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!!