Stitching Times serves up stories, examples and tutorials about needlework related crafts, especially quilting and crochet. Almost all of the projects shown have been designed by Kay Stephenson

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Improvisational Quilting: Floating Frames

For most of the quilts I design and make I start out with a pretty complete design on paper before I begin cutting into fabric. The quilt I made for my niece Coleen, dubbed Floating Frames, was not like that at all. When I saw this fabric collection from P&B Textiles in the Hawthorne Threads newsletter, I really loved it and ordered a half yard of most of the prints in the line, plus a couple of recommended coordinating fabrics. I always love it when online shops take the guesswork out of finding coordinates, don't you?
photo courtesy Hawthorne Threads
A couple of months later, after looking at it for a bit, I decided the colors would work for a quilt I wanted to make for my niece. However, I knew I was going to try something improvisational, so guessing the amount of fabric I would need was a bit of a challenge. Just to be safe, I ordered a few more prints and solids. Well and then I didn't think I had enough fabric for the backing... Before I knew it, I had 14 1/2 yards of fabric.

Hah! Talk about crazy town. The good news is that after making a quilt that measures approximately 50 by 60 inches, I still have almost six yards left in pieces ranging from more than a fat quarter to more than a yard. That's enough for another whole quilt top! 

But enough about stashing building and busting. The real question is this. How do you write up a pattern for a truly improvisational quilt? My conclusion is that I can't. Others have, I know, but I could never tell you at this point how to precisely measure and cut to make a quilt that looks exactly like the one I made.

I needed that big red dahlia for the center!
However, I can share a bit of process. The first thing I did was to cut out some large blocks (six by six inch) of the prints I wanted to be focal points. Next I cut strips of all of the other fabrics in widths of 3 inches, 2 1/2 inches, 1 1/2 inches, and one inch. I used these strips to build frames around the center blocks, building them up and trying to maintain a contrast of light and dark with small pops of red.

Frames floating on a black wall
After looking at the resulting big framed blocks, and laying them out against a black background this way and that, I decided that I wanted to set them on point and add lots of smaller blocks scattered in and around the larger ones - much like a modern grouping of photographs on a wall, but all askew.

This little block almost fell off the edge
This is where things got interesting. It was easy enough to cut various pieces of the colorweave black (my background fabric) and to join and square the blocks up into rows. What I hadn't counted on was the corners. In order to finish the corner pieces I cut a bunch of triangles. What I neglected to pay attention to was where the bias edge was going to fall on these triangles. As you can imagine, I had some fits (and colorful language) when these bias edges tried to warp the whole thing out of shape. Next time I would cut more carefully to place the bias edge (if there must be one) in the least difficult location. In my opinion, that is along an outside edge where the whole thing can be squared up if need be.
Quilt back
Despite my whining, this whole project really was fun, and I will definitely continue to do more improvisational piecing - even on point projects like this one. I even did a wonky piece job on the back of the quilt. Just a glutton for punishment I guess. Though I learned a great trick for making sure that a pieced back is lined up with a pieced front in this Wendy Butler Burns class on

Labels tell the story
So I can't give you a pattern to follow, but I can give you a suggestion. Buy a stack of coordinating fabrics and start to play. When you are finished, you can add a label like this one that tells the world, "I made this".

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Modern Quilt Guild Riley Blake Challenge

Quilt Front
Last fall I signed up for the Riley Blake Challenge with the Modern Quilt Guild, and today is the day! All quilts have to be finished and photos posted on the guild website. today. I finished mine a couple of weeks ago and posted it there, but waited until today for the big reveal here.
Quilt back
Fabric I was given
I was provided initially with this stack of fabrics. There were six cuts that were each ten by ten. Though others have made quilts for the challenge that used all of the fabrics, I just couldn't wrap my mind around including all of them, so I pulled the blue check and yellow dot and decided to work with the rest, plus more fabric I purchased and pulled from stash.

Fabric I used
A couple of these fabrics are ombres, which means that they shade from light to dark and back to light across the width of the fabric. As you can see in the finished quilt photo, I tried to leverage that gradation in the quilt so that the background values are lighter at the top shading to darker at the bottom.
You may also recognize the design of the quilt as a simpler version of Tetris Hex that I made for one of my nieces. I've finally managed to write the pattern for that one, and you can find it here, along with comments to make this Riley Blake quilt as well. 

Isn't it great to start the week writing about something that has been accomplished? Now on to the next.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Soothing Shelter Animals

 Pet lover?

My friend Alice isn't a woman I would have described as either a dog person or a cat person. When I first met her our whole circle of friends had dogs and/or cats, and though she never seemed afraid of them, and was concerned for their welfare, she had no real interest in petting or playing with them. Over time that attitude has changed, but I still never expected to hear that she had adopted a trio of stray kittens. Life does indeed still hold surprises!

In addition to our interest in animals, we share of love of crafts. Alice is a bit of a knitting addict, and, as this blog will attest, I'm more than a little obsessed with quilting, and crochet, and, and... This has led us to share back and forth little snippets of interest we find on the Internet about projects and the work of other crafters.

Comfort for Critters

A few weeks ago, Alice circulated a story amongst her crafty friends about Comfort for Critters. This is a wonderful organization that in their own words, "is a 100% volunteer program that creates handmade blankets to comfort homeless pets living in animal shelters. While these animals await adoption, the blankets provide a comfortable bed year-round. When they are adopted, their blanket goes with them, providing something familiar as they adjust to their "forever family." Now don't worry, there is plenty of yarn and fabric in the future of this post, but first a bit more background.

If you have ever volunteered at an animal shelter or rescue, or just visited one to pick out a new companion, you know that a shelter can be a terrifying place for an animal who is lost or has been abandoned for one reason or another. The noise of dogs barking can be deafening, and the smell of chemicals necessary to keep such places safe and sanitary can be overwhelming. Add to this the fact that dogs and cats may be housed in close quarters with animals they do not know, and moved from cage or kennel to kennel as cleaning and adoptions take place. Though shelter staff make heroic efforts to give these unfortunates the care and loving attention they need, it is not uncommon for formerly well adjusted animals to become shut down and depressed.

How do blankets help? 

These blankets are given to an individual animal, and move with them from cage to cage, providing a bit of something soft and warm, and that smells like them. This can be a great comfort in that stressful situation. And when they go to their forever home, the blanket goes with them to ease the transition to yet another new environment.

Comfort for Critters gathers the donated blankets and distributes them to participating shelters, which makes it easy for volunteers to just make the blankets - knitted, crocheted, quilted or sewn of soft fleece - and leave the logistics to someone else. Unfortunately the only shelter on their list in our state (Georgia) isn't all that closeby, and we wanted to do something local.

Act Local

Enter Audrey Shoemaker, the Volunteer Coordinator at Fulton County Animal Services. Fulton County runs a huge shelter with as many as 100 cats and 250 to 300 dogs at any one time. We decided that was much too large a commitment for our small group. However, right now there are only about 30 cats and kittens at the shelter. Finally we decided that we would try to make enough blankets for all of the cats and puppies, plus a few larger blankets for the dogs that are going out to adoption events. And we want to have them all done by the end of February.

We are making progress. Here is the first batch

the blankets for cats and puppies are small - just 20 by 20 inches square. This one is crocheted in a cushy basketweave and used up a bunch of leftover yarn from other projects

This quilt will be for a larger dog, and uses a cute animal print with some flannel borders

Another large dog quilt made out of fleece

Fleece is the obvious choice for a person who wants to participate but doesn't have the skills or time to make something. Just cut fleece to the right size - perhaps use a rotary cutter to make a wavy edge as in this example - and you're done. Fleece doesn't ravel, so no hemming required.

I'm repurposing an old quilt top that I originally pieced as a queen size quilt to be sold for charity. I kind of hated it after it was pieced, so never finished it. Now I'm cutting it up and should have about ten of these puppy quilts ready in no time.

Cute quilt back right?

Join in the fun!

Are you interested in joining us? Shoot me an email at and I'll coordinate with you on what to make and how to get the finished blankets to me. This really is a labor of love, and something that is so easy to do.