Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's Never Too Late

There's a quote that says, "It's never to late, in fiction or in life, to revise." I like my son's version better: "It's never too late, that's what erasers are for!"
Here are all the letters I made for my Red Letter Alphabet. Some were just too orange, some too pale, some just looked bad and some just didn't fit. 

But take a look at the second row from the top. My original "G" is up there next to the "F".  At first I thought the two letters were too similar in fabric color and scale. But the "G" I sewed into that row looks too small and wimpy, so I will replace it with the one I made in the first place.  

And that "B" might be too wide, and the "O" and "R" are made from the same fabric, the "F" might need to be thinner, and I think there's too much space between the "Q" and the "R." And though I'd been trying to avoid it, I think the "D" (next to all the other letters) is too narrow. I might have to make a bigger one.

You can see why it's easier to make the letters BIGGER to start with. Cutting them down is easy. Making them bigger isn't always as simple.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harder Than it Looks

So I am trying to duplicate the repeat design I did in college and finding it rather tricky. (I can't quite figure out how I did it the first time.) I'm close, but the proportions don't look quite right. I'll get there eventually, because the idea of having fabric printed in the design is very appealing!

To all the Red Letter Quilt-Alongers... I've sewn up my letters into rows, and will post about that soon!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Trim Too Soon

I keep telling you not to trim your letters until you start sewing them together.  Sometimes you get a letter that's smaller than the rest, and if you've made the other letters big enough, you can trim them down a bit after you've sewn them together.
 But once you've made a letter TOO small, it gets tricky to fit it in. Either you have to trim all the letters around it smaller (which is risky and dangerous) or you have to add some fabric to make the letter bigger, and since you need to allow for the extra fabric in the seam allowance, this can get bulky really fast.

The most important thing about joining letters together is the space between each letter should be, visually, about the same area. So the space between the K and the L here is about equal to the space between the L and the M. But the space between the M and the N is too small, and looks a bit cramped.  (It's called Kerning, and you can read about it here.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Line Me Up!

 Once you've got all the letters in your Alphabet Sampler all sewn up, you've got to figure out how you will arrange them.  I wanted a layout that was roughly square, just slightly taller than wide, so I arranged the letters in a pleasing manner.
Once the layout is determined, the letters have to be sew into rows.

As you can see, my B, C and D are too short.  I can add a piece of background fabric to the top or bottom, but I don't want to. I'll re-make those letters slightly larger.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Blast from the Past

I'm downsizing, going through all my stuff and getting rid of what I don't need.  I found a whole folder of work I did back in college, and this piece was among them. It's dirty and stained, but I thought it was kinda cool.

 From the information on the back, I can see that I created this piece for an assignment in my Design class back in 1973.  On the back it says "Repetition." My grade is also there. On a scale of 1-10, I got a 10 for the Design and a 9 for Execution.

I do not remember this at all. I don't know how the design came about, or any other details about the parameters of the assignment.
Here's the single block on which the whole design is based.  It looks like the block is rotated 180 degrees and the values are reversed.

I wasn't at all interested in quilts back then, but looking at this I can see why quilts would eventually get my attention. I think this would make a terrific quilt. Or fabric!  Can you imagine yards of this stuff?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Z is for Zebra

Some people think the "Z" is simply the letter "N" on its side.
 I don't think so. (You aren't really surprised by that, are you?) It's close, but I think the difference is a bit more subtle than that.
This orange "Z" is from my Letters From Home quilt.

The angled bar of the "Z" meets the horizontal bars at 30 degrees. So you can use an ordinary 30-60-90 degree triangle to place the horizontal bars properly.
Or any other 30-degree triangle. (you can click the photos to enlarge)
To me the big difference is the slanted bar of the "Z" is completely contained within the width of the letter. When I trim the "Z" (as you can see in the photo above), I allow the extra 1/4" for the seam allowance. Those corners can't be cut off, or made narrower or I think the "Z" looks lame.

These are the first free-pieced letters I ever made.  They're ok, but at that time, I didn't think I'd do too much with them. I disliked the Y's and thoroughly hated the Z's. I show them to you because it doesn't matter what your first letters look like. If you're willing to continue to experiment and learn, you can do some pretty cool stuff.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Julie!

It's Julie's birthday today!  Here she is wrapped in No Rules for Julie, the quilt I made for her.  Julie is one of my best pals.

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday dear Julie!
Happy birthday to you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Y Me?

The letter "Y" is nothing more than a short "V" on a stick.  But I can never seem to line up the top and the bottom perfectly, which really annoys me.
 I try to line them up perfectly but they always come out a little off. So now I just say the heck with it.
Go ahead, laugh. Have some fun at my expense. I deserve it.
You can have some fun with the "Y", of course!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Red Letters from A to Z

I have had requests for links to the entire set of Red Letters, so I have added a widget to my sidebar that does just that. You'll find links to all the letters in the Red Letter Alphabet Quilt Along, in alphabetical order! I'll add the letters Y and Z when the blog posts for those letters are published. (Look for the Y tomorrow, and the Z shortly afterward.) 

I will be posting about assembling the letters and trimming after all the letters are finished, so I won't leave you all hanging!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


We use X's to denote kisses.  I sign emails to those I love with x's.

This "XXX..." panel is on the back of the Sunshine Quilt I made for my son.
 Here's a skinny one.
Here's one with a very thick strip, and a very thin one.

What can be easier than an "X"?  A diagonal cut apart and another strip inserted?  But these X's left me a bit unsettled. There was something about all of them that bugged me.

I have delved deep into the letter "X." I believe I have found a way to make a slightly more elegant looking "X". Here is how I make my "X"s now. I think they look more pleasing, somehow.

I use this Tri-Recs tool to slice a wide strip of background fabric at an angle.
Insert a strip of your letter fabric. This piece is about 2" wide, but I'll trim it down.
Here I've trimmed the Red down a bit, and have lined up the other  background piece to see if I like the thickness I've cut.  I also want to line up the two background pieces.
Here I've lined up the Tri-recs tool to show you how I've sliced my big strip at an angle.
Sew a wide strip to one of the background pieces, and then add the other background strip, taking care to keep the two long seams parallel and making sure the crosspiece "connects" to its mate on the other side.
Set your ruler over the top of the letter to determine its height.  Remember you'll lose a quarter inch at the top and bottom for the seam allowance.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Big W

The letter "W" is the the w-i-d-e-s-t letter you will make.  It simply takes more space, and you have to let it. Don't try to compress it, or it will be very tricky to make, and very hard to read.

 The "W" is nothing more than two "V"s next to each other.

 It's easy to make two "V"s.
Joining them together into a "W" is tricky, I'll admit, and it's worth the effort.
 Sew up your "W" and then set a ruler across it to determine how high the letter should be and where to trim it. I use a ruler set on top of my letters like this to determine how big all my letters should be.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Some letters start with a negative space (a piece of background; think of the A, C, D, O, P...), some letters start with a center piece (like the H, M, N, T...), and some start with a strip of the letter fabric sewn to a strip of the background fabric (B, E, F, R, S..).

The V is in the third group, but not the way you think.

You'll have to cut and sew your strips like I've shown below (remember the squares on the cutting board are 1".
You DO need all this extra length in your selected letter fabric, and yes, you need all that background too.

How these two join is only slightly tricky. After making several V's and joining them by eye, I noticed something interesting. The V's I liked best were those with an interior angle of 45 degrees. Since most quiltmakers have a 45-45-90 triangle, this is easily accomplished. 

Trim the wide piece to a 45 degree angle, as shown here.  Sew the narrow strip to it. 

ONE NOTE: If you want the bottom of your V to end in a sharp point, make sure you position the thin strip correctly. (Then again, if you sew it wrong, as soon as you open it up, you'll see what I mean.)

Add a wide piece of your background fabric to the other side, press gently. Do NOT be stingy on this background fabric.  The background of the "V" takes up a lot of space.

this is the finished V.

Did you notice the wide strip is on the left? That's because it's the way we are used to seeing it, so it's the way most V's are designed.  Our modern typefaces are based on Chancery Cursive (think calligraphy)  This was done by a right handed person holding a broad-nibbed pen at a 45 degree angle.  Moving from the upper left to the lower right gave a wide line.  Moving from the upper right to the lower left gave a very thin line.  If you've ever worked with this type of pen, you know it won't work "the other way around." 

You can make your V's any way you want (like with the wide strip on the right) but don't be surprised if it looks funny. Letter shapes are very interesting, and our eye tolerates a wide variation about what "reads" as a letter.  Sometimes a tiny variation can suddenly make a letter "look funny" and diminish the letter's "readability."

How a free-pieced letter "looks" is entirely up to you. It can be a totally graphic element, in which case its "readability" isn't important.  However, if you want your letters to form words and be "readable" by your audience, you may have to sacrifice "artistic license" for readability.  If you make the letters "correctly", but you think they look a bit weird and can't figure out why, it could be because you "pushed the envelope" a bit too much.

you can click the photos to enlarge

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hey U

The letter U is one of the easiest letters to make. I'm pretty sure you can figure it out on your own.
 Naturally, there are lots of variations.  Here are a few:
You can make the pieces thin, and make the space b-i-g...
You can make the space kinda skinny...
  You can tilt the uprights

You can even make the letter shorter than the others!

You can play with the pattern on the fabric, like the dots in this black and white U.

You can vary the colors and fabrics, like this U in FUN.

Here is the red U for my sampler.

you can click the photos, and then click again to enlarge for more detail

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Katrin's Quilts!

I've only met one of the many quilters who make letters in person. The rest I know by emails and blogs. It is always such a delight to receive letters from readers telling me to "keep doing what you're doing but get more sleep," or "this [addiction to lettermaking] is entirely your fault," or just "I love your work." I get such a thrill, and it always makes my day.

Katrin wrote to me from Berlin, Germany.  She has made these two alphabet Sampler quilts, one for Angelina and the other for Hannah.

I think they're great! I love the birds, the houses, and the fun and unique way the quilts are alike, yet not precisely the same. 

Terrific job Katrin!