Sunday, March 21, 2010

With a Little Help From My Friends

This is the quilt, "With a Little Help From My Friends" that I was talking about last time. I set the blocks on point, with setting triangles and the second column was offset from the first by 1/2 a block making it a "streak of lightning" setting. (The setting triangles zigzag down the quilt!) I decided that this quilt would have "a lot" of quilting on it which is part of the reason it took so long to finish. Our group consisted of 8 women, the right amount to fit around a quilting frame at one time. We met on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday mornings at a member's (Miss C's) home and quilted on our hostess's quilt. We actually had at least three quilts going at any given time, though. On the first Wednesday of the month one member Miss A, would bring the pieces for blocks in baggies and hand them out to everyone else. We had a month to piece them together and get them back to her. Also on the first Wednesday, Miss B would be receiving all of her blocks that people had pieced and would have the next month to set them into a top, sandwich the quilt and get it on a frame. And finally we would begin quilting on Miss C's quilt! We rotated around the membership and made quite a few quilts in the time that I was a part of the group! Most members had a new quilt going every rotation, but I didn't want any UFO's so I kept them working on this one. Though a bit unusual, it was a fun way to work a quilting group. I remember when we first arrived in Germany I overheard a couple of women in the base exchange talking about a quilt group. I said I wanted to join!!! They told me I had to be invited to their group. :( I had never heard of that! In retrospect, I think I actually had stumbled upon the group that I eventually ended up joining which, by the way, initially was mostly spouses from the flying squadron. I made some good friends there!

As for the quilt I made, all the quilting took quite a bit of time and I still hadn't finished it before we moved from Germany. But that wasn't the only issue I ran into. As I said I wanted lots of quilting and had designed the quilting for the blocks as cross hatching and a feather in the setting triangles. So far so good. I also went with a large feather pattern for in the blue border. Here's where I ran into a couple of problems which rather intimidated and stalled me, literally, for years!

The first problem I encountered was marking the quilt pattern on the blue border. Huh! It's a relatively dark blue border..a light marking pencil ought to work just fine I thought. Seemed simple. But in practice, it didn't work well at all, because the fabric design has a lot of white on it. Of course the blue marking pen didn't work and the purple one doesn't stay around long enough to adequately mark enough of the feather and it, too, wasn't much contrast. I really needed something to stick well so I could mark it all at once, and also be able to go away from it for a day and it would still be there when I came back. As I recall, I ended up using a yellow pencil, but it still wasn't easy to see. By the way, the other patterns were quite simple to mark...the feather on the white I marked lightly with a lead pencil and erased after. The cross hatch was marked with 1/4" masking tape, one or two strips depending on the width needed.

The second issue was that the border on the ends was wider than on the sides. I hadn't figured that into the equation when I picked out the quilting pattern. Actually it never occurred to me that the two borders were that much different in size when I thought about the quilting. I started quilting on the ends and as I got to the corners I saw that the pattern was too big to round the corner nicely and go up the sides! So I had to re-design the pattern smaller and make it flow around the corner.

Little things that make a difference in how easily the project goes together! Some things you can anticipate and others you just have to puzzle through along the way. I had other projects going during the time I was "working" on this quilt, but I sure was happy to put the last stitch in this one!

By the way, our quilt group ended up disbanding when we left Germany. Up until then, the rotations in and out of the group had been a couple at a time. This time all but one member was moving on. It was sad, but we had a great time celebrating and documenting our work. We took all of the quilts the group had worked on and arranged them on the walls of the castle up on the hill in Landstuhl. It is such a picturesque place and we took lots of photos of quilts and people. (Maybe I'll post one at a later time.) I still keep in touch with some members after all these years later! Such is the nature of quilters! :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Sign of the Times

So I'm sorry that I have been a bit out of touch. I seem to have been out of town on Tuesdays for the past few weeks and don't have the photos I wanted to share on the "out of town" computer. A lame excuse, I know, but anyway...

One thing I wanted to mention to you is about "signing" your masterpieces! You did that for my Christmas present quilt and I'm glad! That's one that I will treasure and keep and I want everyone to know who made it!! I really wish I knew a little more about the maker of my antique quilt. It would have been nice if she had signed hers too! I'm hiding behind my hand as I tell you to sign your quilts, because I don't sign all of my quilts. Truth be told, I am more apt to sign the ones I sweat over, ones that I think may last the test of time, and ones that I think need an explanation for their coming into being.

A quilt that fits into all three categories is the one I made with my quilt group when we lived in Germany. It took a long time for me to finish it (more on this in a later posting) and many friends helped along the way. I had everyone who worked on it, both in the quilting and the piecing of blocks, sign a piece of muslin that I eventually attached to the back of the quilt when I finished it. I almost ran out of room for signatures because people rotated in and out of the group as they moved away to new assignments. There were many who stitched on it. Appropriately, I call this one "With a Little Help From My Friends"! It sure is a nice way to remember the friends from that chapter of our lives! Reading the list of names transports me back to a Wednesday morning meeting! For the label, I took a scrap of the muslin that I backed the quilt with and lightly penciled lines for signatures. I provided a fine line fabric marker to use and also another scrap piece of muslin that they could try out the pen on before signing the actual label. When I finished the quilt (years later!) I blind stitched the label on the backing by hand.

I did the same sort of thing for Grandmom and Grandpop B.'s 60th anniversary quilt because it was a special one that needed recognition for the event that prompted its making.

For Grandmom and Grandpop L.'s 50th anniversary quilt (shown above) I did something a little different. Since each item on the quilt had a special significance that wouldn't necessarily be apparent, I made a label with the date, event and quilt maker on it, but attached it to the back like a pocket. I then typed up a page which identified each object and explained the reason for including it and tucked it into the pocket. That was a fun quilt to make. I even managed to get a wedding photo to include without giving away any hints as to why I wanted it! Surprise quilts are so much fun, don't you think! :)

There are muslin quilt labels that you can purchase, fill in the data and attach to the quilt. There are also woven labels like you'd see in the back of garments with sayings like "Made with Love for You" that you can buy. You can also have these kind personalized. Beware with these, though, if you try to add a date to the label with a fine line fabric marker, the ink will bleed and it is not very attractive. This brings up a good point....if you use a marker, try it out on the fabric first to make sure it prints as you want it. (That is one reason I, generally, will not mark on the quilt proper. Having said that, I will write my first name and the date made on the back corner of a charity quilt...) Computer software is available to make your own labels...have not tried this yet, maybe someday.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's Thursday, I know!

Well, sorry I'm late in posting this week. The taxman got me all flustered trying to get all the paperwork gathered. Next thing I know, it's Thursday! Where did this week go??!

One thing I wanted to tell you about is bias. It can be your friend...or not! When fabric is woven, there are two basic threads, the warp and the weft. I can never remember which is which, but it doesn't matter. One goes the lengthwise of the fabric, parallel to the selvage and the other goes crosswise, from selvage to selvage. When the fabric is woven the lengthwise one is threaded on the loom first and then the crosswise one is woven back and forth, using a shuttle.

As an aside, if you haven't visited the historic textile mills in Lowell, MA, it is well worth the time. I visited there several times, the most notable was on a field trip with the 5th graders who had read Lyddie by Katherine Patterson. Lyddie takes place in Lowell and seeing where Lyddie worked and lived was powerful.

Anyway, the bias is the diagonal (45 degrees) between the threads. A piece cut on the bias will not fray, but it will stretch. Consequently, you must take care when cutting out triangles, for instance, to make sure your work is stable. Some notes to think about:

Always make cuts to ensure that you are not sewing 2 bias edges together, if possible. Sewing a bias edge to an edge cut on the crosswise or lengthwise grain will stabilize the seam and it will be less likely to stretch.

If you have triangles on the edge of a quilt (think blocks set on the diagonal with setting triangles) always try to cut the 1/2 square triangle so the hypotenuse of the triangle is cut on the crosswise or lengthwise grain. If you don't, the edges of the quilt will be on the bias and stretch. The quilt will not lay flat.

These are ways that bias can haunt you if you don't take care. On the other hand, bias can be a real friend when binding a quilt. Right now I think you are using a straight grain binding, which is fine and works well in most cases.
(By the way, I have always been taught to use double thickness of fabric for binding to make it a little sturdier. Many store-bought bias bindings don't lend themselves to double thickness and it's more fun and professional to make your own anyway...)
But if you are making a quilt with rounded corners, swag edges or anything that is not squared edges, bias can help round the corners without puckering. In addition, some fabrics...stripes and plaids lend themselves nicely to fun and interesting bindings, as you can see in the photo.
I will leave you with those thoughts for now. Cutting and piecing bias binding will have to be another time. If you told most people that quilting was really a practical application of math, they would shudder, but I'm sure you were quite amused by some of the above descriptons! There are actually books that teach math using quilts. What a great idea, don't you think?
Ciao for now!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Batting Up!

As for batting...

Most battings are amenable to machine quilting, but some are pretty much strictly for hand quilting. The most common ones you will see are cotton or polyester or a blend of the two. For a baby quilt, polyester is the best way to go.

"Loft" is how thick the batting is. High loft is best tied and lower loft, quilted (or maybe tied, I think). Make sure you check to see what the particular batting recommends and abide by that.

When you kids were infants, a friend showed me a baby quilt that her friend had made for her. After she washed it, all the batting had clumped to one side. It was not repairable. The maker had used a batting that wasn't "bonded" and had tied it, not quilted it. The batting acted like polyester fiberfil. clumped together, and the quilt looked like a huge understuffed pillow.

"Bonding" is a treatment (can be chemical or mechanical) that makes the batting stick together. Sometimes they fuse it, sometimes needlepunch it. At any rate, I ALWAYS look for "bonded" on the instructions. And then, I also ALWAYS look to see how they recommend holding the sandwich together. Most times they will tell you to "quilt x inches apart". (Often it's something like 3-4"apart.) Ballpark is good on this: 3-4" is about the distance across my fist. Machine quilting is always a good way to go with baby/kid quilts, but tying is OK too. (Again, I would check the package instructions and still run a quilting line in the ditch along the outermost border if you tie.) For tying I would be pretty generous (in fact, 3-4 inches may also refer to tying, not sure) and you can have the knots on either side of the quilt...whichever looks best. When tying, I will take 2 stitches (down stitch and then up about 1/4" apart and then another in the same place) and them triple knot (square knot type) to make sure it stays in place. You can even put a little drop of "Fray Check" on the knot to be extra cautious. (Fray check is runny so try it out on something else before you use it on a quilt!!) NEVER put buttons, bells, or anything else a kid could bite off on a quilt, meant for a child!!! As I said before, double check every seam to make sure you have sewn it with enough seam allowance on both sides, make sure everything is secure and triple check that you have taken ALL the pins out before you give the quilt up.

Making sure the seams are secure and the allowances are big enough is important. On the red white and blue guest bed quilt I made in Germany I had to do some extra work on a seam that was coming out (too little seam allowance) when it was on the frame being quilted. Not an easy thing to do at that point!!

That's about all for now...I hope this helps!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Binding Matters

When it comes to binding a quilt here's the simplest way:

You will be sewing binding on the quilt, sides first and then on the top and bottom. Measure the sides and cut enough 2 1/2" strips on the crossways grain (side to side) of the fabric so that when you seam them together you will have a strip long enough to bind a side. Fabric is usually about 44" wide, but you should cut off the selvage since it typically is woven more densely than the rest of the fabric. Remember to account for 1/4" seams for joining the strips, if needed, so that you get the right length. Fold the strip in half length-wise, right sides together and press. You have a choice at this can pin the strip (matching raw edges of binding with the raw edges of the sandwiched quilt) to the front side or the back side of the quilt. If you pin it to the back, you will machine sew it and then flip the rest (the folded edge) to the front and stitch it down. If you pin it to the front, you'll stitch down on the back side. This makes a difference depending on the effect you want. I usually stitch to front and then hand stitch to the back so no stitching shows. If I am making the quilt for a child, though, I will consider stitching to the back and machine stitching the folded edge to the front. So, the bottom line sew the raw edge of the binding to the raw edge of the quilt with the machine and then hand or machine stitch the folded edge for the sides, doing this first for the sides and then the top and bottom. If you have longer binding than is needed it's OK to cut it off at the edge of the quilt. You won't have to worry about the raw edges of the binding showing at the top and bottom of the quilt as they will be covered over by the top and bottom bindings. Wow! This gets complicated when I can't show you! Now you do almost the same thing for the top and bottom of the quilt except you plan for a little extra binding (maybe 1/2") on either end. After pinning and doing the first stitching, fold that extra over toward the quilt before flipping the folded edge of the binding over to secure with stitching. This encases the raw quilt edge in the binding neatly.

Some binding ideas for you to play with...

It's not a catastrophe to not have enough of one fabric for the binding. I have run into that on a couple of occasions and used a little ingenuity to work an alternative into the design.
The first is a quilt that I made for Grandmom and Grandpop for their 60th anniversary and is shown above. It is a signature quilt; I used the "signature block" area to write quotes about love and marriage. I also added a wedding photo (which I had printed on fabric) into the overall design. When I went to bind it, I was just a leeeetle short on the tan fabric. Since I had already planned the borders the way they are shown, I added the royal blue in the binding at the appropriate spot to highlight the design. It worked! And I suspect that if I hadn't mentioned anything, you would be none the wiser! :)
Another way to compensate for lack of enough binding fabric is to make a binding using multiple fabrics. I did this on a baby quilt that used five different colored fabrics for the background of the appliqued blocks. Since I had purchased the fabrics on a trip to Dallas, there wasn't a chance of me going back to the store to check for more, so I cut strips about 6 x 2 1/2". I sewed them together along the short edges, alternating colors, and made a long strip to use as the binding. It incorporated all the colors of the blocks and worked perfectly for a baby quilt!
I'll talk more about binding in another post, but it seems like this is enough for now!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Cut Above

OK, so I feel I need to talk about cutting implements...I would have told you to invest in a good pair of sewing shears, but your brother took care of that! His Christmas gift of a pair of Gingher (pronounced with 2 hard G's) shears was truly noteworthy! He obviously knows to get the best for his big sis! Good shears are worth their weight in gold when it comes to sewing, and certainly worth protecting. When you were growing up, I let you all know that NO ONE touched my sewing scissors. Ever! And so you should make sure anyone in your household respects your shears too. Use them only for cutting fabric (and pattern paper)...nothing else! You should have another pair of regular scissors around for paper and other things. I have known people who have pad-locked their fabrics shears together so no one else could use them, but I never had to resort to such tactics. I would keep them in a place away from the general office supplies.

I wouldn't recommend you ever sharpen them yourself. Fabric and quilting stores offer that service occasionally and truly the only time I have availed myself of that is after I tried to sharpen my shears myself! That should tell you something! One tip that I can give you is to tie a thin (1/4") and short ribbon around one handle loop of your scissors. That way when you go to a class or workshop or retreat you can identify yours right away. (Kinda like identifying luggage!)

Other implements of cutting include rotary cutters. I know you have had some experience with them. I can't emphasize enough how sharp they are. Do take care to keep your fingers...or anyone else's fingers or toes out of the way! Yes, I do mean toes...sometime I'll tell you about that one! :)

All for now...happy sewing!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Needle Me This! important topic when talking about using a sewing machine.

First tip, always use good needles that fit in your machine. I recommend Schmetz needles, a very reputable brand. I always stock up when the local fabric store has a sale on notions because the worst thing to happen is to hit a pin while sewing late at night and find you have no spare needles!!

In fact, tip number 2 is if you EVER hit a pin with a needle, replace the needle immediately even if you can't see any damage. And if you ever run into problems with the stitching looping or not stitching right, it is best to totally re-thread the machine first and if that doesn't fix it (it usually does...) then replace the needle. Sometimes you can feel a burr you can't see, but sometimes not.

Needles come in various sizes and types. The size designations usually have 2 numbers, for example 80/12. The first is the American size, the second, the European size. I will refer only to the American designation. The larger the number, the larger the needle size and the heavier the fabric you will use it on. The most common sizes you will use are 70 and 80. 60 would be used for very light fabrics (batiste or handkerchief linen); denim would need a 90, 100, or 100 depending on how heavy it is. Also the most common needle type you will use is the "universal" needle. It can be used on wovens and knits. Other types include: "stretch" which is used on very stretchy knits like bathing suit lycra/spandex. It is designed specially to prevent skipped stitches. "Jersey" and "ballpoint" needles have a ball point like a pen and allow the needle to slip through knits without snagging or breaking the knit fibers. "Leather" needles are knife-like and allow you to sew heavier leather. If you sew on leather you must be very careful as there is no ripping out and re-sewing without damage to the leather. These needles actually make holes in the leather and will make holes in other fabrics if you forget to change needles. (I suspect you won't be sewing leather any time soon, but then I didn't anticipate a quilt for Christmas, so who knows!!) "Jeans" needles are for sewing jeans and have a special point to go through thick denim (or other fabric...I think I used a denim needle to fix the Hobie's sail and the plane's cover!) with minimal problems. "Topstitching" needles are for topstitching...the decorative stitching you find on the outside of seams on jeans, for example. The eye on this needle is bigger to handle heavy or multiple threads that you might use with topstitching. There is also a "Metallic" needle for using with decorative metallic thread. Despite its longer eye, I still have some problems with breakage or shredding of the thread. When metallic thread works, it's very fun to use though. And another fun one is a twin needle. This type has two needles attached to one shaft. With a twin needle you use two spools of thread and one bobbin. The bottom thread zigzags back and forth between the two top threads and the resulting stitch is slightly stretchy which makes it perfect for hems on knit tops and such. Your machine manual will probably show you how to thread the machine to use a twin needle; the top two threads run parallel courses through the tensioners and end up at their own needle. Check your manual for the how-tos. (This needle also allows you to do two lines of top stitching perfectly spaced apart. That really looks professional.)

Another thing to know about sewing machine needles is that there is a flat shaft on the back which make is easy to insert properly into the machine. (You probably knew this, but in the interest of completeness, I needed to mention that.) Also, if you ever have trouble threading the needle, place a white index card behind it. That will allow you to have a little contrast and be able to get the thread through. Because I sew on different projects from quilts to fixing clothes and other strange things, I often don't remember which size or type of needle I have left in the machine. My solution to this problem is to leave the needle case for that needle underneath the presser foot when I shut down. When I come back, then, I know exactly which one it is. And a good rule of thumb is to change the needle with every project, especially when the projects are as large as a quilt! If you are interested has a couple of interesting resource pages. One is Needles 101 and the other covers troubleshooting. And the final tip I will leave you with is to ALWAYS keep your machine clean. A can of air (can get at an office supply store) works wonders for cleaning the lint out of the bobbin area. If you are good at keeping that area clean, you will avoid many sewing problems and impress your repair shop when you take it in for the routine COA (clean, oil and adjust)!!

Happy sewing!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In the Beginning, Part 2

I have taken a few sewing classes in my lifetime: in junior high when I made an apron with pockets across the bottom made from border fabric with puppies on it. Then there was the summer after junior high when I took a class at a sewing store. I made a jumper (sleeveless dress meant to be worn with a blouse under it...I don't think they make them anymore) and blouse. I misunderstood what the instructor meant when she told me to "sew the facing" to the jumper. Since I had already sewn the facing to the jumper, she actually meant tack it so it didn't show. I was marked down by a friend's mother who judged our "fashion show" at the end of the class. I was sorely disappointed and aggrieved that I be marked down for doing just what the teacher I thought! The fashion show was also the first time I wore stockings. (Yeah, I am old enough to be part of the pre-panty hose generation. Sigh.) I also took Home Ec in high school and made a culottes, which is another obsolete term I realize, and matching vest. I have taken a couple of classes as an adult as well. It is always fun to get together with others who share your enthusiasm for sewing and to learn new techniques.

The one thread that ran through nearly every class was getting ready to start a project and preparation of materials. As far as prepping materials, universally I was told to treat the fabrics as I would treat them in the finished product before cutting the pattern. So, if I am making a quilt or garment that will be washed and dried in the dryer, I wash and dry the fabric first. That makes sure that any shrinkage happens before the the pieces are cut out. Three reasons for this: First is that it would be disastrous to find out that the garment you so meticulously made now doesn't fit after it was worn only once and then washed!! Second is that with a project that requires several different fabrics (quilt, for example) it is entirely possible that the fabrics may shrink at different rates which may cause some areas to pucker and others not. And third, is that some dyes will "bleed" and you want that to happen before you sew the navy piece next to that pure white piece!! (Colors that bleed are usually darker, green, navy and black.) There are exceptions to the pre-treat rule. If the project is one that will not be cleaned...a wall hanging, say, you can keep the crispness of the newly purchased fabric and be alright. Having said that, not washing the sizing and other chemicals out may cause you problems with adhesives like Wonder Under if you use it for applique.

A few tips for washing fabrics: For larger pieces you can zigzag along the cut edge to stabilize it so it won't unravel. A pair of pinking shears used on the edge will also help if you don't want to sew all the edges. For smaller pieces and, in particular strips and fat quarters, a mesh bag works wonders for keeping the fabric from both unraveling and tying itself into knots. :)

And, if you should ever venture into couture sewing and use specialty fabrics like velvet, for example, you might want to consider dry cleaning the fabric before proceeding. (Actually, it's always good to check the care label on the bolt...) Do you remember when I couldn't find an appropriate formal dress for a NATO function when we lived overseas? I took a deep breath, bought a length of velvet at an exorbitant price, hand-stitched lace to make the lace bodice and took it all to the cleaner to pre-treat it before diving in. It was the biggest (read: most expensive) garment project I have done and I was really nervous, but it turned out pretty nicely, if I must say so.

As an aside...Measure twice and cut once!! Someone told me to remind you of that maxim and it seems to fit here! You certainly don't want to make a mistake that you have to re-do, especially on expensive or hard-to-replace fabric! Enough for now...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the Beginning....

My 20-something daughter is the new owner of my former sewing machine. She apparently has gone bonkers over sewing and made me a wonderful "I love you" quilt for Christmas (among many other projects.) Since she lives on the East Coast and I hang my hat in Texas it's really hard for me to relay, long distance, the information I have learned over the years. I thought I would start a journal of sorts for her to read to address questions as they come up and offer hints and tips as I think of them. So, with this first entry, I would like to pay tribute to MaMa, my kindred sewing spirit of the family I married into many years ago! She understood and shared our passion and enjoyment of sewing! We will always be grateful for her presence in our lives.