Category Archives: improvisational piecing

Community

Our quilting community is so generous and supportive. I came home from QuiltCon 2019 in Nashville  inspired and energized (well, after I recovered)! Two long-standing projects had been inching towards a finish, and both were completed this week. Hooray!  I’ll share one quilt in this post and the other in a separate post soon.

The five highlighted projects at the top were carried over from previous years.

The first quilt’s humble beginnings began more than four years ago as a way to get my multicolored print scraps under control. Amanda Jean who blogged at Crazy Mom Quilts wrote a post about her Scrap Vortex quilt in 2013 that inspired me. She also hosted a quilt along in 2015, so if you are interested there are lots of photos and instructions available. Occasionally, I would piece a slab or two, but the piecing was never high on my UFO priority list.

scrap vortex quilt on design wall
On the design wall, April 2018

In January, I won an edge to edge quilting during an Instagram giveaway from Lilo Whitener-Fey with Trace Creek Quilting. Her company specializes in t-shirt and memory quilts, as well as longarm services. We decided to have her quilt a top and we would donate it to a charity.

I looked around for a top to finish and my scrap vortex came to mind. Lots of little scraps were used and I love to remember how each piece has been used in past projects. Of course, the quilt somehow didn’t diminish the scraps in the tub, but that seems to be the way with scrap quilts. The good news is I can make another one (or two or six)!

Lilo provided the batting and quilted the top with a pattern called Geometric Path. Her turnaround time was very quick, she communicated efficiently and I appreciate her generous donation of time, batting and even return shipping. Check out Trace Creek Quilting for pricing and details and follow her on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about their quilts and services. All I had to do was trim it up and attach a binding and label.

scrap vortex, Marla Varner
Finished size (51″ x 65″)

Since this quilt is so cheerful and has lots of prints, we decided to donate our joint project to Quilts for Cure. Their mission is to provide “quilts full of hope, love and smiles to kids fighting cancer”. I met organizer, HollyAnne Knight at a previous QuiltCon and have participated in her annual “Operation Smiley” project which is happening now. Maybe you would like to contribute, too? There are lots of ways you can help this organization. Donate a quilt, donate quilting or donate money to help pay for materials and shipping. My hope is to donate at least one quilt each year to their cause.

back of scrap vortex quilt, pennylanequilts
A beautiful Alexander Henry butterfly print made a colorful backing

The quilt has been washed in a fragrance and dye-free detergent per instructions and will be mailed tomorrow. I sincerely hope it brings a bit of cheer to a child facing the challenges of cancer.

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At the Junction

It’s February which means it’s almost time for QuiltCon, the Modern Quilt Guild’s annual show and convention. I thought I’d share the backstory of, “At the Junction”, which will be on display in Nashville.

Back in May, I took a Free-Form Blocks workshop from Sujata Shah at Quilted Strait. We explored Sujata’s method of cutting several layers of fabric to construct a variety of unique blocks.  I was looking for some faster improv techniques, as well as to spending  time with Sujata and her gorgeous, colorful quilts. Her book, Cultural Fusion Quilts: a Melting Pot of Piecing Traditions, is a wonderful resource if you want to learn more.

Sujata Shah showing cutting techniques

The first day I used a wide variety of solids to make some of the sample blocks. The second day I decided to limit the palette, thinking I would make a baby quilt out of the blocks I had created in class. (Apologies for the poor indoor lighting, but this is how my design wall looked at the end of the second day.)free-form blocks workshop

However, the block that captured my attention was this one, so when I came home, I separated these out and they became the starting point of a new quilt.beginning of At the Junction by Marla Varner

(Not to worry…all those other blocks found their way into pillow covers, placemats and table runners and they gave me lots of free motion quilting practice, too!)pillows from free-form blocks Marla Varner penny lane quilts

free-form placemats Marla Varner penny lane quilts

I decided to go with the primary colors and kept making blocks (they were rather addictive and I needed some improv therapy time). Before I knew it, the design wall was full. This was the end of September and I began to think it might be possible to make the QuiltCon entry deadline of November 30.At the Junction all the blocks pieced Marla Varner penny lane quilts

At this junction (see what I did there?) I needed to make a decision whether to square these blocks up before assembling or to do my usual  freehand cutting and puzzling the units together. It had grown larger than any of my other improv pieces and I knew it would be a challenge, but my cheerleaders over on IG encouraged me to not take the easy road!

I pieced it in sections, adding a “safe zone” around the edges so that I wouldn’t lose any of the blocks when I trimmed up the finished top. At the Junction in progress Marla Varner penny lane quilts

Of course, that became harder as the sections got bigger. The final few seams required crawling on the floor, all my cutting mats and some painter’s tape to hold the pieces in place. (In the bottom left corner is a laser square that was a valuable addition to my tool chest!)cutting the first long seam at the junction Marla Varner penny lane quilts

By the middle of November, I had the top pieced, basted and ready to quilt. This was the largest quilt I have machine quilted and I had doubts about tackling it on my domestic machine. Originally I planned to quilt it about half an inch apart, but before I knew it, I started quilting much closer than that!At the Junction Marla Varner penny lane quilts

It was a lot of wrestling and wrangling, and some long hours at the machine. It took almost seventy hours to quilt and I used ten different colors of Aurifil 50 wt. The thread colors graduate and overlap from lighter to darker shades.At the Junction Marla Varner penny lane quilts

The dense quilting made blocking essential and the laser square was a big help during this step, too. Soon the binding was attached and all I needed was a sunny day for photos! Well, that didn’t happen, but I did get my entry submitted.

That looming deadline sure helped this quilt get finished! It was challenging and I spent way more time on the floor than was good for this old body, but it helped my skills evolve. I love this quilt and it really felt good to finish a large quilt…it’s been awhile.

I’m looking forward to attending QuiltCon, meeting up with friends and being inspired by all the modern quilts on display. Maybe I’ll see you there?

 

 

Interview with Pat Sloan, American Patchwork and Quilting Podcast

It was so much fun chatting with Pat Sloan on her podcast today! I appreciate her enthusiasm and love listening to her weekly interviews.

We briefly discussed a wide range of topics including my quilt making journey, the sewing machines I use, dyeing fabric, hand quilting and my business, Penny Lane Quilts .

Listen to the podcast now to learn a little more about what I do here on Penny Lane.  I hope you enjoy the show and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Many Minis

Mini quilts are such a wonderful way to try something new! I have made several over the past few years, participating in guild challenges, swaps and magazine submissions.

When I discovered Curated Quilts, I was immediately drawn to one of their features . Each issue has a challenge to make a mini quilt with a specific palette that fits a certain theme. Their second issue’s theme was “Log Cabin” and this was the palette.

You can go here to see all of the wonderful minis that were submitted. I love the log cabin block, so that wasn’t too much of a stretch for me, but the colors were definitely a different combo. I decided to explore some of the improv ideas that began in workshops with Maria Shell @talesofastitcher last summer. Here is the mini that I submitted and I was very excited to have it included in the magazine. If you haven’t seen a copy of Curated Quilts, yet, check it out! It is definitely a quality, no advertisement publication.

Summer Cabin, mini quilt, Marla Varner
Summer Cabin (14′ x 14′), machine quilted

The past two years I have participated in the MQG swap and I love the #makeaminimakeafriend concept. Check out the hashtag on Instagram to see many of the quilts that were created and swapped.

A fun feature of this opportunity is that you have the option of swapping in person at QuiltCon. Last year in Savannah, I received a wonderful mini from Sandra Kaye @sandieloves2quilt . That mini started her on a whole new “Happy Dance” adventure and she made a larger version which won a big prize at QuiltCon 2018 in Pasadena!

Sandra Kaye with her two versions of Happy Dance, QuiltCon 2018 Pasadena

This year I made “Confetti” for my new friend, Jules @julesquilts, who said she liked pink! You can see the design is a continuation of the ideas I used in Summer Cabin.

Confetti, mini quilt for MQG swap 2018 Marla Varner, penny lane quilts
Confetti, MQG swap 2018, machine and hand quilted

It was so fun to meet her in person. She made a beautiful mini for me using her hand dyed fabrics and it is quilted with her elegant stitches.

How grateful I am for these two new quilting friends! I love all the little quilts that I have received from friends over the years. They decorate our home and are daily reminders of our friendships.

Today I am working on a mini for the Bainbridge Island MQG’s annual challenge. The theme this year is “Log Cabin” and it is a good opportunity to finish up an idea that has been languishing on the design wall since last summer.  (And it’s another project where I can practice my free motion quilting skills.)

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a mini (or two) in your future. They are small, but they might lead to something big!

 

 

getting ready for quiltcon east

The first week of the new year began with getting a couple of quilts prepared for QuiltCon East in Savannah and getting them shipped. I am very excited to have two quilts juried into the show this year.

The first one is titled “jubilant” and it is entered in the Small category.

"jubilant" by Marla Varner
“jubilant” (28″ x 30″) hand dyed cottons, Essex yarn dyed linen, matchstick quilting

The second quilt is called “Trestle Nestle” and it is entered in the Handwork category.

Trestle Nestle by Marla Varner, penny lane quilts
Trestle Nestle (56″ x 51″) hand quilted, white linen and Kona solids

The shapes for this quilt were inspired by a local trestle on a trail where I enjoy walking and cycling.

Railroad bridge trestle
Railroad Bridge trestle on the Olympic Discovery Trail, Sequim, Washington

Sleeves and labels were attached, and instructions printed.

labels for trestle nestle and jubilant by Marla Varner

It always seems to take me longer than I expect to prepare for shipping! The first hurdle is finding a box the correct size. In the past, I have been happy with a box that I was able to purchase at the UPS store, but they didn’t have any in stock this time around. (The recommendation by shows is that you put the quilts in a new box because boxes can become weakened when used.) Since I wasn’t able to locate a new box, I ended up reusing a box, but I reinforced it with a LOT of packing tape.

Then there is the plastic bag to keep your quilt safe from the elements. Recently, I have been using XLarge Ziploc® bags. They are sturdy, reusable and measure 2 ft x 1.7 ft.xlarge-ziploc

It always makes me a little nervous when I drop that  package off at the post office. I sent it with a signature required, so I will be tracking it today and making sure it arrived safely!

It won’t be long before I will need to get myself ready to travel to Savannah.

going_to_quiltcon_2017_zpsdlm8kkng

leftovers

A confession…I love leftovers, both food and fabric! They give me an opportunity to be creative, I feel virtuous for not being wasteful and sometimes they even save me a little time.

Here are a few recent finishes that began as orphan blocks, trimmings or bits and pieces floating around the scrap bin and design wall.

Some leftover strips became a table runner.

linen table runner by marla varner
Essex yarn dyed linen + commercial solids for the stripes

A few orphan blocks became a pillow and a table mat.

improv pillow by marla varner
orphan blocks + Essex yarn dyed linen
table mat with skinny stripes by marla varner
another orphan block + Essex yarn dyed linen

And sometimes everything “clicks” and a few units that have been marinating for a long while are the impetus for something that keeps me exploring, and revising, and reworking until it makes me very happy!

"jubilant" by Marla Varner
“jubilant”, hand dyed cottons, Essex yarn dyed linen, matchstick quilting

So, the moral of the story is… save all those leftover bits because you never know when they will be just what you need to get your next project started!

(The table runner and place mats in the featured image began as some odds and ends from the recent Riley Blake challenge.)

2016 Cloud9 new block blog hop

Welcome to the second day of the 2016 Cloud9 New Block Blog Hop!cloud9newblockbloghopbutton-700x700

It is so exciting to be part of the block hop, sponsored by Cloud9, and hosted by Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl, Cheryl of Meadow Mist Designs and Stephanie of Late Night Quilter! There are almost 70 bloggers designing blocks using the fat quarter bundle of lovely organic Cirrus Solids generously provided by Cloud9 fabrics. The hosts chose this palette for the hop, called “Berry Harvest”.  I decided to use four of the colors, leaving “Lilac” out this time around.color palette for New Block Blog Hop

My block, Woven Berry Basket, is an improvisational block based on the traditional basket weave design.  It uses a free form cutting technique (a.k.a cutting without a ruler).woven berry basket, 2016 Cloud9 New Block Blog Hop, marla varner, pennylanequilts

The goal of this tutorial is to introduce you to this technique. There are two main principles that I use in improv piecing:

  • if it is too short, add on
  • if it is too long, cut it off

Your block will not be exactly like mine, but I will describe a process that you can use to make one that is similar in design.

Tips for improv piecing:

  • A rotary cutter with a 60mm blade is my preference for free form cutting
  • Set the stitch length on your machine a little shorter than usual
  1. Cut 4 strips 5 in x 18 in  (approx) Here’s your first chance to cut without the ruler!
berry basket weave tutorial, marla varner, pennylanequilts
free hand cut the equivalent of 4 strips approx 5 x 18 (notice the cut is straight-ish)

2. Free hand cross cut strips that vary from about 1 in – 2 .25 in width from each strip

basket weave tutorial, marla varner, pennylanequilts
I like to cut each strip individually, some are slightly angled, but most are straightish

3. Stitch 9 pairs of strips together, varying the colors and widths.

berry basket weave tutorial, marla varner, pennylanequilts
chain piece 9 sets of strips, no need for pins, just go slowly and align the edges as you go

4. Press seams to the darker fabric

berry basket weave tutorial, marla varner, pennylanequilts
variety of widths and color combinations

5. Add a third strip to each set, again varying the color placement and width of strips.

woven berry basket, marla varner, pennylanequilts

6. Lay out the 9 units in an alternating vertical, horizontal pattern.

woven berry basket, marla varner, pennylanequilts
To end up with a 12.5 unfinished block, we will aim to have each unit be at least 4.5 in on each side before assembling. (I trimmed the ends to even up the units.)

*At this point, you will need to start making decisions based on how your units are sized. I will attempt to describe how I solved the puzzle.

For the first row, I decided to cut the bottom off the middle unit, and add a strip to the third unit.

row 1 piecing
If it’s too long, cut it off and if it’s too short, add on!

I followed the same procedure for the second row:

second row assembly
a strip added to the middle unit

But when the units were assembled, the second row was shorter than the first, and I was aiming to have each row approx 13 in wide so that I would be able to trim it down to 12.5 in. What to do? Add on!

second row
I used the cutting mat measurements to see if the overall width was about 13 inches

To assemble the rows, I trimmed the top edge of the second row, then overlapped it onto the bottom of the first row (right sides facing up). Using that cut edge as my guide, I trimmed the bottom of the top row to match.

assemble rows
*use the ruler to stabilize the edge, but do not use it as a cutting edge

Follow the above procedures to assemble the third row and attach.

Can you see how I am cutting along the edge of the row, not along the ruler edge?
Can you see how I am cutting along the edge of the row, not along the ruler edge?

If your block is big enough, just trim to 12.5 in square and your block is complete. If it is too small, improvise! You might add some strips to form a frame, and then trim.

trim block to 12.5 in
Success! Trim to 12.5 inches and you’re finished.

Here is my finished block:finished blockThe thing I like best about improvisational work is that you are engaged making design decisions throughout the process. *Warning: this may be addictive!  As I work, I find myself asking lots of “What if?” questions:

  • What if I cut the strips wider (or thinner)?
  • What if I used 5 colors?
  • What if I only used 2 colors?
  • What if it was scrappy?
  • What if the units were smaller and I made a 4 x 4 grid?

I hope you will give this a try, and that you will enjoy the process as much as I do. If you make a block, I’d love to see it! For those on Instagram, tag your photo @pennylanequilts and use the hashtag #wovenberrybasket.

Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions you may have.

And don’t forget to enter the Giveaways!  Visit each of our wonderful hosts for the chance to win 3 separate fat quarter bundles of beautiful Cloud9 Cirrus Solids.

Be sure to check out the rest of the stops on the hop. You’ll be glad you did!

September 12, 2016 hosted by Yvonne @ Quilting Jetgirl

 

September 13, 2016 hosted by Cheryl @ Meadow Mist Designs

September 14 hosted by Stephanie @Late Night Quilter

small improv projects

The past couple of weeks have found me busy creating inventory for an upcoming studio tour. For those of you in the area, it is the annual Port Townsend Studio Tour , and I will be located at the Egg & I Pottery studio in Chimacum, thanks to my talented friend, Diana Cronin. For more information about the tour and to see Diana’s colorful ceramic pottery check out the links.

Art PT poster

I thought it would be fun to have some items that would coordinate with Diana’s pottery, so I have been busy making coasters and mug rugs.

stack of mug rugs and coasters

I played with bright scraps of fabric and improvisational piecing to create these colorful accents for the home. Some improv, straight line quilting was added for the finish.

bright mug rug and coaster set

mug rug, coasters

If you have been thinking about trying some improvisational piecing, or if your scrap box is overflowing, you might want to give a small project a try.

mug rug, coasters

Now I’m off to work a little bigger and make place mats. With any luck, I’ll have those to share by the end of the week. Hope you have time to play this week, too!