FMQ Skill Builder

If you are anything like me, you want to improve your free motion quilting skills without experimenting on a large quilt that you have spent a lot of time and money on. I have done that, and regretted it – everything great until the end, and then embarrassed to the point it becomes little more than a dog bed.

The advise often given to improve FMQ is to practice on sandwich blanks. I did some of that, but it always felt aimless. I would stitch the same familiar patterns; ones I was already pretty good at. It also lacked real quilt problems – where you have to negotiate tight corners or small spaces, where you get distortions because of thread build-up and where you have to think through the order in which you do your stitching.

If you want to practice your FMQ skills and have something to show for it in the end, here is a great way to do it:

Pick a panel you like. Landscapes are good, as they will have fewer starts and stops. Also, darker landscapes will be more forgiving than lighter ones. Here is one I bought to make up as a Christmas gift. I will post both the before quilting… moose before

… and the end result.  Hopefully you can see the difference. moose final

The first thing to do is to pick a focal point and stitch around it to outline it (in my case, the moose). The focal point will be quilted the least, as it will puff out (and therefore appear closer) when the areas around it are densely quilted.

Tackle your project, following these general principals:

  1. Start in the middle (distant shore) and work out as much as possible (trees, upper right; trees, upper left; water and grasses, lower right; water and grasses, lower left).
  2. The key to achieving a 3-D effect is the density of stitching. Whatever you want to appear closer (moose, logs, bigger trees, rocks) should have less stitching. The dense stitching around those area will make them stand out. However, overall you will need to have the stitching balanced so you may need to make some things up as you go, or add general filler stitches in certain areas. I had to do that in the upper center area. moose background
  3. Work your colours in groups, and try to pick at least 3 of each – a light, medium and dark (especially the greens). You can get away with less if you use variegated threads, but you may be challenged by them as well. They have a tendency to stitch dark threads when you want light, or light when you want dark. Use shiny threads sparingly. moose2
  4. As quilters we often want to make everything perfect and symmetrical. But nature is not perfect or symmetrical.  Variety is a good thing. Vary your stitches. Don’t outline everything. Don’t highlight all the grass, or all the leaves, or all the branches.
  5. Make 3 overall passes.
    • For the first one, stitch an outline (or a partial outline) around the larger items. I started with the distant shoreline, then moved on to the moose, the tree trunks and logs in the foreground. For this step I used only black thread and was able to do all of it without changing thread colour.
    • In the second pass you will add most of the detail. It will be the most work, and will have the most number of thread changes. You will work all areas simultaneously but always background to foreground, dark thread to light thread. Darker threads are more forgiving, and backgrounds have fewer details, which gives you a chance to practice before you get to the front where the stitching will be more obvious. The foreground will be more detailed and lighter in colour but even there, I started with the darker colours – green grasses, rust leaves, purple water – before moving on to lighter golds. moose grass
    • In the final pass, add highlights and finishing touches. Your highlights will be minimal, light in colour and if you like shiny threads, this is the time to use them. moose1Also, in this pass, look for areas that sag and simply add some stitching. In my case, I had to stitch some fur on the moose, some tree trunks in the background, and lines in the water. moose detail
  6. If you don’t like something, keep going. More stitching usually looks better than not enough. Also, with dense stitching you can ‘eliminate’ a stray stitch without it affecting the integrity of your project.
  7. Save the most challenging sections for last. You will gain confidence as you go.
  8. You are done when the stitching is balanced and you can’t think of anything more to do that would add to the picture.

So, what will you do with your project? The obvious is a wall hanging but there are many other options. Your panel may be appropriate for a baby blanket or a lap quilt. Add borders to ‘frame’ it, or make it into a quilt using your favorite QAYG method. Finally, you could fold it in half, sew three sides, and face one edge for a quilted pillowcase.

In any case, keep stitching! It’s all forward progress.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

One week of Quilting on the Beach (QOTB) in Kailua-Kona Hawaii last February hi-jacked my plans and kept me stitching for a whole year. I am not complaining. It was fun and I learned a lot. During the process, I could re-live the memories and think about the places we visited and the people we met along the way.

New Year’s Day saw me working on the last piece prior to my big reveal. Here it is, partially complete. leaf 2019

I will be doing a QOTB Trunk Show at Manitoba Prairie Quilter’s January meeting (Jan 17th). Come if you can, or watch for an E version on a post shortly after.

When I wasn’t working on QOTB projects during 2018, I was more than likely playing the Circle Game. All 16 blocks were hand stitched and enhanced with some big stitch embroidery. They are back up on the design wall – A gentle reminder to keep going even when the end doesn’t seem anywhere in sight. circles

There is still a long way to go. Four borders, appliqued scallops and hand quilting. Sorry about the quality of the photo. A better one will be posted at some point in the future.

In 2018 my blog had almost 20,000 views and 6300 visitors. Most of the time I do not look at the stats. My blog does not cost anything, and I don’t make any money from it.  I do not want to be controlled by the potential for profit and try not to get carried away by stats, but at the end of a year it helps to give me the bigger picture. My posts on Ruler Guided Quilting for 2017 continue to be popular, with Block 5 being viewed most often. block5

I find that interesting as it would not be my favorite. It’s a tough call but I think my favorite would be Block 6 block6

Or even Block 4 block4

That was my beginner series of Ruler-Guided Quilting. This year I want to do more. Come along and give it a try! To get you started, in the next couple weeks I will post a Free Motion Skill builder exercise. You do not have to be good at FMQ to use rulers – in fact, rulers can help make your FMQ better – but you do have to  be comfortable with it so its a good starting point.

Next up is Designing with Rulers. You may have purchased some but are you unsure of what to do with them or what to stitch?  You can watch U-Tube videos, but why not come up with your own designs. I will be teaching a class at the Crocus Conference hosted by the Manitoba Prairie Quilters at the end of April. Join us if you can.

After that, I hope to come up with more complex designs that combine different ruler shapes, or combine FMQ with Ruler-Guided Quilting. Did I mention that there are also about a dozen quilts on my ‘to do’ wish list for 2019? Stay tuned. We will have a lot of fun and we have a lot to accomplish!

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Advent Revealed

If you had asked me to make an art quilt for Advent, it would never have looked like this. advent

Improv provides mystery. It is unpredictable. And special.

Details of the overall design and symbols for the first two weeks of Advent were discussed in my previous post. Then I became worried. There was space for two large elements, one border, a few small spots and filler stitches for all four candles. It was the large spaces in particular that had me worried. Would there be anything to put in them?

In the last song of the third week I had my answer. “…Into the desert and into the night I’m going to send my sweet pure light…”. I already had light going into what looked like night. All I was missing was the desert.advent desert

Then I sat on pins and needles waiting for the 4th Sunday of Advent in order to complete the 4th circle.

Other things started to go wrong, or so I thought. “Born a child, and yet a king” required something kingly and all I could think of was a crown. It would have to be near the center and would have to be in all four quadrants. Once stitched, I hated it. There was no choice but to keep going. I was just glad I had stitched it purple so that it faded into the background. A crown has to have gems, so this one received circle diamonds. advent crown

The concept of ‘come’ is an interesting one that I have contemplated for several years. The only symbol I could think of was that of open arms. Once again, it had to be connected to the center candle, going out in all directions. The call is all inclusive to the weary, hungry, joyful, broken, those with faith and those without. You may have thought it was a star but there is no star in Advent and the fact that it looks like a star was unexpected.

Another surprise occurred with the hearts. I contemplated adding hearts in the first week when I read the words “bind in one the hearts of humankind”  but considered it too common of a symbol. Then in the third week it came up again as “The Lord looks on the heart…” I added hearts on all four sides, between the candles, in essence connecting the glow of one week to the next. Then it occurred to me that the spaces where the candle rings overlapped (containing the words come, cry, watch, and wait), and later used for the flames of refining fire now looked like eyes. Could I be reading too much into this? Sure. But there are no rules here. advent hearts

So do you want to know what is in the center of the fourth candle? It wasn’t easy. This is what I had to work with “…(I was) dried up river…burned out forest …You brought the spring time green of new life…”. Somehow it went with the ‘…broken in so many ways…’ that I had put into the border of this candle in week one and the love theme. advent forest

The filler stitches were added at the end. Candles 1 and 3 received a meandering stitch representing storm clouds in week one, and ‘untie the cords’ in week three. A spiral stitch was used for weeks 2 and 4 – first to repent, turn around, and then as water.

This simple 25 square inch quilt contains the essence of the Advent story.

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Advent, Part 1

After two weeks of Advent, here is a sneak peak of my Inspirational Improv piece so far…


It started with a piece of Indigo fabric dyed in the summer, with Advent in mind. The circles representing the candles were hand stitched and gathered prior to dyeing. advent7

Three of the candles were stitched purple and one was stitched pink. These are the traditional Advent candle colours representing hope, peace, joy and love. The center Christ candle is white, representing the light of the world. The white reference lines are chalk. I had to dye the fabric with full circles, but wanted the candles to have an incomplete feel, like the continuation of time.

Once my structure was in place, I started to add the elements according to readings and songs. Some are more specific, and other are over arching. The ‘Light’ extends to the four corners;  the Branch of David is stitched around the entire piece, without end; and, Peace, joy, hope and love were stitched into the borders of the candles for each specific weekadvent5

We ‘Come, Cry, Watch, Wait’ was stitched into the intersecting circles of the 4 weeks. Later, the same space became the flame for “refiner’s fire” and was stitched yellow.advent6

“I am broken in so many ways” ended up as a border under the candle for Love. Appropriate, don’t you think? advent2

The tree, a symbol of new life and hope ended up front and center in the first week of Advent. advent9

You will see in the border under the tree stitching to ‘light a path through darkest night’.

The stitching for ‘We are like grass fading in the wind’ in the second week of Advent leaves a lot to be desired (now you really know that I cannot draw!)adventa

However, I LOVED the “… high made low, the low not so, the crooked straight, the straight not so’. That was an easy one. advent3

Now may be the time for a disclaimer. The fabric didn’t dye a perfect blue. My stitches aren’t evenly spaced. The circles aren’t perfect. For that matter, it is not a perfect representation of anything – history, theology, colours or shapes. However, it is an interpretation and the process is definitely worthwhile.

I will post the end result after Christmas. In the meantime, I hope that you will have a great holiday, and that you are able to share special time with special people.



Posted in 2018, Inspirational, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Pumpkin Crumb Cake

Ken’s Kitchen grew 5 pumpkins this year. On December 1st, I declared that fall was officially over and he needed to do something with the final pumpkin. He roasted the pumpkin, pureed it and made this pumpkin crumb cake.

I thought it was one of the best yet. Others agreed. There were so many requests for me to share the recipe, that this post will be short and sweet – giving you only that.

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Inspirational Improv

I love everything Christmas! Decorating. Buying gifts. Baking. Family. Santa. And yes, the Biblical Christmas story.

We did not celebrate Advent when I was a child. My first exposure came when I was an adult and they started to light different coloured candles during the Sunday services. I did not know what they meant, but it was a nice tradition to add to our growing list. Now, Advent calendars are popular. One more way to convince parents to buy not just 1 gift but 24 additional gifts!

Really, Advent is about slowing down. It is reflection. It is stillness. It is anticipation. It is about taking time away from the busyness of life to reflect on the real reason for this season.

For me, this is hard. I will keep going, keep sewing, until the days are all gone. I do not seem to have the ability to put my mind into neutral and I can’t seem to concentrate on anything unless I add fabric and thread.

That’s where Inspirational Improv comes in. So far, I have only done this on paper. It was great – you can erase your work or change your mind as you go.

But this year I want to go one step further. A little more risk. I want to work with fabric and stitch my designs every day. They will be permanent once made.

Here is how it works:

  1. Pick a topic that you would like to study and document in art form. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, so this is a perfect starting point for those who celebrate Advent. But it could also be Hanukkah, a family prayer flag, a historical event, or another topic that you are passionate about. Ideally, you want something with a definite start and end point. Make it manageable.
  2. Meditate on your selected readings and/or songs every day. I will follow the menu from the Sunday Services at Saint Benedict’s Table. If I was making a family prayer flag, I would meditate on one person each day. If I was doing a historical event, I would restrict my meditations to chapters in a book, specific characters, or years in a timeline.
  3. On the first day, decide on your size and overall structure. It doesn’t have to be big. The first time I tried this was Lent. I used a small sheet of paper and drew a path. It ended up being a path that went through the wilderness. This time it will be about the size of flip chart paper and the 5 candles will form the structure.
  4. With each meditation, determine what kind of object(s) to add to your picture that reflects your reading and/or thoughts that day. You do not have to be an artist to do this (I can’t draw a simple chair!). Use whatever ability you have at your disposal. It may be colour, shapes, words, or shading. In my case, it may be different types of stitching or a combination of everything mentioned. I usually restrict it to one object per day (although I may repeat the object) and I do not remove it once that day has passed.
  5. Continue adding objects and filling the spots in your ‘picture’ every day. Since you do not know what you will be adding in the future days, there is a sense of mystery. You have no idea what is coming and what it will look like in the end. Just know that you will be amazed. Remember too, that this is very personal. It is your project and it will have meaning to you alone. It does not need to ‘turn out’ and you don’t have to show it to anyone else. Having said that, I may share my progress with you in the coming weeks but only if I am feeling brave.
  6. Document your symbols and the source of inspiration. The more abstract, the more important this is. Ha!

I hope you will consider doing this with pencil and paper if nothing else. It will stretch your creative process, help you interact with the material, and help you remember details you would otherwise forget.


Posted in 2018, Inspirational, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Making Peace with the Moon

My first quilt of 2018 was a challenge quilt due in March. The challenge was to make a Christmas wall quilt which included a piece of white frosted fabric, and a button.

When I came across the Peace Moon pattern by Laurel Burch, I knew it was the one I wanted to make. In fact, I just had to make two (again!). It’s too hard to make something you love and then give it away!

Wouldn’t you know it? The gradated fabric I challenged myself to use in 2018 fit in perfectly with this pattern. Laurel Burch was ahead of the times. gradients

Sewing the quilt together was so simple it hardly qualified as piecing. Raw edge applique also is little more than tracing, cutting and ironing. So far, so good. peace1

Then it was time to pull out the paints and pens, as instructed in the pattern. peace7 Now it gets risky. I played it safe by starting with the holly leaves… then the flowers. I found out that:

  • Sharpies might be permanent, but they bleed;
  • dark fabric pens work well, but light ones don’t;
  • paint doesn’t work as well on fabric as it does on paper or wood. It is difficult to shade, and often the colour looks grey once it has been applied.

I am a minimalist and I can’t draw. So this really goes against the grain. I would quit, but something had to be done with those birds! After some penwork and some paint, this project hit rock bottom. It looked primitive, amateurish.  I had to walk away.

A break always helps give new perspective, new ideas. The lines were too short, too few. I had to make more, and make them bolder. Laurel had a lot more detail in her picture including hundreds of little white dots. There really are times when more is more. As for me, I decided to stop with the pens and paint while I was still ahead. peace8

It was finally time for some stitching. Things could still go south…

And they did. The post so far was a draft written in January. I finished the quilting on one and was hand stitching the binding when…

I spilled coffee on it.

My white moon was no longer white. The permanent fabric markers bled. The Heat and Bond lifted.

Good thing I had two underway. It was a scramble to finish one (with stitching in place of markers!) in time to be auctioned off at our local quilt show. The other was put away -out of sight, but not out of mind. Could it still be rescued?

This week I decided to find out. Some free motion quilting where marker lines used to be, satin stitching in places the Heat and Bond had lifted – and more for extra insurance, a little hand embroidery, and jewels just because I wanted to give it a little extra love. peace9

It looks a little weathered and worn, but then again, it has been through a lot. Hot water baths… bleach… and every other solution people have suggested.  Plus a whole lot more stitching. Reminds me of life. It has a story, and I think I will keep it.

This week I also finished several Quilting On The Beach (QOTB) projects and started on Christmas gifts. Of course I can’t show you any of these but watch for the electronic QOTB Trunk Show in January!

Finally, here are some recipes from Ken’s Kitchen:

Until next time, keep creating and keep on stitching!

Posted in 2018, art, gradients, recipes, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Hometown: Love, Saskatchewan

Think of your home town. How would you describe it? Better still, how would you depict it on a Postcard of Fibre Art (PFA)?

I belong to a PFA group on FB that threw out a Hometown Challenge. The challenge this time was to make it a little bigger. And multi level. With such good subject matter to work with, I just couldn’t resist.

Love – population of 50; located in central, Eastern Saskatchewan. The highway on which it is located borders farming land to the south and gentle rolling hills of pine trees and rivers/lakes to the north. I still have family in the area and usually go back once a year to visit. Like most, however, I had to leave the area to attend school and work.

My card has 3 levels. The initial design was done on PowerPoint – One page for each level. It was the easiest way to get words printed onto fabric, to get perfect simple shapes (like the heart), and to ensure the size of each item was what I wanted.

The first layer was street names. It formed the background fabric for the rest of the card, but here are pictures just to show you that the street names actually exist.

Layer 2 was based on a picture I took (with the cute grandsons). It was taken facing west along the rail line on Main St. love1 To reproduce this, I used raw-edge applique and lots of thread painting.

Here is a picture of the back, just because I can no longer see it… love layer2 back

The edges were finished with a satin stitch and ‘glued’ to the first layer with Steam-A-Seam.

The third layer is a reproduction of a sign welcoming you to the community. love2The words were printed on white fabric and then I dug out my old Folk Art painting supplies to paint the rest.

My skills were very rusty, but it is what it is. I wanted a nice clean edge on the sign so wrapped it around the Flexi-firm and ‘glued’ another piece of Flexi-Firm of the same shape to the back. Spacers of Flexi-Firm also helped level the sign posts and attach layer 3 to the first two layers.

Some blue thread that came out of an Indigo dyeing session was used for the edge. I simply did a blanket stitch and then tied knots on the thread between the stitches. A few loose strands of thread represent the very fitting slogan for Saskatchewan which is “Land of the Living Skies”. So, here is the front of my finished postcard. love finished

Love has it’s own Postmark (used by many brides to mail wedding invitations). I was able to download a copy for the back. Since I do not intend on mailing this postcard anywhere, I enhanced the postmark with a little embroidery and put details of the village on the back. love-back-finished.jpg

This was so much fun, I have plans for a few more cards. Winnipeg, my current hometown, is my next project and far more challenging. It may be awhile before you see it.

Posted in 2018, art, challenges, FMQ, quilted postcards, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

Where did it go? Seems like my summer holiday from blogging extended well into fall.

I did very little quilting this summer. Instead, I was busy converting a neglected rec room/bedroom/bathroom into a quilting studio.

The goal was to paint the space and install better lighting. Simple enough. I didn’t even take ‘before’ pictures.

One item on my wish list was a place to display my quilted postcards, or PFAs (Postcard Fabric Art), as my FB group calls them. The cards from my One Million Mile Challenge got center stage


but I was also thrilled to take the cards received from friends out of their shoe box and display them on the wall of the guest room. I enjoyed re-reading them as they were hung, and I hope my guests will too.postcards2

I did take the time to make a PFA this summer, but I will tell you more about that in another post.

Another item on the wish list was a design wall. Then, because I couldn’t decide on what I wanted, I made two. One is flannel with cork behind it, and the other has clips. I can now work on multiple items at a time, which is what I do always do anyways. (Yes, I did make progress on The Circle Game!) design wall

The Design Center was totally unplanned. We had a wet bar sink and a bar which was never used. Removing them was more of a project than I wanted to undertake so with the help of DH, I built a table to go over the sink and refinished the bar. It now is the perfect space for any design work that I want to do. There are a couple extra chairs, so come join me if you are in the neighborhood.

My old sewing room did not have anything done to it except some organizing so that it is more functional. I have three sewing machines set up, and I can simply swivel between them. No more sewing machines set up on the dining room table (I hope).  workroom1

The sob-story of this adventure was to be my crown jewel -a slab of live edge wood that I spent countless hours and hundreds of dollars on. It turned out beautiful, but it was a matter of sharing custody of it with some hardy little bugs living inside of it. I have never seen them, but mounds of sawdust and tiny little holes told me they survived the bleach, wood filler, stain, varnish and 4 (yes, four!) layers of epoxy. It was going to be attached to my mom’s old Singer treadle sewing machine frame in order to make a sofa table. Needless to say, the wood is not in my studio.

Another project only half-finished was a wrought iron bed frame rescued from the elements. It was in pretty bad shape. It would have to be a decorative item only. I sanded and painted the headboard but it turned cold just a little too fast. Maybe we will get a few more days of +10C temps so that I can finish painting the foot board. It will be used to display finished quilts. bed frame

That brings you almost up to date. The next few months will be very busy finishing up projects from Quilting on the Beach so my posts may still be few and far between. I am scheduled to do a Trunk Show in January at our local guild, and will provide you with an electronic trunk show at the same time.

Posted in 2018, quilted postcards, Reclaimed and Repurposed, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

K.I.S.S. Quilting

We have all heard about the K.I.S.S. principle. It’s what I decided to do with a kit I had purchased called Easy Summer Fun by Viv Smith of Willow Brook Quilts.

Easy Summer Fun was already a simple beginner quilt. The kit contained 10″ pre-cuts of Kaffe Fassett fabrics plus black on white and white on black squares. I have become quite infatuated with Kaffe Fassett fabrics but as you know, my focus this year is suppose to be on gradated fabrics.

My first decision was to reserve the black and white fabrics for another project and substitute it with pieces of beautiful Gelato Ombre fabrics that I purchased in Singapore (but now is available locally). As it turns out, they marry well together. summer fun1

My next decision was to leave the squares uncut. Kaffe Fassett and most Ombre fabrics are bold enough to stand on their own in large dosses.

It went to my favorite long-armer for an overall design. We picked a modern floral design and orange thread. Why not!?!

The BEST thing about this pattern is the wide binding. It is not often that binding makes a quilt, but this time it did and I absolutely love it!

This is my Summer Fun, and I could not have kept it any simpler. summer fun

Speaking of summer, its that time again when I will take a break from this blog and work on getting things crossed off the ‘to do’ list. I hope you have a great summer!

Posted in 2018, hand piecing, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments