As many women do, I decided to make a quilt when my son was little. If I remember right (always an iffy proposition) he was five at the time. I’ve liked quilts since I was equally little, being fascinated by the vintage quilts my grandmother had on her beds. Exactly why I thought making a quilt might be a good idea I don’t know. I think I had this vague idea that I could make money selling quilts and quit my day job. Ha ha ha! I’m still trying to figure that one out, although the day job is long gone.

While I hadn’t made a quilt before, I had made a patchwork potholder for my mom in 6th grade, as a sample to go with a term paper I wrote about quilting. This was back in 1968 (don’t you dare do the math), and there weren’t many quilt books out there (none I could find) so my research was done at the New York State Historical Society, which happened to be in the town we lived in at the time. For the potholder I did a star, possibly an Ohio Star, and I can’t remember if I had a block pattern to follow. No step-by-step instructions, I had to figure it out, and I used scraps my mom had. I have no photos of this early masterpiece (or of my first real quilt, for that matter).

I also made a patchwork blanket for one of my model horses, from sample bits my mom gave me. No batting so technically it isn’t a quilt. I still have it around here somewhere, but the horse is long gone.

So I had a little bit of piecing experience when I set out to make a quilt, and a treadle sewing machine my dad had given me for my 16th birthday. I might have made the model horse blanket on it. (It’s not like I had any interest in sewing clothes or home decor.) I needed the treadle because we lived off the grid and our itty bitty solar power system couldn’t handle a sewing machine or iron. I sewed at home, then took the pieces to my mom’s house to iron them. The work got done in stages.

For a pattern I went shopping in my mom’s craft book collection, and found a Quilt-in-a-Day book by Eleanor Burns, complete with cardstock template pieces to cut out. The book was for a sampler quilt, but I chose one block (a pinwheel variation) to use for my first quilting venture. And yes, I cut out the templates, layered fabric, pinned the template in place, and struggled to cut through four layers of fabric with my mom’s old sewing scissors (read: dull). (I discovered rotary cutters soon after that first quilt.)

Once I had all the pieces cut, I learned real fast how to fudge a seam! My memory has faded over the years, so I don’t know how I managed to get it all put together, but I did. Then I had to figure out how to quilt it. First I basted the layers with straight pins and tried to sew a simple quilting line on my machine. Didn’t work. The pins didn’t hold and everything moved around.

After ripping out those stitches I resigned myself to hand quilting. I may have rebasted it, or I may have struggled with the straight pins, I’ve forgotten those details. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. All I remember was doing the bare minimum to hold it together, and my stitches almost qualified as Big Stitch. And somewhere along the line I lost a needle.

Eventually I finished it and gave it to my son, who loved it dearly. About 8 months later, he called me in to his room soon after bedtime, and said, “Mom, there’s something sharp in my quilt, it pricked me.” He showed me where it was, and I felt around and worked it out, thinking one of the straight pins had ended up inside. Nope, it was the missing needle. Sure made me feel like Mom of the Year for that one!

What I don’t understand, looking back, is why that wasn’t my last quilt as well as my first. I guess I’m a slow learner, because I’m still making quilts 25 years later. Although I’ve stopped leaving needles in them.


This post is my entry in the Blog it to Win it Contest sponsored by Interweave. If I win I want the following prize package:

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 April 14, 2014  Posted by Abby at 4:40 pm Uncategorized No Responses »

OMG we are well into April already. Spring has sprung, the weather is beautiful, and I am busy in the garden. I may or may not have much time to quilt this quarter, but I’m going to try and finish the following:

1) Airplane quilt. (Wallhanging) I started this one years ago – can’t remember how many but over 10 – as a gift for my dad, then realized I wouldn’t finish in time and gave him something else. I recently unearthed in during an archeological dig in my UFO bins. He turns 80 this year, so I think it’s time to finish it. I’m also making a small quilt for my mom (also turning 80), but that one is not started yet.Airplane Quilt

2) Yellow squares. (Wallhanging) I made these blocks (only a few of them shown) recently to use up scraps that were cluttering up my work tables. I’d like to turn them into a finished quilt soon rather than add another UFO to my list.

Two more unstarted quilts are on my list. That’s 5 already so I’ll be lucky to get them all done, but just in case I discover a cache of extra time, I’ll include these three as repeats from last quarter:

3) “Stripes” – A QAYG quilt made by sewing strips directly to the backing and batting, which, I’ve discovered, is boring as hell. I may have to pay myself in chocolate to finish this one. Why did I make it twin size??

4) QAYG blocks #1 – Layered and basted blocks, ready for some free-motion practice. I expect to get these quilted, but whether I’ll get them assembled into a finished quilt by the end of the quarter remains to be seen. (Twin, I think.) [edit - I copied these as is from last quarter and just read it over - these blocks did in fact get quilted last quarter. Now I need to assemble them.]

5) QAYG blocks #2 – Another set of basted blocks waiting for free-motion quilting, [edit - centers are done. The wide sashing will be used for feather practice, which awaits some other quilt I want to use feathers on]. (Another twin, if I calculated right.)

 April 8, 2014  Posted by Abby at 10:08 am Finish-Along 1 Response »

Down to the wire, but it’s FINISHED! I sewed the binding on this morning. Here is “Cardinal Sin” in all it’s glory. (Sort of, darn camera distorted it a bit.)

You can read about the construction of this quilt here, here and here. When it came time to quilt it, I chose a leafy branches motif to fill the smaller areas, and added a few along the edges of the bird patches. Then I took inspiration from the berries and used a “pebbles” fill around the birds – except I called it “berries.”

The leafy branches are sewn with green thread, which worked beautifully. It shows enough to see the design, but not enough for my many little “oopsies” to jump out. White thread would have disappeared on the white fabric and stood out too much on the red, and vice verse for red thread. Green was just right. For the “berries” I used an off-white thread that doesn’t show, but you can see the design anyway from the texture of it.

This quilt is finish #3 for the Finish-Along (original post here), and my March finish for the Lovely Year of Finishes, and is my finished quilt for the Tea-Towel Challenge. Hah – three birds with one quilt!

 March 31, 2014  Posted by Abby at 7:47 pm Finish-Along, Quilt Alongs 1 Response »
Mar 302014

(I finished this quilt back in late January but held off on a post because I planned to become a Craftsy affiliate. Of course, I haven’t actually applied for one yet, and time is running out on posting for the Finish-along, so here we go. This is also finish #2 for the Finish-Along, original post here.)

This quilt had it’s beginnings in Joe Cunningham’s Craftsy class Pattern-free Quiltmaking. In this class he teaches several processes for making fast, easy, arty quilts. First lesson is for a Three Sisters (or Rail Fence) variation he calls Three Crazy Sisters. As I worked on this first version, I started referring to it as a Twisted Sister, so that’s what I called this quilt.

First thing I did, after pulling fabric from my stash, was to misread the directions. It says to cut two 7 inch strips and I cut two from each fabric. Turns out it is two total – one from each fabric. By the time I was done making pieced 2 1/2 by 6 1/2 inch strips, I had twice as many as I needed. And I had half as many unpieced strips as I needed, because I ran out of fabric.

Well, what the heck, this is supposed to be pattern-less fun, so I made the blocks with the pieces I had, even though the result was a bit different from Joe’s version. Nothing wrong with exploring the “what-ifs” and nothing wrong with exploiting your mistakes.

Here’s my first layout with my blocks, where I put them up on the wall as they came off the pile.

Not bad but not very interesting either. I played around with pulling the greens to green and the pinks to pink for larger chunks of color.


Then I remembered I meant to use a rectangular layout so I could add a border and make a crib-size quilt for charity. As I moved the blocks around again, I thought, I wonder if I can connect all the greens? This was the best I could do. There are three blocks that couldn’t be fit in. Or, I couldn’t fit them in with the time I allowed myself to play with it.

Now you see why I call it Twisted Sister!

And here it is finished. I used a thick batting, which I don’t like but I have a whole roll of it to use up. I was worried it would be difficult to free-motion quilt but it wasn’t.

 March 30, 2014  Posted by Abby at 5:01 pm Finish-Along No Responses »

The Challenge for this week was to be inspired by something at the grocery store (any grocery store). Well, the challenge is issued on Sunday and I do my weekly grocery shopping on Thursday, so I needed a Plan B right off. I decided to do a Post Office run on Monday and swing by the local small-town grocery and see if I could find inspiration.

Meanwhile, I visualized grocery store shelves and thought about a produce-shelf inspired quilt, but wasn’t sure where my stash of veggie-print fabrics was (I’m in the middle of a massive reorganization of my sewing space). Then I thought about Oreos. I’m not sure why, maybe something I read mentioned Oreos? I drafted an idea for an Oreo quilt based on the rows of Oreos in the package. My perfectionist streak decided I needed to buy a package so I could measure the cookies and get the proportions right.

Monday I made it to the store, and looked at the Oreos, and at a competing brand with a price-tag about half that of the Oreos, and decided I didn’t want to buy either one. I came hope with a bag from a nearby shelf that inspired the piece shown here.

Can you tell what I bought? I neglected to take a photo of the item, so I apologize to anyone in a country that doesn’t sell these. First thing I did was to trace around several sample pieces on a piece of paper. Pretty soon I had my design – improv pieced sharp-angled triangles with most of the points cut off.

I used Wash-away applique sheets from C&T, which I’ve had for awhile but not tried. They are fusible on one side which makes them great for foundation piecing (and you don’t have to pull it off after!). I cut 2” strips the length of two sheets, for a total of 8 rows. Then I dug out a yellow that matched the junk-food item, and went rummaging through my not-so-organized scrap stash and pulled out blues, greens, a few browns and purples. I cut 1 1/2 inch strips from everything.

Here’s a shot of the second piece of fabric placed across the strip on an angle.

I used a cut-out shape to check my angle until I had a feel for it, then winged it from there. I alternated the direction of my starting angles so the strips would not all line up the same. Then I had to pay attention to make sure all my junk-food pieces pointed the same direction. (Not that they had to, but I wanted the look.)

Here’s a finished but untrimmed row:

I trimmed them 1/4 inch from the “paper” and sewed the rows together with a normal 1/4 seam. Then used a LOT of steam to iron the seams over and get them somewhat flat. I used the yellow fabric on the back, and a scrap of cotton batting. I tried the spray-starch basting method someone linked to (sorry I didn’t keep track of the link), which meant more ironing. It held okay, and definitely helped flatten those lumpy seams. I did stitch around the edge of the piece to make sure it would hold before quilting.

Then my inner demon woke up and compelled me to quilt it in straight lines, 1/8 apart. Why on earth would I do that???? Well, the junk-food item has little ridges about that far apart, and I figured it would be easier to run the quilting straight across instead of do just the little yellow triangles, and give it an art-quilt look. Took me days to get that part done.

I took the quick and easy route for the binding, and wrapped the backing around to the front and stitched it down. Done!

“Ode to Junk Food” aka “Bugles”
11 1/4 by 16 3/8, created in the Idaho panhandle.

Now I’m not sure if I have an art quilt, or a placemat.

 March 9, 2014  Posted by Abby at 9:11 am Quilt Alongs 3 Responses »

Back in Part 2 I explained the initial creation of this top. I ended that post unhappy with the borders, but unsure how to deal with them. Last week I pulled the top out, put it back on the design wall, and cogitated for awhile. Trim the borders down to 2 inches? Maybe that would do. So I trimmed the top and right side to 2 inches, and cut the bottom up into the bottom row of blocks for a new 2 inch “border.”
Better, but not enough.






After more cogitation, and a bit of wine, I decided to rip the borders off completely. I left the bottom alone, and ripped the sides and top off. Okay, the birds stand out a little bit better now.  But it still needs something. Do I chop the whole thing up, add something to each block, and re-piece? Or would some simple strips to indicate branches do the job?

I was feeling lazy, and chopping the whole thing back into blocks sounded like too much work, so I grabbed some brown strips and laid them across the quilt here and there and stood back to see how it looked. Yeah, not bad. That will do, I think.

Somewhere between there and actually looking for fabric I thought, “the red and whites I used both have black prints, I ought to use black for the branches.” And I dug out about 5 choices, of which I chose one, black with a small green and red floral print on it.


Step one was to cut the top into basic sections, then I added branches one section at a time. I nearly ran out of the chosen black, had to piece some of the strips. The very last short strip ended up pieced from three scraps.

I cut the strips 1 1/4 inches. Any narrower gets hard to sew on, and wider would have created more distortion as they were inserted. I had to do a little trimming to put everything back together, but it’s an improv piece, so who cares? As long as I didn’t lose any birds I was happy.

And I added a few leaves, just to throw a little more color in, here and there. After slicing, I picked corners and replaced them with green before sewing the branches in place. That little bit of color livens it up, but I guess I can’t call it a red and white quilt any more.




Here’s the final top. The birds show up much better and the whole piece has more character.

I guess in the end I cut it up anyway, didn’t I? But this was more an “add sashing” exercise than redo each block. I could have done something like this with bias-type strips appliqued on top, but I felt like piecing it. I don’t know whether it was any faster this way, probably not.

 February 28, 2014  Posted by Abby at 2:52 pm Quilt Alongs 6 Responses »

February’s Lovely Finish is FINISHED!

First blogged about here, I have finished the quilting (took me days), trimmed the edges up square – or as square as I could get it, and attached sleeve and label. It now hangs in our stairway, occupying a spot reserved for another UFO that I will probably not finish any time soon.

Here’s a closer look –

Trimming the edges so the whole thing was square without chopping off any corners of blocks was a bit of a challenge because the quilt was slightly bigger than the width of my big cutting table, making it hard to see whether any particular planned cut would work. I managed, but did need to re-trim a couple of the edges. For binding I first thought I wanted green, but when I laid a test strip beside the quilt it didn’t look good, so I dug out a brown that worked very well.

It could still stand blocking but that can wait, I have other quilts to finish.

 February 25, 2014  Posted by Abby at 4:05 pm Finish-Along 3 Responses »

I started this quilt for Project Quilting’s Across the Universe challenge. As many of my ideas do, the project grew as I worked and I was unable to finish it in one week. It didn’t help that I waited until Tuesday to start, then Thursday we took a day trip, and Friday I spent the morning running errands. Saturday I looked at a project that was going to take all day to quilt, then need a bit of applique, plus finish the edge, try to get photos in the dark, edit photos, write a blogpost, and get everything posted by 10am on Sunday. Since I am also trying to minimize the stress in my life and get plenty of sleep, I called it quits (for now) on this project and moved on.

Here’s this quilt’s story so far:
When I first saw the challenge I thought “ah ha, I’ll whip up a patchwork banner for my blog” — after all, the name is a contraction of Quilt Universe, so a banner to go across the top of my page would suit the challenge. But before I even came up with a plan I found a few lines of the Beatles song “Across the Universe” running through my head. “Pools of sorrow, waves of joy, on and on, across the universe.” Eventually it occurred to me to look up the lyrics, and sure enough, I’d remembered it wrong. I had the lines out of order. I debated for about 5 seconds whether to adjust my quilt plan, but I’d already cut fabric, so I said F-k it, this quilt is inspired by MY version of the song. Hence its title – Remix.

When thinking about how to portray pools of sorrow and waves of joy going on and on across the universe, I realized I’d better use fabric choice to portray the pools, waves, and universe. The universe part was easy to find, then after considering several other possibilities I found the fish-lips fabric for pools of joy. The waves of joy were more difficult. I found the perfect fabric but had already layered and quilted part of it. I finally found another choice, although I would have picked something more colorful if I’d had it.

NOW it occurs to me I could have finished quilting that perfect FQ, then appliqued the other rays over the top, bound it and been done. Why do I always try to do things the hard way?

To portray going “on and on” I realized I needed a vanishing-point. Okay, that means wedge shapes with points in the center. (In hindsight, the point part could have been off the side of the quilt somewhere.) Without much further thought, I layered my three fabrics and cut random wedges. Later I wished I had made them wider – it would have saved several steps in the sewing process. Not to mention a little less fabric pile-up in the seams.

I didn’t stop to think about overall size either. My sorrow and joy fabrics were about 18 inches wide, so I made the wedges 18 inches long. Easy to cut. Not so easy to sew, because it turned out I needed a lot of wedges. I even had a Plan B in case I ran short of wedges (having cut up all my joy and sorrow fabric) but didn’t need it. In fact, I have some wedges left over.


I decided after sewing two wedges together that I needed to trim them a little bit if I was going to have points in the middle instead of a hole with ragged edges. I should have cut the original wedges with a narrow end a bit less than half an inch, but my carefree cutting style wasn’t that careful. So I trimmed them and then sewed the double units together to make 4-wedge units, then those into 8-wedge units. By then I already had a seam pile-up problem, but what was there to do but soldier on? After some careful trimming, that is.



At that point I laid them out on my big table to see if I had enough to make a circle. Yup – and then some. I trimmed a little bit here and there, being careful not to trim too much. I also made sure the future seams did not have the same fabric on both sides. Then I sewed the 8s together into four quarter-circle segments.




By then there was some serious steam ironing going on, and some trimming of excess fabric on the backs of the points, but it still built up. I trimmed each section to just over 90degrees, using my biggest square ruler. Then sewed two quarter sections together so I had two halves.






Now I made sure each half had a straight line for the last seam. Here’s where I screwed up a hair – I trimmed the center too close. I don’t know if you can see it but there is a bit of “horizon line” in the very center.

The center also has a dense lump of many layers of fabric. I’m surprised my sewing machine even stitched through it all. And it would have looked better to have the points end a hair shy of the very center than get cut off by a hair. Did I mention I ironed all the seams open? I find that usually works well when you have many points coming together in the middle. But it isn’t enough to deal with however many seams this thing has in the middle! After that last seam I couldn’t open the center at all, steam or no steam.

I did get this portion spray-basted to batting with a layer of interfacing behind it. Next up is add the background around it. After quilting I will add a ring around the rays to cover the raw edges, and it still needs a backing. That was too much to face on Saturday. Now I’m working on a few other projects that I want to finish before the end of the month.

 February 23, 2014  Posted by Abby at 12:55 pm Quilt Alongs 4 Responses »


  (14×19 inches)
This little beauty was inspired by M&Ms. When I read the Project Quilting challenge for this week – Sweet Treats – I mentally ran through different candies until I got to M&Ms. Ah, I thought, those are colorful. And I have this nifty circle cutter gadget.

First step – go to the store and buy some M&Ms.

  (the dark brown ones look black, don’t they?)

I needed them in my hand (not in my mouth) to pick fabrics with matching colors. As you can see (above), I did not stick to solids, partly because my solid stash is pitiful, and partly because I like the texture a print can bring to the party. For background I choose a light lilac print because there is no purple in the M&M color selection, which helps the contrast. And for the back I found a brightly colored circle print – perfect!

Shape and color to match M&Ms were as far as I went with the actual candy. I thought about how to use quilting to show the shape and decided to heck with it, I don’t have that much thread selection. I suppose fabric paint could have added shadow and highlights, and I have paint, but no place set up to work on messy stuff. And only a few days to get this done! So I put the M&Ms aside (okay, I confess, I ate them), and let the shapes inspire my quilting efforts.

The circles begged for spirals, but I knew I couldn’t possibly do a nice even spiral, so I intentionally combined a spiral with a hairball and let some of the lines cross for a slightly wonky look on the circles. Then I threw caution to the wind and echoed around them in the background – about 1/8th inch apart. Don’t look too close – Diane Gaudynski I ain’t! But it still turned out pretty good, even though my lilac thread looks grey in the finished quilt.

Stay tuned to this channel – I’m working on a tutorial on this quilt.

 February 9, 2014  Posted by Abby at 10:29 am Quilt Alongs No Responses »

I’ve been doing an inventory of my UFOs. I haven’t finished and I am already over my count of two years ago, and I finished 23 during that time! Can’t resist starting new ones, I guess. I am using a very broad definition of UFO – if it is a defined project and at least one step has been taken, and it isn’t finished, it counts. That is still not 100% accurate because sometimes I count a box-lot of something that might end up being two projects, but if it feels like a project I count it. Maybe someday I’ll break that down into narrower categories, but for now I inventory UFOs, finished quilts, and fabric.

While rummaging I found this unfinished thing from over ten years ago. I didn’t get the color balance quite right in this pic, there’s no purple in it!

It’s about 1/3 quilted, and if I remember right, I quit working on it after the arm broke off of my quilting foot. You know, the part that makes it bounce up and down? A lot of quilters now bend or cut that arm intentionally so the foot skims instead of bouncing, but my old Pfaff does not quilt well on skim. If I try to do circles it skips stitches along one side. I suspect the needle gets pulled too far to the side for the hook to catch the thread and pull it around the bobbin.

But my Janome is going fine (knock on wood!!) and I’m in free-motion mode and I want something to finish that I don’t have to obsess over the quilting. I’m sure the quilting I’m doing now is at least equal to the quilting I was doing then, and it’s an easy overall pattern. You may be able to see it in this photo:

This quilt started life as a pile of green and yellow 9-patches. I had made them for the border of a full-size quilt, then decided they were too bright for the center and did something else for the border. Then, of course, I had all these leftover 9-patches. I made a nap-size quilt with some, which I gave to my mom for her yellow couch. And I still had some blocks left. I think the idea to insert strips came to me after a class with Diane Hire, where we inserted strips into big 4-patches. Yes, I probably got a little carried away with the inserts, I tend to do that.

The blocks were then wonky enough to beg for a wonky setting. I wish now I’d used more green around the outside, not just the inner sashing, but that’s what I had in my scrap pile. My stash was a lot smaller in those days, lol. The top looks crooked partly because it is (I will trim after quilting) and partly because only one quadrant of it is quilted (lower left in the photo up top).

Anyway, this is my planned finish for the Lovely Year of Finishes challenge, for February.

 February 2, 2014  Posted by Abby at 2:41 pm Finish-Along 1 Response »