt to Sonia Manzano, who played Maria, and just retired after 44 years of being a positive role model for our nation's children.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I like playing with black and white patterns, especially when they can be considered Op Art.  Two of my better examples of this are Labyrinth and Stand Back!!  This quilt does not quite have the same "pop" factor, but it still makes the eye travel back and forth across the canvas.

To reinforce the flow of this original piece, I scoured the internet for just the right fabrics. If you look very closely, you will see that the pattern on the black fabric is actually made up of very tiny black and white lines (click here to see a close-up swatch) that are angled at 45°.  The white fabric has very subtle white-on-white lines (click to see), which I arranged so that the stripes are all vertical.  Thus, the fabrics themselves reinforce the movement from bottom left to top right (or is it top right to bottom left?).

All of the vertical sections are solid (i.e., one-piece) strips. 

I pressed all the seams open because I did not want to create ditches, so I had to be extra precise when matching up the seams. This resulted in some seams being resewed two or three times to get them to line up perfectly. Even so, the seam gnomes came during the night and offset some of them just a wee bit. So it is better to view the quilt from several feet away.

The quilt measures 42 x 37 and is mounted on stretcher bars.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Butterflies III

This is the lucky 13th baby quilt I have made for my friend Mari, and the third time I have used butterflies as the theme. See Butterflies and Butterflies For Hannah for the others.

For this quilt, I started with a panel which had 2 butterflies that were surrounded by the flower pattern seen on the border. The panel itself (24" x 44") didn't work for the design I had in mind, so I bought two of them and fussy-cut the butterflies to 12" x 12". Then I flipped the butterflies on the right side so that they were symmetrical.  
The green and white mini-butterfly border fabrics are the same ones I used in a previous quilt for Mari, Dominique's Garden.
What to do for the quilting?  The butterflies are already so colorful that I didn't want to detract from them. I thought about using variegated thread, but just couldn't find a way to make it work. Then I noticed the thin white border surrounding each butterfly and their distinctive wing patterns.  Yes!!! So I used white thread to free-motion outline each of these. Invisible and gives dimensionality to the butterflies.  I then did use rainbow variegated thread to ditch around the 4 central squares and then in each border ditch.
The final touch was the label for baby Sofia, new sister to Jaxson .   

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


About a year ago I posted my Bulging Checkerboard quilt (Stand Back!), and got a lovely email about it from a quilter in Portland, Oregon named Margaret Ellis.   She also wanted to make that pattern, but in the same size as I did (51 x 51) vs the original 102 x 102 size of the pattern.

Since that time we have corresponded regularly and shared photos and ideas about a number of projects. And, yes....she did make the Checkerboard quilt too.

I have had a pattern in my queue for a long time, "Labyrinth Walk", by The Guilty Quilters. This pattern also makes a huge quilt: 84 x 84! Maybe it's just me, but this is waaaayyyy to big to put on a wall (unless you had a specific large, prominent space in mind), and I think the whole effect / impact would be lost if it was used as a bedspread. Why do these creators make these quilts so big?

I had been able to scale down the Checkerboard to one-fourth size, but for some reason was having trouble doing this one. Margaret reminded me of a fun math fact: halve the dimension and you get 1/4 the size! So she was kind enough to put together a complete set of cutting instructions at the new size of 45 x 45 and sent them to me in December (along with a picture of her version of Labyrinth). The reason it is not exactly a one-quarter scale is that the white strips in the original are cut to 1.25" wide. There is no way to scale those in half and still have room left for a 1/4" seam allowance on both sides. So she just made those 1", which still worked out fine.

I put these new instructions in my "stack of things to be done" because a) we were going away for a week at the end of the month, and b) I was working on another quilt. Then, just after the first of the year, I saw a Facebook posting for an Art Auction at Homer Plessy School in New Orleans. Loyal readers know that my daughter lives in Nola, and one of her good friends is on the board of this school. YES!  I will make Labyrinth as it is a perfect candidate for an auction. But the art piece submission deadline was March 15th! Suddenly, I had to get very busy working on this. Luckily, we have had a string of single-digit and below-zero temp days, and my wife had an out-of-town weekend conference, so I had plenty of time to work on making this quilt.

Here is my finished piece:

As in some other 3D quilts, the farther back you stand, the better the dimensionality.

And, like a lot of quilts, this looks so much harder to make than it actually is! The fabrics are white, light gray, dark gray, and black batiks. There are really just two different blocks and they are arranged in 3 x 3 rows: the "2 concentric squares" block (5 of those), and the "maze" block (4 of those). Each block is about 12" square. It's all in the design, cutting and piecing. The former block is made up of 30 pieces for each, while the latter needs 64!

The two gray borders on the right side and bottom, plus the diagonal black corners, reinforce the apparent depth of the body.

As usual, I did minimal quilting: white thread in the ditch of all the white strips, plus grays and black ditching along the border edges as necessary.

Let me know if you can find your way out of the maze!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ark 3

One of my mother-in-law's dear friends has just become a great-grandmother for the first time! She has been a long-time admirer of my quilts (at my MIL's apartment), so when she learned of the coming event she jumped at the chance to have one made for the new baby.  She looked at my blog posts for some inspiration and decided that she wanted a Noah's Ark quilt.  I have already made two of these (Sebastian's Ark and the original Noah's Ark), both of which used / were based on patterns found in "A Quilter's Ark", by Margaret Rolfe.  I don't like to do the same pattern more than once, so each of these is a little different: different arrangement of the blocks, the size of the blocks, and the animals, etc.

Once I agreed to do this pattern, she informed me that her grand-daughter (the mom-to-be) has always liked armadillos (!) and could I include one in the quilt!!!   Hmmmm.....   If you take the Noah story literally (and who doesn't?), then here had to be armadillos on the boat.  Guess they just don't have as good p.r. as the elephants, zebras, giraffes, and doves.  Well, even so, my pattern book does not include a paper-pieced pattern for an armadillo. But a search of the interwebs turned one up!  In previous Ark quilts the blocks were 5x5 or 6x6.  This pattern was 5x8.  I figured that reducing it would be problematic (lots of little pieces), so instead, I picked the other animals and reconfigured the blocks to varying sizes so that the 5x8 would work. Of course, this meant that I had to actually enlarge the other 11 animal blocks! The animals are not to scale, but what the heck.  I also had to slightly adjust the size of the Ark block.

Since I was adding this "odd" animal, I also decided to include a panda because it was so much fun and so cute in the Best Friends quilt (yes!, there were pandas on the Ark as well!).  And, I put in a sheep; hadn't done one before and it just seemed to fit in well.  The other 10 animals have made previous appearances (and, yes, I am running out of the zebra and tiger fabs!).

The back fabric and binding is a really cute Noah's Ark pattern.  Click here to see the back (and more pix of all my Baby quilts).

And here it is: Ark 3!

Bon Voyage, Little One.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Best Friends

Time for another baby quilt.  Since this one was a complete surprise to the recipient, I had no guidelines (or restrictions) as to color, theme, etc.  So I searched the web for something cute and girlie (knew it was going to be a girl).  I found a picture of one on Pinterest that really fit the bill. It was of a little girl and her best friend, a (toy?, stuffed? real?) panda, lying side by side in their bed.  Unfortunately, there was no pattern for it.  So I decided to just wing it and design it myself.

Here is the result:

The construction: Each of the 6 columns in the "blanket" portion contains 20 rectangles of varying sizes, all made from scraps in my stash (with some repetition). In fact, except for the ruffle, this entire quilt came from the stash!
Then I needed a fabric that looked like a typical little girl's bed sheet.  Checked in the "multi-colored" stash box and amazingly found 2 yards of the perfect fabric (wonder when I had bought it? Wonder why I didn't use it before??).  So this was enough for the bed sheet and the back fabric!  Wow! Perfect.
For the pillows, I first put together the yellow fabric, 2 layers of batting, and then a piece of (hidden) muslin on the back. I sewed these together with a decorative zig-zag stitch. Then I quilted each pillow assembly; did this so that they would look "fluffy" and not be quilted through to the back. Then I attached each one on 3 sides to the sheet fabric using an invisible line of stitching close to the edge.
Then, after many design iterations, I drew, cut, layered and fused the fabrics for the girl and the panda.   
Next, I attached the blanket section to the sheet / pillow section, catching the 4th sides of the pillows and sandwiching the ruffle in between as I sewed.
I wanted to keep the blanket looking fluffy too, so I did minimal quilting: a shadow line 1/4" on each side of the vertical seams, and a similar horizontal shadow at 4 or 5 random places in each column.
Finally, to continue the illusion of a bed (blanket and sheet), I created a split binding. The lower half uses one of the striped fabs contained in the blanket section; the top is the same fabric I used for the sheet.
So it looks like the two friends are tucked in for a night of peaceful dreams........... 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Busy Town

Yep, another grand nephew for my friend Mari. His name is Zachary and he is the brother of Jonathan and Lydia.

This one features brightly colored cars and trucks and buildings and trees.....a busy town indeed!

And the reverse of this two-sided quilt features more of the same.

Monday, September 29, 2014


...or what I did on my summer vacation.

I finished my previous quilt right before we left for Greece and Turkey. And, for one of the few times, I had nothing else in my queue! So when we got back I looked around for a good project to help pass the summer away. Stumbled across the work of Emiko Loeb, a Japanese textile artist who does some amazing things. I found one that I liked and adapted it into the piece you see here. Thus the name: "Lines".

It is a simple piece which features the interplay of the 4 shades of blue and the 5 shades of gray, spiced up with the "woven" black strips as a counterpoint.  Trying to find five shades of gray that worked together was a real challenge (good thing I wasn't looking for 50!). For this piece, I felt I needed fabrics with a very minimal pattern so as not to distract from the design itself.  
I designed the construction using the 5 grays as the vertical sections. Within them are squares and rectangles and strips that build up into bigger sections. Of course, no set-in seams. There are only 118 pieces, so it did not take very long to do the cutting and finish the piecing. You may be able to see some of the seams if you look really closely.
One oddity is the dark gray band in the lower left side that looks like it is a shadow from the black strip. It really is the same color gray as the rest of the section, but even in person it looks darker. No idea why. Maybe one of those eye vs. mind things.
Coincidentally, as I was putting it together, I saw a write-up on matchstick quilting. This is a technique where the quilting is done in 1/4" lines over the entire quilt. I jumped up! Lines! This seemed like the perfect approach to take for this piece. Oh...If I had only known.
I have done pieces with shadow quilting before (which is similar), but this was a different beast altogether.
For the quilting, I decided to match the thread colors in each of the 5 gray sections. And there would be no quilting on the blue or black strips, so that they would "pop' a little (actually, I did ditch quilt around all of them using clear monofilament thread).
And off I went. And went. And went.  OK....1/4" lines....on a piece that is basically 34" x 42". Start...stitch...stop...jump...repeat.  When it was all done, it took nearly two months of work, and there are a total of 773 individual parallel lines of quilting!  Easily, the most extensive quilting I have ever done.
Like many of my other "art" quilts, I put this one on stretcher bars, like a painted canvas. So no need to bind. 
And since I did this just for fun, I am offering it for sale!  The price is $150 (plus shipping if you are not local) or free to relatives.  If you're interested, send me an email. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monkey Time!

This quilt is for Wendy's personal trainer and friend, Rich.  He and his wife, Tanya, are having their first child at the end of July.  The greens and browns are the colors of the baby's room.
I really went out of my comfort zone with the quilting in the dark brown areas. It is stippled, but I kind of made a "scribble" to represent the monkey's fur. Yes, lines crossed over other lines!  How radical.
The quilting in the sky is all horizontal to be suggestive of clouds.  In contrast, the quilting in the vines is all vertical.  The leaves were done to look like... leaves!  And yes, that is a banana that he (she?) is holding.
On the elephant quilt, Wendy suggested adding eyelashes. For this one, the pattern called for a thin horizontal line to represent the mouth. That didn't work for us. So she suggested the triangle shape to be consistent with the eyes and nose. Much better!!!  And of course, we added a tongue; if you look really closely, you will see that the fabric is a scrap leftover from the Happy Hedgehogs quilt!  That's what a stash is for!
This is another adorable pattern from CountedQuilts.com! (See the Mama Elephant quilt from May.) 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Happy Hedgehogs

While looking for fabrics for the "Mama Elephant" quilt , we saw this cute and colorful hedgehog fabric and just had to buy it!  And who doesn't like smiling hedgehogs!!!!!

Luckily, the next quilt in the queue was a baby quilt (for our friend Linda's new grandson Aiden), which was to include royal blue and white.  So I quickly sketched out a simple nine-patch on the spot, we found the blue and white, a matching multi-colored stripe, and voila!

And we bought enough hedgehog fabric to make a matching morsbag for Linda.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Personal Post

This is not a post for another new quilt by me. Rather, I am using this forum for a personal message (with a quilting tie-in).  Please allow me this indulgence.

I am a member of the Illinois Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Last Saturday, the day before Mother's Day, our chapter participated in the "Mother's Dream" quilt project. This is a national project to visually (and viscerally) craft our powerful statement about the impact of gun violence on families. We made dozens of quilt blocks in honor of loved ones lost to gunfire. THANK YOU to St. Sabina in Chicago, and Purpose Over Pain for hosting us! More than 60 guests from all across the state made this gathering such a success.

These blocks, and dozens of others from around the country, will be stitched into quilts. These will then be displayed at Mom's events to reinforce the daily tragedy of gun violence.

While we were making the blocks, the moms (and a few dads) shared the stories of their sons and daughters who had been killed. Many of these were random shootings. Though some happened many years ago, their pain was still very real.  Here is one example:

Fire chief, and Purpose OverPain co-founder, Annette Nance-Holt holds the quilt squares she made. May 10, the very day of our quilting bee, was the 7th anniversary of her beloved son Blair's shooting.

To see the entire album of photos from the event, please click here.

And, if you feel so moved, please click the Mom's link above and add your name to the cause.

Thank you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mama Elephant and Elephinfant

Welcome to a new generation!  Camden Sherr was born on May 3 and is the first great-grandchild for my mother-in-law Pauline.  The new parents, Jesse and Amy, created their nursery with an elephant theme.  I wanted to do something other than  a)  paper-pieced elephants (done that too many times!), or b) some cutesy elephant fabs (done that too). So after a bit of research, I was able to find this great pattern.

This is a very different kind of quilt than I have made in the past.  As I said, it is not paper-pieced, nor is it a "blocks" quilt.  Rather, per the pattern, strips are cut in various lengths (from the appropriate colors), and then assembled in columns. Then the columns are joined. All straight 1/4" seams!!!!
For the quilting on the elephants, I did stipling, but again, unlike what I usually do. Normally, when I stiple, I just do random loopy lines (as I did here in the sky/background), but try very hard not to cross any previous line.  Here I wanted to simulate the look of elephant skin:

So I went for a cross-hatch look.

For the ears, I did straight-line shadow quilting.

The lovely lady-like eyelashes were a late addition suggested by my wife. So cute!  And if you've ever seen an elephant up close, you know they really do have long eyelashes!

PS:  also in the queue is a monkey quilt from the same pattern author. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pythagoras' Lute

This is one of those quilts that has a big "WOW!" factor and looks way more complicated to make than it is.

The secret is that, while the spirals are the dominant feature that your brain interprets from what your eyes see, in actuality, the quilt is made of 10 wedges, each containing a series of pentagrams which build on each other as they expand outward. And there is not one curved line in the quilt!

For more on the history and math behind this design, click here

Since there are 10 wedges, there must also be 10 colors. I used the 7 colors of the spectrum plus red-violet, yellow-green, and blue-green to get to ten. The pattern for this paper-pieced quilt was clear and very easy to follow. Each of the 10 wedges has the same structure; the only thing that changes is the colors of the pieces within them.  And notice that opposing spirals contain the reverse set of colors.

The only thing I didn't like about the pattern was the finishing instructions. They used the "sew-the-back-to-the-top-right-sides-together-and-turn-inside-out" method. This is something I rarely do, even with a basic square quilt!  And with 10 outside points and 10 inside points, and all those bulky seams, this seemed very problematic to me.

So what to do? I thought about raw-edge stitching this to a background or folding and appliqueing, but was not comfortable with either of those approaches. Then...Voila!  I called on old Pythagoras himself to help me come up with setting triangles (3 different sizes; forward and reverse pieces) to turn the decahedron into a square.

Since there are 10 wedges, each one must be 36 degrees. So I used this calculator to determine the unknown sides of the "filler" triangles. Then I made cardboard templates for each of the three shapes. Just to be safe, I made each one a little bigger and trimmed as necessary. Since the background fab was solid black, I could fold it and cut two pieces at once. Then I used one as the forward piece and one as its reverse.

Quilting, as usual, was minimal.  For the Lute, I used clear monofilament and just ditch stitched along each wedge's edge.  For the background, I used black thread and stipled.

As with some of my other colorful and 3D quilts, I mounted this one on stretcher bars. This keeps the quilt top taut. Check out my Quilting Tips blog for instructions on how to do this.

And where will this quilt reside?  I am happy to say that it will be offered for auction at the Hands Of Peace Gala later this month.  HOP is an interfaith organization developing peacebuilding and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian and American teens through the power of dialogue and personal relationships.  I chose to make this pattern since it shows that, even though individuals may have differences (here, literally, size, shape, and color), they can all work in beautiful harmony and come together as one central unifying entity.

Peace and beauty to all.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sebastian's Ark

Another quilt made for a new grand-nephew of my friend Mari.

This time, she asked Jackie, the new mom, to look at my blog for ideas or inspiration. She did so and fell in love with the Noah's Ark quilt.  So that's what Mari asked me to make. 

Once again I used the animals and ark patterns found in "A Quilter's Ark", by Margaret Rolfe.  But, I decided to make a version of the pattern since I didn't want to make the exact same one again.  So I removed the solid blocks and created 10 pairs of animals (male and female!) instead of 13. By eliminating the solid blocks, I was able to put the animals around the perimeter, separated by sashing. This meant that the center ark image (including the rainbow) was larger than in the original (about 40 cubits by 20 cubits). 

The ark is monogrammed with baby Sebastian's name! The front features a peaceful sky and calm waters, while the back has a roiling, storm-tossed sea.

I stiple quilted in matching lavender in the backgrounds around the animals. This makes them puff up and look more life-like. The water has wavy quilted lines, while the "wood" of the ark is reinforced by straight "lumber" lines.  The rainbow is edge-quilted using clear monofilament thread.   

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sunflower Mosaic

As you have probably noticed, I am always looking for something new to do in the quilting genre and am always up for a challenge.  One of the things I've had in my to-do queue has been a mosaic quilt. I got the idea this summer while at the British Museum in London. We saw some ancient mosaics and I thought "that would be neat to do in a quilt".  Obviously, you would want to keep the size of such a piece to a minimum (no bedspreads here!).

A little over a month ago, my mother-in-law Pauline requested another quilt for her apartment. She has a small wall in the bathroom over the towel bar that is vacant (heavens!), and asked if I could come up with something to put there.  Bingo! Mosaic time!  She wanted something bright, and it just popped into my head: van Gogh's Sunflowers!  Here is Vincent's original:

Yup!  That'll do.

So I did some Googling on "mosaic quilts" and eventually found an excellent how-to book: "Mosaic Picture Quilts", by Pat Durbin. The process is similar to making a watercolor quilt (like this one) or a
postage stamp quilt (like this one) in that tiny squares (in this case 1 1/8") are used to make the picture, but that's where the similarity ends. Watercolor quilts are pieced (sewn) like most other quilt tops (and the focus is on color "value"). Postage stamp tops are sewn or fused and then sewn. Mosaics are simply fused.

For mosaics, first you put a transparent grid (also purchased from Pat Durbin) over the original picture. Like so:

Each of the squares should then be treated as if it were a pixel in a digital photograph.
You then draw squares (mine were 1") on a large piece of paper. In effect then, you scale up the original picture to the actual finished size of the quilt. You can then draw the picture, square by square, onto the large sheet, or just use the original + transparency as a guide as you go along. My objective was not to try to duplicate the picture exactly, but to make a reasonable facsimile out of fabric.

Next, a thin, non-fusible interfacing is placed over the large paper. This is the base that the squares will be fused onto. You want it to be thin enough that you can still see the grid squares (and/or drawn-in pattern) through it.

Now the fun part (well, the first fun part): I went through my stash to find appropriately colored scraps of fabric. I ended up with a whole bunch, but as I started the mosaic process, I realized that using batiks (or at least somewhat mottled fabrics) was a better approach than trying to make tiny pieces of different fabs blend together nicely.

Then, starting at one corner and working diagonally, I cut a square (lined with Steam-a-Seam Lite), and fused it into place.  In some areas, as I went along, I sketched parts of the picture directly onto the interfacing. For those squares on the original that had multiple colors (say part of a petal and part of the blue background), I would cut and trim two (or more) fabrics) to approximate the "pattern" (pixel) in that same square of the orig-transparency.  Besides being necessary to creating the facsimile, this adds some dimensionality to the piece.

The squares are 1 1/8", so that when they are fused onto the 1" grid there is a slight overlap (as you can see above). So this is a "mosaic" technique in the sense of building a picture with tiny pieces of material, but, of course, in tile mosaics, there is no overlap.

And here is the final result:

Since the piece has all of those fused squares (some with 4 layers of fabric!), plus the interfacing, it is pretty stiff. Of course, there is also the batting and backing fab. And since it is a small, wall-hanging piece, there was really no need for a lot of quilting (you can see the quilting better from this photo of
the back). The vase is not quilted; this may make it physically stand out from the quilted areas, though not as much as in a normal (i.e., just pieced) quilt.

Because of the fusing, I didn't want to hold the layers together with safety pins as I normally do (holes in fused pieces do not "heal" when the pins are removed!). So I did something which is normally an anathema in quilting: I basted close to the outer edge on the bottom and 1/3 of the way up each side. This allowed me to keep the sandwich together without pins while I got the quilting going. After I quilted the "table" and a few inches of the background, I removed the basting and just held the rest together with a few thin straight pins parallel to the top (and right near the edge, where the holes would later be covered by the binding).

And speaking of the binding, I did something which I don't think I've done before (another challenge!): since this is supposed to look like a painting, I didn't want the narrow binding to appear as a "skinny frame". So, instead of making one long strip that would go all the way around (as is normally done), I made two strips. Each strip consisted of one part background blue fab and one part table bottom brown squiggles fab. I then sewed them on as usual, but had to join the raw ends at both the top and bottom.  So the binding is integrated into the picture and is actually barely distinguishable.

And there it is. My first mosaic quilt!

When I gave it to Pauline, she insisted that it be hung in the living room, as it is "too nice to hide in the bathroom". So that's where it now resides.

For additional tips and information, see this post in my Quilt Tips blog.