Tuesday, March 29, 2016

sew pixel play pincushion tutorial

Hi Everyone!

If you don't already know me, my name is Karen. I studied International Business with an unofficial minor in German. After working a few years in Germany as a productions planner/controller/analyst, I tied the knot and opted for the simpler life as a mom. I now live in southern Germany with my bi-national family close to Ulm which is between Stuttgart and Munich (or closer yet, Augsburg). I do not have the opportunity to talk too much to other Americans, since I am totally integrated into the society and don't live in a major city where other Americans live. So, I use my blog, website and Instagram account to keep my English active. I discovered my passion for "patchwork" over a decade ago and have been trying to learn every technique known in the quilting world since then; I love learning! Some of you might know me as a mini quilter, but I truly love all techniques, as well as traditional and modern quilting.

I have been posting lots of pictures lately on Instagram of a technique that I have been using on pincushions, mug rugs, and pillows that I call "sew pixel play." A lot of your have been asking how I do it. This is actually a very old technique. I am very happy to be bringing it back again, because it brings up so many new possibilities.

First, let me tell you how I learned about it... I had always seen gridded fusible fleece in the stores for sale and wondered about it. I remembered seeing a video or demonstration about adhering squares to the fleece and sewing in rows with one long seam. I couldn't really understand why someone would use this technique, because I thought this was just too time-consuming for "normal" chain piecing rows together. So this technique logically didn't fit into my repertoire. At this time, I was also participating in the Doll Quilt Monthly swap and wanted to learn more about miniature quilts. Then I found this fantastic book by Paula Doyle called Mini Mosaic Quilts. It re-explored this technique and used it for making small, miniature quilts. Since then, I have been incorporating it into my patchwork when I can break down a design into pixels or squares. For sewing on a small scale, this technique is quick and extremely accurate. Some of you may know this technique as "Quick Piece Tiny Squares" or "Using a Quilter's Grid." Since I do it usually on a small scale to get my seams perfect; I call this technique "Sew Pixel Play."


Now onto the step-by-step tutorial for making a pincushion using this technique.

You will need the following materials in addition to your basic sewing notions:
  • Lightweight scraps
  • Gridded fusible fleece
  • or graph paper + glue stick 
  • or waxed paper + ruler + pencil
  • Small grain for filling the pincushion + funnel

For the pincushion, I used the one-inch fusible grid. I prefer to use waxed paper and draw lines on the rough side with a regular pencil and ruler. Although this is more time consuming, it is more accurate when you crease your lines. You may also use regular paper and a glue stick. Draw your own grid at one-inch intervals or print out from EQ7. Make sure you are accurate when you crease along the lines. Use a good light source.



Cut 7/8 inch squares
  • 5 white
  • 5 magenta
  • 5 dark green
  • 4 light green
  • 4 red
  • 4 pink
  • 4 purple-blue
  • 5 single misc. colors

Cut one backing fabric 3 1/2 inches.

Cut fleece or prepare your paper to get a 6 x 6 grid. No need to worry about added seam allowance; it is already included in the one-inch squares.

Lay out your squares onto your fleece making sure you have the fusible side up! You will not be able to see the lines very well. If you are using waxed paper, your lines will be on the backside. If you are using paper/glue stick, your lines will be also be on the backside as well; you need these lines for folding and sewing later.


Fix with a warm iron. And yes, my ironing board cover looks this crappy. I go through a new one about every two months, because I am so hard on it!



Fold over the first column inward right sides together (RST). Make sure your "fold line" from the gridded fleece or paper is exactly in the middle when folding over. This is to ensure you sew an accurate line.



Take it over to your sewing machine. Reduce your stitch length. I reduced mine from 2.5 to 1.5 stitch length. This is to keep the seam together when press the seam open to reduce bulk.



Feed your sewing machine. Sew an exact scant 1/4 of an inch.



When you are finished with the first vertical column, flip your piece over front to back. Fold your next column inward matching up the line again which becomes a guide for sewing. Sew the next seam.


Flip front to back. Fold next column inward using your line on fleece as a folding line. Sew.

Continue sewing, flipping and creasing until all columns are finished. If you forget to flip your piece, don't worry, it will just  bow to one side. ; )




This is what you get when all columns are finished.



Cut your seams open by cutting the back of the seam allowance as shown. Repeat for all columns.





Finger press and then set all seam allowances OPEN with a hot iron with the steam off. Sorry about that ironing board again. It really looks used up!




Now lets work on those rows.

Fold your first row inward RST, making sure you see the "fold line."






Sew using your fold line as a guide. Pull your piece slightly taut as you sew.




I find it easier to keep the rows straight by lining up the outer edges and pinning in place a couple of times. Flip and repeat sewing as you did in the columns.




This is what it looks like when you finish all rows.




Now it's time to cut open the seams for the rows.




Press all of the seams open. Press the hell out of the front so it lays flat. Leave all paper and fleece inside. Do not attempt to tear it out. It won't hurt the pincushion but only stabilize it more. Square up and trim to 3 1/2 inches or whatever you get. (Mine measured 3 1/4 inches in the end.)




Trim backing fabric to the same size.




Lay Front on the backing fabric, RST. Sew around pincushion leaving an opening for flipping. Backstitch at start and stopping points.




Trim the corners and flip right side out. Use a pair of scissors to get the points sharp.




Thread a hand stitching needle with thread matching the backing fabric. Start to stitch the opening closed using a blindstitch. Stitch half of the opening closed. Carefully fill the pincushion using the funnel and cornmeal or other grain; shake some grain into the pincushion shaking it down and pushing into the corners with the small funnel. (I used polenta or cornmeal.) Continue sewing the opening shut and adding more grain until the pin cushion is nice and plump.



It is now finished! The possibilities of this technique are endless I look forward to seeing what you make with it. Please share with us all using the hashtag #sewpixelplay.

I hope you enjoyed this Sew Pixel Play Tutorial.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. You can always email me directly. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

danube river quilt

Hi Everyone! This winter has been rather strange here in Germany this year. Unlike last year, this year has been really mild. We have received very little snow, and the temperatures rarely have dropped below freezing. Today, you can hear the birds chirping their lovely songs which awakens the springtime feelings in all of us. This can only mean, it is time to get out the fresher colors from your fabric stash and make something exquisite! I have an exciting new quilt for your featured in Quilts from Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks, Spring 2016! Get your copy while they last!

Check it out at your local newstand!

Although I am an American, I live in Germany, close to Ulm, along along the Donau (Danube), which is the second largest river in Europe. It originates in Donaueschingen (Germany) and continues throughout 10 countries ending in the Ukraine and emptying in to the Black Sea. It is a major international waterway for southern Europe. Living here along the Donau definitely influences my day-to-day routine and life. Although the winter months can be very gloomy, the summer months bring many bicycle tours and walks along the river paths.

Danube River as seen from the Münster (Protestant Church) in Ulm, Courtesy Wikipedia

I designed a block last year called Danube River Block, #1163 for Vol. 12 of Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks capturing my love of the Donau. I used Tokyo Train Ride from Sarah Watts for Cotton + Steel Fabrics and a Timeless Treaures Sketch Basic in Iron. The darker gray chevron reminds me of the river and the medium tones to the right and left signify the birds soaring along the Danube River. I really enjoyed designing this block and had even more fun sewing it together which is easy peasy when you follow the directions in the magazine : )

Danube River Block, #1163 from Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks Vol. 12

The Danube River Quilt uses a basic horizontal setting which gives a vertical illusion of water flowing through the quilt. You can quickly adapt it to any size quilt and would also be a great block for a single pillow cushion. You could also make this happy, scrappy with one shade of blue for the water and all those unused scraps for the birds. Have fun with it!

Featured in Quilts from Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks, Spring 2016

A very big heartfelt thank-you goes out to Peg Spradlin for sewing this quilt perfectly together using Blueberry Park by Karen Lewis and Color Union by Studio RK, both by Robert Kaufman. She did an incredible job at matching up all those HSTs! I love the quilting as well...how the water flows over the chevrons. Thank you, Peg! Seeing this quilt come together so exquisitely, I want to had over the task of making these blocks to my To-Be-A-Bee Group here in Germany.<<wink>>

So where can you get this magazine? It should be hitting your local quilt shop on March 1st for all those located in the United States. For those located in Europe, it may take a little longer. Check out your local quilt shop or bookstore to pick up your copy today! Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, February 15, 2016

cog + wheels quilt

Since last year I have been thinking about what to make on my monastery weekend retreat with my patchwork group. My quilting group organizes a weekend retreat once a year in a monastery or convent where we sew for ourselves; this is not a course. Since there are quite a few monasteries and convents in Germany, you can book meetings, seminars, and retreats of all kinds with a full breakfast, lunch, dinner meals as well as breaks & snacks prepared so you concentrate on your plan at hand. I find it very rewarding and relaxing to have just one dedicated project for a retreat to make complete value of my time. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I am on a journey of circles this year and decided that I wanted to make a Denyse Schmidt quilt called Cog + Wheels which has mega-sized blocks and mainly circular sewing.

Kloster Heligkreuztal in Altheim, Germany

I designed my quilt using Denyse Schmidt's block and pattern in EQ7 using fabrics from several of her collections using orange, brown and black as a binding color scheme throughout the blocks. These seem to be my "comfort colors" when designing a quilt that is used by my family in our living room. I alternated the black tips to give it more of a scrappy look and a little less unified.

Cog + Wheels Quilt using Different Denyse Schmidt Fabric Collections

I learned from Katrin last year, it is best to cut all of your fabric and blocks before you go on a retreat which really allows you just to sew. I started cutting my fabric two days before the retreat thinking everything was under control. Boy, did I totally underestimated the time it took to cut out the fabric (and sew it together)! Fortunately, I was able to use my new little Roll Buddy.

My Roll Buddy


Even though I usually design my quilts on the computer beforehand, I usually ending up changing a few things around when the fabric is in front of me. I let the fabric talk to me during the sewing process. Sometimes it just jumps around on me and says something totally different than the original plan. I don't mean I sew it together wrong; it just looks better in real life than it did on the plan. I started to lay out the blocks to see if they looked as good as on the plan.

I got my station all set up in this lovely 80 square meter room which has a wonderful size for 13 sewists. I picked a location close to one of the many windows on the South side. We all brought additional lamps which you really need at night when the lighting fails.

Sewing Station Next to the Window

I finished up sewing the outer rings and placed them on a design board to see how I wanted them to work on the inside. Somehow I got really confused; I wasn't sure of my plan anymore. Nothing was looking right. I put them away for the night and started fresh the next morning.

New Arrangements for the Inner Wheels

I decided to stick with my basic original plan of using a light colored fabric for the background of the inner wheel ring. It took the entire day to get back on plan after I ripped out a lot of stitching. Then it was time for my reward after all of the inner wheels and rings were finished.

My reward for finishing the inner wheels


But I didn't stop here on Saturday. I kept on going. I was determined I would sew all finish all 12 blocks by sewing the outer solid linen fabric to complete the blocks. I finished the last block at 00:20. I was dead tired and turned in.

I learned the next morning I sewed one of my blocks together wrong. The outer corner triangles were bowed and not squared. I discovered I sewed the outer ring of just one of the blocks on wrong. You see, these are not entirely round but oblong. The seam which you see at the top of the picture should be rotated 45° to the right. The seam should be at the center of the orange checked fabric and not at the center of the black square. After I realized what I had done wrong, it was all easy street. I finished my quilt blocks and arranged them as outlined in the original plan (according to the outer rings and not the inner wheels).

The outer corner triangles are sewn on wrong.

Now it was the home stretch. I was going to finish the quilt top before the end of the retreat. I ironed all of my blocks and arranged them. I sewed row to row together. I used my beautiful window bank to keep the rows in correct order.



And then it all came together. This is one HUGE quilt top. It measures 66 x 88 inches. It is definitely big enough for a sofa quilt if not a bed quilt. I had no great idea of where to photograph the quilt due to the drizzly rain and overcast skies outside. The lighting inside was also rather drab but Beate helped me to get a fairly good photo in the stairwell! Tada! My Cog + Wheels quilt top finished on one weekend retreat.

Cog + Wheels Quilt in Kloster Heligkreuztal

I managed to get a better photo of the quilt top this morning after being amply ironed and de-stringed. This quilt is very different from many of the quilts that I have made, because it seems that the whole design is more important than the individual blocks. I feel that if you look at each block separately, it doesn't strike me or sing to me. But if you look at it collectively as a whole, it seems more impressive. I think it is because I am used to sewing on a smaller scale and these 22" blocks are so massive. What do you think?

Cog + Wheels Quilt Top

This quilt also took an extremely long time to cut out and to sew. Please don't underestimate this one. It may look easy, but it takes forever. I think it took me forever, because I was creating four separte blocks but alternating the black tips which requires an extra effort for sewing the blocks together correctly.

If you would like to see more pictures from our patchwork retreat, feel free to check them on on Flickr or read a blogpost from my friend Katrin who is also a member of our group on the retreat.

Thanks for stopping by.
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