Improvisation #5: Progress Report


Here’s what I’ve got so far – not necessarily ending up in this orientation and still six blocks to construct for the top. I’m loving how bright this is. Each block has been interesting to make up.

Now that I know what I’m doing, I’ve been able to prep the fabric so I have what I need for the blocks and I’ve tidied up the stacks of fabric (have to put them away tomorrow). Last night I set up each of the blocks – took a backing square (trimmed all of the fabric pieces to 12″), chose two contrast fabrics and a center and put them to one side, until I had all the backing squares set up. So sewing blocks today went much faster because I wasn’t having make all the decisions as I went along.

I’ll get the six blocks for the top finished tomorrow (and perhaps three more to add to the two I have already for the back). I have backing fabric for the quilt which I bought the other day and lots of stuff in the stash for binding.

I still don’t know how I’m going to join the blocks – they need some sashing – the question is whether to sash them symmetrically or to do something wonky with them. I’ll have to ponder that a bit when I have all 20 to play with.

Improvisation #5: The Blocks

The quilt was obviously on my mind during the night because when I got up this morning I knew I wanted to head to the fabric shop for some fabrics in a range of bright colours to use as the large “background” element for each block.

I have ended up with 1/3m of 25 different fabrics (6 fabrics from my stash).

Fabrics for “backgrounds”

Why so much fabric you wonder – well, I figured out the easiest (if most wasteful) way of building that large block is to start with a 12″ X 12″ square of the “background” fabric. Take the block I want to offset, trim a couple of corners off, then lay it on the 12″ X 12″ square.

Block on background

I found if I pulled the block in 1/4″ from the top and left edges of the “background” fabric I can cut out the triangles needed to construct the large square (leaving me with a large piece of background fabric lying beneath the block as leftover, oh well – it’s large enough to use for something else).

Background pieces ready to be sewn

Now I sew the background pieces to the block.

Complete block sewn

Once the triangles are sewn to the block it’s easy to trim it to 11″ and guess what – the pattern is aligned – had I figured that out yesterday I could have salvaged the fabric I ended up discarding.

Finished block

Here are four blocks finished and trimmed to 11″ X 11″. You can see what I mean by “offset” and “background. Each block will be different except for the white with blue dot fabric framing the center square in each block. I’m thinking I will frame each of these 11″ X 11” blocks with a solid white (maybe a slightly off white) narrow frame, and then sash between the blocks. Although a very dark blue framing might work. I’ll have a better idea about what to do when I get all 25 blocks done – 20 for the quilt top, 5 for the quilt back.


Four finished blocks – 11″

So now I know what I’m actually doing, I can proceed to make up my inner square assembly for the remaining 21 blocks, cut out a 12″ square from each of the background fabrics, and full steam ahead! Yeah.

Improvisation #5: A Quilt Begins

Improvisation is a messy business. This is the current chaotic state of my sewing room. Piles of fabric everywhere. I have an idea I want to execute but not sure yet which fabrics to use. I know the blocks will be similar. The final block size I’m aiming for is 10.5″, but I expect each block will be unique – that the internal construction will vary.

I started this improvisation by selecting fabrics from various boxes, largish pieces, small scraps (enough for a 3″ square). This afternoon I began by choosing 24 different pieces and cutting a 3″ square from each.

Here’s the idea – a small square embedded in a somewhat larger square (white with blue dots – the only fabric common in all blocks), which is asymmetrically embedded in a dark square, which is embedded, again asymetrically, in a brighter square, and last, the four layers are set into a final “square” but this time offset and truncated.

This was a first try – not entirely successful. I created the final size block I wanted (actually a bit larger for good measure). But directional fabrics aren’t going to work for the last square! I haven’t yet figured out how to piece that final large square in the most economical way possible – it would be relatively easy with solids. With this linear print I was able to orient three of the segments in the same direction but I wasn’t able to get the fourth piece to align without wasting a lot of fabric (I elected to go for economical to see if I could get away with it, can’t). So I will take this block apart and try again.

In the meantime I’ve decided to build the 24 blocks as far as the 4th square.

Then, I’ll look at them all and make a decision about fabric for that final square – I am likely going to have to go fabric shopping for a couple of different, yet complementary fabrics. Then there’s sashing and a border – not anywhere near that yet!

I love the challenge of problem solving my way through an idea to a completed quilt. Nothing could be more boring than following someone else’s directions. So I’ve learned to be comfortable with the mess involved with improvising.

Double-Sided Bound Buttonholes

I knew the buttons and buttonholes needed more work. First I fixed the buttons: stitched the larger button using small beads to elevate the button and form a shank, placed a 4mm knitting needle under the second button underneath while I was sewing the pair of button to the coat. I was able to end up with thread button shanks, and the second button was lifted enough that I could get my needle beneath and wind off the threads to form the shank! The buttonholes well that was another story.

First here is the finished coat (with the elevated buttons and bound buttonholes completed) from the front:

coat front

Quilted Coat Front

And from the back – fits pretty well.

coat back

Quilted Coat Back

Now for the double-sided bound buttonholes.

I did a bunch of trials to see if I could find a way to end up with a bound buttonhole finished on both sides with a single piece of fabric. Turns out it can be done. Here’s how.

For the coat I cut 3 1/4″ X 2 1/2″ pieces of fabric (I used the contrast fabric from the reverse side, because that’s where the finishing would end up and I thought the binding should match the rest of the contrast elements).

I used a Frixion erasable pen to mark horizontal and vertical center lines, then marked the stitch lines for the buttonhole. Used chalk to mark the distance from the front edge of the coat then placed the piece of fabric so one end of the buttonhole would align with that chalk line.


Using a 1.25 mm stitch length I carefully stitched around the buttonhole, starting part way along one of the long sides.

Finished stitching the buttonhole overlapping the beginning by a few stitches.IMG_7358

I cut the center opening and snipped as close as I could get to the corners without actually cutting the thread (remember I have a stitched buttonhole beneath and this binding had to completely cover it – it did).IMG_7359

Pulled the fabric through the hole, finger pressed the ends with the small triangles, folded the top and bottom portions of the buttonhole fabric so the folds meet in the center, pinned the fabric so I could tack the ends of the fold closed, removed pins and pressed.IMG_7360

Stitched across the ends so they would stay in position.IMG_7361

Folded under the top and bottom portions of the fabric, pressed. Then folded in the ends and pressed. IMG_7362

Carefully edge stitched (using a 2 mm stitch length) all the way around the folded buttonhole fabric to secure it in position – I used a matching thread for the top and a dark thread to match the main fabric in my bobbin so the stitching on the front side of the coat shows but blends in. This is how it turned out on the reverse of the coat.IMG_7363

Here is one of the button holes on the front of the coat. You can see I didn’t have a lot of play room between the buttonhole and the front binding – I was able to just align the buttonhole so the stitching didn’t overlap the binding.IMG_7367

Here are the buttons done up.IMG_7369

The whole looks a lot more finished than it did with machine stitched buttonholes. In fact, having the stitched buttonhole beneath stabilized the fabric so I don’t have to worry about anything pulling away!

So there you have it – bound buttonholes finished on two sides using a single piece of fabric.

The Craftsy Blog gives good instructions for constructing a bound buttonhole, but the expectation is that the underside will be finished by cutting the facing fabric and blind stitching it to the back of the bound buttonhole. In my situation with the quilted reversible coat I had no facing so I had to figure out another way of finishing the buttonhole on the reverse. Same basic procedure but I finished the buttonhole on the second side by carefully folding the edges and ends and edge stitching the fabric in place.


Quilted Coat – Finished

I got up this morning determined to finish the coat. I’m heading to San Francisco on the 31st for a week-long sewing retreat with Sandra Betzina and I want to take the coat with me (to show off, of course, but also because it will be a good weight for the San Francisco early April weather).

First: figure out a way to carry the contrast band to the finished edge – I accomplished that by inserting precisely the right width of contrast fabric into the binding, carefully pinning it so it would align with the stripe, then stitching the full binding to the fronts. If you didn’t know that was a problem I had to solve, you’d never notice how I solved it. Second, add collar and contrast binding to right side (can’t see it in the image because it’s behind the folded down collar). No problems with that set of operations. Third, set in second sleeve, bind underarm and side seam, add wide binding to cuff. Done. Fourth: finish binding along the bottom including mitred corners at the fronts. Went fine.

Next: buttonholes. W-e-l-l that took some consideration. Because the collar is way too tall for me I realized (rather than cut it down two inches and rebind the top edge which I could do) I’ll probably wear the coat with the collar open and use a scarf if I need more warmth. So I didn’t want a button in the collar. I marked the location for the top button at the point where the collar folds. Then 6 1/2″ lower I marked the second (in line with the top of the pockets), and 6 1/2″ below that I added a third to keep the front closed. Bound button holes or machine stitched? I decided to stitch button holes (at least for now – I am seriously thinking about binding them – not a issue, the stitching will just stabilize the cut edge while I’m doing the binding). I checked the sewn button holes before cutting them open (I can always take out the stitching and restitch, but once cut that’s it!). All good.

Last, buttons: I had four buttons I picked up in Bali – actually they are “rounds” created by Jon Anderson the Polymer Clay artist we visited. I could visualize them as buttons so I drilled two holes in each when I got home. The colours are perfect for this fabric. I sewed the buttons on the outside at the same time sewing slightly smaller turquoise buttons on the reverse. Now I have a problem – the buttons are VERY difficult to button up – the buttons on both sides are large and there is no movement room. Because of their size I wasn’t able to build shanks for each side (I couldn’t get the needle through just one of the buttons without creating a very long thread shank) so they are relatively closely sewn. I’m thinking of taking them off and permanently sew the buttons on the main fabric to the button holes and putting large snaps underneath – one set of snaps would work for both sides of the coat.

For now, however, the coat is done and my sewing room tidied up.


Main Side Front


Main Side Back


Reverse Side Front


Reverse Side Back



Quilted Coat

A year and a half ago I made a reversible quilted jacket. I’d had the fabric quilted on a long-arm quilter, cut out the pieces, sewed up seams, bound them with a complementary fabric. The challenge was to figure out a way of creating a faux pocket on the reverse side to allow access to the real pocket on the outside. I achieved that by improvising with a zipper.

Last spring I bought Sandra Betzina’s coat pattern thinking I could use similar techniques I used for the jacket. I liked the tall collar and the contrasting bands. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish the look.

So I had more fabric quilted. Last week I cut out the pieces with some modifications: I cut set-in sleeves from the jacket pattern instead of raglan used in Sandra’s coat; I cut the body a half inch wider on both fronts and the back at the side seams. I decided not to make the welt pocket in the pattern but to recreate the patch pockets (with zipper on the inside) used in the jacket.

I started, following the instructions, by joining yoke and body (front and back) with a contrasting strip. (This was my first mistake – I should have ignored the pattern instructions and thought the assembly through on my own – I should have bound the front edge in the dark fabric before sewing in the contrast!) I’m going to have to take the contrasting join apart, bind the front edges, then restore the contrast band. I constructed and attached the pockets to the outside. 

I inset a bound zipper on the second side first, however, to allow access to the patch pocket, covering the zipper with the patch pocket on the outside. (That substantially reduces the bulk of the fronts.)
The contrast in the back works fine. No need to redo that.

Setting in the sleeve and binding the armhole, underarm and side seams went without a hitch. Tomorrow I’ll inset the second sleeve.

The collar is ready to be attached – I figured out how to apply the appropriate contrast to each side. I can’t add the collar, however, until the fronts are bound because I want to bind that neckline seam with the appropriate contrasts to each side for the second collar contrast used in the coat pattern!

Buttonhole placement will take some thought – I couldn’t easily include them in the contrast seams like Sandra does. I will have to make bound buttonholes like I did with the jacket (covering the construction with a facing using the side two contrast fabric).

I’ll share more after I finish the garment.

Quilting In The Hoop

If you search online for “quilting in the hoop” you get lots of projects which actually piece appliqué quilt blocks within an embroidery hoop, or you get very dense embroideries which are intended to be quilt blocks in and of themselves. What I haven’t been able to find are directions for actually using an embroidery machine instead of a long arm quilter for doing the final quilting. Lots of information on free motion quilting, quilting with a walking foot on a home machine… I’m sure people use their embroidery machines to do the actual quilting but I’ve not found any descriptions.

I have developed a technique for using my embroidery machine in lieu of a long arm quilter because that’s the machine I have. Long arm quilting machines are very expensive and it makes no sense for me to own one – first, because I have nowhere to set one up (except in my basement which has no natural light) and second because I don’t make enough quilts to justify the expense. And I certainly don’t want to use it for a business – the joy of quilting would be gone.

So here’s how I do it. The technique involves creating an embroidery to fill whatever size block I’ve used to construct the quilt. I don’t like a heavily stitched quilt so I set up a single run (the design is stitched just once), open flowing design with a stitch length of 2.5mm. I make the design about 10mm narrower and shorter than the finished block size (to allow for slightly different finished block sizes). I can adjust the size up or down a small percentage once I have it on the embroidery machine.

I start the process by choosing a hoop that’s a bit larger than the block I’m quilting – I want to allow a some wiggle room so I can adjust the position of the design within the block. Step #1: I put a double sided non-permanent craft tape on the underside of the hoop (peel off the protecting paper). I get from 10 – 15 hoopings before I have to renew the tape. The tape is essential for making hoop placement easier – it keeps the top of the hoop in place while I slide the hoop bottom beneath the quilt block. (Non-permanent scrapbooking tape sticks nicely to the fabric but can be a bit difficult to remove from the hoop back. The best tape for the job I’ve found at my local Dollar store – the last time I saw it there I bought 20 rolls to last me a while! It sticks to the fabric very well and peels off the hoop reasonably easily. Double-sided scotch tape doesn’t work at all.)


I position the hoop around the block doing my best to center the block vertically and horizontally. Notice the tape markings on the hoop – they show me where the top and bottom seams ought to align horizontally (I found their location by using a Frixion erasable pen to draw both horizontal and vertical lines through the center of a block then positioning the hoop and marking the seam lines – this makes it possible to position the hoop without having to locate the center for each block); in this quilt the vertical center falls in the middle of the vertical joining strip so I didn’t need to mark the vertical alignment. (I put small permanent black marks on the hoop to mark the positioning for an 8″ X 8″ block. All other block sizes I mark with tape.) (I have used my 120 x 120 hoop, my 150 x 150 hoop, my 360 x 350 turnable hoop, my 360 x 200 hoop… any hoop will work; the process is the same for all of them.)


Next I place the hoop in the embroidery unit, bring up the embroidery design on the screen and use precise positioning to check the location of the corners making sure they fall within the block. Notice the cross hairs in the lower right of the embroidery design.


I check all four corners to make sure the design fits the block. Because the hooping is at best approximate, I use the precise positioning on my machine to fine tune the location of the design within each block. I adjust the position of the design (up/down, left/right) making sure it’s as centered as possible.


I set the machine to embroider, but before I start, I bring my bobbin thread to the top of the quilt (later I will embed the two threads using a self threading hand sewing needle – picture later). I hold the two threads out of the way so as the machine executes the embroidery it isn’t stitching over these threads.


I stitch out the design,


When the embroidery is done (I include a tie off and automatic thread cutting in the embroidery design), I remove the hoop from the machine, and before removing the hoop I pull the starting threads into the quilt. I also embed the cut tie-off threads on the underside of the quilt. I find it easier to handle the self-threading needle in the quilt when it’s still taut in the hoop.


This quilt required 50 repeats of the embroidery design, plus eight half block designs (set up as a separate design) four on each side. It took me a couple of hours a day over three days to complete the quilting of this 48″ X 62″ quilt.


I used my large endless hoop to stitch out the border (another design I created using the elements of the design I used for the blocks). The vertical joining strips were narrow so in the end I left them unquilted. Before beginning this quilt I stabilized the layers (backing, batting, top) by stitching in the ditch along the horizontal lines – I didn’t do vertical lines because I didn’t want vertical seams through the blocks.

I haven’t tackled a larger quilt – I think the boredom factor would do me in; in addition, I don’t have table space to hold that much fabric while the machine is doing the embroidery. My lap quilts are small enough that I can position the quilt fabric beside and above the embroidery hoop while the machine is doing the embroidery. It’s important not to have too much drag on the hoop – if the quilt hangs down the weight interferes with the hoop movement and the design doesn’t stitch out accurately.

So there you have it: Quilting In The Hoop – a technique for quilting a quilt using a home embroidery machine instead of a long arm quilter! Need more information? Ask for help using comments.

Socks Done


This is the pair using leftover yarn. I interspersed the variegated with a solid peach for the leg and instep. When I ran out I added a solid light grey. The point is to stretch out the variegated as far as it will go. I suppose I could stretch it further were I to use a third inserted colour.

This was the original pair knit from the variegated with contrasting cuff, heel, toe.Andrea Cook

Improvisation #4

The inspiration for this quilt was simple – start with three predominant neutral colours, then mix in a bunch of coordinated batiks and improvise based on a few (3) large 16 1/2″ blocks, a dozen or so (in the end I had 13) 8 1/2″ blocks, two 4 1/2″ blocks from each fabric, and a large number of 2 1/2″ blocks.

I began by laying out the three large neutral blocks, next the 8 1/2″ coloured blocks, the 4 1/2″ blocks, then the small blocks which I’d created by sewing short strips of two batik fabrics then cutting pieces 2 1/2″ wide block pairs. I couldn’t sew long strips together because I wanted more colour combinations than that would have given me. So I mixed and matched shorter strips to get 4-5 pieces from each. The few small block pairs I had left over were incorporated into the back.

I quilted the whole using a 200 X 200 embroidery hoop with an open flowing embroidery design that just about filled the hoop. Before I did that, though, I gave some thought to simply stitching randomly spaced vertical and horizontal lines across the quilt surface. It may look simple, but stitching those lines is a manual task, quite time consuming, and hard on my neck and back. So in the end I opted to embroider the quilt blocks with an 8″ X 8″ design.

Final dimensions: 48″ X 64″. A good size for a lap quilt. I bound the quilt using the same fabric I used for the accent strips on the reverse side. As usual, this is a reversible quilt.