finished: single girl baby quilt

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This is a story about a bucket list quilt and two quilters.

Who among us hasn’t looked at all the gorgeous Single Girl quilts out there and felt that potent mix of desire and self-doubt and template loathing? When I first started quilting through 2010 and 2011, I was vaguely aware that this was a quilt. And people were making it. And it was hard, and they griped about it and were proud of it, and finished it as though they had given birth. Of course, I thought, “psssshhhhh I can do that.”

I sewed my first curved blocks, and thought, “maybe not.”

In 2013 I felt like I really became a quilter. I started making quilts I was proud of, that I felt like could hold their own next to any other quilter’s. I don’t talk a lot about Big Goals and Things I Mean To Do, but my 2014 mentality is Try All The Hard Things. It’s time to sew that lawn top with the 1400 buttonholes up the back. Time to make a queen-size quilt that speaks to my style, and FMQ it on my little Janome. Time to knit little striped sweaters and big striped sweaters and learn some dadgum colorwork. Maybe even make the Elisalex.

When I write all those things I mean to do in a list, this Single Girl looks like both a piece of cake and the tip of the iceberg. Because really! Only four rings! Big huge curve to piece! Little bitty ol’ quilt! But I was scared, nonetheless. I knew I wanted to make this quilt for friends who were expecting their first son in March. They chose purple, orange, and gray for their nursery (they have the best taste) and I loved thinking of the kind of quilt these colors would make. I procrastinated, and stalled, and just didn’t make the quilt.

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A week before the baby shower, Lucy and I flew to East Tennessee to spend a week with my family. I packed my Single Girl pattern, and a huge pile of fabric. My grandma packed her little Brother. Within 36 hours of landing in the South, Grandma and I had all the pieces cut for four rings and I had my first ring sewn together (see first photo in the post). Another 24 hours and we had the whole quilt pieced. What can’t two quilters do together?!

I was so blessed to get to work with my grandmother on this quilt. She’s healthy and strong and still a prolific quilter, but I know there will be times later in my life when I will look back on this project and finally realize what a sweet time this was.

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We worked kind of assembly-line style. I used scotch tape to tape the paper templates down to my fabric, and rotary cut the straight edges (and then used the cutter to hack each piece out of the fabric). Grandma used scissors to cut around the curves of the templates. She also kept track of how I was distributing my colors across the rings. Then, I pieced the ring segments while she cut my background fabric. She’d press, I’d sew.

And she came up with the idea to do the orange and gray border, and swap it top and bottom. Smart!

At the end, Grandma came to two conclusions: 1) there is no reason to be afraid of this quilt, and 2) she would like to do one. I’ll be sending her a copy of the pattern as a thank-you for helping me.

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I backed the little quilt in silver-gray minky and quilted it with a loose loopy FMQ pattern (it’s best not to get too fancy when you’re quilting minky). I did use a cotton batting for a heavier quilt–a March baby is a winter baby, in Boston! I handed off the quilt to the proud mommas-to-be this past weekend, and I think they were pleased.

I’m surely pleased to be able to cross this pattern off my list. (Though I think there’s another one of these coming this year!)

finished: tule mountains quilt

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SONY DSCObservations that are going to take the place of a real post:

1) It’s easy to look like you’re finishing a whole bunch of stuff when you’re a blog slacker (slacking as in reading and posting). Ta-da! All the finishes! When really, I’m just not getting it together to post real WIP posts (which I invariably find more interesting to read, even if they are harder to write).

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2) I’m a lazy quilt namer. This thing is in a box on the way to Texas right now–a gift for a dear friend–and I didn’t even think about naming it until I sat down to lazy-blog it. Ta-da! Fabric line + pattern = name!

3) I have the best, most helpful husband, who helped me photograph this quilt with NO complaining, even as the wind tried to grab the quilt right out of his hands. Marry a good person, quilters, one who doesn’t gripe about fabric expenditures or goofy quilt photo shoots. Bonus points for tallness.

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4) Free-motion quilting really does get easier and more fun the more you do it. Things that help: Aurifil, and the correct FMQ foot. Finally I threw away my broken FMQ foot and questioned whether the $60 replacement my dealer sold me was correct, bought a generic FMQ foot for $14 on Amazon, and now quilting is going awesome. I’d never heard “try a different FMQ foot” in the list of FMQ troubleshooting advice you always hear, so here it is: try a different FMQ foot if you’re struggling with skipped stitches and thread breakage. Worst case is you’re out $14.

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5) The most fun projects are the ones that possess you. In the middle of all kinds of deadline-chore-gift sewing, I HAD to make the blocks for this quilt using the tutorial Molli Sparkles posted. Had to. Immediately. Five in a day. I had to put the project down to finish all my obligation sewing, but then the blocks went easily and quickly once I was able to turn back to the project. The fabric? A stack of Leah Duncan’s latest line for Art Gallery Fabrics, Tule. (Had to get it used so I can have an excuse to buy Meadow in February.)

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6) and the last: Back a quilt in Art Gallery Fabric, at least once before you die. The feel is like the crispest, softest, most-expensive luxury bedding you’ve ever felt. (Peg of Sew Fresh Fabrics, who sold me this backing, says it’s “like buttah.”) (AGF should make sheets. I’d spend a fortune.) And it crinkles perfectly in the wash. Amazing stuff.

this quilt is about 56” x 66”: a good throw size.

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finished: snowy stars align quilt

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the smallest one was Madeline.SONY DSC

She was not afraid of mice–

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She loved winter, snow, and ice.

I’m amazed what picture books I can recite in part or in whole these days, but the classic Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, will always be one of my favorites. I can recite it from beginning to end, without faltering, and these past two winters the line “She loved winter, snow, and ice” runs through my head on repeat. When I found out November was my month as a Grace Circle do. Good stitches quilter, I knew I wanted to do something freezy-cold wintery.

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I made this quilt as my first do. Good Stitches quilt; you can find my original post about this quilt here. The block design is by Sarah of Stitching and Bacon (isn’t she smart?!) and can be found here. (Thanks to Sarah for letting us use your block!) (And thanks also to the Grace Circle ladies, who all sew with a PERFECT .25” seam. You gals are totally amazing, let’s make a bunch more quilts together.)

Happily we got a bit of snow–but not too much–the week after I finished this quilt and we were able to zip out and get a few photos. I backed this small quilt (about 52” x 52”) in a charcoal-gray minky and quilted loose, wonky loops across it. I did use Warm and Natural as a batting this time with the minky and it made for a really heavy, drapey, lovely wintery quilt.

Yes, I pin basted the minky. Yes, I agree it is a pain to stick the pins through the poly fabric but it really truly does work just fine!

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This quilt is packed up and ready to be shipped this week to My Very Own Blanket, an organization that provides throw sized quilts to kids in foster care. I know the colors make it boy-appropriate but really? I’m hoping a little girl who loves blue–or, winter, snow, and ice–chooses this one.

making Christmas: a quilter’s process

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It’s five days away.

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Are your gifts still piles of fabric? Still in the skeins? Does your sewing machine tragically need to go to the shop right now, in the thick of it, like a toddler with a bursting bladder only AFTER you’ve loaded up the grocery cart?

Oh my friends. This year I thought I had reached handmade gift zen. Last year was a menace, and a nightmare. I had decided to make EVERYONE A QUILT because everyone needs a quilt, and quilts are what I think I do best in the world. Cut to December 12, and I was a crying, shivering mass under a pile of scraps and WIPs with no present-able presents. I did eventually pull it together for the big day, but I didn’t want to be there again this year.

Today I’m on the other side of Christmas 2013, the done-with-a-fairly-handmade-Christmas side, and I thought I’d share with you a little bit about my process this year. Maybe so you can laugh at me. More so I can look back at this blog in August next year and play things a little differently. So, without further ado, here’s how I made my handmade holidays happen this year.

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1) Procrastinated. Pure and simple. Sarah started posting about Christmas way back in the heat of July. It was all a big blog hop movement to get people like me to get their rears in gear and make at least ONE Christmas gift while the making was good. I commented on her post about it. I was all, “I will do this!” And then I went and did another thing or seven, none of which was a Christmas gift.

Fast forward to the week before Thanksgiving, and commence step

2) Bit off more than I could chew. “What do you want me to knit you for Christmas?” I texted my family. “I can do all kinds of things! Socks! Cowls! Hats! Mittens!” My family, who, by now, knows I am dopey, kind of tolerated these texts and provided halfhearted responses, knowing in their gut they’d never see those emerald-green little-cable knee socks. How smart was I about this, though–after all the trouble I got in last year making quilts, I was in awesome shape. No quilts! All knitting! And knitting can be done in front of the TV! How relaxing!

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By now you’re guessing that the next step is certainly

3) Deny, deny, deny. I productively procrastinated by winding ALL of the yarn while watching Pitch Perfect on loop from the sofa on the day before Thanksgiving. I cast on my grandmother’s Bees to Honey shawl Thanksgiving morning, and knit three stripes during the parade, thinking, “this is just flying along! Going so fast! I’m so awesome! Going to do all the knitting!” Never once did I think “My Bees to Honey took four weeks to knit and I am in serious trouble right now.”

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4) Enter plague of death. You know the one. The plague that your kid brings home from some preschooler activity that makes her sick for one day, but that takes down all adults for a week. I was so sick that all I could do was watch Ja’mie on the sofa with my cast-on hat edge sitting next to me. (If you’re sensing that there is more TV than holiday gift making in my plan you are correct.)

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5) Get totally distracted. By cats. Because, Catvent! What an awesome idea! I love Advent! I love Christmas! I have scraps! I can make four cats a day and make a throw for my cat-loving sister! I have the backing! I have the scraps! It’s practically a free present–a present made out of pure freeness and love! Watch me watch me make TWELVE CATS A DAY!! (Still plague, here, also.)

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6) Realize there’s a problem in this plan. Also realize that Christmas is 20 days away and gifts must be shipped in 13-14 days. Panic. Work like a fiend, on all the wrong things. More cats! Penny Sampler! Finish Grandma’s Bees, feel awesome–but not for long because that hat got effed up while you were watching Ja’mie, gotta frog it all. Producing a ton of stuff at this point, but no gift-like objects are emerging.

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7) Wake with gift clarity, on December 8, when all the people are at Joann’s already. Tote bags are the answer. Let’s take the cats, make cat totes. Three cat totes. Need cotton duck. Need denim/chambray. Need zips. Need…Joann’s. I’m so grateful that I had my little tote revelation on a Sunday, when I could leave my toddler-helper at home. Joann’s is never really a place you want to be but it is the Last Place You Want To Be on a weekend day in December.

8) Sew totes. Produce things. On a roll! All the things that I was going to knit are now totes! Only my control-freak sister says my mother won’t use THAT kind of tote, she needs the OTHER kind of tote! OK I can do that too! Packing! Shipping! Totes! Books in the totes!

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9) Knit the things. On a roll! Two boy hats for the boys who presumably don’t carry things like quilted totes with kitty cat faces on them.

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10) Ship, on a snow day. With the toddler, in this stupid population-dense place we live, from a PO with the smallest parking lot ever.

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11) Here’s where I am now: January gifts. I really like to make little things for my friends, but that totally got lost because I put everything off too late. I think the January gift is the best idea ever. Everyone gets so many gifts in December, but January is when you are on your budget and on your diet and it’s cold and snowy and life really kind of stinks. That’s when you need your surprise cashmere-blend handknits, your Art Gallery Fabrics quilts. Right? Right?

How about you? are you still manic? (Clearly I am a little.) Or are you zen, having long ago figured out the key to having your handmade holiday and enjoying it too? Do tell! And have just the merriest of Christmases. I owe a finish to Do Good Stitches by 12/31, so keep a look out!

a little brag

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Just popping back in for the tiniest of brags.

You guys!

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This picture doesn’t nearly do this quilt top justice. (I have a feeling I’ll struggle with finished-quilt photos this time.) I wrestled my Penny Sampler blocks into a top, and boy howdy! What a thing of gorgeousness.

This almost languished forever in a WIP pile, btw. Rachel’s deadline for our class is 12/15. (Of course, she is really kindly making the pattern available for those who are behind to purchase, but I really wanted this to be done-zo.) I got stuck on the paper-piecing.

Really, truly, I hate paper-piecing. I just don’t do it. I don’t get in that good “we’re working, we’re working” zone that you get into when you’re sewing and really getting things done. There’s so much start-stop, so much frustration, so much agony. The cuteness of the finished block *almost* makes up for these moments, but for me, never quite. I’m a piecer, friends. I’d do a million Ribbon Stars and be in my element. I really respect those of you who do such beautiful paper-piecing, because I know what a struggle I find it to be!

It goes *almost* without saying, but I’m going to handquilt this. I’ve tried to think of a way around the slowness of handquilting (can I straight-line quilt it? Mark Baptist fans on it? do different FMQ designs?) but a quilt like this just really needs to be handquilted.

It’s Christmas time so I’ve only disappeared because I’ve caught my annual birthday crud (this year, in the form of a nasty cold that Lucy had for a day and I had for a week, and am still working to shake off). I’ll be back this week with some Elf-ing I’m doing, and some enlightenment about Christmas gifting I’d like to share. I can’t wait to visit my blog feed and see what you’ve all been up to!

p/lucky bees and rainbows (two finished knits)

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I’m not sure where I read this: Ravelry? The Plucky board?

But I quoted it to my husband last week: “It is high holy knitting season.”

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When I am not buying yarn (mostly I am not buying yarn I promise), I am drooling and dreaming and scheming about how I can get SQ’s (“sweater quantities,” to you fabric people). When I wake up, I knit a few rows with my coffee, to help my feet find the ground more steadily.

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I started this shawl, from the Bees to Honey pattern by Amy Miller, a few weeks ago, but it’s been in the works for much longer. Back in September, I treated myself to a single skein of Plucky Bello Fingering–a fingering weight yarn that is 55% merino, and a whopping 45% cashmere. I chose my old standby favorite, gray.

A few weeks later, offhandedly, I mentioned on the Plucky Ravelry board that I had the Gris but really what I wanted was Miss Manners, the super-duper bright pink. A women who I don’t even know private-messaged me that very night, offering to sell me her skein of the bright pink. She said it was too bright for her! Nothing ever is too bright for me, so I eagerly sent her some Paypal funds.

And then! Another woman on the Plucky board who I don’t know offered her “extra” copies of the Bees to Honey pattern (she had purchased several kits) as gifts on the destash board. She gifted me the pattern. Without any planning, I had bumbled into the materials I needed for this shawl. (Materials that are actually very difficult to bumble into, seeing as how the last time Bello Fingering was offered for sale, it sold out in about 30 seconds.)

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My luck held as I knit the pattern–many folks found they were running out of the main color of yarn before they finished the body of the shawl. I had a nub left over–enough for several more rows.

I’ll skip the part where I ripped out the lace portion TWICE because I kept fudging it up, and refer you to the first photo in this post–that is swoon-worthy lace, dearies. (And you can’t feel it because it’s a photo, but: 45% cashmere.)

I’m wearing the shawl right now and I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite knits of all time.

Less favorite: Lucy’s rainbow hat. Oy. It has turned cold in earnest this week, and in addition to refusing a hat, Lucy is now refusing to wear her winter coat. She’s 2.5, so I kind of feel like…she just needs to do it. At any rate, I did the good-mom thing and knitted the rainbow hat, as requested:

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I used Jane Richmond’s Renfrew hat pattern, and Tosh Feather, a light fingering-weight single-ply merino-alpaca blend yarn, held double. I also used a size 5 needle to make the hat Lucy-head-sized. With all the fudgery, I’m surprised it came out–but it did!

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There is a cute little faux-cable pattern on the right side of Lucy’s head–the variegated yarn hides the pattern here–it looks tricky. Oh, it is so not. I knit this hat in two days flat and I wasn’t even really working on it. Renfrew is a fun pattern I’ll definitely use again!

So, how are you dealing with the wintery weather? Are you dreaming of cashmere-y knits, shawls, and cabled hats? Or stitching up a few extra quilts (maybe minky-backed)?

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope there is some sewing-machine time in it for you all.

finished: phoenix twin quilts i and ii

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I looked back at this post and realized I’ve been working on these quilts since August.

Really, I had lost track of time.

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These quilts pushed me as a quilter. I started with a tiny idea, for some paper-pieced improv chevron blocks. I pulled some fabric; my friends and I changed our minds; I puttered and thought and hemmed and hawed. I don’t usually make quilts without patterns, you see, and starting these was a creative free-fall.

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What if I ran out of fabric? Chicopee is still fairly easy to find but…what if it stopped being easy to find, right at the wrong moment? What if the block design was splitty and unstable? What if it all just looked like crap? What if I couldn’t finish them on time? What if I didn’t make them big enough? (I’m still a little nervous on that count. These suckers shrank big-time when I washed them, so they’re cutting it close width-wise.)

And then the even more insidious worries, like, what if I think I’m being creative and original and really I just saw something like this on the internet, forgot, and then regurgitated it. What if my friends say they like them and really, they don’t.

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So, to me, these quilts have ended up being about me as a creator. About pushing aside those evil voices that nag at you when you’re working–voices that sometimes make you put down your work in discouragement.

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I’ll be pleased to make a couple of quilts from patterns as my “next things,” but these have taught me that I can make something wild and beautiful that comes out of my own head. I can trust myself to do the quilt math, and make all the blocks, and do 20 hours of straight-line quilting, and produce quilted work that I’m very proud of.

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I’ll be mailing my big babies off on Monday, to make my friends’ home a little warmer for Thanksgiving guests. I couldn’t be gladder that I took on this challenge–and I couldn’t be prouder of the results.

for love

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Like a swimmer poking her head above the surface just for a moment, to gulp the air

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here I am.

The Phoenix Twin quilts will be done tonight. I have to get them done by tomorrow so I can photograph them with Nate’s help (we’re a little stumped about how to photograph two huge quilts together) and get them mailed to Phoenix on Monday or Tuesday.

The straight-line quilting is quite time-consuming, and possibly the most boring sewing ever. It had to be done this way, though. I can’t imagine these quilts without this added level of rich, quilted texture. And, as it turns out, I really love the friends who will receive these quilts.

As fulfilling as I’ve found this project, I am ready to have it it out of my hair.

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Funny, “Outta My Hair” is the colorway name of the yarn I’m using to (slowly) knit my husband’s requested socks. I’m using the free-on-Ravelry pattern Porthos. The yarn is Plucky Feet in the club colorway Outta My Hair (which I have had to beg for THREE TIMES on Ravelry, a fact I don’t think my husband truly appreciates). (Does he think the yarn just SHOWS UP in the mailbox, eh?)

I told him that only someone who really loves him would knit socks this huge, and turn a heel TWICE for him.

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I’m finding that my knitting energy keeps getting redirected though; yesterday, I took Lucy to the park and she flatly refused to put her fleece North Face hat on. It was 40 degrees, and I told her she had to a) wear her hat, b) wear her hood, or c) get back in the green car and go home. She chose her choice: go home. Rather than wear the hat. That’s my stubborn kid.

On the way home I asked her, “why wouldn’t you wear the hat? It’s a NICE HAT.” Quietly, stubbornly, she said, “No it’s not.” What kind of hat will she wear? “A rainbow hat.” I’m making some mods to Jane Richmond’s Renfrew pattern, and holding double some rainbow-y Tosh Feather, and hope to have a hat to keep away the ear infections by tomorrow.

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By far, though, the project that took the most love to get through was this little home-dec project I did for a friend. She bought two chairs off Craigslist and the chairs came with black pleather cushions. She didn’t like the black, so she did a Sherry-and-Jon-Petersik and spray-painted them red. But the paint ruined the texture and made the cushions smell. She would never have asked me outright to make the cushion covers, but I offered, because I knew she’d pay through the nose for custom covers on this easy little job.

She chose a poly jacquard home dec fabric from fabric.com, 3 yards. I used this tutorial on Sew Mama Sew by creative little daisy and made these two piped cushions. By far, the worst part was working with the fabric. The day after I started the project Lucy pulled a clump of greenish poly fuzz from her mouth, clearly aftermath from the cushions, and I almost barfed. But I stuck it out, and finished them. They’re not perfect, but they’re full of love.

I’ll be back VERY SOON with beauty photos of these two big quilts. Believe me–you want to see them. :)

bloggers’ quilt festival II: ocean waves quilt

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The irony of entering a quilt into the Quilt Photographers category of the Blogger’s Quilt Festival does not at all escape me.DSC07868

When I switch my camera to Manual, I don’t get pictures. The end. Just this summer I started taking photos using Aperture Priority mode (and these past two weeks something is going wrong and I don’t know how to fix it aaaaack)

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But this year I’ve made real progress in photographing my finished quilts. I’m getting better at staging them (these photos were taken at Crane Beach in Ipswich MA; *sniff sniff* our “local” beach) (please don’t hate me)DSC07881

and I’m just getting better at them in general. I’m now consistently able to take photographs of a finished quilt that I can be proud of.DSC07883

I’ve also learned the valuable lesson that a quilt isn’t finished until you’ve photographed it. The dryer moment is nice, sure. But what’s nicer? The first kind person who “favorites” your photo on Flickr. Quilting is, in the end, about sharing. If you quilt and don’t photograph your work to share on the internet (Flickr, Instagram, a blog)DSC07887

PLEASE reconsider. I promise your quilts are beautiful, and you should be sharing them with all of us, so that we can tell you how gorgeous they are.

This Ocean Waves quilt was made using the pattern from Denyse Schmidt’s book Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration but with modifications to block size and number of blocks. I used leftover HSTs from my X-plus quilt to make the blocks, orange scraps from my stash to make the back, scraps from my first Washi Dress to make the binding, and even batting scraps for the batting. A 100% satisfying 100% scrap quilt.

Head over to the Quilt Photographers category and check out the other great quilts (and great quilt photos)!

bloggers’ quilt festival: roy g. zig quilt

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SONY DSCWhen I read on Facebook that Peg at Sew Fresh Fabrics is sponsoring the prize for the Favorite ROYGBIV Quilt category of Blogger’s Quilt Festival at Amy’s Creative Side, I knew it was time to submit my very first entry.

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I made this quilt using Rachel at Stitched in Color’s Ziggy Strings tutorial, which she wrote for this past spring’s Scrap Attack Festival of Strings event. I sorted my mountain of string scraps into color order and sketched this quilt out.

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Most of you already know this quilt won the big prize at the Festival of Strings: a roll of Warm and Natural batting. (Quilts for a year, ya’ll.)

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But what I don’t talk about so much is that I started this quilt the morning after the Boston Marathon bombing in April.

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Lost for a way to react to the scary things going on in my city, I turned to quilting.

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and making something beautiful did make me feel a whole lot better. The rainbow is appropriate for Boston, too; Massachusetts was the first state to allow any of its residents to marry, regardless of sexual orientation, and I *did* finish the quilt during Pride Week. (Also a little-known fact: my husband and I chose to be legally married at Boston City Hall before our TN wedding so that we could have an MA marriage certificate.)

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This quilt is my proudest and my best quilt of 2013 (heh so far!) and I’m so glad for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival and the chance it provides for us to look back over our year of work and think about which are our “best” quilts. Hop on over to the ROYGBIV category and check out all the fabulous quilts shown there!