Monday, May 30, 2011

Applique...for the rest of us

Here is a step-by-step accounting of how Sandy goes about doing fusible applique.

Step 1: Trace my daughter's artwork onto tracing paper. Check.
Step 2: Redraw the tracing with a sharpie so I can see the lines better. Check.
Step 3: Figure out which order everything would need to be fused in so the pieces end up in the right order: mark pieces accordingly in traced drawing. Check.
Step 4: Give myself a serious pat on my back because everything is going along swimmingly. Check.
Step 5: Tape traced drawing down onto my plexiglass "light table" and trace drawing onto fusible. Check.
Step 6: Fuse all white pieces onto right side of white fabric. Oops.
Step 6 (take 2): Toss out fused white fabric. Find more white fabric in scrap bin. Retrace drawing onto new piece of fusible. Fuse onto wrong side of white fabric. Check.
Step 5 (take 2): Toss out fused white fabric. Flip drawing over so it's in the reverse. Trace drawing onto fusible again, in the reverse this time. Check.
Step 6 (take 3): Fuse all white pieces onto wrong side of another scrap of white fabric from scrap bin.
Check and check.
Step 7: Fuse all orange pieces onto right side of orange fabric scrap.
Step 7 (take 2): Toss orange fabric scrap, retrace drawing onto new piece of fusible, fuse onto wrong side of new orange fabric scrap.
Step 8: Fuse onto wrong side of yellow fabric. Give myself another little pat on the back for getting it right this time. Check.
Step 9: Fuse onto right side of purple fabric scrap. Really? Again? (Gutteral growl heard here.) Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: Oops.
Step 9 (take 2): Toss out purple piece, retrace drawing, fuse onto wrong side of new purple fabric scrap. Check, for pity's sake.
Step 10: Align traced pattern, no longer in the reverse, under the applique pressing sheet. Set up all the fabric pieces in appropriate locations to check for setting. Check. Another pat on the back. Check.
Step 11: Start to pull all the stinking paper off the back of the fusible with no fingernails to speak of. Find a sharp pin to score paper to give me a fighting chance. Finally get all the paper off. Check.
Step 12: Pull paper scraps that fell on the floor out of the mouth of doofus Golden Retriever. Check. Throw doofus out of the sewing room. Check.
Step 13: Fuse pieces together on applique pressing sheet. Check.
Step 14: Cut a piece of black background fabric to size. Check.
Step 15: Carefully peel applique unit off pressing sheet--only almost losing one piece. Check.
Step 16: Align applique unit on background fabric. Fuse the darn thing once and for all, with flair and flourish, and a bit of a happy dance that--despite all the errors along the way--it's looking pretty dang cute at this point.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Machine Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Exercises, Projects & Full-Size Quilting PatternsMachine Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Exercises, Projects & Full-Size Quilting Patterns by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Machine Quilting with Alex Anderson is a good companion book to Beautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson. (See my review.) In Beautifully Quilted, Anderson teaches the reader how to create quilt designs from scratch--which is very useful, although the designs she presents are much more easily suited to hand quilting, which is her first love. Machine Quilting deals with this issue, albeit briefly, with a short section on adapting hand quilting designs to machine--continuous line--quilting.

As always, she begins with a brief description of equipment needs--partcular features that are helpful, although not strictly necessary, on a sewing machine; consideration of needles and some troubleshooting tips here; considerations for threads, marking tools, and gloves or other helps in free-motion quilting, pins, and basting.

The next section is entitled "Preparing the Environment," and has a lot of really good information on ergonomics, lighting, and other things to keep in mind to set yourself up for better success. I wish I'd known some of this when I first started out--I learned some of it the hard way!

Following is a section on "Preparing the Quilt," which discusses marking, the adapting of designs for machine quilting, and basting. Next, there is a section entitled "Getting Started," which addresses machine tension, planning your stitching strategy as she terms it (what direction you're quilting in when), handling the quilt itself as you maneuver it through the machine, starting and stopping, anchoring your stitching line, and a short section on troubleshooting. Finally, there is a section addressing "Techniques and Practice Exercises" to get you rolling before you tackle a first project. The exercises take you through grids/straight line quilting, curves, echo quilting, following the fabric motif, stipples, and so forth.

Then there are the requisite projects that all her books contain which help you practice what the book teaches. "Perfect Practice Placemats" give you a chance to practice every one of the techniques in a small and easily managed way. "Floral Fiesta" would be a quick quilt pattern to put together as the center section is simply a large-scale floral print that you then practice following with free-motion quilting. "All Geese A'Flying" is an adaptation of a flying geese block to give lots of room for grid and cable quilt patterns. "Scrappy Nine Patch" allows for more grid practice, but then the border is a cable which wraps around the corners, giving you the opportunity to practice measuring and connecting your border patterns. "'Round the Twist" gives large open spaces to practice motifs, and "Straight Furrows"--a log cabin setting--allows for free-motion straight line quilting. (I have more difficulty doing a straight line with free-motion than I do curves!)Finally, "Basket in Blue" is a wholecloth quilt which is a great final project to the book--wholecloth quilts make the quilting "the thing," so skill is important here.

The book also has a brief section on quilt labels and recommended resources, plus pull-out paper patterns with quilt designs she has used in the book.

This would be good for beginners to machine quilting--it takes you step-by-step through a process meant to build your confidence in this technique.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Beautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson: How to Choose or Create the Best Designs for Your Quilt: 6 Timeless Projects, Full-Size Patterns, Ready to UseBeautifully Quilted with Alex Anderson: How to Choose or Create the Best Designs for Your Quilt: 6 Timeless Projects, Full-Size Patterns, Ready to Use by Alex Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought Beautifully Quilted a few years ago but just fell in love with it all over again as I pulled it off my shelf to review it. In terms of usefulness, I think this could easily be my favorite of the Alex Anderson series. I haven't done a lot with creating quilt designs that needed planning or marking, favoring free-motion quilting. But there have been plenty of times that I would have preferred to do something that required a little more forethought but wasn't entirely confident in my abilities to take it on. Now I see the possibilities in front of me and am hankering to take something on!

First is a section on "Tools and Terms," which describes basic tools that are useful in creating and marking quilting designes, from pencils and Sharpies to velum or tracing paper on a roll. I found myself making a list of tools I either didn't have yet or had forgotten where they'd run off to--and I'll note here that none of the supplies listed are particularly specialized. A plastic protractor like kids use in 6th grade math, butcher paper...easy to find stuff.

Next is a section on choosing quilting designs, discussing things such as filling the space, proportion, balancing the amount of quilting overall, background designs behind a main motif, and so forth. She also discusses ways to adjust commercial templates and how to transfer a design.

The next several pages are a wonderful gallery of quilts that highlight different quilting designs and shows how they add to the overall effect of a quilt. We all love the eye-candy, of course, but in this case it's very useful and educational eye-candy!

Following the gallery is approximately 20 pages of tips and techniques for drawing your own quilting patterns: grids, feathers, repeated motifs, and how to create a quilt design from an inspiration such as architecture or kid's drawings. Her instructions are extremely clear with excellent illustrations--it would be a very simple matter to take her information and create your own unique and original designs.

As with all of her books, there are several projects (five) that give you the opportunity to practice creating quilt designs. The quilt patterns are very simple blocks with lots of open space to highlight quilting, but that doesn't make them any less attractive.

That being said, I don't see myself doing the patterns in the book just to practice the quilting designs. Instead, the strength of this book lays in the 20 pages of techniques described in the paragraph again. I should also note here that the book does contain a tear-out section with full-size quilting patterns ready for use. But with her instructions in the book, I'm not sure I see the need for the patterns! I will also note that the designs she works with are more appropriate for hand-quilting than continuous-line machine-quilting, but with a little more thought and planning should be adaptable.

If you're not confident in your ability to draft your own quilting designs, I'd highly recommend this book.

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Kids Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Fun and Easy Projects, Quilts for Kids by Kids, Tips for Quilting with ChildrenKids Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: 7 Fun and Easy Projects, Quilts for Kids by Kids, Tips for Quilting with Children by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept behind Kids Start Quilting is an interesting one: write a book that gives a series of "workshops" that enable to reader to work with kids from ages 9-14 how to quilt. "Their approach to fabric and color was without the restrictions we adults seem to get hung up on. They were eager to get involved and learn. There were no gender boundaries....The kids were far more skilled and 'ready' than we had anticipated," Anderson states in her introduction. The book was based on real-life experience that Anderson and Liz Aneloski had in working with kids in this age range, so it's well tested.

The book is actually written for the kids themselves, but it has tips in it for adults working with kids. Honestly, I don't see a nine-year-old sitting and reading the book her- or himself, but perhaps a 14-year-old would. That being said, the book starts with a brief description of what a quilt is, the blocks that will be covered in the book, a list of standard mattress sizes, tools and supplies, some information about fabric, fabric grain, and preparing the fabric, and then it launches into "The Basics." The section on basics covers rotary cutting, pinning, stitching, seam ripping, pressing, settings, borders, backing, batting, basting, how to tie a quilt, hand quilting (nothing on machine quilting), and binding.

Then follows seven projects, including a split-rail fence quilt, four-patch, log cabin, "secret" sawtooth star, half-square triangle quilt, and then a sampler quilt which includes each of those blocks. The final project is instructions for making pillows from each of the blocks.

If you have kids and would like some help in teaching them to quilt, or think they'd be old enough and interested enough to work through the book themselves with a little adult assistance here and there, I'd think this would be a good addition to your library.

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Friday, May 20, 2011


I woke up this morning with hexagons in my head. I blame Jaye.

You see, Jaye can be a bit of an evangelist about hexagons. Really. Last night she and I got tweeting back and forth about hexies and she talked me into it. In 140 characters or less. Amazing. Granted, she caught me at a weak moment--it was closing in on midnight my time so my brain was beginning to get fogged with sleepy-time thoughts. I was in a suggestible mode, I suppose, while she was still cranking on all her west-coast-three-hours-earlier perkiness. But there it is, officer. I can blame no one but myself. I have agreed to allow hexies to enter my life.

When we finished our conversation last night, I was thinking a mix of scraps and fat quarters. But when I woke up this morning, there was a full-blown hexie quilt in my head in blues and creams/beiges. So I suppose it must be done. (To badly misquote the well-known baseball movie, "If you dream it, it will come.") It looks to me like I have sufficient stash of blue and neutrals to pull off the 30-or-so different fabrics Jaye recommended. Since some of those blues have been on my shelf awhile, it seems legitimate to scrap-ify them. I may throw in another color just for kicks n' giggles. We'll see what happens when I start slicing. What mood strikes. Or whether I'm designing when I'm on east coast or west coast time.

Jaye's introduced me to a fast way to cut hexies--looks like it can be attributed to Kaye Wood, given some of the links she's provided me. The cutting isn't actually what worries me. You see, this whole conversation began on the topic of Y-seams. Like, "Gee, Jaye, I've been quiltmaking for over 10 years and I've never done a Y-seam." "Easy-schmeasy," she replied, or something along those lines. (Ok, so maybe I've never heard the phrase "easy-schmeasy" come from Jaye's mouth--or, more appropriately, her thumbs on a cell phone keypad via twitter--but that's my east coast translation of her west coast philosophy.) She's promised to teach me her (once again) easy-schmeasy approach. I trust her. I think.

I'll let you know when I become awash in hexies. I may need someone to throw me a life preserver.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

2011 Quilty Resolutions Check-In

Those of you who are listeners will recall that I encouraged everyone to make some quilty resolutions (or goals) for 2011. There was even a fabric give-away involved--yay! In any case, lots of folks did make their resolutions and I really enjoyed reading all of them. (For those of you who haven't heard it yet, here's the episode.)

It's not quite the six-month mark yet, but I thought I'd do a quick check-in with where I stand on mine so that I can assess what I've managed to accomplish and also remind myself of what I still have left to do.

I realized I actually had two sets of resolutions--one that I posted on the podcast page, and another I posted in a different quilt group I'm involved in. They overlap a little but not as much as I'd hoped. So here are both lists combined:

1. Use five days in 2011 as personal quilt retreat days.
Assessment: I've spent more time quilting on each of the two days I've had so far, but can't say I've been able to set a day totally aside as a quilt retreat day. I need to get more intentional about that.

2. Take two quilt classes (preferably in person) My other list only had one in-person class as a goal.Assessment: I took part of one online class through QuiltUniversity but let it slide halfway through. However, I do have an in-person class coming up this weekend at my guild quilt retreat--we have the opportunity to take a thread painting class during the retreat. I'm in!

3. Use or donate 5 books from my quilt library. My other list had "use two books from my library for projects."
Assessment: I've given at least 10 books away to other quiltmakers, and have a stack to take to my guild retreat for the silent auction this weekend. My MIL's "Floral Bouquet" quilt was made from one of the books in my library. So I've met one version of this goal and am halfway on the other.

4. Make two holiday projects sometime before the holidays so I have them in time to decorate (and not just on Thanksgiving day or Christmas eve!).
Assessment: not yet!

5. Use at least one jelly roll and one charm pack from my stash.
Assessment: I used one jelly roll in the "Floral Bouquet" quilt, so this goal is half met. I'm sure I'll use at least one charm pack since one of my holiday projects is likely to be a charm pack table runner pattern.

So--halfway through the year and I'm halfway through my goals! What about you? If you had submitted goals for my challenge, you'll probably find them here. (If you emailed them to me, they wouldn't appear in the comments. I did manage to get at least half of you connected to a spreadsheet I'd set up in Google Docs to help us all track but Google Docs was giving me fits and I was never able to get the other half connected. Sorry about that!) If you aren't a listener or didn't submit any goals but still have some of your own, let us know how you're doing!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for EdgesFinish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for Edges by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"In some ways, making a quilt is like parenting a child: your best intentions for them may not be the road they choose," begins Alex Anderson's Finish It with Alex Anderson. (Well, OK, it doesn't quite exactly start with that sentence, but the sentences appears within the first couple of paragraphs.) Her premise is that quilts often make their own decisions about how you should finish them, and she does outline some instances in which that happened for her in Finish It. If you're looking for some basic information on border treatments, this is a good resource.

The book begins with a section on basic quilting tools that are specifically relevant to border-making, such as a tape measure (which I don't use for anything else in quiltmaking, frankly). The other tools are pretty standard stuff--"Be sure your machine is in good working condition," "Use a quality cotton thread," and so forth. I don't know that the section was necessary--one would think by the time you got to making borders you already knew you'd need good thread and a working sewing machine. But for some reason all quilt books in the last decade include basic quiltmaking information, like a brand-new quilter might pick up a book on finishing a quilt before she'd ever even started one, and would try to learn how to quilt from it. Perhaps, I suppose. I would have rather seen that page used for something else, such as further discussion on allowing the quilt to talk to you in determining borders. (She started out in such an interesting way but then doesn't come back to that whole line of conversation much.)

Next, however, Finish It then moves to the crux of the matter: "Border Basics." Here there are sections on things to think about in terms of border proportions and other design matters, squaring up the quilt, measuring for borders, cutting and grainline, stitching borders, and border options (butted, mitered, partial-seam, corner squares, pieced borders, self-bordering quilts, and applique and quilted borders), with basic instructions or considerations for each. Good information, well presented.

The next chapter is "Edge-Finishing Basics," including a section about binding: straight-grain vs. bias binding, figuring binding length, double-fold, preparing the quilt for binding, squared corners, mitered corners, methods to end binding, and scalloped-edge binding. This chapter also includes directions for creating folded piping and prairie points.

For some reason, the book then has a couple of pages with "general quiltmaking basics." See my comments above on my thoughts on that in this case. I will say that some of the general quiltmaking basics here do specifically reference borders. And it's only two pages, so it's not overly prominent. But still, I'm just sayin'.

As all Alex Anderson books do, Finish It then uses six projects to give quiltmakers the opportunity to experience different border treatments. "Rail Fence" is a self-bordering quilt (in other words, the blocks themselves become the border by being done with a different color treatment). "Amish Baskets" is a medallion quilt which uses corner blocks in each of the borders: the two narrower inner borders just have a corner square of fabric; the main outer border has corners of basket blocks. Additionally, this quilt also uses piping along the binding edge--an opportunity to play with two techniques. "Unknown Star" has a pieced border of half-square triangles. "Irish Nine-Patch" has a scalloped border (on which Alex used a scrappy pieced bias binding that's quite cute). "Butterfly" has prairie points, and the final project, "Scrappy Triangles,' has a very lovely appliqued border.

There isn't a single Alex Anderson book that I don't like on some level. They're always well written, have easy-to-follow instructions, and they start with the basics and then challenge the reader to move just a little beyond. Finish It offers solid ideas and guidance for several traditional methods for finishing a quilt--it does what it sets out to do very well. In the grand scheme of reference books on border methods, however, this one doesn't stand out for me. It's good, just not great. Finish It with Alex Anderson: 6 Terrific Quilt Projects, How to Choose the Perfect Border, Options for Edges

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day--yay!

My Mother's Day gift! The SewEzi portable sewing table has gotten rave reviews--I don't think anyone in my guild has it but several folks on my last retreat were talking about people they knew who had them who absolutely love them. I have wanted one for awhile to take to retreats, plus I've thought it might be useful to have if a friend came over to sew with me again. The day my BFF/BQF Kate came over to sew with me, I had her set up with my old machine on a small folding table and a plexiglass extension on the machine, which worked OK but was a little wobbly. The SewEzi is supposed to be pretty sturdy with minimal vibration.

Sadly, although my DH wanted to order it for me he wasn't 100% positive what he was actually ordering and didn't want to get anything wrong, so my family announced it as my gift and then I placed my own order for it tonight. Which is absolutely fine--it just means there's no way I'll have it in time for my guild retreat this weekend. Dang. Guess I'll just have to go on more retreats!

Once I've had the chance to take it for a "spin," I'll do a review of it on my podcast.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter FriendlyNeutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly by Alex Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson is one of my favorite quiltmaking books in my library, partly because at the time it was the only book specifically focused on quilts using neutrals that I'd seen published at the time. (After having done a quick Google just now, there seems to be only one other book currently available and that's on Japanese blocks done in neutrals, but there also seems to be a book about to be published by Martingale Press by Pat Wys, entitled Spotlight on Neutrals.) I love neutral quilts. I find them soothing and energizing at the same time. But there's definitely a knack to making one that really showcases the neutrals and the design at the same time, and Neutral Essentials gives fantastic guidance as to how to do that.

In the Introduction, Alex Anderson describes how she came to make her first neutral quilt and fell in love with the genre. She also describes the process of creating the quilts and designs used in the book--she gathered a group of other "extraordinary quilters....for a day at [her] house and swapped ideas and fabrics, and then each quilter put her personal spin on a quilt made with neutral fabrics." The quilters then each went off to do their own thing and Anderson didn't really know what the final outcome would be until the quilts were delivered back to her. My first thought when reading this paragraph was, "how great that she was willing to relinquish some of the control of her book to others!" Then my second thought was, "What a hoot that would've been!" and wishing I'd been a fly on the wall in her living room that day!

The book then moves into a chapter entitled "Working with Neutrals," which offers a pretty comprehensive look at what constitutes a neutral, then lists "three keys to success" in working with this group of fabrics: color, value, and character of print. Eight pages devoted to the exploration of neutrals really made me look at my stash with a very different eye. After reading this book, I've been much more conscientious about staying on the lookout for really great neutrals, and a wide variety of them. They truly are more than simply a background fabric. (The chapter also includes a section entitled "Permission to Stretch" to offer some options to those who aren't ready to give up color entirely.)

The chapter closes with sections entitled, "Building and caring for a neutral collection," and "choosing and implementing a design," each with really useful guidelines for helping you set neutrals to their best advantage in a quilt.

There are seven projects in the book that represent piecing and applique, traditional and more contemporary designs. The projects in this book are universally gorgeous--there isn't a single one of them I wouldn't love to make at some point. My only very slight quibble is that every one of the projects is rated as "confident beginner," but they represent varied level of difficulty. I can understand the editors wanting to make anyone feel as if they could make any of these patterns, but at some point skill level ratings become meaningless if applied across the board. Might I just suggest that a couple of the patterns might have been more appopriately rated as "intermediate," or "very confident beginner?"

The book concludes with the standard basic quiltmaking instructions, but the section concludes with a couple of paragraphs specific to neutral quilts, "Quilting your neutral quilt." In this part, Anderson makes a couple of points about considerations that need to be made when planning your quilting here because neutral quilts behave differently visually than other quilts do. This is something I probably wouldn't have thought about on my own without her giving me fair warning.

If you love neutral quilts and are contemplating making one, or if you made one and aren't thrilled with the results but aren't quite sure why, this is definitely a book you should pick up. Even if I never get around to making one of the projects in the book, I already regard and use neutrals differently than I did before just having read it. It's also just gorgeous eye-candy--I keep pulling it off my shelf just to thumb through it again and again. Beautiful stuff.Neutral Essentials with Alex Anderson: 7 Quilt Projects o 3 Keys to Fabric Confidence o Fat-Quarter Friendly

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Hand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand AppliqueHand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand Applique by Alex Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: I can't quite figure out how to do an accented letter in this format so please forgive that the word "applique" never appears with the accent over the "e" as would be proper. Just imagine that it's there.

See my other Alex Anderson book reviews for background information as to what I generally like about Alex Anderson books. In a nutshell: always well laid out, always very clear in instructions, approached with humility (IOW, she doesn't claim to know the only right way but rather presents what works for her). Now, to move on...

Hand Applique with Alex Anderson is a good way to introduce yourself to the techniques of hand applique. In her brief introduction, Alex states "There are several ways to approach applique, each with its own benefits," (p. 4), and this book will introduce you to a few of those methods. While not an exhaustive exploration, she does a good job at getting you started in the right direction. It seems that her purpose is to introduce you and get you hooked--then you can continue to build your skills through other resources or classes.

First, Hand Applique starts with a look at the necessary supplies: Fabric--with tips about what types of fabric will tend to work best in different situations; equipment (needles, thread, thimbles, scissors, pins); template materials (plastic, freezer paper, bias bars); and marking tools, plus reference to a few other "miscellaneous" supplies. With each of these, she gives a brief explanation of some considerations to keep in mind as you explore the possibilities open to you.

The general instructions cover fabric grain, pressing, pinning, sets, borders, and finishing. She doesn't spend a lot of time in any of these--I think her expectation is that you already have at least some quiltmaking experience before picking up this book so she can afford to skim through the basics and only highlight how they may be different in an applique situation. If you've never quilted before, you might need other resources to cover the basics first. But you don't need to have done a lot of quilting to be able to pick up where this book starts.

The section entitled "Basic Applique Preparation" discusses thread basting on paper; glue-stick basting on paper; drawn line for needle-turn applique; preparation for reverse applique; preparation for buttonhole stitch; arrangement of applique pieces; and preparation for the applique stitch. Mind you, this section is three pages long with a whole bunch of white space and very few images. She describes the method, beginning with particular situations in which it is useful. The descriptions are clear enough but a few images would have helped tremendously. I questioned whether I understood her descriptions so easily because this wasn't my first book on applique, and I've taken a class. So for me, reading her descriptions of the methods had more the feel of a refresher course. If I had never been exposed to it at all, it may not have been as clear. Hard to tell on that one. I'm always for a good picture to illustrate a method and her books typically excell on this point. This book fell a bit short.

The section on "The Applique Stitch" was superior to the previous section by far. With plenty of photos showing both left- and right-handed approaches, she outlines the basic applique stitch, outside curves, inside curves, V's or inside angles, points, circles, bias strips without bias bars and bias strips with bias bars, and a button-hole stitch. This was an excellent section--clear descriptions, good illustrations.

As in all her books, the bulk of the teaching is through projects. While I usually like Alex Anderson's project designs, the ones in this book didn't do a whole lot for me, although I can see their usefulness as teaching tools. And whether you like or dislike a pattern is such a personal thing--you may certainly completely disagree with me! The first project, "Color Sampler," is intended to teach a wide variety of applique situations--with flowers, stars, leaves, berries, and a curving stem, you'd be exposed to most of the basic applique shapes and considerations. "Autumn Leaves," "Cherries," "Hearts," "Rail Fence with Stars," and "Mittens" are each a practice opportunity for a single shape. "Rose Sampler" is also primarily a single set of shapes--rose, rosebud, leaf, vine--set in a variety of designs, so it looks less repetitive than the others.

I only gave this book three stars rather than my usual four for Alex Anderson books because of the lack of illustrations in the applique preparation portion and that some portions of the book are quite cursory. That being said, it's still quite useful and would be a good way to get your feet wet with applique.Hand Applique with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects for Hand Applique

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd EditionStart Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd Edition by Alex Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Start Quilting with Alex Anderson several years after I had, well, started quilting. Periodically I go through a few days of what I refer to as "sending myself back to quilty boot camp," reaching a level of frustration with myself that sends me into a frenzy of using books or DVDs to remind myself of basic quiltmaking skills. I bought this book in one of those fits. It was up to the task although, as is the case with most of my quiltmaking book reviews, it seems, I have to admit to never having actually made any of the projects in the book. However, reading the text of the book was enough to get me started again in a forward motion, plus I found several helpful tips, charts, and suggestions that have now been added to my quiltmaking arsenal.

See my review of Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson for the background to why I like Alex Anderson books in general (hint: it's not because of her celebrity). I won't bother re-walking that ground in this review.

"...I decided to write this book to get the beginning quilter started with the basics. You must remember that there are many different approaches to quiltmaking, one not better than the others, just different," (p. 4). Refreshing. I've read other books in which the author takes potshots at people with different approaches than the author's own. I much prefer Alex Anderson's style, in which she attests to there being multiple "right ways," and then simply goes on to present her own methods and techniques as an option. I do wish sometimes she would give a little more background as to the benefits of her particular method (what problems it avoids, and so forth). But she's also being pretty careful, I suspect, not to overwhelm new quilters with too much information right at the outset.

The book is laid out very well, as all her books are. Lots of white space, great images, easy-to-follow instructions. The project pages includes little tips or definitions within the instructions as well. The projects are not shown in alternate colorways, although she does explain how she chose the colors she did for each project and, again, includes teaching tips therein, so you'd be able to adapt it to your own preferences fairly easily.

The introduction to the book begins with some basic information about the different parts of a quilt, standard widths of fabric, and so forth. She meshes that with her own personal history as a quilter and some nice foreshadowing of the wide world of quilting that's open to the new quilter to explore. She also recommends that a new quilter start with a small project to avoid being overwhelmed, and then ends with, "Besides, if you start small, you can begin another quilt sooner." Hear hear! She also gives a very brief explanation of how to make any given project from the book larger, and includes a helpful chart of standard mattress sizes for reference. (However, she includes "three-year crib" and "six-year crib" in her mattress sizes. Is that a California thing? My kids both had just a plain ol' crib.)

Additional sections cover tools and fabric (including color/value, grain, and preparation suggestions). Then it goes into "The Basics," which take you step by step from choosing the block you want to work on from the book, rotary cutting, pinning, stitching, seam ripping, pressing, settings, borders, planning the quilting, backing, batting, and basting for both hand and machine quilting. The next section, "Quilting," gives information for both hand and machine quilting, and binding.

The projects in the book, intended to introduce a new quilter to squares, rectangles, and triangles in easy-to-chew-portions, are a Rail Fence, Nine-Patch Variation, Log Cabin Variation, Friendship Star, and Flying Geese. The projects are all wallhanging size as presented--around 30-36" square. The final project is a sampler quilt made up of a few of each of the blocks. You don't see many sampler quilts in blog-land but they have always been an excellent way for new quilters to learn a variety of skills in a single project. Her sampler quilt is extremely attractive--it's not the standard blocks-and-sashing presenation. It looks wonderfully--shall I say it?--modern in its layout.

I would easily recommend this book and, in fact, have loaned it to new quilters a couple of times. I think it's an easy way to get your feet wet and gain comfort level with the basic skills.

Start Quilting with Alex Anderson: Six Projects for First-Time Quilters, 2nd Edition

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Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric StashFabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash by Alex Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson is out of print at this point but you can still purchase it through Amazon (and its network of independent booksellers). I got it for 50 cents plus shipping a few months ago. It was not only worth the 50 cents, it would've been well worth the original list price had I bought it when new.

I'm not one to buy a book simply because it's written by a celebrity quiltmaker, but I do quite routinely check out Alex Anderson's books when they first come out to see if it's a topic I'd want. Her books are very high quality--very well written, clear instructions, nice patterns that are mostly fairly simple in construction but attractive and more complex-looking in completion. Any of her books would be excellent additions to a beginner's bookshelf. Even as an intermediate quilter, I will occasionally go back to her books for a refresher course or simply design inspiration.

Fabric Shopping is as much a book on color, value, print, and design as it is on how to purchase fabric. As the coverleaf states, the book has "Seven projects to help you: Make successful choices; build your confidence; add to your fabric stash." I can hear you laughing now--does a quilter really need help adding to her fabric stash? Isn't that something we all excell at? What the statement should have said more specifically is "add to your fabric stash intelligently." We're all great at buying the pretty, pretty fabric that catches our eye. But when we look at our stash as a totality, how usable is it? This book will help you build a stash that is well-thought out, filled not only with attractive focus fabrics or a few collections, but would have enough background fabrics, blenders, and other fabric for "supporting roles" that you'd have a much better shot at making an entire quilt from what you already own.

Additionally, in her introduction, Anderson relates this story: "One day in a class while attending San Francisco State University I decided to voice my strong personal likes and dislikes of certain colors. The teacher, Marika Contompasis, who could make color magic from a bag of ugly wool yarn, stopped the class and said, 'To say you hate a color tells me you are ignorant of its use.' I felt pretty embarrassed and have never looked at color the same since that day." First, I like that she's willing to tell a story about her own embarrassment. Second, that's exactly right. I might have favorite colors and color combinations as well as those colors I naturally turn away from, but all colors can be beautiful and perfect in just the right way. Fabric Shopping helps you think through the fabrics you already own and how to continue to build your stash in a way that will make all colors available to you for beautiful design.

The chapters are:

--"Shopping Sense," which talks about how fabrics are organized in a quilt shop, deciding which fabrics you need and how much--including a description of the different categories of fabrics including tone-on-tone, novelty, and so forth (although she breaks them into different categories than I've heard others use but I do like her descriptions), and fabric quality.

--"The Three Rules," which includes value, character of print, and color families, plus a discussion of the color wheel. (Before you get itchy about the word "rules" and start thinking quilt police, she doesn't give specific guidelines as to what you should and shouldn't do so much as things to keep in mind as you're going about your stash building.)

--"Fabric Groups," a discussion of things such as holiday fabrics, monochromatic fabrics, neutral fabrics, solids, focus fabrics, "personality" fabrics (her term for a group that includes novelties), and scrap fabrics.

--"Care, Storage, Design Wall," where she addresses briefly the pre-wash-or-not argument, storage tips, and ideas for creating a design wall. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of any of these items--the entire chapter is two pages with a ton of white space. But it gives you some ideas that you could then follow up with your own research later if you so chose.

--"General Instructions," which is the usual general quiltmaking instructions included in most pattern books. However, since this book is aimed specifically at beginners, she does cover such things as pinning, seam ripping, sets, pressing directionally, and basting for either hand or machine quilting, and so forth.

One of my fave things about Alex Anderson's books is that, even though she is clearly a "celebrity quilter," she comes at her books with humility. She often references that there isn't a single way to do things, then goes on to present how she does it with no judgment whatsoever. To whit: "I like to pin. As host of 'Simply Quilts,' I discovered that half the quilting world runs the other direction at the mention of pinning. But I find my results to be much more pleasing when I take the time to pin," (p. 23), then she goes on to describe her pinning process. Rather than stating unequivocally "you must pin," as some quilt books are wont to do, she's basically saying that some do, some don't, she prefers to herself. Great! Now I feel free to either do it or not do it as I so choose rather than feeling scolded or shamed into the sense that if I don't pin I'm somehow being lazy or rebellious.

Just as a point of interest, sometimes I pin, sometimes I don't. Depends on the situation. Thanks, Alex, for making me feel like that's OK!

To me, the seven quilt projects presented in the book are almost beside the point, although they're all quite nice. I haven't made any of them, although I do enjoy the patterns. They're not overly simplistic but they're also all within reach of a beginner. They have a lot of pieces but they don't require advanced techniques--just paying attention. But the point is the use of color and different types of fabric, so from that perspective I find looking at the images of the completed quilts very useful from a design inspiration standpoint. Each one shows the block units presented in different colorways (not the entire quilt) so you can see how it takes on a different feel. Her books always have extremely clear instructions with good images throughout. I'm a particular fan of the "Snail's Trail Variation" in nuetrals, but then I also have her book Neutral Essentials (which I'll also review at a later date) and am very much looking forward to making a neutral quilt myself. She's definitely sold me on that concept.

If you aren't sure whether your stash makes sense or are looking for more education on different types of fabric and the use of color in design, this book is a fantastic one to take the effort to track down. Sadly, again, it is out of print but still available in some venues.

Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson: Seven Projects to Help You: ¥ Make Successful Choices ¥ Build Your Confidence ¥ Add to Your Fabric Stash

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