Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Varietals - A Monochromatic Improv Study

Here's a recent finish, the second in what I hope will be a series of three quilts all based on improvisational (free cut) hourglass units. This mini-obsession started with the
"Try a Triad" design challenge (still open!) issued by the Canadian Quilter's Association to make a modern mini quilt using only red, blue and yellow fabric. I really loved the resulting design and composition of my challenge quilt but the colours are not at all 'me'.   I decided to hit my Oakshott fabric stash and try a monochromatic version.

Varietals 25" x 25"

Oakshott fabrics are shot cottons, which means they are woven with two different colours of thread. One colour for warp, the other for weft. In the photo above, it may appear that there are more than 3 colours of fabric used. Had I been incredibly diligent about piecing the fabric with the threads always in the same vertical and horizontal orientation, the quilt would appear more uniform, but it wouldn't be as interesting, in my opinion. That is just one more delightful aspect of Oakshott fabric; it gives quilts added visual interest and depth because as you change your viewing angle on the flat, two dimensional artwork, the colours subtly change as the different threads some into view and the fabrics absolutely glow. 

These are the 3 colours I used to make Varietals. Iris is black + purple thread, Grape is red + navy thread and Mallow is red + purple thread.

The tricky aspect to all of this fabric awesomeness is photography. Everyone who loves working with Oakshott will tell you the same thing: it is really difficult to adequately capture the depth in photos. Every time I share one of my quilts in a show or lecture, I hear the same thing, "wow, that quilt is even more incredible in real life!". The best way to describe the sheen and depth is to compare it to Dupioni silk, another fabric you may be familiar with. In the case of Varietals, I could have made this quilt with regular quilting cottons, but with only 3 shades of one colour and no real value difference, the quilt would probably have a flat, less interesting appearance. 

In terms of construction, I first cut sets of squares in a few different sizes from each fabric. The squares were stacked and then free-cut on both diagonals using a rotary cutter but no ruler. Swapping triangles out, I then pieced a lot of improv hourglass units. For me, the challenge of quilts like this is the puzzle-piecing of all the units into a pleasing composition. These are techniques I teach in my Speed Date with Improv workshop. Here, my desire was to portion the quilt into three colour sections that blend toward the center. Keeping like-sized units in groups prevents the quilt from having a completely chaotic appearance. 

As an Aurifil Artisan, I am very lucky to have access to the 270 colours available for my projects. To add more dimension to the piece, I purposely didn't try to exactly match the fabrics, but chose thread colours that I thought would shine on the fabric. I've been using Aurifil thread for about 17 years now and have settled on 40 wt as my go-to quilting weight. I used to stick with 30 wt for quilting (and still do sometimes when I'm not quilting so densely), but I've come to love the look of 40 wt on closely-spaced straight line walking foot quilting. These lines are eyeballed using the edge of my walking foot as a rough guide, about 1/4" to 3/8" apart. I don't try to keep the lines perfectly straight, or perfectly spaced. After all, this is an improv quilt! The lines run at different angles for each colour section. My stitch length is set around 3.0 on my Juki. I've had quilt judges say that my stitch length is too long, but for a wallhanging that isn't going to get any wear and tear, I think this looks much prettier than tiny stitches where I really notice the holes more than the thread.

Aurifil colours from L-R: 2581 Dark Dusty Grape (on Grape), 1100 Red Plum (on Mallow)
 and 2745 Midnight (on Iris)

I used almost every scrap of the supersized Oakshott FQ's that I had for each colour (Oakshott is milled at 55" wide and cut by the meter, so you actually get a luscious piece of shot cotton that is 19.5" x 27"!). That meant a binding was out of the question, so this quilt is faced using most elements of this great tutorial on my friend Terry's blog.

I got the name from my visit to Naramata, B.C. at harvest time last fall. I'd never been when the vines were laden with grapes and it was a gorgeous sight to see!

Any day now, I'm going to find the focus required to start my third version, which I plan to make a bit larger and using 3 different Oakshott reds. I hope it will turn out as beautifully as this one!

Thank you to my friends at Oakshott Fabrics and Aurifil for the fine materials they share with me so that my projects can look their absolute best.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cookies

After posting photos of my all-time favourite Christmas cookies on Instagram yesterday, many people expressed an interest in the recipe (there are MANY if you Google the title of this post). However, here's the one I've been using for 25 years:

preheat oven to 350F. Makes 6 dozen 

6 oz unsweetened chocolate
Melt the chocolate gently over a double-boiler. Set aside to cool a bit.

2 C + 2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (don't be tempted to use more!)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Blend above dry ingredients in a medium bowl

1 3/4 C sugar
1/2 C. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
Cream the sugar and butter together in mixing bowl. Gradually beat in the eggs one at a time with vanilla. Slowly stir in the melted, partially cooled chocolate.

Mix in the dry ingredients just until blended. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Form 1" balls of dough, roll in icing sugar and place 2" apart on parchment-lined sheets. Gently press a raw almond into the top of each cookie, just so that it stays (don't flatten the ball). Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cookies will appear raw-ish in the middle.  Gently push down the almonds a bit more. Allow to cool.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Summer Sampler 2019 Launch and discount code!

The Summer Sampler is back for the 5th year! This year's theme is Piecing Bootcamp; participants will work through 21 blocks designed to introduce a multitude of skills and techniques for your quilting toolbox. Brought to you by Faith, Katie and Lee and their team of fun designers (including your's truly), this year's sampler also includes two fun setting options. Sewtopia is offering a complete Moda Bella fabric kit available for pre-order here! Canadians, look for your fabric kit available for pre-order from my friends at Mad About Patchwork here.

I've designed a structural improv block featuring my fast and fun Improv Under the Influence piecing technique. The block is a smaller version of the center block from my Ice Road quilt. I'm often asked for a pattern for that quilt, but it was something special I made just for myself and I didn't really want it to become a pattern. I'd much rather introduce or teach the piecing technique and have folks use it to create their own groovy quilt designs! Perhaps this block will get you started?

This is my sample block using RJR solids I had in my stash, but read on to see the official colourway for the sewalong kits in the layouts below!

The sewalong starts May 20th and will run all summer with block patterns releasing to subscribers every Monday. Here's a full block preview to give you an idea of the kit colours, layout options and all of the gorgeous blocks! This promises to be a fantastic skill builder resulting in a stunning modern sampler. I love Lee's mock up with my block done in four colours!

Subscriptions are only $29.99 US, however if you use the code POPPYPRINT at checkout, you'll save $5 for a limited time during pre-order (offer valid today until May 19th only).

Are you in?? Buy your subscription here, use your code POPPYPRINT and maybe next time we meet you can buy me a latte with your $5 savings ; )  Just kidding, treat yourself to a lovely FQ!!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Local Courthouse Colourplay Workshop

The Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild invites non-members to join us for my Courthouse Colourplay class on Sunday, April 28th at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver from 10 am to 5 pm. All of the info is here. The price for non-members is $80.

Explore the possibilities of colour expression and free-cutting without rulers while you create this wonky, nested Courthouse Step quilt (reminiscent of paper lanterns) in your own personal colour story.
I made this wallhanging for the MQG miniquilt swap at QuiltCon2018

We’ll work intuitively from the center out, creating a dynamic quilt with loads of personality. There will be no squaring up with this one — instead I'll show you how to “build out”, finding the fit between adjacent blocks and using up all of your scraps in the process.

This one is a baby or small lap quilt with 25 blocks.

As in all of my workshops, I'll share loads of tips while encouraging all students to find confidence in new techniques.  Put your patchwork and rotary cutting skills to work and explore improvisational design and piecing in a fun, supportive environment!  The supply list includes ideas, resources and tips for selecting your colours. Make a wall-hanging with F8's or a lap quilt with FQ's or 12" WOF cuts.  A layer cake of solids or tone on tones like grunge could even work with some prudent cutting ; ) 

This one, Emerald Court, has 16 blocks with slightly wider strips. It's about 40" square. It's made entirely of Northcott solids that I loved working with! No fraying and a lovely hand.  I'm currently hand-quilting it with Aurifil 12 wt and Aurifloss. 

To register, please email 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Quarter Turn - Pattern Launch!

Hi Friends!! I'm excited to share my new pattern with you. It's called Quarter Turn. Can you guess why? No matter how many times you turn this quilt, it always looks the same. Handy! Also the vertical and horizontal bars in adjacent blocks are a quarter turned from each other. The quilt finishes up at 54" square, but if you prefer a rectangular quilt it would be super easy to simply add more rows to two opposite sides, just extending the gear-like arm thingy by one or two blocks in each direction. How's that for techy?

The cover version made with 4 colours, all luscious Oakshott shott cottons.

The idea for this quilt came to me immediately after I designed the Milltown block for the Sew Sisters Canadian Sampler, which you can read about here and here. I resized the block and it became the center of this quilt design. I wanted to have some fun negative space and get a sense of rotation in this design. I also like the bubble/curvy pattern that emerges in the semi-snowball blocks.

This 2-colour version is made with Moda solids.

Something I really like about it is that the design looks great made with just two colours, or with three colours or four colours like the cover version. I give fabric requirements and cutting instructions for all options in the pattern. This soft 2-colour version makes a great baby or toddler quilt, but different colour choices make it perfect for dudes, gearheads or geeks, too!

There's another thing about this layout if you want to quilt it yourself: the diagonal edges of the diamond shapes all line up (isn't geometry great?). This means that you can easily mark a diagonal grid by lining up your long ruler with the outside seams of all the little diamonds and marking with a fabric safe pencil, chalk or wax pen. I  quilted both of these quilts using my Juki walking foot and 40 wt. Aurifil thread. 

The pattern is available for instant .pdf download in my Craftsy shop right now. Print copies will be available to your LQS hopefully by April...and as always I'll have copies with me when I visit your guild to lecture or teach!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Splendid Sampler II - Mod Bowtie Block

pat sloan very splendid 2 count down 1

The very long wait is over and today is my day on the Splendid Sampler II block tour! It was ages ago that Jane and Pat asked me if I'd like to design a block for their second sampler book. I must admit, I was hesitant at first because I'm not much of a sampler-maker, but it is really hard to say no to Pat. Her enthusiasm for all things quilting and for bringing people together is super infectious and I knew that I'd have FOMO for sure if I didn't get on board! 

As I'm sure you know by now, the blocks are only 6" finished. I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to make something fairly simply design-wise. Something involving technique, but not so difficult or tricky that people would shy away from trying it. Finding ways to re-imagine traditional quilt blocks is fun and creative for me, so that's the approach I took.  I decided to incorporate my favourite way to applique bias 'binding' into the design.  The word binding is in quotes because you don't actually have to purchase special pre-made binding, or a bias making tool, or burn your fingers folding a skinny bias strip of fabric under a big iron.

Mod Bowtie, page 114 in Splendid Sampler 2

In fact, you don't even have to sew a curve! This block couldn't be easier to construct! One square, two quarter circles, two bias strips, fabric glue and coordinating thread are all you need. The possibilities for creating fun layouts using just this one block are exciting and something I hope to explore one day.

If you are sewing along with the Splendid Sampler 2 bloghop and you haven't yet acquired a 6" bias trimming square, I'd consider treating yourself to one! I love my bias trimming squares (I also have a 4" and 8" one in my ruler quiver).

I started out all keen and ready with a beautiful selection of Carolyn Friedlander voile prints combined with Oakshott shot cottons to make my blocks. Then I made 3 (badum-bum). These small blocks are great skill builders and I have every intention of choosing a selection (maybe 36?) of them from the book to make a wall hanging. I'll be bringing supplies to a retreat in March, so it's possible some blocks will happen there. So many of my talented friends have blocks in this book, so I definitely want to try all of their designs!

Thanks so much for stopping by. If you make a block, I'd love to see it on IG in the #splendidsampler2 group! Don't forget to add your block to the Splendid Sampler2 website for your chance to win this week's giveaway. Join the supportive Facebook group HERE.  

Happy Sewing!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Courthouse Colourplay - LOCAL WORKSHOP

Hi all!

I'm back to tell you about an upcoming local workshop here in North Vancouver that has a few spaces open. Hot on the heels of a super fun debut class last weekend at the Dinkydoo warehouse, the Seymour Quilter's Guild is offering up some space in their class to non-members.

The workshop will take place in North Vancouver on Wednesday May 8, 2019 from 9:30 - 3:30 at a cost of only $55! Please email me directly for the guild contact information (my email address is just up there on the left side under my photo, use actual dots and the @ symbol when writing out the email address. I have it written funny that way on this page to automated avoid spam).

Although it is a bit of a mash up, I wanted to show you some of the student work from last weekend's class. There were several very experienced quilters who had never tried free-cutting without rulers or done any improv piecing before and they had such fun creating their quilt tops and playing with solid coloured fabrics. Two people attending were brand new quilters and this was only their second or third quilt project!

You'll learn how to freely cut your fabric with confidence, how to manage wonky strips and blocks in construction, how to puzzle a collection of oddly shaped blocks together using my building-out technique (instead of 'squaring up'), the secret of hiding the block boundaries in your final layout and how to let go and allow your fabrics to guide your progress throughout block construction.

I hope that you'll join us!  If North Vancouver is too far away for you, I'll also be teaching this class (along with 3 others) at QuiltCanada in Ottawa this June. Registration for members and non-members is currently open HERE.