Vintage Bird Blocks Flying Home

For the last 20 years I have been in the possession of 50 vintage blocks. I don’t know too much about their origin. The images on these linen blocks are the state birds of the USA. The name of each bird is on the block and the name of the state it represents is written in script within a scroll. The blocks were painted by my husband’s grandmother with ‘liquid embroidery’; also known as ‘ball point paint’.

These blocks were handed to me in a cloth bag as my dear mother-in-law just didn’t know what to do with them. With a future visit planned I decided to sew them together into a quilt that can be enjoyed by several generations instead of languishing in my cupboard.

State Birds of America

I know the blocks were done sometime in the 1960’s in the state of Kansas on a small farm in the limited spare time she had as a farmer’s wife.

I set the 50 blocks into columns of 10 birds separated by a brown, paisley fabric,

and have used a Sunflower print for the binding as sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas.

Detail of the State Birds

I used an ‘all over’ quilting design (I think it looks like clouds) as I didn’t want the quilting design to detract from the birds. The Aurifil thread is always a pleasure to use and the colour works well on the bird blocks and the ‘tree’ brown sashing.

Kansas Sunflower Binding and Aurifil Thread

I’ll be giving this finished quilt back to my mother-in-law.  Then she can treasure the result of many hours of pleasure her mother must have experienced delicately painting the fine lines of each bird.

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Prize winning quilts use Aurifil

Despite being one of the short months in the year, June felt much longer than usual as I managed to fit an extended trip to Sydney into the usual everyday business activities.

A classic photo of the Sydney Opera house at sunset by Ian Scott

A classic photo of the Sydney Opera house at sunset by Ian Scott

The original reason for the trip to Sydney was the annual Quilt & Craft Expo.

The Aurifil stand at the Quilt & Craft Wholesale Trade Expo June 2011

The Aurifil stand at the Quilt & Craft Wholesale Trade Expo June 2011

This is the wholesale trade fair for textile crafts, where you find distributors for patchwork fabrics, threads & craft tools, pattern designers & button makers all showing their wares. It is a great opportunity to network with the business side of the craft industry, a place to meet other shop owners from around Australia, talk to the designers and get inspirational ideas to  take home.

We made a feature display of the new mini spools of Lana wool blend at the Expo

We made a feature display of the new mini spools of Lana wool blend at the Expo

I stayed in Sydney for the week after the trade show to visit some of  our Aurifil retail outlets, so I had an opportunity to attend the Quilt Exhibition for the first time in many years.

Wow!  There were some very beautiful quilts on display and I was particularly excited to recognise the names of Aurifil customers on some of the award winning quilts.

Chris Jurd won first place in the  "New traditions from Old Favourites" category with this quilt

Chris Jurd won first place in the "New traditions from Old Favourites" category with this quilt

Chris Jurd is a well known designer & teacher in the NSW patchwork world. This wonderful quilt won first place in the “New traditions from old favourites” Open category and is just spectacular in real life. Chris enjoys foundation piecing designs that look complex, and she says that Cotton Mako’ 50  is ideal for this type of stitching.

A close up view of some of the blocks in Chris Jurd's award winning quilt

A close up view of some of the blocks in Chris Jurd's award winning quilt

You can join classes, taught by Chris, at the Cottage Quiltworks in Warriewood,  Berrima Patchwork in Berrima, Home Patch in Bathurst and Hobbysew Wollongong and Kings Park.

Sharon made this stunning Bethlehem Star quilt in modern, eye catching, colours

Sharon made this stunning Bethlehem Star quilt in modern, eye catching, colours

Sharon owns Morning Star Quilting, a machine quilting service at Avoca Beach and has been the recipient of many awards since she started Longarm quilting in 2006.

You have to agree that the fine detail in the feathers and cross hatching look very pretty stitched out with Cotton Mako’ 40.  Sharon won fourth place with this quilt in the “Traditional Professional” category.

Sharon machine quilted this beautiful complex design of feathers & cross hatching with Cotton Mako' 40

Sharon machine quilted this beautiful complex design of feathers & cross hatching with Cotton Mako' 40

Two more quilts that had the  “Wow” factor for me, were made by Catherine Butterworth. When I saw the first quilt, “Hexagon stars for Ulladulla” I loved the complexity of design and colour.

Catherine's quilt "Hexagon Stars for Ulladulla"

Catherine's quilt "Hexagon Stars for Ulladulla"

Then several aisles later I found this quilt, also by Catherine, called “Googly Eyes”, named after the effect created by the fussy cut fabric in the sashing stars.

Catherine's quilt, with the fussy cut "Googly Eyes"

Catherine's quilt, with the fussy cut "Googly Eyes"

When I contacted Catherine for permission to show photos of her quilts here, she replied:

“Yes,  you may use a photo of my quilts, and yes I pieced and quilted them with Aurifil. I prefer 50/2 for piecing and stitch in the ditch quilting. I then use either 50/2 or 40/2 for the free motion quilting. If it works for you when blogging, feel free to mention that I teach classes for both of them. “

If you are interested in taking classes with Chris Jurd or Catherine Butterworth please send me an email request for their contact details.

You can see all the award winning quilts for the 2011 exhibition at the Sydney Patchwork & Quilting Guild website.

I had to finish the post with another classic photo of Sydney at night by Ian Scott

I had to finish the post with another classic photo of Sydney at night by Ian Scott

Go to the website to see the full colour range, or to purchase Cotton Mako’ to make your own wonderful quilt.

What type of quilt batting is best?

This week I was asked which batting was better, specifically if 60/40 wool mix was better than 100% wool batting, and what a dilemma this question of better/best poses. 

The quilt batting rack in the shop holds a roll each of wool/poly batting, in natural & charcoal, plus a roll of cotton /poly and a roll of very thin pellon style polyester.

The quilt batting rack in the shop holds a roll each of wool/poly batting, in natural & charcoal, plus a roll of cotton /poly and a roll of very thin pellon style polyester.

There are a multitude of battings on the market, and the choice of batting is determined by many factors, so the following comments are based on my quilting experiences, and observations, and will not necessarily agree with your quilting experiences and observations. 

The starting point for my favourite quilt batting
I have always used the 60/40 wool mix as I like the idea of the polyester scrim & needle punching to stabilise the wool fibres. My quilts are all soft, with a nice quilting definition, and they can withstand gentle machine washing on a wool cycle without the fibres migrating through the cotton fabric. Although there is that element of synthetic in the batting, the quilts are still comfortable to use all year round as they “breathe”. 

I used wool/poly batting in the elephant attic window quilt

Batting is always a personal choice so the other thing to consider is how you plan to quilt …. hand quilting, domestic machine quilting or longarm quilting all have different requirements. 
I machine quilt with a longarm machine, holding the handles as I guide the machine head over the quilt, so I can “feel” the effort required for the needle to push through the batting.
I have found that the needle passes through the wool & wool/mix battings much easier than through cotton batting.
You can actually feel the vibration, & hear the needle “punching” into a cotton batting, as it stitches. The only time this is not noticeable is when the cotton batting has been pre-soaked/pre-shrunk so that it has been softened, and then the needle action is smoother, but still not as smooth as for a wool batting.
 
Surprisingly, even though bamboo batting is also made from a plant fibre, it has a softer stitching action with the needle passing through the quilt sandwich almost as easily as the wool & wool mix battings.
 
A word of warning here though, don’t be tempted to pre-wash bamboo batting, it needs to be stabilised inside the quilt before washing.
So, although I am a machine quilter, and do very little hand quilting,  wool or wool mix batting would be my choice for hand quilting. 

Hand quilting

Cotton batting creates a static relationship with cotton fabric so that it “sticks” to the fabric. This can be useful when quilting on a domestic machine, provided the quilt is flat and has been well basted before hand.  
 
However the static relationship is not desired when quilting with a longarm machine where the quilt & batting are moving independently of each other. In this situation the static relationship can form tucks & pleats very easily.

Quilting with a longarm machine means that the 3 quilt parts move independently until they are actually quilted together

The other factor to consider is the finished appearance of the quilt.
Do you like a quilt to have a traditional fluffy appearance or a flatter smoother texture?
You will achieve a traditional fluffy result by using a cotton batting that has not been pre-washed, as this will allow the shrinkage resulting in the first wash to puff up around the quilted stitching. 
Wool, wool mix & bamboo battings do not seem to have this same effect so the quilting texture will stay very much as it was when first quilted. 
 
So you can see,  “best” statements should always be put into context so that you can see how the writer/speaker works, and understand why their choice of batting is best for that person/job. 
 
 

What fun … making Christmas postcards from fabric & thread

Last week I played truant, and stole an hour away from work commitments, to stitch out some Christmas postcards. I had been wanting to try out a technique for stitching fabric postcards on the Longarm for quite some, so the festive season was the perfect opportunity.

I loaded some plain fabric on the quilting frame & marked it into a 7″ grid to give me a rough spacing for placing the design. A sewline marker was perfect for this step.

Mark out a grid pattern to help with the placement of the design.

I then selected a Christmas design from my IntelliQuilter digital quilting patterns. In this case I used a pretty holly wreath (unfortunately it didn’t have a name on the file so I cannot acknowledge the designer)

I chose a pretty holly leaf wreath for the Christmas postcards

It took a little bit of playing to find the optimum settings to stitch out so that I got the desired  look. I was using Cotton Mako’ Ne 12 in the needle, and Cotton mako’ Ne 28 in the bobbin and I wanted a 6″ block that looked hand stitched.

Wow! Look at the Cotton Mako' Ne 12 stitching out

Wow! Look at the Cotton Mako' Ne 12 stitching out

I eventually settled on the following settings on the Machine:
IntelliStitch Motor speed: slow  (4 to 5 setting in continuous stitch)
IntelliQuilter: Speed = 0.9 & Detail = 0.9 

I was using Cotton Mako’ Ne 12 so I also changed my standard MR3.5 needle and put in a larger MR4.5 to allow for the thicker thread.

The machine was plodding along very slowly but I  just loved the result and I was able to set up a production line to stitch out 10 designs in quick succession.

The production line. Next time I would not worry about stitching out the grid lines as it is easier to cut the squares apart and finish them individually

Once they were stitched it was just a matter of cutting them apart and finishing the edges and voila …. 10 fabric postcards for the friendship group.

One of ten finished fabric postcards!

Did I say that I just love the effect? I am now dreaming up lots more projects to use Cotton mako’ Ne 12 for the stitch outs.

Use Cotton Mako' Ne 12 for the needle and Cotton Mako' Ne 28 for the bobbin to get a hand embroidered look with the sewing machine.

PS:  You could do the same thing on a domestic machine by just adjusting the top tension, using a bigger needle, increasing the stitch length and stitching at a slower speed.