Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How I Machine-Piece Hexagons

To read more about the finished hexagon quilt, click here.

Earlier this year, I dispelled the myth that partial seams are something to avoid. As it turns out, they’re downright easy. So I was thinking, could the same be said of the dreaded Y-seam?

To see whether I could conquer this technique, I decided to make a baby quilt out of hexagons. I consulted a few tutorials, cut my hexagons, and went for it. After machine-piecing a dozen hexagons or so, I ripped out each seam and started all over again. : (

I decided that if I had more information upfront, with more pictures, I could have saved myself the hassle. Perhaps you learn that way, too? If so, here’s how I pieced my first-ever hexagon quilt, with Y-seams that I’m proud of!

Cut the Hexagons Accurately

I have an AccuQuilt Go! If you’re sewing with hexagons, you do not need a fabric-cutting machine, but since I already owned one, I decided to invest in a hexagon die for this project. This die cuts hexagons in three sizes, and I cut my fabric with the largest of those, the 5-inch hexagon. (I think the smaller sizes would have been too fiddly to work with.)

Alternatively, I could have cut the hexagons with a specialized ruler (like the Hex N More) or have bought precut hexagons.

Make a Template and Mark the Hexagons

I made a template for marking my hexagons by running a piece of cardstock through my AccuQuilt GO! (I wouldn’t make a habit of cutting paper with my machine, but I figured doing it once in a while wouldn’t dull the die.) It is the same size as the fabric hexagons I cut. If you hand-cut your hexagons or bought precuts, you could do the same by tracing one of your hexagons onto cardstock and cutting it out.

After you have your cardstock template, draw lines a quarter of an inch from each side and punch a hole at the intersections of those lines. (I used a 1/16-inch hole punch to do that.)


Then, using this template and a pencil, mark the six intersections on the wrong side of each hexagon.

Sew the Hexagons in Group of Threes

The instructions I consulted recommended laying out the hexagons, sewing the hexagons into columns, and then sewing the columns together. I had better luck, however, sewing my hexagons into groups of threes and then sewing those trios to others.

When I’m working with groups of threes, I can consistently sew a nice Y-seam. When I add a group of three to another group of three, I still have good control and produce a beautiful Y-seam. On the other hand, when I’m working with columns, I’m always working with big, awkward chunks of fabric, and it’s harder to get my seams as precise as I would like.

Here’s how to sew these trios together, one seam at a time ...

1. After deciding on the layout for your hexagons, sew two adjacent ones together. This entails matching the corners of the hexagons, right sides together, and sewing from one mark to the other on the edges you want to join. Note: If you sew beyond one of your marks, you’ll be sewing into the seam allowance, which can cause unpleasant puckers on your quilt top. Also: Sewing hexagons requires sewing on the bias a lot—be careful not to pull or distort those bias edges as you sew them.

Check out this example that uses dark red thread to show where the seam starts and stops. I used my hand wheel to start precisely on the pencil mark, and I pinned the two hexagons together before sewing. I also backstitched at the beginning and ending of the row of stitches.


When you’re done with your seam, don’t press it. Your two hexagons (now shown in my fabric of choice for this project) will look like this …


2. Match the corners of the third hexagon with one of the first two hexagons, right sides together.


3. Finger-press the first seam out of your way, so you don’t catch it in the seam you’re about to sew.


4. Use two pins, one along the seam you will be sewing and one along the seam allowance you want to avoid sewing into.


5. Sew the second seam—again, sewing from one mark to the other and not pressing the seam when you’re done. Now your trio will look like this ...


6. The final seam is sewn exactly like the second one. Pin as needed to avoid sewing through a seam allowance. You can see how I fold my fabric, finger-pressing my seams as I go, to get those seams out of the way ...


7. Your finished trio of hexagons will look like this. Please note: I pressed my seams for the sake of the picture, but it’s best to wait until later to press.


Sew Your Groups of Three Together

You’ll follow the same principles to sew two trios together ...

Sew one seam at a time, without pressing the seams, and pin as necessary to avoid those seam allowances.




Piece the Top in Chunks

Even though you’re sewing manageable trios instead of columns, at some point you will need to deal with large swaths of hexagons.

My hexagon project was a small baby quilt, about 31 inches square, and I opted to sew the quilt in quadrants and then sew those quadrants together. There was nothing precise about how I divided up the blocks, though. I just kept sewing until all my groups of three (or random singles, because there were a few of those by the end) were used up. My sections ended up looking pretty random, more like blobs than quadrants ...


Divide up your quilt top in whatever way works for you. It may help to take a few pictures of your layout with your phone. That reference will ensure you don’t sew anything incorrectly!

Press Your Seams

At this stage, you can press your seams. Start with the intersection of any trio of hexagons, and press the seams to one side. In the picture below, I pressed the seams counterclockwise around the intersection, but I could have just as easily pressed them clockwise.


The way that first intersection is pressed affects the intersections adjacent to it, as you can see in the next picture. The two top intersections are pressed clockwise, and the bottom two are pressed counterclockwise.



Remember that you are working with many bias edges. Try not to distort the fabric as you press.

Continue until you have pressed the entire quilt top. 

Finish Your Quilt

With all the seams press, you can trim your quilt top and complete your project.




I think the key to a positive hexagon-piecing experience is patience and precision. Start small, with a baby quilt like I made, to see whether machine-piecing hexagons is for you. If you give the technique a shot and have any thoughts on fine-tuning the process, please share in the comments. Thanks!

To read more about the finished hexagon quilt, click here.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Take That, Y-Seams!

Learn how to machine-piece hexagons here.

My sewing projects tend to fall into one of two categories: those that I plan far in advance and those I jump into on a whim. My main objective with the former category is usually stash or scrap busting—I want to enjoy the thrill of using up what I have on hand. The method to my madness with the latter group of projects is almost always skill building. I come across something I think will be a challenge and want to prove to myself that I can make it.

Earlier this year, in a QuiltCon class with Mary Fons, I learned that partial seams are no big deal. Since then, I’ve been thinking ... could the same be said of Y-seams, another quilting skill that gets a bad rap? I was determined to find out.

I considered hand-cutting the hexagons for this project—I own Jaybird Quilts’ Hex N More ruler—but I couldn’t muster the energy to use it. Then I thought I would buy some precut hexagons, but I passed on that that option, too. Only a few manufacturers offer hexagon precuts, and the fabric selection is very limited. I ended up buying a hexagon die to use in my AccuQuilt GO! fabric cutter. At the end of my endeavor, I had a nice pile of hexagons cut from my own stash.

And then I started sewing Y-seam after Y-seam and finished this baby quilt ...

Could this be the start of a new infatuation with hexagons?


Look at that Y-seam dead center. Beautiful, right?!

I used part of a layer cake of 30’s Playtime 2015, a Chloe’s Closet collection for Moda. By cutting the 10-inch squares diagonally, I got two 5-inch hexagons and two 2-inch squares out of each layer. I supplemented those with a few prints and solids from my stash. In total, I used 85 hexagons, which created a 30-inch by 31-inch baby quilt. I’m calling it my Happy Hexie Baby Quilt because it makes me so darn happy to have conquered Y-seams. Someday, it will make a baby happy, too, I hope!

I used those 2-inch squares from the layer cake on the back.

This baby quilt was finished off with a sweet floral binding from the stash.

Have you sewn hexagons by machine? (If you haven’t, I’m working on I’ve posted a tutorial about how I approached the task.) Do you hand-piece hexagons? Or does the thought of sewing hexagons—by machine or by hand—send you running?

I’m pretty psyched about this wee quilt. I’d like to go bigger next time and more modern. : )

Learn how to machine-piece hexagons here.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Instagram Is Messing with My Head

When it comes to social media, my platforms of choice are this blog and Instagram. The beauty of blogging is that I can go into detail about my quilt-making experiences, perhaps encourage someone to try a new technique, and assemble an online journal of my projects over the years. Blogging takes time, though, and the writing and the photography cut into my sewing time.


Here are some in-progress shots that I haven’t posted on Instagram.
I’m piecing these hexagons by machine.

Instagram is a nice alternative. Its emphasis on pictures is particularly appropriate for the quilting community, and I like to see what everyone else is working on and to get feedback on projects of my own. Unfortunately, I think Instagram is doing me more harm than good these days. I post sparingly—just once a week or so—but I always keep up with the posts of the 200-plus people I follow. What’s the problem with that?

It’s affecting my creativity. I am consuming every day, often multiple times a day, on Instagram. It keeps me informed, but I think it’s undermining my creativity. I need to stop processing what everyone else is doing and to focus on my own projects. If I need inspiration, it’s better to page through an art book, take a walk in my little New England town—pretty much do anything other than look at quilts!

I’m making this runner, from French General fabric, for my dining room.

It has me trying to keep up with my cohort. I can’t help but compare what others are creating, achieving, and finishing on Instagram to my own projects. And all that comparing is giving me a bad case of the I-shoulds: I should be publishing my own patterns! I should be monetizing my hobby! I should be [fill in the blank]! The I-shoulds never serve me well. I need to focus on what I want to do and how I want to spend my time.

My dedication to using all my scraps is evident in this patchwork,
whose squares finish at an inch and a half.

Bottom line: This is a better space for me, and I’m going to focus more on my blog and reading others’ blogs. I won’t disappear from Instagram, but if I’ve connected with you on that platform, I won’t be as in the loop as I have been in the past. Forgive the dearth of likes and comments!

Is any of this resonating with you?  How do you keep your own involvement with social media in check?

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Friday, May 26, 2017

My Easy-Breezy Beach Quilt

Mother’s Day 2017 was the kick-in-the-pants deadline I needed to finish two quilts. The first went to my mom. For that, I used a jelly roll I had on hand in colors I know she likes. The second went to my mother-in-law and was designed to coordinate with the living room in her new beach house.

I found the inspiration for the design on Cindy Lammon’s Instagram feed. (Check out the quilt here and here.) Cindy’s use of a dotted chambray as the background fabric was, I think, brilliant. I initially wanted to replicate it, but based on the fabric swatches my MIL provided me and the selections in my fabric stash, I went in a different direction.


Instead of going with a dark background, I went with my beloved Kona Snow. I pilfered some 10-inch squares from an Aria layer cake, by Kate Spain, that I had on hand and fleshed the fabric pull out with selections from my stash and yardage I bought specifically for the project. The result is light and airy—perfect for a beach house!



I even bound the quilt in Kona Snow. Considering the amount of color already in the quilt, the blue or green bindings I tried looked gaudy. A light binding might not be the most practical option, but it reinforced the easy-breezy feel of the project.


The biggest lesson I took from making this quilt was the importance of homing in on a palette. At first I thought I would use the blues—all the blues!—from my stash. Once I had a few blocks sewn, however, I realized that I needed to focus on a few select colors. Using my cut-up Kona color card, I decided that Aqua, Navy, Bahama Blue, Aloe, and Cadet were my priority for the quilt ...


I was pretty proud of myself for breaking into a beautiful layer cake for the sake of this quilt. Usually, I keep my precuts together and use them—whether they’re charm packs, jelly rolls, or layer cakes—in a single project. It was worth it here, however, and I still have probably thirty 10-inch squares of Aria to use in future quilts.

What do you have to say about that? If you’re a precut buyer, are you diligent about using a precut in just one project? Or do you throw caution to the wind and use some of a pack here and there?

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Five Weeks and Counting

Dear readers, as I write this, I am a whirlwind of quilt-making activity. My boys have five more (short! precious!) weeks of school before summer vacation starts, and I am doing everything I can to be productive before we slip into our summer schedule. I have three finishes to share with you in the next week or two, and then I’ll be starting something new. : )

My first finish is this, a throw-size quilt for my mother for her (belated) birthday/Mother’s Day. It might also cover last Christmas—I can’t remember. When it takes 20 to 40 hours to make a present for someone, I think it should count for multiple gift-giving holidays!


This quilt was a long time in the making. It wasn’t complicated—actually, the block design, by Patch the Giraffe, is straight-forward. What was difficult to work with was the fabric. I used a jelly roll of the Lady Mary collection from Andover’s Downton Abbey line. The fabrics themselves are lovely, but they don’t work well together as a collection. There is no clear focal fabric, no design to anchor the group. And although armed with a few dozen 2½-inch strips of these fabrics, I didn’t have enough variety to make an interesting quilt. My solution was to buy more fabric, almost exclusively from other Downton collections, to try to make it work.

I started working with the burgundy, dark blues, and tan from the original jelly roll.


I omitted a few fabrics with cream backgrounds because they didn’t create enough contrast with the Kona Snow I used. The cream background below is the exception. In addition to burgundy and dark blue dots, it contains some purple ones, which helped me expand my palette and add some different fabrics to the mix.


These traditional dots, surrounded by purple, are not from the Downton Abbey line. They’re sweet, though, and worked well with the other designs ...


The top needed a little something else, so I added a swath of pink in the border and bound the project in the purple dot.


The result may not be a “Michelle quilt,” but I think it’s a good stab at “a Mom quilt made by Michelle.”

The funny thing is, my mom is a quilter. I’ve made a handful of quilts for other quilters (like this one and this one). After all, who could appreciate the time and effort I put into a project more than another quilter?

What’s your take on making quilts for quilters? Have you given one of your creations to someone who could have made it for him- or herself?

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Friday, April 28, 2017

There’s Not Much Left to Say!

My longest-standing WIP is done. It is quilted. It is bound. It is waiting to be cuddled up under, to be claimed by a comfort-seeking puppy, to be transformed into a kid-made fort—and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’ve written pretty much all there is to say about this project. (If you want to know more, there’s a list of previous posts at the bottom of this one.) If the quilt here is new to you, the design is Park Bench by Jaybird Quilts, and it’s made with Carolyn Friedlander’s Botanics line, my favorite collection of hers to date.

Now on to pictures of this beauty, with quilting by See Mary Quilt ...
The original design called for three more blocks, but I opted not to use
them in my final layout. Without them the quilt is still the size of a large throw.


The quilter, Mary Gregory, did something different in each block.


Look at those pebbles, at those teardrops!


Mary knows I’m not crazy about feathers, so she used them sparingly.
The paisley in the background fabrics, however? I adore them!


That’s my favorite block in the center there.


And those overlapping petals are my favorite bit of quilting. Love, love, love!

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Wow, I first wrote about this project almost three years ago! OK, time to fess up: Just how old is your oldest WIP?!

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Friday, April 21, 2017

One Quilter’s Trash Is Another Quilter’s Future UFO

Years ago, my husband dubbed me a “leaver.” If you ask why, he will provide evidence from different aspects of our lives. If I take an umbrella to church on a rainy Sunday morning, for example, I’ll likely have to run back from the car to the sanctuary after service to retrieve it. If I write a detailed list before a big grocery run, I’ll probably leave it on the kitchen island and have to shop from memory once I arrive at the store.

So last fall, when I packed up some unwanted sewing stuff to give away at a guild meeting, I wasn’t surprised at the end of the night when I got in my car and found the bag sitting in the backseat. The demands of life: 1. Michelle’s unreliable memory: 0.

This instance of leaving instigated a rather good idea, though. If I had a bag of quilting paraphrenalia that I was willing to give away, my fellow guild members likely did, too. And my leaver self came up with the idea of a guild-wide yard sale.

The scenario the guild’s board cooked up was a win-win-win proposition. Members could get rid of sewing items they weren’t going to use and could buy ones they wanted for yard-sale prices. All proceeds from the sale went to the guild, for future in-meeting programming. Anything that didn’t sell was given to a local charity.

As a thank-you for participating, we entered donors into a drawing for a $25 gift certificate to a fabric store. (I’m sure the irony is not lost on you: We encouraged people to get rid of quilting supplies and fabric so they could win a gift certificate to buy more quilting supplies and fabric!) To ease check-out, we priced almost everything by category: Books were $3, magazines were $1, fabric was 50 cents an ounce, and so on.

I expected this event to help me clean up my sewing space. I didn’t realize, however, how much awesome stuff my guildmates were going to be giving up, and I scored big. I found a large cut of Denyse Schmidt’s New Bedford line and fat quarters from Amy Butler and Anna Maria Horner ...


And I snatched up other fats from DS, Cotton and Steel, and Art Gallery ...


I also bought multiple yards of Essex Linen, a book, and a pattern. I spent about $18 for all my loot, and I was one of many happy buyers. To boot, the evening raised more than $500 for guild programming. Yahoo!

If you’re looking for an easy way to raise money for your guild, I recommend holding a yard sale. After all, one quilter’s trash is another quilter’s future UFO, right?! If you have other simple ways to grow a guild’s coffers, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Latest Finish: Grape Fizz

Mary Fons, over at PaperGirl, sent out a call for essays last month. The purpose of this contest was to get people writing—for future quilt lovers, for posterity—about their quilts. As a blogger, I write about my quilt projects and quilting in general all the time, so my participation was a no-brainer. What follows is my submission to this contest, plus some pretty pictures.

* * *

One of the things I love most in the world is quilting, but right behind quilting is quilters themselves. Quilters are a unique breed. There’s something special about meeting another quilter for the first time. There’s an instant connection when two people who have spent hours sewing at a machine, standing at a cutting mat, and foraging in fabric shops cross paths. My latest finish—Grape Fizz—is noteworthy not only because it’s beautiful and I love it but also because it reminds me of one of those encounters.


Grape Fizz is my version of Amy Garro’s Icy Waters, a quilt that a lot of modern quilters know. It was shown at QuiltCon 2014 and also adorns the cover of Amy’s book, Paper Pieced Modern. The brilliance behind this pattern is that the seemingly complicated design is really just one block that’s rendered in different fabrics and rotated throughout the quilt. In Amy’s original, this approach re-creates the look of an iceberg. Amy uses a spectrum of blues to translate that iceberg—which sometimes pokes through the Arctic waters and, other times, is submerged deep in the ocean—into fabric.

My interpretation of Icy Waters became Grape Fizz through my decisions about the palette and quilting. Like Amy, I chose an ombre array of fabrics, from pure white, to shades of lavender, to eggplant. I finished piecing my quilt top soon after I started it, in the summer of 2016, and passed it on to my friend Mary Gregory (of See Mary Quilt) for quilting.


It’s the quilting that transforms this project into Grape Fizz. I asked Mary for bubbles and ribbon candy, lots of soft curves to balance the piecing’s sharp corners, and wow, I got it. I almost always straight-line-quilt my projects, so Grape Fizz is not something I could create without Mary’s collaboration.

Mary returned the quilt to me recently. Seeing it transported me back to last summer when I pieced the top, and my experience piecing Grape Fizz was unusual. I did not embark on the project at my sewing table, Paper Pieced Modern in hand. I had the pleasure of starting it with direction from Amy herself, in a workshop she did with the New Hampshire Modern Quilt Guild.


As the NHMQG member in charge of events, I planned the details of getting Amy to New England. In the months preceding her visit, my interactions with her were confined to quick emails about where she wanted to stay and which airport she’d fly out of. By the time her visit (finally!) arrived, I was delighted to have the opportunity talk to her and get to know her more as a quilter and a person.

And we had a lot of time to talk. We talked in the car from the airport to her hotel, during the next day’s workshop, at the post-workshop dinner, and again the last day of Amy’s visit, at her trunk show. We exchanged stories about our projects, our techniques, our quilty idols, our kids. Talking with Amy was, of course, easy because she is a quilter, and we have that common bond of making beautiful pieces of art that we can also curl up under.

As you can imagine, the weekend was inspirational, educational, and a whole lot of fun.

I wish I could say that I’ve been good about keeping in touch with Amy, but I haven’t. And that’s OK. I know that when our paths cross again, we’ll talk and share as any two quilters do. Until then, I have a beautiful quilt that both reminds me of the fabulous weekend we had together and makes me hope our next meeting is sooner rather than later.


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