Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saving Time so you can sew more!

Zigzag 9-patch
made in an afternoon workshop
     I have been sewing strips to make checked blocks and want to share a technique I learned at a workshop I took years ago at the Quilter's Gathering. I took a 9-patch class from Marianne Fons (of Fons and Porter). I really didn't need to learn how to make a 9-patch, I just wanted to take her class. This workshop turned out to be the one class I ever took that I got the most out of!  After learning this technique I put together my 9 patches with a couple hours to spare (I sew kind of fast) so I went downstairs to the vender mall, bought fabric for the border and zig-zags and came back and did the whole top. (She said I was the only person to actually do that in her class).
Not only did I learn this technique but went away with a great handout of different settings which I have used and shared with every class I taught. So thank you, Marianne!
Line the strip set up with
cutting board lines
Place 2nd strip down from 1st strip
about 1/2" down

Lay out all strips until you have
no more room

Line up ruler w/ vertical lines, then
cut the bruised edges off

Cut through all layers (the same
measurement as width of strips)

The great time saving technique is especially great for 9-patches. You start by sewing the strips in groups of 3--2 sets of  dark/light/dark and 1 set of light/dark/light. (It is important when sewing strip sets together that you sew top to bottom, then bottom to top, then top to bottom, etc. or else your strip set will stretch and curve and you don't want that.) Press the seams toward the darks. Let's go with 2" strips for the sake of this exercise. After the strips are pressed, line up one piece on your cutting mat using the  lines on the mat as a straight line. Take the next strip set and stagger it about 1/2" down from the first, making sure that you are far enough down that the seams aren't on top of each other. Keep laying down as many strips as you can fit on the board, keeping the strips straight using the lines on the mat. You will then cut 2" pieces all along the whole thing. This works so well for several reasons--You can cut a lot of strips in 1 cut, and because the strips are all stuck together and lined up with the lines on the mat they do not slip and you get nice straight cuts, and you are never cutting through more than 4-6 layers of fabric at a time. Try it and you will wonder why you spent so much time  sub cutting before!
Continue cutting to the end of  pieces

You will now have a pile of units which can be quickly sewn together to make 4-patches, 9-patches, 16-patches--whatever you are working on. (Right now I am doing black/white 16-patches).
(I apologize for the confusing pictures. I am working with black and white and actually thought it would make a good demo, but you can't tell where one piece starts and the next begins! I placed them on the board alternating black and white so in the final layout there are 6 strip sets. Hope you can figure this out)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Charity Begins at Home

       Goodness, I haven't posted in over a week but that doesn't mean I haven't been in the sewing room. I have gone in and started sewing and it is so hot I had to quit when the first drop of sweat ran down my back! I got the funky border finished and on the 9-patch  novelty quilt, made some more X marks the spot blocks, and did some other puttering around.
        I also did some research into the Downy Quilts for Kids program to see what their requirements are for quilts to donate. Check it out Basically they have to be around 38 x 45", all cotton, and machine quilted. Darn it but the one I just finished is too big for this but I will put it aside for another donation. I have a mission to make as many quilts as I can to donate and use up all these fabrics! You would think with this mission in mind I wouldn't buy any more fabrics but sometimes I just HAVE to go into the fabric store and pick up something new! (It kills me because I live within a couple blocks of 2 fabric stores and drive past every day!). Right now I am really low on black and whites and have no yellows or oranges to speak of and you really need brights for kids quilts so that is how I justify dropping a few bucks in there.
        Quilts for Kids really needs quilts for teenage boys right now and that is a hard one. I was thinking about it and got inspired when I turned on the TV today and caught the start of the Indy 500. I have never watched a Nascar race and had never seen the beginning. When they showed the pace car and the pack all lined up in groups of 3 I thought it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in sports! It got me thinking about the checkered flag and cars. So today I started making black and white checked blocks and I will probably go nuts making tops with checked blocks and borders. I have several ideas but I do need more "guy" fabrics. I have a couple with cars and sports. So if anyone would like to donate to the cause with their scraps of "guy" fabrics I would love to take them. Just leave me a message here or on Facebook or send me an e.mail and we will work something out. Meanwhile I am going to keep sewing black and white strips together!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Novelty Prints-Love 'Em!

      I decided I had to step away from the Wacky nightmare quilt and assembling the tops I had arranged on the wall and do something totally different for a day or so. So I reached into the UFO box and pulled out a ziploc bag of 5"  9-patch blocks of solids. Hmmm 5"--isn't that the same size as those novelty squares I got a while back in that trade? YES! So I alternated them and will have a nice child's quilt for charity. 
      Made me think of all the quilts I have made with my huge collection of novelty fabrics. About once a year I go into the box and cut 6 1/2", 5" and any other size I think I might use out of each fabric. I love novelty prints but last time I went into the box I realized how tired I am of my fabrics so I found a place that does organized fabric swaps (it was a site called Fabric Stash Club and they seem to have shut down). I think I sent 50 5" squares and I got back 50 totally different pieces. I think I will share some of my different novelty quilts to show ways to use various sizes of squares. You will also see my extensive use of strippys.

Novelty Attic Windows-6" sq.

I Spy-3" squares w/ 6" squares
 cut in half in the border

Double 9-patch w/ 3" squares
(6" sq cut in fourths)
6" sq w/ star sashing (this
sashing takes LOTS of fabric
6" sq with strippy sashing

5" squares w/ solid attic windows
6" sq w/ strippy sashing
& 4" squares in border

6" sq cut diagonally &
pieced w/ solid strippys

6" wide pieces w/ white/black
fabrics sashing

5" sq w/ bright attic window

4" sq w/ zig zag sashing (took LOTS
of red!)

Braided novelty-started
w/ 6" sq cut in half

Pinwheels made from same pieces
as braided novelty

Star sashing w 6" squares

6" sq with star sashing

6" sq with strippy sashing

Border is 6" sq cut in half

Star sashing w/6" sq

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do as I Say, Not as I do--Plan Ahead!

The first Wacky One
3rd Wacky-Rochelle's
2nd Wacky One
Well--I thought I was making great progress on the Wacky Log Cabin until I put it up on the wall and realized I messed up BIG. I had put aside 4 blocks with no last row so I could make them the way I needed them but when I did my little clean-up the other day I put them in the sewing pile and sewed on them all! I have been ripping out for 2 days and nothing is going together still! You would think after making 3 of these already I would have remembered what I learned the first 3 times! I think I must have been a better planner the first 3 times. I am hating this project now and this one will definitely go in the charity pile!
       On the positive side-the X Marks the Spot is on the wall and I am checking it carefully for any "galloping horses". I love to do things with lots of fabrics but I do get a bit fussy when I arrange the blocks--no matching fabrics touching each other, and if there are any fabrics that jump out (in this case, yellow, orange, lime green, and hot pink) they must be evenly balanced throughout the quilt so your eye does not stop in one spot but moves on easily. As I made each block, I tried to include a bit of each of those colors in the block so they would be easier to arrange. Hopefully I can get them together today and since the design wall is exposed I might as well arrange the floral log cabin too. I'm about to the point where I have to do borders and layer and start quilting--not my favorite things to do. This is when I wish for a quilting clone who likes to do those things!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Be Safe, Quilters

       I'm making progress! I finished making the X Marks the Spot blocks and actually cleaned up the floor of the sewing room. The room looks spacious (not really, but comparatively!). I am still sewing strippy pieces for the wacky log cabin (thought I had enough--Wrong!) but I may have enough now.  When I went to the cutting table to trim and square I couldn't find the rotary cutter anywhere. Not only was the fabric cutter missing, but the paper one also. OOOOH Mystery!!!! I would have asked Emma if she had seen them but #1 she has been in bed sick for 2 days and #2 she is scared to death of the things. I knew they weren't on the floor-it was clean. The cutting table was neat and organized and that left the sewing table which wasn't all that bad either with all the strips and pieces neatly organized in their boxes. I could even easily find the TV remotes which is always a challenge. Then I picked up the sewn pieces to move to the ironing board and there they were. Why? I don't know. But while I was finally trimming I decided it was a good time to write about rotary cutter safety.
        Now the obvious issue with a rotary cutter is the danger of cutting yourself so I always have a couple rules: #1-- always have a sharp blade. The harder you have to press to cut, the more likely you are to hurt yourself. #2--No bare feet in the sewing room. No matter which cutter you have, if you drop it on the floor, it can open a little and if it lands on your foot you're in trouble. My friend Cheryl used to have a fabric shop and she had this happen to someone so she had to make the "no sandals" rule there. #3--ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS  close the cutter before you lay it down. So obvious but apparently the hardest thing to learn!
        Now the less obvious danger with the rotary cutter is actually one that can be the MOST dangerous--the way you hold and use the cutter.  Ergonomics (properly fitting the body to the tool and the job) is so important. The least stressful position of the body is a neutral position. For the hand and arm, neutral is your arm hanging limp at your side while standing. Well, that is not practical so the next best thing is a natural bend at the elbow-90 degrees up in front of you. Probably not too practical either but we're getting there. In this position look at your hand--it should be pointing straight ahead, thumb up. Now put the cutter in your hand in this position, placing your index finger on the top of the cutter. Your arm should be a straight line from fingertip to elbow. This is the best and safest position for holding the cutter.
       Now for cutting. Table height is important. Standing is better than sitting unless you can position yourself higher than the table. With your index finger on top of the blade, your wrist straight and in neutral, cut straight forward away from your body. Turn the fabric, not your shoulder or your wrist. It makes me CRAZY to see people cutting across in front of themselves, holding the cutter with the wrist bent and not supported by the finger. How many quilters do you know who have had carpal tunnel or rotator cuff problems? Too many! These things can be prevented by proper ergonomics! And also--take frequent breaks because the final issue of ergonomics is repetitive stress injury--if your arm, elbow, shoulder, wrist or hand hurt they are telling you something--take a break!!!
      So, please, friends, be careful out there. Reteach yourself to cut if you have to, but be safe!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Threads-We take them for granted

       I was sewing the other day and finished up the 1200 yd spool of gray thread that I would swear I just bought. I switched to beige and finished off that spool and fortunately had another one in reserve. We tend to just sew and sew and not think about the thread we're using, but it is important. Without the thread nothing would hold together. With the wrong thread, something could be ruined. With the perfect decorative thread, you can create art. When the thread runs out your day could be ruined. Old thread is weak and can break and new thread is so expensive that it is an investment.
     I took a class in using decorative threads and learned a valuable lesson which is to "match the thread to the fabric". Cotton thread is weaker than poly/cotton, which is weaker than polyester, which is weaker than nylon.  If you sew with a thread weaker than the fabric, the thread can break (hence the classic ripped crotch problem). If the thread is stronger, the fabric will rip before the thread breaks and you have a hole you probably can't fix.  If the thread and fabric match, everything will wear evenly. I have a perfect example of the wrong match of thread and fabric. One of my purchased comforters is quilted with nylon thread which is not only strong, but sharp. The fabric is tearing and separating all around the quilting and there is nothing I can do. Another purchased comforter is a poly/cotton blend and must have been quilted with cotton because the stitching has popped all over the quilt.
     And since I mentioned nylon thread-I do not recommend it for any quilt that will be actually used by humans! Fine and dandy for wall hangings but just not good for lap or bed quilts and especially not for baby quilts. The reason is that the thread is very strong and feels sharp where it is cut. Also if you miss a loop somewhere it is very dangerous to a little toe or finger that might get caught in it-very scary! Unfortunately I learned this the hard way. My favorite thread for machine quilting is a very fine basting thread, which I am having trouble finding any more. It is just the right strength but fine enough not to be too visible. Every now and then I do a search, but haven't replenished my supply.
     I really love the variegated threads for machine quilting--expensive but beautiful. I am so glad that they are now available in big spools and I am very thankful for those regular JoAnn Fabrics coupons!
     So, check out your threads and make good choices because we want all of our hard work to outlast us!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cut, Sew, Press, Cut, Sew, Press-That's all quilting is!

Random thoughts:
Full trash can! Yay!
      I was inspired by my list of projects in the last blog so I finished piecing the Barn Raising top and now it needs borders. The floral log cabin blocks are squared up, most of the wacky log cabins are done and ready to be put together and I am up to 42 out of 48 X Marks the Spot blocks. Sewing room is still a mess but the end of that mess is in sight. I know it is stupid but I am happy to see a trash can full of fabric scraps!
    I really am making an effort to get the stash down. I keep saying I want to "get it down a tote" but now matter how much I cut and sew,                  the same totes are still full!
Tim's Blue,Green,
Purple #1
                 A few years ago I did a quilt of blues, greens, and purples. I cut a 2" and 3 1/2" strip off each piece of fabric and this is the quilt I made for my nephew. The level of fabric didn't go down, I had a box full of pieces left over, and years later I have made 3 more quilts without cutting another strip! These are the other incarnations of the blue, green, purples, and there is still a ziploc bag full of squares.
                Recently a friend asked me how I could sew all those little pieces together. I told her there are very few little pieces, that quilting is a lot of CUT,SEW,PRESS,CUT,SEW,PRESS until you are done. Piece of cake!
                 Today while I was pressing I realized I left something off my list of "Things I Can't Live Without"--Magic Sizing! I use a LOT of different fabrics of different weights and using the sizing stabilizes everything and keeps bias edges from stretching. Best discovery in recent years!
A Mouse in a Maze
Criss Cross 
Diagonal set