Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Christmas Quilt

I put the Christmas quilt on the frame yesterday and I'm almost done! Starting to feel really good about the progress I'm making on getting all the UFO's done. I've been working on this one for 1 1/2 years now. I know.... that's a long time but there's a story with it.

I started it Christmas of 2008 when my daughter Courtney was home from the Air Force on leave. I had been really missing her. She had been gone to boot camp and tech school since July of 2008. I was trying to drink in every minute of her visit. Courtney and I are really close. She's quite artistic and was wonderful about drawing my visions for various quilts. During her visit we went to my favorite quilt shop and she picked out this pattern and kit. I had been wanting to do some red work for quite a while. So even before she left to go back to the Air Force I started working on it to help me work through missing her. It worked. Everytime I stitched on it I thought of her and all the travels we'd been on. There are literally tears, sweat, and blood on this one. I pricked my finger and bled a couple of times. The tears came right after she left at the end of her break. I'll be thrilled to hang it on my wall this year for Christmas. It'll be my reminder of her as I doubt she will get to come home this year. She is currently stationed in Misawa Japan. I plan to give it to her. I'm just not sure when yet.

That's one of the things I love about quilts, it's not just a bunch of fabric and thread holding it together. There's a story behind each one that makes them special.

The quilt will be done soon and I'll post the finished picture.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

4th of July Fireworks Angel

Every year we have a big 4th of July party. I just had to share this photo I captured. I always knew we had angels watching out for us... Here's the proof!
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

I've been bad... I know...

It's been a long time since I've posted anything.  But that's because it's been a long time since I've done any quilting.  I haven't been feeling inspired or creative for months now and it's time to break the cycle.  And I know why I feel this way.  The truck quilt is scaring the crap out of me.  This is the first time I've tried something like this and I'm afraid that it won't live up to the picture in my head.  So I guess if I don't work on it I won't fail, right......? 

So what I'm doing to get myself motivated is finish up some of my other projects to boost my confidence. 

My Oriental quilt is almost finished.  I want to show this quilt in some local shows, so I'm going to try blocking a quilt for the first time.  If you're not familiar with blocking, it's taking a wet or damp quilt and stretching and pinning it to the desired dimensions on a flat surface.  This enables the quilt to be square and hang flat.  I wasn't familiar with blocking so I watched a DVD of Karen McTavish blocking a quilt.  I tried it with the help of my husband and it was a dismal failure!  The quilt ended up not being square on the first try.  Then we tried blocking it using my husbands suggestions on how to keep the quilt square.  This caused the quilt to be stretched out larger than it's original dimensions.  This caused the appliqued tree trunk to pull away from the quilt.  I was devastated.  We pulled the pins out and I put the quilt away for a the rest of the night and drank a glass of wine.  The next day I tried again.  This time, I measured out the final dimensions and marked those dimensions on the foam boards I was using.  I started with the corners and pinned those, then the pinned the centers.  From there, I pinned each opposite side.  It worked perfectly!

It's amazing how much easier it was to trim the quilt after blocking the quilt.  It ended up sqaure and flat.  Next comes the binding.....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oriental Art Quilt

Just after Thanksgiving, I completed the quilting on the oriental quilt I had been working on for about a year.  Yes, a year!  This is a quilt that I started in order to try out a discharge dye technique I saw on Simply Quilts.  The technique makes an awesome 3D effect.

I was really pleased with how the quilt turned out so I took it to work to show to some of my coworkers before it was trimmed and bound. 

There is one coworker in particular that really enjoys following my quilts.  His name is Peter.  About 2 years ago his daughter Tammy died.  She had been very sick for a long time and his wifes full time job was taking care of their daughter.  After their daughter died, Mihn (Peter's wife) was having a very difficult time as you can imagine.  Her entire life for the past 20 some years was taking care of Tammy.  Suddenly there was a gigantic hole in Mihn's life.  One of Mihn's skills is sewing.  So Peter found a group that gets together regularly and makes quilts as a way to work through their grieving process.  Peter is in IT and likes computers so he bought a program to design quilts.  He designs the quilts, chooses the fabrics and Mihn makes them.  How cool is that!  The quilts are usually charm fabrics with Tammy's favorite cartoon charaters.  They want the quilts to be used and cuddled. 

So I pinned the oriental quilt to my office wall and Peter came over to see it.  As he examined it he talked about how this quilt is an art quilt, not a quilt like he and his wife make.  He kept finding subtle things to look at, like the bands of pebbling that draw your eye over the quilt.  He then said that while he appreciated the quilt and it was beautiful, it wasn't one he would want in his house.  The quilt is dark.  The tree looks like death or something dark.  But there are small sprigs of life on the tree.  He said that his life has been this quilt at various times.  To him, this quilt says "Hope."  The kicker is that just as we were finishing this conversation, another coworker from the IT department came in and asked what the quilt said. (The oriental words)  Peter responded, "The question is, what does the quilt say to you?"  She looked at the quilt and said, "Hope."

Wow!  Understand that I had no intention of having this feeling in the quilt.  This quilt was literally an experiment into the discharge dye technique and I intended it to be a happy quilt.  I chose the oriental symbols to be some of my favorite things... Husband, God, Tree, Leaf, Dog, etc.  The tree was a complete screw up on my part.  I had originally designed the tree to be reaching up toward the sky.  But I had drawn the limbs incorrectly on the fusible web.  Instead of the limbs reaching up, they were drooping down.  When I put the limbs on the design wall, it looked like a Halloween tree!  I was pissed!  So I put it away for several months.  When I returned to it, I did some creative cutting and added some small limbs to make the tree look less depressing.  At this point the quilt started talking to me.  I originally was going to have a lot more flowers and leaves on the limbs, but when they were there, it just didn't look right.  So I kept the flowers to a minimum and made sure the leaves stayed buds. 

All of this to say that sometimes a quilt has a life of it's own and it ends up being so much better than you intended.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Truck Quilt Update

An update on the truck quilt.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to work on it very much.  I'm more productive on the weekends and unfortunately, this weekend has been very unproductive.  Saturday morning was spent cleaning the house and bathrooms.  Saturday evening and Sunday were spent with the stomach flu.  Ick.  I'm starting to finally feel human again though.  Here's the most recent photo.

I went into the studio to start working on the quilt and a lot of the pieces were on the ground.  So I've moved the quilt to lay on the cutting table instead of the design wall.  I don't know if I'll like that better or not.

More later when I'm feeling better......

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Truck Quilt From a Photograph

Last summer, my friend Lindsay and I took a trip to the East Rosebud.  Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, we came across an old homesteaders cabin surrounded by some guard cows. (They were really eyeing us ready to defend the cabin if necessary!)  Near the cabin was this old truck. 

This thing was sitting on it's rims, bullet holes all over it, and every piece of glass had long since been shot out.  Perhaps that was the reason for the guard cows......  It looked like it had been painted at least 4 different times as the many layers of paint and rust were showing through.  Lindsay took some awesome photos that day and I decided that it might be kind of fun to turn one of them in to a quilt.

I took one of the photos and printed out an 8.5 X 11 print of it on my home printer.  I then took a sheet of transparency film and placed it on top of the photo and traced the shapes onto it with a fine tip black marker.  This sheet was taken to Kinkos and they printed out a copy that was 3 feet wide.  This became my pattern.  I went a bought a bunch of Steam a Seam 2 and started adding fabrics. 

It'll be fun to see this one come together.  I've always wanted to do a quilt based on a photo but really didn't have the courage to jump in and do it.  This is a different technical skill than I've ever used previously and I'm nervous about not chosing the correct fabric textures and values to get the effect I want.  I don't want this quilt to look flat.  I want to be able to stand in front of this quilt and say "Wow.  That's is SO cool!"  So I see this quilt as a chance to push myself artistically and technically.  At the same time, I'm trying to be realistic.  This is my first one in this style so I know that I'll make a lot of mistakes and learn a LOT on the way. 

So as this progresses I'll keep you up to date.

Let's go quilt!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

APQS Ultimate I longarm quilting machine

In my last post I mentioned that I purchased a longarm at the beginning of 2009.  I spent a TON of time researching longarms and I thought I would share what I learned in the process of purchasing it.

When I started sewing I learned on a very basic Bernina.  It was very well built and wonderful to sew on.  It belonged to my mother, so when I moved out of the house I borrowed her machine until my father took pity on the situation and he purchased a Bernette.  I got the Bernette.  Ugh!  What a lesson learned.  A Bernette is a good machine, don't get me wrong, but it's not anywhere near the quality of a Bernina.  The lesson learned was that the higher quality machines are expensive because they're worth it.  A good quality machine makes sewing enjoyable.  Instead of fighting with the machine, the machine should work with you.

The same logic applies to longarms.  If you are constantly fighting with your machine then you will not use it.  It won't be enjoyable.  So I decided to purchase the best quality machine I could that was within my budget.

So let's talk budget.  If you've never looked at the prices of these machines, sit down first.  You can purchase a really nice vehicle for the price of these babies!  Most companies provide financing for a brand new machine if that's your cup of tea.  It wasn't for me.  I hate going into debt and I hate monthly payments.  Whenever I've financed something and paid for it monthly, I find myself resenting that item until it's paid off.  Yes, there is even some resentment toward my house that comes right at the beginning of every month.  But I've chosen to deal with it.  I did NOT want to resent my longarm.  So I made the decision to not finance the machine.  That meant I needed to buy used or a lesser quality machine. 

So once the budget decision was made, it was time to decide which brand to go with.  I live in Montana.  Not exactly a hub of commerce.  However, there are some really nice quilting shops in my city of Billings that have longarms.  I decided to take a longarm quilting class from my favorite shop, Fiberworks.
This class was great because I got to have my hands on a Gammill Optimum for a full day under the direction of Laura Heine, an incredible quilt artist.  She does some absolutely beautiful work.  She's never had a stitch regulated machine.  During the class she said that she just learned to regulate her own stitches.  I found that with all the time I put in under the domestic machine, I was able to regulate mine too.  This is important because stitch regulated machines cost more than non-stitch regulated.  I did find it difficult to control the Optimum.  It has a big machine head and is heavy.  This was also good because the Optimum is more expensive than the other Gammill models.  I loved the table and the way it worked and overall, I was impressed with the Gammill. 

The other option for me was APQS.  Unfortunately, APQS machines are not popular in Billings.  Most people in our quilt guild have Gammills.  So I was unable to try out any APQS.  But my research into the machines was impressive.  I had decided to add APQS to my list of acceptable machines.  I had my list narrowed down to Gammill and APQS.  Service reputation was a big part of why they were on my list.  I'm fairly mechanical and know that things go wrong with machines.  Just a part of life.  The ability to get someone on the phone to help you trouble shoot and fix a problem is just as important as the price of the machine.  Both companies are excellent in this category. 

So now it was time to start watching for a machine.  I googled "used longarm quilting machines" and put them in my favorites folder.  One of the best was a forum at APQS.  They advertise all sorts of brands.  Mostly APQS and Gammill.  Then, right before Christmas, there it was.  A newer Ultimate I with the adjustable handles I wanted.  12 foot table and overhead power cord.  And, drumroll please.......  only $4000!!! Well within my budget. PERFECT!!!  Of course I hemmed and hawwed.  I was sitting on the couch with my husband and showed him the ad.  Understand that I checked the used machines websites EVERY DAY for 6 months getting up the nerve to spend the money.  He just said, "Call her and buy it already!"  So I did!  The owner was a really sweet lady in Florida.  Yes, Florida.  I don't think it could have been further away from Montana.  We made a deal and paid her the money.  The machine head was shipped by UPS and the table was shipped through a trucking company.  Within a month I had all the pieces.  Unfortunately, UPS dropped the head and bent the aluminum cross bars the head sits on while on the table.  APQS sent me new pieces and I had the table all put together by myself the day the table came.  I added track lighting to the overhead power bar and I couldn't be more thrilled.

In a nutshell: 
  • Buy the best quality you can within your set budget. 
  • Do your research.  You are the one that is going to use the machine and therefore it needs to fit your skill and comfort level for features. 
  • Don't be afraid of used machines.  Professional machines are built to last.  You will find that the majority of people selling longarms are really nice ladies just like you. 
  • The machines can be shipped relatively inexpensively (mine was about $200).  Things can go wrong during shipping, so insure the items and make sure the brand you purchase has excellent service help.

I hope this inspires you to consider a longarm quilting machine.  I'm glad I took the jump into the longarm world!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It's the new year and it's the time for reflection. For both the highs and lows. I remember this time last year taking a look at the calendar and telling friends and co-workers that 2009 was going to be a perfect year. Pretty bold statement, I know. A little like throwing a challenge to fate asking to be proven wrong. I prefer to look at it as stating how I was going to handle this upcoming year.

2009 was going to be perfect at work because the holidays were really set up perfectly to have a maximum number of 3 day weekends. Think about it.... 4th of July, Christmas, New Years..... Perfect! But it wasn't destined to be perfect just because of that. I had been promoted in 2008 and had just started to feel comfortable in my new role. I was, and still am, the Inorganic Department Manager at the environmental testing laboratory I work for. My new direct supervisor, the Laboratory Manager, is a dream to work for. I'm truly blessed to have him as a mentor. He gives me the freedom to put my ideas into action. He liberally praises my successes and coaches me through my failures without beating me up. They are all opportunities for improvement. I had a lot of ideas and changes to put into action.

In my personal life, 2009 was set up to be perfect with the addition of my first grandchild. My oldest daughter was due in May. Her husband is a Marine and was deployed to Afghanistan, so she came home to have her baby here. I got to be in the delivery room when Kadence was born. Perfect! My son-in-law made it back in September whole and healthy. Perfect!

My youngest stepson was set to graduate high school in May. So he was off to college in the fall. He is the last one out of the house. Jeff and I were empty Nester's. A little sad, but perfect! The whole house was ours to do with as we pleased.

In January of 2009, I had purchased a used longarm quilting machine. I had been researching and watching for one for about 6 months. I finally found one for a price I could swallow. It's an APQS Ultimate I. After quilting under a domestic sewing machine for all these years, it's a dream to have. My quilting life was starting off perfect! I even had several quilts ready to load. The first one was an art quilt that my youngest daughter, Courtney helped me finish designing over Christmas break. I was amazed how quickly I was able to finish the quilting. I called it "The Colors of my Dreams"

So.... here it is the beginning of a new year. As I reflect over the past year, there were a lot of 'perfect' moments. For each perfect moment there were also some disappointing moments if I had chosen to focus on them. I believe that for the most part, most of life can either be disappointing or perfect. It's all in where you place your focus.

Here's to another Perfect Year!