.post-body img { width:600px; height:auto; }

Friday, 11 September 2020

Quilting denim – it's not as hard as you think

I've been making quilts from denim for a while now and I thought it was high time I shared some of my tips for quilting it. Denim has some quirks that are good to think about before you embark on quilting, especially as one of those quirks is that it can be a real pain to unpick if the quilting goes along the grain of the fabric.

First though, let's talk backing. Denim quilts are heavy, so think about the quilt's end use beforehand. If it's going to be a bed quilt, you might want to go with a really lightweight backing like a double gauze, a shot, lawn, or some other lightweight cotton. I've mostly backed mine with a fine Indian block-printed cotton. 

blue giant quilt back
The Blue Giant wall hanging backed with mud resist, block printed, indigo dyed cotton
Or, you might want to go with a single layer and back the quilt with a blanket, thereby removing the need for batting. This makes a great option if the denim quilt is going to become a picnic rug.

Now to quilting... I really love the effect of hand quilting on denim, but honestly, you have to be slightly nuts to do it. It's really hard on your hands, but I do believe the result is usually worth it. When I'm hand quilting denim, I use sashiko thread with a sashiko needle, a hard thimble on the middle finger of my right hand above the quilt (to push the needle through) and an adhesive thimble pad on the middle finger of my left hand, below the quilt so I can feel when to direct the needle back up. 

Close up of hand quilting on a denim quilt
The original Blue Giant quilt, all hand quilted.
I don't use a hoop as the fabric is too bulky, but instead lie it flat on my dining table and work from there.

Now let's look at quilting on a domestic machine. The sample below, from left to right, shows thread in weights 50, 40, 28 and 12. The lines here are sewn running parallel, or along, the grain of the denim. The needles used were a 70 for the first two thread weights an 80 for the 28 weight and a 90 for the 12 weight. The thread in the bobbin was the same 40wt across all the samples. As you can see, the thread really disappears into the grain of the fabric when using the lighter weights. 

Different thread weights quilted on denim along the grain
The next sample shows exactly the same threads with exactly the same needles on the same denim, with the same stitch length, but this time the lines are sewn ACROSS the grain of the fabric. It's a big difference isn't it?

Different weight threads quilted on denim against the grain

Let's look a couple of other considerations...

This first pic shows what happens when you're quilting along the grain and then you swap to a quilting fabric and back to the denim. It also shows what happens when your seams are pressed towards the fabric. See that ridge running across the centre of the fabric section? That's the dip between the two half-inch seams – and yes you still get it on quarter inch seams (I sew the Blue Giant with half inch seams due to the piece sizes).

Different weight threads quilted on denim and fabric

This next picture shows what happens when you sew from denim to fabric to denim when you're sewing across the grain of the denim. In this picture there is very little difference between the appearance of the thread on the two materials. This time, the seams are pressed open and there is no ridge across the middle of the fabric.

Different thread weights quilted across fabric and denim agains the grain
So, what if your denim pattern pieces go all different directions? My preference is to use a heavier weight thread and pick a quilting pattern to suit. The wall hanging version of the Blue Giant quilt is a good example.  These quilting lines are sometimes parallel, sometimes perpendicular and sometimes diagonal to the grain (all seams half an inch and pressed open).

Blue Giant wall hanging

The lines were all quilted in the 12wt hot pink in the samples. The two, more horizontal lines shown below disappear into the quilt a bit (they're the ones going along the grain), but it's not so much that I'm concerned about it.

Blue Giant wallhanging with pink quilting
I only ever quilt with my walking foot, but thankfully I know some talented people who've quilted my patterns in other ways. First up we have Beth (@bessielouwells), who has quilted her Blue Giant on a long arm with an edge-to-edge pattern. Beth told me she was surprised it was so easy, given it was her first time loading denim up on the machine.  
Close up of long arm quilting on a denim quilt

It's a variegated thread used here – a whole 2000 yards of it! – but that, and the pattern she's chosen, work really well with that tendency for denim to have the threads pop out or disappear depending on which direction you're sewing. Beth used a cotton wadding and a flannel on the back, but I'll let you head over to her feed to keep an eye out for a full reveal... Don't want to spoil that one!

Close up of long arm quilting on a denim quilt

So, now to the Laid Back quilt. Here, I used that same pink 12wt thread going along the grain of the fabric. If I'd kept stitching from the denim over into the normal quilting fabric, the stitching would have looked very different on the two types of fabric. To avoid that, I had two choices. The first would have been to quilt a horizontal pattern on this quilt or the second, and the option I chose, was to quilt the fabric sections differently. The reasons I didn't horizontally quilt this are first, that the seams are pressed towards the fabric in this quilt (it's to do with avoiding bulk at those two cross-quilt seams) and the second is that I just liked the idea of echoing the vertical lines of the piecing. 

Laid Back quilting detail

Luckily for you (and me), my pattern tester Katy (@whatkatydid_handmade) took a completely different approach to quilting this one, and one that I would never attempt – free-motion on the long arm. Katy told me she would have preferred to use something heavier than 40wt to quilt her Laid Back quilt, but with lockdown, travel restrictions and a tester deadline, beggars can't be choosers! As you can see Katy anchored her panels with a 1/4" seam and then she did a range of free-form patterns, that were different on each denim panel.

Katy Laid Back quilting detail
My favourite part? Where she quilted the name of the pattern into the quilt!  I could not love that bit more :-) As you can see, Katy left her fabric strips unquilted as they're quite narrow. Again, I think I'll let Katy do the full reveal first over on her feed, so make sure you pop over to check it out.
I hope that's given you a few things to think about when you go to quilt your next denim project, and also shown you that it's really not that hard to quilt denim. A bit bulkier maybe, but nothing that a good thread and a sharp needle can't handle. Be sure to let me know below though if you have any other questions.

Happy quilting!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Making the Checks and Balances quilt your own

Pictured above is the original Checks and Balances quilt. I don't know what it is about this pattern but for me it inspires play – I'm constantly coming up with new options for it.

I think I've made five or six versions now and I decided that instead of continuing to make them myself, I'd show you the ideas, so you can use them with the pattern as the basis for your own quilts and I can get on to other designs!

The original Checks and Balances works in vertical columns of colour that are randomly placed across the quilt. In 'I would be art', pictured below, there are two columns of blocks that change colour along the vertical. These columns are then repeated across the quilt. This variation is my Bauhaus version of the pattern, as it was inspired by the women weavers of the Bauhaus movement, specifically Benita Koch-Otte.
One version I've been playing around with uses a solid paired with an ombré panel, in this case Jennifer Sampou's Sky range, in Spa, Blush and Opal colourways.  You could simplify it even further by just using one ombré panel. I think a version like this would make a really lovely baby quilt.
Next is a colour block version mocked up in a variety of solids. I suspect I won't be able to stop myself from making a colour block Checks and Balances at some point. This mockup is really a wall-hanging size, but by adding a few extra columns and rows it would make a great single/twin bed quilt for a bright hit of colour in a kid's bedroom.
I was imagining this next one with the blue rectangles done in denim. I've seen a few quilts similar to this variation on Pinterest, but I thought I'd include it anyway. All the pieced blocks in this one have a red centre and the outside rectangles are improv strips of colour. I could imagine that even selvedge strips might work here.
My last mockup is done with Kaffe Fassett caterpillar and multi stripes paired with pieced blocks of shot cotton. Again, I suspect I might get around to making something like this one day... I just love the movement of colour up and down the columns in this one.
The last quilt pictured here is the simplest version of all, and it's the variation included in the pattern instructions, along with details for both quilt yardage and making with upcycled shirts.
When designing quilts I always ask 'what if?'. What if I tried the colour moving across the quilt rather than down? What if I made the fabric a solid instead of a stripe? What if I changed the order of some of the blocks. This is the kind of process I'm incorporating into the quilt design course I'm developing. If you're keen to hear more detail, sign up to my email newsletter at the top of the page.

Note that I've not done any of the yardage measurements for the mockup quilts (nor will I be, unless I make them myself), but they wouldn't be too difficult to figure out using the pattern as it stands.

OK, now that these are out in the world, I'm hoping they stop nagging at me so much to be made and I can move onto other quilt pattern ideas!

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Stitching my frustration on protest flags

Flag by Beka Hannah.
It's hard to believe it was only the beginning of this year our country suffered disastrous bushfires with many lives lost, towns destroyed and others covered in thick smoke for months on end. And still, in Australia, and across the world, climate change is treated as a partisan political issue and not the emergency it is.

Like many who have protested, donated, made lifestyle changes, written letters and signed petitions over many, many years I was at a loss as to what else I could do. In sheer frustration I started stitching a protest flag – maybe as a kind of therapy. I posted it online and others joined in – sending me their angry missives and heartfelt pleas.
Flag by Tal Fitzpatrick.
And then Covid-19 arrived...
For a lot of the time since then, continuing with stitching and quilt making has seemed pretty frivolous and in the beginning I was too confused, uncertain and worried to be able to focus on the flags – but life has a funny way of pushing you on regardless.

Having lost my normal work in March, quilt making really is my only income at the moment and so the quilt making continues. Then Sydney Craft Week announced their theme for 2020 as 'Change Makers' and so I determined to try and get the protest flags shown – the application went in yesterday.
Flag by Kerry Martin.
A goal to work towards made me think seriously about how to construct a cohesive piece from the flags. I've decided to stitch the flag tops between a header piece and backing fabric and then each of these blocks will be stitched together. This way the flag still hangs free and the whole work will form a banner of sorts. All the fabric pieces are upcycled shirts and the backing will likely be an upcycled blanket.
climate protest flags
From top left to bottom right: Tara Glastonbury, Diana Vandeyar, Tara Glastonbury, Anne Foy, Pip Porter.
My hope is that I'll largely be making the banner on site during Craft Week and would like to have materials there for people to stitch their own protests to add to the final piece.

In the meantime, if you're based in Australia, you still have time to stitch a flag and send it to me. The template can be downloaded here. Once you're done, email me at the address at the base of the blog or DM me on Instagram and I'll let you know how to get it to me.

To be clear, I don't think either side of politics has covered itself in glory on this one and a lot of the flags reflect the anger present during the bushfires – how you reflect your wishes for climate change is up to you – the more flags, the better!
Flag by Linda Knight.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Choosing colours for a quilt

For as long as I can remember I've loved combining colours. As a consequence I tend to work very intuitively when selecting colours for quilt designs. If that's not you though, never fear! Choosing colours and combining them is a skill you can learn and there are so many tools out there to help you now.

Today we're going to choose colours for my Handloomed quilt pattern and I'm going to walk you through the steps to create your own perfect colour combination. Of course you can use this approach to combine colours for any quilt project.

Let's start by looking at the pattern. The vertical pairs on the Handloomed quilt are three mid colours combined with lighter versions of those same colours. The horizontal rows are two dark colours combined with mid versions of those same colours. That's roughly the formula anyway...  In terms of fabrics, you can use any types of solids – standard quilting fabric, khadi or shot cottons, or even fabrics that read as solids.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Catty Corner is good to go!

Finally, I have another pattern out in the world! My Catty Corner quilt pattern is available as a pdf download over on my Etsy store now.

It feels like a lifetime ago now, but in early 2017 I travelled to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) on an Ace Camp – what an adventure! Of course, given it was largely a textile trip, I came back with fabrics, specifically shweshwe. Originally shweshwe was only available in indigo – the patterns created with a method of acid discharge – but now it's available in all the colours of the rainbow.
I had seen very few quilts made from shweshwe but those I had come across were quite traditional in design and I didn't think they suited the bold, vibrant colours of the fabric, so of course I decided to design my own. Insanely, I'm still quilting that version, while one I've made from upcycled shirts is about to hang at Quiltcon, and pattern testers have been busily finishing off versions of their own.