Monday, February 28, 2011

Quilt #12 - Orion's Star -Underground Railroad Tribute

I love this quilt.  The pattern came for "Quick Quilts" magazine.  I have never before done a star within a star, and to be honest, it was not as complex as I thought it would be.  The other fun part of this one is that I ended up with about a million "bonus triangles".

I machine quilted this one with a hearts motif.  My first time trying to make a motif while quilting.  Usually, I just do loops, loops, loops.  I think it turned out amazing.  I love it!

Full album:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Underground Railroad Quilt Code

February is Black History Month, and in honor of that I have decided that my big February quilt is going to be Orion's Star.  "Why Orion's Star?" you might ask.  Well, the Orion's Star quilt pattern played a role in the Underground Railroad.  It's absolutely true.

During the time of the Underground Railroad people who aided the slaves trying to escape captivity used quilts as a method of communication.  Often the members of the Underground Railroad would drape quilts on porch rails or barn doors as a way to communicate.  Different quilt patterns meant different things

Sometimes the quilts would be placed in a certain order to convey a complex message.  Some quilts denoted how you should travel, which direction you should travel, or what you needed to bring to get where you were going.  Here's some of the quilts from the code:

Flying Geese: A signal to follow the direction of the flying geese as they migrated north in the spring. Most slaves escaped during the spring; along the way, the flying geese could be used as a guide to find water, food and places to rest. The quilt maker had flexibility with this pattern as it could be used in any quilt. It could also be used as a compass where several patterns are used together.

North Star: A signal with two messages--one to prepare to escape and the other to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. North was the direction of traffic on the Underground Railroad. This signal was often used in conjunction with the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which contains a reference to the Big Dipper constellation. Two of the Big Dipper’s points lead to the North Star.

Monkey Wrench: A signal to gather all the tools required for the fleeing slave’s journey, meaning the physical tools, as well as the mental and spiritual ones.

Sailboat: A signal that either a body of water was nearby or that boats were available.

Drunkard’s Path: A warning signal to take a zigzag route to elude pursuing slave hunters and their hounds that are in the area. A slave spotted travelling south, for instance, would not be suspected of escaping.

Wagon Wheel/Carpenter's Wheel: A signal to the slave to pack the items needed to travel by wagon or that could be used while travelling. It could also mean to pack the provisions necessary for survival, as if packing a wagon for a long journey, or to actually load the wagon in preparation for escape. Some records indicate this symbol meant a wagon with hidden compartments in which slaves could conceal themselves, would soon be embarking for the trip to freedom.

Crossroads: A symbol referring to Cleveland, Ohio, which was the main crossroads with several routes to freedom. On a less literal level, the term “crossroads” also means reaching a turning point in one’s life, where a choice must be made and then carry on.

Bear's Paw: Follow a mountain trail, out of view, and then follow an actual bear’s trail which would lead to water and food

Bow Tie (or Hourglass): A symbol indicating it was necessary to travel in disguise or to change from the clothing of a slave to those of a person of higher status.

Shoofly: A symbol that possibly identifies a person who can guide and help; a person who helped slaves escape along the Underground Railroad and who knew the codes.

Tumbling Blocks or Boxes: A symbol indicating it was time for slaves to pack up and go, that a conductor was in the area.

Broken Dishes: A symbol referring to a signal that involved broken crockery at some future landmark

Britches: A symbol indicating the escaping slave needed to dress as a free person.

Rose Wreath: A symbol that indicated someone had died on the journey. It was an African tradition to leave floral wreaths on the graves of deceased.

Log Cabin: A symbol in a quilt or that could be drawn on the ground indicating it was necessary to seek shelter or that a person is safe to speak with. Some sources say it indicated a safe house along the Underground Railroad.

Double Wedding Ring: This pattern did not exist until after the American Civil War. However, the Double Irish Chain pattern did and is believed to have symbolized the chains of slavery. When a slave saw this quilt displayed, it meant the rings or shackles of slavery could be removed. When marrying, slaves did not exchange wedding rings; they “jumped the broom”.

So many quilts...

I am working on three quilts at once.

I'm trying to put work in when I have a few minutes here or there, and each of my three quilts reflects my desire to quilt whenever I can.

I'm working on an embroidered quilt.  This one will take me awhile, but I'm not expecting to finish it any time soon.

The purpose of this embroidery project is to give me something quilt-related to do when I'm not near the sewing machine.  I've made some progress on this embroidery lately with train rides to Michigan to do costumes for Cornwell's Dinner Theatre, and plane rides to South Dakota to see my Grandmother in the last few weeks.  I like having a quilting project that fits in my purse.

I'm also working on Harry Potter Paper Piecing's "Project of Doom."  This is ther perfect backstage project.

I have a lot of backstage time during "Shadowlands" because I play a lot of peripheral characters.  This block is Week One of the project.  It's a chrystal ball and three books.  I get to put titles on my books as I go, and each week is a different set of books and another magical object.  I don't know how it'll all go together, but I'll know in five months or so.  The mystery project lasts 30 weeks with one block per week.  The great thing about these blocks is that most of them aren't too complicated to stitch between scenes.  I got this block done last night.  I also don't have to carry massive quantities of fabric around to complete a block.  I love it. 

The third quilt is almost finished.  It's my Sunbonnet Sue Orchestra.

I still have to put borders on it and quilt it, but it's nearly finished!  I made most of this quilt at home, but did a lot of the piecing backstage at "Shadowlands".  It was an easy project to carry, but I made it more in the standard way at home in my sewing room.

It feels good to be making so much progress on so many quilts, and I really feel like the 52 quilt goal is achievable eventhough the mystery took so long to complete. 

My next projects should be fun.  I'm going to quilt a pair of shoes.  That's right.  Shoes.  I'm also going to make a quilted handbag. 

Quilt #7 - It's Over! The Mystery Quilt is finally finished!! (7 of 52)

Here it is!  After two months and thousands of tiny squares, here it is!  This quilt is beautiful and I'm so happy with it.

I've learned a lot while making this quilt.  There are quite a few techniques that I had never done before.  I've never set squares on the diagonal before.  It was harder than I thought it would be, honestly.  It's pretty straight forward, but the challenge is that you must keep track of where you are in relation to the rest of the quilt.  Each row is a parolellogram and you have to sew them in just right or it doesn't work.  With this quilt also presents the challenge of it being hard to fix your mistakes if you have to.  There's so many small pieces that if you have to rip out a seam it is likely that you'll end up undoing some of the stitches that you didn't intend to rip out. 

One of the other challenges of this quilt was that it has so many small pieces.  The border is a great example.  The squares are tiny!  And that's just a border!  I've never put a pieced border on a quilt before, and it was a fun challenge.

I did a lot of this qult backstage at "Shadowlands".  Almost all the borders were assembled during tech week, and all the main squares were assembled during rehersals.  Last night I took the quilt to the theatre and some of my cast mates got under it.  It was great.

The great part about this mystery quilt is that as I went along I had no idea what was next, and had not real objective in mind.  I approached this quilt with absolute scrappy abandon.  The fabrics I chose were based solely on color, not on content or how much I liked the fabrics.  This is the first time that I picked out fabrics that I hated to put into a quilt.  This use of "ugly" fabrics changed the way I will view fabric choice in the future.

The other great thing was the color selections.  When I read that the quilt would be green, pink, brown, red, and neutral I thought that I would'nt like the color combination.  I didn't think there was any way to put those colors together in a pleasing way, but I trusted the designer.  I realize now that the red/pink/brown was like shading in one color.  The red is central, and the pink is the light version and the brown the dark version.  It creates dimension in the quilt.  I don't look at the finished product and see "red, green, pink, and brown"  I see shading and dimension.  I love this about the quilt, and I will use this in the future.

The elephant in the room is... this quilt put me behind in my quest to create 52 quilts in 2011.  Since this is one of the first projects that I undertook I think I'll have plenty of time to make up for RRCB taking so long.  The flip side of that optomism is that I probably won't be able to do many more projects of such scope during my year.  Honestly... all those tiny squares!  It'll be a few months before I do that again.

I think that I learned a lot making this quilt, which after all is my objective this year.  And I accomplished a king size quilt that is very intricate already in my year.  It's only February!

I'm so happy with the quilt, and so happy that I did "Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll".  If you want to make this quilt, or you want some free quilting patterns go to .  Bonnie Hunter is a great designer, and I love her comentary through her blog.  It's fun to visit.

If you want to see the full photo album of Roll Roll Cotton Boll click here:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Quilt #11 - Prairie Points Candlemat

I love this little guy.  Not only was it a small challenge, it is gorgeous, and matches my red glass lamp perfectly.  I know it has a bit of Christmas flair to it, but I think I'll have it out all year long.

So the new technique I used in this quilt was "prairie points."  Prairie points are basically folded triangles that are used as decoration.  They are those triangles in the middle section of the quilt that make the star shape appear in the pine/cream fabric in the middle. Prairie Points can be used as an applique like I did, or as a great "ruffle" on the edge of a quilt.  If you want to learn more about making and using prairie points in your quilting, here's a link!:

Full album for the Prairie Points Candle Mat: 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quilt #10 - Reduce Reuse Recycle

This is a throw quilt that I stitched together out of six of my old pashminas.  I really thought the idea was stellar, but it just didn't pan out like I thought it would.

I thought that because of how warm these pashminas were to begin with that I wouldn't have to put batting in the middle.  I tried to quilt just the two layers together.  Now, if I hadn't started quilting it may have been okay, but I did.  So the bias stretch created problems, and trying to stitch two pannels together that are stretching in different directions created all kinds of weirdness.  I only quilted together one pannel, to be honest.  I might try to free motion the whole thing and make this baby into a success, but it was so cumbersome and weirdly slippery that I know it'll be a huge headache.  If I had left it like you see above it'd probably be a throw that I use.  As of right now, I'm using it as a crate cover for Oxford... You can't win them all, right? 

photo album: 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I know, I know, I know!

I can hear you!  Where is Amber, and how is her quilt progress?  Well, It's an amazing thing.  I feel like I do nothing but quilt and I am still not finished with the Mystery Quilt.  It is so close to being done, but I really want it to be perfect when I'm done.  This quilt is not conductive to shortcuts, so I have been taking my time.  I also have had some crazy mistakes to compensate for... I really think that if I had not had to cut down the Thangles that I would be absolutely finished with Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll.

I know the above photos don't look like I've made a lot of progress, but I'm doing a great Quilt as you Go method that I'm sort of making up.  I quilted all of the blocks individually to batting, and when I piece them together they will be done.  When I add the backing fabric to complete the quilt, I'll just stitch "in the ditch" around the squares to quilt the back.  I wanted thicker stitches in the front, and didn't mind if the back of the quilt was less elaborate.  We'll see if there are big consequences to this method.  If not, it may be a good option for my small amount of space.  We'll see...

I actually almost finished piecing my NEXT quilt.  My Sunbonnet Sues are all cut and ready to applique.  I'm doing a bit of extra work on the Sunbonnet Sues to make them a little bit more ornate.  Each Sue has an applique musical instrument, and I'm putting trim on all my Sues to make their dresses an bonnets pretty and dressy.  I really think that they are adorable.  After Sunbonnet Sue I 'm going to do another quick project.  Perhaps a Quilt-in-A-Day that I can dedicate an afternoon to... 

The projects that are nagging to be started right now are the recycled quilt and the T-shirt quilt.  I had an idea for the recycled qult that I think is pretty cute and will be pretty easy to make.  I have about a million Pashminas that I don't regularly wear.  I have some that I wear all the time, but somehow these others just sit in my closet.  I think I'm going to sew six of them together and make a quilt out of them.  The focus of this quilt will be on decorative stitching and I'll probably just sew three together for the top, and three for the back, put batting in the middle and quilt them together with gorgeous stitches.  It'll be a beautiful quilt.  I've also gathered some of my old t-shirts to make into a quilt.  I have a few that are old that I don't want to throw away, but I don't wear them anymore.  I also have a sweatshirt from my first play in High School in 1992 that I want to put into the quilt.  I really want it to cute and kitchy, and I'm torn as to whether I should include shirts that have a strong sentimental value with shirts that I just don't wear that are simply cute or funny.

The other quilt in the works is the Block-a-Week Mystery from the Harry Potter Paper Piecing website called the Project of Doom.  I haven't done this kind of intricate paper piecing before, so I'm waiting to be finished with Sue and the Mystery to really delve in... Even though I'm officially four weeks behind on the Project of Doom...

After Sunbonnet Sue and the Mystery are finihsed I'll be able to focus more on these upcoming projects.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quilt #9 - Ballet Slippers!

So, I may be stretching the boundaries of what may be considered quilting, but I couldn't resist these little quilted ballet slippers!  I will admit that I had grand ambitions of becoming a great quilted slipper maker the minute I saw this pattern, but alas I think my shoe-making days are finished for the moment... or at least paused.  I'm so happy that I found a great project to make at the Chamberlain Quilt Shop.  The fabric is an asian print that my mom gifted me, and the bottoms are a thick canvas with grippy feet.  I really love these and they are great for around the house.  And so comfy!  If you are interested in getting the pattern, here's the link:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chamberlaine Quilt Shop

When driving across the interminable flat snowy expanse of the Dakotas it is necessary to stop and treat yourself.  With this in mind, as I was recently driving down Highway 90 I saw a billboard for The Chamberlaine Quilt Shop.  I knew I had to stop.

When I drove up I saw their colorful sign, and a shop that looked like I was arriving at someone's house for a social call.  It's got a homey feel and was charming from the start.

The best best best part of the visit was who greeted me at the door!

I was so excited to see a puppy and have some much-needed puppy time.  I hadn't seen Oxford in four days, so a little bit of puppy happiness was due.

So, the Chamberlaine Quilt Shop was lovely, with a huge selection.  I had to get something, and I knew that my next quilt would be a small quilted craft project.  I looked around until I found the perfect thing.  I found a quilt pattern for a pair of ballet slippers.  They are so cute!

Here's some pics of the shop:

The staff was super-helpful and they were very friendly.  I'd reccomend visting, and next time I drive through I'll definitely be stopping by.  I couldn't believe their selection!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Mystery Quilt Progress...

Tonight "Shadowlands" opens, and tonight I start stitching a new quilt backstage. I have finished piecing together all of the different units for the quilt, and now just need to quilt those pieces, put the top together, put on some backing, and bind it. I'm excited about the quilt being nearly finished, but it's time to start a new project. I decided to do another quilt on my list, and one that would go together pretty quickly. It's time for my Quilt-in-a-Day version of Sun Bonnet Sue (Elanor Burns writes the Quilt in a Day patters and she is a time-saving GENIUS!)

Sunbonnet Sue is a pretty recognizable quilt block, but for those of you who don't know her yet, here's a photo of a typical Sunbonnet Sue:

The pattern I'm using for my Sue Quitl is so smart... It'll go together in a snap.  It'll be a lap size quilt featuring 12 sues. 

I've got fabrics selected and cannot wait to get started!

Quilt # 8 - Sunbonnet Sue Orchestra

This was my very first Sunbonnet Sue.  It was completed on February 7, 2011.  One of the greatest things about Sunbonnet Sue is that you can add your own taste or voice to create a very unique quilt using a very standard block.  I decided on a Sunbonnet Sue Orchestra, and I love it!  My mother gave me a perfect fat quarter that had the perfect sized musical instruments on it, and I appliqued those on with the Sues.  It was really easy.

I used "Sunbonnet Sue Visits Quilt in a Day" as my pattern book, and it was so easy, quick, and fun.  The applique technique is to use fusible interfacing that you stitch, right sides together, to the fabric.  Cut it out, turn it right side out, iron, quilt, and it's done!  The other great thing about this technique is that you quilt the batting on and sew the pieces on at the same time.   When you have your pieces ironed on and ready to sew, you cut pieces of batting that are 1/4" smaller on all sides.  You lay that batting down, and as you do the final stitching around the pieces, you are also quilting it to the batting.  Genius.  Then it's as easy as constructing the blocks, and stitching in the ditch between squares to quilt the backing.  This is so much easier than trying to maneuver an entire quilt while doing the quilting stitches around curves and small pieces.

A lot of people have been inspired by Sunbonnet Sue.  Her history dates back to the 19th century and an illustrator named Kate Greenway.  Greenway was challenged by a colleague to create a character who could show personality without showing their face.  Her illustrations of the first Sunbonnet Babies inspired many to embroider her designs, and eventually the Sunbonnet Sue quilt block was born.

many have been inspired by Sunbonnet Sue.  Here's a traditional Sue:

Here's a quirky Sunbonnet Sue Quilt that puts Sue in different scenarios from different movies:

And this very famous quilt, "The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue"

Whether you love Sue or hate her, she is inspirational.  I really am very happy with how my Sunbonnet Sue Orchestra turned out, and I definitely want to make another one.

To see the full Sunbonnet Sue Orchestra album, click the link: