My First Online Swap: Allie the Owl Flies to Alberta

This year, the Modern Quilt Guild organized its first online mini-swap ever.  The maiden voyage of the MQG swap, and I, a swap virgin, just had to try it out.   It sounded so fun, and I began to get excited about having a sweet new mini to grace the walls of my sacred sewing space, and the fun of planning a surprise for my partner, @missmuffetquilts, who hails from Alberta.

Turns out@missmuffetquilts liked a few things that I was interested in trying out:  She liked blues and greens, quilts on the not-too-busy side, and was quite into Elizabeth Hartman designs.  Satisfied that I had a starting point, I hit our local quilt shop, The Quilting Bee, knowing that they had a few of her patterns on hand.  I sifted through the options and zoned in on this one:


I like owls, and thought if I like it well enough, maybe I’ll make one for my daughter later, or for a simple baby quilt, so it was worth the investment for me.

Having already seen a few blocks that my friend Lorna had made from the Fancy Forest Pattern, I was sure this owl was the right size for the Mini Swap–No larger than 24×24.

Please note that I did NOT take the pattern out of the package or attempt in any way to do the math to ensure it was going to be the right size before purchasing it.  Not me!  When I am ready for action, I tend NOT to plan very well.

Well, it didn’t take me very long into cutting, to suspect that it was a bit big.  By the time I was piecing, I so astutely came to the conclusion that there was no way to finish my first attempt at Allie Owl attractively to keep within the specified size.  Turns out, Allie is a GIANT block.  I didn’t realize that the Fancy Forest pattern was scaled down to accommodate all the different friends it needs to fit on one quilt top.  Allie Owl was twice as big as the one I had seen before.

Not to be thwarted, I did finish the first top.  It is a maxi version of @missmuffetquilts’ mini.  I did a bit of math and reduced the owl pattern to half-size.  I knew I had planned to use my favourite striped fabric from Tula Pink as the binding, so I decided to step outside of the recommended palette on the pattern, and slip in a little acid green for the eyes and a bit of red for the beak, all pulled from Tula’s wise colour combining savvy.  Since I am a huge fan of Carolyn Friedlander’s work, I put a few greens from her botanics collection and I cracked open a wonderful jelly roll by Moda (the first and only one I have ever bought so far in my life) called “Spring House” to dip into the acid green and some of the other cute crosshatch fabrics you see here.

Here are the wee pieces all ready for piecing.  Notice the fantastic Mini Design Board that I made following Bee in My Bonnet’s awesome tutorial. Just letting you all know that I LOVE it and can’t believe I survived without one for so long! Click here to chase it down and make a few for yourself!


I used a fantastic technique using labels for keeping my piecing in order, taught by Elizabeth Hartman in her Craftsy Course: Patchwork Piecing Woodland Animals.  I think the colours play so nicely together, even on a piecing board waiting for me to get started.

The piecing in this technique is simple, but it did take a long time.  Having made the bigger Allie Owl first, I can say that it is much easier to work with larger pieces, but it was exhilarating and fun to see her come together.  With the new colour combinations pepping her up a bit, I was getting more and more excited to see her finished.

Though the technique is fast, I did feel very guilty seeing the cut-off waste when snowballing corners to get the desired shapes.  In the photo below, you can see a huge triangular offcut of pieced eyeball fabric.  Tsk, Tsk.   But you can’t have fast and easy without a tradeoff, so I am saving my huge cutoffs for another project in my scrap bins, someday….

Here is Little Allie wingin’it beside Big Allie.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I thought I could make a mini out of the original girl!


Next, Allie needed a setting, and I thought, “what would be better than more birds?  Flying birds.  Okay, they’re not owls, but a bunch of flying geese really could to pull in a wee bit of extra red in a simple-ish embellishment.  Plus, when I put together Big Allie,  I was dying to try out my Quilt in a day flying geese ruler that I bought during my first Shop Hop, waaaay back in 2014.  Lucky for me, the ruler makes two sizes, both of which were proportionately equivalent in my big and small  layouts!  Eleanor Burns, how on Earth did you have the foresight to know I would need two differently-sized flying geese templates?

I made some further adjustments in my fabric choices because I was not happy with the lighter value of some of the of the flying geese backgrounds. Don’t forget that the recipient of this quiltette had specified that she doesn’t like things too busy, so I thought working towards a more uniform, yet slightly scrappy background for my geese would make for a better reception for Allie when she met her new family.  This, woe is me, necessitated yet another quick trip to the Quilting Bee for darker grey backgrounds, since I had none. I overbought, of course, knowing full well that you just can’t have too many dark grey fabrics these days.

With the top done, I moved on to making the backing.  I was feeling a little wild, so I dug into some of the craziest green I saw, and tossed in a very old-fashioned floral scrap from the first full size quilt I ever pieced.  The back is nothing if not unpredictable.  Alongside the Tula Pink Stripes, I was sure it would all work out.


And now, we move on to sandwiching the bird.   Feeling a bit lazy, I just straight-pinned the sandwich together.  I knew I was going to just straight-line quilt most of it, and, after all, Little Allie was, indeed, little.  No sense in making a fuss.  Here she is, looking really mad about all those pins poking her.

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Onward, then, to quilting Little Allie.  I chose a matching Dark-Gray Aurifil thread for all the quilting.


Trying to keep things simple for the background, I opted for straight-line, random-widths stitching. I started by stitching in the ditch for the geese and Allie First, then threw on the background stripes, added some feathery quilting and some little details on her face. img_5399

I used a curved dot-to-dot quilting approach I learned from Angela Walters on Craftsy, to fill in the geese, and finished it off with a chain of pearls quilted in one of the larger spaces on the background.

img_5393 I even remembered to sign this one.img_5425

I enjoyed some Netflix one night, while I worked on the label and binding…


Next thing you know, it was all ready to send away!


I was really happy with the final product and was ever-so-hopeful that @missmuffetquilts was going to like it. Of course I had to bring my first Mini to show off at our January MQG meeting first, and then off to the post office I trotted with Little Allie, ready for her maiden voyage.  Hoping to leave a good impression, I tossed in a humongous bar of dark, yummy chocolate.


I nervously monitored Instagram for four days and finally got word that the little owl had made it all the way to Alberta in one piece.  A fairly quick transit.  @missmuffetquilts had to chase it down from her little girl to send me a picture of her swap.  When I saw the little owl laying over the deep, deep Alberta snow, though we had none on the ground, here in Niagara, it hit home how far she has flown from the coop! Goodbye, Allie, and may you adorn the home and keep the baby muffets dollies cozy for years to come!


It was really wonderful to make a special gift for someone I don’t know, and to know that, since she, too, is a quilter, the effort is not lost on her.  She kindly spent her time creating a wonderful gift for another, and a wonderful stranger has thoughtfully put her creativity to work for me.  This is a quilty pay-it-forward and I am thrilled to have taken part.  I think I’m hooked!  Thanks MQG for catching my attention with this fun way to share my favourite thing to do with other quilt-nuts like myself!  Looking forward to next year’s adventure!


8 thoughts on “My First Online Swap: Allie the Owl Flies to Alberta

  1. Oh Tara you are a wonderful creative writer AND quilter! I love the story of Allie Owl and there were plenty of Oh’s and Aww’s at the meeting when you presented her. I can’t wait to see your next project here !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. It is quite a trip adjusting sizes for different blocks. Many times I’ve loved a block but the size was not what I wanted. As much as I hated math in college, I find I use it daily. Who knew? Love the pop of colors in the smaller owl.

    Liked by 1 person

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