October 20, 2014

The FMQ weekly: Wibbly Wobbly free-motion design

Do you see what I just did there, breezily claiming that I'll be posting about FMQ once a week? I love establishing grandiose plans just to see what happens. What probably will happen will be something like this. But let's just try it out anyway.

Today I want to teach you this quilting design and show you a video of it in action. I named it Wibbly Wobbly to thrill the Dr. Who nerds.

Only first I want to tell you a secret. When I was a kid, I used to try to chew equally on both sides of my mouth. Like, 2 marshmallows on the left, 2 marshmallows on the right, 1 on the left, 1 on the right, and so on. That, unfortunately, is not normal. I manage to get through my days now without hard-and-fast attention to my chewing, but I still have this brain that wants to focus on patterns all the time. So that's why I think this stuff up and how lucky am I that I have a blog where I can post it and make it look like I am doing work, instead of just suffering from a strange obsession. I guess what I'm saying is: without you, I look crazy. So thanks for reading.

Ok enough chit chat. What is awesome about this pattern is it has a lot of pebble-POW without having to actually cover the space with pebbling. Quilting with pebbling has a tendency to chew up bobbins and time. This is pebble impact in half the time.

The entire pattern is based on this shape:

If you make that shape back and forth down a whole column it would look like this:

If you squeeze them closer together you get this:

And if you can handle that then you can make this pattern just by changing the size of your circles!

I just use three sizes of circles. I make a couple large ones, a couple medium ones, a couple or three small ones,  then a couple mediums and then do it again. You see how I change not only the size of the circle but how far out to the side it goes, which gives the column wavy sides.

After I make that first wavy-sided column (starting around the middle of my piece) then I come back alongside it with a new column. With this new column I still vary the small medium and large circles but I don't worry about keeping as strict of a pattern as I did with the first column, I just make sure that I fill in up to the edge of the previous column, and that I keep the other edge wavy. It's the wavy edges to the columns that keeps this looking really organic and forgiving of errors. So pay attention to keeping your free edge wavy instead of trying to keep a rigid pattern going.

So, would you like to see me stitching it? Awesome, because I filmed over six minutes of that. This video has no narration because the toddler was napping in the adjacent room and I love you, but not enough to wake up a sleeping kid by yammering about free motion quilting. Also, I had to put my iPad on some books to film it so when you see me raising my wrist really awkwardly it's because I haven't perfected that setup yet and the books were in my way.

Let me know if you like the no-narration video thing. I can definitely do more of those!

As with all free-motion designs please give yourself the gift of doodling them first before you get your sewing machine involved. You'll be glad you did! And of course I'd love to hear how it goes if you use this design on your quilt. Happy stitching!

October 02, 2014

A sadness

This beautiful woman, my grandmother, my favorite quilter and undoubtedly my biggest fan, has died. She introduced me to quilting, taught me to thread a needle and make bread. She loved and laughed and encouraged my wild adventures (and even took some with me). Her name was Mary Ann, and I will miss her so much.

There is no good way to write a post like this but I have talked about her so often on this blog, dedicated my book to her, and written an article about her (that's what she's holding in the picture), there is no way not to talk about it. She has been a force in my life and her loss takes the wind out of my sails. I really don't know anyone quite like her, she was special. 

Before returning home after her funeral I went through her sewing room to see what needed finishing. On her design wall she had a quilt block from an improv sewing day we had together last year. 

She had three unfinished quilts, intended for my youngest sisters. Her sister (also a quilter) and I made plans to finish them. And I labeled her quilts. There were 29 of them that I knew to be hers that had neither name nor date. I made my best guesses for the year, and I suppose I know better than anyone else now so it will have to do.  

I loved getting to see her work again. I was inspired all over, just as I had been over a decade ago when she showed me how vivid quilting could be. I enjoyed speaking with her quilting friends at her funeral, it was such a joyful and fulfilling part of her life, as it is for me.

My heart inclines toward her often and I have to remember that she is gone, will always be gone. I can only remember her, and carry forward the gifts that she gave to me. Even in my grief I know how lucky I am to have known her and received her love. 

Thanks to everyone who's left loving comments on this post. It is so nice to have your understanding and kindness. I have responded when I had an email address. 

September 14, 2014

All true

This has been an incredible month.

My husband and I returned to the Burning Man festival together, thanks to my dad watching our kids for a week. The treadle sewing machine did not make it this time due to some space concerns. Next year, though, I'll make sure it comes with us! Burning Man was again beyond description. What a fun place to help create for a few magical days.

We got back and the big kid started kindergarten. We are officially a school family. I love making the lunches and walking to school. I mean, so far. We've only been at it a week, after all!

And then I made a thrilling trip to Denver, Colorado to visit every quilter's favorite startup, Craftsy! That's right, I got my chance to visit the magical land of cameras and makeup artists and spent two and a half days on the set sharing some of the fun things I love about free-motion quilting. The class is now in their hands for a couple of months and you know I will tell you all about it when it launches!

This brings me to an interesting moment with quilting. Until now I've thought of myself as a nurse-midwife who has a quilting blog. But now, with both the Craftsy class and my second book on the horizon, it's clear that I have a part-time career in quilting, not just the occasional free-motion quilting class.

I've lately avoided talking about my two worlds together, not sure if the quilting makes me seem less serious as a midwife, or if the midwifery makes me seem like an interloper in the professional quilting world. Now, I've decided I'm over that caution. I'm a midwife and I'm a quilter, and other people's perceptions of those two facts together are not really important. I enjoy them both. I'm doing them both. Together they are exactly the right balance for me and they complement each other so well. Maybe I'll talk more about that in the future. I'm having a hard time finding the words right now.

Anyway, I'm back and I hope to see you around as my world gets back to normal! I have some fresh FMQ designs to share with you, I can't wait. If I can just get the toddler to nap while the kindergartener is kindergartening we'll be in business.

August 05, 2014

Not a bomb

Inspiration from my friend Laini's blog. Just a reminder, in case you sometimes get stuck too. It doesn't have to be perfect! XOX.

July 30, 2014

Do the Woodgrain!

In an unprecedented act of blogging fanciness I decided to make a video documenting how I create the woodgrain texture (so thoroughly photographed in my last post) with free-motion quilting. Warning: It is not an awesome shot of the actual stitching. I made it with an iPad sitting on a stack of books. But some of you might like it. Also it gave me the chance to try using the iMovie software for the first time, which was fun. My 5 year old daughter watched it and said "Good job mama. You worked hard on that". What a little sweetie! Anyway, here you go...

And if you prefer text to videos, here is the low down:

I make my woodgrain texture with bumpy wavy lines, points, spirals and forks.

These should all be made with imperfect wiggles in your lines. That makes it great if you're still working on control with your FMQ. Try it, beginners!

I am having a harder time explaining this than my usual FMQ designs because there is no real formula. Basically I work one line right next to the last line I made, letting each line respond to the one before it. Where the first line has a bump I usually put a corresponding bump in the next line. Sometimes I exaggerate the previous bumps or curves or add new ones. In some places I draw closer to the previous line and in other places I drift away from it. I often leave open spaces and then go back and fill them in and I do not ever stress about it. It is so organic that it's really hard to make a mistake.

Changing the proportion of lines/points/forks/spirals to one another is how you get different textures. Sometimes you might use all bumpy lines, other times you might use tons of points. You'll vary the amount of spirals to make "knots" in the wood. You get to play around with it to create a texture you like and a stitching experience that holds your interest. Here's some examples of how flexible this woodgrain is:

 Just lines

 Vertical lines and narrow spirals

 Just points and forks

 All the elements, a few spirals

all the elements, a lot of spirals

I find this to be a really fun and relaxing design to stitch. I love the final texture and the realistic effect it gives. And of course I'd love to hear how it works for you.

Happy stitching everyone!

July 24, 2014

Concept quilt

This is the coolest thing I've ever made. Or the weirdest.

It's for my husband. I started it almost two years ago. Some of that slowness was my limited tolerance for brown. I definitely did not get into quilting for brown fabric. 

And yet, I love that guy and he loves wood and I got this idea in my head I would make him a quilt that looked like a wood floor. All texture. So manly. Utterly unique. 

It's very different from my usual work, where I'm often trying to capture light and movement. There is no light or movement here. But I did enjoy the feeling of doing something so unusual. Playing with the ideas of hard and soft, rigid and flexible. 

I loved the challenge of quilting each "board" differently. It was fun going for that feel of an organic pattern. A very relaxing way to stitch. 

I love the back. And so does this kid. (She helped with the binding!)  

And of course I loved giving it to him. It is just the right size to be shared in the evening as we sit on the sofa together. 

July 13, 2014


When I drive I always end up a little fascinated by round brake lights that are arranged in a radiant pattern. They speak to me, their layout intrigues me and I always think, I should make a quilt like that. 

So that's what all this wedge action is about. When I stare at the one above it makes me think of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can hear his voice in my head: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. 

And when I look at all of them together I think of the Hypno-toad on Futurama. The hypno-toad is the soundtrack for this quilt for sure. That's all of them stuck on my too-small design wall. I was planning to spread them out a bit more in the final quilt but I do like them squished together like this. Decision time. 

In other news, thanks to nudging from some blog readers turned pattern testers I have put up for sale my first ever pattern. It is for a set of nesting buckets, which is a quilting class I teach locally. I put it up on Craftsy and I'm interested to see what selling patterns through their site is like.