Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Helicopter Appliqué Quilt - a lesson on selecting fabric and colours. - UPDATED

It's a common problem: Find a quilting design I love, decide to replicate, can't find the same fabric. Solution: Do it from your stash!

This gorgeous appliquéd and pieced quilt was made for a friend's baby on the occasion of his 1st birthday (see here for what I made his older brother). The design comes from 'Cherished Quilts for Babies and Kids', produced under the Better Homes and Gardens label, but I've completely changed the colour scheme. And what an agonising process it was picking all those fabrics!

As mentioned in my previous blog, I'm a fabric addict, probably like anyone reading this piece. I buy up things I like when on sale so that hopefully my overall production costs will be a bit less. For themed appliqué like this, I find fat quarter bundles a real saviour; someone else has done the hard part of matching the complementary fabrics. Despite this, it did take me a long time to select exactly which fabrics I would use. Main considerations are:
  1. Do I have enough? Particularly relevant for binding, which is the same fabric I used for the helicopter body. 
  2. Does the pattern look ok given the size of the pieces? i.e. small vs large pattern.
  3. Do the fabrics match given their locations on the quilt? Nothing worse than fabric standing out for the wrong reason.
  4. Take your time.
I started with the central appliqué panel and was clearly happy with the results. I was then unsure how to proceed with the rest of the quilt and happily found some white fabric with colourful spots that complimented the busy design nicely. As with all quilt piecing, photographing potential layout is a great way to see the overall look of a quilt before stitching it together. I also had great fun quilting this one with the square border blocks giving me ample opportunity to hone the FMQ skills. I couldn't have been happier with the finished product but let me tell you, I spent so long swapping potential fabrics in and out and seeing how they all went together. What did I learn? Do exactly that. Take your time and make sure you're happy BEFORE anything starts being cut out. Happy quilting!


After writing the above article, a family member asked me to make another quilt like this for a little boy who is about to be adopted into the family. At very short notice, this is what I came up with thanks to a cute charm pack and some leftovers! Which colour scheme do you prefer? The original or the replica? 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Quilting Rulers - what's the big deal??

I've been a fan of Free Motion Quilting since I got into quilting about four years ago. It's such a wonderful art-form and in all honesty, I draw better with my sewing machine than I do with a pencil in my hand. That all being said, I've always been interested in what machine quilting rulers had to offer. There are several types on the market and I have recently investigated the Westalee rulers. I chose this brand mostly because of their specially designed foot which prevents you from accidentally slipping and stitching over the rulers. They also have an excellent range of YouTube clips that show how to use their various rulers. Even better than that, they are entirely Australian owned and made. 

This is my favourite so far.
I started off with the sample pack of rulers to get a feel for the concept and how I may be able to use them in my quilting. It didn't take long for me to fall in love and imagine all sorts of ruler possibilities. The rulers are covered in various markings that mean each one can be used to create different designs. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to manipulate the ruler and fabric I was working with and the little grip strips you can purchase on the website held on nicely as I stitched. The new catalogue recently published shows endless possibilities for imaginative quilt blocks, borders and really anything you want. 
Perhaps the feature that most interests me is the way Free-Motion-Quilting can be integrated with the ruler work. The rulers give that precision that I love but also leave space for the free motion designs I've got so good at doing. Here are some cushion covers that were quilted to try out the rulers. The Westalee foot also fits really well on the Bernina low-shank adaptor I already had - but are available for all machines. 

The most difficult part for me when using the rulers, is regulating my stitch length. I've been totally lazy lately and have been using the Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR) for all my quilting. This is not a major issue as I used to do a fair bit of quilting without the BSR, but pedal regulation is a skill I need to brush up on.

Now I'm desperate to piece a few quilts so I can practice more ruler work!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Fabric addicts 101

I just love that feeling of having an idea for a new quilting or craft project, walking to the sewing room and having all the supplies there ready to go. It's easy and means you can take advantage of the inspiration at hand. That my friends, is why a fabric stash of reasonable size is a necessity of any serious or hobby quilter/crafter.

Is it possible to own enough fabric? And how on earth does one ever manage to stop buying it? I'm a money conscious mama - so I like to buy on sale. But as my husband likes to remind me, how much of a saving is it if that fabric just sits in a drawer. He just doesn't get it. How will I ever be inspired if I don't have pretty patterns to look at? And I will use it... one day...

I love the perfection of seeing folded yards of fabric and neat little fat quarters all in matching patterns and colours. Never be ashamed of your stash. I always think that there are worse things I could spend my (or my husbands) money on. And, perhaps more important than anything else; it makes me happy!

Where to buy?

So I've heard that fabric is about to go up in the USA. This will no doubt carry over here, especially with the low Australian Dollar. Never the less, the Fat Quarter Shop is a must visit website. It's important to buy up big to balance out the cost of postage, but that's not hard. Check out the sale items as you can filter by percentage off.

Closer to home, Craft Depot is a cracker. They have sales all the time and clear fabric for $5 and $10 per metre. The postage is reasonable and they ship really quickly. Get on their mailing list so you know when sales are on as right now, they have an extra 20% off all fabrics except the $5 ones. I may have bought nine metres of beautiful, modern florals.... on the spur of the moment.... whoops...

Got these during a precuts sale at Hobby Sew
Locally, I try to stay away from Spotlight and Lincraft unless I'm getting something simple or something that requires huge quantities. Unfortunately the nearest Spotlight to me is in NSW (across the state line) and the closest Lincraft is crazy small and completely disorganised. Thankfully, Canberra has a couple of smaller shops that have a fantastic range of fabrics. My favourite is Hobby Sew. Not only do they do online orders, but the store is jam packed with precious fabric. It also helps that the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. It's vital to be on their mailing list as they regularly put out catalogues with some great deals.

Please post pictures of your fabric stash. Where is it? In boxes? Oh shelves or in drawers like mine??

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Machine embroidery for kids 101

One of the best things my mother ever convinced me to do, was purchase the embroidery module for my Bernina 440QE. I simply LOVE it, though it perhaps doesn't get used as often as I would like (familiar story!). 

However, I recently had a very productive Saturday embroidering beautiful embellishments on some clothing for my children. My new favourite website (embroideryonline.com) has recently become well acquainted with my credit card and I am bursting with ideas for quilts with machine embroidered details from some recent purchases! 

Tips for embroidering children's clothes

  1. Use good quality embroidery files that are specifically designed for your machine. File formats get confused when changing from one system to another. Also be careful when changing the size of the design, that your software can accommodate it. The cheaper, free software doesn't usually cope well with big changes. 
  2. Don't cut out your pattern pieces. Children's clothing is usually quite small, and if you cut out the pieces, it can be difficult to hoop-up. I like to draw around the pattern pieces and cut them out after the embroidery is finished. This also allows for potential distortion sometimes caused by embroidery designs. 
  3. Don't be stingy with stabiliser. Double thickness tear-away is essential for intricate detail, especially when using finer fabrics. 
  4. Don't cut your bobbin thread too short on the back to avoid possible unravelling with washing etc. 
  5. And as with anything, make sure you're using a nice, sharp needle that is the appropriate size for your thread. If you're having trouble with threads breaking, consider trying a new needle. An 80/12 sharp is a great starting point if in doubt. 
I don't anticipate all these clothes will be sewn up immediately, but it's nice to have them sitting there ready to go next time I'm looking for a quick project. The cutting out and embroidery are the time consuming, annoying bits anyway! Will post more pictures when the clothes are finished!


I finished off these pieces during a mother's day marathon sew. In total, I finished off the pink dress (only needed buttons and button holes), dinosaur vest (dino buttons are just for show), Hawaiian style shorts for the boy and this cute onesie for the cold winter weather that has descended upon us here in Canberra. Let me know what you think - I'm particularly impressed by my model!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Back on Track - A Summer of practicing quilting skills

Starting Simple
Its nothing new to say that having children takes up time. Thus it has been with me since the birth of my lovely girl almost a year ago. Add to that me finishing off my masters and my poor sewing room has seen a lot of dust and my hands have lost that quilting touch. 

Having moved house again in September of last year I now have an entire room dedicated to me, my sewing room and my lovely stash of fabric. Yippee! But what good is it when this room sits idle with the door shut? I was lucky enough to have two weeks of no study last November and set about some quick panel quilts to get back in the grove. Some fast piecing and simple free motion quilting to whet my quilting appetite and help get ready for bigger, more important projects.

Check out my fun summer of skills development!

Rattle toys I will give away as gifts. The appliqué faces are cute and the kits were easy to make up. I LOVE the lion. Will have to wait for a special baby to give them to. 

This is another kit purchased at the Craft and Quilting Fair last year. I made it up for a friend who has two little boys. They travelled seven hours in the car to spend the weekend with us in Canberra and took this little beauty (when it was finished) home with them. This task helped me get back into Free Motion Quilting. I outlined the main shapes around the panel and then free handed some grass to liven up the green areas. I had a few tension issues which were very frustrating, but the finished mat came up nicely. 

Being married to a pilot, I bought this cockpit panel years ago at Patchwork By the Sea in Brighton, South Australia for about $10. Another pilot friend of ours is ready to have their second baby so I thought it was the right time to make it up. Amazingly, I had the perfect colours to add the border and quilted it with a nice stipple. I wasn't happy at all with the quilting on the cock-pit part. I tried to follow the lines of the image but it just didn't work. Given my time again, I would do some sort of pattern over the entire image - maybe even in nylon thread so as to not detract from the picture. 

I was then asked by my neighbour to make a Christmas stocking for her baby daughter. I don't like the shape or lack of detail on the stocking itself, but it was made to order. Best part of this little job was that she minded my 3 y/o while I worked on it! Winner! 

Finally - I made something for my children. It was supposed to be another quick panel quilt for them to have in the lounge room for watching TV etc, but it turned into a dragged out project thanks to husbands travelling overseas for work and me starting teaching again for the first time in almost three years. Never the less, I found time over the Easter weekend to finish it off and am happy with the results. The time consuming part was quilting around all the letters and their pictures. I just LOVE the accompanying fabrics too. I honestly can't remember where or when I bought the fabrics but they are all from the same collection and just came together so well. Something I did wrong on this quilt - I used as much of the panel as possible to have the biggest quilt possible at the end, but this just means that the alphabet squares on each end are disproportionately bigger! Silly! What I did well though was the border. I free handed various patterns all hodge podge around the edge and it just looks amazing. It really did get me in the groove for what will hopefully be a winter full of much creation in my wonderful sewing room. 

Please share what you like to work on when you need a quick project!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Kick Baby, Kick!

Any mother will describe to you the wonderful feeling of having a romping, kicking baby in her tummy. Those initial flutters are accompanied by great excitement that there has finally been a 'quickening' of the womb. Flutters soon develop into decent kicks and the fun and games of trying to identify body parts is on. I loved all manner of kicks during my first pregnancy. They were just a nice reminder that I really was going to get a baby at the end of all this. Now that I'm 27 weeks, the baby is getting lovely and strong. 

In complete contrast to my first pregnancy, this little girl's kicking has actually been disturbing my sleep. I can't understand how that is given I had no trouble at all sleeping when pregnant with my boy.  Over the weekend I found myself awake and 4:00am and 4:30am respectively, unable to get back to sleep due to the severity of the kicks. Is this normal? Shouldn't I just be able to sleep through them since last time? I really am not complaining. How could I? I have a teeny tiny little girl in my tummy who is growing and getting stronger ready to join our family. It's heaven. 

What do you think people? Any tips for calming a tossing tot in the middle of the night?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Egg Allergy Update

Those of you who have been following this blog will remember that just over a year ago, we had quite the scare when trying scrambled eggs on our son for the first time, which ended with a rushed trip to the emergency department (view original article here). We have had a couple of mild exposures since then but generally speaking, our family adapted well to living in an egg free zone. What I am most thankful for is that Jack's allergy was relatively mild and could be treated with antihistamine drops. Following the instructions of the paediatric immunologist, at the end of last year we commenced a program of controlled egg exposure as luckily, egg allergies are something that children often grow out of. 

My husband was quite happy with the controlled egg exposure program, as it involved eating lots of chocolate cake. We started with a chocolate cake containing one egg and gave jack a small portion. Having had no reaction, we increased his portion size on subsequent days until he was happy eating a normal toddler sized piece of cake. The following week we did the same with a two-egg cake, then a mud cake with five eggs. Jack was fine on all the cakes and despite my paranoia at any red mark that may or may not have actually appeared on his face, it all went well. The doctor had then advised us to try hard boiled egg, first the yolk, then the white. We kinda skipped this phase and went straight to a baked quiche. He's had quiche a bunch of times now and been fine. Yippee!!

Enjoying some egg-free cake.
Most children with an egg allergy are allergic to the proteins in the raw egg white. Once eggs have been cooked for a certain period of time the proteins change and no longer cause the same reactions. I haven't been brave enough to try scrambled eggs again given their short cooking time, but it's wonderful not having to keep Jack away from anything that may have egg in it. He loves sampling whatever I'm eating and it's great that we've been able to work on his cake appreciation. 

As someone who loves to bake, I tried a range of egg replacement products with varying degrees of success. Most egg replacements achieved the raising element but I found the binding element was missing. After much trial and error (and many cakes that broke apart coming out of the tin), I found Psyllium Husk to be the best as it helped bind the cakes together. It's available in most health food stores and health food sections in the larger super markets. 1 tablespoon of psyllium husk mixed with 2 tablespoons of water makes the equivalent of one egg. A word of warning though, mix it up immediately before use as the paste becomes like glue if left for too long. 

Whilst my allergy story has a nice happy ending, I'm constantly reminded of other parents dealing with dangerous allergies on a daily basis. Know the children in your circle, playgroup etc, and remember that exposure to the wrong foods is a very serious health issue for many people.