improv quilting

final machine quilting blog hop {week 10} + giveaway!

It’s the final week on the  Machine Quilting Blog Hop!   Thanks for staying with me on this Free Motion Quilting Adventure. Before we get to quilting–I wanted to remind you that we are doing an awesome giveaway this week!  Martingale has generously provided each of the blog hoppers (HollyAnneVicki, Jen, and me)  a copy of  The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting to give away!There is a link to the Rafflecopter entry form at the end of this post. Don’t forget to enter!

You guys, I was SO afraid of this chapter, called Swirling Butterflies. Here is Christa’s version. You gasped, right?! Yeah me too. That’s why we did this chapter last.

Image result for Chris watson swirling butterflies quilt

I decided right away that I would do a few things differently–the first one being that there is no way that I would use a contrasting thread! I’ve spent a bit of time checking out Christa’s stitching here–and oh my!–that girl has skills! Her travel stitching (stitching over a previously stitched line to move around the quilt) is amazing! You can hardly see it! The other thing that I did differently is that I just tackled the center motif (eight butterflies!). That was enough for me.

The first order of business was to make eight copies of the motif and tape them together. Spoiler: lots of marking ahead!

wholecloth quilting

I used a Frixion pen so that I could easily iron off the marks later. This took a while–not gonna lie. I did figure out something that I would do differently if I did this again. Take the opportunity to find your continuous quilting path while you are tracing the design. I sort of stumbled onto this brainwave on the last butterfly. The book helps you figure out how to make a continuous path through the butterfly–but you need to find what works for you. My path ended up being a bit different that Christa’s. But it was so helpful to have the diagrams in the book to get you started. You have eight opportunities to practice–don’t waste them!

wholecloth quilting

I decided to quilt white on white–like a classic wholecloth quilt (plus–blending thread!). I started with the center motif, where the continuous path is pretty clear. Here’s a tip: if you are quilting white on white–you need really good light! This was harder than thought it would be. The actual quilting was easier than expected (nine weeks of practice!), but not being able to see clearly where I had already stitched was difficult.

wholecloth quilting

I will warn you that there is still plenty of wobbly stitching in there, but all in all, I was pretty pleased. There was a lot of travel stitching as I worked up and down those petals, and I do think that if I had been able to see the stitching line better, I would have done a better job of travel stitching.

Then it was on to the butterflies! There are so many pebbles in those darn butterflies! But still totally fun, once I settled into my path.

wholecloth quilting

I took it slow (remember my mantra: Slow Down Kristin!) and stitched up about three butterflies a night. I realized that after that my concentration and coordination started to waver and it was best to walk away for a bit. Someday I’d love to have two sewing machines so that I can keep one set up for quilting and one set up for piecing. Because, ya know–the 3 minutes it takes to change from one set up to another is insurmountable! Am I right?! 🙂

wholecloth quilting

I have to say that quilting through all those butterflies went pretty fast! Because you are not stopping to break thread very often, you just…go! Here it is when all the butterflies were done, but there was still some areas between them left to fill in. I was worried about how puffy those spaces between the butterflies were–that they would pleat or pucker when I quilted them.  But that turned out to be completely unfounded–it worked out just fine as you can see in the one spot that is filled in.

wholecloth quilting

About those spaces between the butterflies–Christa had done those in a blending thread, in an easy arch motif that looked a little like a pineapple. It worked perfectly in her quilt because it was just texture (her butterflies are in a contrasting thread). Because all of my stitching was in the same thread–after the first one (above), I thought it seemed a little distracting and busy–but there was no way I was going to start ripping stitches out at this point! I flipped the pages in the book over to see how Angela had handled those spaces. She had done an echo spiral in that space.

So, I decided to try that, and alternate the two motifs. This is where it started to go downhill… Of course, it looked perfectly lovely when Angela did it, but I was not really happy with how these echo spirals were coming out (this was the best of the lot.)

wholecloth quilting

But, I was in the homestretch now and committed.  So I finished off, vaguely disappointed that those spirals were not my best work. Again, it’s mostly texture and there is so much going on, I’m not going to sweat it. Honestly, I’ll probably never do a wholecloth quilt again–piecing is my jam. But who knows? I’m taking longarm lessons next month and am really looking forward to continuing on the free motion journey.

Here it is in all its glory.

wholecloth quilting

Thanks for hanging with me throughout this machine quilting adventure. Here’s what I learned: Practice. Practice. Practice. I still have a long way to go, and I still don’t love to do pebbles–but the fear and intimidation about FMQ is gone! I’m up for any motif after taking on those butterflies! I’m sorry that I don’t have anything more profound to say other than “Practice makes progress” and “There is no such thing as perfect in quilting”. But dang it! It’s true!

I still have a few practice pieces all basted up and ready to go–so I need to make sure  that I keep up the practicing. As my happiness guru Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.” And I think that is especially true when you are building a skill like free motion quilting.

Image result for gretchen rubin what you do everyday

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a free copy of The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

In case you missed any of the Machine Quilting Blog Hop series:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

And don’t forget to stop by to visit the other blog hoppers! You have a chance to win at each one!

Vicki at My Creative Corner3

HollyAnne at String and Story

Jen at Quiltin’Jenny

improv quilting

how hand piecing can save your sanity

I had a bit of a hard morning and as I sat down this afternoon to do some hand piecing, I thought that I’d share a few thoughts with you on how to hand piece and why hand sewing has become so important to me.

Let me know if you’d like to learn more about hand piecing and I can put together some video tutorials.



improv quilting

hand pieced quilt progress

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop

I’ve always known that I like hand work–I love to bind quilts, I knit and embroider a little–but I really had no idea how much I would love hand piecing. When I started this crazy idea, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to see it through. About halfway through my first block I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I pushed through, and now, a mere three months into this project, I can very clearly see my progress.

The actual motion of hand piecing is becoming second nature, and it feels so good to just slow down. I tend to do things very quickly–I walk fast, talk fast, and do most tasks as if I am getting a medal for speed. I’ve made a big effort this last year to slow down my machine sewing as well. I am always working on improving my accuracy, and slowing down is a big part of that for me. I hear about these sewing machines that sew 1500 stitches a minute and wonder how in the world someone can sew that fast without careening out of control.

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop
I kind of love the crumpled mess of the blocks before the final (only) pressing.

Hand sewing takes time–something that always feels in short supply these days. I do all my prep work up front–I cut out all six blocks for the Patchwork Quilt Along and then mark the stitching lines on the back of them (I wrote about my favorite hand piecing tools here). This takes a good evening or two–usually while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix. Then I just keep everything I need to hand sew in a basket.

I drag this basket from room to room–or even in the car, using found moments to sew a seam or two. I think that this is one of the most unexpected parts about hand sewing–all the memories that are being sewn into this quilt. I will always remember that I worked on it in the car as we drove up to do a college tour for Jonah, that I binge-watched and cried my way through the entire season of This is Us, and that I worked on it pretty much every night when we gather as a family to share a TV show together before bed.

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop

At first hand sewing a whole quilt seemed a little daunting, but now I realize that just like everything else–it is so much more doable when you break it down into small chunks. In this case, six blocks a month. I seem to need to be reminded of this over and over again–break it down and tackle it one bit at a time.


improv quilting

these actually are your grandmother’s quilts

handmade antique quilts

The phrase, “Not your grandmother’s quilt” is so prevalent in articles about quilts these days–as if our grandmother’s quilts are somehow “less than” what we are creating today. I could not disagree more.

So today, I’d like to introduce you to three quilts made by my husband’s grandmother, Lettie Maude. As is the way it goes, his mother did not inherit the sewing gene and sadly had little information about them. But he remembers them on the beds in the house all throughout  his childhood. And then he brought them with him when we got married. Even though they were threadbare even then, we continued to use them for many years. I just noticed them in the linen cabinet recently and pulled them out to appreciate them with new eyes.

We don’t really know when they were made, but I’m guessing the 1930s and 40s. I’m no expert, but the fabrics seem consistent with that and it makes sense with her age as well. They are all utilitarian scrap quilts and my husband says that he actually remembers some of the fabrics coming from his grandmother’s dresses. Though the are meant for use and using up bits of old clothes and bits of fabric–each quilt has a unique design that prevents it from being to chaotic.

This little gem was on my daughter’s bed until she left for college last fall. And while it is clearly scrappy–I love how the light and dark purples really give it pattern and structure.

antique quilt

It is worn through in many places, but this didn’t actually stop us from using it until recently.

All three quilts are all machine quilted, but the stitch length on the piecing leads me to believe that these were all hand pieced. The quilter definitely wasn’t worried about points either!

This totally cracks me up. Three of the four corners are curved, but that fourth one is totally squared off as if to say, “I’m done with this already!” This one is machine bound with a crazy zig-zag stitch–another sign that this quilt was meant to be used.

This next one is a very simple scrappy Nine Patch. The design is calmed down by a couple of factors. One is the white snowball block that alternates with the nine patches. But the other I found really interesting. Every nine patch has either green or yellow patches in the corners and center square. This provides a unifying color scheme. Now, our quilter did not arrange these green and yellow blocks in any order–they are totally random–which I find totally charming, but not at all anything I could ever do. And, do you see that hole?

This one is also machine quilted and the design is so uniform that for a moment I wondered if it was computer generated–but obviously not! I guess the quilter just had made these designs so many times that they are amazingly uniform.  And I know I said that every block was either green or yellow–but can you spot that rogue yellow square in what was supposed to be a green block? A humility block, perhaps? Or ore likely, she just ran out of green fabric.

It’s fun to look at the quilting pattern–I remember asking my mother-in-law how they were done. I was not a quilter yet and had no idea about free motion quilting. Achieving this shape on a domestic sewing machine seemed impossible to me. All she said was, “She sent them away to be quilted.” So, I have no idea if they were done on a longarm or a domestic machine–but the designs seem to be in long columns, so I’m thinking a longarm–which was called a “quilting machine” in those days.

Here is the last one. While also a scrap quilt, the design really unifies the scrappiness..

I actually love the way that fabric on this one is just literally wearing away in a swiss cheese fashion.

And there is that same quilting pattern!

antique quilt pattern

All three of these quilts have been retired from active use and are now happily folded on a bench in our family room to appreciate in a new way. I would like to think that Lettie Maude would be happy to know that these labors of love have been in use for the last 80 or so years. And we continue to appreciate them to this day.

I am actually thinking about remaking one of them in contemporary fabrics–but I haven’t decided which one yet. Which one would you choose?

improv quilting

fifteen minutes of creativity a day

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes a day?

In the spirit of “little things add up to big things”, a piece of wisdom imparted by my best friend in college, I’ve been participating in something called Marchalong this month. All this means is that you to commit to setting aside fifteen minutes a day for creativity. That’s it. Fifteen minutes. But if you do it–how many hours of creativity does that add up to by the end of the month? Actually, I’m terrible at math, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot.

I’ve tried this “fifteen minutes a day” idea before with cleaning and decluttering–and honestly, it has never stuck for the whole month. But doing something fun and creative? I think I can make that happen for fifteen minutes a day.

So, how have I been spending my few minutes of creativity so far? First, I finished up my February hand sewing project that I am doing along with the Fat Quarter Shop. I am really loving hand piecing these blocks–I’m almost sorry when I’ve finished the six for the month. But the March blocks will be coming out soon, so I don’t have long to wait. I’ve been stitching away on these in the evenings while we watch Grace and Frankie and This is Us. I’m all caught up now with This is Us and it is agony to wait a week between episodes. I clearly need to find a new British drama to become obsessed with–any suggestions?

patchwork quiltalong, fat quarter shop, hand pieced quilt blocks

In the meantime, I cast on some shorty socks. I got a little obsessed with knitting socks over the summer, but have not cast on a pair in months.  It was clearly time to do so. I cast these on while listening to The Off-Kilter Quilt podcast–which is my favorite quilty podcast. Frances is charming and chatty and just plain entertaining. It’s a great way to spend your fifteen minutes.

knitting, knit picks, knitting project bags, podcasts, tea

Don’t you love this knitting project bag? My friend Minki made it for my birthday last year and I smile every time I reach for it.  People went a little nuts over it on Instagram the other day, but I can’t take any credit for it, except for the little pink knitted patch on the front.

I’m also working on a new quilt design–and honestly the jury is still out on how I feel about this one. I am in absolute love with the fabric line, Sundrops by Cory Yoder. That fact is not in doubt. However, I have rearranged the blocks in a million different ways and I hope I landed on the best one. Stay tuned.

sundrops, moda fabrics, quilting, alphabitties

I like having a few different projects at hand–because sometimes I just don’t feel like sitting down in front of the sewing machine. Or the only way that I’m going to get my fifteen minutes in is in the waiting room at the doctor’s office–so I’m glad that I can pack a sock to knit. But one thing is sure, I’m always amazed at how quickly a project progresses when you actually work on it! Even for just fifteen minutes a day.

What’s for dinner?

Because thinking about what’s for dinner is never far from any woman’s mind, I thought I would share that we are having Jonah’s favorite: Chicken Piccata Pasta Toss. You should try it 🙂 What are you having?

improv quilting

My favorite hand piecing tools


Six blocks down for the Fat Quarter Shop’s Patchwork Quilt Along. I finished them in about a week and a half and I can only hope that I can maintain that pace for a whole year. I am actually a bit sad that they are done and I don’t get the next pattern until next month. My hands feel so idle in the evenings now, while we have our family TV time. Yes, I have things to knit–but I’m a little obsessed with hand sewing right now.

As I mentioned in my last post–I made just about every mistake you could make with the first few blocks. As I continued with the next three, I’ve been experimenting with a few things (especially needles) and I have arrived at a few of my favorite tools.


Perhaps most importantly, I have found what I think is the perfect needle: Piecemakers Hand Applique Sharp size 12. It is thin enough to have little to no drag on the fabric, an eye that is not impossible to thread (though I do use a very simple needle threader–the red square in the picture), and is a very nice length. I also like the Betweens from the same maker, but I find them a bit short–they don’t hit my thimble in the right place.

Speaking of thimbles, I’ve had this one for forever. I’ve tried all kinds of thimbles and this simple metal one that you can buy at any craft store (probably Dritz brand) is my favorite. Fun fact: I like this size now, but I have a smaller one that works better when I’m a bit thinner.

After making all the marking mistakes early on, I am now marking with a thin, mechanical pencil using the Jinny Beyer Perfect Piecer. Yes, you can use any old ruler, but this one has all the right markings and one day I hope to graduate to just being able to mark the dots and not the whole line–and this one has perfect little holes for that.

Everything else is pretty self-explanitory: my favorite Aurifil 2311 50 wt. thread, a small pair of sharp scissors, some nice thin pins, and the ever present red Clover clips to keep things together and organized.


I keep all of this in a little zipper pouch that a wonderful friend made me and I am ready to make the most of “found” moments throughout my day. Most recently, I did a bit of hand piecing in a hotel hallway, waiting for my son to perform with his Jazz Honor Band. Small moments, big results.

improv quilting

is this crazy? a handpieced quilt project


This may be crazy. And I may totally fail. But I hope not.

Ever since I learned to quilt, about seven years ago, I’ve wanted to make a hand pieced quilt. It seems so portable and charming and fun and a little bit crazy. I’ve hand pieced coasters and mug rugs, but have always been on the lookout for the quilt project that seemed just right. Enter the Fat Quarter Shop Patchwork Quilt Along.


I really had no idea it was going to lead to this, but I love the simple patchwork blocks and clean lines of this quilt and decided, very last minute, to jump on the bandwagon. This pattern has the awesome side benefit of raising money for charity–and I was happy to donate to Make a Wish.


I really didn’t want to buy fabric (but I did), so I started out with some Bonnie and Camille fabric from my stash. I downloaded the pattern, made my donation, and started cutting. These pieces are small! Like 1″ finished squares! I was pondering how careful and accurate I needed to be as I sat down at my sewing machine. Now, my accuracy has been improving steadily these last couple of years, but still. It was then that I realized that this would be a perfect hand piecing project! It ‘s much easier to be accurate when sewing by hand.


The blocks are only 5″ and fairly simple. So I stepped away from the machine and got out the needle and thread. I confess, it has been awhile since I did any hand piecing and my skills were quite rusty. Let’s just say I made a few mistakes early on.

The first was that I only marked the seam allowance on the one edge of the fabric that I was going to sew first. Mistake. You are eventually going to sew all four sides of the fabric, so go ahead and mark them all while it is a nice, flat piece of fabric and not all lumpy and bumpy from being sewn to other tiny pieces of fabric.

The second mistake was that I used a Frixion pen to mark the seam allowances. This seemed like a good idea at first, but now that I’ve ironed them, all the marks are gone, and I will want them back when I sew these blocks together. (Forehead smack.)

The third was that I forgot how to get really neat points and corners. The first two blocks are off a bit, but I pulled out my  Quiltmaking by Hand book from hand sewing guru Jinny Beyer, and read up on it. The last block, the red one, came out much better. Progress! I thought about redoing the first two blocks, but they aren’t horrible, and I decided to look at this quilt as my journey in hand piecing. It will be a visible record of my improvement.

I decided that I wanted to use a variety of Bonnie and Camille fabrics for this project, and my stash was not adequate, so I ordered a layer cake of Bonnie and Camille Basics to get a bit more variety. As a matter of fact, I am (im)patiently waiting for the UPS man right now, so that I can get back to it.

To stay up with the Patchwork Quilt Along, you only need to make six blocks a month. It seems pretty do-able–even by hand! I plan to just tackle it one month at a time. It’s amazing how many “found” moments there are in a day to sew a quick seam. It is a goal of mine to use my time more effectively, and using these small moments to stop and hand sew for a bit makes me unreasonably happy.

Anyone else sewing along? I’d love to hear about it!