Sunday, February 26, 2017

Behind the Blue Dahlia

Parlez vous francais? Unfortunately, I don't much either short of what I can remember from high school, but luckily I think the language of quilts translates. This is my project "Blue Dahlia" which appears in the current issue of Simply Moderne No. 8. Fortunately for me, they also publish an English version!
Blue Dahlia featured in Simply Moderne No. 8, Photo courtesy of Quiltmania
Dahlia inspiration
Dahlias grow better than dandelions here in the Pacific Northwest, so you can probably see where the inspiration for this project came from. They come in so many varieties, shapes and colors, it's hard to pick a favorite. (There's also a film noir movie from 1946 called The Blue Dahlia starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, but the plot is kind of creepy and that's not where I drew my inspiration!)

This is my first time working with the folks at Quiltmania and I have to say, it is a beautiful publication. If magazines are your thing, you will find lots of lovely projects in this issue including a new one from Liza Prior Lucy and Kaffe Fassett, Rana Heredia for Sewn Into the Fabric, Pam Goecke Dinndorf for Aardvark Quilts,  as well as a great technical lesson article series by Kathy Doughty and many more. I am so excited to have the opportunity to share the pages with these wonderful designers. Be sure to look for it at your favorite local quilt shop.
Simply Moderne No. 8, Photo courtesy of Quiltmania
While this is an applique project, I designed it specifically to be a to-go project. It may look like it's all one big applique, but it's actually not. The multi-directional print of the background fabric (which is Modern Background Paper collection by Zen Chic for Moda) allows it to be divided up and when pieced back together, the block lines blend right in. The petals are appliqued on individual squares so you can prep them and take them with you in smaller project pieces. Most of the fabric for the applique petals are from Cotton + Steel's Bluebird Collection. The scrappy binding is also from Bluebird.
Blue Dahlia, 60" x 60"
As for the three magenta petals, there is no deep meaning, just that they remind me of the random beauty of nature and how occasionally a few petals don't get the memo and decide to do their own thing! The amazing quilting on this was done by was such a joy to even stitch on the binding and enjoy the beautiful detail of the quilting...

up close and personal with Tracey's beautiful quilting detail...
front quilting all crinkly and cozy after it's first wash...
backing fabric after the wash, Tula Pink Free Fall 108" wide - I LOVE this fabric for backing.
Since this post is already a little picture-heavy, I'll wait until next time to share a tutorial with you on the applique method I used on this project. Until revoir!

Happy stash quilting,


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Got LVF?

Don't worry, it's not a disease. Well, maybe an addiction. We're talking quilt code for low volume fabrics (LVF's). Call them quiet, call them light, but never call them boring! With lots of white stuff on the ground outside at my house today, I thought this a timely topic!

I love them. Low volume fabrics, the more the better: creams, whites, grays, peaches, doesn't matter. They're the fabrics that are the contrast to your medium and dark fabrics. It's the contrast in your blocks that do the work to pull your eyes across a geometric design. I use them so much I'm always shopping for more to replenish my stash. Here's a sample of a recent haul, both whites and grays.

I tend to use LVF's in a couple of different ways. Option #1, and the favorite of my scrappy-loving heart: use a lot and mix them all together. Like this...

"The Perfect Setting", featured in American Patchwork & Quilting, December 2015. Image courtesy of AP&Q.

Close up on the LVF 60 degree triangles.
Option #2...pick one and use it more exclusively to give each block a more defined identity. Like this...
Here's one block out of my project "Cavanaugh Crossroads".

Here are 9 blocks all together in Cavanaugh Crossroads. Each block uses a different LVF. (I'm sure some of you may be stressing because I mixed true whites and creams together in this project, but I'm not! Do what you love!)
Option #3 is to pick one LVF and use it in the whole project like this...
"Pressed Leaves"
More often than not, I mix them all together, the more the better. For me, the best part about LVF's is that you can pull a whole bunch of them out of your stash and mix with abandon and get great results.
"The Big Spin" from Stash Lab. 
No matter which way you choose to use them, one thing is certain: You can never have enough or too many! I'm always on the lookout for great LVF's when I'm in my favorite local quilt shops.They are so versatile and work beautifully with a variety of scraps. Leave a comment and share your favorite way to use them. It would be reassuring to know I have good company in my love of LVF!

Want to see more and more often? Follow me on Instagram @tonyaalexanderquilts or on Facebook at Tonya Alexander Quilts.

Happy LVF stash quilting,


Sunday, January 22, 2017

I Love Churn Dashes!

For my first post in the new year, I am very happy to share my first collaborative project with you today with Martingale, Block Buster Series: I Love Churn Dashes. It was fun to be a part of this and I really enjoyed seeing how my fellow 14 designers started with the same traditional Churn Dash block and made such uniquely personal projects. In case you were wondering, we don't see each other's ideas or work before the book comes out either! It's amazing to me that it comes out the way it does, each project so individual and re-imagined by each designer.

Here's my project, "Little Boy Blue", 48 1/2" x 48 1/2"
I know, I know...not my usual color-palette, and it's even flannel! Sometimes you have to go outside your box and learn something new and boy, did I ever have learning opportunities on this one!
"Little Boy Blue" by Tonya Alexander
Quilted by Tracey Fisher
At first, I thought I would just share this project with you like any other, add some pretty pictures, some commentary, etc. etc. I have been dragging my heels on this post because there is so much more behind what started out to be just a simple little baby quilt.  Make no mistake, I love how my project turned out and I really love the book. I can also honestly say at this time last year I had just completed this project in the late night hours before the publisher deadline and truly thought it may be one of my biggest oops!

The design was good, the piecing was no problem. It's a nice weekend-sized baby quilt project and would be great in many colorways. I even loved my idea, but along the way, I had so many opportunities to learn from my own process mistakes. Humbling, yes. Discouraging, a little bit along the way. Satisfying in the end, absolutely!
Quilt testing in progress. This is the official quilt-tester in my house, Seamus.
Things I learned on the way to the finish line:

1. Pre-wash flannel in hot water and dry on high heat
This part I at least got right. I had the fabric colors/prints in mind before I actually found them and they turned out to be flannels. I hadn't really worked with flannel a lot before this project so I did some homework. The best advice I found, flannel can shrink a lot and at different rates. Working with flannel is not the time to forego the pre-washing step. You will save yourself a good amount of shrinkage in the end.

2. Baste, baste, and baste some more
Initially, I planned to quilt this with my walking foot on my domestic machine. I was going to do three large spirals that intersected and overlapped. Well, the first one was no problem. The second one started to bunch up and pleat as the circles came together. I pin-basted but not as much as I should have. I didn't take into consideration the give of the flannel under my walking foot and the amount of shifting and distorting the flannel was capable of. An let me tell you, it's capable of a lot, even with high-quality flannel fabric. Lesson here, don't take short cuts in basting. Whether you pin, spray or thread baste, take the time to be thorough and do it right.

3. When something isn't going right - STOP!
Or should I say, stop, re-evaluate and adjust. The quilting was turning into a hot mess on this and I just kept pushing along, thinking is would somehow work itself out. You can see even in the early picture above, the problem was already beginning. See that bunching up at the top? Yeah, well, that got a whole lot worse before I had the good sense to finally stop. I was so discouraged by my own stubbornness in not stopping when I should have, I didn't even take any pictures. You'll have to take my word on this one!

4. When the going gets tough, call in reinforcements
Your quilting peeps are one of your best assets and can serve you up equal parts of advice and encouragement. I called my good friend and long-arm quilter, Tracey. I told her my tale of woe and that I was going to give up and start over, considering my looming deadline, could she quilt it in like 10 minutes? She calmly talked me off the ledge. She said, "No, bring it over and let's see what we can do."

She finally convinced me we could pick out the quilting with a seam ripper and recover. I've known her a long time and she's an amazing quilter, but I did not believe her. Shows you what I know. We spent about an hour together "un-sewing" and then she took it into her capable hands and turned the quilting into something great - this time on the long arm. (So I will only take about 1/8 of the credit for quilting on this project. Let's just say there is more un-quilting to my credit on this one that actual quilting by me in the end!)
Tracey's final touch, beautiful all-over spiral quilting.

The best laid plans...
5. Be flexible and be o.k. with change
Even the final version didn't finish exactly as planned. Originally, I had designed it to be square but was forced into another design decision when it came time to square it up. Because of the shifting during the quilting, there was no way those corners were going to be square no matter how I trimmed them. Tracey suggested lopping off the corners. It solved the corner problem and added to the final design element of the corners mimicking the corners of the Churn Dash block. In this case the outer border is actually the largest Churn Dash and the angled corners made sense! Win-win! 
Quilt-tester comment: "It's o.k. Mom, I still love you..."
Presto, a year later, and I can now say I learned so much on this project and I am happy to share it with you. I share this with you in hopes to encourage you not to give up when things aren't quite going right. The project wasn't the problem - I was! But if you're willing to step back, accept some help, and be flexible and willing to change your plan, it's possible to have a happy ending. I hope you'll check out Block Buster Series: I Love Churn Dashes on the book shelf at your favorite local quilt shop or retailer and enjoy all the great designs.

Happy flannel quilting,