Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Simple Gifts

This week, I was working on blocks that had aqua gifts with red bows on a green background.

I have been moving right along on these green background blocks, settled in a rhythm. I now know how to align the seams and where to trim the top bow section to have it meet the gift part how I like it.

I was also thinking about the name for this quilt. I thought of naming it Quilt of Many Gifts, patterned after the musical Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. This name was too long and seemed too pretentious. I kept mulling over synonymous words in my mind – presents... boxes... packages... gifts. Gifts was the shortest and the simplest. Then it hit me. Simple Gifts!

Simple Gifts fits. The wonky cut of the blocks seem to have a childlike quality to it. The wrapped presents are plainly shaped boxes. The colors seem bright and pure. The name really suits the quilt and just feels right. This quilt now has found its name. Simple Gifts!

Once I decided on that name, I could not get that catchy, child-like, sing-song-y tune out of my head as I was sewing.

I have completed the ten green background blocks. Here are eight of them.

Next I will move on to the final batch of ten, the blocks with a red background, green presents and aqua bows. I want to complete all thirty blocks before trimming so I will know which is the smallest size I need to accommodate. I am linking up to Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday for this week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thrice as Nice to Slice & Splice

This week I made progress on my quilt made up of thirty blocks of wonky wrapped presents. I cut out the fabric and sewed up ten of the blocks. In my previous post, I was finalizing my fabric selections within the three colorways. I kept the solid aqua that looked like a grey and paired it with the green village print since I noticed there were some gray houses and accents in the print. I substituted out the lizard-y green and the cobweb-y aqua. My nicknames reveal how fond I was of each of them.

I traced my cutting template on to three sheets of freezer paper, one for each colorway, and place each on a stack of ten fabrics. I sliced in the prescribed sequence of just fourteen cuts per stack. I then swapped and traded the pattern pieces per the directions. Here are my three stacks of pattern pieces, each tidily gathered on my cutting mat or in a serving tray; ten red presents with green bows on an aqua background, ten aqua presents with red bows on a green background, and ten green presents with aqua bows on a red background. I decided to chain piece each stack together one at a time, starting with the stack of red presents.

The bottom two thirds of the block is the present section. Pieces A, B, C make up the wrapping paper and ribbon part and the surrounding pieces D, E, F, G, H, when spliced together, form the wonky background. I am one of those quilters who gets great satisfaction from points meeting accurately, so loosey-goosey is a challenge for me. I really needed to relax with this as much as I could since the edges of the pieces do not align at all. For example, that bottom piece F overhangs off to the right about 1.5". There is a reason for that. The present section, with the side borders, totals four quasi-vertical seams. With a ¼" seam allowance, this removes approximately 2" of the width. The bottom border has only one vertical seam totaling about ½", hence the overhang that is biased to the right. I will trim that excess off piece-F later. The center red wrapping paper and green ribbon section was also taller than the side borders, since the aqua borders lost some height in their seam allowances. The instruction told me to even off the upper edge of the bottom present section before proceeding to attach it to the top bow section.

I kept track of my pattern pieces as I went along, taping them back together as I finished a section to keep their orientation relative to each other fresh in my mind. Note that my Scotch tape dispenser is labeled for my sewing room as a deterrent to it being borrowed and left someplace else. It does help.

Next up was the left bow section, pieces I, J, K, L. When I pieced I, J, K together I tried to keep their edge opposite their sharp point pretty even with each other. When I added the large corner L section, I had to decide which way to bias it since it was longer by about a ½" due to the accumulated seam allowances on either side of the green bow piece-J.

I thought long and hard about this since I would be trimming either off the top of piece-L if I biased it downward or off the side of piece-L if I biased it upward, asking myself if there were an advantage of one direction over the other. Just like the Grinch, "I puzzled and puzzled 'till my puzzler was sore". I concluded it made no difference or, if so, the difference was too slight to worry about. I decided to slide it downward and line up the side of piece-L with the straight side of piece-I since that would be easier than with the pointed tip of piece-K.

After aligning piece-I with piece-K, I flipped it over and fed the more blunt end under the pressure foot first, chain-piecing ten left top bow sections. I knew the component parts were going to be different lengths, but it sure was hard to resist the temptation to stretch that bias. I could easily have done so and "made" those pieces fit! I did delay trimming off the extra fabric just yet. I still was not sure if it made a difference which way I slid piece-L when I attached it, so I hedged my bet.

Here is a completed left bow loop section. I pressed the seam allowance away from the bow loop so that I did not have to fight the bulk of two seams that would have been folded over on themselves. I would have preferred that the green bow loop be the raised portion for when I stitch in the ditch around it later, but bulk management made more sense in this case.

I then moved on to the right bow section, pieces M, N, O, lining up piece-M and piece-N on their less slanted side.

I used the pencil marks on the masking tape I have on my sewing machine table top to judge the ¼" seam allowance. The stitching line would fall at the notch when I start the seam but, at the finish, the piece-N will overhang so the ¼" point is hidden beneath.

I pressed the seam allowance toward the bow color and away from the background each time. When I stitch around the ribbon and bows in the quilting stage, I wanted them to be slightly raised from the background and present. I did trim off those overhanging sections on the right before adding on the background, the upper right corner of the entire block.

I added the background piece...

... and trimmed ever so little off the extended corner.

When joining left and right bow sections it does matter which end is aligned if the base of the right bow loop is to touch the top of the package. Here is an example of bow loops whose tips are not aligned with each other. Aligning the top and bottom of the left and bow sections may be intuitive, but it was not my preferred way to go.

And here is a sample of aligned bow loops. There really is quite a bit to trim off both the top and bottom of the joined bow loop sections. Yes, the block becomes shorter because I need to trim both top and bottom, but it is worth it to me.

If I had not added piece-L (the upper left corner) shifted upward as I had, I would not have had to remove fabric from its top. But piece-L would have needed to be trimmed from the left then, so it is six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other. I aligned nine bow sections like the sample on the right, with the tips of the two bow loops kissing each other. I will take out and re-do the sample on the left the same way.

I checked on the Sandy Gervais pattern photo, and the right bow loop does not touch the top of the package, but I prefer to slide it down so it does. I am guessing the pattern tester aligned the block edges rather than bow loop tips. A free floating bow may be a bit more whimsical, but I opted otherwise.

Here are my ten completed red gift blocks. My first impression is that the aqua background is a bit too mottled for my taste. That may just be my leaning because I am stretching my comfort zone. I tweaked and twiddled and managed the gift paper and ribbon color combos, but made a conscious decision to let the chips fall where they may for the background. Should I have kept the background all one color? I easily could have, by not reordering the pieces in the stacks. It would be a shame, however,  if I wimped out and chose fabrics so similar that the wonkiness did not shine through. Sigh. This is the point in every quilt where my self-doubt creeps in.

I am withholding final judgment until I've completed the blocks from the other colorways. I noted that when I'd performed the "squint your eyes test", the ten aquas had displayed the greatest variation of tone amongst themselves. The fabrics for the red background and the green background were more subtle. Also, when the blocks have been trimmed and joined, there will be more definition of each block, and my perception may change. Piecing is my favorite part of quilting. For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the novelty and challenges of this wonky method. I am joining the WIP linky party at this week's Freshly Pieced and will take a look at what others are enjoying.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Few of my Favorite Things

♬ Brown paper packages, tied up in string... These are a few of my favorite things. ♫ 
I just love that song lyric from the Sound of Music! 

And I just love the look of wrapped presents -  under a Christmas tree, in photo shoots of home decorating magazines, in commercials on television, in advertisements of newspapers, and in a quilt! There was a quilt of pretty wrapped packages that I wanted to make for this Christmas, but it did not happen in 2014. Nor did it happen in 2013, 2012, or 2011. That is why I am starting it now, post-Christmas – so I can snuggle under it in Christmas of 2015. Just over three years ago, I bought the kit from Quilter's Cupboard, a cute roadside shop about 200 miles south of me in Atascadero. Here is the shop.

(As an aside, my writeup about my visit to the shop is in my post for November 20, 2011. The visit occurred not too long after both my daughter and son had gotten married in 2011. Actually it was kind of a recovery-after-the-weddings trip. It was a chuckle to re-read my daughter's and daughter-in-law's comments about having kids in that post. Now one has a 27-month-old daughter and the other, a 9-month-old daughter.)

The shop had a display sample of a quilt where the blocks were wonky cut packages with bows. The quilt had been made up in reds, aquas, and light greens using Sandy Gervais' pattern #229 SHOPPING'S DONE! GIFTS WRAPPED! from her Pieces from my Heart collection. The pattern illustration presents darker tones of red, blue, and green but the fresh, light color palette of the store sample stole my heart. I bought the kit to make a similar quilt of my own.

The quilt requires thirty fat quarters. Here are the fat quarters that came in the shop-prepared kit that I bought. The technique is a stack and slice one where you make three stacks - one of ten reds, one of ten aquas, and one of ten greens - and slice along the pattern lines. Then you trade pieces among the stacks to form the gifts and the scrappy backgrounds.

There were just a few fat quarters from the kit that I did not like for this quilt. A hexagon-tiled green looked too much like lizard skin. A solid aqua read too much like a gray; but since there is a solid red and a solid green counterpart to it, I may leave it in for balance. A mottled batik-looking aqua looked cobwebby, seemed odd-man-out to my eye, and just did not appeal.

I have some fat quarter and half-yard pieces in my stash that I might sub in for the one green I did not like and for one or two of the less-favored aquas. I happened to have this green village fat quarter with aqua and red houses. For sure I will use it, not only because it includes all three colors, but also because cute Santa village houses trump lizards any day in my book. I also like those bright white kit tails better than mottled cob webs. Whether I keep in the subtle aqua solid or replace it with fluffy dandelion heads or bold polka dots is yet to be determined. I am thinking those dots, though small, may be too mighty and not grayed enough to fit in...

I read the pattern several times.  Then I laid out the fabrics and studied them next to each other. I do find being random difficult. I was willing to let loose with the backgrounds, but I did not want to leave the gift part of the block totally up to chance since it is dominant in the pattern design.  If I could manage it, I wanted to be sure that the fabric pairing for the paper and bow of a gift had good contrast, both in print and color saturation. Hopefully, if I understood the trading sequence of the cut pieces from the instructions, I could order the fabrics in each color stack such that I could control those paper and bow fabric pairings. I've laid out ten columns representing, from left to right, the fabric order in each color stack. Each column lets me preview which fabrics will fall side-by side in the gift. Red packages will have green bows, green packages will have aqua bows, and aqua packages will have red bows. Since each column represents a fabric combination for a gift, I tried to combine three fabrics that I felt would rotate well amongst themselves.

I am pretty convinced on the fabric combos for the first six columns from left to right. I like all the reds just as they are! Two of the dotted reds, in the second and tenth columns, have yellow and pink dots that are very subtle. The only print that was obviously multi-colored was the green one with ornaments in the last column. I wanted to incorporate at least one other strongly multi-colored print so that green ornament one did not look like a mistake. The green villages and aqua kite tails could do the trick. The seventh, eighth, and ninth columns from the left, which have four fabrics each, are yet unconfirmed. Whatever I decide, I will stick with it throughout the assembly. Once I slice and dice it would be too confusing to substitute in any alternate fabric choice. The pattern shapes as very wonky as shown in this closeup of four blocks.

I think I spent a over four hours meditatively playing with the yardages and reading the pattern. This does not count the time I invested recording my thoughts and decision process in this post. Noting the details and colors in each of the prints is mesmerizing and it is intriguing how they can interact with each other. I like this part of quilting. I can get lost in the zone. My next step is to methodically iron each fat quarter wrinkle free, stack and lovingly smooth them into three piles in the correct sequence, and prepare my freezer paper pattern template. I will put a fresh blade in my rotary cutter and, first thing when I am fresh and rested, I will slice away! For now, am linking up to this week's Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday.

So... back to what are my favorite things?
 ♬  ♫ ♩
Quilt shops and colors, quilts and granddaughters,
Wrapped gifts and patterns, fabric and blogging,
Time to indulge and to play with these things...

♬ ... These are my gifts of 2015. ♫

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Learned a Lot from a Little

This week I finished my December Day Table Topper that I'd started in my previous post. Although it was small, only 26½" square, I learned a lot from it. An old kit, my main reason for its construction was to gain quilting skill on my new HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen. I have named her Heidi for short and she is nestled right next to my Pfaff in my sewing room. I got her just before the holidays and have just now found the time and mustered up the courage to get to know her better. Up to now, all I had done with her had been some free form meandering and loops. These were on my Mitten Graphic Novel in November.

This tree table topper was a fairly traditional pattern and I used a ¼" thick specialty ruler to help with straight line stitching and stitch in the ditch work. My husband, watching me with the ruler, asked if using it slowed me down. I think the ruler is actually helpful. I could move faster with it because the placement of the ruler helps control my ability to stay in the ditch, so squiggling and jumping out occur less frequently. Even on the straight-aways, the markings on the the ruler help me keep the lines equally spaced and parallel. And I suspect I will get speedier as my comfort level increases.

The VersaTool Ruler, which is indeed a very well-designed handy gadget, is just the right size for the palm of my hand. Although I am right handed, I experimenting holding it with my right hand or with my left hand and found I could do either equally well regardless of not being ambidextrous. The ruler stays put relative to the fabric and moves along with it and, since both hands are guiding the fabric, which one holds the ruler is inconsequential. What mattered more to me than which hand I used, was which way the seam allowance for the "ditch" had been pressed. I opted for the most comfortable ruler position to always stitch on the "low" side of the seam, through fewer layers of fabric.

The corner of the VersaTool was great for the inner most square and the tips of the trees – the etched guidelines helped in placement of the quilt lines. As luck would have it, I ran out of bobbin thread with less than 2" of stitching left on that last dark green tree. Rather than fuss with winding a large M-class bobbin for Heidi, I finished that last stretch on my Pfaff with feed dogs engaged, eyeballing it without using a ruler.

My son and daughter-in-law gave me a circular ruler set for Christmas and I was going to try it out as a scalloped border but I changed my mind. I have just the perfect quilt top awaiting sandwiching and quilting where I will try my skill with these circular templates. I decided to keep the straight line theme going throughout in this little quilt. It would better compliment the piano key border, and I wanted to practice my newly learned straight line skill to solidify it a bit more.

I used my Pfaff for the quilt label on grosgrain ribbon. Fortunately I'd remembered to switch out the pressure foot to one that has a slightly recessed central region, so the raised embroidered lettering can pass under freely as it is stitched. Even so, after a few broken threads and aborted attempts, I had to place a piece of paper between the ribbon and the feed dogs; then the initials and year came off without a hitch. The ribbon was wide enough. I just think maybe the ribbed surface of the grosgrain ribbon hindered the feed dogs in gripping consistently. I sewed the label on at the outer edges before attaching the binding so the diagonally cut raw edges were enclosed.

The pattern called for  ¼" binding and I usually use  ⅜". I was about to stick with my norm but then told myself that this was a learning quilt so I should break out of my rut. The  ¼" binding is less forgiving and, at a few points, I'd sewn it too far in from the edge to reach around and cover the stitching line at the back. So I trimmed just a smidgeon off the perimeter of the quilt. Well, a smidgeon out of a ¼" is much more noticeable than a smidgeon out of  ⅜" and that smidgeon was a bit too much in a couple places. The binding had to wrap a bit more than I wanted in a few spots and I will even confess to stuffing a long sliver of batting along part of one edge to fill in the volume of what I'd trimmed away.

Overall though, I like the slim appearance of the binding. Being thin it is not dominant and does not distract from the piano key border. I will do a ¼" binding again. I was glad I'd given it a chance. Here is the front of the finished quilt.

Here is the back of the quilt. I generally prefer a back of all one fabric but I made this one from remaining fabric in a scrap usage effort.

But I still have scraps. Just look at them all! That is a 24" x 36" cutting mat. Sigh...

"Decide and implement a method for scrap management, storage, and usage."
That is one of my 2015 goals. I was trying to take an initial step in that direction by not generating more scraps. So far, not so good, when a  26½" x 26½" little quilt generates almost  ⅔ yard of scraps. Sigh...

Oh, well. At least my first quilt project of 2015 is complete and I can check completion of one quilt kit off my list. It is a small start but a lesson filled one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

December Day Tree Table Topper

Starting off the New Year, I focused on two of my 2015 goals - reduce my number of kits and get some FMQ skills under my belt on my new HQ Sweet Sixteen longarm. I tackled a small kit first since the holidays and traveling leave me tuckered out. Ironically, this small kit did not even make it into my list of kits to work on, but sometimes I find if I work on Christmas stuff right after Christmas then I have it ready for the next yuletide season, plus I have a handmade item to gift if I need to.
This kit is a small 26½" square table topper of an RJR fabric line called Thimbleberries December Day with a pattern by Debbie Beaves. Here are the prints in the typical muted golds, greens, and reds characteristic of Thimbleberries.

The kit is a medallion style pattern and here is the central tree section. Each tree block measures 6" square finished.

When making the tops of the trees I used the pieces cut off from the corners of those four flying geese blocks to sew up into eight HSTs. This is not helping my other 2015 goal of scrap management. The corner pieces cut off from the lower boughs could have been made into HSTs also but at 1¼" on a side before seam allowance this was too small a scrap even for a miser like me. I tossed those small ones. Yay, scrap management!

I sewed the eight HST's into two pinwheels. One of the HSTs I goofed and trimmed twice on the same two sides so one of the pinwheels is less than perfect in the center and outer corner. I was about to cut into the remaining fabric to make a better one and (sanely) stopped myself. These are scraps for gosh sake!

Here is the 26½" square topper ready for quilting and binding. I have a thing for piano key borders. As an effort toward scrap management I am thinking of piecing the back from leftovers. (Good thing I did not use up fabric some to remake that pinwheel.) I have not yet decided a quilting pattern but, since the topper is square, I am considering one big spiral that will read sort of like concentric circles. It is a modern type pattern on a classic type quilt so I think the juxtaposition may be unexpected but work anyway. I may stop the spiral short of the pieced border though and do that in lines that parallel the seaming to accent the piano key aspect. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions. I will sleep on it.

This kit dates back to the era when I had an ongoing love affair with Thimbleberries patterns and their trademark color palette. I lusted over the large Thimbleberries Hometown Christmas Kit but discovered it after kit stock had been sold out in most stores. I did manage to buy the four volumes of the 2004 copyrighted pattern book for the quilt, intending to gather the fabrics or close resemblances to them myself. My husband, a googling whiz, found the kit for me on e-bay in a quilt shop several states away and bought it for me as a surprise. Here is the quilt I made. It placed third in our county fair.

I chose not to add the appliqued seasonal holly leaves and berries along the gold pieced border and hence I leave it on the guest room bed year round. It was a blast to do, with the excellent piecing directions and every block different. I may just make another in a brighter colorway. I have two copies of that set of four pattern books since another set of four came with the kit my husband purchased for me. I am lucky I have a daughter who also quilts.

The last time I posted my projects list was December 3, 2014.  Here are my stats since then. I figure giving my stats once a month is frequent enough.

Completed projects since December 3, 2014 (5):
    1. Baby Surprise Jacket  (December 8, 2014 post)
    2. Knitted Christmas Stocking for Autumn (December 10, 2014 post)
    3. Knitted Christmas Stocking for Vivian (December 17, 2014 post)
    4. Baby Sign Book  (December 26, 2014 post)
    5. Rope window seat cushions (January 6, 2015 post)
    Ongoing projects (4):
    1. December Table Topper (today, January 7, 2015 post)
    2. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
    3. Overlapping square wall hanging - paired with thread, awaiting FMQ
    4. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - packed away... again ... may abandon 
    New projects since December 3, 2014 (3):
    1. Knitted Christmas Stocking for Vivian
    2. Baby Sign Book
    3. December Table Topper
    I am hooking up to today's Freshly Pieced post for WIP Wednesday.