Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Written in the stars - Part 2

Now the time has come for the big reveal of my "Written in the Stars" quilt which I posted about last week. It was such a challenging project for me because it brought in some new techniques that I had probably not practiced or mastered enough to start working with! I went from practising one basic new york beauty block, to drawing my own and adapting it to place one of my stars in the middle.

Starting the New York Beauty inspired block

To make matters more complicated I also decided that I wanted inset the block into the piano-key border I set out around the edge of the quilt... and I just about managed it. Sewing with curves in Patchwork is not that new to me, but what I've never done is quilted a patchwork with curves in it.  It was not too much of a struggle to get the patchwork together, but as I quilted through this block the fabric behaved in all kinds of strange ways I'd never expected... pulling and stretching in odd places, and resulting in much unpicking.

New York Beauty with inset start and inset into border of the quilt.

With a few cheats, I just about managed it but I will have to be more patient with curves the next time I tackle them.

I quilted using tight parallel straight lines running across the quilt and tracing some of the stars, and then filled the remaining space with randomly angled intersecting lines.  Not my neatest quilting job, but I was happy with the overall effect.

And for the finished product? My hope is that you'll be inspired by the quilt, but forgive my photo composition! Sadly, I live in a small urban flat and don't have fields of wheat or rolling green hills to use as a backdrop for my quilts: Instead you get a crowded floor space between an ikea desk and a laundry rack and my very dingy garden!

But here it is:

And my wonderful friend (of 10 years now!) showing it off her gift.  Not the greatest photo, but I hope it shows off the overall look. The lighting makes the puckering look a bit worse than it was, but it does at least show off the mix of textures between the tight straight line quilting and the more random lines that run through the rest of the quilt. Plus the smile on her face is the most important thing to me!

Excited to see what the next 10 years brings our way!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Written in the stars - Part 1

In follow up to my always secret crafting post the "big reveal" on my most recent project has now come and gone, but because I haven't had a chance to blog-as-I-quilt, I thought I'd just post a little teaser with the online reveal to follow shortly.  So this will be part one of a two-part-post - I promise not to drag it on too long! Remember: good things come to those who wait.

The gift quilt I've been working on came about as a way to celebrate a 10-year "friendiversary"with one of my best pals.  We met at uni when fate rolled the dice and we ended up working in offices next to one another and we became friends in July 2004 when, barely knowing each other, we ended up travelling to and sharing a tent at Hillside Music Festival in Guelph, Canada.

This first friendezvous came about somewhat unplanned, and we awkwardly shared a tent and shivered through the weekend's unexpectedly cold nights, while enjoying food, good music, and a few workshops each day. The rest was written in the stars.

Nine months later we moved to different cities and have never since lived in the same place (or for that matter the same country). Despite this distance we've sustained the friendship, via emails, skype, visits and meeting up in a host of amazing places. So as our 10 year friendiversary approached, I knew I had to find a way to mark the occasion!

Thinking about the theme of "written in the stars" I knew I wanted to create a constellation themed quilt using paper pieced stars and an adapted new york beauty block. I wanted to weave in lots of hidden stories and themes related to our friendship, but I struggled with finding a way to tell the story through the quilt so despite starting work on it with this initial star block in March 2012, the project sat on the back burner until I had my lightbulb moment earlier this year.

My first attempt at a star block.
The slow and sluggish thought process that went on over two years on the back-burner of my mind went something like this:

I love the star and definitely want to work with stars...
... but what can I do with stars, how can I arrange them?
Hmmm.. constellations, I could make it a constellation quilt...
... I wonder if there is a constellation of a unicorn? (we share a joke/affirmation about unicorns) *rushes to google*... Oh yes! There is a monoceros constellation...

"Sidney Hall - Urania's Mirror - Monoceros, Canis Minor, and Atelier Typographique" by Sidney Hall
... but what do I do with this now... and how do I work in the rest of the stories... Am I taking on too much? Can I really tell a story in a quilt?... *excited but totally overwhelmed*

Then one day it hit me: I had reached a point where I knew I wanted to lay out the constellation across the main body of the quilt and had chosen Dan Bennett's Premier Lord collection as my fabrics for the stars... but I was struggling to find fabric in the right deep and dark blue tones to form the contrasting background which I wanted to be the sky. I even searched for constellation fabrics, but struggled to find the right balance of dark, muted blues that I wanted.

So I decided to take the plunge and make my own fabrics via Spoonflower! This allowed me to challenge myself to do some design work and get exactly what I wanted, in the right colours, and gave me a way to literally sew the story of our friendship into the fabric of the quilt.

I designed a pattern of constellations inspired by our friendship, the things we love and the places we have been together and had them printed in three different shades of blue. I also used the placement of the stars in this constellation design, to create a secondary connected constellation fabric (now for sale on Spoonflower!) where the stars were all joined together differently to create a geo-metric fabric.

Here are the three main fabrics:

Here I'm piecing my fabrics alongside Dan Bennett's fabrics

Here you can see the supplementary connected constellation fabric bringing in a geo-metric design that breaks up the more graphic designs of the other fabrics.

And here is your sneak-peek taste of the quilt - my first completed star block ready to go into the quilt. 

I was really happy with the contrast of the colours I'd chosen to print my fabrics in and felt that the designs I made and the scale I printed them at worked really well to achieve the look I was going for.  I wanted the stars to stand out against a very blue background, but didn't want that background to be flat or dull... I think these fabrics work just right to give a defined but not lacklustre backdrop for the stars which are the real focus of the quilt.

 Part two is coming soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

always secret crafting

Here we go again, I'm writing one of many secret crafting blog posts, only this time I'm writing before the big reveal.

When you quilt, you constantly come up against a tension between the traditional and modern, and although it's a tension I love to embrace and explore in my work, when it comes to quilting and blogging, the tension is quite hard to balance.  Bloggers need things to blog about, but very special, long-term projects don't produce the kind of exciting tidbits and progress updates that suit a blog. Inside you are dying to share all those little things and anecdotes about your work, but because you are working on a gift it is all top secret!

It can also be very hard to remember to share my many thoughts and ideas when I'm working hard and purposefully keeping my head down so as not to arise the suspicion of the soon-to-be recipient of the project I am working on.

So without giving it all away, I've been busy working on a very special project the last few months. Really it is a project that has been 10 years in the making, but I've only been properly working out my ideas in the last six months.

The project has been a tough one that has introduced a few new things into my repertoire:

1. Mastering curves (yikes!)
2. Completing some New York Beauty blocks (double yikes!!)
3. Designing my own fabric (what the what!?!)

Am I up to the challenge? A new york beauty piece from Canoe Ridge Creations
Number three really hits the "traditional meets modern" nail on the head. Get me - I've had a go and digital fabric design! I've designed with illustrator before with my own laser-cut patterns for my Bristol Cityscape coasters and mobile designs, but I felt very overwhelmed at the task of taking my skills further design fabrics.

Fabrics are so much more layered, colourful and complex than simple line drawings, but to ease myself into it, I kept it simple - using my experience with line design to draw some constellations and create some custom fabric. I am desperate to show it off to on the blog, but the design would be a dead giveaway for the person I am creating the quilt for, so for now I'm going to have to be a textual tease.

I ordered my fabric through Spoonflower, but have since discovered that there is a range of fabric printers here in the uk: check out these listings at the Sewing Directory.

Have you designed your own and had any fab or tragic experiences? If yes, I would love to hear about them. Comment or drop me a line or two and I'll work them into my "big reveal" post which should be coming in about two-weeks time!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Craft fuel: Coffee - DIY Nespresso Capsule Holder

It's been a very long time since I did a 'craft fuel' post and as I write this it has occurred to me how strange it is I have never posted about the most important craft fuel of all: coffee.

Those who know me well (and anyone else who has seen me before 8:30 on any given morning) know that coffee is a big part of my life. I'll admit it is not the healthiest part of my daily routine, but given that it is my only true vice I give myself a pass and allow myself to indulge in a few cups a day.

Sometimes I have a treat with it, some cake or a nice piece of dark chocolate, but even on it's own it is a delightful little indulgence and comes with a perfect little pick me up that when tempered correctly lends a bit of oomph and focus to my crafting.

Now I've been through all the coffee machines out there: I have my toddy for deliciously smooth iced coffees in the summer, I have a siphon for a strong but sweet brew and more recently I set myself up with a Nespresso Machine so that I can enjoy the full range of lattes, cappuccinos and on my last rockstar-of-a-new-year's-eve: boozy frangelico macchiatos!

I love my machine, so much that I've upgraded to a 'Latissima' and at my old job I conspired with colleagues to establish an at-work machine as well. As much as I love the sweet brown nectar that flows from those capsules, I've always been foiled when it comes to storing them. Yes, there are boxes and racks and containers and lovely glass jars out there designed for them but they all come at a high price and none of them have ever really appealed to me that much, so I set out to make my own. Check it out:

DIY Nespresso Capsule Holder

- 7 strips of balsa wood (15mm x 5mm)
- thick double-sided foam tape
- magnetic tape
- 1 magnetic note board (IKEA)
- washi tape for decorating

Here's how I did it:

Testing my layout and cut balsa to size with craft knife.
Trimming magnetic tape to 1/2 width.
Attaching magnet strip to wood with double sided tape. 
Cover each strip with Washi Tape
Assemble, and Ta-da!

The capsule holder in situ at my coffee corner.
Mmmm double latte!

So there it is. After a long time of juggling with capsules, I've made my own capsule holder. The nice thing is that it was very cheap (all materials under £15), and it is completely changeable! I can create a new layout or change the colour of my washi tape and create a new look whenever I want... but for now, I'll just admire it while I sip my coffee.