Improv Leaders & Enders

These improv mini-quilts are the result of using the scraps leftover from individual quilt projects as leaders and enders, aka thread bunnies. When a project is complete,  I throw the scraps that are too small to return to my folded storage into a box and put it near my machine.   I grab two and use them as a thread bunny.  I keep building the pieces into larger pieces creating what I’ve heard called ‘found fabric’.   

Here is a photo of my work space at the point when I’ve started to turn the ‘found fabric’ into a cohesive mini quilt.  

I loved Bonnie Hunter’s idea for cutting her scraps into a system of squares then matching light and dark shapes together to eventually create a whole quilt.   So clever!  And I tried cutting my scraps up, but I find I’m not quite disciplined enough.  I just want to start sewing!   I attended an improv piecing class taught by Kristin Shields a couple of years ago,  and I’ve heard friends talk about playing with fabric.  And this spring my lazy brain put it all together to create improv leaders and enders.  

My plan for these minis is to make potholders as I don’t particularly consider them works of art. But they are fun.  They are using up my scraps.  And I am creating something useful.  So there are several ‘wins’. 

Here is another set made from leftovers of two blue projects.  I just finished the last of these scraps. 

What I’ve Learned:  So far I haven’t done much sorting of the scraps before I start sewing,  but I think that sorting by general size or shape might be a good idea for the batch I’m working with now – lots of triangle shapes. 

This takes longer than working with a disposable thread bunny.  So I have to remind myself that I’m actually getting two projects done at once.   Last year I made 26 potholders before the holidays, and I’ve got a good jump on that this year. 

Thread Basket

Do you waste a lot of time picking pieces of thread and lint off of your fabric – only to somehow find it back on the fabric a few minutes later?  This was my story.   😦

Threadcatchers that hang near your machine are great, but I was gathering these threads at the sewing machine – and at the cutting board, the ironing board, and the design wall!  Last week I had a small epiphany and decided that a little bag, lined with batting, would do the trick, especially if I pinned it directly to me!  This way, it’s always handy – whether I’m at the sewing machine, the cutting board, or the ironing board.  The threads cling to the batting where they wait till I’m ready to empty the basket.  I can easily scoop out a thread ball and toss it into my garbage pail.  I don’t have to worry about cleaning out the basket thoroughly – those threads aren’t going anywhere.

Here is a photo of me wearing my thread basket. I'm using a 24 year old diaper pin, but I'm sure there are cuter pins out there.

Here is a photo of me wearing my thread basket. I’m using a 24 year old diaper pin, but I’m sure there are cuter pins out there.

One thing I will change if I make another will be to use flannel lining rather than batting.  The batting is a bit bulky and almost too ‘sticky’.

Also, I have a vague memory that I may have seen something like this at a quilt retreat a few years ago.  In which case, why didn’t I make one sooner!  😦  I’ve been using it for a week now, and it’s working great.  If I forget to pin it on when I enter my sewing room, I miss it right away.

Potholders – and new technology

  1. A few days ago I decided to make potholders as Christmas presents.
  2. I decided to be spontaneous and use all of a 36 piece charm square packet I purchased a few weeks ago from  The packet was called “Good Neighbors”.
  3. I threw caution to the wind, and didn’t use a pattern!

So here is the result.

I started Saturday morning at the PMQG Sew Day and after much rearranging, I like what I’ve got.  (Thank you to Laura, last name unknown, for your help!)

They are bright and happy, and I hope they fit well into the receivers’ kitchens.

The charm pack made eight potholders.  Onto a large piece of backing, I placed one layer of Insul-bright and one layer of 100% cotton batting.  Pinned all of the potholders down and then straight-line quilted with a walking foot.

The charm pack made eight potholders. Onto a large piece of backing, I placed one layer of Insul-bright and one layer of 100% cotton batting. Pinned all of the potholders down and then straight-line quilted with a walking foot.

The backing is a dark gray essex linen-blend.

Almost forgot. The new technology part is the WordPress app that I just added to my phone and which I’m using to create this post. It’s encouraged me to make a post to my blog which is long overdue. But I’m having a lot of difficulty posting and captioning the pictures. So I’ll save my draft – and finish it on the main computer. And probably not with my new Windows 10 laptop either, which I’m also having difficulty understanding. It’s amazing how much time technology can take away from sewing!

My first Improv effort

I took a class last fall from Kristin Shields through the Northwest Quilters Guild.  The class was ‘Improv solids’ and while it was fun and Kristin was a great teacher, I didn’t really like what I had created.  It languished as a UFO.  Six months later, the Portland Modern Quilt Guild is encouraging monthly mini-quilts to build our skills.  It’s a good time to force myself to finish my Improv Solids piece.  It took some un-sewing, and I have some leftover bits that just didn’t fit anymore, but now I love it!

DSCN3378 (764x1024)

about 15 x 24 inches

One of the things I love about improv quilts is the many points of interest they can create.  The eyes get little gifts as your vision travels around the quilt.  At the workshop, one of the participants showed a piece she had made at a previous workshop, and I loved it so much I still think about it.  Hers was soothing, very subdued colors, but with little gems of color and interest.  I wish I could see it again!

So I hope that my little quilt has achieved something close to that level.  At least as I finished it at 1am this morning, I was very happy with it.  My eyes enjoy it.  🙂

DSCN3374 Now I’m pondering how to quilt it.  I went to a book signing last night for Christina Cameli’s new book, Step-by-Step Free-Motion Quilting.  I really enjoy her book, and the event was fun as I’m getting to know more people in the Portland quilting world.  So I found people to talk to.

Christina’s book uses simple motifs to create what I’ll just call pretty patterns.  I’m sorry if the word is trite, but I think they’re pretty.

I’ve skimmed through the book and found six that I think would work to quilt my mini improv.  I want to do an all-over pattern because I want to have it done by Thursday night’s PMQG meeting, and I have limited time and patience.


DSCN3376Here is one of the patterns I think might work.  Most of the designs I chose are long lines with circles.  Christina recommends to draw the pattern on paper first to get used to how the pattern moves from one motif to the next and how it is used to fill space.  I haven’t done that before (the impatience issue), but I’ll be trying it this time.

Any suggestions for quilting?

Also, every time I make a mistake or two.  The mistake this time was trimming the quilt to its finished size before I had quilted it!  Rookie mistake.  I was too anxious to see it without all the hanging bits left over from the improvisational piecing.  I wonder how much trouble this will give me as I quilt it.  😦

Isn’t she the cutest!? and there’s a quilt too.

Be prepared because my grand niece might be the cutest baby ever!  I know, I know.  Everyone says that, but she’s really, really cute. And seems to sleep a lot. My niece sent these lovely photos of Collette sleeping on the baby quilt I made for her. So here are the photos.


I want to keep gushing!  But I’m forcing myself to stop.  DSC_0126-10-X3

Here’s a bit about the baby quilt.  The front used some sweet old-fashioned fabric found in my Mom’s stash (red-checks with little hearts) and Kona white.  Half-square triangles, asymmetry, blah, blah….  The back is a shirting flannel which I love to use for baby quilts.  It’s soft, and they love it.  The binding is flannel backed satin.  Also soft and babies love it.  The flannel backing on the satin makes it easier to sew with, and that’s why I search for it.  For some odd reason, I had a hard time finding it.  And I still haven’t found it in the quality of olden days.

This was theDSC_0127-11-X3 2nd baby quilt I’ve machine quilted, and while I made numerous mistakes, I begin to see a glimmer of light.  And I’ve learned all kinds of things – like what to do if you free motion quilt a big fold in the backing.

Funny story:  I was really looking forward to a peaceful airplane ride where I could listen to my book on tape and sew down the binding on Collette’s quilt.  Everything packed up – thimble, needles, finger condom [ah, I mean finger ‘cot’], small scizzors, and the quilt.  Do you see the problem?  I opened up my little sewing kit and – no thread.  Very disappointing.  😦   I ended up sewing the binding down at my parent’s home, running it through the washing machine at the last minute, and delivering it wet.  But she still liked it after it was dry.


Last photo of Collette.  She’s about six lbs in these photos.  She’s 2 weeks old and she was 3 weeks early, so she’s tiny but strong!  Did I mention how cute she is?

Photo editing – ethics?

I improved the color and contrast on one of the photos I entered in a recent quilt contest.  Do other quilters do the same?  My quilt photos had been looking washed out – dull colors, flat light, boring.  I’m not a trained photo editor, but even I can see some intriguing options in Microsoft Office Picture Manager – color, brightness and contrast, auto correct!  I increased the contrast, and slid one of the icons from side to side until my color looked more true to life.

But was I cheating?  I read a later post by another contestant lamenting that her photos didn’t look as good as the real project.  I thought about giving her a tip about using Picture Manager, but I’m trying to stop myself from telling others what to do.

Here are two photos.  One has been touched up, the other hasn’t.  It makes a big difference!

petals, edited

This photo has been enhanced, probably too much since the orange isn’t really that bright.

This is the original photo.

This is the original photo. Obviously not very good.

What do you think?  What do you do?  Do those who have access to technology have an unfair advantage?  Is photo editing the steroid of the quilting industry?  Am I making a mountain out of a mole-hill?

Let me know what you think.  In the meantime, I think I’ll keep enhancing my photos.  🙂

Elizabeth Hartman Medallion quilt-a-long

I’ve joined a quilt-a-long hosted by Elizabeth Hartman on her blog ‘Oh Fransson!’  (love that name by the way)  Right now I’m trying to decide on the fabrics.  We get to pick five different groups of fabrics of five fabrics each.  These are the fabrics that I’ve selected.


green-blue group 1


green-blue group 2

  I wanted to do a more subdued quilt than Elizabeth’s first version but with pops of color.  I started with what I have a lot of which is blue and greens – so two groups of these.  One of the groups should be neutrals.  Since I want it to be more subdued I thought I would do two groups of neutrals.  (I think these are also ‘low volume’ but I’m still struggling with what that means.) 


neutrals group 1 – Are these ‘low-volume’?


neutrals group 2. Is the fabric second from the right the only ‘low volume’ or are they all?

Then for the pop of color I was thinking reds and/or yellows.  I had a couple of these in my stash but went shopping for more.  🙂   I also tried to use some of the color theory that Cath (Wombat Quilts) taught at the March guild meeting.  With greens and blues I could either go directly across the color wheel to an orangey-red, or go along the color wheel to yellow.  I picked yellow – with some splashes of orange. 


my ‘pops of color’ group – any oh my isn’t that yellow and gray fabric on the left just gorgeous?!

So now I had five groups of five fabrics.  But what if it needs some brighter blues? 


bright blues group

So now I have six groups of fabric and I’m in fabric overload.  Maybe I shouldn’t have 2 groups of neutrals because they are too similar?  My daughter didn’t like one of the groups of blue-greens.  Is she right?  I had a great time picking out the individual groups, but expanding those groups into five groups that go together is a challenge.  What if I get it wrong?!!  I’m going to read through the pattern and see if that sheds any light on how these groups are going to be used together. 

On the positive side, I did get to try out a new quilt shop, Pioneer Quilts in Clackamas, Oregon.  Lots of selection and the staff was very nice.  I helped them close down the store on Sunday afternoon. 

Quilting lines pattern – raindrop-ish

zen umbrella - triangle squiggles
zen umbrella - wavy lines
Quilting lines pattern - Wavy, squiggly boxes, or raindrop-ish

What pattern of quilting lines would enhance this quilt? This option is meant to suggest raindrops. I hope an actual machine quilting professional would provide a better interpretation than I’ve drawn here. How do I weigh the idea of the quilting following the theme of the quilt vs. the quilting enhancing the overall visual design of the quilt? Do other quilters find the theme to sometimes be in conflict with design? I’m afraid I’m not making a clear point.

Trying again. I think it would be ‘safer’ to pick a simple design like the wavy lines. But it would be more of a design challenge to try a raindrop theme that may turn out to overwhelm the quilt. How many risks do you take with something where you’ve already invested hours of work?