Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bugs 'R Us Coming Together

I've assembled the top of Bugs R Us. The pattern in the kit called for four concentric borders but after I'd added the first three – a leaf-bright green, a bug blue, and a second leaf-bright green – I liked the size and the look and decided to stop before adding a fourth wide border. The quilt top at this point measured 34½" x 46½".

Here is closer look at the upper left corner pulling together all the elements that have been giving me so much fun. There are the checkerboards, the appliqué spiral antennae, the embroidered eyes, the rickrack smiles, and that adorable, blue, flitting bug fabric in the border - inspiration for the name Bugs R Us.

The original kit made a quilt size of 45" x 57". This was too long for a baby and annoyingly wide enough I would have needed to piece the back. Here is the leaflet cover for the original design. Although I loved the outermost border bug print, I felt it competed with the whimsy of the central blocks, because it was slightly serious and a bit too realistic. But instead it made for a wonderful backing.

I ran the one yard of the large bug print crosswise as the backing fabric. I had to add several inches to the selvages, now at the top and bottom, to make it long enough. I used horizontal bands of a small ladybug print leftover from the front. It can bee seen at the very bottom of the following photo. It blends in,  in a camouflage sort of way, just like bugs do. Frankly there was too little of that ladybug print on the front as cute as it was. For the binding, I will be using the four spotted fabrics from the checkerboards. They were too cute not to introduce again somewhere in the quilt.

Now I am ready to make my quilt sandwich and "quilt as desired". I hope I do not lose as much sleep over deciding the quilting pattern as I did over finding the right name.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What's In a Name?

In my previous post I revealed the smiling crawly critters that were to go with the checkerboards of my soon to be revealed quilt. It gave me a happy feeling to have these five smiling faces watching over me from my design wall. Next up was naming this grinning crew.

The fabric line was Backyard Safari and the quilt kit had the same title but I was not fond of Backyard Safari for a name. It was too advanced a vocabulary, especially for a baby quilt. Here is one checkerboard block next to one critter block. I wanted something with bugs in the title or something that hinted at the smiles on the critters and perhaps checkerboards.

I could not let go of trying to find a name. I was driving my husband crazy. In fact, when I went to bed at night I could not fall asleep as possibilities kept running through my mind. Counting bug titles does not work like counting sheep! I finally had to resort to an old trick of writing things down on a pad by my bed to let go and let slumber take over. I rejected a whole collection of potential names.

Names that rhyme
Bug Hug, Snug as a Bug,  Hug-a-Bug, Bugs with Hugs

Names that are alliterative
Bucket of Bugs, Bunch of Bugs, Bug Bounty, Bug Brigade, Snips and Snails, Bug Buddies

Names that convey a message that is not very friendly (especially if you google their meaning)
Doodlebug (sounds cute but it is a gross-looking larva of the ant-lion or a woodlouse, yuk!),
Bug Off, Bug Out, Bah Humbug, Bugaboo, Quit Buggin' Me

Names that convey friendship
Friendly Bugs, Bug Games, My Bug Friends, Smiley Bugs, Bug Grins, Happy Bugs, Bug Friends

Names from movies
Love Bug, A Bug's Life

Names that hint at non-creative desperation
Bug Medley, My Bugs, Bugs and Me, Checkerboard, Bugs

Alas, none of the previous options seemed quite right. But, by the following morning, I think my subconscious had stumbled upon a winner. Eureka! I found it! I hit upon a name that just felt right.

The name will be Bugs R Us. Yes. Bugs R Us is just right. I cannot do a backwards R or an apostrophe on my sewing machine, but the idea is still there. The name hints about toys or fun things and suggests camaraderie because of the "us" part.  I wrote it down quickly before I forgot it. I used the alphabet stitch on my Pfaff to embroider the label on grosgrain ribbon before I changed my mind.

I am linking up now to this week's WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced. Then I am back to work on Bugs R Us. Aah... it feels must better now to say Bugs R Us then to stumble over saying "my checkerboard/bug/smiley-critter/mystery/soon-to-be revealed quilt."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Let's Face It!

The spirals that I worked so hard to appliqué in my previous two posts are five pair of antennae to top the heads of some crawly critters. But, these critters needed faces! The pattern I was using called for 1/2" blue buttons for eyes. Since this quilt is intended for a baby, I did not want it to have any potential choking hazards so I decided to add embroidered eyes instead. I used 1/2" plastic rings to draw around. I laid my ruler on my block to place the eyes at approximately the same height and same distance apart for each critter. I drew lightly around each ring with mechanical pencil then set the rings aside.

I do not have an embroidery machine so instead I dropped the feed dogs on my Pfaff and filled in the eyes free motion quilting style. First I stitched over the circle I had penciled in and then spiraled inward and back outward until no more of the green background fabric peeked through. I'd practiced first on a scrap and, just as I suspected, without a backing of some sort this dense embroidery would pucker the area around the eye.

I cut out generous size circles of batting. I used bamboo batting, but Warm & Natural or felt or any other batting that does not shred easily when pulled should work. I wanted the circle to be large enough that I could hold my fingers on it as I moved the eye about under the pressure foot. Afterward I trimmed it really close to the embroidered area.

To cut out these circles I used a new tool I'd bought at a craft show a few months ago. This is an Olfa cutter that cuts circles. I was fascinated watching the vendor demo it for me, He helped me learn the technique and with a bit, but not a lot, of practice I could swing circles like a pro. The motion is different from cutting a straight line or even a gentle curve since this works like a compass with a central ratchet. I was pleased with the results. I could have just cut square or rectangles for under the eye embroidery but where is the fun of learning a new tool with that?

A face needs a smile to go with those eyes. Purple rickrack was suggested but I chose a blue instead, the better to match the eyes. I rejected red because it looked very garish and almost blood-like - not really the friendly vibe I was going for. I wanted a consistent placement and curvature for the smile so I pressed into service part of a set of longarm quilting rulers I got as a Christmas present this year from my son and daughter-in-law. This was not their original intended use but, hey, I try to take advantage of versatility wherever I can. I set the height at either end by the intersection of the block piecing and choose a radius that gave me a smile that I liked. I drew a light line with a mechanical pencil at the bottom edge of the arced ruler. I counted eight peaks for each length of rickrack smile. I lined the peaks along the drawn line and turned under the raw edges at the corners of the mouth when I sewed it on.

It annoys me when rickrack is washed and curls up at the peaks and valleys. To avoid this I set my machine at a short stitch length and went back to slowly sew up and down along the rickrack to secure the tips. I chanted "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, turn, repeat" across the smile.  The next photo shows the detail on the backside once the eye backing was trimmed down and the rickrack was secured zigzag fashion.

Here is one of the embellished bug blocks.

What is the saying, something like "putting a face to a name?" Now I need to name this quilt so I guess I will be "putting a name to a face." But parents do that all the time with new babies, right?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Some Appliqué Process Tweaks

When I try something new, I seem to have a knack for picking a hard version of it. Just learning to appliqué, I happened to pick a spiral shape that had the challenges of lots of bias and inside curves. I needed to make five pairs of spirals and I tried to adjust my technique just a bit with each one. So I made some tweaks to the appliqué process described in my previous post.

Using freezer paper with a light table to trace and make a template was great. Ironing the cut out template onto the front of the fabric worked well, too. I did not change either of those parts of the process.

Using an appliqué mini-iron is highly recommended. I think it would be very difficult to wield a full size iron to press under a narrow seam allowance on a small piece. But the little stand that comes with the iron is worthless. I had to work to balance the iron just right in the stand. It was too light weight and kept tipping over. I gave up and rested the iron on a spoon with a non-metal handle that would not get hot. It worked much better than the Clover wire and plastic stand that came with the mini-iron.

Cutting out the template with small scissors was good enough. I tried to get a less jagged edge by cutting the freezer paper with a small rotary cutter instead of scissors but that gave an awful, uncontrolled, more uneven, edge instead, worse than with the scissors. These are the leftovers from cutting out the templates. I think these shapes are kind of interesting with the outer corners I sliced off for ease of handling. The inner spiral edge is not as smooth a curve as I would like and this is the scissor cut version.

The most time consuming part of the process was turning under the seam allowance and I was not satisfied with the jagged non-smoothness of the curved edges so that is the part where I concentrated my energy on trying to improve.

Because my shape was a spiral, lots of edges were a stretchy bias. When I peeled my paper off the right side to move it to the wrong side I had no issues. It was helpful to have that paper on the backside as a guide as to where to put the edge crease for the seam allowance. But once I had pressed over the seam allowance and tried to remove the paper from the wrong side before attaching my spiral, I was unhappy with the results. The paper came off with an acceptable level of effort, though it was difficult enough that I was certainly glad I had removed it before stitching. The crease where I had pressed retained definition and I could tuck it under as I sewed. But I did not like how the tugging had distorted the shape of my spiral. I asked myself, "Did I really need that freezer paper template on the inside to press over?"

I discovered that I cut smoother than I draw, and I stitch smoother than I cut. So how could I use this self-knowledge to make less jagged edges that would turn under better? Perhaps if I stitched around that paper template before removing it from the front, I would have a line of stitching that would nicely define where the edge crease should go.

I pressed the template onto the right side of the fabric as usual. Then I cut out the shape and stitched around the edge right next to the template. It was difficult to control that wiggly spiral. I did have to be careful though because if I stitched into the paper, especially along jagged sections where points protruded, the tugging I had to do to tear the paper loose could distort the spiral. On my next spiral I tried stitching around the shape after pressing it onto the right side but before cutting it out and that worked much better. The paper then lent stability to the stitching process as well as the cutting process. Spiral distortion was no longer an issue since the spiral had not yet been cut out at this point. Putting in the stitching was well worth the added step and the extra care. This would give me a place to align the template when I moved it to the wrong side. Pressing along that smooth, non-jagged stitching line worked better than pressing over the jagged paper edge. At this point I was still using the waxy side of the freezer paper to hold the turned over edge. But I removed it before sewing since the crease line stayed crisp enough. I was still dissatisfied with how removing that stuck paper distorted the spiral.

Then the light bulb went off in my brain. If I was not going to use the waxy feature of the freezer paper to hold the edge creased over, why did I need to move the freezer paper template to the wrong side at all? I left the paper template adhered on the right side of the fabric for stability and placed the spiral with template paper still attached on the ironing board paper side down wrong side of fabric up. Then I used used the stitching line to fold on. I used tweezers to bend up and hold those edges near the tip of the iron and pressed on the stitching line. Sorry, no picture for this. I was using both hands! Also having that stitching line helped me be braver in snipping up to it as must be done on those inside curves. The next photo shows what it would look like mid-process from the right side with just the outer edges turned under and the inner edges snipped. This method modification worked much better. The template peeled off easily after I had turned under my edges since it was not buried under the folded over edges. Distortion was avoided. 

Using the tip of a seam ripper I could easily sweep the seam allowance under just before stitching the appliqué down.

So after ten spirals I finally figured out a process I liked. Because I learned a bit with each one, my spirals are not identical but I have convinced myself that that adds to the whimsy. The top pair, an early effort, shows the distortion in the uneven gap of the spiral and edges that have points. The lower pair, a later effort, are smoother and less distorted.

I like the look of top stitching along the edge of the appliqué, and although I wished my stitching were a bit tidier, I was not sorry that I had no more spirals to practice on. I was not going to re-do the first ones. I may pick out some obviously wayward stitching lines but this effort had taken me an entire morning and then some and I had had my fill. The tweaks I made to the process were that I added a stitching line, avoided moving the template, and used a smooth stitch-line curve as a guide to fold on rather than a jagged drawn and cut edge to fold over. In summary, the appliqué process, tweaked a bit from my previous post is:
  1. press freezer paper on right side
  2. stitch around paper template and leave template on
  3. cut out fabric leaving margin to turn under
  4. leave paper template on right side and place paper side down on ironing board
  5. turn edges over along stitching line using tweezers to avoid burning fingertips
  6. remove paper from right side
  7. sew onto background guiding seam allowance under with seam ripper
Hopefully in writing this up I will remember what I learned for the next time. There will be a next time. I have conquered my fear and repugnance for the "A" word. But I can most certainly guarantee that my next time will not be a Baltimore Album quilt nor a Hawaiian whole cloth quilt!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Bit of Appliqué

Monday I managed to mail off the burp cloths I made over the weekend. This week I finished the straight-line free motion quilting on my Simple Gifts quilt that I started back in January. The piecing had gone fairly quickly, the assembly and arranging took place in February, but I have been working on the echo quilting of the gifts since early April. In retrospect, it is dubious how "free" straight-line ruler work is. I think perhaps it is an oxymoron. All I have left to do on Simple Gifts is trim the edges, make and attach the labels, and sew on the binding. Hopefully I will have a reveal within a week.

This week I started the bit of appliqué that is part of the quilt with checkerboards. I decided against a fusible method because I wanted to avoid stiff sections in the quilt and I did not want the look of zigzag over raw edges. After googling appliqué techniques and watching some YouTube videos I decided to go with a freezer paper technique so the raw edges would be turned under. I am fortunate that my husband has a light table for his model train hobby so I used it to trace my appliqué templates.

The freezer paper is translucent enough and the light is strong enough that I could use a simple mechanical pencil and trace the shape, no problem.

For a mirror image template I folded the freezer paper over on itself waxy sides together and traced the mirror image from the traced original. I realized afterward, as I was cutting out these templates, that I could have skipped drawing a mirror image. Instead I could have just cut on the drawn line for the first template through two thickness of freezer paper folded over on itself.

Here are my drawn templates before cutting them out. There are five pair in total. I numbered them just to keep them paired in case the mirror images were not alike and not interchangeable. I first numbered the outer corner and them realized that part was getting trimmed away. It is possible that the freezer paper can be reused several times. But I decided the tracing was not too time-consuming and so I made enough templates to use each only once.

I cut out each paper spiral template on the drawn line. Then, using my standard Rowenta full-size iron, I pressed the freezer paper waxy side down on the right side of my appliqué fabric.

Then I cut each shape out of the fabric leaving a 1/4" or so seam allowance to turn under outside the drawn lines.

  I then peeled off the freezer paper from the right side and put it on the back side, waxy side up.

Then I use this handy dandy little appliqué mini-iron by Clover to press that seam allowance over the edge of the template, adhering it to the freezer paper. This is the most time consuming part of the process so far. I have only complete one spiral out of ten. That little iron takes longer than I expected to heat up way out at the tip, but it does get hot enough eventually. I just needed to patient.

In the lower right is one of those spirals with the edges turned under surrounded by three other spirals waiting to be cut out. As I practice, I think those curved edges will become smoother even in the tighter central section of the spiral. I may need to re-do my first couple attempts perhaps.

The YouTube video I found by googling "YouTube freezer paper appliqué" was a 4 minute long demonstration by Connecting Threads. In it the teacher says to leave the template paper inside and stitch down the appliqué. Then you are to cut a slit in the background fabric behind the appliqué and remove the paper. I am reluctant to slit the background so I am going to try steaming those folded under edges really well so they are hard creased and removing the paper before I attach the appliqué to my background.

In the interest of time and ability to withstand multiple launderings, I am choosing to skip needle turned hand appliqué in favor of attachment by machine. The instructor in the video used a stitch that goes just outside the appliqué and takes a nip inward every few stitches. With only a few stitches in the paper, it can probably be removed without too much trouble. I plan instead to stitch along very close to the edges with a straight stitch so if I left the paper in it might not come out easily. The top-stitching will show but I think it will secure the appliqué better and I am OK with that look. It will not be as broad as a raw edge satin stitch would be and I hope it still gives nice definition. I will post how that works out in practice when I do it.

For now I am linking up to WIP Wednesday at this week's Freshly Pieced.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Burp Cloths for a Girl

It must be the season for babies. One of my daughter's close friends since high school just had a baby girl and named her Madeline Sofia. Madeline was born March 11, 2015 and weighed 5 lbs 13 oz.  I just learned about her arrival, so I of course went into burp cloth assembly line mode. Less than a week ago I'd whipped up a bunch for a boy and blogged about them in my post for May 9th.

When I make burp cloths for my daughter, she likes them in complementary pairs. So here is a pair with a kitties print and spotty dots print, in pink of course. The finished burp cloths measure about 12"x18" and are shown folded in thirds here. The back side is the same fabric as the outer bands. I top-stitched in white since I did not seem to have just the right pink - my pink options were too dark, too mauve, or too coral.

This complementary pair has a bit more modern look with the chickadee flannel and the linked circle graphic flannel. White top-stitching was my choice for this one too, since I did not have an exact pink to match the graphic circles background.

Then I remembered in my stash I had a couple yards of a whimsical chicken print. For the stripe, plaid, butterfly, and geometric-shape prints I had quarter yard strips strips, not fat quarters, so I used them folded for the double thickness center band. I also diverged from the complementary pair theme, both to use the quarter yard cuts to best advantage and to avoid cutting up those bold chickens. The top burp cloth has only one third of it flipped over to show the back side. The hen print is on the back of all of these.

I love turquoise on little girls and it was in all the prints, so I top-stitched these four in a bright turquoise thread. Those hens remind of the song from The Music Man musical where the ladies gather round chattering like old biddy birds, singing.

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

And here is the happy mom as a bridesmaid at my daughter's wedding, four years ago.

As soon as I get these pre-washed, I will be dashing them off in the mail to Madeline. If any one is interested in making some of these burp cloths, I included instructions in my blog post for June 18, 2014.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Checkerboard Whoops

In my post for April 29th, I left a teaser about some rectangular checkerboards I was making. After a trip to Southern California to see one granddaughter and a trip to Oklahoma to see another granddaughter I am back to that project. I added a cream strip to the long side of half the checkerboards and created something that looks suspiciously like sashing.

I put the four colorways together and – oh, no – I spotted a mistake. Can you see it? The green colorway checkerboard is different. All the other colorways have the spotted square in the upper right corner, not the upper left corner. The pattern that accompanied the kit was minimal and did not caution about orientation so maybe it is not an issue. There will be a horizontal sashing as well so perhaps having adjacent orange and green dots does not matter.

I decided it mattered to me and that I would change it anyway. This shows the seams I had to take out to correct the error. I needed to remove the side cream strip. Then I had to remove one row of checkers from the top and add it back on again to the bottom. Then I could sew the cream strip back on and be in business again.

At least my checkerboards were self-consistent within the other three colorways.  I only had to do this four times with the green alone and I was able to do it assembly line style.

I am glad I caught it early on in the block assembly. When they are grouped together I think it does make a difference. That green one being different would have always bothered me. There are four of these four checkerboard sections.

The next mystery section is this peculiar block. There are five of these. I'll confess that I goofed in this one also and had to rip out. I sewed the diagonal the wrong way in the split sashing on the right side so it was not a mirror image of the split sashing on the left. I am glad I doubled checked before I made a 45° slice off the corners of the two orthogonal strips.  I ripped out those five short seams and tried again. It is a bummer that I am making mistakes but luckily I am catching them early. I think I am more prone to these types of errors when I pick up and set down a project and do not work on it exclusively. Little details tend to fade from my brain.

My next step on this quilt is the "A" word. Once the applique is complete it will be hard to hide what this is. Applique is not my strong suite. I have done the iron on type with zig-zag around the raw edges but I think I would like the needle turned look on this. It is unclear if I am brave enough to try. One part has a spiral like this. The soft outside and inside curves should be manageable but I am not quite sure how to handle that sharp corner in the interior. On the other hand, one raw spot to worry about fraying is better than having raw edges all around to fret about. I think I have some googling and you-tubing ahead of me to resolve this.

I am still poking along on my Simple Gifts quilting. I am really longing to do a curvy, continuous motion, more forgiving quilting pattern on my next project. My next project to quilt will be one of those two strip quilts I pieced one evening.

The last time I posted my projects list was April 1, 2015.  Here are my stats since then. I figure giving my stats once a week is too often to show progress but once a month gives me a better sense of accomplishment. It is amusing to see items jump from new to completed without passing through ongoing. Does this mean they do not pass GO and do not collect $200? If so, is the opposite true? If it is, then I think my Simple Gifts quilt has passed GO a gazillion times. Sigh... I should be rich.

Completed projects since April 1, 2015 (9+ trips):
    1. Visit to granddaughter Vivian in Southern California
    2. Visit to granddaughter Autumn in Oklahoma
    3. Two gray whale burp cloths (April 15, 2015 post)
    4. One Campbell Soup apron (April 15, 2015 post)
    5. Three graphic burp cloths (May 9, 2015)
    6. Three animals and friends burp cloths (May 9, 2015)
    Ongoing projects (6):
    1. Simple Gifts quilt - (April 29, 2015 post) FMQ in progress
    2. Checkerboard surprise yet to be revealed (April 29, 2015)
    3. Barnyard Buddies strip quilt (April 15, 2015) awaiting FMQ
    4. Life in the Jungle strip quilt (April 15, 2015) awaiting FMQ
    5. Overlapping square wall hanging - (March 4, 2015 post) awaiting FMQ
    6. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - packed away... again ... may abandon
    New projects since April 1, 2015 (12):
    1. Checkerboard surprise yet to be revealed
    2. Barnyard Buddies strip quilt
    3. Two gray whale burp cloths
    4. Life in the Jungle strip quilt
    5. Campbell Soup apron
    6. Three graphic burp cloths
    7. Three animals and friends burp cloths
    On that note... I am hooking up to today's Freshly Pieced post for WIP Wednesday.

    Saturday, May 9, 2015

    Burp Cloths for a Boy

    While I was away in Oklahoma last week, one of the co-owners of my local quilt shop in California, In Between Stitches, gave birth to a baby boy, her first child. Carson weighed in at 8 lbs 4 oz and is so adorable, wrapped in a receiving blanket with little bees on it - just like the shop's logo! How appropriate.

    Since my traditional method of ramping up my quilting after returning from travel is to make burp cloths or pillowcases, this was perfect timing for me. I decided to whip out a few in boy friendly flannels. Mom Melissa is a younger quilter of the modern bent so I tried to pick more graphic fabrics that I thought might appeal to her.

    Of course I had to appeal to me too, so those lions and elephants and owls snuck in there, but paired with a graphic. And, since the motto of the store is "a place where friendships grow", I could not resist the Folk Tale friends flannel in the middle. You can never have too many burp cloths.

    I plan to drop these off at the store as soon as I have pre-washed them so they will be ready for use. Congratulations on the arrival of Carson!