Quilting a vintage embroidered quilt top

Posted on 1 Comment

Many moons ago, I purchased a colorful piece of fabric that had all this embroidery on it for a whopping $2. It was one of many common pre-printed pieces available way back when, and sometimes you can even find these today.

I bought it partly to practise quilting on and partly because it reminded me of my Great Aunt Nene, who, despite her love of pants, cigarettes, swearing, and her masculine voice embroidered up a storm. Even after I was married, I still have pillowcases embroidered by her with colorful cartoon characters traced right out of my own coloring books when she ran out of patterns.

Besides – it was 2 whole dollars.

Anyway, I finally felt the time was right for my actual skill level to match the ideas in my head and inspiration finally hit.

After prewashing and trying to get out the two major stains (didn’t work) I used a blue washable marker to trace the major feather spines. I already knew I would outline the embroidery itself and fill in any areas with McTavishing. I used some white chalk to mark about an inch from the cut edges to help me contain the feathers and not get too close to the edges and covered up by binding.

Once I got the top loaded and the first bit of feathers done, I had to decide what to put in the space between the edge of the feathers and the edge of the quilt, knowing some would get covered by binding or trimmed off. In the end I went with micro stippling. I’m still having issues getting it small enough, but it worked well enough for this.

The reason for both the micro stippling and the McTavishing is both designs are dense and flatten the quilt. This means next to big feathers, it will help those pop out more. Had I chosen less dense designs, the feathers wouldn’t look near so nice.

Also note that since on a longarm, I work from the top down, I had to be careful to stop the feather spray at points where I could break the thread and start again later, after rolling the quilt forward.

Once I got down so far, I realized there was another large space between the two embroidered motifs that needed something more than the dense background fill. A quick consult with a couple books, and I decided a heart feather wreath would work. No tracing here – I just sketched it out as evenly as I could, lining it up with the middle of the feather spray above it.

Then I continued on around with the background fill, moving back and forth across the quilt, going downwards and around elements as I came to them.

I knew I had planned another feather spray starting at the bottom, so I left plenty of room for work that would be done later. I made sure to still baste the sides of the top as I went.

Eventually I got down far enough to baste the bottom of the quilt, so I could do the feather spray at the bottom and work my way back up to the middle. I have a large throat space, but I still had to roll the top back to go back up far enough.

If I had to do it again, I would plan where the two sprays met again. I’d left too much space and winged it, adding a quick spray on each end to fill the space. I definitely wanted separation from the interior McTavishing and the outside micro stippling, so the best way to cordon those off was more feathers. (and who doesn’t love more feathers, right?)

And a final mention of the perfect backing fabric I found at Connecting Threads. I knew I wanted something with little bluebirds and a 30’s feel. Then they sent an email that all their wide backs were on sale so that was a sign! (I went to add a link here but the fabric is no longer on their site. Sad face. ūüôĀ )

I still need to bind the quilt, but I’ve decided on a bright pink, matching the embroidered flowers and the birds on the back is a perfect 1930’s finish. I’m also adding a hanging sleeve and will put it in my local quilt guild’s show this fall.

Quilting schedule for the new year

Posted on Leave a comment

Someone asked on twitter recently, so I figured I’d better write out how my schedule works, what’s in the queue and how far out I can schedule new quilts to be made.

I like to leave myself lots of time, since I only quilt on my weekends and a couple nights through the week. The rest of my weeknights are for things like errands, visiting grandchildren and spending time with the husband or my teenage daughter (the last one left at home). Also sleeping.

Right now I say I am booked till March 2017, which means I have enough to keep me busy until then and any new quilts started now will not be finished until then.

Want a tshirt quilt? We’re looking at a March finish.
Want a custom quilt? Yep, March.

Right now I am slightly ahead of schedule, but I still have a list that needs doing. These are all customer quilts somewhere in the completion pipeline.

Harley quilt
Night Sky quilt
tshirt bag
improv baby quilt

+plus two more in preliminary early stages

Fear not, though – at least two of these are near completion or will finish up soon. Most of these will be out the door by the end of January.

So you can start the new year by counting up your tshirts to make a tshirt quilt and get on my list, or finally think about having a custom quilt made to your specifications.

Some custom quilts can take a good six months or so to sort out details, choose fabrics, gather supplies and then there’s the design time…

Any other quilts you see in progress on my various social media accounts are ones that are in my personal backlog and I’m finishing up “just because.” I work on these as creative exercises and a break between client quilts. Most of them will be offered for sale. If you are interested in one you’ve seen – just ask!

As always, any quilt you’ve seen that I’ve made previously that was sold or gifted can also be made just for you. The pricing on the tshirt quilt page is a good place to start – custom quilts are more, depending.

Thinking about a longarm

Posted on 1 Comment

For those of you who are not quilters, or not familiar with a long arm, it is a quilting machine. It looks like a sewing machine, but it is on rails on a track. The operator moves the machine over the quilt, instead of doing what I do now – maneuvering the quilt through the machine. A long arm is pretty much the Holy Grail of quilting equipment.

I super love quilting. Well, I’ve been sewing for 30+ years, quilting off and on, but when the modern quilting movement hit and free motion quilting became popular, it was something that really struck me. I wanted to try it so I did.

And I LOVED it.

Eventually I upgraded my trusty 25 year old machine to a shiny new Bernina QE 440. Holy wowzers. Any struggles I had learning to FMQ were solved. All I needed then was practise. And boy howdy have I been practising!

For the past two or three years I have been treating my quilting hobby as if it were a business. The volume of quilts being finished is pretty good – around 25 a year. Some of them have hours and hours of quilting time. On one (not gonna say which one) I’m sure there were 16 hours put in. (No, I didn’t charge enough and the price I did charge made me gulp anyway.)

I have a full time job too. That’s not going to change. I’m perfectly happy right now being a part time quilter. And as in any kind of manufacturing business, one of the biggest ways to increase your business if you can’t increase the time, is to produce things faster.

That’s the other thing you can do with a longarm. It’s just *faster*. Even with the custom quilting work. If you ever wonder why I’m so hard on my on work, it’s because the people I look up to are not only long arm quilters, but leaders in the field. You know, people like Angela Walters, Karen McTavish, ¬†Judi Madsen, Karlee Porter.

So, what’s stopping me? Well for starters – the price. YES I know I have a Bernina, which is like the Ferraris of sewing machines. But we got a deal on it (shop model) and … my mom bought it for me. In return, I do all her quilting. Fair enough.

A longarm starts at $5,000 US dollars for the most basics of models, for small quilts. They also come in sizes. So that 5K model? It only does baby and lap size quilts – no larger. You want one that will let you do up to king size? Now you’re looking at 12K. You want computerized controls? Shoot up to $20k.

If you’ve ever sent your quilts out to a longarmer to quilt for you – now you know why they charge what ¬†they do.

Longarm machines also take up a LOT of room. The largest have 12 foot tracks. Plus you need to put them somewhere you can walk all around them.

Those of you who don’t follow me anywhere else may not know we bought a house last year. well, a year ago last November. We are still renovating and haven’t moved in yet. ¬†Renovations are expensive! Plus my new sewing room currently looks like this:


It will not be finished before we move in.

Another challenge is you can’t just go to your local quilt shop or fabric chain and pick one up. They are sold via dealers. The closest to me are Halifax or Montreal. Minimum 6 hour drive in either direction. And what happens if I get one and it needs maintenance or repairs?

Plus there’s so many different features and add-ons, I don’t even know what I want or need yet. I need more exposure. While there are 3-4 people locally (within 100kms) who offer longarm services, none of them (to my knowledge) rent time on the machine to other quilters or give lessons.

So yeah – for now this is on my dream list. I know that “someday” it may be possible, but realistically it will be 2 to 5 years before I can even seriously look at some.

And take for a test drive.

And do the quilting I dream about.

Until then I’ll just drool and doodle and be the best domestic machine quilter I can.


Giggles quilt gone minimalist

Posted on Leave a comment

I have a whole pile of quilts I’ve started and finished since the last time I posted, plus some diversions into sewing bags. Like I keep telling others, just start writing.

I finally had a night with no plans and a need for mindless sewing. On a previous occasion, I had cut and bagged a number of planned quilts, so I grabbed the pieces for the Giggles quilt I had all ready to go.

Sometimes I look at stash fabrics I should use and patterns I wish to try and occasionally they line up magically. I had an idea in my head for this quilt to be very minimalist – mostly white and blue, with one single red arrow. I thought it would look striking.

I mostly just glance at patterns and skim directions. In this case I sewed too many diamonds one way. The illustrations made it seem like they were all sewn in one direction, but they are not. I love to batch sew, so I regrouped and set up batches, eventually lining up my rows correctly and making sure the red was going to wind up in the right place.

I didn’t stop to take pictures, I was half watching & listening to Hemlock Grove (of all things) on Netflix while I sewed and pressed, finding my happy place and just relaxing. I figure the piecing took 2 1/2 hours, including mistakes.

I taped it up in the only available place in my sewing cave and took this single shot.

modern solids giggles quilt. #gigglesquilt #quilting.

Afterwards I took a nice long hot soak in the tub. It was glorious.

Still deciding on binding – likely the blue – and the backing, which I can’t decide between the blue (because I have lots) or the white (of which I have enough for many quilts).

The quilting hasn’t yet been figured out. Lines placed 1/4″ from some seams would work but might be too sedate. I don’t quite want to do heavy custom work in each square either.

It will come to me eventually.

This quilt isn’t for anyone in particular, just an exercise in piecing and design. It will likely go up for sale.

Finishing an old quilt top: Spools Blocks

Posted on Leave a comment

Yesterday on my day off I was super tired and worn out, so I didn’t want to work on anything client related unless I screwed it up. This is almost a given, if I sew when tired.

I went to my sewing cave and decided to look at tops I have waiting to be pieced to see which ones I could do some mindless sewing on. There is one top where all the rows are done, I just have to sew them together, and I had recently dug out a bag of 23 finished blocks that needed sashing.

Sorting out fabric and blocks is a good thing to do when you don’t feel like much else. I also dug out my box of white scraps and found suitable bits to use for sashing.

I cut out the short bits first and dint stop to think how many I needed and cut out far too much. Then I had to dig out more quite scraps for the longer pieces. I would up having to piece the long sashings anyway, but the less seams on those the better.

I also had to decide how to lay them out and with 23 blocks it was either give up some or add some. On a whim, I decided to try and find the original pattern I’d used. Still had the book because it was one of my grandmother’s. None of it was strip piecing, no. Just cut out these triangles and this trapezoid. I almost want to make an easier version for the precuts of today.

It was also super interesting to see how far I’d come with my piecing. Some of the blocks were made with leftover bits from garments I’d made in the mid to late nineties, so there were pieced scraps and bits cut off grain mostly so I would have enough to fit in the blocks themselves.

I also got way better at piecing in general – even if my newer blocks would up a good half inch bigger.

I ran into trouble with one row where I’d added two new blocks and of course hadn’t really trimmed to match. With seam ripper in hand (again) I had to fix some wobbly sashing. That was the fourth and last time I used the seam ripper on this top.

I’d miscounted and wound up with an extra block, then found a very unsuitable block done with rayon type fabric that would never have help up to daily wear. I had to excise it from almost the middle of the quilt. Not to mention whipping up 3 blocks and adding sashing took me well over 4 hours – something I can do in two on a good day.


In the end I have a useable if not sellable quilt top – and one wonky block at the end with some spools cut almost in half to make things even.


I left it on purpose. Sometimes you not only need a reminder of how far you’ve come, but on how you can still make the same mistakes. As my husband says, “Can you still nap under it? Then it’s fine.”

No idea how I’ll quilt this yet – probably something all over, just to get it done. For the backing I think I’ll go with an allover print from stash, just to keep up with the overall bright colors from the front. Then a scrappy or bright solid binding.

Things I’m working on

Posted on 2 Comments

I went and launched a service to make tshirt quilts from WordPress conference tshirts. That had suddenly taken off.

My mom’s local quilters are asking me for a price list of quilting services.

Everything coming out of the woodwork at once.

Yet, every so often, I get completely inspired and skip the list of must-dos and toss in something else. Like my list is short enough to do this. Oh, I also got some great forms to organize my quilt projects – except it made me realize the list was a total of 40. At least that’s where I stopped.

So. Since mid January:

I made and sold this Disco quilt from Glimmer fabrics. Sorry for sideways. Ready for @houseofgrays ! Will email in the morning. *yawns*

I made this minimalist yet Americana quilt designed by the web designer I work with at my day job. She hired me to make it for a friend.

Yep, job well done I'd say. #quilt #merica #old #flag #callmebetsyross #commision

I’ll be writing this up as a pattern, since I did all the math for you. Had a work trip to Dallas so I delivered it in person.

Did a Take 5 quilt top from stash.
Borders done! And I'm done. 

Made two flannel sleep sacks.
<img loading=

Sewed some strips from a Moda scrap bag. Figured out what to do next – turn it into a Chinese Coins top. I need to order a matching brown solid to finish.
Mods scrap bag I pieced on Friday. It's so narrow. So my idea is to cut it in thirds or fourths and introduce brown sashing and borders. #quilt #create. #yearofmaking #design

Made a Log Cabin Hidden Stars top from a book.
Log cabin hidden stars quilt top I finished on Friday. Plus backing and binding.

Taught my youngest how to use the sewing machine so she could make some scarves and capes she designed, from Pokemon.
Teaching Emma to sew.

Made a scrappy strip quilt from Sunday Morning quilts. This was unplanned.
For girls who like pink. This wound up bigger than expected. #quilting #pink

Made HST blocks from a small jelly roll and extra solids. Lost motivation.
Will rearrange some blocks for color but yeah. Think I'm making one twin size instead of two baby quilts from these blocks. #yearofmaking

Made a tshirt quilt for a client. Still working on it. This is top of the list.
Thinking of adding borders. @suzettefranck ?

Designed a pattern to use the fabrics I bought on our summer vacation. Super Shoo Fly and I want to write up a pattern for it.
Super shoo fly lap #quilt  Thinking of writing up the pattern.

Cut the pieces for a Northern Lights quilt that has been on the list for ages. Sewed the blocks together in strips.
Just one of the many #quilts in progress.

Made purse sized tissue holders last night with another daughter and now I want to make twenty.
Making tissue holders with my daughter meaghan.

Also pending is another tshirt quilt where the shirt arrived just yesterday, and a QR code quilt for a client. The fabric is on its way already.

Making a bag and purse for a friend (for money!) but she needs to decide what fabric. I introduced her to the world of designer fabrics so it could take a while!

Then this week my cheap iron that I bought last year, and had immediate regrets over, finally died spectacularly. It had seemingly one temperature – scorching. It would scorch cotton on the silk setting and melt things on the highest. Filling the tank with water for steam meant steam shot out constantly, even with the steam switched to off.

I was not sad to see it go, and replaced it with a much better brand. Lesson learned.

So, if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, I do all that around a full time job. No wonder that when I have time to quilt, I barely snap a picture, let alone blog about it.

The trouble with inspiration

Posted on Leave a comment

I spent a few days being sick, or working on other¬†things, so I haven’t had a lot of sewing or quilting time over the last week. Then when I have had a little bit of time the sheer amount I could work on is almost overwhelming.

But today, some inspiration struck. I pulled out my bags of solids sorted by color and started sorting each colorway into scraps and 1 yard cuts or more.

This led to more inspiration from patterns I’ve wanted to do, but hadn’t yet matched up to fabrics I had. ¬†Of course, now my problem is the pile of “quilts I want to make” has gone up by at least two – wait, three more.

And this leads to my conundrum. The reason I plowed through my finishes last year was to get through the massive amount of quilt tops that were sitting and waiting, some as old as four years. There are still tops waiting but the pile is much smaller now. I think maybe 5 or 6 need basting, all have backings now too. There is one quilt half quilted, one top near complete and maybe two or three in progress.

So, the largest pile at the moment is of quilts to make – fabric pulled, pattern chosen, just waiting for me to cut into it. And today I *really* wanted to cut into some fabric and get sewing.

But that is where I stopped.

And I had to examine why and talk it over out loud to figure it out. I stopped for a few reason – I didn’t want to get interrupted. It was later in the day and I had maybe an hour at most. Why start if I cant fully enjoy it and have to stop just when I really got into it?

Really this shows how spoiled I am at have a day or a two A WEEK to do nothing but sew. Sheesh. And if I enjoy it, I should enjoy whatever timeI have, right? I’ve been known to make sure I sew for as little as ten minutes to make sure I enjoyed a bit of sewing that day.

Another reason was I didn’t want to get stuck with a pile of mostly done quilt tops. Or do a bunch of quilts with no recipient in mind.

But – I have managed to finish a whopping pile of quilts in the last year. While musing out loud I said to my husband, if I do twenty quilts in a year, does it matter if I do them one at a time, after another, or all at once? Probably not.

I mean, maybe if I start all of the ones pending that might be a bit much. I do want to know what it’s like to work on one thing only, but I suspect I’ll get bored. And looking back, I *did* manage to start and finish multiple quilts in a short time frame because I was motivated and inspired. Part of Past Me had started so many quilts at once because I was terrified I was going to forget my plans. But this time, i have things all sorted – fabrics bagged with patterns. There’s no mistaking what I intended, especially with sticky notes left on bundle for backing, borders and binding too.

And so what if some have no intended home yet? some I’m making just for the joy of making that particular pattern, or using that fabric. Some I know I want to sell afterwards. I clearly love the process of it more than the finished object itself.

So why am I making it hard and over thinking?

Of course, now it is the end of the day and I’ve run out of time to sew or even play with fabric. Alas. Maybe tomorrow.

Working through it

Posted on 1 Comment

On Friday I got word that a good friend had passed away. The details don’t matter, I guess, but hearing the news as people discovered it was terrible.

Kim & I met online, but she wasn’t just my “online” friend. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t actually met in person until last October. We had a lot in common, and she always said she’d take me on a tour of quilts in Amish country near her home.

She wasn’t a quilter, but she loved my quilts and always encouraged me.

By Saturday, news was still spreading, tears were still flowing, and I was beside myself. I had to do something, but there was nothing helpful I *could* do.

So I quilted.

Because Kim was so encouraging and believed in me, I picked up a quilt I had set aside. It had been basted for a good couple of months, waiting for me to work on it.

The truth was, I was scared.

I had an idea and was unsure if I could execute it, even if it was half formed. But Kim knew I could do it. She’d kick me in the behind too, giving me a push whenever I sent long emails full of angst.

Another good friend of mine says everyone grieves in their own way, and for me, I need to keep busy. So I wound a few bobbins, picked up that quilt, put it under the machine, took a deep breath… and quilted.

The design itself is an explosion of foliage trailing across the quilt top. Some sections are breaking out into the borders. It’s a celebration of life – a life well-lived.


I only have a vague idea of what to quilt in the background, between the leaves and loops and fantastical flowers, but I’ll forge ahead anyway.


I’m not even sure what will happen to this particular quilt when it’s done. I only know that every time I see I’ll think of it as Kim’s Quilt.

Trying out graffiti quilting

Posted on 2 Comments

I can’t remember if it was early in the last year or before that, but I first saw Karlee Porter’s graffiti quilting on Pinterest and was, quite simply, blown away.

So when she finally came out with a book, Graffiti Quilting: A Simple Guide to Complex Designs of course I put it on my wishlist and eventually bought it.  Shipping stuff to Canada is expensive, ugh.

Anyway, by the time I got my hands on the book itself, I’d practised on paper.


And I practised on fabric too. But after reading the book I sat down with my large box of coloured threads and went to town, copying one of her pieces (which she highly encourages, for practise).


In a way it’s hard, like any FMQ, because you’re not sure what to do next, or where to go. You have to really stop and think. So in one sense, you can’t really mark it on the fabric first, if you like doing that. You’d have to do some rough sketches first. Also, if you use thicker thread, you have to manage the thread build up, maybe incorporate it to look like thicker lines in the design itself.

But in the other sense? Oh boy, what creative freedom. It’s almost scary.

I have a quilt all basted and ready to go and has been sitting waiting for a least a month. I plan to do something similar to graffiti quilting but not as visible, just all white thread on a quilt with a white background.

And yet I still hesitate.

Looking over last year’s posts, I did see how I had issues working on one quilt and the gap of creative constipation in there is noticeable when I scroll through my photos.

I mean – what’s the worst that can happen? I hate it? If it doesn’t turn out as good as I see in my head, why does that matter? It’s not like anyone else can see what I see in my head, even if I sketch it out before hand. Right? And it’s going to be white on white for the most part… sheesh.

I need to take my own advice and just stitch it already.

Almost got another finish in under the wire

Posted on Leave a comment

I ordered a pile of stuff from Fat Quarter Shop on Black Friday. My grubby hands finally got a bunch of Jaybird Quilt patterns, including Glimmer.

I used the Pillow option to make a small table topper in some remaining Jingle All The Way Christmas fabric.

And then last night I squeezed out some time to do this:


It was pretty fast, maybe 40 minutes? And I had to change bobbins twice, mostly because I was using up half empty ones. I did a different design in each color section.

Now all I need to do is bind this in the matching red print and it’s done. First finish of 2015!