Thursday, April 9, 2015

flower garden hexagons = slow sewing

Confession: Late in 2014 I started yet another hand sewing project.  At the time I was having such fun making the English paper pieced (EPP) hexagons for my Red Hot Dreamy Hexagons quilt top (which by the way is finished and just waiting to be quilted!) that I immediately started making more when I saw this book cover...

I'm using primarily Kaffe Fassett and Anna Maria Horner fabrics to make my star and flowers and a wide variety of light-to-medium grey prints for the background hexagons. The center star of the quilt top is almost complete!

The pattern calls for 759 colored hexagons (to make the star center and surrounding flower blocks) and 532 background hexagons!  Wow - that is a LOT of hand-sewing!!  I haven't yet made a count of how many are completed because I don't want to discourage myself, but I plan to show you my (slow) progress on this throughout the year.

The great news is that this project is perfectly portable - I've worked on these hexagons while traveling in Florida, Indiana, Texas, and Ohio and in front of the TV many evenings.  You only need to bring along a small bag of precut templates, precut fabric squares, needle, thread, small scissors, and reading glasses while you're on the go :)

I use a 1" Fiskars hexagon punch to cut my EPP papers.  I am way too cheap to buy enough EPP papers for a project of this size, so I cut my papers from the subscription inserts found in magazines.  FREE EPP papers, people!  Using a hole punch tool to make a hole in the center of each paper makes them easy to remove later.

A few of my fabrics were cut using a 1.25" hexagon die and my new Sizzix Fabi Cutter, but I found that they were a little too small to easily wrap around the papers, so I've gone back to my original method of using 2.5" fabric squares for 1" hexagons. (The 1" measurement indicates the length of each side of the hexagon.)  There is a 1.5" hexagon die available for the Sizzix Fabi, but I'm too cheap to buy another die when 2.5" squares work just fine :)

As you can see, there is not a lot of seam allowance on the back side of these EPP hexagons - too fiddly for me.  The method I use for thread basting my hexagons is actually a mash-up of several methods, but this YouTube video is the closest demonstration I can find online to show you how I do it.  I don't glue baste my hexagons - I tried that method but it just didn't work for me.  Thread basting takes longer, but thread is cheaper than glue and it stays in place just fine.

Along with the star center I've completed four of the 32 flower units...

This photo shows the back of the center star unit. You can see that I've removed the papers from all of the hexagons that are surrounded by others.  The perimeter hexagons still have their papers enclosed; I don't remove the paper until a hexagon has been sewn to another on all six sides.  You can also see that the green and black hexagons do not have any thread basting.  These are the ones I tried to glue baste, but the seam allowances didn't remain glued down long enough for me to sew them all together, so I ended up re-gluing all of them.  What a waste of time!

And here are the back sides of my flower units. I'll leave all the basting stitches in even after the whole top is put together. There really is no reason to spend the time removing all those stitches - they'll just be concealed on the back side against the batting and won't interfere with the quilting process.

And one last shot of the center...

This is going to be a very lengthy project. I hesitate to even venture a guess at a completion date, so for now I'll just plan to write an update periodically and maybe at some point provide a count of how many of the 1,291 hexagons are completed.  But that would require counting.  And I'd rather just spend the time sewing :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

dots and low volume: stars for a block lottery

The Crystal Lake Modern Quilt Guild is introducing a new program at our April meeting - a block lottery! Any member that would like to participate makes a block (or two or three) following the rules for that lottery and each block earns that member one chance to win.  The winner of the drawing takes home all the blocks brought in for that lottery!

For our first lottery we chose a theme of star blocks made from dot fabrics on backgrounds of low volume fabrics. Any star block is fair game as long as the fabric requirement and size rules are followed.  The other board members and I each made a couple of blocks as examples to show the guild at our March meeting. For my first sample block I modified a pattern in the book Modern Bee - the Triple Star. My 12.5" unfinished version is a Double Star...

The center square finishes at 3" surrounded by half-square triangle (HST) and square units that finish at 1.5". The outer star HST and square sections all finish at 3". I chose to use a variety of blue dot fabrics as well as a wide variety of low volume background fabrics.

My second block was cut using the Easy Dresden ruler (you can watch a Missouri Star Quilt Company video tutorial explaining how to use the ruler here). The orange blades were cut from a 3.5" x 22" fabric strip, and the pink blades were cut from a 4.5" x 22" strip. One strip of each color is plenty for the entire block. After sewing each blade point and then sewing the blades together, I machine appliqued the entire unit to the 13" square background fabric. The background fabric was cut slightly larger because when appliqueing a block like this the background fabric tends to shrink up a bit.

The center circle of the dresden star was backed with Heat and Bond Lite so it could be fused to the dresden and background. I used a machine blanket stitch to permanently secure the circle to the center and then trimmed the block to the required 12.5".

This post contains photos of the other samples made as well as more details of the block lottery program.  I'm very excited to see the blocks that other members bring in April - maybe I'll be the lucky winner!  I sure wouldn't mind winning mine and the other sample blocks for myself :)

Monday, March 2, 2015

the perfect little gift

Last month I made a cute little Valentine's Day gift for Thing 1's college apartment - a fabric box filled with chocolate candies! I used this well-written tutorial found on the Seaside Stitches blog. You could make one of these quick-sew gifts for almost any occasion.

Per the tutorial, you'll need two coordinating fabric squares and one thin batting square each measuring between 8" and 12". I used 12" squares to make this box and the thinnest cotton batting I had on hand - Quilter's Dream Request in white.  Stitch all three layers right sides together using a 1/4" seam and leave a 4" opening for turning.  After you've clipped the corners and turned it right sides out, topstitch around the outer edges and then quilt as you like.  I segmented this square into triangles by marking the corner to corner diagonal lines, and then stitched a concentric triangle in each segment using the edge of the presser foot as my guide for spacing.

Here's a shot of the completed quilting lines on what will become the box interior.  The edges are a tad wavy from all the quilting lines, but don't worry if yours ends up like this too - it will all turn out just fine in the end :)

Since I started with 12" squares to make a larger box, I marked and sewed 2.5" triangles in each corner rather than the 2" triangles indicated in the tutorial.  This adjustment makes the finished box a little bit taller on the sides.

After sewing the corners and turning the box right side out you'll need to fold and press the outer flaps down on the box exterior.  You may also want to tack the inside corner flaps down with a bit of hand stitching.

Add some cute buttons to the points on the exterior flaps...

And you're done.  Fill it up with chocolate candies and you've got the perfect gift that can be used in so many other ways after the candy is long gone!

I'm going to make another one for my local Crystal Lake Modern Quilt Guild's April door prize filled with Easter grass, chocolates, and some other goodies.  Maybe I'll even engineer a way to add a handle to make it a real Easter basket :)

I think this might be my go-to 2015 hostess gift project.  Do you have other suggestions for quick and useful handmade gifts that you regularly sew?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Hot Dreamy Hexagons progress

The second UFO that I want to complete this year is my Red Hot Dreamy Hexagons quilt.  Last year I wrote a post about the center medallion of this quilt, but then I put it away for a long while during the time I spent working on the SIL quilts :)

At the end of 2014 this is what the quilt looked like...

The original quilt (from the pattern book Quilt Grandeur) was made in greys and very subtle colors.  To be honest I didn't give this quilt a second thought while looking through the book because "subtle" doesn't usually draw me in.

But a few months later I saw this earth-toned version offered as a class on, and I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I was really intrigued by the English paper pieced (EPP) hexagons appliqued in the center, and this version was obviously brighter.

Pretty soon I started thinking about how a red version might look, and I was off hand-basting and sewing hexagons like mad!  I used the background fabric to choose these shot cotton colors for the hexagon rings, but once I sewed the rings and saw them all together on the background fabric I knew right away that that yellow had to go.

In the second iteration I added the flowers behind a few different rings.  While these colors were an improvement, that one blue ring was the odd man out.

I felt like the hexagon colors were right in this third try with the addition of a second blue and the brighter orange, but I didn't like the green flowers within the top and bottom left rings.

So I replaced the green flowers and arrived at this arrangement for the quilt center medallion  All that rework was worth the effort - I love this final version!  The first border is one of my favorite prints - Paperweight in Paprika - and the cornerstones are cut from the same floral print used in the center of each hexagon ring - Japanese Chrysanthemum in Scarlet.

Each ring was hand-appliqued to a single fussy-cut flower.  The seven hexagon rings were then hand-sewn together at the edges to make one large centerpiece which was hand-appliqued as a whole over the background fabric - Jupiter in Red.  Lots of hand sewing, which I really enjoyed :)

I put this quilt up on the design wall again today so I could finish the second border and get started on the third (there are five total borders).  Based on my goal of completing five UFO quilts before October, my ideal timeline is to complete one quilt top each month January through May to allow time for long arm quilting and binding.  It will be a stretch to finish this one by the end of January, but I'm hopeful!  After all, goals are supposed to be a bit of a stretch, right?

Monday, January 19, 2015

first finish of the year

2015 is going to be the year of finishing UFOs (unfinished objects) and WIPs (works in progress) here at elsie's girl! Since I am great at starting new projects, but not so great at finishing them, I've got quite a (literal) pile-up of projects in various stages of completion taking up space in the sewing room.

Riding the wave of post-Christmas holiday cheer I decided to tackle these two Christmas pillows first and finished them last week. The unquilted pillow tops had been stuck in the UFO pile since December 2012.

My quilt guild (Crystal Lake MQG) is hosting a 2015 UFO Challenge with prize drawings for completed projects throughout the year, and I've registered six UFOs so far. I could register sooo many more, but I'm really trying to be realistic about what I can actually finish before October and not fail miserably at this challenge!  These two pillows are my first UFO Challenge finish, so I'm off to a good start :)

But back to the pillows. The first one was made from a Jaybird Quilts pattern "Candy Dish" and measures 20" square.  The pattern actually makes a 16" square pillow, but it was easy enough to add extra rows and columns to make the 20" covering. All the blocks were cut from leftover fabric from the "It's the Hap-Happiest Season of All" quilt made in 2011 (the back of that very quilt is seen in this photo!)

It is simply straight line quilted with a pale robin's egg blue thread, and as I write this I see that I missed a row of quilting on the right edges of the two red blocks in the center of the photo. Oh well, finished is better than perfect, right?!

My second pillow was patterned after this sweet one from Amy at Nana Company. She designs and makes the loveliest projects :) Mine measures 16" x 26" and is also made with scraps from the same 2011 Christmas quilt.

I added straight line quilting in the same pale blue thread here within the colored fabric blocks, while hand embroidery of the lyrics from my favorite Christmas song fills in the white strips.

It's been a long time since I did this embroidery so I'm not sure what specific DMC floss color I used, but I believe it's only one or two strands in a stem stitch. I can only manage two embroidery stitches - stem and french knot - and those are the only stitches you see here! I seem to remember using more strands of floss for a bit and then taking it out because the stitching was too bulky. So don't be afraid to rip out and start over if you don't like the results. Embroidery is slow work for me, but I'm so glad I stuck with it long enough to finish these lyrics - to me they are the best part of the pillow!

Both pillows have zipper backings. The square one is made from a couple of flannel pieces I had saved from the 2011 Christmas quilt (the front seen here) and has a standard 18" centered zipper insertion.

Because I had a larger piece of this backing fabric, I was able to add a hidden 14" standard zipper very near one of the short ends. I always use this tutorial from House on Hill Road for hidden zipper pillow backings.

One of the requirements of the guild UFO challenge is that when you finish a project it must be shown at the next guild meeting to be eligible for the prize drawings. So I'll be taking these to our February meeting and then packing them away until Thanksgiving weekend much later this year. Chances are excellent that I'll forget all about these pillows until then, and it will truly be like Christmas when we decorate again in late November and I rediscover them!

One UFO down, five to go!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Christmas gift sewing part 3

Much of my November and December sewing time was spent making these wonderful little zippered bags. The pattern is "Sew Together Bag" by Sew Demented and you can order printed copies of the pattern from a handful of shops on or download a PDF version from

This bag pattern is not a quick sew and not for the faint-hearted, but if you can put aside your fear of zippers (each bag has four of them!) and devote a few hours to sewing the first one, each additional bag will go much faster. Each finished bag measures approximately 10" x 5" x 5".

There is a great online sew-along for this pattern complete with lots of extra photos and tips here.  I used these sew along instructions in conjunction with the pattern each time I made a bag, and found them to be a tremendous help - my first bag tuned out just as fabulous as my fifth!

The first bag was made as a November birthday gift for my sewing and traveling buddy, Kelly.

I used a variety of black and white prints, some with a sewing theme.  All the cut pockets, lining pieces, bag exterior, and binding pieces are shown here.

A view of the bag interior before sewing the outer zipper.  There are three internal pockets with contrasting linings and individual zippers.  I used different colored zippers and linings for each pocket in all of the bags.

This is a view of the interior after adding the external zipper and bindings.  It still opens very wide to accommodate and leave visible all the goodies you pack inside.

The second bag was for another sewing buddy and fellow Crystal Lake Modern Quilt Guild (CLMQG) Executive Board member, Lorrie.  More sewing themed prints, this time from the "Sew Stitchy" line by Aneela Hoey for Moda.

The blue version is still in residence at my house.  I haven't yet decided where it will end up :)

CLMQG Secretary Jill received this red, white, and turquoise version.

She's a fellow Paris lover whose favorite color is red, so I had to make her bag with this great fleur de lis print!

The external zipper and binding make a "handle" of sorts on each end of the closed bags.

And lastly this black and white beauty was made for Judy, our CLMQG Treasurer.  More scissors fabric, but this time on the bag exterior.

I probably couldn't get those stripes on the binding to match up again if I tried.  What a lucky accident!

I forgot to take a photo of the final touch on each bag - I added a letter "first initial" charm to each external zipper pull for personalization.  JoAnn's has some really cute charms in their beading section that are the perfect size - about 3/4" square.

This is the final installment of Christmas gift projects from 2014 that I have to share with you.  I believe I did more gift sewing in 2014 than any other previous year.  It was so much fun to sew all these individual, personalized gifts and even more fun to give them away and see how much the recipients enjoyed their surprises!

I've declared 2015 the year of finishing projects.  My guild is introducing a UFO Challenge at our meeting this weekend, and I've already got a list of 5 projects to register!  I could register soooo many more, but I'll start with the ones that I've got a decent chance of finishing.  More about those later...

Happy New Year!!  May it be a year filled with learning, sewing successes, and project finishes for all of us!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas gift sewing part 2

More Christmas gift sewing - pillow shams to coordinate with the Amish with a Twist quilt I finished for my mother in June :)

Luckily I had some extra bits of all the solids used in the quilt, so I opted for a simple design of 2.5" finished squares with a Kona Snow border.

40 squares per pillow...

A simple crosshatch quilting design and a raspberry binding finish these standard sized shams perfectly.  They measure approximately 21" x 27".  The backings have a simple envelope closure in Kona Snow.

And yes, she loved them!  When she gets the filler pillow forms she promised to send me a photo of the whole ensemble so I'll share that later.

In other Christmas gift news, one of my SILs told her husband that they need to purchase a new sofa to coordinate with the quilt I made for her - haha!.  Have you ever redecorated a room around one of your quilts?


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