The Free Motion Quilting Project: September 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Transformation Challenge Winners!

Drumroll please....

Here are the winners of the 9 by 12 Transformation Challenge!

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis is a selection of 8 small 9 inch by 12 inch quilts submitted to the Transformation Challenge this summer. Above you can see how the quilts will be arranged in the final Transformation Quilt that will combine all the pieces together into one large wallhanging.

I have to say, picking these 8 winners out of the 14 finalists was a very difficult job. Receiving all the little quilts every day for around 2 weeks was a real joy, and each one was wonderfully made.

It came down to arranging the final quilt and finding this perfect layout, in which each piece compliments another. I can't wait to get started on the background so everything will be truly tied together and not just pinned up to the design wall!

Now let's learn a bit more about the winning pieces and see some detailed shots. I was really wanting to share the professional photos I had made earlier this week, but a combination of the car issues yesterday and yard work today made it impossible to get the disc this morning. So better photos will be posted later!

In order from the top, left hand corner:

Terri Gnaedinger - Van Gogh Almond Blossom Transformed

Designs used in this quilt:
Terri shares: This is my interpretation of Van Gogh's Almond Blossom picture which is in the VanGogh museum in Amsterdam. He was an artist who was inspired by such great artists as Monet, Manet and others who were painting in Paris at the same time.

Upon learning that his beloved brother had a newborn son, he presented him with the picture titled Almond Blossom. I wanted to transform a beautiful picture into something delicate and tactile.

Monica Spicker - Seasonal Transformations

Designs used in this quilt:
Monica writes: My theme was the transformation of an aspen leaf throughout the seasons. As a forester, I love trees and love the transformations that happen there throughout the year. Each season got a distinctive color (okay, fall got two). Where the leaves intersected, one of the other season colors was used. I painted all the fabrics except the dark green, which is a hand dye I got from a friend. All raw edge fused applique. For the quilting I used variegated threads by Sulky, Isacord for one leaf and Essential Cotton Thread for another.

Check out Monica's awesome blog on quilting and rock climbing: The Quilting Climber.

Erilyn McMillan - A Chance Find and Entomologists' Delight

Designs used in this quilt:
Erilyn shares: The monarch butterfly has been captured by camera emerging from it's chrysalis. The background has been painted to depict out-of-focus greenery. Chrysalis was made from layers of organza, stitched, then cut out with a soldering iron. The butterfly itself, was painted onto fabric, thread painted, then cut and raw-edged appliqued onto the background using trapunto. The effect of fullness and almost 3-D of the butterfly's body and wings is further enhanced by the dense background quilting.

Find Erilyn's ramblings about quilting at SberryMum

Carol Kolf - Transformation from Bud to Flower

Designs used in this quilt:
Carol shares about her quilt: My quilt was created using water soluble crayons and free motion thread sketching. The binding is also painted using the same process.

Find Carol's website and alternate identity right here at: QuilterCarol

Christine Moon - Whimsical Leaves

Designs used in this quilt:
Christine writes: This quilt is white Kona cotton painted with Dye-Na-Flo paints using school glue as a resist. The quilting is all done with black cotton thread, the batting is a cotton/bamboo blend, and the backing is a commercial cotton fabric. I wanted to transform plain white cotton into a joyful celebration of color and quilting! I had several starts and stops, and a multitude of learning opportunities - I wrote about them on my blog:

Helen Pedersen - Changes

Designs used in this quilt:
Helen simply states: I love to play with color changes and this is the result.

Check out Helen's wonderful blog of beautiful quilts at Honey Bunch Quilting.

Annie Tokarz - Feeding Frenzy

Designs used in this quilt:
Annie shares: The design Feeding Frenzy evolved from a love of birding which my husband and I have shared for many years. The original design had many small leaves and were replaces with a tropical setting. My one difficulty was finding a quilting pattern for feathers. This was a great opportunity to stretch and extend my quilting skills.

Ellen Brower Gately - Promise

Designs used in this quilt:
Ellen shares the inspiration for her quilt: Each seed carries within it the promise of the plant that it can become. Over the course of time (and with luck), that promise is met with the help of sunlight, soil and water. In this quilt I have attempted to represent three "realities" - The reality of the seedling that exists in the present, the tree that it will become in the future and the ""reality"" of four midwife goddesses witnessing that process. Though the free motion quilting in this piece is not perfect, it represents the transformation of my skills from wish to reality.

Find Ellen's beautiful quilts at

So that's it for the Transformation Challenge!

All of the finalists will be receiving a special package from me in the next 3 weeks containing your quilt, plus a high quality 5"x7" photograph of your piece, plus a copy of my new book From Feathers to Flames!

All of the winners listed above will also be receiving a copy of the new book, a color photograph of your piece, plus a cash prize of $50!

Thank you all for participating in this challenge and helping to make it a wonderful, inspiring, transformational success!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pico de Gallo

Josh subbing in for Leah today. I just got a call from her Tracfone--the only cell phone device we have, just for emergencies--and while she was out the AC vent started smoking in our Nissan Versa. It's a car trouble day so Leah asked me to jump on and post a recipe.

We made this last night so I figured it's time to share it. This beats almost anything you can get in restaurants, too.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo is a fresh, chunky salsa, consisting of four key basic ingredients: tomatoes, onion, some form of pepper, and cilantro. It goes great on tortilla chips but also can be used to stuff burritos and tacos or also eaten plain like a salad.

To make the perfect pico, you really need this kitchen instrument: The Chop Wizard. While a knife or a Pampered Chef food chopper would work, you're not going to get the amazingly uniform small pieces that you get with this chopper. It isn't hard to clean--using the cleaning tool you can clean it up in 2-3 minutes tops.

Now for the other ingredients:

6 ripe on-the-vine tomatoes, deseeded and cut into quarters
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch rings
1 fresh banana pepper
1 Tbs jarred jalapeno slices
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
2 radishes, cut into 1/2 inch round pieces
1 tsp juice from jarred jalapenos
Secret ingredient: 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sea salt

Save for thyme and cilantro, process everything through Chop Wizard, or mince into 1/4 inch square pieces with a good knife. Place in a bowl and add minced cilantro and fresh thyme. Add juice from jalapeno jar and dry seasonings. Stir very well, cover with a lid, and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

While you can leave the fresh thyme (never used dried) out, this really makes the salsa and turns it into something exceptional. The radishes also give it an extra crunch.

If you like it hotter, add more jarred jalapenos. You can also use fresh but I like the pickled taste the jarred variety bring to the dish.

- Josh

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Danger! Chemicals and Quilts

Have you ever made a list of all the chemicals going into your fabric, batting, or finished quilt?

I recently ran through a list of all the chemicals I use in my quilts: detergent to wash the fabric, and sometimes I use Retayne if I'm worried about bleeding. Then I use lots of starch when I'm ready to use the fabric in a quilt. Sometimes I use glue sticks or Elmer's glue for applique. Also the glue in fusible web should count too.

An easy chemical to forget is the chemicals in marking pens, fabric paint, and fabric markers. If it's a liquid marker contacting the fabric, you can bet there are chemicals involved that make the marker show up, or disappear according to how the agents react.

Of course, there's probably a whole stock of chemicals used in the manufacturing process of the fabrics we use that we never even know about. That's the main reason why I prewash my fabric religiously - it may not be much fun, but at least I know what detergent and chemicals I've put into the fabric, and I know I've done my best to wash out whatever was left over by the manufacturer: sizing, excess dye, etc.

But there are even MORE chemicals commonly used in quilts! What about spray basting? Fusible batting? What about the chemicals in our thread?!

My slightly scientific mind has been thinking about all these chemicals: how they effect our quilts and their longevity.

Have any studies been done to accurately test these materials? What about combination tests? What happens when you use ABC brand starch with XYZ brand marking pens?

We're not just using 1 single chemical in our quilts, we're using several, and for quilters who make quilts that can't be (or shouldn't be) washed, this might be a problem down the road.

Now I don't consider myself an heirloom quilter. I don't really care if my quilts last for 1000 years so long as they last as long as I do, hopefully another 70 years!

But for many quilters, the idea of passing a quilt down to the next generation (or the next, or the next) is a very big draw. Shouldn't we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the quilts we make today will last as long as we want them to?

So all of this has been running through my mind for awhile, and then a few months ago I was emailed by an awesome quilter and long time follower, Monica, who was obviously having similar thoughts.

Monica had seen advertisements for the new Frixion marking pens made by Pilot that supposedly disappear when you apply heat. That claim, and the much higher price tag in quilts stores made Monica wonder, so she set out to experiment with the pens and see what happens.

Check out Monica's awesome experiment right here.

I also remember finding an experiment about Sewline Pencils, a dry marking pen that brushes or erases off of fabric. A quick Google search found that article right here at Foofangle, which shows how easily the different colors erase from different colors of fabric.

What I love the most about both experiments is that they're simple, yet clearly show the effects of both products. It just goes to show that you don't have to be a mad scientist or have access to a state funded laboratory in order to test the materials you're using in your quilts.

If you know of any other tests that quilters have carried out of quilting / crafting related products, please email me and I'll add them to this article.

But let's get back to longevity of our quilts. The straight truth is this: cotton fabric, batting and thread will not last forever.

However, certain chemicals may be aging our quilts far faster than usual.

Of course, this is extremely difficult to test accurately without a lab, and how likely is it for a university or independent lab to be interested in studying quilting materials?

It turns out they're interested enough to publish a case study!

Monica just recently emailed me with this case study published in 2003 in which several different types of spray basting and fusbile battings were subjected to longevity tests by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Here's an overview of what was studied:
The purpose of this study was to carry out light and heat aging tests on three types of adhesives used in quilting. Products tested included three quilt basting sprays: Sullivans, Sulky KK2000, and Spray & Fix 505; three fusible webs: Stitch Witchery, Wonder-Under and HeatnBond; and three fusible battings: Stearns Mountain Mist White Gold (cotton), Hobbs Heirloom (cotton/polyester blend), and June Tailor low loft (polyester). The goal was to determine whether the selected adhesive-containing commercial products contribute to discoloration or promote degradation of fabrics over time.
Recognize any names? While I'm personally not a fan of basting spray, I've certainly used Hobbs fusible batting and Wonder-Under!

Please take the time to read this study today. It's extremely eye opening to know what these chemicals can potentially do to our quilts. This line in particular from the results and discussion section really got my attention:

Quilt makers who wish to use a quilt basting spray in a quilt they intend to become an heirloom should select Spray & Fix. Collectors and curators may wish to avoid acquisition of quilts containing these quilt basting sprays. The makers of Sulky and Sullivans may wish to reevaluate and modify their product formulations.
One thing I wish the study had tested was the water solubility of the basting chemicals. What happens if you use the basting sprays or webs, but soak your quilt in water immediately after quilting? Will the chemical remain after 1 washing or 10?

Of course, when it comes to making quilts and using chemicals, it really comes down to what you want to do and how you want to make your quilts.

Please don't let me, or anyone else tell you how to quilt your quilts or dictate what materials you use. If you like using it, if it works for you, keep doing it!

I know I'm not going to stop using spray starch in my quilts because it helps me achieve a stiffness before the quilting process that prevents pleats from forming on the top and back. That's based on my opinion, my experience, and the way I like to work with fabric.

But at the same time, I always make sure to soak my quilts in a huge tub of water after they have been quilted. Any chemicals that can survive a 30 minute soak in warm water are just going to have to stay put!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 323 - Wavy Hair

Anyone else having a bad hair day? Well at least you can now stitch hair on your quilts that's sleek, slightly wavy, and only as crazy as you want it to be!

Most of my goddess quilts feature long flowing locks of hair, but I’ve always struggled to quilt these areas with a design that does them justice. Now we have the perfect design - Wavy Hair!

free motion quilting | Leah DayYeah, yeah, this is a cheap variation of Blowing Wind, but what’s a girl to do?! It’s nearly my birthday and even though this isn’t a huge variation, I think this looks different enough to count as a new design.

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This design starts with a simple wavy line and tear drop shape, then you stitch inside the tear drop and fill it with bouncy, arching echoes.

This is different from Blowing Wind because that design filled the tear drop with internal echoes (I warned you it was only a slight variation!). Once you fill the tear drop, travel back out and swirl around the shape multiple times to build up the texture and cover lots of space.

Design Family - Branching. This family of designs are all based on McTavishing, one of the very first designs I learned to quilt thanks to Karen McTavish’s book Mastering the Art of McTavishing.

Directional Texture - All Directions. We don’t call it Wavy Hair for nothing! This design has a beautiful, multi-directional texture that would look great stitched on any blue quilt (blue quilts always make me think of water), or the water or sky sections of a landscape quilt.

Suggestions for Use - Would you like to make your own quilt goddess? These quilts are amazingly powerful to create and allow you to play with so many textures and designs over the surface. I've been thinking about offering my original patterns on the site so you can make your own version of my two quilts, My Cup Runneth Over and Balance. Whatcha think?

Back of Wavy Hair
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion filler design in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it!

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 322 - Spiral Mess

Well it doesn't look like I've made anyone too mad over my post on not wanting a longarm. More than anything else, I just want you to be able to love quilting, no matter what machine you're using!

Speaking of enjoying quilting, here's a funky spiral design I had loads of fun quilting:

free motion quilting | Leah DaySpirals on top of spirals on top of spirals creates a real Spiral Mess!

One of the easiest design types to master are Overlapping Designs because just like the name sounds, all you have to do is overlap shapes to fill your quilt.

You don't really have to worry about each spiral being perfect because you can always layer another spiral on top and fix any issues with it. Seriously - try this design or Venn Diagram or Heart Confetti today and see what I mean!

Difficulty Level - Beginner. This design might look complex from the photo, but it's actually very easy to stitch. Just concentrate on stitching each spiral. Try to ignore any spirals or lines you're overlapping, then use any line in the mess to travel stitch and swirl out with a new spiral.

Design Family - Overlapping. Almost all of the designs in this family are a bit messy! If you’d prefer it to look a little less chaotic, try expanding each shape so they’re really large, and only overlapping a small amount. This way each shape will stand out on the surface and not get crowded by the other spirals.

Directional Texture - No Direction. When you stitch this over an area, there's really no particular direction that the filler moves your eye to. It’s kind of like a messy bedroom - there’s no order here!

Suggestions for Use - This is one design type that is specifically designed to be stitched very big and very quickly. Use this design to fill a quilt quickly and get good practice at stitching spirals at the same time. Remember - no one will be able to tell if your spirals are perfect or not, so have fun playing with this design today!

Back of Spiral Mess
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts
and send in a picture to show it off!

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Saturday, September 24, 2011

7 Reasons Why I Don't Want or Need a Longarm

About two weeks ago I posted about my quilt hanging system that's allowing me to quilt Emergence, a 70" x 90" extremely heavy quilt, easily on my home sewing machine.

I think this is an awesome way to solve many issues quilters have with quilting big quilts on small machines and if I could figure out a way of packing the clamps, bungee cords, and handles together, I'd turn it into a Suspended Quilting System and sell it on the site just so more quilters would try it out and start quilting this way.

But quickly I began to receive comments asking why I don't just give it up and buy a longarm already?! Why screw handles to the ceiling and clamp bungee cords to my quilts when I could just buy a big machine to quilt my big quilts so much easier?

I'll be honest - these derisive, eye rolling kind of comments really boil my blood. Nothing makes me madder than one quilter scoffing at the ideas of another quilter or "putting her in her place." And I'm really sick and tired of the snobbery that comes with machine choice. It shouldn't matter what you stitch on so long as you ARE STITCHING!

So allow me a rant on this Saturday afternoon as I explain exactly why I absolutely don't want or need a longarm to quilt my quilts, even the really big ones. Yes, I expect I'll annoy a lot of people with this post, so if you'd rather not get mad at me, feel free to check out videos today instead.

Keep in mind that I'm not attacking quilters who want longarms or who own them.

I'm just sharing my opinion why I absolutely, positively don't want one, and I'm attacking the elitist, snobby attitude that surrounds machine choice.

7 reasons why I don't want or need a longarm machine:

#7 - They're huge - If I installed even a small frame in my basement, I would have to completely rearrange my sewing space to accommodate the large, bulky contraption.

Right now I have several tables set up around my Janome Horizon, but if I needed to, I could work with a much smaller setup. I could even collapse all the tables and quilt in a closet if I absolutely needed to.

But with a longarm, the ability to downsize is essentially impossible. It's going to be huge and it's going to take up a ton of space. There is no way to make a 20" long machine any smaller!

Now let's talk about the attitudes surrounding the size: The general attitude is IF you're serious and IF you're dedicated to quilting, you will spend the money, remodel your house, rearrange your living room, etc. - essentially do whatever you need to do to make a longarm fit.

Quilters that don't have dedicated sewing studios, who quilt when they can with the space they make on the dining room table or laundry room, are they really any less dedicated or interested or skilled in the hobby than those with wide expanses of space? No. Absolutely not.

That kind of snobbery about space really needs to end. Work with what you have, make the best of the space you are given, and when you see opportunities for improvements, such as better lighting or storage, make the changes that need to happen!

#6 - They're expensive - I can stomach shelling out $10,000 for a good used car if we're needing one, but I can't wrap my brain around spending even $4000 on a quilting machine.

When I first got into quilting, $300 was the absolute most I could spend on a machine, and I still remember the look on the dealer's face when I told her my budget. She thought I was a waste of her time.

Again the attitude from the Elitists is IF you're serious and IF you really love quilting, then it should be no problem to take out a loan, refinance your house, sell your kid, etc. in order to get the machine of your dreams.

But the fact is, it really doesn't matter how much money you have to throw into quilting! I've known many quilters who have obviously more money than sense (or skill) and buy hugely expensive machines that just sit and collect dust.

A bigger, better, more complicated machine does NOT make you a better quilter, and it will not instantly improve your free motion quilting skill. Only time and practice can do that!

#5 - I Quilt for Me - This should probably be my slogan. I should put it on t-shirts so everyone knows how selfish I am!

Why is this important? Because in order to afford a longarm quilting system, most quilters will start quilting for other quilters.

This isn't a problem in and of itself. Lord knows, I support anyone wanting to create their own business and make money on their own.

But here's what I do have a problem with - the quilters that DON'T want to turn their hobby and passion into a business feeling pushed and prodded into it due to the high cost of the machine.

As I've written before, finding a balance between a craft you love and your business is an endless battle. I have no idea how quilters who longarm for money can turn off the business aspect of the craft in order to find enjoyment in the quilting for themselves. That is one situation I never want to find myself in and another reason why a longarm is not for me.

#4 - I quilt from the center - I like quilting my quilts from the center of the quilt to the outside edges, filling each section with color and seeing the quilt come to life.

While I have never quilted an entire quilt on a longarm, I know you don't really quilt from the center in the same way. While everyone has a different opinion about this, personally I would dislike having to work from edge to edge from the top to the bottom of a quilt.

What if I had a section on my quilt that covered 50 inches of space from the top to the middle? With a domestic machine, I can start in the center and fill that entire space, maintaining the design and fills and thread color throughout.

From what I understand about longarms and how they work, I'd have about 20" of space to work on at a time, then I'd have to break thread and advance the quilt to get to the rest of the area. While yes, I know professional longarmers that can do this perfectly, it just seems a bit counter-intuitive to me.

#3 - I don't want to learn how to quilt all over again - I'm a pretty good quilter on a domestic sewing machine. I can easily stitch on a 1/8" scale and achieve the dense stitches I like to create on a quilt. On a longarm, it might take years for me to achieve this kind of mastery.

While the two are pretty much the same as far as forming and quilting designs, moving the machine rather than moving the quilt is quite a different application of the stitches.

The few times I have touched a longarm, I've been literally pulled around by the inertia of the huge, heavy machine. Yes, I'm sure I could learn how to wrangle it in and eventually learn how to control it, but I don't really want to. If I can quilt on a domestic, why would I ever need a longarm?!

Now for the attitude that really cheeses me off - most people cannot believe I quilt on a domestic! They look at me like I've grown two heads when I explain that I don't own a longarm and don't want one.

It seems that everyone now assumes that longarm = awesome quilting and that is just not true. You can achieve gorgeous stitches on ANY machine you use, so long as you take the time to find them.

#2 - Most quilters start on domestic machines - Most quilters getting into the hobby have a domestic sewing machine, or can easily get one for under $500.

What does this have to do with my choice? It comes down to being an effective teacher. If most beginners start on a domestic sewing machine, that's the machine I should be teaching on.

Yes, I could make YouTube videos of me swinging a longarm around on a frame, but I'd likely loose 80% of the beginners that read this project because that's not the machine you have or the way you quilt.

It's important for me to be a good teacher, even if I'm just teaching online and will likely never see you in person. I want to know I'm reaching the most people and helping them in the clearest way on the machine that most have access to.

#1 - It's NOT any easier - There's this idea that longarm quilting is SO much easier than domestic machine quilting. I sincerely doubt this is true. Yes, longarms involve moving the machine and not the quilt, and for some people that might work better for the way your brain works.

However, just because you have a 20 inch throat, and just because the quilt is wound up on a frame doesn't mean you're going to instantly touch a longarm and be transported into a world of perfect stitches and golden tension.

Check out any forum from yahoo groups to individual forums for each manufacturer and you're going to find hundreds of posts from beginners desperate to understand how to use their machine.

I've spoken to many quilters about their decision to buy a longarm and most stories go something like this:
"I wanted to learn how to free motion, but I just couldn't get the hang of it on the machine I had. And then I met so-and-so and she said I needed a longarm to do that kind of quilting. So I went out and bought one and it was SO expensive, but then I got it home and I still couldn't quilt! But since I've spent all that money I HAVE to learn on this machine!"
So rather than spend the time and energy needed to get comfortable quilting on a domestic, most of the quilter's I've spoken to have been seduced by the dark side and purchased a longarm, only to find that, while frame quilting might be different, but it still requires hours of practice to master.

And that is the point of this entire ranting article! YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE!

I don't care whether you're quilting on a $300, $4000, or $30,000 machine, you cannot achieve master of the machine just by turning it on.

You have to stitch on it, play with it, adjust it, adjust your setup around it, keep stitching, and eventually you will find your way through the ugly stitches and into that perfect place where the speed of the machine and the movement of your hands finds a balance.

So please stop blaming your machine for all your problems and fantasizing that a bigger, better, more expensive machine will fix everything. Chances are, it's not the machines fault. Spend more time quilting, less time complaining, and you will find better stitches very quickly.

Staying afraid of it, terrified you'll "ruin" a quilt, that's a place that will keep you treading water for the rest of your life. Look back to the first block you pieced - was it perfect? Stop expecting the first quilts you quilt to be perfect!

Here's another final quick tip - if your tension isn't perfect, please ignore it.

This is the #1 reason why quilters start, and then stop free motion quilting forever. But if you ignore those ugly stitches, if you plow through them like a bulldozer with no brakes, you will find your way through to beautiful stitches eventually.

Quilt every day for the next month - just 30 minutes each day - and I'll bet you'll see an enormous improvement in your quilting stitches.



Friday, September 23, 2011

StudioE Fabric Challenge

Recently I was recommended to participate in the StudioE Fabric Challenge by my quilting friend Susan Brubaker Knapp.

Basically the challenge was to create a quilt using fabrics from StudioE tone on tone lines: Just Color and Watermark.

The company wants the quilts to to be made to specific sizes so they will all fit together nicely to create a quilt / art gallery effect in the Studio E Fabric booth at Houston International Quilt Festival.

Since I received a large selection of green, blue, and purple fabric, I've decided to create a simple landscape quilt for the challenge that should finish around 24" x 48":

free motion quilting | Leah DaySince I've just gotten back from the Ricky Tims Seminar, I really want to try out some of the new techniques I've learned on this quilt. The biggest thing I learned from the Seminar was to work faster using simpler construction techniques.

So the entire top was pieced in 2 days using Ricky's Caveman Construction technique! How's that for fast?

free motion quilting | Leah DayAbove is a shot of slicing and laying out the fabrics for the sky section. It's a very free-form way to piece. You wouldn't use this method if you want EXACTLY this design or EXACTLY that shape. It's more just how your rotary cutter slices them and how things fit back together.

So now that the top is together, I'm off to press and starch the snot out of it, then baste it to death to get ready for the quilting!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Memories to Keep, Memories to Lose

Yesterday I drove to Asheboro, NC to see my grandmother's old house and my dad's shop one last time before it was sold this week. I just wanted the chance to take photographs of the place one last time...

I have a lot of memories of this place because this was always a quiet, cool refuge. Going to Grandma's always meant ice cream, Pepsi, sliced apples, and peanut butter cookies. It also meant hours of mindless tv, something we didn't have at home.

But most of my memories are out in my dad's shops.

Rather than fight my sisters for the best chair or the remote control, I'd instead head outside to sit on these steps:

This was my safe spot in the shop where I knew I wouldn't be in the way, where I could sit and hammer nails into scrap wood, building beds for my dolls and boxes for my toys, more often banging my thumb than the nail.

I spent literally hours sitting on those steps, watching my dad. I learned early on the best way to get to stay in the shop was to keep quiet, and if you banged your finger, not to cry unless it was bleeding really bad.

When I was little, my dad also had a blacksmith shop where a large coal forge would heat metal to red hot so he could pound it into a new shape. That smell - metal, dust, oil, coal, and fire is a combination you just can't find outside a blacksmith or welding shop, and takes me right back to my childhood standing in that shop.

I'm sad to say that the blacksmith shop and all the adjoining barns burned down in 2004. This is all that remains of that building now:

I can remember the shock in my dad's voice when he told me about the fire. He'd lost something huge that day: a hobby, a source of income, an escape, a refuge, and I didn't even realize it. I was too wrapped up with wedding plans and starting my life with Josh to really take a second to see and hear what was going on.

I think I've learned my lesson because when Dad told me the closing date, I knew the most important thing was to get over to the land one more time, to take one more set of photos, and to say good-bye to it all.

Taking photographs is the best possible way to keep and preserve the memories this place has, and it's really the only thing I can keep to look back. Because while this is just a plot of land with buildings on it, this place holds important memories for me that I do want to keep. For my entire life that was Grandma's house and Dad's shops, and now they're not.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the shops, barns, or the house from when I was a kid. Most people don't just randomly take photos of structures, probably assuming they will always be there. The fire in my dad's shop proved that theory wrong, though.

I guess what I'm getting around to, and what I'm learning right now is the fact that nothing is permanent.

Growing up, the house we lived in was in a constant state of renovation. Dad moved from room to room, replacing the floors, refinishing the walls, sanding, painting, spackling the ceilings.

He took infinite care and used the best materials, yet 20 years later, the signs of wear are evident. That perfect, pristine room I remember as a kid is now in seriously need of a new coat of paint and some TLC.

And if that is true for a room in a house, can it also be true for people as well? Are we not also in a constant state of change?

We age a bit every day and, just like the rooms in a house, if issues are ignored for too long, illness can set in, diseases fester, and the job of fixing what is broken becomes harder and harder.

So I guess the question is - if we are constantly changing, is the change for the better or the worse?

Now I don't mean to alarm you with fears of imminent mortality! I just happened to hit a TJ Maxx on the way home and found myself staring into a full length, brightly lit mirror as I wiggled, hopped, and squished myself into jeans that were supposed to fit.

Jeans shopping is always a humbling experience, but this time I took a good long look and said "If there is anything you don't like in this mirror, it is in your power to fix it every single day."

No, I can't shed 10 pounds overnight, but I can start walking daily. And how about that gym membership? How about using it?

I'm sure you're rolling your eyes - this girl has no idea what 40 / 50 / 60 feels like - just wait!

No, I don't know what those ages will feel like yet, but I do know that hitting 28 next month is waking me up to the realization that from here on out, if I sit back and twiddle my fingers, my body will just keep changing for the worse, not the better.

And if change is needed - positive, lasting change - what better time to start than right now? Standing in front of that mirror, I took a good long look at myself and the clothes I was wearing and considering buying.

The shirt I was wearing was a hand-me-down from one of my sisters and a size or two too big. It certainly wasn't helping my self esteem to see how badly it fit or how dingy the color looked under the bright lights.

For years I've kept the same clothes, and no, there's nothing wrong with that at all. The thing is - I haven't liked any of these clothes. I've kept them out of default because they sort of fit and sort of looked good, and were sort of comfortable.

Yet they never really felt like mine. My oldest sister would love to point this out with questions like "Is that my shirt?" It didn't matter whether she gave it to me 2 months or 10 years ago, it was always hers.

So I've had this huge closet full of clothes that were never really mine and all had memories attached - mostly negative - of people and places and events that I just don't want to remember anymore.

I don't want to remember my wedding shower, which should have been a wonderful event, but was instead turned into a trial-by-fire because I had to endure the most hated question: "Are you really going to wear that?" which of course resulted in me changing my outfit 10 times and obsessing about every detail. The event was then tinged with my discomfort and awkwardness.

I really don't want to remember my freshman year of college when I wore clothes 3 sizes too big because I was afraid of looking too pretty. I really don't want to think about my sisters when I put on that blue shirt or that black pair of pants.

So I came home yesterday and opened my closet door. All summer I've been needing to go through this closet and clean it out. I never really organized my winter things from last year, so all the shelves were a jumbled mess.

I started folding and sorting. Anything that had bad memories attached was thrown out. Anything that reminded me of someone or an unpleasant time in my life was thrown out. Anything that didn't fit nicely, didn't flatter my figure or wasn't comfortable was thrown out.

In the end, I was left with bare shelves and a selection of shirts and pants I will actually enjoy wearing:

free motion quilting | Leah DayWhile this looks extremely bare, this is more than enough clothes for 2 weeks. Why in the world should I have more than that? Do I ever go on 4 week long trips? No. Do I ever stop washing my clothes for 3 weeks on end? No. Will I ever need more clothes than this? Probably not. I'm certainly not in any hurry to fill this area up again.

There's something called the 80/20 principle that is true for so many things. If you apply it to your closet, you will find you will wear only 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. We naturally wear the things that feel good and look nice most often, and avoid those things that look bad OR make us feel bad.

All those clothes (5 garbage bags worth) were just bad - bad looking, bad feeling, bad everything.

Why keep them?

So that's it for this strangely introspective day! It feels so good to be back home knowing that property has sold, but that I have photos to remember it by, and also that all those clothes are gone and all the bad memories they contained.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

The Most Hilarious Quilting Calendar EVER!

If you've been quilting for awhile, chances are you've seen a good number of quilting calendars. On each page a beautiful quilt shines out, full of bright colors and cheerful detail, perfect in every way.

But don't you find this all a bit boring? Can't we spice our quilts up a bit and create a calendar that is truly noteworthy?

Yes! Introducing the Quilter's Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito Calendar:

This calendar was put together by Megan over at The Bitchy Stitcher who via a combination if interesting circumstances, came to own 14 photographs of naked men draped in quilts, clutching burritos.

No, not their burritos! Get your mind out of the gutter!

Each man is tastefully arranged on, or draped in a quilt, staring off into the sunset or right into your eyes. You can see a few more photos right here to get an idea of exactly how spicy this calendar is!

Another wonderful thing about this calendar is it's helping a family in serious need. Megan's brother has been battling brain cancer for more than a year, and all the profits from the sale will be going to him and his family.

Now you can pick up a copy for $19.99 right here at Right now you can get 15% off your order if you use the coupon code OKTOBERFEST305 before September 23rd.

I just wish I'd managed to convince (bribe / trick / force) Josh to pose draped in Release Your Light....oh well, there's always next year!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 321 - Double Sharp Stippling

I'm almost ready to hit the road for Asheboro, NC. I'm not really sure what my internet connection will be like, so I might be a bit MIA this week.

So rather than leave you all with nothing to do (yeah right!) let's learn one more design this week. This is what happens when you stitch Sharp Stippling on top of Sharp Stippling:

free motion quilting | Leah DayWe’ve already tried this once with Double Stippling and I really think you should give both of these designs a try. Both will help you understand a bit about scale (size of the design) because the first set of lines are stitched on a huge scale, then the second set of lines are stitched on a smaller scale.

If you're having trouble visualizing this design, watching how it works might help!

Difficulty Level - Beginner. This is one of those wonderful situations where a very easy design only LOOKS complex. Start with a large scale, very open Sharp Stippling, then stitch back over with a smaller version, bisecting the first.

Because you have a guideline to work off of, Double Sharp Stippling is probably easier to stitch than the original design!

Design Family - Foundational. This design starts with a foundation of flowing lines that occasionally come to a sharp point. You can fit this into almost any area of your quilts so long as you can stitch a foundation into the area first.

Directional Texture - All Directions. Your texture entirely depends on the texture of your foundational line. The more curvy, the more flowing movement you will have!

Suggestions for Use - Hmm... I have to be honest and admit that taking two trips in such short a time has totally fried my brain! If you have an awesome suggestion for where to use this design, please share it in the comments section below.

Back of Double Sharp Stippling
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 320 - Echo Feathers

Whoo Hoo! I'm back, unpacked, and already working on a quilt top using some of the techniques from the seminar.

But more than anything else, I really want to get back to designs! Many people liked Moon Feathers, but somehow I think this more traditional, formal version will still be the most popular. Here’s what happens when you take that simple Feather Filler design and surround it with connecting echoes so it stands out that much better:

free motion quilting | Leah DayEchoing really works in two ways: connecting and non-connecting echoes. I’ve chosen to stitch connecting echoes for this design so each echo arch comes down and connects with the space between the feathers, then bounces up and around the feather, then connects again with the other side.

This creates a bit more texture in these areas, a bit more drama and elegance that will stand out on the surface of your quilts. Play with both forms of echoing to discover which you like the best.

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. Feathers require practice. It really is as simple as that! When I started this project 2 years ago, I could NOT stitch a feather to save my life. Don’t believe me? Check out the original photo for feather filler!

free motion quilting | Leah DayI think I should have named this Deranged Feathers since that's really what it looked like at the time!

The more you free motion, the more you draw or stitch this curvy shape, the better you will get at it. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that feathers work differently for everyone. Play with stitching this lots of different ways to discover which way works the best for you.

Filler Design Type - Stem Centered. Feathers start with a single stem, then branch off to fill your quilting space. You can even fill the stem with other designs like Chain of Pearls to add even more texture and beauty to the design.

Directional Texture - All Directions. Your texture in this design really depends on your starting stem. The stem will also always be very visible so keep that in mind as you stitch it.

Suggestions for Use - Over the top feathers like these can really go anywhere on your quilts, but they will look best when you give them space to stand out and show off. Consider trying a simple whole cloth quilt this winter and see just how amazing your feathers can become!

Back of Echo Feathers
free motion quilting | Leah DayFeel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts
and send in a picture to show it off!

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Red Obsession

I think it's high time I shared a not-so-secret secret. I'm absolutely obsessed with the color red.

But it's really not just any old color red. I'm not a huge fan of fire engine red (too loud), and I walk away from pink, obviously because it's NOT red (no, not even hot pink).

It's that darker red somewhere between burgundy and crayon standard red....

Somewhere like right here:

free motion quilting | Leah DayYes this is a Miche bag, though it's really pointless to be able to change out the shells (outer covering) so easily. I just keep the red one on all the time since it matches so nicely with my red shoes!

And the laptop and case (though the case is a bit too fire engine red for my taste):

free motion quilting | Leah DayFor my birthday coming up next month Josh ordered me a new game boy and didn't even have to ask the color:

free motion quilting | Leah DayAnd of course this is my favorite fabric:

free motion quilting | Leah DayI only have around 5 yards of this left and I'm going to cry my eyes out when it's all gone.

For reference this is Timeless Treasures extra wide 108" Tonga batiks and once upon a time (2 years ago) they made these spray washes of solid colors. I believe this was called Claret, but I can't quite remember. All I know is I WANT MORE OF THIS FABRIC AND WILL PAY ANY PRICE!!!

(yep, I screamed that. Red obsession really can drive you over the edge.)

Since we're in the sewing room, then you already know the color of my main sewing machine:

free motion quilting | Leah DayAnd since it comes up every time I show pics of the machine, YES! I'm still in love with my Janome Horizon!

Last week we expanded the red collection to include this awesome red truck!

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis is a quite beat up 1990 Nissan pickup that has been around the block and back. All I care is that it works, it gets me from A to B, and it will allow me to buy furniture without calling a friend to haul it home!

Of course, being obsessed with red might make you think that red belongs absolutely everywhere.

It doesn't.

It especially does not belong on the floor as carpet where it shows EVERY speck of dirt in the world:

free motion quilting | Leah DayI've been wanting to rip out this carpet since the day we moved in, but since it's the 1980's wall-to-wall style and covers nearly every square foot of the upstairs of the house and will require moving 2 large fish tanks to replace, I've just decided to make my peace and live with it a bit longer.

So that's it for my red obsession. It is my absolute favorite color and just makes me feel good when I look at it.

Wait! One last red thing! My Sun and Feathers jacket is also red:

free motion quilting | Leah DayApparently I'm not the only one that likes it because it's heading to MQX West next week! Cross your fingers it makes a safe trip there and back again!

Let's go quilt (preferably something red),


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trip to Asheville, NC

Gosh, this is a weird week! I can't remember the last time I went for 4 days straight without posting something new and I'm feeling a bit of blogger / internet withdrawal!

We did have internet access in our villa at the Crowne Plaza, but it was a temperamental sort. Anytime you actually NEEDED to be online (to post, check email, etc.) it would slow down to a slower-than-dialup speed. Anytime I was just surfing, looking up random stuff, watching YouTube cooking shows, it worked just fine.

And please don't be intimidated by the word "villa." We're staying in this round cabin thingy (a "yurt") that is literally in the middle of nowhere on this big golf course.

I decided early on that I really needed to burn a few pounds and walk a lot of this trip, and walk I have. There's actually a shortcut from the villa to the expo center, but it's not really a short cut so much as a tall cut - up all these very steep hills:

But despite my sore legs, we've all had a great time! It was only after driving up, getting the key, opening the door, dropping my stuff, and sitting down on the couch that I realize I really REALLY needed a vacation about 2 months ago!

I've designed a few quilts while we've been away. Here's a goddess whose name will likely be Wild Woman:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Now I'm off to rest my sore legs in a super hot bath! Tomorrow it will be a quick trip back home for only 1 day before I'm off again to Asheboro, NC to say good-bye to my grandmothers house one last time.

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Emergence - New Quilting Fillers

You can probably tell by now that I'm taking this week off from posting new designs. I figure with our trip to Asheville coming up quick on Thursday, I should be spending as much time as possible quilting Emergence before we leave.

So I've been quilting a LOT over the last two days and this pretty girl is starting to show it:

free motion quilting | Leah DayThis quilt is being filled on roughly a 1/8" scale, which means I'm leaving around 1/8" between each line of quilting in the background sections.

The body of the goddess was stitched on a bigger scale with quite large, open feathers. I'm hoping the bigger scale for this section will make the goddess stand out more than the background and the sinkhole below when everything is finished.

free motion quilting | Leah DayAs for the fillers I'm using, quite a few have been designed just for this quilt. I just sat down with a piece of paper and started drawing, trying to find designs that fit nicely together without all looking the same.

For the green background sections, I wanted to use leaf designs and first selected Flowing Leaves, a design that will be shared later in the project:

free motion quilting | Leah DayThe blue sections are being filled with water designs. My absolute favorite is Swirling Water:

free motion quilting | Leah DayAnd for the purple sections, I decided flower inspired designs would be fun. The purple design above was created by Nina Paley in one of her gorgeous creations.

The sinkhole section of course needs a different brand of fillers so I've again chosen straight line designs which contrast nicely with the curvy designs on top.

The wider rings are all being stitched with Gravel Stitch (will be posted later) which is basically a sharp angled version of Stippling:

free motion quilting | Leah DayFor the thinner rings I've used a variety of designs, but make sure they had more travel stitching and thread play to create a darker effect on the surface so they stand out from the other rings.

I'm really pleased by how this is working out, though the ripped, wild applique section is forcing me to quilt it a bit weirdly. It's not really working straight from the center to the edges as usual. Instead it's working more from the center to the top and bottom and then out from there.

I'm just being careful to watch for ripples and pleats. With so much stitching, and such a heavy quilt, it's easy for things to become distorted. The quilt hanging system is helping SO much to reduce the weight of the quilt and make it effortless to quilt. I should have installed that years ago.

So that's it for today! It's going to be a weird week, but I'm going to try to bring my camera (and the connector cable) so I can upload photos of the Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson seminar this weekend.

The next week will also be a bit odd as I'm traveling immediately to Asheboro, NC to help my dad out on the final stages of selling my grandmothers house. It's a bit bittersweet, but I absolutely have to walk the land one more time and grab some photos before it's gone for good.

Let's go quilt!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quilt too Big? Hang it Up!

free motion quilting | Leah DayAre you still struggling to quilt big quilts on your machine? Is the bulk and weight of the quilt really getting you down?

It's time to start thinking vertically with our quilting setup! This is a suspended quilting setup that is lifting the bulk of the quilt up off my tables so I no longer have to fight the drag of the big quilt. I set this up yesterday because quilting Emergence was proving extremely difficult as more areas were filled.

I'm not sure whether it's the dense quilting that makes the quilt surface stiff, or it's the weight, or maybe both, but moving and shifting this large quilt smoothly was becoming a challenge. Then I remembered a photo I saw on Caryl Bryer Fallert's facebook page and decided it was time to build my quilting setup UP.

While it looks really complex, it's actually not. I installed this hanging system in about 30 minutes and it only cost around $25.

Here's how to do it yourself:

free motion quilting | Leah DayMaterials:
- 3-5 metal handles - These have to be the heavy duty, aluminum sort that come with thick screws to install from the front. I started with 3, but will probably pick up 2 more to install more handles to the left side of the machine.

- Bungee cords - You'll only need about 5-7 of these, but it really helps to have an assortment or to pick up the kind that adjust. The key is making sure they're long enough - at least 24" - 36" or longer because you can always adjust or tie them to make them shorter, but you can't make them longer.

- Clamps - There are many different types of clamps, but I already like the kind that squeeze to open and have rubber pads on the ends. Whatever you use, make sure it won't damage your quilt and will be easy for you to open and reposition whenever you like. The more complicated, expensive kind are not really the best suited as they take more time to reposition.


1. Move everything away from your tables
- Do not leave your sewing machine in place as you will create a lot of dust and dirt drilling into the ceiling. Move your quilts, thread, machine, and any tools away from this area for the time being.

2. Find a stud in your ceiling - I do have a stud finder, but find it often glitches out on my ceilings so I just drilled very small holes until I found the areas where the wood beam ran across the ceiling. Place a handle over the stud and mark the location for the holes, then drill the holes, and screw the handles in place.

free motion quilting | Leah DayIf you can, try to locate these handles around 12 - 24 inches BEHIND your machine. You might also want to install a few around 16 - 24" to the left of the machine to pick up that side of the quilt as well.

free motion quilting | Leah Day3. Modify the clamps - All of the clamps I picked up had small holes in the handles. I used a 3/8" bit and drilled through this hole carefully to widen it. Make sure the wider hole will fit over the hook on the bungee cord.

free motion quilting | Leah Day4. Hang up the bungee cords and clamps. Adjust and readjust until you find a system that works. It's hard to say exactly where the clamps should be because I think this is a system that will be different for everyone. Just make sure your clamps aren't too close to the table top or they won't lift the quilt up enough to make a difference.

free motion quilting | Leah Day5. Go quilt a king sized quilt with your awesome new hanging quilting system!

free motion quilting | Leah DayAfter shooting this last photo, I sat down and quilted 2 more rings into the sinkhole section. It was AMAZING! No drag, no fighting, no pulling, no pushing. This is the way quilting is meant to be on a domestic - easy!

I am still using a Queen Supreme Slider on the machine because the area I'm quilting around the needle is still flat to the tabletop and still needs to slide easily. I'd say the combination of the hanging system to get the bulk of the quilt off the table, plus the slider to make the quilting area move evenly and easily is the best combination.

Keep in mind that this setup will work great even if you don't quilt densely like I do. If you're quilting a bed quilt in this manner, you will likely have to adjust the clamps often, probably around every 12" or so, but once you get used to it, it's really not difficult.

So now there is absolutely, positively no excuse not to quilt all those full, queen, and king sized tops in your closet! You really can do this easily on a domestic sewing machine so long as you take the time to look at your setup and be willing to make continual improvements on the way it works.

Let's go quilt!


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