Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Hatcheting More Scraps

There is a strong strain of individualism and risk-taking in Texas. We'll do what we want to now and worry about the future later. 
This is a case in which the future blew in and hit the whole state.
H.W. Brands, historian at UT Austin

Personally I made it through the winter storm in Houston with no broken pipes but turned off the water all week. And I have lots of quilts. ;-) There were so many on the bed to stay warm, I couldn't move once I got in. By Sunday many were wearing shorts.  

It shouldn't have been this bad; however, our legislature never required power plants to winterize so many chose not to despite similar problems with storms in 1997 and 2011. Most of Texas' energy comes from natural gas and almost half went offline Sunday and Monday; however, several state legislators blame renewable energy that only provides about 10% of our power. Wind turbines in colder northern states {that were properly winterized} did not freeze. 

Mayor Turner led us through Hurricane Harvey, the Covid pandemic, and now winter storm Uri. He and his staff worked all week to open warming stations and distribute food and water. What a good example they set by continuing to do their jobs in difficult circumstances.


Funny how this works. My Hatchet blocks inspired Wanda to make her own version. The quiet beauty of her quilt inspired me to try a new quilt with a limited color palette: yellow and green. It was an easy pull because the fabrics are in a pile on the floor. They either needed to be sewed quickly or packed. 

Part of the reason Wanda's quilt looks so good is the uniform quiet background she used. I don't have enough of any cream right now {and I'm still in "use it up" mode} but I found a small collection of quieter prints that work with these light colors. 

In addition to the backgrounds, there are eight greens and two yellows for the ribbons. Halfway through sewing it's obvious they aren't working as ribbons.  

The next idea was a "wave" through the fabrics but this layout looks worse if that's possible. The abrupt line between yellow and green looks more like a shoreline.

The most common layout of Hatchets is the X. I thought about alternating yellow and green Xs but {of course} they aren't evenly distributed. So they need an arrangement that disguises that fact. Starting with a yellow X, I surrounded it with some green and then offset the next yellow X. Suddenly an idea appeared. 

If you know me, you know I will end up with some mathematical solution. Something's a bit off here.

But a couple of minor changes on the bottom rows settled that.

With the design laid out on the wall it was easy to sew up. 

The plan is to gift this as a toddler quilt. The recipient's mother loves yellow and I think these old-fashioned fabrics will suit her well. 


When Nora deliberately overdoses she arrives at The Midnight Library, a sort of way station between life and death. Each book is a parallel life based on every different decision she could have made. Infinitely many books. Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian and current librarian here, directs her to look at her regrets and see how the other path turns out. But other people don't stay the same so some books lead to wildly different relationships with people in her life. 

I enjoyed Matt's idea that "the road not taken" isn't always smooth and perfect.

Monthly FUR (Fabric Use Rate) 

Although Hatchet 3 and Shadow Star are finally complete tops, there were no actual finishes in February. YTD = 2 yards.

Enjoy the day, Ann

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Circling the Shadow Star Quilt

(Fascism develops) not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned.
~Primo Levi


The border of Shadow Stars caused me lots of trouble. My great-aunt's quilt didn't have any border but adding one would update the design. Over the years I've seen many beautiful borders. For example, this gorgeous Weeping Willow tree border from an antique quilt in the American Folk Art Museum has long been one I'd like to interpret. My skill set is not up for those but pieced Pine Trees seemed like a good idea until I realized that putting them on point left too much open space {and I couldn't figure out a way to fill it that didn't overpower the rest of the quilt.} So those blocks and the Shadow Stars rested for a while; the tree blocks are still resting.

Eventually appliqué became the solution. There's an appliqué vine on the Spiderwebs but I didn't want to repeat the sinusoidal wave of that vine. Nor did I want raw edge appliqué. The Stars called for turned edge. Linda Jenkins and Becky Goldsmith made a straight vine on one of their quilts. Love the shading of the background here. But it seemed too contemporary with my white stars. 

When a family friend now in college took flower arranging for her art elective, she shared some of her work at Zoom dinners. Now I know what Hogarth curves are. Those S-shaped designs wouldn't fit in this space but they got me thinking about the many Baltimore album quilts with beautifully elaborate vases.  It took many iterations to simplify one of those into this border. There wasn't room for lots of flower height above the vase and the vase itself is so basic. No reverse applique, no curlicues. OTOH, fussy cutting a large print elevates the vase.

Once the borders were attached, there was too much contrast between them and the center. Who'd have thought pale blue, green, and white could create such a stark difference. The green is stronger so adding some light blue to the center might be the answer. 

Blending border and center by adding small blue circles
Shadow Stars with small circles only

The first circle attempts were small but slightly larger than the center post but the border delineation still seems too sharp. Adding only half circles along the border creates a bit of fuzziness but the center is stark.

Blending border and center by adding blue half-circles
Shadow Stars with border half circles only

It's more work but the quilt needs these dots/circles/spots of color in both places - at the posts and along the border. But now the circles seem vanishingly small. Too innocuous?

Blending border and center by adding blue circles and half-circles
Shadow Stars with small circles and border half circles

Just to be safe, I tested larger circles at the posts. They overpower the stars.

Blending border and center with large blue circles and half-circles
Shadow Stars with large circles and border half circles

I snapped a quick photo when the work was half done to double check. On the left is a complete contingent of circles while on the right the circles are only along the border. FYI, everything is hand appliquéd but the border circles are only sewn halfway. When they are all attached, I'll go back and resew the border so the other half of those circles will disappear. Simply appliquéing them all around won't work; some of the leaves are in the way.

Shadow Stars circles in progress

This was perfect work for the evening hours. It took a few days to finish, then I rechecked all the seams looking for twisting. 

Shadow Star quilt top ready to quilt

Now it's off to my longarm quilter. I decided not quilt anything this large again. Smaller work is better for me these days. {We'll see how long that resolution lasts.} I'm looking forward to this as a summer quilt on the bed. 


Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, wrote Fascism: A Warning in 2018 but it's even more pertinent now. She starts with the beginnings of fascism in Mussolini's Italy and moves to Hitler. Subsequent chapters discuss more current world leaders.

She defines fascism as "majority rule without any minority rights... that involves the endorsement and use of violence to achieve political goals and stay in power. It's a bully with an army."

Her solutions are to get involved locally and talk with people with whom you disagree. Good starts. We also need to ground discussions in reality rather than conspiracy. 
Enjoy the day, Ann

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Sewing Borders on the Shadow Star Quilt

Sisters are the perfect best friend.


Unraveling on the edges of the completed borders drove me to attach the first three before finishing the fourth side. Here's the first side sewn.

First border sewn on Shadow Stars quilt top
First Vase and Vine border on Shadow Stars quilt

The next step was to sew the opposite side then to sew the third side, longer to accommodate the width of those border sides. An additional vine helps fill the space. 

Adding third Vase and Vine border to Shadow Stars quilt

But there's a small problem. Someone stretched this side when creating the sketch. {I wonder who that could be?} It's not just that the seam allowances were forgotten. So... I'll be moving the final flower and perhaps a couple of leaves. 

A second flower unit is overlaid on the first to test moving of the applique
Testing adjustment of flower to fit side of quilt

With a petal from the fourth side, I tested the needed movement. This will take a couple of days. 


I finished several books in the past few weeks.

The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg relates the life of Doris Alm in flashbacks as she pages through her old address book. Born in Sweden, she became a maid in Madame Serafin's house upon the untimely death of her father. Madame took her to Paris where... Well, read the book for more. The vignettes are short; some characters repeat. Although her life spans 96 years the story only brushes world history.

Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues have long interested me. Gretchen has the same interest bet she created her own set of virtues to guide her through a school year in Happier at Home. Like the quote from Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, Gretchen sees both sides of the coin can increase our happiness (or discontent.} So collecting and purging, staying home and going out, limiting time and taking all the time are all included in this book.

I'm much older than she but found some thoughtful ideas in her mix of "memoir, science, philosophy, and experimentation." 

My Bed by Salley Mavor is a permanent part of my collection of children's books. Salley illustrates her books with tiny, meticulous hand stitched 3D bas-reliefs of children sleeping around the world. As a maker I adore her work. As a grandmother I love the inclusion of world cultures to raise my grandchildren's awareness and appreciation of others.

Enjoy the day, Ann

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

String Tulip QAL Month 1

"The world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. 
Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, 
and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. 
But if you work and care and are watchful, then in the long run 
the worse will never, ever, triumph over the better. 
And the gifts put into some men... 
shall light the dark corners of life for all the rest, in so brave a world."
~Susan Cooper in The Silver on the Trees


Welcome to the first month of the String Tulip QAL. 

String Tulips 2 quilt

At AHIQ we issue biannual prompts to focus our creativity and our discussions {somewhat.} However, this time we are trying a QAL. Using my String Tulips as a starting point, I'll post directions here and on AHIQ the first Tuesday of the month. 

We have the whole month for each step which helps it fit in between the many projects we all have. You can try it or not. Change it up to suit yourself - larger blocks, different flowers, flowers in the border. Whatever. That's why it's improv. 

This month we address the string blocks, the ones in my border, because that was the first part I made.

Four ESS string blocks form an X

Block Plan

There's no way to figure every size and variation of these blocks. I'm writing what I did previously. Make your own alterations. My 42-inch square baby quilts used five-inch finished string blocks. The X shows up when you put four blocks together. Even if you make a different size quilt, keep that fact in mind.

As I wrote last month, you will need 64 string blocks to make only Electric Socket Shock {a quilt of all string blocks} or 48 string blocks to make the String Tulips quilt variation but it always helps to have some extras. 

Cut paper foundations 5.5" square. Use newsprint or even copy paper and cut with paper scissors or an old rotary blade since the paper will ruin it for fabric. Here's a sample Electric Socket Shock block to scale with a 1" marker to check. It looks like the sketch below. 

The foundation has a quarter-inch seam allowance; however, bulky seam allowances may require wider seams.

The diagonal lines are merely suggestions but drawing a few on each sheet serves as a reminder of the direction of the expansion. {Ask me how I know.} Your actual seam lines depend on the width and shape of your strings. All of mine are different widths. I found the sequence of values more important than the widths. 

The critical part is the way the strings widen from one end to the other. They don't need a huge difference in the width; most of mine differ from a quarter-inch to an inch at opposite ends. I.e., the wide end might be 1.5" while the narrow end is 1.25". Just ensure that the narrower ends are all at the same end of the block.

My sketch has the seam along the main diagonal but my blocks have the first/main string {more or less} centered along that line instead. Either way is fine. 

Strip Sizes

The red lines on the foundation point out is how little fabric will show {and how much extra bulk will be added to the seam allowance} if you aren't careful. I learned {the hard way} that the width of those outer strips should be 1.5" or more. That doesn't mean you can't use narrower strings; just put them closer to the center.

The three center strips need about eight inches to cross the diagonal while the shortest ones are about four inches long. {The longer length of the side strips took me a while to visualize. I kept trying to put little HSTs there. While they work with regular string blocks, they don't work with ESS blocks.} You can certainly use even longer strings and trim after they are sewn.


Because my scraps are often short bits, I pulled strings long enough for the center and set them in one pile. That ensured there were enough long ones to finish my blocks; they weren't used up early in shorter lateral positions.

After that I pulled randomly but generally left the lights for the sides. I usually put darks or bright mediums in the center but there are multitudinous ways to order the strips. What should you do? Whatever tickles your fancy.

When there is a value difference between the center section and the sides, the X shape shows up better although it's not very visible until four are set together.  Light and dark are relative; they depend on which fabrics you're using. If you are hesitant, consider using a Grey Scale Value Finder

It's hard to visualize how well your blocks are working until you put four together. So make your first four, and look at them before making adjustments.

Here are my first 12 blocks. No rhyme or reason in their construction. Narrow "blades" {the center of one section of the X} and wider corners or vice versa change with the value choices. A strong value contrast creates a defined edge of the "blade" in the center while a subtle value contrast widens the blade... or causes it to disappear. Where do you see the "sides of the blades?" What do you think made that happen? Does it help or hurt to alternate darker and lighter fabrics in the corners? Your opinion is the only one that matters in your quilt.

Twelve Electric Socket Shock string blocks

Matching colors on each side of the center strip could be an interesting idea but, as has been written in many scrap quilt books, value is more significant than color.  Or consider alternating light and dark strips. So many possibilities.

The yellows on the first ESS made the quilt vibrate. And it didn't take many to achieve that result because of yellow's high intensity. 

Blocks that don't seem to work can be used for tulip petals later on. Or they can go on the back. Or you can donate them.


There are some choices for cutting. {That's why it's improv.} If you have wider strings/chunks, consider cutting them diagonally like this. Not corner to corner! Try for a 3/4" or greater width at the narrow ends of the strips to leave room for seam allowances, to reduce the bulk on the edges, and to better utilize all your scraps. I call this a wedge. Remember, it doesn't take much difference from end to end; the cumulative effect of several wedges increases the expansion.

Cutting a strip into two wedges

If you have a chunk of fabric, you can cut several wedges like this. They don't have to be the same widths.

Cutting several wedges from a chunk of fabric

If your string is already a wedge or triangle, just leave it.

This string went in to the scrap
bag as a wedge/triangle.

If you have a long {WOF} string, leave it until you are ready to place it. Then you can cut it to the appropriate length and create a wedge.


Shorten your stitch length to aid when removing the paper later. 

Place a long {eight-inch} wedge on the main diagonal and sew another wedge each side. {If you choose a different-sized block, the longest string is about 1.5 times a side length. Yes, technically the correct measurement is 1.41 but 1.5 is easier.}

If your string is already a wedge, just sew the regular quarter-inch seam. 

Two wedges sewn with quarter-inch seam

Or sew a seam allowance that starts with a quarter-inch at the wide side and increases a bit {3/8" or 5/16"} at the narrow side. The excess seam allowance can be trimmed back by hand or by flipping back both the string and paper and trimming. You can leave the excess but I found the extra fabric at the narrow end makes the block's seam thicker which becomes hard to iron down once blocks are sewn together.

Because I frequently use any paper lying around, I always fold the papers back {and then straighten them out again} after every seam. Call it pre-creasing. They tear more easily later. Don't do this with fine or fragile paper.

Fold paper back after every seam
to help it tear later

If using a really narrow string simply sew the quarter-inch seam; it's only one tiny string and won't lose the expansion effect.

The Corners

As you reach the corners, it's often easier to use a rectangle at at least 4" by 1.5" or more. There will be some waste but it may be better than sewing a wedge on the wrong side. {Ask me how I know.}

A 2.5x4" rectangle
completes the lower corner

Pre-test your strip placements by overlapping the seams to ensure it reaches as far as you want. Sometimes the string covers the corner but frequently the last strip doesn't quite reach. 

String in lower left won't
quite cover the corner

Here are three ways to handle it. 

1. Use a larger wedge or chunk instead.

Don't worry about it being too large. It's easy to square up later... even if there's some waste.

A wide wedge or chunk
covers the corner with extra room

2. Adjust your final trim to avoid the problem.

Here, the paper peaks out a smidge behind the final strip on the right. 

The lower right strip is a bit short
of the width needed

Turn the block over to evaluate if it can be eliminated by trimming a bit differently. In this case, moving the 5.5" ruler to the right and down for the final squaring up resolves the problem. 

Back of "a bit short"

This solution does not work for precision piecing; however, these are improv blocks and seam lines don't need to match up. 

3. Move the final strip closer to the center
If the last open space on the foundation is too small {less than 1.5" wide} consider moving the final strip towards the center and sewing a new quarter-inch seam allowance based on the top strip. 

Give the corner strip more room 
by moving it towards the center

Final Details

Press after every pair of strings is sewn {one on each side of the first.} If the foundation is heavier paper I steam the back {paper side} each time, too, to weaken the paper for tearing later. 

Blocks can be trimmed to any size, larger or smaller than the foundation, as long as the fabric extends that far. Trim from the front or back of the block, whichever wiggles less. The paper does not adhere as well to the mat or the ruler so take your time and be careful. Mine get  trimmed as soon as they are finished; however, because of all the bias edges, I don't remove the paper until I'm ready to sew them into the top. I just keep them in a stack where they won't fray or stretch. 

Special thanks to Gayle, Sharon, and Maureen for proofing and testing this post. Their suggestions improved the clarity. For more information, Maureen kindly agreed to post her impressions and samples on her blog, MysticQuilter. 

Please post photos on the AHIQ blog if you can. Feel free to post your progress anywhere - on whatever social media you use and your own blog but we'd appreciate tagging it with #AHIQStringTulipQAL so they can easily be found. We always enjoy details about how you personalized your version. The process is more interesting to us makers.

String Theory at the Iowa Quilt Museum

The online gallery tour is available for $6. It's set for a single viewing so get your coffee ready and use your largest screen. I feel very fortunate it's available for us at home. 

Enjoy the day, Ann