Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Y-Seam Queen Resurrects a Vintage Grandmother's Flower Garden

A couple of months ago, a good friend approached me and asked if I might be willing to take on a project. I agreed to meet at her home to look at said project and, after some conversation and looking at the parts and pieces, I agreed to take it home and see what I could do with it. The project was a Grandmother's Flower Garden that had been started by her daughter-in-law's grandmother, but left unfinished. The plan was to finish it to whatever size I could with the parts and pieces contained in the bag.

Miscellaneous parts and pieces laid out on beds and chairs as my friend started looking at what might be done to complete this Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt top for her daughter-in-law.

What appeared before me was a rather large puzzle with various pieces that needed to be connected by machine stitching, with a Y-seam at every junction. There was a fairly good sized section with 6 flowers that was already assembled minus several of the setting diamonds, that provided a good starting place. There was also a whole bag full of other parts and pieces that needed to be incorporated in order to make a complete top. Several of the bud blossoms that made up the setting diamonds didn't yet have the surrounding white hexies attached to make them the proper size and shape to fit into the bigger quilt. Most of the remaining flower and setting diamonds were not sewn together or had random strips of white hexies stitched on that needed to be finished. The first step was to complete the "blocks" or sub-units that would need to be put together into the whole later.
Already assembled top section with setting diamonds added.
There was a fair amount of sewing, ripping, resewing, etc., as I learned from each step. Don't get me wrong, I had done Y-seam projects before, just not at this scale where EVERY SINGLE SEAM was a Y-seam! A few pieces had been stitched together in what looked like the right way, but left little pockets sticking up, rather than Y-seam junctions that laid flat. Those had to be taken apart and re-sewed. If I learned anything from this project, it's how to think differently about how pieces go together, not unlike sewing opposite curves together in a Drunkard's Path block.

Over a period of almost three weeks, I came and went from this project. Every day I would wander into the sewing room and look at the design wall where all of the parts and pieces were pinned up in what would become a final layout, and contemplate what step to take next. Thankfully, last night I finished the process and am now ready to hand it off to be quilted and bound for my friend.

Understanding Y-seams is an important concept if you wish to machine piece a hexie quilt like this Grandmother's Flower Garden. The most important thing to remember is to always start and stop your seams 1/4" in from the edge of the fabric, being sure to add 2-3 back stitches to anchor the seams. By starting 1/4" in, you leave a flex point where that seam can then open and bend as you pivot to make the next seam around the corner. This example I stitched with contrasting thread to show the importance of leaving that 1/4" unsewn in order to make those corners.

For the larger blocks within the quilt, I first had to lay the piece to be inserted/attached next to the block, then flip it over, right sides together, in the same position (photos below with brown & white hexies). Notice how the points go into the Y-seam V's when right-side up, but points meet V's when flipped over to be right sides together. This is where it gets tricky. The first seam in the example below would actually be sewing the two white hexies together from the outside edge into the white/brown V at the top, stopping at the seam line with needle down, lifting the presser foot, and pivoting the pieces in such a way as to then sew the white hexie in a continuous seam line down that zig-zag line. With each pivot, you will need to readjust the previous seam, often folding the hexie before in half to allow the new seams to line up for stitching. By leaving 1/4" open at either end of the seams that join individual hexies, they can flex/ease open as you pivot and stitch. It's slow going, stitching 2", stop to pivot and line up the new seam, stitch 2", stop to pivot and line up the new seam, etc. etc.

Here's another view of the stitch 2", pivot and turn to line up the new seam, stitch 2", pivot...

The original maker had not left 1/4" open at either end of any seam. All seams had been stitched all the way to the edges of the hexies and joins were forced to flex into the Y-seam when pressed, often unsuccessfully. I spent a significant amount of time clipping seams open 1/4" before I could pivot and stitch as I added new sections to the flowers and setting diamonds. There was one flower in the original partially made section that had some real troubling seams. Not only were they sewn from edge to edge, there appears to have been a problem with tension on the machine as the hexies seemed to be gathered rather than stitched together. An entire evening was dedicated to this one block where I removed the center of the flower between the red ring and light blue outside ring, pressed each piece well with Best Press to help it regain and hold its original shape, and then reinserted the flower into the surrounding ring. As you can see in these before & after pictures, the difference is dramatic! It was also a lesson in patience as I worked the center back into an existing ring praying it would all fit properly when stitched.
This flower had more problems than just the ill-fitting Y-seams. The machine tension must have been off as it actually was gathered along the seams that attached the red ring to the light blue ring.

 After reinserting the flower center into the blue ring, the flower laid completely flat and fit nicely into the rest of the quilt top. Whew! What a relief!

Finally all of the parts and pieces were ready to assemble into a completed top. I worked on one section at a time, adding the flowers on the right side first, as they had a U-shaped seam to fit around a section that had an extra flower and diamond already sewn into it.
I didn't keep track as well as I should have on where to sop and ended up stitching too far, creating a 3D pocket along the edge of the flower with the gray and white stripes. Break time. I stopped to take out that row of stitching back to the proper junction, and then proceeded to add other sections.
Oops! I stitched too far and made a pocket! Unsewing time...
The next row of flowers, each connected by three white hexies, were laid out and then sewn along that long zig-zag seam from the bottom up and then across the three pieces that connected them to the upper section flower. I was finally getting close to being done!
The final row of flowers and diamonds was added and by late last night, the Grandmother's Flower Garden top was completed! Final measurements show it should finish about 83" x 94", a great size to use on a bed. I did use extra white hexies to make small half-diamonds to fill in the spaces on both sides to make it square.
I also did an enormous amount of trimming of threads along the way. As I pressed sections, resewed blocks, and generally went over the entire quilt top as I worked on it, I found threads of many colors. Some had 1/2" tails left and may had tails up to 6" long hanging across the back! Knowing how much it bothers me when threads peak through white fabric when sandwiched and quilted, I did my best to trim as I went and ended up with this pile of multi-colored threads that were all clipped from the back of this quilt top, all left by the original maker. There were significant amounts of black, green, blue, pink, red, yellow, white, and more. Most seams were not sewn with matching threads on top and bobbin.
I'm happy to say that this quilt is now ready to go the longarmer who will quilt it for my friend, after which another friend will be binding it for her. Due to some health issues and multiple surgeries, my friend's quilting time is very limited. It's taking a team to get this special project done so she can give a finished quilt back to her daughter-in-law who will cherish this creation started by her grandmother and completed with loving care by her mother-in-law's friends.

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Celebrating 50th anniversaries with memory quilts

This year I was honored to create two commissioned memory quilts for my friend Mary and her husband. The first was for one brother & sister-in-law, Jerry and Edna, honoring their 50th anniversary that was celebrated in June. The second was for another brother & sister-in-law, Richard and Mary Jane, honoring their 55th anniversary that was celebrated in August.

Both quilts included photos transferred onto EQ Printables premium cotton lawn inkjet fabric sheets. This particular brand is my favorite as the fabric is a high 240 thread count that feels much more like nice quality quilting cotton and holds the color very well. The photos on each spanned from the couple's wedding portraits to their 50th anniversary photos, and included photos of them and their children through the decades.

The first quilt was done in grey, red and black, colors used in the couple's home. Mary was very pleased to have the completed quilt in time to present it at the 50th anniversary party this summer.

Both quilt labels had a Dala Horse added to honor the family's Swedish roots.
Following the presentation of the first quilt, Mary contacted me again and asked if I would make the second quilt for the other brother and his wife. Being Seattle Mariners fans, we chose their colors of blue, green and silver for the piecing.

The second quilt, which also included photos through 50 years of marriage, children, grandchildren, and their first great-grandchild, is a surprise that will be presented to the couple at Thanksgiving by their children. Mary and her husband drove to Baldwin City today to pick up the quilt in time to ship it to their niece in Seattle in time for next week's holiday gathering.

I tried my best to give each a unique look while still working with a 3x4 layout of the 12 photos included. All piecing was done with Aurifil 50 weight cotton thread. The quilting was done on Sassy, my HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen sit-down, with cool grey Glide thread, which provided a perfect silver tone on each of the quilts. The blue backing on the second quilt is the perfect backdrop to show off the quilting.

Now I'm on to other projects for Christmas, which is fast approaching!

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Busy, Busy! Quilting for others is a fun challenge!

This summer I've been busy quilting for customers, facing new challenges that have made me grow as a sit-down quilter. My own projects have been put on the back burner for the most part, especially since summer enrollment in classes at the local quilt shop have been down with vacations and now back-to-school activities keeping quilters busy. The projects this summer have ranged from quilting "And On That Farm", a McKenna Ryan design made by a friend/student in one of my quilt classes, an applique quilt that was 30 years in the making, a wonderful patchwork quilt made with reproduction fabrics, and more. It's been an adventure to say the least!  Sassy, my Handiquilter Sweet Sixteen, has been very busy this summer. When I checked the system info last week, I found there are now over 11 million stitches on her since I bought her in 2012!!! My proficiency as a sit-down quilter has definitely blossomed in the last four years.

The summer started out with this beauty, an original design wall hanging entitled "Trio: Reaching for the Stars", made by an art quilter from Kansas City who will have a solo quilt show hanging in September. Doris cut the dresses for the three ladies from a vintage jacquard tablecloth, using the woven designs as the focal point that gave me the perfect lines to follow for the quilting. Adding feathered tendrils reaching up the quilt towards the stars made for a wonderful background fill. I haven't seen the completed piece yet, but know she was going to be adding fibers for hair and a head wrap on the ladies. Such amazing creativity that I was blessed to be a part of!

When The Trio was completed, Doris brought me a large scale log cabin wall hanging made with strips of ultra-suede sewn to a muslin base. She requested I do something different in each strip to add interesting textures. Rather than every strip, I chose to repeat the same design in the strips of the same color. It was a wonderful experience and gave me the opportunity to really stretch my "bag of tricks" as far as coming up with designs that played well together, yet weren't to similar to each other. I also got to play with some new rulers, especially this circle template that allowed me to make chains of nearly perfect circles in several rows across the quilt.

Last winter, Kelly Cline, the queen of quilting vintage, had a drawing to choose 20 lucky winners who would get to quilt a napkin or placemat from a collection of matching linens she had found while exploring antique shops on vacation. Being one of the lucky winners, I got to quilt this gorgeous piece of linen. I put it over an aqua blue dupioni silk background, layered it with Warm & White 100% cotton and Hobbs Wool batting, and started quilting. The linen piece is quilted with Invisifil 100wt which is so fine it disappears into the background. It was great fun and such an adventure, once again, figuring out what to do with that open space in the center. This piece is now part of a 20-piece permanent collection of Quilting Vintage linens that will soon be displayed at quilt shows across the country.

This quilt was hand appliqued by a friend from my former guild in Emporia, Kansas. She had planned to do some hand quilting on parts of it, but after shoulder surgery, was unable to get that accomplished. Instead, I'm quilting the entire quilt for her. This is one of the applique blocks that is getting echoed. The alternate blocks have feathered wreaths that will have cross-hatching behind them. Ann requested it be quilted with cotton thread which is what she would have used if she had hand quilted it. I was able to color-match a beautiful creamy Aurifil 50wt for all of the background quilting, as well as colors that blend well with the applique for those touches.

With the county fair fast approaching, one of my quilt class students asked if I would be willing to quilt her "And On That Farm" quilt made from McKenna Ryan design. I put the final stitches in just 3 days before quilts were due to be turned in! She went home and got busy adding the binding and embellishments, and had it ready to enter. I'm so happy for her because she won a blue ribbon and Reserve Champion in her category! Well done, JoAnn! I added loads of texture to the fusible applique, bringing it all to life, which is the fun part of being the quilter.

With summer slipping away, I received a call from a gal who had delivered her quilt top to me a couple of months prior. A deadline I didn't have down in my notes was apparently looming, so it was next to get pinned and started. This quilt was 30 years in the making, inspired by a photo in a 1983 magazine. Ruth and her sister-in-law designed their own applique, got started, got distracted by life and tucked it away in her closet for nearly 25 years. After another sister-in-law passed away, the two decided they had better pull it out and get it done while they were both still able. This "Tree of Life" was done with a combination of hand and machine applique techniques. It was an adventure quilting this beauty, figuring out what to do with that much negative space around the applique that is large enough to cover the top of a queen-size bed! With inspiration from quilter and national teacher Kris Vierra, I dove in and had a blast. Not pictured is the drop border on three sides made up of three borders that measured close to 18 inches that were quilted with feathers, wishbone, and piano keys.

One original design I made this summer as a shop sample for Quilting Bits & Pieces in Eudora, Kansas, is The Roosters, a Hexified Panel Quilt. I'll be teaching it this fall for them and made this sample experimenting with pillow-panels as an option for a smaller, wall-hanging size project.

Wrapping up the summer, I'm quilting this wonderfully rich reproduction fabric patchwork for a friend I see twice a year at retreats I attend in Oklahoma. The patchwork was a perfect place to use the gentle curve/orange peel. I chose to include the setting triangles with the sash to fill in with feathers. Layered with Hobbs wool batting, the texture and poof are wonderful! This quilt goes back to its maker next week when I head to Oklahoma for the summer retreat.

While I haven't had a lot of time for my own projects, I have had a blast challenging myself as I hone my free motion quilting skills with a variety of projects that each presented me with its own opportunity to learn. I find that the quilters who seek me out are those who want something different, free motion, and not pantos or edge-to-edge quilting. Having a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen sit-down machine, this suits me just fine and I plan to continue to rise to the challenges presented as I continue to build my quilting business.

This week my challenge is to pick out a few projects for ME to work on at two retreats coming up in the next couple of weeks! Having time to dedicate to my own creations will be great fun! For those who may not have connected with me on Facebook, I have a page for my quilting where I post much more often than I post here. There's only so many hours in the day and FB is so easy! Feel free to "like" me on FB at Elizabeth Granberg Custom Quilter or

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Sunday, June 5, 2016

More fun with Quilting Vintage

I was blessed to be asked to quilt a beautiful hand pieced Dresden Plate quilt made by my client for her granddaughter as a graduation gift. The top was pieced with vintage fabrics and appliqued onto muslin, giving it a vintage feel despite being recently made for this special occasion.

Grace was worried that the piecing of the blocks with their sashings were not all quite uniform. I went to work thinking about how I could use the quilting to bring the focus to her beautiful Dresden Plates. As I got the quilt sandwiched and ready for quilting, I decided to work on outlining the plates first, adding crosshatching in their centers. Next I looked through my collection of quilting stencils and found one that I was pretty sure would work. If placed on point to fill the space over the intersections of the blocks, it would disguise any anomalies and give a nice flow to the overall look of the quilt.

Again, adding echoes to the stencil design instead of echoing the actual plates, some of which had less rounded petals than others, drew the eye away from any inconsistencies and created a beautiful design.

As always, the look from the back is so striking, especially when quilted with a solid backing that showcases the quilting. This particular quilt was so fun to watch take shape from the back!
The final touch was to add swirls and feathers in the inner and outer borders. At her request, after I completed the quilting, I also trimmed the quilt and machine stitched the binding on for Grace, so all she had to do to finish was the hand stitching of the binding to the back before leaving for her granddaughter's graduation. Grace was overjoyed with the results!

Thank you for trusting me to come up with a quilting design that would highlight this beautiful quilt!

More snippets from the sewing room soon,