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I was galavanting in Melbourne at the weekend – saw Les Mis which was totally awesome and I still can’t get two songs out of my head; ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ and Fantine singing ‘I dreamed a dream’. Spending the weekend there and teaching on Friday has meant that I’ve not had lots of time in the studio.

Despite three days off, the progress on General Jac is going well. I have almost finished the applique on the first block and ready to cut out block two.

 General Jac - web

General Jac - Close up - web

I bought two new mats for the ScanNCut machine on Monday and I shall use one to finish the cutting out of all the pieces for the quilt. It saves so much time but the mats don’t seem to last long – the stickiness seams to go rather quickly. On my first mat I tried using a spray adhesive when the sticky layer went, but it made for a messy time and I have given that idea up.

I have now decided that when the surface gets less sticky its time to use another one. I guess I need to make a choice – use the ScanNCut and save lots of time but factor in the cost of a mat for every quilt or print the shapes on the fusible web and cut them out by hand. Depends on how quickly I want the quilt or if the arthritis in my hand and wrist will stand the extra work of cutting the pieces out.

I also spent time in the last couple of days cutting out the last blocks for the centre of the hexie quilt I’m doing in the evening. I will sew all of them into the quilt and then start on the borders which will involve sewing lots and lots of white hexies which is mindless but therapeutic.

Hexie colour selection - web

I found the first hexie which I always write on to say when I started the quilt – it was Election Day last year, Saturday 7 September, so almost exactly a year ago. Hexagon quilts aren’t quick quilts to do but I love them although my least favourite pattern is the ever popular Grandmother’s Flower Garden. I prefer the lozenges with rosettes in different layouts – I guess that’s because they are closer to the Regency quilts I am aiming to reproduce rather than the quilts from the 1930’s of which Grandmother’s Flower Garden is the most common pattern.

I have a great affinity with the quilts from the 19th century but almost no interest in those after 1890. I positively hate crazy quilts with a dreadful passion. I can find almost nothing to like about them. I can almost admire their stitching and embroidery but the mixing of fabrics, the inclusion of trinkets and the mismatching of embroidery floss to the background fabric colour offends my virgo sensibilities! Things need to be balanced and ordered for me – I guess I’m just old fashioned and a stick in the mud!

Sorry, went off a tangent there! Minor rave but I’m now back on track.

I am part of a friendship quilting group. There are only six of us and the majority of us love working with civil war reproductions. To reflect that we are collectively known as “Daughters of the Valiant South”! We meet once a month and share quilting news, do show and tell and just generally have a great time. We agreed last year that we should all undertake a challenge together and the challenge we decided on was to increase our accuracy in machine piecing.

Precision Challenge - web

I sew on a Brother VQ3000 and one of the best features of it (and there are many great features let me tell you) is the laser guide. I started my quilting career trying to piece but try as I might I never seamed to get the block to end up the right size. I became very frustrated and gave up. I could do it well enough to sew big blocks together and to sew borders on but a complete quilt from piecing was not possible. I tried all the tricks, watched YouTube tutorials. Nothing seamed to work. That is one of the major reasons that I turned to applique. That and the fact that it was pictorial and closer to my original artistic endeavours of painting using acrylics.

We started our precision piecing challenge and right away one of the group recognised my problem. My quarter inch seam was a generous one (although not that generous) but the biggest problem was my method of pressing. I ironed I didn’t press. The difference being I kept the iron moving like I was ironing a shirt not pressing up and down. With these two errors corrected I started producing blocks that were supposed to be six and half inches square and were exactly six and half inches square when measured. To say I was delighted was an understatement – now I could piece backgrounds for the applique – a variation I had wanted to do but wasn’t game enough to have a go.

The challenge is nearing the end and I have some nearly 50 odd red and white blocks to make into a quilt. Some of the blocks were dead easy; others were rather challenging and others down right difficult. The most difficult were those that were base 5 and we were trying to fit them into a 6 inch finished square – you got some pretty weird fractions to cut and I’m ashamed to say that I gave up.

I had a discussion with one in our group who pointed out that I could do the blocks by foundation piecing. I could. I almost did. But then I reflected that the challenge was to make accurate blocks with a quarter inch seam. We had a difference of opinion in that she saw the out come as the goal where as I saw the process as the achievement. Now that I can accurately piece I wanted some really rather difficult blocks to see if I had met the challenge and so that’s what I plan to do. It means that we won’t all have all the same blocks but there are enough to be common throughout the group that it will be seen as a group challenge we undertook.

My last work in progress is finishing Netherfield. The binding is on but when I hung it I noticed that it had developed a bit of a wobble. In fact the wobble was located in the strip sets not in the applique strips. I think that the quilting foreshortened the applique strips as when the quilt top was put together they were the same size.

Blocking Netherfield - web

As a result Netherfield is hung on my studio wall and has a second rod at the bottom of the quilt and hanging off it are two old irons and a hammer drill (the best use of a drill in my opinion – I don’t do DIY!). I’m hoping that they will stretch it enough to bring it flat. If not I shall give it a hose down and stretch it with heavier weights – but that will have to wait for a warmish spring day. That’s not going to happen for a couple of months yet despite the fact that the first of the daffodils are just starting to bloom.