“Spare” baby quilts

I bought some good baby quilt fabric recently and wanted to make a couple extra baby quilts to have lying around in case I was in need of a good quick baby gift.  Most of the time I have plenty of advance warning of a baby’s birth or a baby shower, but since baby quilts are quickly becoming my signature gift, I thought it might be good to have a small backlog in case I get busy and can’t finish one sometime.

Some people might flinch at the idea of putting in the time of making a baby quilt for someone who’s less than a very close friend, but I don’t feel that way.  Quilting is a hobby that I just love, so even if the gift takes a few hours of “work,” it’s a few hours I really enjoyed.  I would do it anyway, and one house can only hold so many quilts, so naturally I turn to gifts.  Plus, I need an outlet for my fabric addiction.  I’ve accumulated WAY too much fabric, and there are always new fabrics coming out that I just know I’ll fall in love with and have to buy.

I chose this design first because I liked it, but secondly because it’s so fast and easy.  It’s made from charm squares, and you can find the tutorial here.  I cut my charms from yardage and scraps, but you can always use a charm pack instead.

This is a great design because it’s pleasing to the eye (odd numbers of stripes, etc. are always best!) and it’s something that would appeal to most young mothers who might have a more modern style.  I don’t like to make overly traditional quilts as gifts unless I know the mother well and know she would like it.  Most of my friends would prefer a cleaner, more modern look.

In this case, I made a boy quilt and a girl quilt to have on hand.  Now that I’m thinking of it, I think a gender neutral quilt might also be handy– possibly even more handy since it could be used for either gender, even if I knew what it was.  I guess I have my next project!

May Bee Blocks

Wee Bee Learning:  This block was, of course, simple, as is the theme of the bee.  I liked the colors I used, though– it’s cheerful!

99 Bee:  This is Double Mint from the 99 Modern Blocks book.  I wasn’t thrilled with the fabrics, but it turned out kind of cute.  The triangles are paper pieced, and I kept putting it off because every time I paper piece, I have to learn the technique all over again.  For some reason I forget how to do it between projects.  It was really pretty easy, though, once I forced myself to do it.  I’m quite proud of how my points line up–way better than I had expected!  Since it went together so quickly, I did both the blocks she sent fabric for instead of just the one required.

Stash Bee:  She asked for wonky scrappy stars with a Kona Coal background.  She wanted one, two, or three stars in a block, but I took the easy way out and just did one.  Sometimes I’m all about extra effort in a bee, but I just wasn’t feeling it this month.  I have too much else going on right now, and I’m still not feeling 100% with my pregnancy.

Mother’s Day tote bags

I found this tote bag tutorial a few months ago on pinterest, but I just recently read about it and found out how easy it was to make these tote bags.  Once I discovered that you don’t actually have to make the bag part, I was sold.  I had been looking for something cute to make for Mother’s Day gifts, but I didn’t post this until now in case my mom were to pop over and read my blog.

The canvas totes come in a package of three from Walmart (in the craft department with the fabric paints), and they run about $2 apiece!  Talk about cheap!  At that price, I bought two packages so I have some for future quick gifts.  I also plan to make one for myself sometime, too, because I just like the bag.

I made these bags a bit differently than the tutorial instructs, but it’s easy to make some modifications once you read through the tutorial.  I made mine a bit more ruffly than in the tutorial, and I sewed my ruffle in a circle first and hemmed it before pinning it onto the actual bag and sewing all the way around the bag.  I also serged my edges to prevent fraying underneath.  I thought sewing the ruffles in a circle first gave the edges of the bag a more finished and clean look than it has in the tutorial.  (Although her method is easier and faster, so to each his own!)

For my mother-in-law, I chose this black and red flower print.  I got 1/3 yard of this in a scrap bag I bought one time at a quilt shop, and I had no idea what I could ever use it for because it just wasn’t my style, and I would never make a quilt using that fabric.  However, I thought my MIL would like it, and now that it’s on the bag, I actually like it myself.

For my mom’s, I chose a fabric from my stash that had yellow in it since that’s her favorite color, and I also lengthened the straps quite a bit because she likes to be able to carry everything over her shoulder, and the original straps are more like a handbag length.

All in all, I think they turned out pretty cute.  Each bag took a couple of hours from start to finish, and since I already had the fabric, I technically only spent about $2 out of pocket– not too bad for a cute little summer bag.

Why I hand-stitch my bindings

In blogland lately, I’ve noticed there has been a lot of discussion about machine-binding quilts versus hand-stitching the bindings.  From my perspective, there are two main advantages to machine binding:

1.  It’s faster– most people seem to want to make a quilt in the shortest length of time possible, and that translates to doing everything by machine.  Many people don’t hand-quilt, hand applique, or hand embroider simply because it takes too long.

2.  It supposedly holds up better.  I do believe this is true.  Almost anything stitched by machine is going to hold longer simply because there are so many more stitches in a machine stitch, and they lock together so much better.  Try ripping out a seam sewn by machine and one sewn by hand, and you’ll be a believer.  While this is a definite advantage, I can easily repair a strip of binding that comes undone, so it’s not a deal-breaker for me.  On the other hand, if the quilt is a gift, the recipient might not be able to sew.

Despite these two major advantages of machine-binding, I still choose to hand-stitch my own bindings.  Why?

1.  I like the look.  With time and practice, your hand stitching on the back of a quilt binding becomes almost invisible.  Even if it’s not totally invisible, it gives the quilt a nice hand-made look, and overall, the effect is cleaner than a line of sewing stitches that show through on the front of a machine-bound quilt.

2.  I enjoy the process.  After speedily machine-quilting a project, it’s nice to sit and “bond” with it afterward.  I know that sounds silly, but binding is the last step of the process, and a part of me is always sad to see a project come to an end, so binding by hand is a way to drag it out a little.  Furthermore, although some people despise hand-work, I actually really enjoy it.  I also cross stitch, which is a hobby that does not give immediate results, so I’m used to hand-work and the extra time it takes, so the slowness of the process doesn’t bother me that much.  I usually bind a quilt while snuggling under it watching TV.  Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

I hand bind every quilt I make, whether it’s a gift, to sell, or for myself.  I use hand-quilting thread for extra strength, and I hope for the best as far as the hand-sewing holding well.  So far, I’ve never had a binding fail.  In fact, I’ve had seams in the actual quilt fail before a binding, so that’s good enough for me.

I do believe there’s room for many different techniques, and if others prefer machine-binding, then more power to them.  Personally, I haven’t found a machine technique that produces a look I’m happy with, but I may find one in the future.  You never know!  For now, though, I’m perfectly happy to continue hand-stitching the final part of the quilting process.

How to make and transfer your own embroidery pattern

Personally, I haven’t done a lot of embroidery– cross stitch, yes, but not embroidery.  In the past if I’ve ever wanted to add an embroidered message to a piece of regular fabric, I’ve used a counted cross stitch chart (either from another source or just an alphabet I’ve made up) and waste cloth.  However, that process, while doable, takes a long time.  You have to make the chart, baste the waste cloth in place, do the actual embroidery, and then tear the waste cloth strings off.  It’s also limiting if you have to do straight stitches as counted cross stitch requires.

For a recent baby quilt, I wanted to do a cuter, more curvy font, and needed a different method.  After coming up empty googling embroidery alphabet patterns, I decided to make my own, and it worked beautifully.  This may not be a new method, but it was  lightbulb moment for me.  Here’s what I did:

1.  Type your message in Word or a similar program and print.

2.  Flip your page over and trace your letters in pencil on the back side of the paper.  I could see through easily, but if you can’t, you can always use a light box or a sunny window.

3.  Cut your message into its parts using a ruler to keep the bottom edge straight.  This helps in aligning the pattern on the quilt or project later.

4.  Tape your pattern down to your project to prevent shifting, and then rub gently to transfer the pencil markings.  At first I tried an all-over rubbing technique with the edge of a bottle, but this didn’t work, so I used the capped end of a marker to trace more firmly over each letter.  This worked much better.  You can check if your pattern is transferring by peeking underneath.  Be careful not to move it too much, though, because if you need to lay it back down to rub some more, you want it to be in the same spot.

5.  Once the pattern is transferred sufficiently, remove the pattern.  At this point, if it’s too light, as mine was, you can trace over it again with pencil or with one of those disappearing ink pens.  I chose pencil because it was easier, and it will be covered up with thread anyway.  As long as you don’t make a mistake, pencil is fine.

6.  Embroider over your pattern, and you’re finished!

The whole process took me about two hours, which was quite a bit less time than I had expected.  I did make a small mistake around the date– all those twos confused me when I was tracing over it again, but I corrected, and you really can’t even see where I tried to turn a two into a zero.

I will most likely use this solely for lettering purposes (until I at last get an embroidery machine, that is!) because I seldom need to embroider designs on something.  However, I do think it would work for most design/image purposes as well, provided they aren’t too terribly detailed.  If they are, other methods like printing on iron-on transfer paper would be more accurate.  However, this method is fast and easy and uses items most people already have on hand.

One final tip– when you’re tracing over the back of your pattern for the first time, make sure the printed side is over a piece of paper, or you’ll end up with this on your tabletop:

Adding a name and date to the baby quilt

I posted yesterday about this quilt that I made for my cousin’s new baby girl.  The baby was just born today, and they texted/emailed out a picture along with the name and the stats.  I plan to visit them in the hospital tomorrow, and since I had the evening to attempt adding some personalization to the quilt, I decided to go for it.

Originally I hadn’t planned to do this because I don’t have an embroidery machine, and hand embroidery takes a while on top of the fact that I already had the quilt finished as it was.  I was googling embroidery alphabets without much luck when I stumbled upon an idea:  make a pattern myself.  So, I did exactly that, and this is what I ended up with:

I’m quite happy with the way it turned out.  I plan to make a tutorial in a few days, so I won’t explain more now, but I’ll definitely be using this method again.  The entire process of pattern transfer and hand embroidery took about two hours, and it was super easy.

I’m so excited to give this to them.  I love personalized things, but buying them can be so expensive.  Also, I give out non-personalized baby quilts as gifts all the time, so it’s nice that this one is a little more special for my cousin.

Baby Girl Quilt

This little quilt is for my cousin’s new baby (as yet unborn and almost a week overdue).  This is their second girl, and I’m hoping I have the chance to make a nice personalized label for it, but they don’t yet have a name picked out, so that will have to wait.  The plan is to hand-embroider her name on the front, but that may or may not happen depending on time.  I plan to take it to them in the hospital. 

I found this fabric at Hobby Lobby, and even though I had plenty to choose from in my stash, I went ahead and bought it (it’s a sickness, really).  I loved the colors, and her room is pink and brown (reused from their first girl), but this adds a few other colors into the mix, too, so while it coordinates, it’s also different for a new baby.

I used a whirligig tutorial from a couple different sources and then basically did my own.  Both tutorials suggested making a set pattern for the whirligig, but I just cut a square and then whacked it in half wonky-style.  They’re similar, but not exactly the same.  It worked quite well, though, and was way easier and faster than using a template for all of them.

For the back, I pieced some scraps together for interest, and since the fabric at Hobby Lobby is so cheap (in price, not in quality, in my opinion!), I decided to go for a coordinating printed back.  I used a bias-cut stripe for the binding, and I think it all turned out quite cute.

Teacher Thank-Yous

My little boy has now moved on to the two year old Bible class at our church.  For about a year and a half now, he’s been in the “baby” class.  The mothers stay in the class with them, and we sing a bunch of songs and tell quick Bible stories, and they have little toys for each lesson.  I was skeptical about what they could possibly learn at that age, but after seeing it all in action, I think it was a really great experience for him.

Anyhow, he’s had the same two teachers the whole time, so now that he’s moving on, I decided to give them thank you gifts.  I made a couple little things and put them in a gift bag with a Starbuck’s gift card.

I’ve been wanting to give potholdersanother try since my last attempt (before I discovered machine quilting), so I made two sets of potholders, and I was quite happy with how they turned out.  This time I hand-bound them instead of doing it on the machine like last time, and it looks a LOT better this way.

These are small jars of jam that I made last summer/fall.  I used some scrap fabric and some ribbon to dress them up a little.

I also took a couple of old spaghetti sauce jars I’d washed and saved, spray painted the lids, and decorated the jars with a scrapbook kit I’ve had collecting dust for a few years.  I think they ended up quite cute!  I filled them with homemade mini chocolate chip cookies and called it a day.

How to quilt a king-size quilt on a standard domestic sewing machine

Until recently, the largest quilt I have quilted on my personal sewing machine was a queen-size.  However, my brother-in-law is about to get married, and I really wanted to make them a quilt to use on their bed.  Of course, they had to pick a king size bed. I was so nervous because my sewing machine is just the normal smaller size.  When I say I have a standard machine, I do mean standard.  The distance between my needle and the right side of my machine is only seven inches.  The next machine I buy will be larger, but for now, I have to work with what I’ve got.

I was really nervous to attempt the quilting on such a large quilt (120″ square) on my machine, but I dove right in and hoped for the best.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  I chose to do a simple stipple pattern since I’m the most comfortable with that, and I didn’t want to tackle a more difficult quilting pattern in addition to tackling the largest quilt I’ve made to date.  I discovered a couple of things in the process. 

First, the key is in the setup.  You need plenty of table space to hold the weight of such a large quilt, and you need a good plan of attack before you begin.  In order to make quilting easier, I moved from my craft room down to the dining room where I could use two tables plus my little sewing desk .  You need a table in the back as well as one to the side to hold the weight of the quilt.  If the quilt hangs off the table at all, you’ll have a lot of drag, which will make the quilt impossible to move around freely.

Here is the quilt spread over my dining room table, a library desk, and my little sewing table (and my messy house in the background– keepin’ it real):

Even with all the table space, I had to bunch it up to keep it from falling off the tables.  Something that also helps is to place your back table against a wall (or in my case a dresser), so it can’t fall off the back.  If you have a corner you can work in so it won’t fall off the side, that’s even better.  There are lots of other tips that make free motion quilting easier, but for now I’ll stick with what’s helpful for working with larger quilts.

In addition to a good table setup, you also need a good plan in place for where you’ll start and stop your quilting.  I’ve seen two major prevailing methods for where to begin and end the quilting.  One method is this:

You start at one end in the middle, and basically divide your quilt in half, so you’re never working on more than one half at once.  However, when you get all the way to the left side, you have a ton of quilt bunched up, and even if you turn it halfway as I do, you’re still working side to side, which can be a bit difficult.  This method works well for smaller quilts, and I always use it for baby size, but it’s definitely not the way to go for larger ones because you end up with way too much fabric bunched in your machine when you get about halfway through.

On a king size, I had much better luck with this method:

Here you divide your quilt into quadrants and work on one quadrant at a time before completely stopping and moving on to the next.  I first read about this method on the free motion quilting project blog.  There is a ton of helpful information to be found here, but one thing I love about this blog is that the author herself, whose skills are WAY beyond my own, uses a domestic machine.  I love that although she’s a semi-professional/professional, she adamantly states that you do not have to have a long-arm, a $3,000+ machine, or a dedicated sewing studio to create beautiful quilts and/or large quilts. 

Anyhow, I digress.  Her road map for quilting a large quilt is to divide it into quarters and do one quarter at a time, sewing from the outside to the center, and then back down to the outside.  You then go back to the center and back out, and at the end of your quarter, you’re down to a very small area.  The hardest part, is of course the first pass, but you will never have more fabric bunched in your machine than you have when you get to the center of your quilt at that very first pass.

I found this method the easiest, not only because it prevents a lot of fabric bunching in your machine, but also because I found I had fewer missed spots or spots where I left a hole and had to work my way in to fill.  It’s a very organized method to quilting, and I plan to use it from now on, even for my baby quilts.  I don’t know why I put off trying this method for so long, but I’m glad the king-size finally forced me to try it out.

The ONLY downside, in my opinion, to this method is that it requires you to stop and “break” your thread after every quadrant.  This takes a tad bit more time (we’re talking a minute or two, max), so on a very small quilt where bunching isn’t an issue, you might prefer to use the first method in the interest of quilting continuously.  However, on a bed size quilt, that extra time is well worth it.

This quilt, surprisingly, only took me about five hours to machine quilt.  I was shocked at how quickly it came together.  Although I don’t plan to make many king-size quilts in the future (the largest bed in our house is a queen), if I do need to make one again, I won’t be nearly as intimidated as I was this time.

My son’s 2nd Birthday Party

For my little boy’s birthday this year, I did a Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party since that’s his favorite book at the moment.  I think he only likes it because the book has holes to stick his finger through, but whatever.

I’ve had such a hard time with morning sickness that I planned to make a very easy cake this year, and what’s easier than cupcakes?  It was so simple and fast to throw together.  I was happy with the way it turned out, and I even liked it better than some tiered cakes I had contemplated before deciding on the easy way out.  Last year, I made this cake…and cookies, and cake pops:

I didn’t even want to attempt something on that big of a scale with my uncertain state of nausea.  Also, it was a smaller party– only immediate family.  However, he has five sets of grandparents, plus several aunts and uncles, so it really wasn’t all that small!

Anyhow, things turned out well this year, and Damon definitely liked the cake:

 

In this next one, the icing on his hands had been bothering him, so one of his uncles wiped them off, but he still had cake left.  What a little problem solver he is!