Little Red Fish

I’m going to the International Quilt Festival in Houston again this fall, and I’ve signed up for a couple of classes there. Going through this year’s class listings, I started thinking about the classes I’ve taken there in the past. I have some partly finished projects from those classes, and it seems like a good idea to dig those out and finish them. I have a bad habit of bringing things home from classes and putting them away, adding them to the stack of UFOs hidden in the closet.

This one is from two years ago. I took a class with Judith Baker Montano to learn how to make an under-the-sea piece using fabric and embroidery and various other embellishments. I’d done quite a lot there, but had not had enough time to finish it in class. I got out the partly finished piece and all of the materials from the class kit. Most of the background was done, and I decided that all I really needed to do to finish it was to add some embroidery and beading to the foreground.

This picture shows the work in progress, with some newly added embroidery. I’m not very experienced at embroidery, which made it hard to decide what to do. I followed some of the stitches in Judith Baker Montano’s book, Elegant Stitches. I definitely want to get more practice with embroidery, so that I have some experience to draw on when working on something like this.


Originally the piece was supposed to end up being 7” by 10”, but I decided I’d make it smaller so it could become a page in my sketchbook of small quilts. I used a piece of card stock with a window cut into it to see how it would look trimmed down. 


At this stage, it looked almost finished to me, but I thought it needed a focal point, so I added a bigger red fish to the foreground. I also added a few beads to the orange brain coral, and a bit more ribbon embroidery. Here’s a close-up of it, after I trimmed off some of the excess canvas.


To finish the embroidered piece, I first hand-basted the edges through all of the layers of fabric. Then I used a small zigzag stitch to attach a length of textured yarn all the way around.


Here it is, all ready to mount on a quilted background.


The final task was to make the quilted 8” by 8” page to mount it on. I chose some batik fabric for the front that I thought looked a bit watery.


For the back, I used a piece of batik that had shells and other sea critters on it. I layered the two fabrics with batting in between, and quilted around the shells, filling the spaces in between with some free-motion doodles. This is a fun way to get in some free-motion practice. Next, I used a couple of rounds of zigzag stitching to finish off the edges.


I mounted the embroidery piece on the quilted page with a straight line of machine stitching, and finished off by adding the grommets so I could add it to my sketchbook. Here it is, all finished.


I have a couple more class pieces I’d like to finish off before the end of October rolls around. I’ll post them here when they’re done.


Homespun 16-Patch Quilt

I’m still hand-stitching the back of the binding on my Sampler Quilt, so I don’t have a photo yet of the completed quilt to share with you. Instead, I thought I’d show you my latest quilt project.

finished 16-patch top

I had 16 fat-quarters of homespun fabric in my stash that were waiting for the right idea for a quilt. It dawned on me that the obvious thing was to sew up 16-patch blocks, with one square of each fabric. I thought it would look nice alternating those blocks with solid squares of fabric. Because the homespun fabrics are fairly busy, I decided to make all of the 16-patch blocks the same. That also made it easier to piece them.

A little bit of math and sketching later, and I settled on blocks of 6” square, finished size. I was able to sew 40 of the 16-patch blocks, and had 48 solid blocks of fabric, which gave me a finished quilt top of 48” by 60” with a few solid blocks left over.

What follows is a quick step-by-step description of how I made this quilt top.

First, I cut the fat quarters into 4 strips 2” wide, and three squares 6 1/2” by 6 1/2”

cutting fat quarters

Next, I took one 6” square of each fabric and used them to try out different arrangements of the fabrics. I was trying for a layout that broke up lights and darks without looking too much like a checker-board. This is what I settled on:

Fabric layout

Using that layout as a guide, I started to sew the 16-patch blocks. First, I sewed the strips together into 4 strip sets, each one corresponding to a row in the 16-patch block.

sewing strips together

Then I cross-cut the strip sets into 2” wide strips

cutting strip sets

and sewed those together to make 16-patch blocks

sewing 16-patch rows

sewing 16-patch blocks

and here is a finished 16-patch block, front and back.

16-patch front

the back view shows how I pressed the seams.

16-patch back

For the layout of the quilt, I decided to put the solid fabric blocks in the same order as the fabrics in the 16-patch blocks. I think this gave it a more organized look than it would have had if I’d placed them randomly. The fabric is busy enough, so this layout tones down that busyness.

finished 16-patch top

I’ve bought some more homespun fabric to add a 3 inch wide border around the quilt top. I want the border to frame it and to make the quilt a bit bigger. And then it will be on to layering and quilting.

Quilting the Sampler Quilt Background

The Sampler Quilt I’ve been working on has a lot of background fabric between and around the various blocks. The fabric is quite dark and busy, so I knew that whatever design I used to quilt it would barely show up. It didn’t make sense to do anything too intricate or fancy. On the other hand, I wanted to fill the space up with some sort of dense free-motion quilting design so that the blocks would pop out of the background.

For inspiration I turned to the wonderful resource that Leah Day has provided on her blog of quilting designs “400 Hundred + Quilting Designs.” This is an amazing resource for quilters, and I’ve learned a lot just from browsing through her site.

The design I chose to use is what she calls Pipe Maze (number 249 in her database of designs). This design creates a jumble of squares and rectangles that work well with the slightly wonky woven print on my background fabric. It has the added bonus of being really easy to do. Here is my little sample/practice piece:


As you can see from the photo that follows, it’s very hard to see the actual stitching on the busy fabric in my quilt. What you can see are the little squares and rectangles that catch the light.


It’s a little more visible on the back, because most of the backing fabric is lighter. The backing fabric has a very similar wonky woven print, so it also works well with this quilting design.


I’ve just finished doing all of the background quilting. I’m very pleased with how it has turned out. This is the most free-motion quilting I’ve ever done, and I learned a lot in the process. I followed a couple of the suggestions that Leah Day has on her web site FAQ page, including leaving the feed dogs up with the stitch length set to 0.0, and slightly limiting the pressure from my free-motion foot by wrapping some elastic around the top of it (this is described in this post by Leah Day, although I didn’t bend back the bar at the top of the foot like she does because I want the foot to go up and down a little bit). That seemed to make it easier. I also cover the flat bed of the machine with a SewSlip teflon sheet so that the quilt moves easily.

All that’s left for me to do on this quilt is trim off the excess batting and backing fabric and sew on the binding. When that’s done, I will show you the whole quilt in all of it’s busy glory. Stay tuned!

Threads used for the free-motion background quilting are: Superior Threads Masterpiece in colour 168 on top, and Superior Threads Bottom Line in colour 617 in the bobbin. (This worked out okay, but if I was starting over I think I’d have used Masterpiece in the bobbin as well as the top thread, both for a more easily balanced stitch, and to have top and bottom threads made of the same material.)

Related posts:

Planning the Layout of a Sampler Quilt

The Sampler Quilt – All Together Now

Pieced Back for the Sampler Quilt

Quilting the Sampler Quilt Blocks – Part 1

Quilting the Sampler Quilt Blocks – Part 2