Monthly Archives: November 2011

Embellishing Quilts


My first love is art quilting, which completely explains by desire to sew things on quilts. I have a sizable collection of buttons, trim and ribbon just waiting to find their place on a quilt. Unfortunately, the items in my stash are usually not perfect for my current project and I’m off at the fabric or bead store trying to find the right items.

It’s my opinion that art quilters tend to over-embellish. I’ve been at many shows and felt like they attached everything but the kitchen sink to their art work. I think that we should follow Tim Gunn’s oft-given advice on Project Runway and “edit, edit, edit!” The embellishments should enhance the quilt, not overpower it.

That said, there are quilts that cry out for embellishments. This flip-flop quilt was one. I chose different buttons and trim for each set of flip-flops. It is a fun wall quilt that makes me wish for spring!

Embellishments need to add to the quilt!

Flip Flops -- embellishments for toe piece and straps

Flip Flop Quilt

Little Twisters Christmas Tree #2


Here is my second Christmas Tree using the Little Twisters tool. As you can see, I used a black background to offset the metallics from the charm pack.

This was my second tree using the Little Twisters tool. (You can see my first tree on my November 28th post.) So I got a little smarter!

The first thing I did was pay attention to color. Rather than randomly spacing the 5 inch squares, I arranged them strategically from light (on top) to dark (on bottom). It gives a water color effect to the quilt that I really like.

My second change was to pay more attention to the borders. Once again, I hunted through my stash to find a fabric that would help showcase the tree. No luck. It is VERY hard to find a fabric that matches the 50 colors in the tree. Finally I settled on continuing the black background into the border and I think it’s very effective.

The last change I made was in the size of the quilt. In my first quilt, I added a 3 inch border and was happy. This time I aimed to achieve a more pleasing ratio of 3:4 (width to height) and made my bottom borders wider than my side borders.

As with my last tree, I really wanted to use some embellishments. I tried to use the strings of miniature lights I got at Joann Fabrics, but they got lost with the pattern of the tree. I also had some small red velvet bows, which surprisingly also looked terrible. I ended up leaving off any embellishments and I think that makes it a stronger piece.

Once again, I quilted the tree using feathers. I used a variegated Signature thread called “Shadow” on the black and quilted a freestyle swirl to represent snow. This quilt is absolutely stunning, if I do say so myself!

Beginning layout for Christmas tree quilt -- note the attention to color

Finished Christmas Tree

Little Twisters Christmas Tree #1


Here’s my first completed project using the Little Twisters tool. I’m very pleased with the results. I quilted the tree using large feathers, and did small feathers in the stem and star. The white part surrounding the tree is freestyle quilting in a circular pattern to represent wind and snow.

I’m not sure if you can see from the photo, but the border was quilted using vertical lines (usually called piano keys). I’d love to say that this was a style choice, but the real reason was that I didn’t measure my borders and ended up with a lot of fullness that I had to contain. (See my post on November 23rd for info on properly applying borders.)

It was harder than I thought to pick an outer border. I tried almost a dozen fabrics that were in my stash and this green looked the best. Next time, I’ll put some thought into the border before I make the tree.

I’d also planned to heavily embellish this. I’d bought miniature strings of lights and tree decorations at Joann’s Fabric and was excited to decorate my tree. The decorations got lost on the busy fabric and I decided to let the fabric stand for itself. Although I love embellishments on an art quilt, it is very easy to overdo them.

You can see directions for this project in my Nov. 18th post.

Applying Borders (The Right Way!)


I have learned a lot about quilting since getting my longarm. Probably the most important lesson — and error that people make — is applying borders.

I have heard people say that Eleanor Burns deserves “credit” for the “hack and sew” method employed by most people. Basically, this method lets  you hack off a piece of fabric the correct width and then sew it to your quilt. Then you slice off the excess on the top and bottom with your rotary cutter and — voila! — instant borders.

The problem with this method is that you can introduce a lot of fullness into the border. I’ve heard of people who’ve added up to 7 inches of fullness into a full-size quilt. That means that you began with a quilt edge that was 72″ long and added a border that was 79″ long.  The result is puffing or waving in the border.

Here is the correct way to apply a border: Measure the length of your quilt in 3 places, then average the length. Say we’re dealing with a quilt that averages 40″ long. Cut you border exactly 40″ in length. Now mark your quilt and your border at 10″ increments. Match the border with the quilt. It will be applied evenly and there will be no added fullness.

Last week I was rushing to complete a small quilt and decided to use the “hack and sew” method. Yeah, I saved some time — until I got the quilt onto the longarm. This particular quilt was composed of bias pieces, so there was a lot of stretching. I introduced a lot of fullness into the borders.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix this, but they are all time consuming. The first way is to rip out your full borders and do it the correct way. Since I was too lazy to do it correctly the first time — and I already had the quilt loaded on the longarm — this wasn’t happening.

The other way is to use a method to contain the fullness. Smooth out your quilt and pin each piece of the border into its proper location. Depending on the amount of fullness, you may have pins up to 1″ apart. When you get it all pinned, do a piano key border (shown below). The spacing of the sewing lines will depend on the amount of fullness you want to contain.

In closing, I have to admit that my laziness in preparing the border took me an hour or so to fix on the longarm. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson.

Piano-key stitching to contain fullness

Nikon School: Next Steps: Color, Light, Technology


Today was Day 2 of our Nikon School adventure. After enduring the heat in the Hotel Pennsylvania yesterday, my daughter was considering wearing shorts. Of course they now had the overheating  problem “fixed” and the room was frigidly cold. I had my coat on all morning, but it was far better than yesterday’s heat wave.

The subjects today were lighting, color and editing. There was probably 45 minutes of repeat from yesterday, which mainly focused on their explanation of RAW data files and their demo of the Nikon Capture NX2 photo editing program.

As happened yesterday, the instructors again were Bill Durrence and Nick Didlick. They provided a nice balance. I would say that Bill is the strict parent and Nick is the fun parent! Each was responsible for two of the four sessions. Bill is a former newspaper photographer. Nick photographs sports and was in charge of all photography for the recent Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Both have traveled all over the world on photography shoots, and the banter between them was quite funny.

I loved their explanation of light. Of course the traditional wisdom is to always shoot someone in full sun, which means that their face is brightly lit (with possible harsh shadows) and they are squinting into the sun. This morning covered front, back and side lighting and the advantages each. Since the goal of photography is to control the light, a much better choice may be to shoot in the shade and use a flash to fill in the details of your subject’s face.

After lunch there were a variety of questions. The most interesting brought out the fact that you often need a permit to shoot photos (for example in NYC or national parks). Also, apparently some buildings are copyrighted and cannot be photographed. Who knew?

There was some information about how to prepare video and slideshows. The basic deal with video clips is that they need to be very smooth (shaking the camera will give your audience motion sickness) and must tell a story.

After lunch was an in depth session about using flashes for portrait photography. The “volunteer” selected happened to be my teenage daughter, who was photographed using various kinds of flashes, and with several diffusers and reflectors. The result was beautiful. I give her a lot of credit for seeing her face projected on a 12 foot high screen! I think this was the most interesting part of the day, because we actually got to witness a photography session and the adjustments needed to get a good portrait.

The final part of the day was a demo of Nikon View NX2, which seems to be a far easier editing program than Photoshop. Bill Durrence demonstrated how to edit two photographs.

I have only good things to say about this program. Everyone I talked to seem to be learning. The instructors were entertaining and informative. It is a great survey course to learn what you don’t know. It also generates excitement about photography.

Since I’m a quilter — and not a photographer — I have to make a few observations. First of all, quilting looks cheap when compared to photography! My Janome 6600 cost the equivalent of my daughter’s Nikon D7000. However all I need now is fabric, a pattern, and some rotary cutting blades. Not so with photography! You could easily spend thousands of dollars on lenses and software. The flashes were $350 and you need at least two of them. On the other hand, the costs of quilting are for consumables, whereas — once you’ve stocked up on lenses — you don’t incur a lot of additional costs for photography.

Photographers are far more computer savvy than us quilters. Although they may not all be whizzes with the editing software., I’d say that most of far more computer literate than quilters, most of whom (including me) haven’t even learned the Eectric Quilter design software yet.

I also think that photographers have more opportunity to be social. Many shoots are organized in groups, and there’s certainly lots of time for banter while waiting for the birds to show up or the right light over a landscape. Photography is a great excuse to travel. Quilters, in general I think, are more comfortable closer to home. There seems to be much more pride in, and acceptance of, photography as a REAL hobby compared to quilting!

Since I love art quilting, I’ve been able to combine photography with quilting. I hope to continue learning about photography, to master editing software, and to figure out a way to catalog my photos. This weekend was a good step in that direction. Plus their beautiful photographs gave me several new ideas for quilts.

Nikon School: Introduction to Digital SLR Photography


Over a year ago, I was struggling to get my website running and doing a terrible job photographing my quilts. When a flyer crossed my desk about the Nikon School photography course, I was intrigued. Although I have only a small interest in photography, I felt that getting better would enhance my website and blog. So I signed up and attended the November 2010 weekend classes in New York City.

I was incredibly impressed with the instructors and the content of the course. It taught me about concepts that were completely new — ISO, white balance, shutter settings, setting the colors on your computer screen, how to manage photo files, and much more. The technical aspects of photographer were interspersed with instructor stories and gorgeous photos. It was a great weekend.

It’s now November 2011 and my teenage daughter is interested in photography. I decided to accompany her and repeat the class. After a year, these terms are no longer new and I have a better understanding of photography, despite not applying anything that I learned to my blog or website.

The course began at 9:30 AM at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC. While the location is convenient, the hotel is old and the ventilation system was terrible. There were approximately 300  people in the room and it was HOT. Very hot. The instructors kept apologizing and calling the hotel for assistance. The upshot is that the heating system is old and has an “off” and an “on” setting. It was pretty uncomfortable. That is my only criticism of the day.

The first 75 minute session was conducted by Bill Durrence. He covered the workflow process for photography — shooting, downloading, editing and sharing. He covered the meaning of ISO (light sensitivity), shutter speed, and aperture (the hole that lets light into the camera) — and how these three concepts relate to each other. Although this made no sense to me last year, this year I understood the majority of it.

After our morning break, Nick Didlick took over. He had a nice presentation of his photos, then launched into discussions of how to control exposures, depth of field, and guidelines for using flashes. This was very interesting and easy to understand.

Box lunches were provided. Being as my daughter and I are gluten-free, the wheat-laden sandwiches and cookies were not a possibility. We headed across the street to Penn Station for a quick lunch.

The course started promptly at 1:30 PM with a 15-minute question and answer. Bill and Nick are both excellent speakers and answered quite a few questions. Bill continued with a lecture on NEF (raw) files versus JPEGs. He then talked about resolution (pixels). Finally, he gave a demonstration of Nikon’s file management system (browser) and editor. This was interesting, but my daughter and I were both on overload and having trouble focusing.

The final lecture was on creativity and how to best compose photos based on your subject, background and lighting. There were lots of good photos to critique and the last hour went very quickly. The composition section was very applicable to art quilting. Basically, the message was to focus on the important part of your subject and skip the extraneous details. For example, they showed a photo of a mansion with a large flag, surrounded by a parking lot. The focus of the photo was the flag — so they showed another photo, from a different angle, of just the flag. Much better.

Little Twister Tool


I have seen these twister tools everywhere recently. Many booths at A Quilter’s Gathering in New Hampshire had them. So did the booths at the recent quilt show in Toronto. I was excited to attend a class at our LQS and learn how to use them.

Our project began by cutting 5″ squares and arranging them like a Christmas tree. The next step was to position the twister tool on the intersection of seams and cut out a new square. When the twisted squares are sewn together, you get a very cool look.

I have to admit that this is a clever tool. It is simple to use, in theory, however — with 5″ squares — you get about 1/2″ in between cuts. It is very easy to over-cut the edges and slice into the material needed for your next block. I did this several times.

It is also a cutting-intensive project. I would not recommend it for people with shoulder problems (that would be me) or carpal tunnel. Or, if I had some cutting limitations, I would certainly spread out my cutting.

It is also easy to mix up the position of the cut block. I’ll show you my goof on a picture below.

You also end up with bias cut squares, so you need to be somewhat careful with the pressing.

My final comment is that you waste a lot of fabric. If that’s important to you, I wouldn’t recommend this tool.

All in all, the results are awesome. It’s worth the $12 or so and you get a very cool effect. I’ve got some great ideas to incorporated the twister into my future quilts.

You’ll find the photos of my projects below. Here is a site that gives a tutorial of the twister tool.

Begin with 5" squares in a grid format. Mine formed a Christmas tree.

Finished project -- can you see my error on the right side?

Little Twister tool goes at intersection of seams

Review: The Wedding Quilt (An Elm Creek Quitls Novel) by Jennifer Chiaverini


I have been a fan of the Elm Creek Quilt series and have listened to all of the books (except the latest one) on CD. Yes, I can read! I just love the experience of listening to these stories as I’m quilting or (my favorite) traveling to a quilt retreat.  I’ve been eagerly watching the calendar for the November 1st release of The Wedding Quilt.

Unlike other novels, this one takes place in the future (2028). Sarah’s daughter is getting married and everybody is gathering at Elm Creek Manor for the occasion. It was interesting to see what had become of Sarah’s children, who had passed on, and how the original Elm Creek quilters were doing.

Beyond that, the story was just a rehash of her other novels. This is my big complaint with Jennifer Chiaverini — there seems to be little original material in her non-historical novels. (My favorite, after the first couple, was the Hawaiian Quilt. It took place in a new location and there was a great deal of information about a Hawaiian Quilting, which was new to me.) The Wedding Quilt was a recycling of how the ladies met, how Sarah saved Elm Creek Manor, and stories about Union Hall. I found it very disappointing.

I left the book with my mom and told her to read the first couple chapters and the last couple.  The middle was old news.

That said, I did cry at the end. There was some touching references to Sylvia that I appreciated.

I truly hope that Jennifer Chiaverini keeps writing. She has done a great deal for quilters and literature. I just think she’s exhausted the Elm Street cast of characters and needs to find a new group of quilters. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Wedding Quilt, I will definitely read her next novel.


York Heritage Quilt Show, Toronto


I’m back to Long Island after a 6-day trip to Toronto. The excuse for the trip was visiting the York Heritage Quilt Show, held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto.  My friend Vicki had a gorgeous quilt in the show, which I wanted to see, and it gave me an excuse to visit with family and friends.

Before we visited the show, I was very disappointed to learn that it was not judged. I had never heard of a non-judged show. Vicki and her room-mate explained that many of their guild would not enter the show if they knew their work would be judged. After that introduction, I was expecting a showcase of very poor work.

Well, I was wrong on many counts. First of all, I liked the atmosphere of a non-judged show. I found that you looked at the quilts without regard to the judge’s opinion. There was no discussions of “Why did this not get a blue ribbon?” or “What were the judges thinking?” You simply enjoyed the quilts.

As for quality … they were fantastic! These women are artists and the quilts ranged from innovative to traditional — all with great color choice and beautiful stitching. I imagine there is more creative freedom when you know that you’re not being judged, as you are not trying to follow the “rules” that make a great show quilt.

They had 8 or 10 vendors. We complain about the price of fabric in the U.S., but the Canadians have it far worse. Good quality quilter’s cotton was $16 per meter, plus another 15% tax. We’re talking $18.50 a meter after taxes. Yikes! There was a Superior Thread booth in the vendor hall and their prices were significantly more than I’d pay in the U.S.  Those Canadian quilters are dedicated!

Entry into the Japanase Canadian Cultural CenterVendors

Connecting Threads Fabric


If you’ve never purchased Connecting Thread’s fabric, you’re missing out on a great deal. Their fabric is high quality, original, and very affordable. Most collections are $5 or $6 a yard — almost half of what you’d pay in a quilt store. Their selection isn’t spectacular, but their fabric collections are well thought out. I have always been extremely pleased anything I”ve ordered.

For some reason, their new collection — Folk Heart by Jenni Calo — was a must order. I was a very attracted to the idea of the collection and the fabrics, quite frankly, made me smile. That’s a big deal when it’s dark by 4:30 PM and we’re facing a long winter in the northeast!

Here are the fabrics I ordered. You can check out the rest of the collection at

Some of the Folk Heart fabric collection, by Jenni Calo, for Connecting Threads