Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Borders for Your Little Quilts

I love making scrappy quilts with simple blocks and lots of different prints. Overall, I think scrap quilts work better if they're kept simple. I will sometimes use a busy print for the borders, but even then I tend to be conservative and often go with a smaller print or a calmer fabric so the border doesn't take away from the main part of the quilt and compete for attention. Decide whether you want the border to shine or the quilt center to stand out. A busy border print would not have worked on this quilt.

The busy floral border works on this quilt because the center is very simple.

If everything in the quilt is too busy, the eye won't know where to look and will dart back and forth between the center and the border. That's why I chose a relatively non-busy border for the quilts below. From a distance they almost look solid.

If your blocks are very scrappy and busy, inner borders can sometimes help the transition between the blocks and the border and pull the whole thing together.

Even with the inner border below, I still used a calm, non-busy border to make the scrappy center stand out more.

If you're familiar with my books you know that I often like to use 2 different prints for the borders of my quilts--old doll quilts were often made this way.

But it just doesn't work in the little quilt I made below. Believe it or not, I make mistakes sometimes (Horrors!). I just don't usually show you the bad ones, LOL. I think the border prints here are much too busy and compete with the blocks too much. I also didn't use enough contrast in two of the blocks. And that green stripe! What was I thinking?? This is why I stick with blue. I know blue. Blue is a friend of mine. But I love that pink and black print.

So I never finished the above quilt because I didn't like it and it just isn't right somehow. This is a really ugly little quilt! Maybe I should take the blocks apart and start over because I really like them, just not how I put the rest of it together. The different borders work much better in this one:

Antique quilts often were made without any borders. You can choose to go without a border . . .

 . . . or just add them on the top or sides for a fun accent.

I'm no expert, but I think I've learned a lot over the years just looking at quilts--both antique and modern--trying different things and coming up with what's pleasing to me. Make sure you audition your borders--try out several prints before you settle on one. Sometimes the one you least expect will be the one that works.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Very Good Fabric Wardrobe

I recently received several e-mails from quilters asking me how I choose my fabrics for my scrappy quilts. This question comes up frequently when I lecture as well, leading me to think that not everyone finds it as easy as some.

Unlike quilters from the past, quilters today are really lucky to have such a wonderful array of fabrics to choose from when making their quilts. But it can really get overwhelming sometimes with the wide variety available and it's fairly common to lack confidence in picking out fabrics for a scrap quilt, particularly if some of you are new to quilting. So here's how I get my look.

Quilts from the 19th century were anything but drab brown, and although brown WAS commonly used in quilts made during this period,  quilts then were also pretty colorful. If you love making scrappy quilts with an antique look but get confused or overwhelmed by the task of choosing good fabrics, here are a couple of tips that I found work for me.

*  Begin collecting colors and prints in muted shades that you like a little at a time. But don't just buy the same colors you like over and over. If you're intent on making scrap quilts, get a good varied collection going that you will use for years.

*  I organize my fabrics by color in drawers or bins. Make sure you have a good selection of reds, blues, indigos (dark blues), greens, pinks, light shirting prints, browns, tans and golds. Yep, that means a separate place for each color.

*  Choose a variety of different geometrics and florals for each color.

*  Make sure you have quite a few shirting prints or tans for block backgrounds.

*  Throw in a few black prints and purple too and you can do almost anything!

The next time you're in a shop, if it's too confusing to know where to start--concentrate on buying several different prints of just ONE of those colors and start collecting. The next  time you go back, buy different prints in another color to keep building up your store. I find that sometimes this method works to keep the confusion to a minimum and pretty soon you'll have a good assortment. I can get carried away when I go into a quilt shop and want to buy everything I like, not necessarily what I'll need when I get home. Like a basic wardrobe, a good collection of fabric can take you anywhere.

I mostly use smaller prints for my small quilts--geometrics, dots and tiny florals, and an occasional larger print for interest. Make sure you have a few checks, plaids and stripes for interest too. Mix the larger prints with the smaller prints.

If you're going for an antiquey look, if there's a fabric you already have and like but it's too bright when placed next to another print, soak a small piece of it in a cup or bowl of tea to tone down the brightness.Try several tea bags, then soak the fabric for a few minutes to see if it darkened. (I make 2 cups of tea when I sew--one for me and one for the quilt, LOL.) This works for me sometimes. I really don't like to tea dye the whole quilt to give it that brown look. I hardly ever use white unless I am making a thirties quilt. In the doll quilt below, I soaked some of the bright pink scraps in tea to tone them down a bit. They still pop, but the contrast is not as great because the pinks have more of a soft "tinge."

Add some contrast to your quilt by using different, darker hues of the same color instead of large prints or bright fabrics. Decide if you want a LOT of contrast or a little in your quilt. Choose prints in colors that pop out from the surrounding pieces if you want a lot of contrast. Here's a good example in the quilt below. Instead of placing the red piece next to the black or blue ones and only using dark shades for the star points, I broke it up with medium prints in tan, green and gold for more contrast. Making the red pop out gives it interest I think.

I just recently finished making a small quilt that has mostly darker, muted colors--indigos, tan and black mixed with shirtings--and in the center I threw in a few pink pieces. I love the blues and grays in this antique quilt top someone showed me because it uses the same theory and would be pretty dull without the red or pink. Another thing to try: I like to repeat one of my favorite colors throughout the quilt to pull the scrappiness together. Not difficult to guess what color that is . . . .

You also need to consider value when you're making a scrappy quilt, which is the relative lightness or darkness of a fabric. Value is what makes different colors look so pleasing when placed next to each other. Strive for a pattern of light and dark values throughout the quilt to create a vintage-looking softness.

You can create contrast by choosing light and dark hues of the same colors as well. There are clumps of blue in this scrappy quilt but I think it works because they're different shades and different prints of the same color. Try making it with YOUR favorite color. Or pick two and see what happens.

There's a  free pattern on my website for this little quilt.

The great thing about making small scrappy quilts is that you can experiment with different colors without spending a lot of time, energy or money. Be creative, experiment and it will all come together eventually.

NEXT TIME: On the Borders . . .

Monday, February 15, 2010

It Must Almost Be Spring

I ventured out to an indoor flea market on Saturday. Can you tell I'm yearning for Spring? Don't get me wrong, I love winter, but I also love browsing the flea markets in Spring and Summer. I love the hunt--you never know what treasure you'll find, what gem you'll uncover. This indoor one I go to is just ok, not great, but still fun. I'm looking forward to going to the outdoor kind beginning in April.

I didn't buy much--some photos for the book and a little antique bow pendant for my daughter. There was an awful lot of vintage jewelry this time. I always have to ask myself: do I really need to bring home more junk to clutter my basement?? I do love to see if there are any quilts, but I'm not usually lucky enough to find something I LOVE that I can afford. Most of the quilts are not old enough for my taste. And I NEVER ever  find any doll quilts.

I like Shabby Chic as much as the next person, but these were a little TOO shabby. This pink and blue one was $200 with lots of worn spots and holes, so no thanks, although I loved the colors and the quilting. There's the Baptist Fan design again.

I loved the colors in this one and the placement of the blocks too. I'm thinking I'll probably reproduce it for a little quilt pattern.

One of the things I really love about flea markets or antique markets is that fact that I can see a lot of my childhood toys for sale at prices that would make my mother gasp.

I wanted to buy one of these little 3-D TV pencil sharpeners I had in the 4th grade. They were so cool. If you turned it gently from side to side, the image moved. I remember having had this red one with the ice skater spinning and twirling and used it every day. Didn't buy it, refused to spend the ridiculous price she was charging, but it was still fun to see after all these years. You  forget the little things you were attached to as a child.

Some other quilts, but nothing too special.

I love a good flea market and if you're in the market for vintage treasures you didn't know you couldn't live without, or just a darned good pair of tube socks, you're sure to find it there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

"The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart."
~Helen Keller

I love hearts.


 "Within your heart, keep one still, secret spot where dreams may go."  ~Louise Driscoll

(1 1/2 inch squares, fused hearts.)

"Follow your heart, but be quiet for a while first. Ask questions, then feel the answer. Learn to trust your heart." ~Unknown

I'm a sucker for anything heart shaped and I'd be embarrassed to tell you just how many pairs of heart-shaped earrings I own. My daughter gave me the ceramic box below for Christmas. She knows about me and hearts. I think I'll use it for my heart-shaped  jewelry. I made the little red and black heart needle book from a kit I found at my local quilt shop a few years ago.  In case you're wondering, the red "huswife" needle case is a smaller version of the one that's in Remembering Adelia, made without the felt piece for needles. I keep it in my purse and use it for carrying around gift cards or credit cards.

The case opened, so you can see the pockets. These make great little gifts for friends, even friends who don't sew. I've made about 10 of these--they're so simple and sew up rather quickly.

"Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely."  ~The Land Before Time

Yes, that's right, I'm quoting the little dinosaur movie, LOL. It happened to be my son's favorite movie when he was about 3 or 4. Loved that movie. We watched it over and over and over . . .  Gave me a lot of free time on the couch when I couldn't get up because of extreme morning sickness before my daughter was born.

"Little girls are the nicest things that happen to people. They are born with a little bit of angelshine about them and although it wears thin sometimes there is always enough left to lasso your heart--even when they are sitting in the mud, or crying temperamental tears, or parading up the street in Mother's best clothes." ~Alan Marshall Beck

"Be careful what you set your heart on, for it will surely be yours."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What's for Breakfast?

February is American Heart Health Month. Both of my parents died from heart disease too early in life and I do what I can to try to reduce my own risk. I try to change the risk factors I'm able to change and I also try to instill healthy eating habits in my family. I think that's why I surround myself with hearts--to remind myself.

Breakfast is THE most important meal of the day, at least that's what I've been hearing for years and I'm famous for nagging my family about it. I never allowed my kids to eat sugary cereals for breakfast while they were young and if we occasionally had any of it in the house they ate it for dessert or as a snack. A silly Christmas tradition we had was to wrap up a box of Christmas Cap'n Crunch and give it to my son so he could go nuts with it over winter break, while he was home from school, LOL. Trust me, I wasn't a complete green meany--they ate enough sugar at other times without overdosing on it at breakfast too. I remember my son's 3rd grade teacher telling me that she could tell which kids ate what for breakfast. She said that by 10:00 every morning 1/2 the class was climbing the walls, so she did a quick survey and asked the kids what they ate for breakfast. Yup, sugary cereals. I'm a believer.

Adults who eat a healthy breakfast instead of skipping it are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and have better overall glucose levels. I have to admit, I'm a coffee junkie in the mornings (but no sugar) and sometimes I don't get around to eating breakfast until later because the coffee fills me up and I just get busy. I know, I know--I should know better. Sometimes I exercise and I hate to do it on a full stomach. On the days I skip breakfast (oh no! Don't tell my kids!), I know I tend to overeat later in the day, so, while I was writing this, I promised myself I'm going to do better. Breakfast every day, like I tell my kids. Maybe it will help me lose weight.

Well, at our house, we get tired of the same old, same old breakfasts. My daughter doesn't often have time for anything elaborate in the morning and I'll admit, even though I'm a pretty good cook, I have a hard time being creative with meals while we're rushing around at 7:00 a.m.

We used to love oatmeal but that was gettting so boring--UNTIL my daughter recently asked me if I could make her the apple crisp kind of oatmeal without the apples, just the crispy topping. Now, I make a mean Apple Crisp, but that's a dessert item in my repertoire and when my kids were little I would sometimes let them eat the leftovers for breakfast, without the ice cream. This morning there weren't any leftovers, so I said Hmmm . . . and came up with a great recipe for a very quick CRISPY BAKED OATMEAL I think you'll love. Betty Crocker, look out. I made it in the microwave and then put it in the toaster oven to CRISP up. Here are the approximate directions for one serving. Keep in mind--I'm a quilt designer, not a recipe czar:

Mix 1/4 cup dry oatmeal with a dash of salt and about 3 or 4 tablespoons of water to moisten in a microwaveable bowl. Use your prettiest measuring spoons and measuring cups.

Microwave on high for 1 minute. You don't have to fully cook it. It tastes better if the oats are sort of raw and not soggy so they crunch up nicely. 
Pre-heat toaster oven to high or broil.
Sprinkle a little cinnamon and brown sugar into half-cooked oatmeal; stir. Place mixture into a greased small, individual size glass baking dish (those white corningware things work well).  Drizzle a little melted butter over the oatmeal so it browns. Bake oatmeal on high or broil for 5-6  minutes until crispy. I like to time it with this cute little teapot timer.  
Let it cool and, if you prefer, add a little milk to enjoy your apple crisp topping without the apples. Yum! I like to top mine with vanilla yogurt. A nice change from soggy oatmeal.

 Plain or topped with yogurt?
I prefer the apples in mine and have sometimes made the quick version of Apple Crisp this way in the microwave but it still takes a little longer to cook the apples. You can also sprinkle a low-cal sweetener instead of sugar on top AFTER it's baked if you need to cut out some of the sugar. Or, be creative--sometimes I add raisins or dried cranberries plus walnuts to the oatmeal AFTER I microwave it.  Great for those cold, snowy mornings we all seem to be having in the U.S. lately.

My street this morning; another 6 inches predicted.
  Nothing compared to some.

You probably already know this, but it bears repeating. According to research, here are some good reasons to eat your oatmeal:

1. Oatmeal may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. The soluble fiber in oats helps remove LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

2. The soluble fiber in oatmeal makes you feel full longer, so oatmeal can help you control your weight.

3. Research suggests that eating oatmeal may reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. The soluble fiber helps to control blood glucose levels.

4. Recent studies show that a diet that includes oatmeal may help reduce high blood pressure, due to the increase in soluble fiber in oatmeal. Oats contain more soluble fiber than whole wheat, rice or corn.

5. Oatmeal contains a wide array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and is a good source of protein, complex carbohydrates and iron.

So, sorry if this sounded like a lecture, but I need to remind myself to keep eating my oatmeal.  Maybe my heart will thank me one day.