What I Did This Summer… Fun with Sew Alongs on Instagram

First block in my Moroccan Tiles quilt

First, for those who enjoy a little backstory:

(if you don’t care about backstory, skip on down to the Sew Alongs – I won’t be offended!)

One of the challenges of pursuing your passion (or something related to your passion) as your vocation is the risk of adding so many financial and/or performance related pressures that what once gave you joy becomes another source of stress instead. Back when I was showing and selling my work in galleries, I found myself in the very odd position of not being able to afford my own work. The amount of money I could make by selling my art quilts was too high for me to justify making anything for myself when I had a family to help support! Later, when I was designing quilts and writing quilting books for Martingale & Co. and teaching both locally and all around the country, I found my sewing and quilting time so limited that I felt I couldn’t justify taking the time to sew or quilt anything just for fun – everything had to be something I could either sell, show, include in a book, or use as a teaching sample. I love to experiment and play the “what if” game, but I felt very constrained in my experimentation – I had to be pretty confident in the outcome in order to justify the expense of time and resources. I couldn’t allow myself to take the kinds of creative risks I yearned to take. 

Another of my Moroccan Tiles blocks

This phenomenon was exacerbated for me when an apparent mini-stroke almost 10 years ago (combined with long term symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis) left me not only reliant on aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes to get around, but left me with impaired fine motor control and strength – and mostly unable to cut fabric, sew (by either hand or machine), and especially quilt.  As the severity of my symptoms fluctuated, I was able to do a little sewing, but it was mostly (of necessity) related to my role as Creative Director for Lakeshore Sewing. 

I coped with this by turning my creative focus to writing, drawing and designing fabric – things I could do even when confined to bed, and sewing small items when able.

But something changed this spring. As my mobility, dexterity, and energy gradually improved, I started sewing again. Small stuff at first, like bags and purses; but eventually even quilts. While I am still very much affected by MS, I am physically doing the best I have since 2009/2010. And I am so happy!

But I also know that I want to approach my sewing and quilting differently than I have in the past – I want to keep more of the joy. As I was discussing this with my sister, she mentioned to me that I was reminding her a lot of a book she had recently read by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As soon as I could, I bought a copy for myself and started reading. I devoured it!

I won’t get into a full book review here, except to say that I heartily recommend it for anyone and everyone who is interested in living a creative life – not necessarily as a vocation (although it’s applicable for that, too), but as a way of living. One of the most important take-aways for me personally was not to get caught up again in always creating “original” or marketable work, but to allow myself to freely and without the pressure of expectation pursue any rabbit trails that might catch my eye and capture my interest.  Allowing myself to play and to participate more fully in the creativity around me has become a new goal for me.

Which brings me back to what I did this summer… Continue Reading…

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Shimmer Quilt – Part 3

My clamshell “Shimmer” quilt has been a labor of love and persistence – for such a relatively small piece, it sure has been labor intensive! But I’ve enjoyed each step of the process as it stretched my creative muscles to experiment with new-to-me products, techniques and approaches.

Below is my completed quilt top. It’s a little wrinkly, as there was an unfortunate incident overnight with a leaky pipe right above my worktable that left my quilt top not only soaked but stained when I found it in the morning, and I had to wash the unquilted top. Not usually recommended! 

I also had some bleeding from the dark purple fabrics. I’ve always prewashed everything in the past; but in this case, I had followed the recommendations from Bluprint (formerly Craftsy) and I did not do so. I will never skip that step again!

The fabric shrank a little when I washed it, creating the appearance of small tucks and wrinkles in the quilt top. At this point, I was hoping they would disappear when I quilted the top.

I was very discouraged by these developments, but decided to press on.

Shimmer clamshell quilt top designed and made by Beth Ann Williams

I considered an all-over free-motion quilting design, as that has been my go-to approach in the past. But in the spirit of trying something new, I opted to treat each individual patch as an opportunity to play with a different motif or style of patterning. But first I stabilized the quilt top by quilting on either side of each patch to create an all-over latticework which I also extended into the white negative space around the outer edges of the quilt.

This left me with very tiny spaces to fill with free-motion quilting, but it was also fun. 😀

Shimmer clamshell quilt by Beth Ann Williams – free-motion quilting in progress.

Continue Reading…

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Shimmer Quilt – Part 2

Wow! I really need to catch up! There’s been a lot going on our lives – both good and bad (or at least very challenging and saddening); most notably the passing of my beloved Aunt Peg, aka Margaret Hochberg. She was one of those very special souls who exuded love and comfort to all those around her and worked tirelessly (often behind the scenes) to help everyone she could. She was a woman of deep and abiding faith who genuinely practiced what she preached in the most positive sense of the word. She welcomed and mothered us all.

One of my favorite sewing-related memories of Aunt Peg was the way she always came through when one of us (siblings, children, nieces, grandchildren, etc.) needed a special garment, whether it be for a wedding, performance choir, holiday photos, or just because.  She had an amazing ability to look at the collection of pattern books with us in the store, listen to all of the changes we wanted (which by the end, could render the purchased pattern all but useless), and somehow produce a garment that not only fit, but was just what was wanted. With her example, she taught me to create freely – modifying, adapting, or skipping commercial patterns altogether.

I think it’s especially appropriate to think about Aunt Peg today, as my approach to this quilt was definitely inspired by that freedom. 🙂

In my last post, I showed how I fused the 3″ clamshell templates cut from ink-jet printable, iron-on Wash Away Applique Sheets to the back of my fabric.

Sorting my fabrics into groupings – starting to get an idea of how I might arrange them…

The next step was to use a wash-away fabric glue pen along the seam allowance of the upper edge of each clamshell and then fold the seam allowance over just a little bit at a time, easing in any extra fullness. (I found this the quickest way to get a nice stable turned edge along the top of each clamshell.)

I laid out my clamshells into groupings of 4, overlapping the clamshells so that no raw edges of fabric would show when all the pieces were sewn together. In some cases (particularly with the darkest blues and purples), I used a light box to help me see exactly where the edges of the wash-away applique paper were underneath the fabric.

After playing with various arrangements, I settled on a final design. washing the color from left to right and values from bottom to top. But I needed to cut some more clamshells…

“Shimmer” clamshell quilt by Beth Ann Williams, pondering the layout…

Continue Reading…

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Shimmer Quilt – Part 1

This next series of posts will explore the process of creating a new quilt inspired by shimmering sunlight and shadows reflecting off the rippling surface of Lake Michigan.

My initial starting point was this selection of ombre fabric. I’d never worked with fabrics like this before, so I thought it would be a fun challenge to come up with a design that would take advantage of the gradated colors. 

Ombre fabric from shop.mybluprint.com

The next step was to think about what kind of shape or shapes I wanted to work with. I’ve never worked with clamshells before, but I’ve always loved them. It seemed to me that clamshells would lend themselves to the kind of organic movement I had in mind.   Continue Reading…

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Fun with Cathedral Windows

Cathedral windows has been a favorite pattern of mine since I first saw this traditional quilt style many years ago, but I’ve never made more than a few blocks at a time because the handwork proved too frustrating for me to manage wth my peripheral neuropathy. So I was immediately intrigued when I heard about the Cathedral Window Pillow episode from Angela Walters on her Midnight Quilt Show. I checked out Angela’s demonstration on YouTube and was excited to see how the process had been reimagined and reengineered to make it relatively quick and easy to create by machine.

You can also download the (currently) free pattern from Bluprint 🙂

The cutting instructions are for two 20″ pillows, but I opted to make just one this time. Angela was using a charm pack (precut 5″ squares), but I raided my scrap bin and leftover bits and pieces from other projects and cut my own squares and triangles.

I decided to make my pillow with a mix of scraps of my custom fabrics from Spoonflower and of my carefully hoarded Kaffe Fassett fabric. The white fabric I’m using is Lily & Loom Brilliant White from Bluprint (formerly Craftsy).

Continue Reading…

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Experiments in Binding – Changing the Width

In a previous post, I started experimenting with sewing quilt binding on the back of the quilt and then bringing it around to the front and appliquéing it down by machine (instead of sewing it to the front of the quilt, wrapping it around, and hand-stitching it on the back of the quilt).

I felt the experiment was successful, but the process needed refining. I’m going to give it another go. 🙂

This time I cut the binding strips 2 1/4″ wide. I still want the binding to be wider on the front of the quilt than the back (so that I don’t catch the binding in the appliqué stitching), but not as wide as in my first experiment.

I started by sewing the folded binding to the back of the quilt with a 1/4″ seam.

Then I wrapped the binding around to the front of the quilt, using Wonder Clips to hold it in place, and removed the clips as I worked my way around the quilt.

Continue Reading…

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How Does the Jazz Do with Invisible Machine Appliqué?

So far the Jazz is performing superbly. 🙂 

But an important test for me is how well it will do with invisible machine appliqué, as that is one of my specialties. Of course, my other machines are just great for this, but I’m excited about having much more workspace on the Jazz.  

Here is how I set up the machine:

A regular zigzag presser foot works perfectly well, but I prefer an open-toe appliqué foot as it allows better visibility.

I like to use a very small zigzag stitch for this. Depending on the machine I am using, the width and length settings are usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5, 1.5 or 2.0, 2.0. Here is how I set the stitch length and width on the Jazz:

Stitch settings on the Baby Lock Jazz for invisible machine appliqué – about 1.9 and 1.8. 

After doing some test stitching on scrap fabric, I determined (to my surprise and delight!) that no tension adjustments were necessary. The stitches were perfectly balanced – no bobbin thread visible on the top of the fabric and no monofilament visible on the back.

However, I did find that the monofilament thread had a tendency to coil off and wrap around the spool pin, causing it to break; but I quickly solved that issue with a thread net placed over the spool.

Sliding a thread net over the spool keeps the thread feeding smoothly into the machine

I prepared my appliqué pieces by ironing the edges over freezer paper templates, which I removed later.

One side of the zigzag goes into the appliqué piece, while the other side goes only into the background fabric, just off the edge of the appliqué 

Continue Reading…

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Experiments in Binding – Bringing the Binding From the Back to the Front

In my last post, I started a sewing/quilting experiment by doing things a little differently than I normally would. 

(1) I sewed the binding first to the back of the quilt (in the past, I’ve always sewed the binding to the front first)

(2) I purposely planned to have the binding finish at 1/4″ wide on the back and approximately 1/2″ wide on the front so I would stay clear of the binding on the back when sewing the binding down on the front of the quilt (in the past, I’ve always made sure my bindings were the same width on the front as on the back)

Now I’m ready for the next twist!

(3) Sewing the free edge of the binding down by machine instead of by hand.

And to take it even further,

(4) Appliquéing the free edge down with a small zigzag stitch!

The first step is to start wrapping the binding around to the front.

Bringing the binding around to the front

Continue Reading…

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Experiments in Binding – Sewing the Binding to the Back of the Quilt First

After taking some time away from my sewing machine to focus on getting the Lakeshore Sewing Creative Quarterly ready for the printer, I’m back in business. 🙂

I’m ready to bind my newest incarnation of Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve always bound my quilts by sewing the binding to the front of the quilt by machine, and then wrapping the binding around to the back of the quilt and sewing it down my hand.  I love the look; but unfortunately, it is very hard on my hands. So I’ve been thinking for a while about how to eliminate the handwork without sacrificing quality.

I’ve seen many examples of machine-sewn bindings that were first sewn on the front of the quilt, wrapped to the back, and then machine stitched “in the ditch” from the front of the quilt, (hopefully) catching the binding in the stitching on the back of the quilt. Sometimes it looks great, but I’ve also seen it end up pretty messy. I’m concerned that it can be tricky to get a nice consistently clean result on the back of the quilt, since you can’t see the binding underneath when you are stitching from the front.

So today I am trying something a little different.  

The preparatory steps are exactly the same as if I were attaching my binding in the traditional manner.

I cut my binding strips 2 1/2″ wide. For this quilt, I need about 4 1/2 strips cut the full width of the fabric. I’m joining the strips with a diagonal seam, as that helps prevent the seam allowances where are strips are joined together from forming lumps or bumps in the finished binding. I trim the excess triangle of fabric on the other side of the seam and press the seam open.

 

Joining the binding strips with a diagonal seam (strips are right sides together and stitched at a 90 degree angle; the excess triangles of fabric on the other side of the seam are trimmed away)

Continue Reading…

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