Monday, March 31, 2014

Blocks in a Border

The next steps in this Lifetime quilt were so much fun.  The idea behind the quilt was to catalog the things that have been important in the lives of my husband and myself.  I have a book which has blocks that are associated with every state in the union, "Create Your Family Quilt Using State Blocks and Symbols" by Barbara Brackman.  From this book I used blocks from the states in which we have lived and other blocks that represent things we remember and love.  There are no patterns in the book so I drafted them on the computer.  I also picked some blocks from other books and designed the columbine block.

The first set of blocks each have a 1/2 inch dark blue border and they are set on point and finish to 5 inches.  For newbees, this means that they are placed on the quilt with the points along the quilt's vertical and horizontal lines.  You can see what I mean in the following photos.  This means that the space around them must be filled in with something.  The filler I chose was pineapple log cabin triangle, which I paper pieced.  You sew a strip to each side of the triangle and put a cap on them, then do the next layer, etc.  They echo the inner log cabin border and provide and interesting background for the blocks.

Pineapple Log Cabin in Illustrator
In the Illustrator design some of the blocks are rotated the wrong direction.  This really doesn't matter because the drawing is always an approximation, no matter how precise, of the final result in fabric.  Once the blocks were made I laid them out on my bed and spent time running around arranging and rearranging until I had the blocks so that they pleased my aesthetic.
Side blocks in Illustrator
To assemble this border you sew one edge of the triangle block to one edge of the square block.  Then you do the same with the opposite edge of the square block.  This gives you a strip on a 45º angle.  Once you have all the triangles sewn onto all the blocks you sew the angled strips together.  No Y-seams to mess with.  This may be on a 45º angle (like bias), but all your edges to be seamed are on the straight grain of the fabric.
Assembing the squares and triangles.
In the fabric version you will see that I added a 1/2 dark blue border on the inside edge.  Eventually I will put the same on the outside edge, but that will wait until I get the top and bottom borders done.  The original design had a rectangular pink strip on the top and bottom of each side border, but the collection of 5 inch blocks came out slightly taller than Illustrator determined so I added the pink border all the way across to finish the top and bottom edges.    No, the finished quilt will not have a horizontal ratio!

Fabric side borders added.
TIP:  If you get into self-design, be flexible.  Sometimes things don't work out as you had envisioned. You have to be the kind of person who can adjust and come up with solutions to problems as they pop up.  Borders and/or blocks of fabric can equalize a design that goes sideways.  Take your time deciding what to do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lifetime Disaster

No, this was not the disaster of a lifetime, but it was a temporary disaster for the quilt named "Lifetime."  It definitely takes perseverance and flexibility to turn out a nice quilt of your own design.  When I think of it, the same thing can happen with a purchased pattern when your chosen fabric doesn't work like you had envisioned.  Has that ever happened to you?  Do you throw the pattern away, or do you dig in and figure out what will solve the problem?

I had this idea of a floral border, but before you feast your eyes on this colossal ugliness and say, "Yuck," please realize that my idea was to create a 4 1/2 in border with Watercolor technique.  Pinterest has a full page of beautiful Watercolor quilts if you are unfamiliar with them.  Due to the difficulties of constructing my idea on Illustrator, I just scanned the fabric into the computer and relied on my imagination to eliminate much of the yellow and green, so this looks pretty gross to both of us.  I swallow my pride so that you can follow the process.

Floral border in Illustrator - Blahhhhhhh!

I cut my little squares using the pink, red, and purple flowers, eliminating all yellow and including just the necessary green.  I arranged the squares so that all four sides of the border were pretty much the same and sewed them all together.  It really turned out pretty and I was very pleased.  I sewed those borders on without even previewing the potential result.  I couldn't wait to see the finished product, but when I did, I almost cried.  It just didn't look right.  OK, it looked awful.  I folded it up and left it sad and alone while it waited for seam ripper treatment.  After I removed the offending borders, I got out a couple of border books from my library and began to work on Plan B.  (Incidentally, I subsequently made another quilt for the borders and they look really nice there.)  I decided that my Lifetime quilt has a formal, traditional look and that is why the floral didn't work.

A zig zag border is what saved this poor quilt.  It is made of triangles, which were easy to work with although the many bias edges had to be treated with care.

Bare bones of zig zag border partially assembled in Illustrator.

Zig zag border assembled with corner in Illustrator.
Happy at last, I added a 1/2 inch border around the inside and outside of the border using a dark blue print.  Now, isn't that a major improvement?

Lifetime with zig zag border in fabric.
Stay tuned.  It's not done yet.  The best is yet to come.

TIP:  Disasters happen.  If yours is no worse than a wrong choice of fabric you are doing well.  It is worse when fabric gets ripped or cut accidentally.  Try to figure out where the design went wrong.  Look on the bright side and take a walk with your imagination, spurred on by online sites and books until the solution occurs to you.  It will, sooner or later.

TIP:  I've said it before, but will repeat it often.  Be gentle with those bias edges.  Guide them carefully under the presser foot without pulling.  I am an inveterate pinner and it really helps in sewing bias seams.

TIP:  Don't forget your design surface and preview each step before you sew.  It is much more efficient than ripping out those little stitches.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blue Block Border

The next border is rather plain, very easy and didn't measure out to fit the preceding steps.  This can be an ongoing problem with a self designed pattern.  Nobody has made it before and you never know what monkey wrenches are going to inject themselves.  I have many years of sewing experience, and try to visualize the technical aspects of my design and properly incorporate them into the pattern.  Doesn't always work.  Here is the next border:

The light blue, two inch squares are fussy cut from blue floral fabrics to emphasize a flower or a grouping of flowers.  They are pretty much a medium to light value.  I surrounded them with 1/2 inch dark blue sashing.  Piece of cake (or cloth)!  The problem was that I either had to fill in the ends or change the size of my blocks in order for the border to fit the previous border.  I didn't want to change the size of the 2" blocks so I pulled out some pieces of Paula Nadelstern fabric that was designed to go with the fabric I used in the center Mariner's Compass and fussy cut the pieces to mirror at the mitered corner.  It does the job although I have never been crazy about those corners, but I couldn't come up with another solution that I liked better.  Sometimes I sit and stew over a problem like this and other times I just go with it as I did here.

Lifetime so far in Illustrator

Lifetime so far in fabric.

TIP:  Do you know what "fussy cutting" means?  It is when you carefully cut out a particular element or grouping from a fabric.

I use translucent template material available at any quilt store and cut it the size of the finished piece plus 1/4 inch seam allowance all around.

Mark the seam allowance on all sides of the template and mark any distinctive lines that will guide you to place the template exactly the same on the next piece you cut. Since you can see through the template you may be able to see where you want it without marking.   Depends on how much precision you need.

Place the template on the fabric and mark around it with a fine, black marker (it won't show on the finished quilt because it is on the outer edge of the seam allowance) or if the fabric is dark use a white gel pen or fabric marker.  I often use 1/4" double sided masking tape to fasten the template temporarily to the fabric.  It is available at Joann's and probably other quilt or craft stores.

Cut with small, sharp scissors on the marked line.  This leaves your fabric with gaping holes throughout!  If this bothers you, deal with it.

TIP:  If you hit a problem in your quilt it may help to put it away and work on something else for awhile.  You could also skim through your books, check the library, go to a quilt show or fondle fabric to come up with a new idea.  I find that time usually solves the problem, often while I am sleeping.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Log Cabin Border

The next step in this quilt I call "Lifetime" is a series Log Cabin blocks.  These are very simple and a great stash buster.  Mine are made with 1/2 inch strips and finish as 4 inch blocks.  I printed the blocks on Sulky Solvy Water Soluble Paper and foundation pieced them.  You don't have to, but when the strips are so narrow it is the best way to get the block precise.  Below is my pattern.  I used very dark blue for half of it and very light blue for the other half.  The center of each block (#1) is a 1 inch, fussy-cut flower from a delicate floral fabric.  They are red, purple, blue and yellow, but don't overwhelm the blue because they are so small.  I numbered and colored the pattern so I wouldn't get mixed up.

Log Cabin Block
It helps to organize your workspace.  Anything to keep from getting mixed up and having to rip!  I laid out 1 1/2 inch strips of different fabrics on a small table beside me, cutting the length as I went.  These strips do not need to be precise, but do have to be wide enough to cover the area of an individual piece of the pattern.  There are many Log Cabin tutorials and videos on the Internet with very precise directions that are worth looking at.

 You can arrange the dark and light blocks as you wish.  My choice is below (not showing the center flowers):

Four Log Cabin Blocks

You may have wondered why I broke the sequence with the post on borders.  Why bother with that little 1/4 border around the compass in the middle?  That was so the log cabin border would fit!  I needed the extra 1/2 inch that it gave me.  After the log cabin border was stitched, I added a 1/2 inch pink border around it for continuity.

An aside to this is that my daughter said, "Mom, you really have to break away from pink and blue."  My response was that I love pink and blue and if that is what I want, I can do it.  I have since departed to other colors, but sometimes we have to work through a perception before we are ready to move on.

Lifetime so far on Illustrator.
Lifetime so far with fabric.

TIP:  When you are paper piecing take the time to lay out your fabrics in order and pay attention to the colors and numbers on your pattern.  This will save you lots of grief and you can leave the cap on your seam ripper.

TIP:  Check out books and videos for directions.  You can always learn something even if you have already done something similar.  My books are getting tattered from constant "how to" refreshers and idea searches.

TIP:  It is great to learn design concepts, but ultimately this is your quilt so let your creative  juices carry you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Medallion and Borders

A medallion quilt is made up of one border after another around a center motif.  You can see my first medallion quilt in an earlier post.  It actually lies flat and straight on a bed, but is hanging wonky in the picture.

Another medallion quilt is my "Lifetime" quilt, and you can refer back my March 12 post for a photo of the quilt's centerpiece Mariner's Compass.  You can follow the building of that quilt in the next few posts as I relive its construction from design to finished quilt.  You may have noticed that I mentioned a narrow, 1/4" border around the center motif.  A tiny, narrow border does not need to be scary if you do it right.

Start by cutting a strip of fabric the appropriate length and 1 inch wide.  That gives you 1/4 inch for the border itself, two 1/4 inch seam allowances, and 1/4 inch extra.

Sew the border strip to the centerpiece with an accurate 1/4 inch seam (see the TIP below).  Press the seam making sure that it is fully ironed so there are no pleats at the seam line.

With the pressed centerpiece and border to your left (for right handed quilters), lay your good ruler with the 1/2 inch line at the seam that connects the centerpiece and border fabrics.  Cut off the excess 1/4 inch with your rotary cutter, and you will have a perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance for attaching to the next piece of fabric.

I use this method for larger borders too.  It gives a measure of safety and keeps the measurements precise.

TIP:  I find a 1/4 inch Edge Stitch foot invaluable for stitching quilt seams.  See the little guide on the right side of the foot?  It rides along the edge of the fabric and allows the needle to sew a perfect 1/4 inch seam.  You will probably need to move your needle to the right, so take the time to measure and find out where the needle needs to be to create the perfect 1/4 inch on your machine.  By moving the needle this foot can be adjusted to sew greater or smaller seams…to a point.  Accurate seams allowances are critical for precise piecing.  Check with your dealer about getting one of these.

1/4 Edge Stitch foot from Husqvarna
If you can't get a foot like this for your machine, you can attach 2-4 layers of narrow masking tape to guide the fabric edge.  There are also numerous seam guides available made by different companies. Many of them adhere temporarily to your machine.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thank You

This post is a note (no quilt) to all my faithful followers.  Although I have a photo blog on Word Press I decided to use Blogger for my quilting blog.  You may have noticed that I started it only recently.  I just discovered where the comments are stashed and was stunned to find that many of you have written to me.  I am loving reading each comment, and you all have such nice things to say.  I am sorry I have not responded, but will do better in the future.  It will take a little time to get caught up.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lifetime Quilt Begins

The quilt that I call "Lifetime" sits on my bed as we speak and is a catalog of memories beyond sewing.  I was inspired by the picture of a quilt by Maoko Kamamota in Quilters Newsletter Magazine, November 2003.  I put my own take on her design, using some elements and discarding others.  There was no pattern so I just started in the middle with a mariner's compass and thus began my foray into designing my own quilts.  I find I am an intuitive quilter, meaning that although I have a basic idea of what I want to do,  I tend to start somewhere and decide on the next step as I go along.  I drew it out in Adobe Illustrator as you can see below.

I broke the compass up into the following element that can be paper pieced.  There are many videos on the Internet that teach paper piecing so spend some time and find directions that speak to you.  The foundation must be the reverse of the final star as all the fabric will be on the back when you are done.  With this one it doesn't really matter which way it goes, but with some patterns it is important to remember so you don't end up with work finishing backwards.

Next I reduced the opacity of the color and added numbers telling me the order in which I need to sew. I reduced the opacity so I could see the muted color and don't have to add more text to small spaces reminding me what fabric I should use.  It really helps!!  I also added 1/4 inch seam allowance lines.

Finally, on the computer I placed four of these pieces to fit on 8.5 x 11 inch paper.  You must also prepare a similar triangle with #1 being a square for the corners, assuming you want the compass to end up to be a square as mine will be, and prepare four of these for another piece of paper.  Then print.  Then cut the paper so you have the 8 triangles ready to piece.  Then sew.

I love using Sulky Solvy Water Soluble Paper.  The paper tears away easily or you can leave it to dissolve later.  There are many other products on the market and you can also use plain copy paper.  By reducing stitch length the paper tears away easily on the perforations.

Once the eight triangles are all sewn, all that is left to do is sew them together.  The quilt's center in fabric is below.  It is 22 3/4 inches square with a 1/4 inch pink border.

TIP:  I find that it is sometimes challenging to get the points to go together nicely in the center.  If you try and fail there is always a seam ripper, but those points are delicate and will take only so much punishment.  You can always appliqué a small circle of fabric over the center and then cut away excess fabric on the back.  It looks just as nice.  This one I nailed perfectly with a loud, "Hurray!"  I'll write about methods for star centers at another time.

I am sorry I can't help you eQ7 quilt designers.  I have a Mac and have had to turn to Illustrator as my design software.  No matter, stay tuned and I will carry you through the process of creating an unusual sampler quilt.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rocky Trails

Rocky trails have been a staple of my life as summers were always spent hiking in the Rocky Mountains where the land is mostly rocks.  My grandfather bought a tiny cabin in 1938, and using it as our base camp, I spent happy, sunny days playing and picnicking among the pines and wildflowers, climbing rocks and later mountain peaks.  In time this little cabin full of memories became my husband's and my retirement home.  Life cannot get fuller!

In one of the two bedrooms was an antique, iron, double bed.  It is plain, and had always been a light green.  The paint was scratched and scruffy so I decided to refinish it.  After some online research I stripped all that paint off and prepared it for its new look.  After canvassing the family as to color, we decided I would paint it red.  Three coats later it looked beautiful and I was so pleased.  We set it up in the bedroom, stacked the springs and mattress on it, added bedding, and then I realized…I don't have a bedspread or quilt that will go with my wonderful scarlet bed.  Being a quilter I knew just what to do, and here is the result:

Rocky Trails
The photo is kind of funny because my husband, although long-limbed, could not reach the corners.  The quilt is for a double bed and has enough length to wrap the pillows and hang over the sides.  It looks wonderful on the bed.  The pattern is a simple log cabin with two-inch strips as I was going for quick and easy.  Easy, yes, quick no!!  I made all my blocks and set them out on an empty double bed, which was pretending to be a design wall.  My arrangement was not satisfactory so, running back and forth around the bed, I began to rearrange and this is the result.  The color is perfect and the design turned out to mimic Indian designs; not really, but sort of, and fits with our western living style.

The quilting is obviously the work of my beginner self.  My choice of filler is not great, the lines are wiggly, and travel stitching rarely travels along the planned route.  I did break out and use red thread instead of trying to hide my stitching so it really shows my inexperience.  I broke needles and thread regularly and when I got too frustrated, I just walked away for awhile.  Sometimes that is all it takes to get back on track again.

TIP:  Use your design wall or suitable substitute to test your block arrangement.  You may want to look at it with fresh eyes over a couple of days.

TIP:  Go ahead and quilt regardless of your inexperience.  You will find that you get better with every quilt.  Check out Leah Day for filler ideas, great videos, and a post on ways to manage the learning frustrations.  Practice, practice, practice.

TIP:  Broken needles can be due to pulling the quilt a little too hard at the wrong time so the needle hits the throat plate.  Try to figure out what is putting so much strain on the needle, and move the quilt gently and smoothly.

TIP:  Broken thread can be due to poor quality thread, but usually is the fault of the needle.  I have learned that Topstitch needles are great for quilting as they have a large eye, which allows the thread to flow through.  Maybe you need a larger needle. I sometimes use a 90/14 if there are a lot of seams to go through.  Don't worry about making bigger holes in your quilt.  They will be filled with thread!