Yep, I’ve been missing in action for a while now. I wish I could say that I’ve been quilting so much that I didn’t have time for anything else. But no, that is not what it was. My lovely, sweet mother-in-law passed away almost two weeks ago, at the ripe old age of ninety-one. Dementia is a horrible disease, and we are all happy that she is no longer suffering from it. (If you want to read one of the best descriptions of grief I’ve read in a long time, I highly recommend chapter nine of Marie Bostwick’s novel The Second Sister.) It has been a busy two weeks, but we are now in recovery mode after a very awesome memorial service yesterday. I expect the groggy drugged feeling to continue for three or four days here.


Before that, I was blessed to be able to assemble a couple of very special projects for a couple of Twilter friends. (In case you’ve never heard of Twilters – a term coined by Very Lazy Daisy – we are quilters on Twitter – come join us!)

First, was Katie’s quilt. Katie blogs and podcasts at Katie’s Quilting Corner. Katie went through a health ordeal a couple of months back (you can hear her podcast about it here), and, as we Twilters tend to do, we made her a quilt. I offered to collect the blocks and assemble it & (after some back and forth between Daisy of Very Lazy Daisy fame and Pam of Hip to Be a Square) Daisy quilted it, added the binding and mailed it. Here is what it looked like when it left me:IMG_2658

Daisy tweeted a close-up of the quilting:

Quilting on Katie's Stars!

And Tina of Weezy Works podcast made this awesome label (yes, I stole this picture and the next one from Katie’s Quilting Corner’s Facebook Page and, yes, that’s Katie in the picture):


And here is the whole quilt with Katie:

Katie and quilt

Now, if you have been reading this blog or looking at pictures of quilts that I’ve made for any length of time, you will know that this is not my normal style of quilt to make. (Wait, first take a minute to admire all of the different 9″ finished star blocks that people sent in rainbow colors! I just loved getting the mail during this project!) It was inspired by two things: a quilt that Nonnie of Nonnie’s Quilting Dreams podcast and blog pointed out to me on Pinterest (which I would link to now if I could find it) and the Jaybird Quilts pattern Science Fair. Katie’s taste runs to modern, so that was my goal here. And we all know that modern is not normally me, but I do like the way this quilt looks. And we made Katie’s mom cry. (Maybe she should get a quilt too! I can’t even imagine how awful that experience must have been for her.

I hadn’t even finished piecing Katie’s top when we heard more bad news. Stephanie of Blessed 2 Quilt podcast & blog (mostly silent now; I hope that is temporary!) had a very ill daughter and it was not looking good at all. (Unfortunately, Stephanie lost her daughter on May 9.) We Twilters started one of the longest direct messages that I’ve ever seen. We decided on 10″ finished hearts in red, pink, orange and purple on cream background. I must confess that when the purple hearts started arriving, I wasn’t  sure how to fit them in. But it worked itself out. The sashing is one I learned when making a quilt for my eldest daughter a few years back, and I love the way it looks. Tami made the backing and Jaye of the Artquiltmaker blog made the binding. Tina of Weezy Works podcast made the label and quilted, bound and mailed the quilt to Stephanie. She gave us the tracking number in the direct message stream, and we followed that package! Then we had to wait for Stephanie to get home and see it.

Tina made the label. That is a picture of Stephanie’s daughter there! So perfect!

One lesson I learned between the two quilts was to take pictures of each of the individual blocks. I have a picture of each of the heart blocks, but did not take pictures of each individual star block. I really regret that. Sigh.

Note: The finished pictures of the quilts are shared with permission from Daisy, Katie and Stephanie. (I used to be the copyright police at work. Not going to change my position on copyright now.)

I am going to start a new project today. It will be a dog bed for my grand dog, Loki. I’m hoping to do enough to get some good pictures up within the next couple of days.

Quilt on!

Making a Group Quilt, Part 8 – Finishing

Now that we’ve not bled on the quilt and we’ve done various happy dances of celebration, we are ready to finish this quilt. And, of course, we start with the binding. Usually, by this point, we have had a day or two when there was less space to work at the quilt than people there to work. When that happens, I start sewing together and pressing the binding. Once we have double checked the quilt to make sure that we really quilted everything, I do the machine part of the binding. Then we get together at church where we can lay the quilt out on some tables and whip stitch the back. There are usually enough of us that it only takes about an hour to stitch a queen-sized binding. 

Yes, our quilts get labels. The ladies who planned the quilt before we took over, each signed a piece of muslin and one of the ladies embroidered the names in addition to putting the name and date of the quilt on the label. We can’t do that because so many different people work on our quilts at various stages of the process that we would probably have to make at least half of the back a label! So we print out a label that says the name of the quilt, the date and that it was pieced and quilted by the CCBC Quilters. The person who wins the quilt at auction then also receives a sheet of paper that lists the names of all the people who worked on the quilt.

And that concludes our sessions on making a group quilt. I hope that this has been somewhat helpful to someone somewhere sometime!

Making a Group Quilt, Part 7 addendum

I forgot to tell you some of the fun parts of quilting together, so I thought I would add them here.

The first rule of quilting is, “Don’t bleed on the quilt.” We repeat this often, especially to new quilters!

Then we have some special celebration moves, like the dance of joy we do whenever we roll to a new section of the quilt. And the dance of delirious joy that follows completion of the quilting of the entire quilt.

I’m sure you could come up with something fun to do at special milestones for your quilt!

Making a Group Quilt, Part 7: The Fun Part

After the basting, we are ready to really have some fun. There is only one step in the way – getting the quilt onto the frame.

Here is the church’s frame:

Yep, two sawhorses (or something made very like saw horses) and two very long pieces of wood with cloth leaders attached. There are also holes in the cross wood of the sawhorses and the ends of the long pieces of wood so large nails can be dropped in to hold the frame together. This frame was made by some of the men from our church many years ago. It was passed on to me when I took over this job. It will hold a king sized quilt, although we usually make queen sized quilts.
Once the quilt sandwich is ready, I attach it to the leaders with flower head pins. The center of each leader is marked (by a very precise lady named Dorothy), so I start by pinning that to the center of the quilt border. The first year that I did this, I pinned and then basted the quilt on, but since then, I have skipped the basting step. The flower head pins are very flat, so they work very well.
The next step is to roll the quilt as evenly as possible until the center 2 1/2 to 3 feet are showing. And then the fun starts! We get to do some hand quilting! 
If you have never sat around a quilt and quilted with other quilters, you are really missing something. I honestly believe that this step is one of the reasons women started making quilts in the first place! It is a wonderful excuse to get together and talk and feel virtuous about being busy all at once. I have gotten to know some wonderful women this way, women I might not have had much of a chance to get to know any other way. 
The pictures below are from the first quilt I organized. Yes, the man in one of the photos was really quilting. He was the pastor of our church at the time and you can be sure that the picture ended up on the big screen at church to help sell the quilt!

Our hand quilting will never win any awards. We have people of all levels of experience who come to help us. In any given part of the quilt, there may be three, four or five different stitch lengths. Each year a few people are hand quilting for the first time. For some of the regulars, this is the only time of the year they hand quilt. We’ve never heard any complaints from the purchaser of the quilt. 
We don’t use knots in our quilting. We leave a tail of about 3 inches of thread and then go back and weave it through the stitches between the layers of the quilt. (I looked for the links for the directions for this because I know I learned it on the Internet, but I haven’t found them so I’m afraid I can’t link for you here.) So far, I don’t think there have been any problems with the quilting coming out of any of our quilts. (I do bend needles from time to time, however.)

Making a Group Quilt, Part 6 – Marking, Layering and Basting

Once the quilt top is totally assembled, we are getting closer to the fun part. At least the part that makes a group quilt the most fun for me, that is. But before we get to the actual quilting, we have to do this last step. (Yes, I know it looks like three steps but we try to do it all at one time and get it over with.) Often this is the first time a group of us actually gets together to do some work. (We did do block layout on two of the quilts, but most of the time this is it.)

The first quilt we did needed no marking. We even followed some of the floral motifs in the batik border rather than mark. (We were under a time constraint that year!) However, all of the other years, we did mark something on the quilt.

Marking tools: I like chalk. A lot. You know it will always wash out. We have also used a regular #2 pencil and a special graphite marker guaranteed to wash out. We have also used a soapstone pencil, which I also really like. Note that I have tried to keep to things that probably won’t have chemicals that damage the fabric somewhere down the road. I just don’t trust them.

We used a lightbox on the Double Irish Chain quilt, but I admit to being lightbox challenged. I can’t tell where I’ve already marked with the light shining through it. It is probably a vision thing, but I strongly prefer stencils. Especially stencils that work well with my pounce pad! That is just so much faster! In the future, I will probably try using netting or a similar fabric to draw a quilting motif on and then lay it over the fabric and trace over the motif. But I haven’t had a chance to try that yet.

One of the advantages of many people getting together to mark the quilt (other than the obvious that it goes faster) is that more creativity is involved. My favorite example is this border:

The curves are so pretty, but Superb Sabrina’s corner solution is the coolest part!
We have also been known to mark things in progress! Yes, I know that it is easier to mark before you layer, but on this same quilt we had some blocks we just couldn’t decide what motif to use. So I ordered some more and Careful Carolyn crawled under the quilt when it was on the frame and held a book under each block so that I could mark them like this:
We usually do the marking and layering at church where we can put many tables together to fit the size of the quilt. We also usually have enough people that when we are smoothing out the layers and taping them down, we can station a person at each corner and that goes pretty smoothly. 
Then it comes to the pinning and basting. Since we usually do queen sized quilts, the center can be hard to reach so we have to choose someone to crawl up on the tables to handle the center parts. 

We thread baste our quilts, partly because it is what was done previously and partly because I worry about the marks pins would leave if left in the quilt for several months in the basement. (I do, however, use flower head pins to pin the quilt to the frame’s leaders and enders.) One year I tried one of those basting guns, but it died on me when I’d done less than half the quilt. Sigh. I also didn’t feel like it held tightly enough – but that could be Influenced by the negative feelings caused by the fact that the gun quit on me so soon.

Making a Group Quilt, Part 5 – Assembling the Quilt Top

Once most or all of the blocks* have been collected, it is, of course, time to assemble the quilt top. Most years this has been done by me just because it is easier that way. One year someone else took pity on me and assembled it because I was frantically trying to complete the quilt which then morphed into the Big WIP in the basement. A couple of the other years, including this year, people have volunteered to sew some of the rows together and I have completed the assembly. That has speeded things up a bit!

Yes, this is apparently my shortest post in this series. Lucky you!

*One thing I have learned over the years is that it is always a good idea to make extra blocks. I usually get all of the blocks back, but just in case… These extra blocks can then be used to make pillow shams (we have our church’s Pillow Sham Expert, Barb) or pillows to add extra value for the quilt purchaser or as extra auction items.

Making a Group Quilt, Part 4 – Assembling Block Kits & Distributing Them

I probably mentioned before that very few of the people who work on this quilt are quilters other than for this. Part of the original plan when this fell to us was to involve as many people as possible. We wanted more of the church to feel ownership for the quilts, especially since the person who buys a quilt is frequently one of the people who worked on it. Or her mother, in the case of one quilt where we had a couple of young piecers work on it. Also, of course, the more people who work on the quilt, the more quickly it gets finished. (You probably already had that part figured out.

To that end, we recruit anyone with a sewing machine or anyone who is willing to do a little hand piecing. We put together block kits (we use a lot of Zip-Loc bags for this part), complete with instructions that cover every eventuality that I can think of and color pictures of each step made with the fabric we are using. In order to emphasize the 1/4 inch seam, in later years I have included index cards gridded in 1/4 inch measurements to help people without quilting machines that already have the appropriate markings.The instructions emphasize the necessity of an accurate 1/4 inch seam, which directions to press the seams, and finished size. In years with more than block, this means several sets of directions, of course. All of this (except the directions so we don’t waste church paper making more sets of directions than necessary) goes into a numbered Zip-Loc bag.

Once the kits are assembled, I print up sign out sheets which include the kit number and columns for the name of piecer, her email address, the date the block was taken, and the date it was returned. I use numbered bags the first year, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t get them all back. But we learn from our mistakes! And, yes, because I am cheap (or to help the environment) we reuse the bags from year to year.

Then the kits go to church to be distributed. The first four years I stood up in each service (well, at least each English speaking service) and described what was going on. (I like microphones even less than I like cutting!) Last year’s top was already done so I got to skip this step. Over the years I have assembled a pretty comprehensive list of email addresses, so this year I just emailed everyone and before I knew it the kits were gone! 2/3 of them are already back!

The other thing we did this year was use block assembly as the craft for one of our church’s MOPS meetings. You may remember that last year the MOPS group made the “Brown Bear” quilt because they wanted to contribute to last year’s quilt but that had been already done by someone else who donated it. This year I held back some blocks, and we put them together at their meeting this week. Young future quilters!

Below is a copy of this year’s instructions. I saved them for the end because they are only an example and they can be pretty long and boring!

Thank you for agreeing to help assemble this year’s quilt for the Lottie Moon Auction. Here are the directions for putting together a block. But first, a couple of notes to get you started.
1.     These fabrics are batiks. This means that the color has saturated the fabric due to the way they were produced. This makes it hard to tell the right side from the wrong side. I look for sharper edges and slightly brighter colors, but if you think it is too close to call on the center square, everyone else will too, so don’t worry about it.
2.     The ¼ inch seam is imperative, whether you are hand piecing or machine piecing. If you have to draw a line on the back of the fabric to get an exact ¼ inch, please do so. No one will be seeing the back of the quilt top.
3.     One of the fabrics has shades of yellow, green and purplish pink. Your pieces may not look like the picture.
4.     Be careful with the directions the squares are turned when you are assembling the block rows. I had to unsew a little the first time I put this block together. Be more careful than I was.
5.     Also, if you are machine sewing, you don’t have to backstitch the ends. If you are hand sewing, you do need to put in knots.
Okay, on to the real directions. This block is technically a nine-patch block. It is made of 9 squares of fabric sewn together. In this case, 8 of the 9 squares are made up of triangles. These are the ones you have to make sure are turned correctly when sewing them together.
Here is an example of the 9 squares, in no particular order:



Now it is time to really get down to business. You will be sewing together three rows of three squares each, and then joining them to complete the block.

When sewn together, the first row looks something like this:



The first row seams should be pressed away from the center square. Please try to keep the diagonal seams from the triangles flat under the vertical seams you sewed. You may need to use a pencil tip or something to keep it in place while you press so that you don’t burn your fingers.

Row 2 looks like this when you have assembled it:

For the second row, press your seams toward the center square

The third row will look like this:



In the third row, please press your seams away from the center square, being careful to keep the diagonal seams as flat as possible again.
Now that you have the three rows sewn, you can sew them together in exactly the order they are pictured above. Because some of the seams are pressed toward the center and some away from the center, you should be able to butt the seams up against each other pretty tightly.  When you have sewn the rows together, press those seams both in the same direction, either toward the top or toward the bottom of the block. (If you are making more than one block, alternate some of the blocks so that some are pressed toward the top and some toward the bottom.)

Your final block should measure 9 ½ inches square and should look pretty much like this:



Making a Group Quilt, Part 3 – Cutting

Once those first major decisions have been made, it is time to move on to cutting. On the first quilt, I did all the cutting. If you read this blog regularly, you may realize what a bad idea that was. I do not feel like I am good at cutting, and I do not enjoy cutting. (Just wondering, does anybody?) I think we made many more blocks for that quilt than we might have had to because of my poor cutting skills. (That particular quilt called for many 2 1/2″ strips which I could now do with my Accuquilt Go! cutter and be much more accurate!)

The second quilt was much more accurately cut by the person known as Supercutter Stephanie. (Why do I call her that? When she was cutting the fabric for the second quilt, she realized that one of her rulers was off by 1/32 of an inch. Whose eyes are that good? I am forever in awe of her.)

On the third quilt, the Log Cabin, Supercutter Stephanie and I split the cutting. Since most of it was 1 1/2″ strips, this would be another Accuquilt Go! cut quilt today. She and I also split the cutting of the fourth quilt and the current quilt.

Cutting goes faster when done by more than one person! I’m just saying! (It also goes much faster when done with a die cutter, but I think most of you could figure that part out.)

I haven’t known when to mention this, so it is going here. The pattern for this year’s block choice had some shapes that would have had to be cut with a template. I do not like cutting with templates. I like it even less than just cutting! Also, as I looked at the directions for piecing the block together, I realized that they were a bit complicated for beginning piecers. Fortunately, I realized after a few hours of staring at it (I am a little slow) that the pieces that needed templates could be done as half square triangles and still look the same from a distance. This was very good news, especially since I was able to purchase a die for the HSTs.

Above is the before HSTs block design. Below is the block made with HSTs. Yes, that is the actual block, fabric and all.

This made the cutting faster and the piecing easier for all. I appreciate the cutting speed part, and the person who purchases the quilt will appreciate the fact that the piecing is more accurate so the quilt is more beautiful. The extra seams might be a little bit of a pain when we are hand quilting it, but we will live with that.
Quilt on!

Making a Group Quilt, Part 1 – History

I thought I would give you a brief history of our church auction quilts before starting to give you some of the wisdom I have gained about making a group quilt with people who are not quilters. I will split it up into a couple different posts, so maybe it won’t be so boring as if it were all in one post.

Our church holds an auction on the first Friday in December each year to raise money for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. For more than 20 years, a quilt has been made and hand quilted to be auctioned off as one of the main draws for the auction. The amounts brought in by these quilts have ranged from $500 to $2200.

Up until 5 quilts ago (well, 6 if you count the one for this year which we’ve just begun), the quilts were planned and mostly made by women from the generation before mine. Yes, there were a few other people like me (and even a couple of women younger than I) who helped out, but it was all planned by these lovely women. They did much of their work at the church, but as the church grew, it became impossible to have a room set aside for the quilting frame, so they began doing the actual quilting at one of the women’s homes.

Here are some pictures of the quilts they made:

This last one is one I really wished I could afford! It was stunning. These pictures are (obviously) scanned from one of the lovely ladies’ scrapbook. Obviously these are not all of the quilts.
One summer day (when I was on vacation from teaching) I walked into the room where they were working. The ladies there thought that I was just there to say hi and were absolutely thrilled when I asked if there was anything I could do to help. That year’s quilt was a Cathedral Window, so there were parts I could take home to work on and bring back. By the end of that afternoon, one of the women (who I consider my Quilt Mom) and I had arranged for her to meet with a group of us younger working women every Tuesday evening to work on showing us how to make theses blocks. Between all of us women, we made enough Cathedral Windows to make a twin sized quilt and two Christmas tree skirts, one of which is carefully stored with my Christmas decorations.
The following year I learned hand quilting during the summer while working on that year’s quilt. Of course, lots of the working women couldn’t quilt during the afternoon and the older women weren’t excited about driving at night, so afternoons were the only quilting time available. 
Because the original quilters were the generation before mine and because there was no way for women who worked or cared for children during the day to help with the quilting, you can guess what happened. The quilting group got smaller and smaller, until the last year that before I became the quilt project manager, there were really only three women doing the actual hand quilting. 
The following February one of the women mentioned to me that they were not making a quilt that year. They had not told the pastor yet, so I figured I’d better tell him, thinking he might think that it was an opportunity to move in another direction. One look at his face told me that that was not going to be the case, and somehow I found myself assuring him that there would be a quilt.
In future posts, I will discuss how we planned that quilt, lessons we have learned, and how we have refined the process. Maybe someone out there can benefit from our learning curve.

First I will cover how we choose the quilt pattern and fabric. In the following post, I’ll cover different ways we’ve found to involve as many people as possible – this includes the block assembly and arrangement. Then I’ll cover the layering, quilting, and binding. In each post, I’ll mention lessons learned and how we have improved the process as the years have passed. And, yes, there will be pictures.

Post Number 200 – A Giveaway

Welcome to my 200th post! Yes, it is a Friday, maybe not so much a usual posting day, but I do want to get this announcement to you. And, yes, that is all this post is about!

I have a 6 month subscription to The Quilt Show to give away to some lucky person. I know that I haven’t used my own subscription quite as much as I would like to, but that is about to change since I know that I can watch it on my iPad while I work on my quilting or pressing or cutting. I do know that the shows I have watched, I have loved. If you’ve never tried it out, maybe now is the perfect time.

To be entered, just comment on this post before the 11:59 PM EST on Friday, February 24th. I will use the handy dandy random number generator to choose the winner and announce it on Saturday the 25th.

I am trying to decide whether a series of posts about how I organize our church’s annual auction quilt would be at all interesting to anyone or whether it would just be more typing in the wind. I know there are books and articles about such things, but most of them are about making a quilt with a group of quilters, whereas most of the people who work on our quilt are not quilters and we attempt to get as many people involved as possible. Let me know if you are interested and…

Quilt on!