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String Pieced Aussie Quilt

Australian fabric string pieced quilt by Judy Gula

Click photo for a larger view of Judy Gula’s completed quilt above »

In conjunction with our big Australian fabric sale, I wanted to revisit this blog post, originally published in 2015. The above quilt is one of the most-asked about samples we have hanging in the shop and never fails to garner compliments.

Bonnie K. Hunter spoke at my local quilt guild, the Burke chapter of Quilter’s Unlimited of Northern Virginia years ago, and I loved her quilt samples, patterns and fabric choices. As you all know by now, I have a very eclectic task in fabrics, from vintage to contemporary to ethnic… and I have always done a lot of repurposing of items at Artistic Artifacts. Bonnie hit the upcycle/repurpose interest that I have by using fabric salvaged from old clothing in her quilts. After hearing Bonnie talk, the very next day I ordered her book: Scraps & Shirttails: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle! The Art of “Quilting Green.” Bonnie’s book was so popular that she wrote a long-awaited sequel, Scraps & Shirttails II, which continues the art of quilting green with 13 new projects that help you reuse, re-purpose and recycle your scraps into beautiful quilts.

Paper template for my Australian fabric quilt; four of these blocks are joined to create the star

Fast forward several years after hearing her speak, and I had finally acquired enough scraps of Australian Aborigine designed fabric to try my hand at string/paper piecing. One of my aims for this project was to illustrate that many traditional quilt patterns are perfect for our ethnic fabrics, including batiks (like our own Batik Tambal Exclusive Batik) and Australian.

As for paper piecing, at the time I had no clue how to do it, only that needed I print out the template in Bonnie’s book. I chose her Virginia Strings block* for this quilt. Since I knew I wanted something smaller than a full size quilt, I printed the quarter block templates to create six blocks in total. To help me while sewing, I folded my template along the lines (pictured above). Others choose to trace over the lines with a Sharpie marker to make them bolder, if they don’t show through to the back of the paper.

Judy Gula beginning to string piece

I began with the smaller part of the kite shape, although I think that Bonnie advises that you begin at the wide end. You begin by sewing the right sides of fabric strips together covering the pattern shape. Then flip the last strip added back down, so that the right side of the fabric is facing up. Pictured above, you can see the wrong side of the fabric still facing up, not flipped down.

Completed string piece center of quarter block template

Below, reverse of the paper template, showing the stitch lines of the fabric strips.

Stitching lines show on the reverse of the paper template

Below, I am beginning to strip piece the sides of the quarter block, using lighter fabrics so that the final block design will show.

Judy Gula string piecing the sides of quarter block template

Below, The reverse of a completed string pieced quarter block.

The reverse of a completed quarter block string pieced by Judy Gula

My timing was such that after I pieced a couple of blocks, I brought them, my book, tools and scraps (along with a couple other projects) to my chapter’s annual quilt retreat in order to get “in-person” training. Lucky for me, a fellow Burke member at the retreat had already used this block and offered some advice, which I want to share with you:

  • Make your stitches short in order to make pulling the paper off easier.
    This step makes a big difference! Bonnie also offers this advice in her books and on her blog. Note that her Quiltville website has a number of free patterns available.
  • Create your block somewhat larger than you want it, and cut it down with a square template.
    I was creating 8" squares and used my 8½ in. square ruler, my rotating cutting matand jumbo Havel’s Rotary cutter to do the trimming.

Using a square ruler to trim the quarter block

Above, using my 8½ in. square ruler to trim the block from the back.

A trimmed quarter block string pieced by Judy Gula

Pictured above, one of the trimmed blocks. I loved the look and was getting a hang of the technique, so I made a few more. After all, with my stash, it wasn’t like I was going to run out of fabric!

Trimming the edges off the stitched fabric strips

Trim the ragged fabric edges, as pictured above, for neatness and ease when stitching your quarter units into blocks.

Below, four quarter blocks ready to be seamed. Simply rotate your blocks as needed so that the widest point will be in the center to get the four pointed star look.

Complete four blocks and align them to create the whole unit

Below, four completed units sewn together created my quilt top. Once I reached this stage, I let it sit for a bit, unsure whether I would create additional blocks, or simply finish it up with a border and stitching… which is what I did end up deciding to do, as per the image at the top of this post. See my post Quilting with a Walking Foot for additional details on completed this quilt.

Judy Gula string pieced Aussie fabric quilt top, before borders

I’d love to see your results of taking a favorite “traditional” quilt pattern and sewing it with non-traditional fabrics! Send us your photographs, whether a completed quilt, top, or pieced blocks, and we will share them on our Facebook page.

** This block is traditionally known as the Rocky Road to Kansas, but in her book, Bonnie Hunter notes that because she pieced her quilt while in Northern Virginia teaching, and backed it with a bargain purchase of University of Virginia fabric, she was inspired to name the finished quilt Virginia Bound.

Stitched & Silks Mahyar Batik Panel Quilt

Mahyar batik panel bordered with silk fabrics

I love these ladies — wonderful exotic ladies! I have been hand stitching on this batik panel by Mahyar for quite awhile now, using Tulip needles (chenille) and the luscious Eleganza pearl cotton by WonderFil Specialty Threads.

Mahyar batik panel detail: hand stitching with Eleganza cotton by WonderFil

This was my take along travel project, and the girls did a lot of traveling! The majority of my embroidering was simple straight stitches and French knots.

Mahyar batik panel detail: hand stitching with Eleganza cotton by WonderFil

One of the classes I am teaching at Art & Soul Virginia Beach is Create a Batik Panel Art Quilt, and I wanted to share this example with you. FYI, Art & Soul has released its 2018 event dates: Portland, OR – Feb 11-18 (registration is open now), Minneapolis, MN – May 2-9, and back again to Virginia Beach, VA – Oct 1-6, 2018. Plan your creative retreat experience now!

Mahyar batik panel detail: hand stitching with Eleganza cotton by WonderFil

For the longest time I  could not figure out how to finish these Mahyar beauties… they were not telling me! Asking the advice of Chris Vinh of StitchesnQuilts, we finally decided they should be “dressed in Silks.” Part of my inspiration came from the crazy quilt table runner I was working on using beautiful silk fabrics I had purchased from Pamela Armas (a.k.a. Gypsy Pamela), the owner of Treasures of the Gypsy.

Crazy quilt table runner with silk fabrics from Treasures of the Gypsy

Pamela sells exotic fabrics, trims, beads, ribbon, and more, imported from India and Europe, via booths at most of the major sewing and quilting shows (she is in Houston each year for Quilt Festival. Treasures of the Gypsy doesn’t have a web site, but does have a Facebook page.

Crazy quilt table runner with silk fabrics from Treasures of the Gypsy

These silk fabrics are very tricky to quilt with — I definitely had trouble with the Dupioni silk unraveling.

Cutting silk fabric from Treasures of the Gypsy for the border
The Dupioni silk did fray at cut edges

Lesson learned! I would recommend that if you are working with these fabrics, stablilize them with a lightweight fusible or interfacing before cutting and sewing them. I will do that next time! (Of course this time did not want to stop my progess, so I just kept going.)

Adding silk borders to Mahyer batik panel quilt

Using Spotlite™ by Wonderfil, a 40 wt metallic thread, I stitched on the Dupioni in a straight line. There is so much hand stitching on the panel, and the fabric is so exotic I felt simplified quilting on the borders was called for.

Quilted silk borders for Mahyer batik panel quilt

I plan to bind with the dark Turquoise Silk Dupioni after I have used Mistyfuse to prevent unraveling.

Mahyar batik panel  awaiting border

Block Printed & Slow Stitched Quiltlets

Judy Gula flower quiltlet, block printed and stitched

We recently welcomed a customer in the store and discussed some of the modern stitching methods, such as the Stitch Meditations we wrote about last week. She fell in love with one of my projects, which is displayed with our wooden printing blocks, and I realized this was the perfect opportunity to update you on the completed project, published in progress in June 2015.

The Slow Stitching Movement has become very hot over the last couple of years. Mark Lipinski modeled it after the international Slow Food movement, open to all fiber and needle artists to prepare them for a higher form of creativity and important work in the needle and fiber arts.

I have really enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with hand stitching! I was inspired by my stitching gurus, Liz Kettle of Textile Evolution, and renowned stitch/fiber artist Ruth Chandler, both of whom were interviewed by Mark about the Slow Stitching movement — listen to their podcasts!

Cover of Modern Hand Stitching by Ruth Chandler

Another catalyst for my renewed interest was the publication of Ruth’s book Modern Hand Stitching, which gives you instructions for how to create basic stitches, and then shows the multiple ways you can use and alter it for a fresh new look. It is amazing! Now I comb through used book stores looking for European hand stitching books — especially the Scandinavian ones. It’s official…I am hooked!

At one of the monthly Judy’s Altered Minds (JAMs) meeting, a show & tell project by member Karen Scudder caused such a stir that she was asked to give the group a short demo at a future meeting. Karen had used a creative hand stitching and quilting technique often attributed to Teesha Moore (see the end of this post for more info and tutorial links). That demo has led to many little hand stitch quiltlets appearing at JAMS meetings, and a number of dedicated new fans of the process!

Judy Gula small quilt sandwich makings

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, and wanting to use the samples I have accumulated from many block printing demonstrations using our wooden printing blocks and Artistic Artifacts textile paints, I embarked on my own slow stitch project! Here’s my method:

I used shirting fabric samples as my backing — despite giving literally scores of them away over the years, I still have a huge number remaining! Using these samples also gave me a starting point as to the size of my blocks. I matched up the stamped fabric with backing of cotton shirting approximately the same size. For this technique, it’s often recommended that your backing fabric be a bit larger, so it can be turned over to the front to create the distinctive rolled edge.

Judy Gula small quilt sandwich -- edge stitched for stability

I used Nature-Fil™ Blend quilt batting (a blend of bamboo and rayon; stitches beautifully) and cut it slightly smaller than my front and back pieces of fabric. See the beginning of my quilt sandwich above.

Step 2 is to stitch around the block, by hand or machine (example right), to hold the pieces together. While it is possible to skip this step, I have found it does help stabilize it all for the subsequent steps.

The next step is to roll the edges and stitch around them, as shown in the photo below of quiltlet blocks ready to be embellished with hand stitching.

Block printed swatches ready to be embellished with hand stitching
Judy Gula small quilt: rolled and stitched edges

Once you have your small quilt or quiltlet put together, it’s time to break out your floss and stitch away, using as many embroidery stitches as you desire. For this project I kept it simple with variations of straight stitching using a variety of threads and floss.

Detail, Judy Gula quiltlets hand stitched together

You use the same hand stitching to join individual units together, as seen above. These quiltlets can be joined together in stages, so you can always add to a project if you want to.

I have seen examples that are done with more precision, and they are beautiful too… for mine, I didn’t worry about the units lining up accurately — in fact I welcomed the free form nature of it. Another in progress view:

Judy Gula small quiltlets in progress

Many people choose to add buttons, beads and charms too. Note that that kind of additional embellishing should take place after you have stitched the block completely — your stitches shrink the entire block somewhat; beads applied too early in the process could loosen or pucker.

This is a fun and portable project — as you can see in the bird block pictured above, I carried the needle with me everywhere!

And now, finished!

After beginning this in 2015, I continued to enjoy adding to my project. I knew I wanted to join the blocks together to create something, but when I began wasn’t sure what that something would be. I considered a journal cover as Teesha has done, but ultimately had so much fun I just kept going, enlarging and embellishing to end with a wall hanging.

Variegated thread accents this stitched block

Adding to my enjoyment was the fact that Artistic Artifacts is now a WonderFil Specialty Threads “Threaducation” Center… so I have even more yummy threads and fibers to use! Variegated threads like those from Sue Spargo’s collection of Eleganza are beautiful.

Pictured below, I added some beading for another pop of color and texture.

Once all the blocks have been attached together, you can add beads to embellish

My completed wall hanging, below. I encourage you to try this technique for yourself… it really is addicting! Scroll down for instructions by the originator of this method, Susan “Lucky” Shie, and a YouTube tutorial for a fabric journal by Teesha Moore, who popularized Susan’s technique.

Completed block printed andhand stitched art quilt by Judy Gula

More About This Method

Art quilt by Susan "Lucky" Shie

Susan “Lucky” Shie (pronounced “shy”) is an amazing artist, and created a number of heavily stitched and embellished art quilts featured in Quilting Arts and elsewhere. For years she taught her methods; in 1999 she taught a class in her techniques that included Teesha Moore (see Susan’s online diary, scroll approximately halfway down the page). Susan wrotes that Teesha,
         “…who had never made fabric art before, took to it really fast! She is primarily a stamp artist and journaler, who self publishes a wild stamp art quarterly. Her ability to translate her creativity over to fabric textures was wonderful!”

Although Susan ceased teaching this in 2006, she documented her methods in writing and continues to keep that tutorial online. Learn this fun technique from its originator by visiting the Lucky School of Quilting Techniques »

Fabric journal by Teesha Moore

With Susan’s permission, Teesha and others began teaching their own takes on this stitching technique, using it to make art dolls, fabric journals and more. Teesha offers a free set of tutorial videos to create one of her fabric journals, constructed from units she calls pillows. (Teesha stuffs her fabric with polyfil stuffing, rather than using batting.) Watch these videos for her own methods on constructing a sewn and embellished fiber art book:

P.S. As you may know, Teesha suffered a stroke in April. In June Tracy Moore, her husband, posted the following good news on Facebook, that she “keeps improving day after day. She is bright, funny, and beautiful. She continues to inspire me every second of every day. She is working hard on gaining her strength back in her right arm and hand so that she can whip up new wonderful art to share with the world soon.” Please send her positive vibes for her continued recovery!

Sharing Stitch Meditations

Stitch Meditations created by students in July's "How Do I..." session

We were going to take an August vacation from our monthly product/technique demonstrations and play-time, but due to demand we are repeating July’s popular program!

Participants in the July session of "How Do I... Create a Stitch Meditation?"

Above, the July session of How Do I…Create Stitch Meditations: we had a full house! At the top of this post are the amazing pieces created by students that night. Join us Thursday evening, August 10 to create your own: using WonderFil Specialty Threads (all supplies provided), participants learn the approach originated by my dear friend Liz Kettle of Textile Evolution. Previous sewing or embroidery experience isn’t necessary, so if you are local, please plan to join us.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Inspired by Liz, I have also become addicted to this practice. I have posted many on the Artistic Artifacts Facebook page, and wanted to share some of my recent creations in this post. Visit Liz’s website gallery to see her own beautiful examples. Liz has also put together a 17 minute video she hopes inspires others to begin their own stitch practice: learn more.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Above, I was inspired by a bit left over from a batik panel by the artist Rusli.

In our 2015 post Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Creativity, Liz shared that managing stress can be difficult for her, and that “The best medicine I have found is what I call Stitch Meditations. I tried for years to do ‘real’ meditation. It just never took and I always felt like I was doing it wrong. But, I knew I needed a stress reducer that was simple and didn’t take much time to do. I love both machine and hand stitching and I find both very relaxing. However the tactile nature of hand stitch won over and I started creating simple small collages using only hand stitch. These meditations are really important to my mental health not only because I slow down and enjoy the meditation, but they give me a sense of connection to my art on a daily basis…even when life has me otherwise occupied.”

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Liz creates her stitch meditations in the morning, but after experimenting, I have found that stitching in the evening after work is what best works for me. It’s a calming, restful way to end the day. I make a point of traveling with a small stash of supplies so I can create in my hotel room each evening.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

In addition to Liz, in terms of inspiration I also have to thank Ruth Chandler, author of Modern Hand Stitching … she has taught so many of us how to add a creative, freeform spin on hand-stitching! I can’t count how many times I have recommended her book to my customers: it is an invaluable addition to any stitcher’s library.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Above, this small corner of a hand-dyed handkerchief really spoke to me. Proof that you don’t have to work large! I’m thinking it might fill the blank corner of the long work pictured above it.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Now that Artistic Artifacts is a WonderFil Specialty Threads “Threaducation Center” I have relished learning about the different weights and properties of their threads… perfect for hand stitching as well as using in your sewing machine!

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

If you are one of those people find themselves saving scraps of fabric and lengths of thread because they’re just too pretty to throw away, you have the makings of the perfect stitch meditation stash!

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Part of the technique is not to fall into the trap of agonizing over your choices. Quickly choose a few pieces, whether color-coordinated or completely contrasting, and get to work.

Stitch Meditation by Judy Gula of Artistic Artifacts

Below, a larger completed piece created by Suzanne Langsdorf, who just gifted it to Sharon McDonagh of Artistic Artifacts. At last month’s session, Sharon kept picking out fabrics and fibers and walking around to participants to tempt them to start another piece. Suzanne took one of her handfuls and added to it, ultimately creating this gorgeous fiber art.

Stitch Meditation by Suzanne Langsdorf

Below, a detail photograph. Such amazing color and texture!

Detail view, Stitch Meditation by Suzanne Langsdorf

Hari Agung Floral Batik Panel Quilts

One of my favorite ways to put together a fast, but beautiful, art quilt is to start with a handcrafted batik panel and add one of more border strips log cabin style. This one just needs the binding.

Small red floral batik panel by Hari Agung bordered with Batik Tambal Exclusive Batik

To complement this gorgeous red floral panel by Hari Agung, I used two fabrics from our own Batik Tambal Exclusive Batik fabric line: top and left is Fruit Sours, Green Apple, and bottom/right is Fronds, Mocha.

Detail, Small red floral batik panel by Hari Agung bordered with Batik Tambal Exclusive Batik

I machine quilted the borders with simple angled straight lines, and the center panel with a free-form meander.

French knots accenting the flower centers of the Hari Agung batik panel

Above, I accented the flower centers with French knots. I love using a variegated thread like our beautiful Eleganza from the Sue Spargo Collection by WonderFil Specialty Threads for French knots: you end up with different colors without changing threads!

I used a medium size Hari Agung panel for this next quilt in progress.

Medium Hari Agung floral panel art quilt ready for quilting and then binding

This one is framed with simple log cabin-style nested borders, including Batik Tambal Exclusive Batik in Connections, Red and the Crosshatch Gold from the Marks by Valori Wells collection, a gorgeous modern cotton. The next step is to add quilting using the BERNINA Q20 sit down machine and then bind it.

Detail, medium Hari Agung floral panel art quilt ready for quilting and then binding

This simple construction technique — batik panel framed by log cabin strips —is easy enough for beginning quilters, but impressive: get started on your own version!

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