Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sandwich Making & Some Nibbles

This week I intended to make quilt sandwiches.

Today I seamed the backing for Simple Gifts. The backing fabric was originally purchased to be two lengths running sideways across the quilt back. I just noticed the backing fabric has a direction. Since I want the written lyrics to the Christmas carols to read horizontally, seaming the backing became a bit more complicated.

I did not have enough length of fabric to run twice the height of the quilt. I needed to finesse this backing to have one lengthwise section with a second horizontally seamed lengthwise section joined next to it. I also want the print to match along the seam lines. Alas, the sandwich process on Simple Gifts has been slowed down by ... the need to think! Here is my PowerPoint diagram to help me figure out how to do this. I was hopeful that I could match the one long vertical and one short horizontal seam if I was careful where I cut the pieces. The pattern has an approximate 12" vertical repeat.

After several hours of measuring many, many, more times than twice, and finally cutting only once, I convinced myself that it was not possible to match all the seams to my desired level of accuracy. I did eventually come up with a pieced backing I am content with.

One part of the pieced section needed to come from near the left selvage and the other part from near the right selvage. What I had not recognized was that the fabric had been printed with a bit of upward drift to the design so it was not possible to match that horizontal seam along its whole length unless I cut the fabric at an angle, sort of on a slope. Then I would be totally out of luck for the vertical seam. Here is my compromise seamed backing. Overall the spacing and flow of the dominant red reindeer appear uninterrupted.

The horizontal seam is pretty good at the corner near the vertical seam. It diverges from a good match toward the outer edge. I have cut the batting and need to put them all together. I am resolved to be wiser in the future in my choice of backing fabrics. This was a real time sink for not much gain. I did not accomplish the sandwiching today but I am in a good position to do it tomorrow or the next day.

While I was at the sandwich stage of Simple Gifts I intended to resurrect my Classic Cars top and make the backing, batting, and top quilt sandwich for it at the same time. I'd started Classic Cars a couple of years ago from these fabrics and a black background fireman novelty print.

The top has been sitting around with its already pieced backing since my post on it August 3, 2013. Re-reading that post reminded me I also had plans for a matching pillowcase. Maybe I will do that tonight so I feel I have some accomplishments. The upstairs hallway outside my sewing room, both sides of it, attests to the fact that I am in quilt sandwich mode but do not have much to show for it.

Earlier this week I nibbled away on some smaller sewing exercises.

I played a bit more using striped fabric and a flying geese components assembly technique from my Lynn Wilder Patchwork Math Workshop. I thought long and hard and now understand just how to orient the fabric to make sets of four geese at once and have stripes go the way I want them to. I captured my conclusions in PowerPoint again. Hmmm, seems like I played on my computer this week as much as in my sewing room.

Here are those four-component sets of flying geese arranged as stars. I got the striping as I intended and not just by luck! I can now make an all one direction striped star (left), a radial striped star (middle), and a perimeter striped star (right), at will by orienting the corner squares appropriately. Of course, I could do this by making one flying goose at a time instead of the speed method of making four at once... but that's no fun!

I hemmed a dress I wore to a Great Gatsby themed dinner dance on Friday night. I procrastinated until two hours before leaving to do this – guess I did not learn much from my May 20, 2013 post on how not to hem a dress. This long black dress had two layers to hem, an outer shear slippery one with glitter and an inner knit slippery one. I least I did not make a scarf as well, this time. I wore a fluffy feather boa instead.

This week I also added my son's name to his pants to identify them. I love this feature on my Pfaff. The only trick is to remember to use the foot with the central raised channel so the letters can pass through unconstrained as they are embroidered. I put his name on the front pocket, the rear pocket and the bottom of one pant leg.

The last time I posted my projects list was January 7, 2015.  Here are my stats since then. I figure giving my stats once a week is too often to show progress. After a minimal progress week though, I needed to see that I was getting somewhere.

Completed projects since January 7, 2015:
    1. December Table Topper (January 13, 2015 post)
    2. Blogged about Patchwork Math Workshop (February 6, 2015 post)
    3. Blogged about and put away purchases from San Mateo show (February 21, 2015 post)
    4. Name on Alex's pants (February 25, 2015 post)
    5. Hemmed black dress (February 25, 2014 post)
    Ongoing projects:
    1. Simple Gifts quilt - pieced backing, ready to sandwich
    2. Making patchwork math components from Moda's Jovial fabric, designer BasicGrey
    3. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - resurrected to sandwich, quilt, and bind
    4. Overlapping square wall hanging - paired with thread, awaiting FMQ
    5. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - packed away... again ... may abandon
    New projects since January 7, 2015:
    1. Simple Gifts quilt started
    2. Patchwork Math Workshop (1/31/15)
    3. Name on Alex's pants (2/15/15)
    4. Attended San Mateo Quilt, Craft, and Sewing Festival (2/19/15)
    5. Hemmed black dress (2/20/15)
    I am hooking up to today's Freshly Pieced post for WIP Wednesday.

    Saturday, February 21, 2015

    Tooling Around the San Mateo Show

    One day this week my husband and I went to the Quilt, Craft, and Sewing Festival in San Mateo, CA about an hour's drive from our home. We were going for more of an outing, certainly to browse, but with my goals being to see if there were some good show prices on a new Rowenta iron and some Bloc_Loc rulers. Since I am up to my ears in kits and fabrics, I told my husband, "No more kits! This is more of a tools-of-the-trade trip." As soon as we entered the pavilion, I pointed out a pre-packaged kit displayed on a wall rack and emphasized that I needed an intervention to discourage me from buying any more of these type things, please.

    A few random fabric impulse were allowed though, of course, as shown in the next photo. The central Christmas print just called to me in a Norwegian/Swedish kind of way. My husband is a stamp collector and loves adirondack chairs, so I bought those fabrics on the left and right partly to please him. Since we are redecorating our master bedroom with a beach theme, I can sneak that chair print in somewhere. I have just a yard of each so I may make pillowcases.

    I think my mood at this show was best described as a yearning for "the softer side of life". I have nothing against cheery and LOUD, but sometimes I appreciate happy and soft. These far-from-crisp animal prints appealed to me. Yes, I know. This is a cloth book and I swore I would stop stocking those for a while. But the images were so soft and alluring and cuddly.

    The next photo made me think of "misty watercolored memories". Can't you just hear Barbra Streisand singing The Way We Were right now? These painted creatures were a pleasant change from all the jolting modern highly graphic fabric that has been around lately as part of the modern quilt movement.

    This next animal panel was definitely an impulse purchase, but doesn't this leaping sheep just make you smile? He is really big! That is a full ~42" width of fabric in the photo.

    It is ironic. I avoid buying kits but in a way, a novelty print that needs to be a focus, becomes in itself another project. At least I get to play with my stash to find fabrics to go with that novelty print or panel. Unless I make pillowcases... dozens of them.

    Books and Patterns:
    To compensate for buying these panels (I am now coughing lightly to hide my chagrin) I bought this great book, called Panel Play. It is filled with inspiration for fabric panels. The back cover says. "I bought it. Now what do I do with it?" Sooo true! I was so excited with its clever and innovative contents, that I bought it at the show and did not wait to see if it was cheaper on Amazon. (It was not.)

    I also bought a pattern I had been eyeing at previous shows but had refrained from purchasing. I still like it, so I caved this time. After all, it was not fabric. I have googled it and seen it made up with a white rather than beige toned background and think I prefer it with the less brown background. But I think it would be cute in rosy pink, a medium blue, and soft cream for a baby's room, also. I really do not think I needed the pattern after learning to make components in quantities from my Patchwork Math Workshop, but somehow I feel guilty using someone's idea without compensating them in some way.

    We never saw any steam iron vendors at the show, Rowenta or other, and we could not find anyone selling Bloc_Loc rulers either; so I could not meet my main show goals.

    But, I did buy an ironing pad for travel and use in classes. Quite a while ago I'd bought a cover for my ironing board made from an Owens-Corning Fiberglass yarn that is guaranteed never to burn. It never scorches and it reflects about 95% of the heat so pressing takes much less time since the item heats from both sides at once. I just love how durable it is and how it gives me crisply pressed seams. I have had mine for years and bought one for my daughter as well. I'm anticipating that the traveling pad of the same materials that I just bought will also give many years of use. If you cannot find the covers and traveling pads at a show, they can be ordered from

    I also bought this pattern and the inserts for The Beatle Bag from Abbey Lane Quilts. This does not count as a kit, does it? Not really. I thought it would be great for keeping a set of traveling tools for quilt classes. I liked that the four inserts, two zippered pockets each, have pre cut holes with sealed edges at the spine so you never have to sew through plastic. If it works up nicely, I will buy more inserts and make a second one for my daughter. Maybe eight pockets is a bit of overkill and I will make two bags out of one set of four inserts. The inserts are installed with Velcro so they are removable. I think the Abbey Lane Quilt blog may have more photos of these bags.

    All in all it was a fun day. My husband wore his traditional shirt for accompanying me to shows with this scene embroidered at the pocket. His shirt is getting a little frayed around the neck. I guess he uses it a lot. He takes great pride in his role of CEO - Carries Everything Out.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Simple Gifts - Coming Together

    I trimmed about one third of my blocks to 9" x 14½" before coming upon a block that I had mis-measured and was smaller than the rest. I continued trimming the rest to  8¾" x 14¼" and went back and skimmed the excess off the first eight. Fortunately, I discovered no smaller blocks. For a while there I'd feared finding yet smaller and smaller blocks. I'd entertained visions of trimming and trimming and trimming those blocks until there was no crazy quilt type background left. My fears were unfounded. Sufficient background noise surrounded the gifts to cause me to still fret a bit.

    Then I assembled five rows of six blocks each and joined them. I did not revisit my decision from the several days I spent positioning and re-positioning the blocks on my design wall. That process was carried out and documented in excruciating detail  in my previous post titled Gifts - Some Assembly Required. It is amazing how much eliminating those little strips of white  peeking through from the design wall and nipping in that seam allowance made the blocks more cohesive. Here are two rows from the assembled top. The gifts do show up a bit more more – not fantastic, but much better. I feel I have been lucky to have snatched a small victory from the jaws of defeat.

    One mildly annoying issue with this quilt was pressing the seam allowances. I would press a block and then at some point, when I checked the wrong side, some portions of the seams had flipped, even if both ends had been captured in another seam. More than likely it is the bias nature  of many of the seams in this pattern but it could have been my iron. I was using my backup Sunbeam iron. My trusty favorite Rowenta iron, with its shiny stainless steel sole plate with just the right point at the tip and just the right side edges, died after many years of faithful service. The Sunbeam has a black ceramic soleplate that does not glide as nicely as I like plus it has a ridge around about ¼" up the sides of the soleplate that could be catching. I missed the Rowenta sale in December because I was traveling at Christmas and can not bring my self to pay full price for a replacement. I may bite the bullet and buy it at full price. It may very well be worth it. I am a stickler for my seam direction and to have them shift in the middle is unacceptable to me.

    I bought the backing fabric at the time I bought the kit so no major delays there. It is one of the fabrics from Moda's BasicGrey Jovial line.  I chose the deer with the aqua toned background fabric 30262-14. The words printed across it are from Christmas carols such as Deck the Halls and Oh, Christmas Tree. It will be fun to curl up under the words "Fa-la-la-la-la." I must have really liked this source fabric line because, purely co-incidentally, it is the one I used for the Patchwork Math Workshop I took last month.

    I've decided my binding. Because of the playful mood of the quilt I felt the binding needed to be scrappy. But learning my lesson from the cacophonous gift blocks, I did not want the binding to vie too much for attention. I cut strips of the leftover fabrics, red only, omitting the strong graphics, and shooting for a mostly solid-colored, controlled, scrappy binding. Aqua scrappy was too disjointed and did not play well with the backing and a green scrappy had no punch. I generally wrap my binding around a 12" ruler so that just by counting folds I can be sure I have enough length to go around the quilt.

    Now I am at the point where I stall on all my quilts – sandwiching and quilting. But since I am pretty sure I want to echo quilt this around the gifts using a ruler technique on Heidi, my HQ-16, I do not think I will wallow in indecision too long. Unlike this little beaver below, my shopping is finished, and my quilting pattern is selected. I think. I hope it goes as planned. "Quilt as desired" can be such a scary phrase, fraught with many perils.

    Linking up now to this week's Freshly Pieced's WIP. I also thought this shopping image would represent a lot of the quilters at QuiltCon 2015 happening in Austin, Texas this week. I am not one of them so maybe I will forge ahead on quilting Simple Gifts.

    Sunday, February 15, 2015

    Gifts - Some Assembly Required

    OK, I admit it. I am not the type that can just randomly set up the blocks and sew them together. I need to arrange them and then, the insanity continues, as I have the need to provide myself a reason for repositioning blocks as I do. So here is my thought process and my visual sequence as I came up with the final assembly configuration for Simple Gifts. This post is not for the easily bored or for those who cannot identify with NQS, Neurotic Quilter Syndrome.

    One of my first methods to focus the eye more on the  gifts was to place the more graphic background fabrics toward the outer edges of the quilt so they would be less distracting. Note I placed the red-and-white-stripe fabric and the red-with-white-rings fabric around the outer edges of the quilt. This placed three of the ten red background blocks on left outer edge and three of the ten red background blocks on right outer edge. To balance the reds, I brought the remaining four red background blocks diagonally toward the center. I then checker-boarded the green and aqua backgrounds in the remaining spaces. I think it is interesting to note that thus far my decisions are made on the backgrounds and not on the gifts. And yet it is the gifts that I prefer to be the featured items. At this point, I am still sticking to my self-imposed rule that adjacent blocks should have different background fabrics.

    My husband looked at this arrangement, "Why don't you put all the red on first and last columns?" he commented. So I did, breaking my different adjacent background rule, but still keeping the aqua and greens checker-boarded in the second through fifth central columns.

    The center was still a bit of a hodge-podge, so I aligned those central columns as either green or aqua, but still alternated the colors by column.

    What if I kept a column sequence of red, aqua, green and repeated red, aqua green? Better, but a bit lopsided by the dominant red. Besides, those pesky graphic red prints were now back in the center.

    What if I made the columns follow a symmetric sequence: green, aqua, red then red, aqua,  green?

    Ah, better. But really those green and aquas are equal weight visually so they could be grouped and flank the red and not be imbalanced. I like the next photo. It is the most orderly option thus far. I started out with the least orderly in the first photo. I still have those pesky graphic prints to the outside of the red but they are at a background color interface, so you expect a discontinuity anyway. I had been second guessing my decision to shuffle the background fabrics but it was too late to undo all the blocks and re-sew then with one background fabric. Grouping like background colors together was at least a step in that direction with some of the same benefits. The patchwork backgrounds become a bit more unified and smoothed out being near a like colored neighbor. Essentially, this approach cut down on the number of color interfaces the eye had to negotiate to pick out those gifts. Since the eye generally reads from left to right, placing the aqua background, the one with the strongest patchwork look, on the far right helped a bit too. By the time the eye gets there, it knows what to do. I also like that the long columns accentuate the elongated lines of the gifts with their ribbons. This was an unexpected bonus.

    Background herded into an orderly compliance, I could now concentrate on balancing those gifts within two same background color columns at a time. After many interactions and intervening photos that I will not share here, I came up with this next arrangement.

    In the two left green-background columns, the dark aqua gifts are distributed evenly among the lighter aqua gifts. In the two red-background central columns, the gifts are pretty equally weighted so the highly graphic background pieces that dominated could be dispersed evenly along the other edges of those two columns. And in the final two right aqua-background columns, I evenly weighted the red gifts to balance the two highly graphic ones. Three solid-colored gifts of aqua, red, and green are equally distributed in the quilt, also. But – great news! This paragraph addresses predominantly the gifts. Which means you can finally, finally, notice them! Some bows are still a bit hidden, but, after allowing a bit of randomness to rule, it is not so bad. 

    I have made my peace with this quilt. I can now assemble and quilt it with renewed enthusiasm. "It takes a village to create a quilt" is a somewhat relevant statement. My daughter, upon reading my posts, commented how she thought the same backgrounds should be kept together. I had just done that, initially sparked by my husband's red suggestion. Her comments were further confirmation to me that this approach was a good one. Although I read her comments after I had taken this columnar approach, I do need to point out that she came to this conclusion long before I did! The quilting torch has been passed to a new generation!

    Wednesday, February 11, 2015

    Simple Gifts Trim & Tweak Time

    As of my Wednesday,  February 4, 2015 post I had eight red background blocks remaining to piece on my Simple Gifts quilt. I actually finished them up by the next day. Then, like clean folded laundry that sits for days in the basket waiting to be put away, those gift blocks sat on my design wall for most of the week, waiting to be trimmed.

    There is nothing like a WIP post to spur progress. Yesterday I corrected the pressing direction on the seam at the base of the gifts for the green and aqua blocks. I also trimmed the blocks square – rectangular, to be more precise – but not necessarily the same size just yet. Trimming to uniform size is for this week, as is the arrangement for assembly. And look! This is a pile of scraps I am not going to save and will not try to repurpose.

    I show this photo just to prove I really trashed them, and because it is a kind of funky view into my smooth, tapered trash can.

    I have struggled with the fabric selections from this kit since I started it back in my January 14, 2015 post. I love the colors and I love the pattern and I have loved the uniqueness of the stack-and-whack approach to cutting it out and piecing the blocks. But, I cannot seem to make the busy-ness go away so the wrapped packages will pop. So I have come up with my list of hopes or, at least, if those hopes are dashed, some proposed methods of highlighting those gifts. (This quilt is becoming less and less simple as I go on.)

    Fix it list:

    1. As I trim the blocks and set them closer, without the white space of the design wall showing out between them, there will be less distraction to the eye from those gaps.
    2. As I set different color backgrounds adjacent to each other, a block unit, and hence a gift, will be better defined.
    3. As I join the blocks some background will be taking up in the seam allowance making more gift and less background per block.
    4. As I arrange the blocks for assembly, I am putting the larger background pieces of the more distracting, graphic fabrics – like those red and white stripes and those white rings on red – to the outer edges and away from the center, so the eye is not pulled to them first.
    5. I plan to stitch in the ditch around each gift and echo that quilting several times. I am not sure if matching the thread to the background or keeping a consistent neutral color throughout will be better. My goal is to add texture without more visual distraction and I am not sure which is the better alternative.
    6. I am enjoying making this quilt and I always say it is process and not product. I could just luxuriate in the colors I love and chill out about the whole "gifts do not pop" issue. After all, shouldn't gifts remain hidden until Christmas?

    Here are all the blocks, with the excess cut off so they are rectangles. After I find the smallest block I will trim them all to the same size. For a wonky technique they are surprisingly close in size when I compare one to another. I will play with the arrangement. This photo is just a start.

    I realize I cannot just logically do a sequence of red, aqua, green and repeat it because sometimes a gift is dominant and sometimes the background is dominant. It is some sort of balance I am shooting for. For example, this red background block has two large pieces of adjacent highly graphic prints so I will try to soften it by placing it in the upper right corner.

    And this one will go along the right side edge.

    This one has the gift pretty well-defined so I will put it somewhere in the center. True, the two left corners are a multi-color print, but I think they are a bit more subtle and quieter than those brassy red and white shouters in the previous two blocks. Those graphics are fun but in small doses, please. These loosey-goosey, ill-defined decisions are hard for me but I will rise to the challenge.

    Here is my thinking now for a quilting pattern. I am playing around a bit in PowerPoint to decide. I suppose I could just stipple around between the gifts but I do not want something too dense. I want this quilt to drape over me nicely when I use it so I would space out those echo lines by at least  ½".

    My backing is already selected. I bought it at the time I bought the kit. I have not decided the binding though. Perhaps a scrappy binding would be a good use for the leftovers from the gift blocks. Each gift started out from an 12" x 18" rectangle cut from a fat quarter so I have thirty pieces of side edge fabric left over, roughly 7" x 22" each. Here are my three stack of ten fabrics each.

    I can cut a strip off each and join as a binding. There are twenty-two block edges around the outside of the five-block by six-block quilt. Having extra leftover fabric gives me the freedom to omit very graphic prints and directional ones in the binding. It also means more scraps. Grrr...

    That's it for my progress this week. Linking up to this week's Freshly Pieced's WIP.

    Friday, February 6, 2015

    Patchwork Math Workshop

    This past Saturday I took a workshop called Patchwork Match taught by Lynn Wilder and based on her book. Here is a link to her blog post about the class.

    We students were instructed to bring 12-18 coordinated fat quarters to class so as to have a variety of lights, mediums, and darks. I just took my entire 39 fat quarter bundle of designer BasicGrey's Jovial fabric line from Moda, bought on impulse at 60% off, that I have been eyeing on my shelf and afraid to break into. This was an excellent use for it.

    The class was a technique class and not intended to result in a completed pieced quilt top at the end of the day.  Our goal was to learn clever ways to make quilt block components, often in multiples, and to understand the math formulas that allowed us to adjust them to any size we wanted. This class was focused on a 3" finished size for components. First we made eight half square triangles, HSTs, all at one time. Then we made one fussy cut a square in a square. We had lots of tips on how to work with striped fabric so the directions turned out how we wanted them. Correctly orienting the stripes surrounding that center flower had me wearing my thinking cap! Here are my first nine components on the design wall in the classroom.

    Then I decided what if the fussy cut block were not in the center? That might be fun to play with. Here is my bear paw type version with the fussy flower offset.

    The third component we made was quarter square triangles, also four at a time. I picked striped fabric again to challenge myself and learn how to control it to go the direction I wanted. The black abacus type fabric behaved. I learned I either have to think harder or not pick striped fabric for the dual triangles if it bothers me that they will go at right angles to each other with this four at a time method. Otherwise I will just pay attention to putting the horizontal and vertical consistently where I want them within the quilt.

    Fourth up, we made corner square triangles, again four at a time. Three of them are adjoined at the lower left and one at the upper right of my growing collage. I made the corner square a bright red, somewhat mimicking the center square tradition in a log cabin block. (Traditional log cabin blocks originally started with a red or orange center square, representing the hearth of the cabin.) The deer fabric has lines of words, giving it a stripe orientation, even though the deer have different orientations. Did you notice? I plopped them on the design wall, trying to keep some sort of balanced asymmetry going, just for the fun of it and to see if I could do it.

    The fifth and sixth components we made were flying geese and double flying geese, again, each component, four at a time. I messed up the cutting and the red striping on the flying geese. They came out too small and stripes are cattywompus so I will practice those flying geese again. I went for solids on the double flying geese and their wings. Only the sky is that snowflake print. I decided to give my brain a rest! Even so, once I started, I noticed that the hexagons around the snowflakes had a points-up, flats-sideways type orientation. I do like how joining the same color of the geese and the wings of the double geese forms an offset eyeball kind of pairing.

    The class also introduced me to Bloc_Loc Flying Geese rulers, used for squaring up and trimming flying geese blocks. They give such great results. A ridge, machined into the ruler, wedges up into the tip of the main triangle of the flying goose and dictates precisely where to trim to get a centered tip ¼" in from the edge.  No more nipped tips! The rulers are a bit pricy, especially since you need to buy a different ruler for each size block, but they are one of those things that seem decadent but oh, so delightful, in action. I now own the 1.5" x 3" finished size.

    Here is my assembly for putting all six of our components for the day into one huge block. (I am really liking this gridded design wall.) It looks like I need to pick out one more component to fill in my blanks. Maybe I will try parallel geese and make four pair of them... ?  The arrangement on the design wall forms a 15" block. It would be fun to make a bunch of these huge puppies and have a small lap quilt or wall hanging in no time. If you check out the Country Corners link of the Sew'n Wild Oaks Quilting blog you will see a variety of symmetric arrangements for these basic components. I was having fun just messing around.

    So where do I go from here? I plan to keep making my way through Lynn Wilder's Patchwork Math book generating some more 3" components out of the same bundle of fat quarters. I then will spring for a 3" x 6" Bloc_Loc Flying Geese ruler (watching for a sale or a coupon), try making some components in a 6" size, and mingling them all together somehow. Although the fabric collection is not scraps, it will be a sort of scrap assembly technique. Playing with arrangements like this gives me loads of fun and provides me with hours of contented musings. I made a free form assembly type quilt several years ago with some clearance block of the month packages and it turned out fine. Here is that quilt. If you are curious about its components and how much it varied from what it was supposed to look like, check out my post for June 20, 2012.