The Tree of Life 20: Done, done, done!

The nice thing about pain is that it feels so good when it stops.

I feel rather the same way about this quilt. It was painful while I was doing it, but it feels so good to see the finished thing, and know it’s finally done. I’m sort of proud of myself for pushing out of my comfort zone and achieving a respectable result on something that was a whole lot harder than anything I’ve done before. Every last stitch is done. It’s ready to be folded up and put away till it gets packed for our trip. Except of course that I need to keep it available for family bragging, since you guys out there in WordPress Land are the first to see it!

The finished quilt. I'm really pleased with it

The finished quilt. I’m really pleased with it

Back detail: reverse of the quilting

Back detail: reverse of the quilting

Detail showing 'cloud' quilting

Detail showing ‘cloud’ quilting

The label

The label

The binding went on like a dream. I’ve got three channels sewn into the binding at the top of the quilt, which  lie flat when not in use. And the label’s done too.

I need to give my hands a rest now. There’s been a lot of hand sewing in the last week or so, and the pills are not staying on top of the arthritis. So tonight I will luxuriate in idleness. The Husband is on night shift, so I will hog the entire sofa and all the cushions, I will eat dessert and watch TV.

Tomorrow and Tuesday are work days, so I won’t have much chance to look at Happiness, but I may do a little Car Quilt stitchery in my lunchbreak.

And now, I have an appointment with the TV remote control and the refrigerator…

The Tree of Life 19: There are waves now

I have spent most of the day hand quilting.

It’s time to stop, I’m getting tired, my fingers are stiff and sore and I’m beginning to draw blood with monotonous regularity.  But I have finished the ripply lines for the sea in the lower half of the quilt.  I’m pleased with how it looks.  Tomorrow, I will do the sky. And then, then, my friends, I’ll be done.  All that will be left is the binding, putting in a hanging channel on the back, and labelling it.  There will be major gloating and whoopeeing.  I will take a nice photo of it hanging on the line (assuming the weather obliges, which seems likely), stick it in my archive, maybe stick it on my spanking new Pinterest quilts board, and then breathe a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, some detail shots to whet your appetite.  It’s been a toss-up about whether to include these, as they do rather expose the defects in my work. On the other hand, if I can’t be candid with my blogging community, there’s no hope! I mean, is any of you seriously going to send round the stitch police?

Birds detail

Birds detail

Flower detail

Flower detail

Fish detail 1

Fish detail 1

Fish 2 detail

Fish 2 detail

While I was out briefly this afternoon on a rather fruitless errand, I passed our local op shop (known to non Aussies as a thrift or charity shop). I scored a nice pink basket handbag, but I also found these rather smashing ties.  They are just begging to be picked apart and turned into something handsome: a cushion, maybe?  I like how they are already slightly patchworky in appearance, which is essentially what caught my eye.



And now, some of you have been having a look at my new Pinterest boards.  For those who wanted a look but haven’t been able to find me, and were offered options along the lines of Pasta, Corgis, Holidays, Sneakers and other bizarreness, here’s the link: I’m not altogether clear why my user name, which is the usual talltalesfromchiconia, won’t produce anything in a search, but there you are.

And while I watch TV tonight, I’m going to add a few more inches to the Woolly Thing, which may itself be ready for an unveiling in a month or two!

Right, off to make the Husband, who’s had a bad day, something delicious and unhealthy for his supper.

The Tree of Life 18: the first landmark celebration

Everything within the red circle is now quilted except for a little bit of background.

Nearly done. Photography was fun: it's a windy day!

Nearly done. Photography was fun: it’s a windy day!

Detail. See how the fruit and flowers and leaves puff out nicely?

Detail. See how the fruit and flowers
and leaves puff out nicely?

Time to have a quick break and a breather, and let my fingers stop aching! The hand quilting is a success. It’s not particularly pristine or regular, but it does make things puff out nicely, so the different elements have a small degree of dimension: the pears are rounded, the birds stand off the background a little, the tree trunk is ribbed.

The next stage is to go round the outside edge of the circle, round the distant birds and the fish, and then do the water ripples and clouds.  I’m going to keep it simple. I tried to get clever on the tree trunk, and I’m not particularly enthused about the result. It’s OK, so it’s staying, but I shouldn’t have tried for whirls…

The final stage is one of my favourites: labelling and binding. That’s a way off yet.

Short post today, it’s the Husband of Chiconia’s birthday, and the day belongs to him. I have baked cherry and peach pies, and his birthday cake is his favourite: carrot cake. It smells wonderful, and I confess I added a very small slug of rum to the batter, since it’s a celebration cake. Once it’s cool, it’s getting a chocolate glaze, which is what he likes instead of cream cheese frosting.

Tomorrow I’m going to allow myself to cut the sashing strips for the Happiness quilt…

Car Quilt progress

The central section is complete, hurray!

The completed centre. It's basically a medallion quilt, since the rest is all borders.

The completed centre.
It’s basically a medallion quilt,
since the rest is all borders.

It’s about 33″ x 36″, which is too small for anything useful. It’s basically one jelly roll plus a fat quarter or so of the beige neutral that goes in the centre and between each flower. The plan from here on is firstly to add a border of dark inky blue hexagons all round. Then, I’ll be making a pieced border out of the fat quarters I have of all the same fabrics. It’s going to be 3 strips vertical, three strips horizontal, alternating all the way round. Making it fit will be a tiny bit tricky because of course the central panel isn’t square. Look out for some underhand business tweaking widths and lengths… After that… well, I haven’t got that far yet. Let alone think about how I’ll be quilting it. That’s going to be tough, because the fabric is all quite heavy and a dense weave. Maybe – shock horror! – I’ll make it a tied quilt instead. Hmm. Definitely something to consider.

So, the next job is the whole bunch of dark blue hexies I have to make and then sew onto the edges of this panel. I’m blowed if I’m going to make a whole string and then sew that on: much too hard. I’ll add them one by one as I make them, which will be a maximum of three 1″ seams at a time.

(By the way, the hand quilting on the Tree of Life is roaring along well, you just can’t really see anything so there’s no point in posting until I have a landmark to celebrate – probably by the end of the week.)

Excuse me while I go and rip out all the basting and take the templates out. One of my favourite bits!

The Tree of Life 17: slowing the pace

As some of you already know, the attempt at machine quilting this epic has failed. 

There are simply too many changes of direction to make it even remotely viable. I blithely imagined myself whirring along at speed. Amazing how one conveniently forgets the wrestling with fabric, cursing, rolling and unrolling, aching shoulders, sore neck and all the other associated joys of machine quilting. Now multiply that 3 or 4 times taking into account outlining every leaf, branch, fruit, flower, root, blade of grass, bird and fish. I was ludicrously ambitious! After starting and stopping, sewing and unpicking several times, it was clear that I was going nowhere fast, and in order to preserve the fabric without further damage, I followed the Husband’s eminently sensible suggestion to hand quilt it. That man never ceases to amaze me. I assume all this quilty stuff is going right over his head, but actually, he’s paying attention and actually processing the information.

Three middle birds and three branches completed

Three middle birds and three branches completed

So, it’s being hand quilted. And you know what? It’s going well. I’m not going to pretend that my stitches are neat and Amish-tiny – I’m doing ‘big-stitch’ quilting because I want to finish it in my natural lifetime – but it looks nice, softer and a little puffier than machine quilting, and the stitch police aren’t coming round to check my work any time soon. Plus I don’t have to worry about aching shoulders, burying the knots or unpicking wonky bits. I’m using a combination of a round frame and just stretching an area over my hand to hold things flat, and so far that’s working well too. When I made my heirloom bed quilt and hand quilted the whole thing with an overall clamshell design, I didn’t use a frame. I had it rolled up on a table, and worked along the table edge, using tension from the roll and a hand underneath to keep things flat. That worked perfectly. Unfortunately I don’t have such a big table here, but I may see if I can make it work, since the quilt’s smaller too.

So there won’t be any dramatic visible changes for a while. Small increments of achievement, probably not very exciting to look at. Big celebration when I’ve finished in the central circle. Another big celebration when I’ve finished the rest, and then a final whoopee when it’s completed. Meanwhile, I’m going to allow myself to start contemplating other projects, so long as I don’t start taking major chunks of time away from this one.

Time to get those needle calluses back on my fingers. I’ve already left blood on the quilt…

The Tree of Life 16: no more excuses

The cyclone is over.  It was stronger than expected and closer than expected, but we came through unscathed.



Ready to pin

Ready to pin

Ready to quilt

Ready to quilt

So the Husband was off to work on schedule, and I was left to look at the ToL backing, batting and top, and completely fail to find a reason not to pin them together. I don’t enjoy the grovelling around on the floor. My knees and back are too old for this game. But it’s done, despite a visit from the Dowager with a birthday present, lots of conversation, making a batch of bickies and serving them with coffee and assorted other displacement activities. I’ve put all the furniture back and vacuumed the carpet and loaded the dishwasher and had lunch. Further displacement activities, you see, so that I don’t have to start actually quilting. And of course, there’s writing this blog…

Thank you to everyone who gave me their thoughts on how the quilting might look. It’s been very helpful in getting me to actually narrow down the list of possible options. It’s also amazing how much less stressed I feel about the quilt now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The first part of the quilting’s going to be pretty miserable, but after that, I can have a bit of fun with my clouds and water ripples. And I actually love binding and labelling, so that’s all good too.

I’m keeping those Amy Butler charm squares out on my work table to act as  a reminder/incentive/goad when the going gets tough.

OK, I’ve cleaned all the lint out of the bobbin race, replaced the needle with a new quilting needle and adjusted tension and stitch length. Time to get cracking.

I’m going in!

The Tree of Life 15: the birds of the air, and a stage completed.

The front is finished at last.

The Tree of Life complete with fish, birds, fruit, flowers, leaves, roots and branches.

The Tree of Life complete with fish, birds,
fruit, flowers, leaves, roots and branches.

Detail of branches, fruit, flowers and birds

Detail of branches, fruit, flowers and birds

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how it looks. The appliqué process hasn’t drawn up the fabric quite as badly as I feared, but there is a noticeable difference on the sides, where it’s clear the edge bows in towards the middle as a result. I may do a spot of judicious tweaking of seam allowances and trimming to make this defect less obvious. I’m glad I made the leaves smaller, as otherwise I feel it would have looked very crowded. I’m very happy with the pears instead of grapes, and I’m pleased with the birds, which add a lightness and playfulness the fairly formal arrangement otherwise lacked.

The backing, which exactly matches some fabrics on the front.

The backing, which exactly matches
some fabrics on the front.

I was pondering what to do about the backing. Not in any sense of what it would look like – there’s no way I was going to piece something – but what colour to use. As luck would have it, I was able to buy wideback in exactly the right shade of turquoise to go with the turquoise patches on the front. I’ll use the same thing to bind it, a fairly narrow binding, I think. What is chiefly on my mind at the moment is how to quilt it. It clearly needs it, to even out the texture a bit. But I’m not a big fan of close quilting, so I’m doing quite a lot of internal debating. I’ll outline each branch and root and leaf and fruit and flower. I’ll probably run a line up the centre of each leaf, too. I’ll outline the birds and fish, and the red containing circle.  After that, I’m a bit stuck. I badly want to get this quilt finished, so really simple quilting would be the answer there. But I also want to do justice to the design, and something a bit more elaborate is called for in that respect.

Here’s what I’m thinking: The top half, the ‘sky’, I will quilt with big billowy curved cloud shapes, up to the outer margins of the tree. The bottom half, the ‘sea’, I will quilt with long, meandering lines to look like ripples in the water, up to the margin of the roots. Bearing in mind that my quilting skills are modest at best, that I don’t have a very sophisticated sewing machine, and that my workspace is limited, does anyone have any other suggestions? Just be aware that if I lose courage at the beginning of this process, the quilt is going to get plain cross-hatched diagonal quilting over the whole background, stopping short of the outlined design elements!  And if it does, I make no apologies – finished is better than perfect, eh?

Off to press my wideback and cut it to size.  I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

The Tree of Life part 15: it’s aliiiiive!!

No, Dr Frankenstein has not been tinkering with my quilt. 

Bird templates

Bird templates

But there is certainly a whole lot more going on suddenly. I’ve cut out and positioned the rest of the leaves. Sewing on to follow, o joy. I’ve made templates for all the birds, which was actually lots of fun. I’ve made sunflowers, which look a bit crude and simple right now, but are going to be embellished with satin stitch when I sew them down, which will hopefully take care of that issue. And I made three attempts at bunches of grapes. No go.Whatever I did, they looked like amorphous dark blobs, and had to be explained rather than explaining themselves.

Tree, fruit, flowers and leaves

Tree, fruit, flowers and leaves

So I’ve come up with a super-easy and if I may say so myself, rather brilliant alternative. I had some nice fabric featuring simplifed colourful pear halves on a dark brown background. They were in oranges, yellows and greens, and worked very well with the tree’s colour scheme. So I’ve made cut-outs of half a dozen of them, and I feel they work very well – better, in fact, than the grapes would have. And then, with the fruit, flowers and remaining leaves pinned on, I wanted to see how the birds would look, and I’m loving it!


Detail of fruit and birds

The paper templates are pinned on too. I think the birds need to be white. There’s so much else going on that I think they’d fail to stand out as they do if I made them a different colour. Any thoughts?

I was at work the last two days, which is why there hasn’t been the usual long blog about what I’ve done. But I was not idle. The Car Quilt is reaching the point where I’ve got to start considering borders, hurrah! What you see in the photo is going to be outlined with a row of dark blue hexies, and then the borders are going to be pieced strips of all the fabrics featured, perpendicular to each edge rather than parallel. This centre piece is currently 33″ x 36″ (80 x 90cm).

Car quilt progress

Car quilt progress

At least, that’s my thinking right now. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time!

The Husband is working this afternoon, and has a bit of a dash on to try and get home in time for weekly Saturday night dinner at the Dowager’s.  It’s been very hot and pretty humid today, so I’ve been glad to be inside, in the airconditioning.  I occasionally feel guilty about having it on and using so much power, but about 10 minutes after I turn it off, my conscience goes: “yes ok, whatever, put the damn thing back on!”. And I do. It’s currently 33C (91F), and humidity’s around 55%. If I could send some of this heat over to you guys currently freezing your bits off in the US, I’d do it in a flash. And in return, I’d like a short burst of that icy wind, please.

Tomorrow’s yard work in the morning till the heat gets insane, and then retreating indoors to my sewing machine. With luck, I’ll get all the leaves sewn down, and can make a start on the fruit and flowers. I hope you’ve all had a good week and are ready for whatever the weekend brings.

More tomorrow.

The Tree of Life part 14: rising sap

Spring has broken out at the Tree of Life. 

There are leaves sprouting all over the place… I finished the last two branches, and debated calling it a day for a couple of days, to let my head clear from the sheer grind of the trunk and branches. But then I looked at the leaf fabrics, and decided I had just enough fusible web left to do the leaves. Probably. So I got stuck in, and this is the result. I’m making the leaves a little smaller than on the design. I like seeing the air through them, and my larger test leaves looked sort of heavy and bodgy. I’m going to apply leaves to all the positions shown on the design, then do the fruit, flowers and birds, and then see if there are any gaps that need to be filled with another leaf or two.

Tree and first leaves

Tree and first leaves

Branch detail

Branch detail

Suddenly, I’m enjoying working on this quilt again. Maybe it’s because the appliqué of the leaves is easier, broken down into lots of small chunks (60 small chunks, to be exact). Maybe it’s because I can finally see the thing coming to life, and visualise how it might look when it’s done, and maybe it’s because I know I’m going to make the deadline of end of March. If anything goes wrong, or I can’t work on it for some reason, it won’t be an utter disaster, since the milestone birthday isn’t till the end of June, and by virtue of taking out another mortgage for airmail postage to the UK, I can still get this quilt to my brother in time. But I’d like to be done by end of March, so I can carry it with me and give it to him in person when we make a flying stop in London on our way home.

Back to work tomorrow for two days, so work on this will slow down somewhat. Just in time for the weather to heat up again, some rain to be forecast, and the humidity to go through the roof.  Happy days…

More when I can.

The Tree of Life part 13, and I’m on a roll

Can’t stop, I’m on a roll here, and if I stop, my luck will change!

Trunk and 5 branches done, two to go. I’m sweaty, stressed, bleeding from multiple pin sticks, have a burned finger from the iron, and have broken my thread three times and a needle once, but I can DO this! It won’t be perfect, a complete ignoramus will be able to see the wobbly bits, but it Will.Be.Done. Which is sort of the point, isn’t it? Done is better than perfect. My favourite mantra.

Only the bottom right branch (still pinned) and the one above it (fused but not stitched) to go.

Only the bottom right branch (still pinned)
and the one above it (fused but not stitched) to go.

I looked at a number of options for applique thread colour, including the medium beige I used for the roots, but I wanted a crisper, more graphic outline for the branches. So I’ve used a medium dark brown. It does show up an awful lot more, of course, which means some of my more flamboyant mistakes are highly visible…

And if I ever show signs again of wanting to make a quilt with multiple long floppy bits on the bias that need to be appliqued down, will someone kindly have a quiet word…?

Next job is making all 60 leaves. And 5 birds. 2 flowers, 2 grape bunches, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ok, that last bit is an exaggeration.

Must get on. Dinner to cook and two more branches to do, not necessarily in that order, poor Husband.