Quilters Lead Pieceful Lives.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Little Playmates

Our good friends Pam and Steve just had their first grandchild:  William (Will) Ethan Greffenius.
This quilt was made to celebrate his arrival.

Pam provided the color scheme. The front is a combination of panel-blocks (featuring an assortment of playmates) and "woven" blocks. The ditch quilting in the woven blocks follows the "strips" in either matching green or orange thread.  The quilting in the panels replicates the woven look in a matching blue thread. The same three colors (orange, green, and blue) are reflected in the fun striped border.

The back is another fabric in the same group as the small panels on the front.  The same "playmates" are featured, but in a bigger scale.  So Will can use either side for twice the fun!!!!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kids Around The World I and II

Same pattern, two quilts!

Had two more baby quilts come to the top of the queue, and decided to look for a pattern that would enable me to use some of my hundreds of scrap fabs.  I found a cute paper-pieced boy and girl pattern (actually called "Little Peeps"!) from one of my favorite sources Piece By Number Quilts.

I was given a color scheme by each recipient, so I purchased the inner border / binding and outer border / back fabrics to meet those guidelines.

Each quilt contains 4 boys and 4 girls; their faces contain 8 different skin tones. Rather than put in eyes, noses, and mouths to try to "identify" where each figure came from (which of course would be presumptuous), I will leave it to the imagination of the kids who will cuddle with them.

The first quilt (above) was made for Milo Prass, brother of Ruby (whose quilt can be seen here, and oddly enough was also part of a two-fer).  

The second quilt was made for Jacob, new grandson of my mother-in-law Pauline's friend Susan.

Dedicated followers of this blog (and other eagle-eyes) should be able to recognize the original quilts made with some of the over 30 different fabrics used in these pieces.

These were certainly fun to make. I don't usually like to repeat the same pattern, but because: 
a) the peeps are scalable (these happen to be 6" squares on point), 
b) you can add more to make a bigger size quilt (these are rather smallish at 23 x 32), and 
c) they are made with scraps so each would be unique,
...I would certainly consider doing them again at some future time.

PS: After seeing this post, one of my loyal followers commented: "I like that they look like stars. Every kid should feel like a star sometimes!"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Soshanguve BlocKKs

When Emily was living in Soshanguve, South Africa, she became friends with a couple who lived nearby, Doug and Colletta Rhoads (similar name, but no relation).  Earlier this year, Em informed me that they were expecting their first child. So of course another Shwe Shwe quilt was added to the queue!  And here it is:

Once again, as with Shwe Shwe Diamonds, these are (primarily) Shwe Shwe fabrics, made in South Africa, that we bought from The African Fabric Shop in West Yorkshire, England.  We also got the pattern from there, although I modified it somewhat. It features off-kilter blocks and a striped semi-border. The border stripes and small block centers have a selection of 20 different fabrics. The large block centers contain fussy cuts of stylized African animals (that same fabric is used on the back).

And, as usual, we wracked our brains for a fitting name for the quilt.

In Sosh, Em lived in "Block HH". The blocks are really what we would call neighborhoods, but they do have official, recognized boundaries (more like our townships).  Doug and Colletta (still) live in Block KK (in fact, their blog includes their address there!). 

After many back and forth suggestions, we finally came up with "Soshanguve BlocKKs"!  This, of course, refers both to the quilt blocks themselves, and to their "Block KK" home.    Perfect!

We sure hope new baby Eletsa approves!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ivy's Fleur de Lis

What could be more symbolic of New Orleans than the Fleur De Lis?!  So this quilt makes the perfect "Welcome to NOLA" gift for Ken and Melanie's newest daughter Ivy (who joins Avery and Eliza).
And, she came into the world on 11/12/13, which makes her even more special (if that's possible!).

I found a downloadable pattern for a paper-pieced fleur de lis at eQuiltPatterns.com. The original pattern calls for one 18" paper pieced fleur (108 pieces!), bordered by small squares, plus a solid-piece inner border and an outer border also made of small squares. So I modified it into a kid-sized quilt (38"x38") by using 4 fleurs and adding an additional striped border (with mitered corners) outside of the small squares. This striped fabric was also used as the backing of the quilt. Notice that there are four different colored small squares and that these same 4 colors are used in the fleurs.

Since Emily is back in New Orleans, I called on my local color expert, my wife Wendy, to help pick out just the right colors for a precious little girl.  We were able to find a complete colorway at Hawthorne Threads, so all of the colors work seamlessly (ha! a little quilter humor) together. This group included just the right scale of small-flower fabric to use in the solid-piece border.

For the quilting, I considered doing echo quilting around the fleurs, but there were so many lines / seams from the paper piecing that I thought it might lessen the effect and make it look too busy. So my old standby, stipling, seemed like the best bet (this approach actually helps to soften and hide the paper pieced seams). Of course, this makes the unquilted fleurs puff up which gives them added dimensionality. Then I ditched around both sides of the inner and outer small squares borders. The final touch was using the small-flower fab as the binding.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Optical Illusions Article

The November, 2013 issue of Australia's Homespun magazine contains an article titles "See Change: Optical Illusion Quilts". Among other beautiful works, it features my "3D Color Study" quilt, and also includes the model of the Bulging Checkerboard quilt that I used for my "Stand Back" quilt. 

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Shall I Be?

Another quilt for my friend Mari!

The name of the quilt comes from the theme fabric which features different "occupations".  You can see more on the back of the quilt:

OK - so most of them appear to be sports related, but so what.  Let baby Jaxson decide.

The quilt itself is a simple block pattern using a theme print.  I tried to make the blocks colorful, and then found a rainbow-colored fabric for the sashing. Then, I reused the block border fabrics in strips to make a multi-colored binding.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Begin Again

Earlier this year, after 20+ years in a big old house in Oak Park, my brother- and sister-in-law, Mike and Brooke, downsized and moved into a condo in Evanston.  That is the origin of the name that she chose for this work.

Brooke has very eclectic tastes, and the furniture and accessories in their new place reflect this. Among these accessories are some stained glass panels.  But she saved the wall over their fireplace for a unique piece and commissioned me to make it.

Brooke is an artist, and she came up with this design as a starting point:

It picks up on other colors in the room, and also echoes some of the elements of the stained glass.

I took that rough design and put it into Excel and began playing with the colors, the arrangement, the sizes, and the shapes.  We went back and forth over a number of iterations (discovering in the process that an iPad does NOT always accurately display the Excel graphics!), and eventually agreed on a final design.

Here is the result:

Rather than using a traditional piecing approach (except for the light and dark gray backgrounds), I decided to cut the pieces to size and then fuse them on. This is the same approach I took with   Reflections [Visualize Whirled Peas]. Then I stiple quilted the background and did horizontal, vertical, and circular (as appropriate) free-motion quilting in the objects.

Finally, the finished quilt (46 x 28) was mounted on wooden stretcher bars.

And here it is in its place of honor:

Monday, July 15, 2013



The name of this quilt refers to the "explosive" nature of the optical illusion, and also as a suggestion to the viewer to get the maximum effect.

Here is the illusion: ALL of the squares are actually square, and ALL of the lines are actually straight!  Yes!!!  Go ahead....take a ruler or whatever and match it up to any line on the photo. I'll wait...........SEE!!!!!!!!!!

This illusion is known as "The Bulging Checkerboard".  Here is a link which shows how the mind overrides what the eye is actually seeing. Watch what happens as the slider moves and the small squares disappear.   And here is another link showing this effect created using Legos!

One thing that I find very interesting is that the effect is way more evident in the photos than in the actual quilt (although, as I said, if you stand back a ways and squint it is readily visible). Can anyone out there explain why this is so?  Could it be that because the camera's image is smaller the effect is more pronounced?

This FREE pattern was created by Krista Zaleski.  Her version is a huge 102" square. The blocks are 6" x 6" finished. Since this really needs to be hung on a wall to get the full effect, I scaled mine down to one-quarter of hers. So it is 51" x 51" (3" blocks).  Even so, it still contains 1,275 pieces! The smallest ones are 1 3/8" x 5/8"! TINY!!!!  Each of the "diagonal" blocks is actually a modified 9-patch!  The horizontal and vertical axis squares are made of 7 pieces each.

I quilted it on a diagonal (black thread in the black squares; cream in the cream) to emphasize the bulge.

There is a hanging sleeve on the top of the back. I also put corner triangles on the back bottom so it can use a wooden dowel (or other similar oblect) to add a little weight and keep the quilt taut. All the better to promote the illusion.

And here's the good news: I am giving this quilt away for free* to one of my faithful readers!  Just email me your name by noon Central this Friday. I will put all the names in a 55-gallon drum and pull out one lucky winner.

*No legalese; just a disclaimer:  If you are not in the Chicago area and you are the winner, you will have to pay either:  a) postage for me to send it to you, or  b) airfare if you want me to hand deliver it. Your choice.

Update:  The drawing for the quilt was won by Mibby Novak, a fellow quilter and travel friend from Pennsylvania. Congratulations Mibby!!!!!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

ShweShwe Diamonds

About a year ago, when Emily first visited us from South Africa, she brought with her some authentic brown ShweShwe fabrics.  There was about a half meter of each fabric; not nearly enough to make a decent sized quilt. So we agreed we'd wait until she came home (last December) to decide what to do.

Once she was settled back in good ol' Deerfield, we set to work looking for a good design. We didn't necessarily want something that said "Africa", but we did want to take advantage of the fabrics.  We looked and looked and finally found a design on Pinterest that we liked.  Because the design was made up of little squares, I set about to find a way to make it work. I discovered that not only was it possible, but this type of thing even had a name -- "postage-stamp quilt".   This is a quilt whose design is made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny squares, usually cut to 2" (so they are 1.5" finished).  I had never made one of these (though I did make a watercolor quilt with 2" finished squares).  So it seemed like a good challenge and we began working on the design. We went through many possibilities and versions and setled on one with colored diamonds on a brown background. To get the effect we wanted, but still keep it lap quilt size, we determined the squares had to be a meager 1" finished!

Great! So we had the brown background fabrics...but where to get the other fabrics?  Most of the time, people make postage stamp quilts to use the piles of fabric pieces they have accumulated in their stash. But, even though our design was not specifically "African", we did want all of our fabrics to be authentic ShweShwe cloth. So the stash option was not going to work.

Side note: What is ShweShwe? The name of the quilt refers to the Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric. It has a long history, and was originally produced only a couple of times per year, mostly for traditional ceremonial uses in rural African areas.  The process was done traditionally whereby 100% cotton fabric was fed through copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing a weak acid solution to be fed into the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive white designs. This created a beautiful pattern. To learn more, click here

A trip to the factory in South Africa was out of the question! So we turned to the internet.  There are a number of sources for this fabric in the US, South Africa, and Australia (apparently it is very popular all over the world!), but the one that had the best option for us was The African Fabric Shop in Meltham, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom! We ordered a pack that had 25 assorted fat quarters; it arrived 6 days later! So we began to cut them into the two-thousand and thirty five squares we needed for the top.

As we were researching possible patterns, we came across an amazing technique to make the actual sewing process way less tedious and almost fool-proof. It is on Elizabeth Hartman's fabulous "Oh, Fransson!" quilt blog. She uses fusible interfacing (I went with Shape Flex; get the thinnest you can find), fuses the squares onto it, and then sews in the seam allowances! Sounds crazy, I know, but it works great and gives you perfect corner points 99% of the time. Click for step-by-step instructions.

The quilt top is 37 x 55 finished, so we divided it up into 9 sections (so that each section would fit on one width of interfacing. Remember, although it is 37 x 55 when finished, the cut squares measure about 55 x 83 prior to fusing and sewing). The pieces from each section were fused on and then sewn across and down. Then the 9 sections were joined together.

Here is a photo of the first section of 216 pieces after they have been arranged and fused to the interfacing...

...and here is the same section (upper left), after all of the seams have been sewn in, next to the adjoining sections (on my design wall, prior to fusing and sewing):

And here (FINALLY) is the front of the finished quilt:
Then we had to decide what to do for the back!  We did not have enough of any one fabric for a one-piece back, so it was "back" to the drawing board. Emily came up with a design that sort of mimicked the diamond shapes on the front, and used almost all of the fabrics. And the best part was that the original four brown fabrics are highlighted in the middle and the border (the border was included to ensure that none of the triangle / diamond points would be lost after the quilting and trimming were done).  So we began to fit the leftover scraps of fabric to the design shapes, and....OH NO!  There were not enough pinks and reds to make it work! What to do?  The store in England did not have the colors we needed. Hello internet!  This time we found just the right fabs at French Connections in Pittsboro, NC! At last, all the pieces were in place:

For the quilting, I used clear monofilament on top and a variegated brown on the bottom. The pattern is a straight-line spiral in each of the diamonds on the front (though it might be easier to see in the picture of the back).

Thanks to the thought and effort we put into the design, it truly ends up being a quilt with two "front" sides!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Em's Knitting Bag

My daughter Emily is a knitter, so when I saw this pattern at Quilter's Heaven, I knew we had to make it together!

Em picked out the fabrics and a nice chunky button.

Here is a shot of the inside showing the two pockets.

My quilting buddy Donna loves to make bags, so we arranged for a sewing date at her amazing studio for the three of us.  Here are the two finished bags.
Since Donna does not knit, we decided her bag was perfect for a baguette and a bottle of wine!

Monday, February 11, 2013


Another excellent 3D paper-pieced pattern from Piece By Number. The keys to making this pattern work are the alternating color bands and the precisely matching points. This was easily accomplished using the  pattern's instructions and templates.

For this piece I chose to use mottled Batik fabrics instead of the usual bright solid fabrics I've used on other 3D pieces. The light- and dark-colored strips give the illusion of interwoven 3D cubes.

The quilting was done using smoky transparent monofilament on top and black thread in the bobbin. I ditch-quilted just around the inner and outer edges of each of the 6 cubes.  Thus the quilting is almost invisible. Another example of using the quilting as a totally functional element of the piece.

Thankfully this piece is rather small (21 x 21), as it will need to find wall space to hang in Pauline's apartment.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poppies In Bloom

I made this striking double bed-sized quilt for my cousin Bobbie.  She loves blue and white, so she picked out the fabrics. It is difficult to see in this photo, but the top background fabric has a white-on-white swirl pattern that looks somewhat like rose (or poppy!) blossoms.  The back has a small white-on-white wonky geometric pattern.

The pattern, called "Poppy!" (by Ruth Powers), is really just one poppy, and it calls for using freezer paper. However, to look better as a bedspread, we decided to make four flowers. I then adapted it to use the paper-piecing technique.

This is probably the largest paper-pieced work I have ever done. Each petal square is 24" x 24" and contains 144 pieces (spread out over 14 subsections)!  Though all four use the same fabrics, each is slightly different from the others, just as all natural blossoms would be.

The quilting: For the flowers, I used a medium blue thread, and a free-motion pattern like this:

I did this separately in each mini-section of the petals to simulate veins (or at least striations). So some of the lines are lighter than the petal section, some are darker, and some blend. The purple and gray areas were done with matching threads.

The background was stippled in white with my usual squiggly lines to reinforce the swirl pattern of the front fabric.

And, as I did for Karen's Kwilted Kubes, this quilt was made in 8 sections; the four flowers, mid-top and -bottom, and the two side pieces. They are clearly visible in this photo since it was backlit. This allowed me to easily quilt each section on a standard machine and then sew them together when the quilting was done.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Laptop Bag Experiment

My daughter Emily got a new lap top recently. Of course, it was a different size (bigger!) than her old one, so the padded sleeve she had did not work. What to do!?!?!?!  Checked several local merchants, looked on-line at a bunch of sites.  Lots of different sizes....how could we be sure if any particular one would fit the new PC snugly? And the colors and styles available....not exactly what she wanted.

What to do?!?!?!?!?! If only there was a pattern available to make one!  So we searched and found this (free!) one at Sew Mama Sew.

Em and I worked on it together. We improved the pattern by adding a front pocket and doubling the interfacing to add extra cushioning.

The pattern includes the formula to determine the size for any laptop. We wanted the end result to fit the dimensions of hers, but be just big enough to hold the PC snugly. Since we added the extra layer of interfacing, we had to tweak the formula. Hence the experiment!

We first made a "test" model of just the outside front and back using muslin. When we slipped the PC in, it was already snug. Uh-oh! So we made a second version a 1/2" wider. This seemed better, but without the double-interfacing and lining fabric, there was still a significant margin for error that hung over us as we began the real case.

Though the directions were pretty clear (and had excellent accompanying photos), we made a few mistakes along the way (like using the wrong color thread). So we both got practice in ripping! But nothing that we couldn't easily recover from.

Finally we were done!!! We put the PC in! The side dimensions were right on, but it was sticking out just a tad on the top. So we ripped the bottom seam and resewed it at 1/4" instead of 1/2".

Here is the result:

With a strong Velcro strip and a matching yellow lining.....

A perfect fit!