Monday, January 31, 2011

Grandma Coco Gets the Scoop on… Machine Quilting With Monika Kinner-Whalen

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

Grandma Coco’s been quilting for a long time. Up until now she always been more of an old-school quilter.  However, as life speeds up and time runs out, she’s finally looking to kick it up a notch. She’s ready to machine quilt a whole quilt…. well, she’s starting with a baby quilt….and she’s gone looking for some advice.

Monika Kinner-Whalen
Monika Kinner-Whalen is a fellow Canadian who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her family of 5. She maintains a visually beautiful and informative blog called My Sweet Prairie and if you click on that link and visit her, you’ll see that she does beautiful machine quilting.  Just like Grandma Coco would like to do. So, our intrepid reporter set out to get the scoop.

GC: First, tell us a little about yourself, Monika, and how you came to quilting.
MK-W:  I am an artist who has always loved to sew.  I began quilting just because I really wanted a quilt and didn't know anyone who made them.  So I'm completely self-taught (by internet and library).  I've never taken a class or had a live teacher.  It's a lot like trying to attain a correspondence degree!  The 'addiction' is my drive.  I've been quilting seriously, daily, for about 3 years, trying to learn as much as I can along the way.  About a year ago I discovered that you can sew art.  I've had two exhibits since that time, and have two upcoming this year as well!  I'm on a roll and loving it!

GC: How do you prepare your quilt top for machine quilting? Do you use spray starch?

MK-W: I press it really well with lots of steam.  I'm a perfectionist and I want NO ripples.  I press the backing too.  I typically use flannelette on the backs and low loft bamboo batt.  I spend a lot of time clipping every little thread, front and back, especially if I have white in my quilt top.  Stray colours show right through.

GC:  Where do you layer your quilt? Do you need to stretch the fabric taut?

MK-W:  I layer my quilt on our huge kitchen table.  I put the quilt top face down on the table first, then the batt, then the flannelette.  Why?  Because no one taught me how to do otherwise.  Lol. You know, books and magazines tell you how to make a quilt top and that's all.  They leave you with "quilt as desired".  From the centre out, I spread the backing flat and smooth with my hands. I go around the table a few times.  Then I grab one side of all layers with both hands, and pull and flip the whole thing over, top up.  I do the same thing to the top: smoothing, smoothing....  I flip again to smooth the back, and  layers seem to cling.  I've never had bunching or buckling on the backs of my quilts, so I'm happy with my technique.  I've done over 75 quilts this way.  

GC: You don’t use pins? or that spray basting glue? 

MK-W: I use quilting pins - they look like bent safety pins.  I bought cheap ones first, and the tips were rough and RIPPED holes in my quilt top AND left black grease stained holes at that!  ***Worst moment of my life.***
I don't spray baste.  We have birds and if they can die from it, then I don't want to breathe it.  I recently purchased fusible batting, but I still pin baste a bit - at least a couple per block.

GC:  How do you handle the bulk of the quilt as you move it through your machine?
MK-W: Haha!  I couldn't handle it.  It drove me crazy.  I now own a machine with an 11 inch throat.  Life is better.  I kind of fold the quilt over as I need to for straight line or ditch quilting.  With free motion, I bunch it out of the way.  I quilt on a big table space so nothing is ever falling off the table and pulling everything down.  That's too frustrating for me.  

GC:  What kind of needle, thread and tension settings? What machine foot do you prefer? Stitch length?

Daisy Daisy (Modern Dresden) 2010
MK-W:  For straight line/ditch quilting, I use the same weight/brand of thread in top and bottom.  I leave the tension as is, on auto unless there's a problem.  I use a quilting or sometimes a jeans needle.  I really prefer the stitch length of 3.5.  Smaller looks too small to me, and bigger looks too simple.  I have an even feed open toe foot.  That's my favourite.  Nothing shifts, and I can see where I'm stitching.  I tried a ditch foot, but didn't trust it.  That's just me.  The accufeed foot is so wide.  I like to use the side of it as a guide for straight line quilting.  Oh!  I also really like to use decorative stitches for straight or circle quilting, especially with variegated threads!!  : )  I did this on Daisy Daisy, and on the quilt that was in Quilter's Connection Magazine.

GC. I know you start with quilting in the ditch. How do you handle the thread tails when you start and stop?

MK-W: I start by stitching between all rows and columns in the ditch, between each block.  Then I remove all pins.  The stitching begins and ends at the very edge of the quilt, so the threads get trimmed when I square the quilt and bind it.  When I quilt after this point, I pull up both threads to the top and stitch on the spot before moving on.  Those ends get clipped.  When I'm done that line, I knot off and trim from the back.  

GC:  How much quilting is enough?

MK-W: That's a great question!  I love the look of lots of pretty quilting, but too much makes quilts so stiff and flat.  I prefer those techniques for wall hangings.  I like the quilt I cuddle with to be supple, so I don't overquilt.  I could quilt more on mine.  I stop when I get scared that I'm going to wreck it.  Does that happen to you?  (Oops- here I am asking the questions.  lol)  I also like the quilting to enhance and embellish the quilt top.  People are always surprised how different a quilt looks after it's been quilted.  Personally, I'm tired of seeing flat unquilted tops on the internet!  lol  Quilt it, decorate it, use coloured threads...

St. Niklolaus Quilt 2010
GC: Any other tips?

MK-W: TIP 1 - Sometimes if I'm not sure about how to quilt next, I'll lay out some thread on the top so I can visualize how it would change the quilt.  Lay white thread in lines, or loop a bunch of variegated pink, lay parallel lines of red... Audition first to avoid having to pull out the seam ripper. 

TIP 2 - If you are regretting what you've just quilted, then STOP and take it out.  It's not going to change just because you chose to quilt more.  I learned that one the hard way.  lol

TIP 3 - Clean your machine before quilting, and half way through if you are using flannelette.  The one class I did take was "Machine Maintenance".  Best money I ever spent.  Don't use canned forced air.  Use a vacuum attachment to suck out all the lint.  You can get these at a sewing store.  Your quilting will be so much smoother.

TIP 4 - I always wear my quilting gloves with grippy fingers when I quilt.  They aren't just for free motion.  They give you so much control for precision straight-line or ditch quilting.  I won't quilt without them!

GC: Monika this has been a terrific help. Thank you. You’re always so busy on your blog with lots going on. Care to share what’s coming up for you?

MK-W - My fibre art will be exhibited at the Gardenscapes 2011 Art Show & Sale in Saskatoon and I have 2 quilts with the Saskatoon Quilt Guild on display for sale at McNally Robinson's Booksellers in Saskatoon Feb 23 to mid-May 2011.

My second quilt pattern will be published in the Summer 2011 issue of A Needle Pulling Thread magazine.  That quilt will be displayed at their booth at the Spring CreativFestival in Toronto, Ontario, too!  

My Sweet Prairie Postcard 2010
I have my etsy store as well.  It's very minimal.  I am putting more patterns up for sale there along with a few quilts.  From it, I always seem to have a fibre art commission on the go.  I blog daily though!  My blog is the heart of My Sweet Prairie.  There are links to all my photos, all my work, and some tutorials as well.  A fun feature has been "Tips on Tuesdays" where there is a weekly topic.  People are welcome to chime in and leave their own tips on that topic.  It's become a great learning circle for everyone!

GC: Well, it seems like you’ve come a very long way in 3 years! It will be fun to see where you go from here. Thanks for taking the time to share your machine quilting knowledge with us. I know Grandma Coco is feeling a little more comfortable about tackling that baby quilt.

(All colour photos on this blog post were generously provided by Monika and belong to her.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Illustration Friday - Surrender

"Resistance is futile.
Surrender the kibble."
Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

It’s not a mystery novel

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

We had a couple of wake-up calls this week and they both involved the perils of poor preparation. We ought to know better and yet we often jump right in. We’re so anxious to start that sock or quilt that we forget not all patterns and projects and recipes are created equal. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen. Typos are introduced. Whole lines left out.

It’s so easy to depend on the designer or a big-name company to spoon-feed us the steps to success. However, it’s really important to remember that anyone can make a mistake. Glossy magazines are as guilty as independent pattern makers. Grandma Coco has been known to withhold an ingredient when asked to share a special recipe, but that’s a whole other story.

With the magic of the internet, it’s easier than ever to check to see if there are
corrections. Go to the magazine website, the designer’s website, the publisher’s website… get the idea. For knitting patterns, check with Ravelry. Even if the pattern’s good but someone’s already been there, done that, it’s amazing what short cuts and tips other knitters can offer. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel.

So, you’ve got your pattern, you’ve checked for errors and you’re ready to go, right? Whoa, not so fast, pardner. Take a breath and do something you may never have done before: Read the directions. All the way through. Right to the end. Try to get a handle on what’s going on. After all, it’s not a mystery novel. You won’t spoil the ending for yourself. In fact, with any luck, you’ll catch little ouchies like “continue increasing at the beginning of every 3rd row, until the piece measures 12” and then increase every 2nd row for 2”,  WHILE AT THE SAME TIME doing so and so”. Don’t you hate that? If you hadn’t read ahead, you’d be ripping back now. Read the pattern first. Save time and effort later.

The other thing to do while reading through is something Grandma Coco forgot to do this week. (And boy, is she bummed.) When you’re asked to cut strips and join them together to get a strip set that is “x” inches wide, it’s pretty doggone easy to do the math yourself and make sure that when you cut those strips, and stitch them together, you’ll get the expected width. Grandma Coco got excited. She fell for the lure of spoon-fed pablum but never again.

Read the directions.

Because Grandma Coco Sez So…That’s Why!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Coldest Day of the Year ... so far!

Can you see the snow outside the window? This is the coldest day we've had in a couple of years and all the reporters and weathermen are licking their chops, making the most of it with dire warnings about frostbite and wind chill. Apparently, exposed flesh can freeze in as little as 15 minutes today. Did you know that? Grandma Coco remembers the good old days when our mothers just wound us up in wool....thick coats and heavy scarves and extra mittens ... and sent us trudging off to school anyway. Remember Ralphie's little brother Randy in The Christmas Story? Dressed up as fat as a tick in his little snowsuit? So puffed up and padded with clothing he couldn't bend his arms or get back up when he fell down in the snow? And you thought that was fiction. Ha! That was us!

Stay warm, everyone! Don't forget to fill your bird feeders.  And Cassie reminds us all to be kind to our pets. They feel the cold, too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A little knitting content for a change

I’m just gonna say it straight off….Grandma Coco and I like bamboo needles. No, what we feel is stronger than that. We LOVE bamboo. It’s light and smooth and comfortable in our hands. And the stitches slide so sweetly without any drag at all. But not that out-of-control free-fall that you can get with metal. No, bamboo’s the best. For socks and lace, especially.

What we don’t like is paying through the nose for bamboo. No, we don’t like that.

Mom used to say that it’s a bad workman who blames his tools. Well, OK. There’s no excuse for shoddy workmanship. That’s true. But poor quality tools really make it hard to do a good job. At the very least, they can suck a lot of the fun out of the process.

So, is the answer buying top-of-the line tools? Because, there are an awful lot of expensive tools to choose from.

Here, in the Kingdom of Coco, we do things a little differently. We set priorities. We pay top dollar for those things that are worthy of our top dollars and we economize where we can. And, surprisingly, bamboo needles are one of life’s little knitting luxuries that don’t have to cost the earth.

Basic bamboo barbecue skewers can be found in dollar stores and cooking supply stores and even grocery stores.  They are dirt cheap. Maybe a dollar for a hundred. They seem to come in several diameters. We found some that are 2.75 mm and some that are 3.25 mm. (That`s right. The Kingdom of Coco uses the metric system. Doesn`t everyone? Oh, yeah. OK, for the sake of clarity… US 2 and US 3, respectively.) Admittedly, not every skewer in the bag is useable. Some will be splitty and some not quite round. Just go through and pick out the best ones. To get a set of double points, choose 6 for now so you’ll have a couple of spares.

You can cut your needles any length you like.  For sock knitting, 6 inch long double points are our current faves. We like even shorter ones for knitting the fingers of gloves. (Mr. Coco’s mother had a lovely set of short needles for this purpose. Apparently, 60 years ago, these were commonplace.) For lace knitting, like this scarf we’re working on, we cut a couple to 8 inches.

You’ll want points, of course. Have you ever sharpened a pencil with a knife when you couldn’t find a proper pencil sharpener? Well, that’s what we do here. Just try for the suggestion of a point and then use sandpaper to fine-tune it. We finish by smoothing the points and the lengths of the needles with fine sandpaper and then with an emery board. When they’re pretty smooth, switch to a piece of wax paper. This will really slick them up. But be careful because this is when a stray sliver of bamboo will come loose and snag your finger and make you curse Grandma Coco and her cheapo ways  re-consider this whole process. Just go slowly. Finally, smooth a little beeswax on the needles and polish them with the wax paper.

The beauty of these needles is that they only get smoother with use. Before they’re thoroughly broken in, you may want to repeat the wax paper polishing any time you feel the stitches starting to drag. However, in time, they’ll be slick as glass.

If you’ve made single point needles, put a pretty bead on the blunt end. You can hot glue it in place.

It goes without saying that these will soon become your favourite needles (because you were there at their birth) but if you snap one or lose one or have one taken away by the nasty airport safety screeners it won’t be such a sad affair. After all, there are lots more barbecue skewers where those came from!

Pictured is the scarf we’re currently working on. It’s the Gypsy Rose Scarf  by Barbara Venishnick. This simple 2 row pattern (a variation of feather and fan, we think) is so mindless, it’s just like meditating and we find it very soothing and calming. We’ve been hearing a lot about the reptilian brain lately and ours is very mellow. We’re using our 3.25 mm homemade bamboo needles (with the lovely white heart beads on the ends) and some gorgeous laceweight yarn from Laughing Rat Studio (50% wool, 50% sillk), Fresh Beets colourway.

Oh, and the really observant will wonder what on earth the cheapo metal circular needle is doing in this photo? Well, that’s easy. Once you’ve roughed up a bamboo skewer you’ll never let a metal circular shove you around again. This one was snagging like crazy where the cable met the metal. Grandma Coco finally had enough and sanded the joints down with the sand paper and emery board, too. While she was at it, she sanded the business ends to perfect vicious points. The moral of the story?  Be brave. Take charge. In the Kingdom of Coco, you’re the boss.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grandma Coco: Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Coco!

Today’s a big day here in the Kingdom of Coco. Our quilt, Supermarket Showdown, is being featured on The Wednesday Quilt Show over on Jenifer’s blog, Forty-two Quilts. (Such a good idea BTW to have a virtual quilt show….especially since the Kingdom of Coco is a little remote….not to mention snow-bound today.)

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2006

Supermarket Showdown was juried into the Grand National Quilt show at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in 2006. The quilt is hand appliquéd, hand embroidered and hand quilted. It measures 25” x 30” and hangs in our kitchen right now. The theme for the show was Wild Life. Get it? You can’t get much wilder than little kids.  :)

From the catalogue:
“I’m always amazed by those mothers I see grocery shopping with their youngsters. They remind me of lion tamers at the circus – only braver still since they wrangle those wild wee beasties with only bare hands and their wits.”

In her first official offering as the (self-proclaimed) Poet Laureate of the Kingdom of Coco, Grandma Coco says if you’re a young mother (or father!) who shops with little kids, this one’s for you!

Supermarket Showdown

When I go with Mom to the grocery store
There’s always so much that I want to explore.
Shiny jars and slippery cans,
Weird green zucchinis and yucky old yams.
Candies, cookies, frozen treats.
Oh, Mom! Can I? Can I? Can I, please?

When I go with Mom to the grocery store
We’re hardly inside when she starts to roar,
“Put that down! Don’t touch that! Quit hitting your sister!
You’re really in trouble. I’m warning you, mister.”
Who took my mommy? Where did she go?
This woman’s a meany. It’s all “No, no and NO!”

When I go with Mom to the grocery store
I’m in the cart. It’s not fun anymore.
Cooped up behind bars while my sister runs free.
“Aw, please, Mom,” I wheedle, “I’ll be good. You’ll see.
It’s cramped in this buggy. There isn’t much room.
There’s no one to play with and nothing to do.”

When I go with Mom to the grocery store
I sit in this cart. It’s a terrible bore.
I try to be good. I honestly do.
I check with the baby. He’s stuck in here, too!
Oh, look! Here’s a bag that’s all shiny and bright.
It’s crinkly and tinkly … oops! I’m in trouble alright!

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2006

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chickens are funny

"Maybe the farmer's missus ought to look for another hobby."

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January Sketchbook Challenge

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

I'm taking part in the Sketchbook Challenge
My book is 9" x 12" and I've used pencil and coloured pencil.
This month's theme is Highly Prized.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Doodles and Darwin

Or.....the evolution of an idea.

Grandma Coco must apologize for the lack of fibery goodness lately. It's not like she isn't busy quilting and knitting. It's just that everything is Top Secret. All will be revealed in good time.

Until then, I thought I'd show you how her design process works. Almost everything begins with the sketchbook. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes, seemingly by accident. When things are slow, she just likes to sift through the events of her life as seen through her pencil. Sometimes little sketches and doodles that she did on a whim just catch her fancy, evolve and become something unexpectedly wonderful. At least to her. And if you're reading this blog, you have to know this is the Kingdom of Coco and Grandma Coco is pretty much the most important person in this kingdom.

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

 Here's a drawing that came from who knows where. The kitty has wings. I have no idea why. She just showed up with wings. It may be the Kingdom of Coco but there are still some things beyond Grandma Coco's control.

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

From this pencil drawing, came a simple line drawing.

And from the line drawing came the appliqué. The flowers were fun. They are just circles of printed fabrics with embroidered spirals. Don't they look like real roses? As usual the circles are simplified by drawing up the raw edge with a running stitch around a cardboard circle. Press with steam and then release the stitching to remove the cardboard. Simple. The circles are very easy to appliqué in place. Embroidering leaves here and there in a very organic and unplanned way is extremely relaxing.


Grandma Coco used this motif on a small bag. You're welcome to the appliqué motif. You can find it HERE. 

There was a time when Grandma Coco worried that there could only be so many ideas. What would happen when they dried up? And then, she realized that the supply is endless. Every night she dreams and although there may be repeating themes in her dreams, there are no repeated images. Every single night ....and she knows this because she is one of the fortunate who remembers her's a new scenario. What about you? Do you remember your dreams? Are they vivid? In colour? Do you get new ideas in your dreams? Do you solve problems? Now THAT would be cool!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Second Chance Giveaway

FORE! - Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

We don’t get many do-overs in this life. In golf, they call it a Mulligan. (But Grandma Coco isn’t much for golf…..It’s mostly the fashion statement that appeals to her.)

Last week, Grandma Coco was happy to announce the winner of the free one-year subscription to the new online quilting magazine The Quilt Pattern Magazine. And now, she’s happy to be able to do it all over again…..this time on her Facebook fan page. Click on over to Grandma Coco’s Designs fan page and leave a comment.  (You have to comment on the Facebook page. Not here.) The generous folks at The Quilt Pattern Magazine have given us one more free subscription. It could be yours!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Illustration Friday - Resolutions

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

The number one resolution has to be to DIET!! don't you think?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011
What a glorious start to a new year!! Grandma Coco celebrated last night with some of her dearest friends….with a little champagne and a few nibbles….but no one went over the top. 

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011
Except maybe for Cassie who couldn’t seem to get enough of the pâté mice. (That poor kitty just never seems to learn.) We have so much to be thankful for and New Year’s Day always seems like the perfect time to count our blessings.

I want to thank all the people who visit here and all those who take the time to leave comments on this blog.  Grandma Coco is always happy to hear from you….even if you don’t agree with everything she says. Grandma Coco learns a lot from what you all have to say and what you had to say on the subject of digital downloads in our recent giveaway was no exception.

The over-all response to digital was resoundingly positive. However, there were some helpful and interesting comments. Thank you to Marilyn who reminded Grandma Coco that not everyone has access to a high-speed internet connection. I had forgotten that….which is pretty funny, really, because Grandma Coco was still on dial-up only a couple of years ago. I guess she thought she was the last one left on dial-up. Large downloads are really hard if you’re on dial-up. And sometimes downright impossible.

A lot of people said they liked the idea of digital but still liked to hold a book in their hands. I can understand that. Maybe there’s a time and a place for everything.

Only Karen mentioned that she didn’t like downloaded patterns that require you to tape pieces together to get one big pattern. I wondered how people feel about those. Personally, so long as there are registration marks that line up easily, I don’t mind taping them together. Grandma Coco may test drive a pattern that requires a larger template in the near future. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I guess it’s no surprise that people who live outside of North America seem to be very enthusiastic about digital downloads.  We, here in North America, sometimes forget that we’re not the centre of the universe. Digital levels the playing field.

Someone mentioned that with digital you can’t look a pattern over before you buy, the way you can in a quilt store. Good point. Something else I hadn’t considered. I guess this means that I, as a designer, need to pay more attention to showing you exactly what my pattern download involves….all the features and more photos from different angles. 

As promised this is the moment when I get to announce the WINNER of the year’s subscription to Quilt Pattern Magazine. Unfortunately, only one commenter can win and Grandma Coco feels a little sorry about that since so many of you entered the drawing. 

So, she’s decided that everyone should win at least a little something. How ‘bout a free downloaded pattern? This would give Grandma Coco a chance to show you first-hand how the download process works. So, without further a-do, I give you (literally!) …..The Scarlet Letter Tea Cozy. It’s a lovely and useful project which demonstrates how Grandma Coco combines the knitting with the quilting and how a typical Grandma Coco Design is written. You can judge for yourself how well the download process works.

The cozy has a quilted panel with an appliquéd rose design on one side and an alternate letter ‘A’ design for the other. (The scarlet letter from the story was an ‘A’.) Two rib knit panels give the cozy a good, adjustable fit for various sized teapots. The rib knit panels involve simple knit and purl stitches. Nothing fancy. Simple, really. The template is full-sized and the instructions are complete and illustrated with photos and line drawings.

The Scarlet Letter Tea Cozy was inspired by a challenge thrown out by Heather Ordover of the Craftlit Podcast ( she covered Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter, last year. I thought someone who had suffered as much as Hester (the heroine) could probably use a hot cup of tea. Grandma Coco certainly loves a good hot cup of tea and here in Canada, a teapot cozy is really important.  If you’d like to have a FREE copy of  The Scarlet Letter Tea Cozy Pattern, just click HERE.

As for the year’s subscription to Quilt Pattern Magazine…..the winner is……..Moewest!  Congratulations! Check your email box, Moewest. Cindy will be in touch soon.

Grandma Coco wishes everyone the very best in 2011. There will be more giveaways coming up starting with a good one next week (January 7) on Grandma Coco’s Designs Facebook fan page. You won’t want to miss that!!