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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.

Dreamtime Stories to Share

The M&S Textiles Booth at Spring Quilt MarketIn my last blog posting I wrote about visiting the Spring Quilt Market in St. Louis and gave you a taste of some of the beautiful fabrics and products exhibited there.

One of my first stops, as always, was to see what was new from M&S Textiles (booth pictured here). Their Australian Aborigine-designed fabrics are consistently one of our biggest sellers, and I simply can’t resist them. The 2017 line of new designs has just arrived in our shop, and I’m sharing a few here. As we mentioned in our most recent newsletter, the Australia’s indigenous art tradition by Aborigines is more than 50,000 years old. In ancient times the Aboriginal people created cave paintings, rock paintings, and sand or ground painting, and more. We love to learn the stories behind these colorful patterned fabric designs and wanted to share some of them here.

Bush Food Dreaming by Tanya Price, available in black, ecru and mint

M&S Textiles, the company that licenses these designs from the Aborigine artists and prints the high-quality cotton fabrics, shares that most of the Aboriginal designs have a “Dreamtime” story to tell. Aboriginal mythology recounts that Dreamtime is the time when the world was dark and nothing was on the earth. Soil was soft; then their forefathers sprang up from underneath it and began building most of what their future generations would require: mountains, rivers, waterholes, trees, light gardens and many more.

The Dreamtime is a philosophy of living. Body painting, corroborree (ceremonial gatherings of Aboriginal people where they interact with Dreamtime ancestors through dance, music, and costumes), men’s and women’s business (certain customs and practices are performed separately by male and female groups) are strictly obeyed by the Aboriginal people.

Aborigines used to be nomadic, collecting foods from nature by hunting and gathering. They never hoarded food or water, or spoiled nature, always honoring their ancestral lands and environment.

Bush Food Dreaming, pictured right, is a design by Tanya Price Nangala, available in (from top to bottom) black, ecru and mint. Tanya learned painting from both her parents and grandparents, and depicts a number of foods important to Aborigines: oranges, bush plums, bush berries, lemons and more. She is illustrating a corroboree where people are happily eating, dancing and discussing various social matters, enjoying each other’s company. Like many Aborigine artists, Tanya uses fine dotting techniques in the background of her precise, vibrant drawings.

Winter Spirits by Faye Oliver, available in brown, black and purple

Winter Spirits, pictured above, is designed by Fay Oliver. It is available in brown (top), yellow (left) and purple. The Sounthern hemisphere’s winter weather is hot and sunny like our northern hemisphere’s summer (in Australia each season begins on the first day of the calendar month: summer runs from December 1 to the end of February, autumn from March to May, winter from June to August, and spring from September to November). Fay uses vibrant winter colors to illustrate her painting, which depicts spirits watching over Dreamtime creatures, the bush and camp from the sky.

Sandy Creek by Janet Long Nakamarra, available in yellow, black and purple

Pictured above is Sandy Creek by Janet Long Nakamarra, available in red (top), black and purple. Sandy Creek is located in the Northern Territory of Australia and is home to Tjaynera Falls, located within the Litchfield National Park. The Falls can only be reached by a 4-wheel drive vehicle and an approximately 1.4 kilometers from the car park, which is on the site of a timber cutting camp used during the mid 1900’s. There are some Aboriginals who interact with tourists to the area, telling Dreamtime stories and involving them in timber-cutting activities. Janet is illustrating the plain land under the waterfall and some of the surrounding area. The semi-circles depict people walking the land as well as sitting in a circle around waterholes.

Artistic Artifacts is known for its large selection of Australian fabric, and these new designs are wonderful additions. We hope you have enjoyed learning more about the meaning behind the designs.

Paper Piecing Aussie Blocks

Australian fabric string pieced quilt by Judy Gula

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

I can still remember when Bonnie K. Hunter spoke at my local quilt guild, the Burke chapter of Quilter’s Unlimited* of Northern Virginia. I loved her quilt samples, patterns and fabric choices. Are you surprised? I have a very eclectic task in fabrics, from vintage to contemporary to ethnic. Bonnie hit the upcycle/repurpose interest that I have by using fabric salvaged from old clothing in her quilts. We do a lot of repurposing of items at Artistic Artifacts, especially me!

After hearing Bonnie talk, the very next day I ordered her book: Scraps & Shirttails: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle! The Art of “Quilting Green.”

Virginia Strings block inspired by Bonnie Hunter, pieced by Judy Gula

Fast Forward several years, and I finally acquired enough scraps of Australian Aborigine designed fabric to try my hand at string/paper piecing. I wanted to illustrate the point that many traditional quilt patterns are perfect for our ethnic fabrics, including batiks and Australian.

Paper piecing? I had no clue how to do it… I just knew that needed I print out the template in Bonnie’s book. I chose her Virginia Strings block…her book notes that this is traditionally knows as the Rocky Road to Kansas but because she pieced her quilt while she was here in Northern Virginia for a week teaching, and backed it with a bargain purchase of University of Virgina fabric, she was inspired to name her quilt Virginia Bound.

I printed enough copies of the quarter block templates to create six blocks in total … I already knew that I would not be creating a full size quilt top. I pieced a couple of blocks and 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:

  1. Make your stitches short in order to make pulling the paper off easier. I can tell you that this step makes a big difference! Bonnie also offers this advice in her books and on her blog; she has a number of free patterns and tutorials available, such as this Flying Geese quilt.
  2. 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" square, my rotating cutting mat and jumbo Havel’s Rotary cutter to do the trimming.

So here we go. I think that Bonnie advises that you begin at the other end — for some reason I began with the smaller part of the kite shape. To help me while sewing, I did fold my template along the lines. Others will trace over the lines with a Sharpie to make them bolder, if they don’t show through to the back of the paper.

Judy Gula beginning to string piece

Keep piecing, by sewing right sides of fabric strips together, then flipping the last one added back down so that the right side of the fabric is facing up.

Judy Gula completed string piece center of quarter block 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

Using my 8½" square ruler to trim the block from the back.

Using a square ruler to trim the quarter block

The front of my trimmed square! Leaving aside the fact that my photo turned out a bit blurry, it looked pretty good to me, so I made a few more.

The front of a completed quarter block, Virginia Strings quilt

I decided to keep going…after all, it wasn’t like I was going to run out of fabric!

Judy Gula Aussie fabric string pieced quarter block templates

Edited: My original post ended: “Below, my quilt top as of now. I do have to say that I am happy with how this has turned out. Will I create additional blocks? I am not sure yet. I might just finish this up with a border and stitching.” As you can see from the image at the top of this edited post, yes, I DID finish it up! See my post Quilting with a Walking Foot for additional details.

Judy Gula string pieced Aussie fabric quilt top

My challenge to you is to take a favorite “traditional” quilt pattern and use non traditional fabrics! Send us your photographs, whether a completed quilt, top, or pieced blocks, and we will share them on our blog.

Australian fabric string pieced quilt by Judy Gula

* I’m proud to say I’m teaching at the upcoming 42nd Annual Quilter’s Unlimited Quilt Show in Chantilly, VA, May 28-31, joining Jane Dávila, Dominique Ehrmann, Gyleen Fitzgerald, and Cyndi Souder with an exciting lineup of classes suitable for all levels of expertise. Many people travel to our show every year, as it (rightfully) has a reputation as one of the best on the East Coast. Come join us!

Piecing and Piping… Unblocking a Creative Slump

Finished pillow and setting for another

If your creativity is hiding, they tell you to just do anything creative, paint a page, sort buttons, sew scrap blocks, peruse art books, etc. Normally my go-to project is to create fabric postcards, but this time I tried something new.

I pieced many scrappy log cabin blocks — very much outside of my comfort zone, and the way I do it would probably make many a veteran quilter faint!

As you can see, I used a wide variety of Aborigine designed fabrics for this project. I just love the colors and patterns and enjoy the eclectic mix your obtain when combining them. My scraps come from the last 4-6 inches of the bolt of fabric, naturally lending itself to the construction of this block. Sewing these blocks got me back in front of my sewing machine with low stress. My only pattern was dividing into light and dark fabrics, otherwise the width of the strip was whatever I picked up.

Six scrappy log cabin blocks pieced from Aborigine designed fabric

Now, what to do with all those cool looking scrappy blocks.

I think I will make a pillow or two!

I began with an 18”x18” pillow form. A little investigation on YouTube and I was set to make my pillow with an envelope opening in the back, and because I think that a piped edge on pillows is nice, I added that to the mix.

making cording to edge my pillow

My log cabin block was enlarged to 18" x 18". During my research I learned that the pillow cover should be smaller than the pillow form, and to cut the fabric the exact size. But now that my pillow has been completed, I think that I could have trimmed off another 1/2" around for a better fit. Instead I will buy a 20" x 20" pillow form and see how that works; the pillow will look look more plump and full.

For the piping I used the Groovin’ Piping Trimming Tool by Susan K. Cleveland and my sewing machine’s cording foot, with includes a large groove under the foot.

Boy did that tool make my life easy! Cut a strip of fabric 1-1/4" wide x the circumference of the pillow plus couple of inches to spare. Same for the cording: size 5/32" cable cord. I knotted the one end of cording, folding the fabric over the cord stitched a seam on the right side of the cord with my piping foot.

sewing cording on in process

The Piping tool is made with a grove that the cording/piping slides through. And you can cut with your rotary cutter to a 1/4" or a 1/2" seam allowance.

Piping done. I sat there trying to figure out how I was going to miter the corners with piping… did not look fun… so back to the instructions with the piping tool. The instructions say to sew each side of the pillow separately with a little piping off the edge.

piping overhanging each corner of pillow top

I did not trust myself to sew the piping and the back on at the same time, so I did them as two separate steps.

The backing is Kona Black Cotton. There are two pieces of fabric two-thirds the length of the front. So for me, the front is 18" long, thus my back was 18" wide by 12" long. I turned under one side 1/2" and then 1/2" again to hide the raw edge.

edge finished half inch

With the above photo I am trying to show you that my edge is 1/2"

pinned pillow back

I have pinned both backs onto the front, I pinned away from the edge so to not sew over any pins. I also left my cording foot on to guide my 1/4" seam allowance. I sewed each side separately.

Creativity unblocked…and a cool new pillow to show for it!

In addition to the tool, we sell a Piping Hot Binding Kit that, with the tool and 5 yards of 1 mm cording includes a 16-page booklet by the tool inventor Susan K. Cleveland that explains how to add beautiful binding with crisp corners and an invisible tail joining seam.

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