The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting

Let’s Twist!

Posted in Block of the Month (BOM),gadgets by whitelotusquilting on November 21, 2010
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Here’s a 12″ block I made this month, in the colors of my Behemoth, with a tool called Lil’Twister by Country Schoolhouse:

Lil' Twister block

The Behemoth is written for a twin size, and if you want to make a queen size, you need to make four extra composite blocks (made of smaller separate blocks).  You can compose them of blocks you’ve already used for other Behemoth blocks, or you can use some of your personal favorites, or try out some new techniques.  Here’s the Lil’Twister block next to my Behemoth block#1 and a few friends from block#2:

Lil' Twister block with friends

The Twister tool and its smaller cousin the Lil’ Twister are simple gadgets and a great way to get your feet wet in  quilting tool using if you’re new to the gadget side of patchwork.  They are designed to take advantage of pre-cut fabrics offered by most major manufacturers and are a great way to leverage your sewing time.

Lil’ Twister is designed for charm packs, those little stacks of pre-cut 5″ squares.  Of course you can also cut your own, and if I do, then I use 5.5″ squares instead, since that’s the size of my template.  It’s not so much that I can’t use the measuring lines on my templates but rather that I’m a lazy cutter and prefer to use the edges of the template when I can.  In any case, either size will work for the Lil’ Twister.

I started by sewing my squares together in a pleasing combination, and then bordering the little mini-quilt with a background color.  In this case I picked what I thought was a pale blue/purple batik as the background.  And I also thought the colors contrasted with each other more — oh, well.  This is a little watercolor-y Twister block.  Then I used the Lil’ Twister tool to recut the intersections — the places where the blocks meet — at an angle (which is clearly marked on the tool).  The tool also has little feet on it so you can move it around without losing your place, and the fabric will stay in place beneath the tool.

Then I sewed the newly cut mini-blocks back together in the same order I cut them in, and viola!  Little windmills of the charm squares appear next to each other, easy as pie.  You can change the size by altering the number of charm squares you start with.

If you want to make something larger, start with layer cake squares (10″) or 10.5″ squares if you’re cutting them yourself, sew them together, border them with the background, and then use the Twister tool to recut the intersections.  The details are in the ‘Let’s Twist’ book by Country Schoolhouse.

Both Twister tools and the book have been added to the Kitsap Quilters Guild gadget library and are available to members for check-out.  And I have them in my library if you want to try them on an open sewing studio date.  But of course you can buy them for yourself and start Twisting!

Sub-atomic quilting particles: the square

Okay, for those of you who noticed that the quilting ‘atoms’ I’ve mentioned so far — the four-patch and the nine-patch — are they themselves made of smaller units — good job!  You’ve discovered one of the great difficulties of modern science — deciding which are the smallest, indivisible pieces of matter.  You see, every time the scientists think they’ve found the smallest piece, they find that those pieces are made up of even teenier pieces.

Look here to find an educational link about the quest for elementary particles.  You can even click on their section on accelerators and particle detectors if you want to get all geeky and find out how the physicists are doing their detective work.  (As an aside, I used to live near a giant particle accelerator, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a 2-mile long tunnel made just for atom smashing purposes… check out their link and see what’s happening!  They even have a virtual vistor’s center you can click on.)

But for us in the quilting world, what’s an elementary particle?  Why, something that’s sub-atomic, of course.  The obvious unit in this case that is smaller than the four-patch and nine-patch atoms — the square.  Here, for instance, in the ‘economy’ block of the first Behemoth installment — squares are the fillers at the corners and hold open the vast space in the center.

Assembling the economy block

The economy block consists of four flying geese (those triangle in rectangle thingies), and five squares, one of which is larger than the others.  And even though there are nine pieces to this block — after the flying geese are assembled — it isn’t considered a nine-patch, because the grid of the block is 4 X 4.  So it’s kind of a four-patch.  Or a 16-patch if you want to be more accurate.  The math definitely works out better if the finished dimensions are divisible by four.

Haven’t made flying geese before?  No problem.  Click on the picture link below and it will take you to the flickr album of pictures (it’s the last one in the set, so you’ll have to get back to the beginning to see the process) about making flying geese with the ‘Lazy Girls’ No Math Flying Geese x 4 ruler.

Making flying geese for economy block

Flying geese are proportionally twice as wide as they are tall, and the tip of the triangle is at the halfway point.  Well, it will be after it’s sewn in place :).  And I think flying geese are useful enough — and appear often enough — in patterns that we might as well consider them another quilting atom.

Getting back to that sub-atomic square.  You could make a quilt just with squares, and not even bother with the intermediate step of four- or nine-patches.  (But at some point you’ll probably lump groups of them together to make it easier to compose the next step.  You could arrange the colors in diagonal chains of lights and darks — or make no effort to arrange them at all.)

I found a searchable quilt image index site composed by several museums, and have enjoyed looking through their collection.  Try the link — where I’ve already put in the search term ‘postage stamp’ — and you’ll get to see several postage stamp style quilts, made entirely of small squares (often as small as an inch square finished).  Postage stamp quilts were often scrappy — meaning they had more than a few fabrics –and sometimes were even ‘charm’ quilts (where no two fabrics were the same).

See?  It makes everything we’re doing look simple!

Rayon scarf day in the studio

Posted in Arts n Crafts,gadgets,Sheltie staff by whitelotusquilting on October 13, 2010
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Well, we finally did it.  After two years of talking about it, we got a quorum of stitchers together, sliced and diced a whole bucket of rayon, and viola!  A whole deck-railing full of rayon scarves.  Which the dog is admiring.  Mostly.

Day of rayon scarf production

These scarves are fun and easy, if a bit time-consuming.  Always more fun with fellow sewists!

A few years ago I got a kit to make one, then made a bunch for my friends, who always wanted to know how I did it, so I posted a tutorial on flickr to try to show them.  The photo above and below are both a part of the same set so click on either one, and stroll on through the album if you want to see more about these super fluffy — and warmer than expected — scarves.  They drape beautifully, and it doesn’t matter so much if they shrink, which rayon tends to do.  Plus it’s a great way to recycle rayon sarongs and other clothing you might be done with.

If you plan to try a few on your own, I highly recommend investing in a chenille cutter first.  I love the Olfa one but everyone swears by their favorite brand.  You need one with a channel guide — preferably an adjustable or interchangeable one — and a way to rotate the blade angle when the blade gets dull.  Which it will do, quite quickly.
cutting chenille channels

They look so different before and after washing, yes?  Maybe that’s what Kona is staring at in the first picture :).

Here’s one more pic, of Margret’s Juki set up on my worktable, getting ready to finish the channel stitching on the teal and orange scarf draped on the table.  Gotta love those Jukis — they stitch super straight and fast, and have a thread-cutter built into the food pedal.  We had the walking feet on both of them — and boy was it loud in the studio with both of them cranking!

Rayon scarf production day

You can see my longarm in the background, holding a multitude of things (including some freshly minted scarves) on its frames while I ignored it for the day.  Oh, well, even if I didn’t get any quilting done, I did get some Christmas gifts made!  Hope your day was just as fun — or productive — or both!

Quilty Pleasures

Posted in Atomic quilting,gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on October 3, 2010
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If you’re new to quilting and don’t know where to start on a pattern like the Beige Behemoth — just begin with small easy-to-manage units.  One of my ‘quilty’ pleasures is just sewing up a stack of four-patches or nine-patches from my stash of pre-cut strips (that I’ve cut down from my scraps — look at Bonnie Hunter’s advice on scrap management at for some great ideas) without much regard for color or scale of print.  I always have a bucket of ‘spare parts’ going (something I learned from the Collaborative Quilting book, yum) and just keep filling it with small usable quilty units in common sizes.  You can constrain the color palette as much or as little as you want, depending on how ‘scrappy’ you want the quilt to look.  In any case paying attention to value — where there is two lights and two darks in the four-patch, diagonally opposite — gives you a chance  to make a terrific checkerboard without having to cut individual squares.  Clear as mud?  I’ll use the Behemoth as an example.

The first block of the Behemoth has a checkerboard rectangle that I constructed out of four-patches, as well as the ‘Thrifty’ block that also uses four-patches.  There’s also a nine-patch block, which is constructed similarly.  Here’s what I started with for the checkerboard: two identically-sized strips, one lightish and one darkish (sizing details in the pattern, go to Big Horn Quilts to get your copy) sewn together along the length, pressed toward the dark.

Making 4 patches for checkerboard

Then I cross-cut the strip combination into the same width I started with.  In this case I used Linda Laney’s brilliant Log Cabin ruler, which itself is the width of the strip, so you don’t need to read any measuring lines for this cut.  You can find Linda and her wonderful rulers (and custom-cut templates if you need them) at Baycreek Quilting.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much cutting time the right size template saves, and it happens because you don’t have to take time to measure.  Maybe that’s why I’m such a gadget geek :).

Sew the cross-cut pieces together with right sides together, and light against dark, and then press toward either side, or open if you like, and voila!  Four-patches.  Or four-patchies as I wind up calling them.
Making 4 patches for checkerboard
In this case I used a solid that graded in color from a dark to a light, so one end of my checkerboard will have a lot of contrast, and the other side will have low contrast.  I like the movement that produces.  Clothworks makes these wonderful graded solids — they do all the work of color shading for  you!  I paired the solid with a mottled hand-dyed fabric in a similar color family, so, no prints this time — unusual for me.  I have to admit a love for huge garish botanical prints — and teeny weeny uneven polka dots — but I restrained myself this time :).

I’ll keep adding pictures of the smaller components of block #1 as I add them, and then show you the finished block later in the month so stay tuned!

Lazy Girl ruler fun

Posted in gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on September 14, 2009
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Lazy and Lovin It book with companion ruler and sample blocks

Lazy and Lovin' It book with companion ruler and sample blocks

Once I got started making 30-something blocks with Gayle Bong’s ruler, I noticed that the basic block looked something like a block you can make with the Lazy Angle ruler.  So I gave two sample blocks a try — the two blocks on the right of the ruler.

The top block is one of my favorite quilting elements — the triangle-in-square block.  If you’re new to quilting you might not recognize how wonderful it is :).  It makes wonderful stars when constructed into a nine-patch larger block, and besides, it’s the core of the ’54-40 or fight’ block, named for the line of latitude the US and Canada were considering as a dividing line during a political campaign.  But I digress.

Anyway.  There are lots of ways to make the triangle-in-square, none of them particularly easy or terribly accurate, since they involve tall triangles that love to distort when you sew them on the bias.  But that said, if this pretty little block is going to be a little fussy to sew, it sure would be nice if it were easy to cut, which is where the Lazy Angle ruler comes in.

The nice thing about rulers like this is that they’re marked with several strip sizes, so the tool is useful for several different block sizes.  Plus having a trim-off style ruler — that you can cut from both sides on –is much faster to use than individual templates, at least for me, anyway.

You can work with strips or squares with this ruler, and the hardest thing for me to keep straight was which way to keep the fabric and ruler aligned so that I had both a left and right triangle to sew to the larger square.  I like the way the little ‘bow-ties’ on the edges help you both align the pieces and give you a valley to begin the seam line.  It helped me be more accurate than I’m used to in sewing this block.

The second sample block, the bottom of the two, starts with the same two beginning steps, and then slices off a different edge for the second background triangle, creating a kind of cone-in-the-corner shape.  This is the block that reminded me of the 30-something block.  So of course that sent me looking for the protractor, and I just had to compare the blocks and all their angles.  They’re not quite the same block, even if they look the same.

comparison of two types of triangle in corner of square blocks

30-something blocks on left and lazy angle block on right

For the complete set of pictures I took in making the sets of blocks and comparing all their angles, click here.

Gadget Hound Demo

Posted in gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on August 19, 2009
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Gayle Bong donated a ‘Thirty-Something Too’ book and a companion square-up ruler to the guild, so I thought I’d start the gadget demos with her ruler tool.  I made two sizes of thirty-something blocks, both the 3.5 and the 4.5 inches.  They’re both marked clearly on the ruler.

Thirty-something ruler

Thirty-something ruler

If you’re new to quilting then it’s a good time to remind you that most rulers are hard plastic and will slide on the fabric unless you add a non-skid aid onto the ruler.  I usually add little rounds of fine-grit sandpaper but little pieces of sticky-back felt on the ruler would also work to hold itself in place nicely, especially on fabrics that sandpaper would be too rough on.

The square-up tool is my favorite kind of ruler.  You sew the patchwork according to the directions and then line the block up underneath the markings on the ruler — and then just lop off the edges of the block so that they are the correct size.  Any time you can sew first then cut afterwards makes the blocks — and subsequent patchwork — more accurate

Trimming block with ruler (on my favorite Fiskars rotating cutting mat)

Trimming block with ruler (on my favorite Fiskars rotating cutting mat)

Gayle’s directions are great and as long as you remember to always sew the longest part of the triangle to its neighbors it’s easy enough to accomplish.  For both sets of the blocks I sewed, I added narrow sashings and cornerstones as I really liked how these brought the larger blocks together.  In one size I sewed pink and black pieces, and in the other, pink and white, so I could see the difference between having a light and a dark background in the same pattern.

Two thirty-something composite blocks with sashing

Two thirty-something composite blocks with sashing

I will say I’m not a fan of cutting or sewing triangles, in part because I’m not very good at it.  Unless I kill the piece with starch, the bias edge distorts too much in sewing for me to be pleased with the accuracy of the results.  I think it’s always better to sew while the bias is stabilized and then cut the triangles after sewing.  For example, I always sew half-square triangles in some sort of grid before cutting them apart.  But that said, a trimming tool is wonderful compensation for less-than-perfect sewers like me.  I found I could sew the thirty-something blocks together accurately enough to use the trimming lines and assemble them into larger blocks without much difficulty.

The interesting part of Gayle’s idea is that it gives you a 30-60-90 ‘cone’ shape that can be replicated in many unusual ways.  I love all the star blocks that result.  Plus there are some great pine-cone style patterns that emerge when you stagger the blocks and place the colors carefully.

To see the whole set of pictures I took while sewing the thirty-something blocks, click here.

You can find Gayle here at her website and here at her blog.  If you want to try out her book and tool, it’s here in the gadget library for borrowing.  I did notice that some of her patterns call for the use of a ‘Clearview Triangle’ which cuts 60 degree angles, which we also have in the gadget library, so you can check both tools out if you don’t already have at least one Clearview Triangle  in your gadget stash.

Coming up next: how lazy can a girl be and still use the ‘Lazy Angle’ by Lazy Girl????

Coming soon: quilting gadgets central :)

Posted in gadgets,news,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on July 29, 2009

I just became the gadget librarian for our local quilt guild — the Kitsap Quilters Guild — and figured it was about time that I let everyone in on a little secret — I LOVE quilting gadgets.  I don’t buy them all, even though I’d love to.  But I do have quite a few in the studio and there are several that I rely on.  And some I don’t use at all, even though I thought I would.  Maybe those will get donated to the guild :).

What are quilting gadgets?  They are the tools that make the quilting task at hand easier and more pleasant to complete.  And for the bonus plan: they make the task more accurate.  Maybe it’s the engineer in me (that’s my technical training) but I do love efficiency of design as well as a pleasing aesthetic.

So over the coming weeks I’ll feature various gadgets available in our guild’s library for checking out, as well as the ones I have in the studio.  I’ll show you how I use them as well as give you the references on the Web for further help and instruction.

Think of my studio as a quilting laboratory where discoveries are made every day (which they are).  So much goes on here every week that it’s hard to chronicle but I’ll do my best in the spirit of expanding the boundaries of quilting into the ordinary world.

And whatever tools help puts more finished quilts on beds, tables and walls, I’ll count as a successful gadget.