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Welcome to My Stars Quilts

We at Kansas City Star Quilts are pleased to announce our newest book-publishing imprint, My Stars. We’ll be bringing you beautiful and inspiring modern quilting books by top authors, with top-notch photography and compelling designs.

Our first book under the new imprint is a compilation effort that will come out in September. We’re leading up to the publication of this book by running Q&As with the authors every week on this site.

From here you can visit our bookstore, go to our other blog site and learn how you can submit a book proposal (buttons on the top menu).  Also, read some fun blog posts and get to know our authors. Enjoy!

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‘Optical Illusions’ Q&A: Karen Hansen

optical illusions coverTo celebrate the upcoming publication of our new book, Optical Illusions: Innovative Designs for the Modern Quilter, we’re highlighting each of the 10 designers who appear in the book. We’re starting with Karen Hansen. Her optical illusion quilt, Surf’s Up, was inspired by experimenting with leftover Bulls-eye blocks. In September, you will be able to see her quilt in Optical Illusions.

Surf's Up detail. Karen used raw edge appliqué to create her optical illusion.

Surf’s Up detail. Karen used raw edge appliqué to create her optical illusion.

Karen started quilting in 2000, quickly transitioning from traditional patterns to designing her own modern and art quilts. She has taught workshops at local shops and guilds, and her work has been published in various books and magazines. Her quilts have won prizes in local shows and have been juried into the American Quilter’s Society show in Paducah, Kentucky. Her commissioned works are displayed in churches and homes.

Karen lives in Overland Park, Kansas, with her husband and three cats. She is a member of the Blue Valley Quilt Guild, Kaw Valley Quilt Guild, Kansas City Modern Guild and Studio Art Quilt Associates.


Karen Hansen

Karen Hansen

How did you learn to quilt?

I taught myself to sew as a child, making doll clothes on my grandma’s treadle machine and later made many of my own clothes. After attempting to make a quilt later in life (2000), I took a class to learn the correct techniques.

How do you approach quilt design?

I make a very rough sketch and then decide which colors, designs and techniques will best portray the subject or idea I have in mind. Then I pull fabric from my stash and place swatches on my design wall, trying out various patterns. In the case of a geometric design, I usually begin by doodling on graph paper.

Day at the Beach

Day at the Beach

What’s your favorite color to work with?

Over the years, my favorites have changed from more muted colors to pure brights, but some form of teal or turquoise is my default color. It goes well with almost any other color.

Steeples of Light

Steeples of Light

What’s the strangest inspiration you’ve had for a quilt?

I was asked by a church to create four abstract wall quilts depicting the stages of a person’s spiritual journey – Introspection, Enlightenment, the Dark Night of the Soul and Unity with God – to be used as meditation pieces at the church retreat center. Creating them was a challenging and interesting journey in itself.

What was your first modern quilt?

City Surfaces, for the Kandinsky Challenge hosted by the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild.

City Surfaces

City Surfaces

What drew you to modern quilting?

I like the clean lines and bold colors of the quilts, but I especially enjoy the women in the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild. It is such fun to see these younger women’s enthusiasm, creativity and developing skills.

How many UFOs do you have right now? (Be honest!)

About a dozen, but some I never plan to finish – I should pass them along.

Ada's Blocks

Ada’s Blocks

What’s the next quilt you plan to make?

In my living room, I have a wall quilt of daylilies I made in a Ruth McDowell class a few years ago. I want to replace it with something more contemporary.

Our next Optical Illustions Q&A:  Melissa Corry, Aug. 27


Modern panel quilts?

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Quilt panels are a staple of contemporary quilting – definitely not traditional, but also decidedly “unmodern.” They seem to be the go-to choice for baby quilts and holiday quilts because the oversized panels make for quick quiltmaking and can make quite an impact with large-scale design.

But as more manufacturers and fabric designers go toward the modern end of the spectrum, I’ve noticed a selection of quilt panels popping up that catch my modern-loving eye. And it made me wonder: Can panel quilts ever really be modern?

The new line of modern fabrics from Cotton + Steel, a division of RJR, is making big waves in the modern fabric world. Cotton + Steel’s debut collection includes a panel of handkerchief-style prints by first-time fabric designer Kim Kight. It’s the perfect example of a modern panel that could be used as is – simply treated as a large block of fabric and floated on a larger background of negative space.

Kim Kight Homebody Hankies panel. Image courtesy Cotton + Steel Fabrics, www.cottonandsteelfabrics.com.

Kim Kight Homebody Hankies panel. Image courtesy Cotton + Steel Fabrics, http://www.cottonandsteelfabrics.com.

Carolyn Gavin is a veteran designer with Windham Fabrics whose collection typically features modern, hand-drawn-style florals with bold color palettes. Her latest line, Petite Fleur, includes a panel that could be used as-is, but it also would also benefit from some careful rotary cutting.

arolyn Gavin Petite Fleur panel. Image courtesy Windham Fabrics, www.windhamfabrics.net.

Carolyn Gavin Petite Fleur panel. Image courtesy Windham Fabrics, http://www.windhamfabrics.net.

I confess to having purchased both of these panels (and a few others – I’m experimenting) and I’ve put some thought into how I will use them. There are several approaches to making a panel more modern.

One is to fussy cut and break it up. This is the obvious approach when dealing with a panel that has boxes or squares of prints. Simply treat it as a cheater, and cut it up to use as a focus fabric or sweet little bits of fussy cutting throughout the quilt.

But perhaps an even more interesting approach when dealing with panels without obvious borders between the prints is to simply go the modernist’s favorite route of adding negative space.

panel-quilts-03Adding some simple piecing – bold strips of flying geese, for example – is another way to modernize a basic panel. The simple piecing would, of course, work best with fussy-cut-friendly designs.

Attic Window – House on a Path by Jamie Bazer on Etsy www.etsy.com/listing/39726599/attic-window-house-on-a-path.

Attic Window – House on a Path by Jamie Bazer on Etsy, http://www.etsy.com/listing/39726599/attic-window-house-on-a-path.

In window-frame quilts, quilters take panels that show a landscape or other more photo-realistic scene, cut it up into equal units and add sashing to form window panes. The example above is not necessarily modern, but I can imagine this style with a modern landscape as the background.

I’m a big fan of 1970s wall murals of forests and sunsets, but with the ability to print digitally with companies such as Spoonflower, the sky truly is the limit. Custom digital printing gives all of us the power to turn any high-resolution photo into a panel perfect for your next quilt.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

A new way of looking at things

Need inspiration for your next project? How about an optical illusion?

Optical illusions have long been a part of quiltmaking. There are many examples of traditional blocks and quilts that form all kinds of illusions – tricking the brain into thinking it’s seeing optical illusions coversomething it’s not. Whether it’s the 3-D effect of the Tumbling Block or Kaleidoscope; the dizzying effect of Ocean Waves or Wheel of Mystery; or just the interesting where-does-it-begin-and-end effect of Robbing Peter to Pay Paul and Monkey Wrench, these are all optical illusions quilters are familiar with.

And that was the basis for the idea behind our newest book, Optical Illusions: Innovative Designs for the Modern Quilter.

We challenged nine modern quilters to create a quilt with a strong optical illusion that is distinctively modern. And our designers didn’t let us down. Each put a modern spin on an optical illusion that is are sure to become a classic in its own right.

As a bonus, the venerable Angela Walters contributes advice for quilting optical illusion designs. Her tips, illustrated by quilting throughout the book, will help as you consider how to quilt your next modern quilt.

Join us in the next few weeks as we talk to each of the designers and show you some of their incredible work. Then, in September, we’ll roll out the book and show you each designer’s modern spin on an optical illusion.


Thread matters

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Thread is one of those things you learn an awful lot about the longer you sew.

I started out as a garment and home décor sewer, and I was accustomed to using polyester thread, or at least a poly/cotton blend. But once I entered the quilting world, I quickly learned that synthetic materials are frowned upon by a large majority of quilters.

Cotton fabric, cotton batting and cotton thread are the way to go. I’ve often read the advice that you should use the best materials you can afford, and I’ve taken that advice to heart. (Just ask my husband! He’ll vouch for me.) There is even a school of thought among some quilters that polyester thread is just too strong for cotton fabric and will damage and fray the quilt over time.

Not all quilters are against synthetics. Many appliqué artists use monofilament, a clear type of plastic thread that is certainly not from nature. (And it might also earn you the wrath of your sewing repair person, because it can be pretty hard on your tension discs.)

But by and large, cotton is the thread of choice in the quilting crowd. I’ve even found, as I’ve worked my way up the sewing-machine ladder, that the higher-end sewing machines are downright intolerant of certain types of thread. My Pfaff will split thread to the core if all settings are not just so when I’m doing free-motion quilting. Some brands it won’t tolerate at all. Oddly, the German-named brands seem to work just fine for her. My Bernina is a bit more forgiving, and my Singer Featherweight is such a doll that she doesn’t seem to mind any old type of thread.

thread-matters-01Choosing thread is definitely a matter of trial and error. Some do create considerably more lint than others, which you will really notice if you free-motion quilt on your domestic machine. I’ve read that threads made from extra-long staple Egyptian cotton (just like fancy sheets) create less lint.

A dear friend who is a longtime quilter made the switch from cotton to polyester for quilting once she started to use a long arm. She found that after years of working with cotton exclusively, the polyester performed better on the long arm. So type and brand truly do vary by machine.

I’ve been thoroughly converted to all-cotton, and I’ve found that a 50-weight thread is just about perfect for piecing and quilting. My go-to colors are bright white and a pale gray, which seems to blend with just about any fabric I can quilt it over. If I’m feeling like a bit of a show-off, I’ll use a heavier 40-weight to quilt my project, because the heavier thread shows up more and lets the quilting become an extra layer of texture on the finished product.

Light gray thread blends with a white background and prints.

Light gray thread blends with a white background and prints.

There are some controversies and highly debated practices when it comes to thread in the modern quilting world. Variegated thread or even the outright changing of thread colors while quilting are hotly debated topics. Modern purists don’t like to see heavy quilting or thread-color changes. Truth be told, they don’t like much beyond basic straight line quilting, but they will tolerate a very simple allover design.

Not being a purist myself, I like to experiment with quilting designs and thread weights. Mixing hand-quilted perle cotton with machine quilting is one of my favorite looks. And at the end of the day, that’s the wonderful thing about this modern quilting movement. We’re the no-rules quilters.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

Don’t judge me

By Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

Tammie Schaffer

Hang around quilters long enough and you’ll hear about the quilt police. Most of the time, they’re invoked in jest, to laugh off a mistake in a quilt. But did you know there are actual quilt police? They are quilt show judges. And they have a tough job.

Maybe you are entering a quilt in a fair for the first time. Or perhaps you want to submit a quilt in one of the QuiltCon 2015 challenge categories. What criteria would you need to meet?

Each show has a specific set of guidelines. You can see a general example above from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Be sure to review the rules for entry. Most fairs have a stipulation that the quilt must have been completed within the last 12 months.

Some (OK most) quilt shows require an entry fee. Here’s why: Those shows cost money to produce and promote. The organizers might have to rent a space, cover advertising costs, offer prizes, and carry insurance on the event and the quilts. I think it also encourages people to submit their best work.

If you are a first-timer, I would recommend entering a fair. There are generally lots of categories, and depending on the size of the fair, you might not be competing against a lot of other quilts. Sometimes, they have a group just for rookie quilts. The prizes might be small, but it’s a gentle first step. The judges are usually kind, and there’s no fee to enter.

Here’s an example of quilt categories from the 2014 Anderson County Fair in Garnett, Kansas.

judge2Keep in mind that the judges will look at all the components of your quilt. They will determine whether you used accurate seam allowances and whether you cut off any of your points. They will examine the quilting to see that your stitches are consistent and even and whether the stitching enhances the quilt’s design. They will inspect the binding. They will see whether the backing complements the front. If there is appliqué or beading, is it attached correctly and securely?

They are looking for the best of the best, and that requires a lot of elements working together.

Sometimes amazing quilts can be knocked out of a winning spot because of simple things that get overlooked. To improve your chances of success:

•    Be sure your quilt is free of lint and pet hair. That lint roller only works if you actually use it.
•    Trim any loose or stray threads. Look over your quilt two or three times. And don’t forget the back.
•    Do a proper quilter’s knot when you begin and end your quilting. Back-stitching detracts from the quilt’s appearance and can cost you points.
•    Make sure your quilt is clean and fresh. Once the quilt is up for judging, a small stain becomes that much more noticeable.
•    Remove all of your markings.
•    Make sure your quilt lies flat, without waves or distortions. Did you know that the judges measure quilts to determine whether the edges are even and symmetrical.
•    Label your quilt. Some shows require this.

You might ask yourself why would quilters want their work to be inspected so thoroughly? The answer is that it’s a wonderful chance to get constructive criticism about your quilts, and it can help pinpoint areas where you could improve. For me, that would be the corners of my binding. I can rarely get that perfect miter.

Photo courtesy Cathy Heck

Photo courtesy Cathy Heck

Prizes are another incentive to enter quilts in shows and fairs. The top quilt often goes home not only with a prize ribbon but also with a cash prize. At QuiltCon 2015, best in show will receive $5,000.  There are more than $10,000 in prizes, with lots of categories, such as improvisation and modern traditionalism. A complete list is on the QuiltCon site.

If you’ve made a quilt you love, don’t be afraid to show it off. Even if you know it won’t pass inspection by the quilt police, odds are it will make you smile to see it on display.

And for some insights into being a judge, read My Stars executive editor Jenifer Dick’s blog about serving as a quilt judge at her country fair.

Tammie Schaffer is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond, Kansas. She writes every other Friday. Visit her at craftytammie.

‘Tis the season

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Summer can sometimes be a mojo killer when it comes to quilting. It’s hot outside, that cool blue pool water is calling your name, and it just doesn’t make sense to stay inside and sit at the sewing machine.

Quilts are cozy and warm, perfect for those fall and winter nights when you are cuddled up on the sofa with a mug of your favorite hot beverage. But what’s a quilter to do in the heat of the summer?

Set foot into any quilt shop in the summer months and you will see that if you plan to make Christmas gifts or a Halloween quilt, you are already behind.  June and July are when fabric manufacturers release their seasonal offerings.  It can take several months to make a quilt, so it makes sense to start six months ahead. Christmas in July is a real thing in the quilting world, not just a cute idea for a sale.seasonal-sewing-01But if you are like me and have a hard time getting into the mood to sew when it’s so very hot outside, what can you do? Here are the ways I motivate myself to work with snowflake fabric when the mercury is hovering around 100 degrees every day.

•    Get inspired. Most craft stores have seasonal items out much earlier than other retailers. To me, there is no better inspiration to start on a Halloween or fall-themed quilt than perusing the aisles of mercury glass pumpkins and glittery black cats at my local craft store. It helps that fall is my favorite time of year, but a quick trip to admire all of the seasonal wares provides a big boost of excitement for seasonal sewing. seasonal-sewing-02
•    Plan it out. We are a relatively young family (married six years this year), so we don’t have a huge stash of holiday decorations yet. I’ve made a list of the things I want to have and make for the holidays, and I try to cross one item off each year. That list includes such things as a Halloween quilt, Christmas pillowcases for the kids’ rooms, a Christmas quilt for each bedroom, Christmas throw pillows, and Thanksgiving table runner and napkins. It truly makes me happy to bring out handmade seasonal items to enjoy throughout the year. Even something as simple as a basic napkin adds so much color to a holiday table.

•    Think heirloom. Yes, you can bring some holiday festivity to the table with simple handmade napkins, but also think about projects that will become family heirlooms. Something labor intensive, such as a holiday Baltimore Album quilt, probably will take you several summers to sew, but that’s kind of what makes it so special, right?

•    Recycle. One of the cutest holiday projects I’ve seen is a set of stockings made from old quilts. I have a scrap of a vintage quilt that would be just perfect for an upcycled sewing project. Because the piecing and quilting is done, there’s really not a lot of work to make it something really wonderful. seasonal-sewing-03•    Curate a collection. Christmas is not just about green and red anymore. You may not be able to find the perfect fabrics for the quilt you have in mind all in one shop. Maybe your summer sewing becomes more about looking for just the right bits and pieces for your project (in nicely air conditioned stores!) rather than actual sewing. Sometimes shopping can be the best place to start for inspiration.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.

Discovering poison green

By Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

Lisa Calle

To many a modern quilter, the phrase “Civil War fabrics” is roughly equivalent to “brown and bleak” or just plain “old.” It’s easier to love 1930s reproduction fabrics, with their sweet and whimsical prints and happy colors, but those 1800s reproductions take an open mind for the modern quilter to embrace.

I know this because I was once a modern quilter who walked right past the Civil War-style quilts at shows. Booths and shops filled with repros were guaranteed not to get my money.

That is, until I discovered poison green. I still remember the moment. It was at a traditional quilt show, in a booth specializing in Civil War reproduction fabric that I caught sight of these beautiful, rich, dark green prints – in the exact shade of my new handbag. It was love at first sight. poison-green-01A friend who was a recent modern quilting convert from the world of Civil War quilts told me that the color was called poison green, and that sealed the deal. How could I not love a color with that name? I took a few prints home with me, and it broadened my horizons enough that I started to browse that reproduction fabric section of my local quilt shop.



And I discovered so much beautiful fabric. Shirtings, calicoes and miniatures all started to make their way into my sewing room. I fell in love with the names of these older fabrics – cheddar, indigo, Turkey red. I’d always thought of 1800s quilts as bland, brown and plain, but the richness of the colors makes for some truly exciting variety. If you are new to repros, spend some time at your traditional local quilt shop exploring the different prints. Shirtings are a good place to start if you have a love of low-volume backgrounds.

Adding 1800s repros to my fabric stash has given my quilts a depth they lacked. If there’s one negative thing I could say about the trend of bright and bold in modern fabrics, it’s that value is often ignored or overlooked, and collections have a certain flatness. Everything is a mid-tone. Reproduction fabrics do not shy away from the darkest shades of every color, and they add much-needed contrast.

It’s easy to add a reproduction fabric to a fabric stack for a quilt. I follow the same rule I use for scraps: Start with pairs that look good together, and go from there. These two are definitely on opposite sides of the modern-reproduction spectrum, but the blue in each is what brings them together. poison-green-03

I added a few more blue shades to my stack and then complementary colors such as orange and pink to fill out the range. There are several reproduction fabrics in the mix, which are quite lovely alongside some very contemporary prints. poison-green-04

They say that everything old is new again in art, fashion and even quilting. I certainly hope that’s the case for some of these 1800s reproduction fabrics, and we start to see them seep into the mainstream of modern quilting.

Lisa Calle is a freelance writer who lives in Dallas. She writes every Monday. Visit her at Vintage Modern Quilts.