Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Portable Design Wall – Tutorial

My sewing room is small and, sadly, I don’t have room for much in the way of a design wall on an actual wall.  Instead, I mostly use a portable design wall.  It isn’t large enough for a full size bed quilt but I can work wall quilts and the better part of a lap quilt on it. 

I’ve been using the same one for years.  It’s gotten a little too much love, and its batting has actually worn through.  Since I needed to replace the batting, I thought I’d show how it’s put together for anyone who may be interested.


  • 3 insulation panels (I used R-Tech) sized 2' by 4'
  • Warm and Natural Batting – 59" by 84"
  • duct tape
  • flat head thumb tacks

Directions:  I was simply replacing my batting so my panels were already taped together, but I think you can get the gist of it here.

  1. The panels have a silver side and a styrofoam plastic side.  Place two panels butting up next to each other with the silver side facing you.
  2. Tape them together using the duct tape (tape both the side facing you and the back side – before taping the back side, fold the panels so that the silver sides meet face to face – then tape the side edges of the panels from the back). 
  3. Line up the third panel, back side to back side, with the middle panel.  Tape the side edges together.  Tape the back as well. 
  4. Your panels now have a tri-fold that allows them to either fold out long and straight or fold together so that they all line up.
  5. Lay out your panels on the floor with the silver (front) side up.  Drape the batting so that it completely covers the panels and has fold over allowance on all sides. 
  6. Fold the batting over the edge of the first panel and tape. 
  7. Continue to tape down the batting, moving down the panel.  You want the batting snug and sag free. 
  8. Joining the panels: with the first two panels that you taped together, you can stretch the batting over the join as if the join wasn’t even there.
  9. The second join (the ones where the panels were placed back to back and had their side edges taped together) needs to have the batting mold to fit the stretch that occurs when the last panel is folded back.  Fold the panels so that they are once again back to back.  Smooth the batting over the edges and use the flat head thumbtacks to hold the batting in place.You can see that as you open up the design wall, the batting will lie flat inside that join.   
  10. Continue to tape the batting down in back.
  11. That’s it.  You are done.  I will admit – the back is not a thing of beauty and someone could probably make the back side prettier, but I’ve never bothered.  What matters to me is that I –

Have a single panel to work with: 

A double panel to work with:

Or a triple panel to work with:

It’s light weight so I can carry it either around the house or to a class or friend’s.  It folds up tight enough that I can just tuck it behind the door when I’m not using it.  It’s been a good friend to me over the years.  I’m looking forward to wearing this one out, too!

Monday, March 29, 2010


There are times I can’t help myself.  I see a new gadget or a new technique and I have to dive in – immediately.  (I’m not exactly chastising myself since that is how Miniatures in Minutes came about – I took time off teaching to write a novel and instead became fascinated with how the Fold and Sew technique could be applied to miniature quilts.  What can I say?  Obsession happens).

So, the latest cool thing – the Lil’ Twister tool from Country Schoolhouse – as the pattern notes, the tool for making pinwheels easy. 

Here’s how it works.  You start with a grid of 5" squares.  I was curious how the  Trip Around the World layout would translate into pinwheels so that is how I laid out my patches.  After sewing  the squares together, you add a 3" border.

Then, take the template and lay it over the intersections.  It’s hard to see on the photo but there are two intersecting lines drawn on the template that you use to line up the square over the seam lines.  Cut. 

Here’s another picture showing midway through the cutting process.

Here is the block once it’s been cut out:

Here it is added to the developing quilt layout (a design wall is crucial, I think):

Here’s the layout, ready to sew:

And here’s the top finished.

I am just so amazed that someone was able to visualize how this would work.  (For the record, the tool comes in two sizes – one sized to work with 5" charm packs, the other with 10" Layer Cakes).  Fun, fun, fun.  I have more tessellating pinwheel quilts coming up.   Either a runner for my dining room table or a new topper for the table chest in my office.  More hot pads?  A baby quilt?  With this first one, I just wanted to see how the technique was going to work, so I grabbed from my stash of Japanese taupes (only needed to buy one fabric for this quilt which makes it a Stashbuster, always a good thing).  I’m going to make it up in bright, happy colors as well.

Next question.  How do I quilt this thing?  I’m thinking that first I’ll quilt in the ditch to stabilize it.  Then, perhaps, quilt a quarter inch in for each of the pinwheel designs.  Perhaps alternate some of the design echo with little swirlies in some of the pinwheel designs?  Probably working with the light/dark contrast.  Or just keep it simple with the outlining.  Hmmm.  Ideas anyone?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Club EQ Circles

One of the fun community challenges the Electric Quilt Company offers on their website is ClubEQ.  They present a design challenge for the month: you submit a project file.  In return, you receive a copy of every other project file that was submitted to the challenge.  Way cool.  They also post images of all the quilt designs that were submitted.  There’s an archive that goes back years.  Check it out here

I have to admit I’ve been lax about participating lately, but I recently decided it was again time to drop in on those that really appeal to me.  This month’s challenge  sure did!  The challenge was circles.  Since I’ve already been playing with designing quilts with circles lately, this is the perfect opportunity.  Can’t wait to see what everyone else does. 

Here are the two quilt designs in my project.  I really love this first one.  It’s another one I may actually have to make up.  Those orange tones?  Now this would go in my living room!

Circles Quilt 1

And since I was clearly in a clean and modern mood, this next one is more of the same.  Hmmm.  I like the design but not happy with the colors yet.  I can tackle that another day. 

Cirlces Quilt 2

And now?  Hi ho, hi ho – it’s off to grade I go.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bee Pieceful March Blocks

Just a little time out to make up a couple of swap blocks.  These retro fabrics were so fun to work with.  Here’s the first one:

I wanted to see if I could squeeze another block out of the remaining fabrics.  I needed to piece together one of the red circle squares but I still think this is kind of cute:

That was a fun little break.  Now it’s back to the pink quilt and that stripped border (which, have to admit, I am not looking forward to).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pink Progress

I have finally been making some serious progress on the pink quilt.  Here is the top center pieced section put together:

It’s a snowy overcast day today, so that is looking pretty dark.  Still, there it is, and Jeff was happy to see it.  Here are the border strips sewn together and waiting for the next steps:

I think I may actually finish this!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

EQ6 – Sashing, Part 1

I thought I’d show a little more design exploration here with EQ.  Sashing can often be one of my favorite places to play.  When adding sashing to a quilt, I can simply just add strips.  That is, at times, just exactly what I want.  So this very simple design without strips,

1 block alt value

becomes this design with strips.

1 block sashing 

Not that one is better than the other.  Just two slightly different effects.  Adding sashing is obviously a common enough strategy in quilt design.

I can also add blocks to the sashing. This one puts a diamond in the square block in the sashing (sash borders is checked).


This one puts a simple half-square triangle in the blocks.  Some of the triangles are rotated.  Sash borders is unchecked.


I can also, and this is a  favorite, use blocks in combination, with one block in the sashing strip and another in the cornerstones.  This puts a nine patch in the cornerstones and a stripe in the sashing strips.


Flying Geese look swell in a sashing strip.  Add a diamond in the square block to the sashing cornerstones and I get this:

flying geese border thirties

Or this:


Notice two things in the above two quilt designs.  One, how a seam intersection in the block meets an intersection on the sashing.  When I’m putting blocks next to each other, usually I aim for matching grids.  When I use four geese in the sashing, then a block based on a four patch grid works particularly well in the blocks.

The second thing to notice is that with this coloring and rotation of the geese, there is a star created in the center of the design. 

In addition to matching grids, I also look to repeat design elements.  So, what happens if I put a star in the blocks?

flying geese border star floral

I like that.  What if I double up stars?    

Sashing Flying Geese and Star

Oh, yes.  I like both of those versions.  Stars or diamonds in the center?  I’ll need to decide, though I’m leaning to the double stars.  I’ll play with fabric a little more, though I do really like the reproduction fabrics (of course).   In either case . . .

Remember I said I had plans for that Fons and Porter Flying Geese ruler?  Here it is.  Flying geese in the sashing and flying geese units to make the stars. 

I’m going to make this one up.  Give me a week or two and I’ll start a step by step tutorial for sewing this pattern. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pyramids In Process

I have almost half of the rows done.  It’s coming out very pretty!  I’ll keep chugging away at this, but break is over and so goes the bulk of my sew time.  The rest of today is all about grading.  So far, this is making me very happy.

You can’t really tell how pretty this is from the photo.  Perhaps when it’s finished I can get outside on a good day and get better color.

This one is headed for my TV room.  I’ve been using the same quilt in there for around fifteen years.  It doesn’t seem like that should be possible, but I thought about it and figured, yeah, somewhere a little over fifteen at least.  No wonder I’m tired of looking at it!  This is going to make a lovely replacement.

And because I never seem focused enough to work on just one larger project at a time, I’ve also gone back to the pink quilt and made some more progress on that.  Photos coming soon. 

Meanwhile, enjoy International Quilt Day.  I celebrated by getting a little sewing done and going off to buy another Fons and Porter ruler.    The flying geese one this time.  (I do love those 40% off coupons from JoAnn’s).


I’ve got plans.  You’ll see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pyramid Process

Well, the Spring Break project is in process.  This one is meant to be a stashbuster.  Both Vickie and I collected Asian fabrics, mostly several years ago.  And since then, they’ve just been sitting around.  Time to play.  To begin, we cut lots of triangles. 

Such beautiful fabrics.  Getting them out and playing with them reminded us of why we collected them in the first place.  And, of course, once we had a bunch of them up on the design wall, we decided – what else? – we needed more.  Off to the quilt store.  A little red.  A little turquoise.  A couple more brighteners.

We also cut up some smaller triangles and sewed them up into units – just to scatter in amongst the other triangles.

Then, time to sew triangles into pairs.

And pairs into fours.

And fours into eights.


I still have a few sets to sew up.  After that I can start playing with layout on the design wall.

I love getting together with Vickie for sew days.  Lots of talk and lots of fabric.  There’s only one bad part – getting my machine plugged and unplugged.  See that outlet?  I have to get down on my hands and knees and, with no grace whatsoever, maneuver my head and shoulder through that opening so I can reach it. 

And every single time I do this, two thoughts come to mind.  One: I should really get back to yoga.  Two: I should buy an extension cord.

But, do I ever think of extension cords anytime other than when I’m crawling around down here?  (No.)  And, despite reminding myself frequently that I love yoga, have I called the gym to find out when classes are offered?  (No.)  As my mother would have said, some things are just beyond praying for. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pyramid Play

I mentioned I had a bunch of little triangles just waiting for me to sew them up.  Well, here they are, all sewn up.

Each of the little pyramid sets measures three inches top to bottom.  I was really interested in playing with the technique (rather than thinking much about fabric) so I just grabbed a stack of solids and said, “Amish.” 

Look how lovely the Fons and Porter ruler works at cutting those little triangles!

And trimming the corners.  Ah!

I created a new Quilt Layout Diagram for making the pyramid units.  I only needed to copy the top page.

Pyramid Triangle Sugar Loaf

Here’s what the foundation looked like all sewn up:

I decided to trim the units down to size but to leave the paper on until the entire top was finished.  That was, I think, a really good call.  Everything is on the bias and very stretchy.  Having the paper on these units really kept things under control.

You can see I kept the paper on until I had added the first border.  I really wanted to stabilize everything before I wet the pyramids and pulled the paper off.  Another good call, I think.

But . . . notice how I pressed the seams on the pyramid units open and then sewed them down?  This was not a good idea.  What was I thinking?  As I pulled little tiny pieces of paper out of tucked in corners with a pair of tweezers, I had plenty of time to contemplate my folly.

Here’s how I should have done it: Sew up to the seam intersection with the seam allowance “flap” out of the way (as you sew up to the intersection that means it is folded towards you).  Then, at the intersection, lift the needle and fold the seam allowance flap back away from you.  Put the needle back down at the seam intersection and keep sewing.  That way, you never sew through the seam allowance flap. This will make it a lot easier to remove the paper and you can either press the seams open or to the side depending on preference. 

I really wanted to see how the technique was going to work which is why I just grabbed some solids.  Nothing much to think about with fabric selection.  Now that I know this works – and I really like how leaving the paper on the pieced units stabilized all those bias edges – I can think about other fabric choices.

Just playing for a couple minutes in EQ6, I considered the possibility of a reproduction version:

pyramid mini quilt reproduction

Or a pink and green version:

pyramid mini quilt pink and green

Or shades of blue:

pyramid mini quilt blues

I really like the blue one.  I may just have to make that up.

Meanwhile, there’s a sew day with my quilting buddy tomorrow, and I have another idea of playing with Pyramid Triangles before getting back to this version.  Oh, I do love Spring Break!