Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Shopping TIPS

Who doesn't like to shop for fabric?  I consider a fabric store a superb replacement for a candy store.  I have a minor sweet tooth, but not enough to ever enter an actual candy store.  I don't even like the smell.  However, a fabric store is a different proposition.  There is a plethora of colors and textures with a good, clean fragrance and sales people who understand my needs, dreams and desires.  I walk into a fabric store and feel an immediate calm envelop me.  I can wander around by myself or with a friend and consider that I have had a very enjoyable experience, and every store has its own distinctive flavor to savor.

Before going on a shopping excursion you must figure out how much fabric to buy for your spiral quilt.  This can be daunting because the pieces are all triangles of different shapes, sizes and colors.  I don't like to spend my money on a lot of fabric that I have to store in my limited space.  On the other hand, I want to make sure I have enough of each fabric to complete my project.  On the rare occasions when I have run short, it has taken a lot of time away from construction to locate more of my chosen fabric.  That also means more money for gas or shipping for a small amount of fabric, so I have figured out a method designed for efficiency.

I make a visual chart for each color or fabric that I will be using.  You can do this with graph paper, or on the computer as I do.  On the computer I create a document in Illustrator 40" x 72" to approximate a two yard piece of fabric as a starting place.  Then I copy each little triangle in the shape (i.e. pentagon) to the chart of its color.  I enclose the little triangle with a rectangular box that is a generous 1/4" - 3/8" bigger on all sides than the triangle.  This should be plenty of room for seam allowance and maybe a little extra.  I make as many copies of the rectangle as I need for that shape in that color.  How many times does that shape occur in each wedge?  How many wedges are in the spiral circle?   I do the same for all the triangles in a shape, and then for all the shapes in the wedge.  I end up with a chart like this for each color, except that I do it on a grid, which didn't come through the export process:

Chart for p6 purple fabric.

From the grid you can estimate the amount of fabric that you will need.  Then add up to a 1/4 yard to cover pilot error or your learning curve.

TIP:  You don't have to worry about straight of grain.  The paper foundation holds everything together and prevents dancing around the dreaded bias stretch.  You will sew straight grain pieces around the finished mandala and they will hold it in line when the paper is removed.  The final quilting also exerts control over errant triangles.  I have never had a problem with bias when I paper piece.

I mentioned my fabric chart in the last post, but I actually make it before I go shopping.  Here is what it looks like printed from the computer.  [I no longer have the shopping sheet from the quilt I have been developing here, so the colors are different.  No matter, the idea is the same.]

Fabric Chart for Shopping and Referral
I type in my code name for each color and the amount of fabric needed.  I then take this to my fabric stash and pull fabrics that I think will work, cut small examples, and glue them on top of the appropriate colored rectangles.  If I don't find what I want I leave those colors open and know that I will be hunting for them in the fabric stores.  As you can imagine these pieces change, migrate and evolve as I develop the final choices.

I put this in a plastic sheet protector with a printout of my quilt design on the other side.  I also add my contact information in case I lay it down while manhandling bolts of fabric and forget to pick it up.  Been there, done that.  I have had to return more than once when I got a call from a quilt store.  Those ladies understand that my shopping sheet is an important part of my quilt!

Isn't this a lot of work?  Yes, but it saves time and money in the long run.  When my fabrics are pre-washed I cut pieces and glue them into place on a sample, paper wedge to make sure I like the way it looks.   Finally, I am ready to sit down at the machine with no worries about whether my fabric will make it through the process.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spiral Quilt IV: Organization

One of my readers wrote that she is confused by what I mean by "flipping" the pentagon (see Spiral Quilt - Part III).  This means nothing more than creating a mirror image.  If you put a mirror along the the A-B line you will see the pentagon reversed/flipped in the mirror.  It is not rotated although the pentagons give the illusion that they are rotating because of the layering of the internal triangles.  Once the internal triangles are drawn the pentagon is no longer a completely symmetrical design.  Even if the outline is the same, the internal design has definite right and left sides.  In the example below I colored two triangles to clarify.  I tell the computer to make a copy and flip/mirror the copy horizontally across the A-B line.  If you are drawing on paper you will have to draw a copy, and turn it over across the A-B line.  Of course this is difficult if you are using opaque paper so I would suggest using tracing paper.  Does this clarify or confuse?  Let me know.

TIP:  The only bad question is the one not asked.  Please share if you don't understand, and I will do my best to clarify.  These designs look very complex, but are really not hard to draw or sew.  One step at a time.

Now on to the organizational aspects of creating a paper piecing pattern for this.  I add 1/4 inch seam allowance markings on my major shapes using a ruler for accuracy.  This will be your basic pattern.

TIP:  Using a ruler to add 1/4 inch seam allowance and trimming after you have sewn your pieces will work, but it is very easy to forget that little bit of a 1/4 inch when cutting.  It also helps you to be sure that you use a big enough piece of fabric to include the all-important seam allowance.  Ask me how I know!!  I highly recommend that you add and clearly mark the seam allowance on the pattern so there will be no question about where to trim the finished piece.

Below is my pattern almost ready to print.  Notice that I have reduced the transparency of the colors, but still have enough color to serve as a check on my fabric choice.  You will also see that I have made sure the sewing lines are dark enough to see clearly.  If you are drawing your design on paper you can color a swatch in each little triangle with colored pencil or marker.  This will be the wrong side of your finished shape.  If right or wrong side is important in your design be sure to reverse your pattern at this stage.  If you print it on translucent paper you can sew from either side.  Just don't get mixed up!

TIP:  Whatever way you decide to do it be sure to be consistent or you will end up with a different looking design in your finished product.  Remember that when holding the paper in front of you, the right side of the evolving fabric piece will be facing away from you.  (Note:  I did not reverse this design so either my piece will be the mirrored version, or I will sew with the back side facing me.  (Choices!!)

In order to cover my bases even better I next add text to each and every little triangle as below.

You will start in the middle and sew the first ring so I label that ring "A."  The second ring is "B," etc.  The other notation refers to the color with a lower case letter (r for red, g for green....) and a number, which refers to the shade of the color.  Look at the purple:  p1 is the lightest shade of purple while p5 is the darkest shade of purple.  The stars on some of the triangles refer to the starting place for each ring.  These notations keep me on the straight and narrow so I don't make mistakes.  Ripping is not really that much fun.

If you have not done paper piecing before, I highly recommend that you give it a try.  You can make incredibly intricate designs and achieve perfection so much more easily.

Now this is ready to print.  If you are not using the computer you can make copies.

TIP:  If you are making copies make sure that the copies are exactly the same size as the original, and make 2 or 3 extra to cover possible pilot error.

You can use copy paper or buy foundation piecing paper, which is available any place that carries quilt supplies.  My favorite is Sulky Paper Solvy because I can run it through my printer, and it dissolves in water when the sewing is done.  I usually tear the paper off when I am finished sewing anyhow, but if some gets left in, it will dissolve when the quilt is dipped in water, which I do after the quilting is complete.  Check the manufacturer's directions for information about their product.

TIP:  I print out the shapes for one wedge, do the sewing, photograph and rotate the photo in the computer before printing out the rest.  This avoids waste if there is a glitch in the pattern.  If I like the result I save it and use it as an extra wedge for quilting practice.  Then I go for broke, print more copies, and sew up a storm.

The last thing I do is glue or pin 1 x 2 inch swatches of all my fabrics to a piece of paper.  I label each fabric with the letter and number combination that I placed on my pattern.  I find I refer to this so often that it is well worth the time.  I also put this sheet in a sheet protector and take it shopping with me to use in choosing fabrics I might be missing.  More about shopping in the next post.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spiral Quilt - Part III

I read an article the other day which tells of a study that purportedly proves that there is a correlation between messiness and creativity.  I have not seen the stated scientific evidence, but I can attest from personal experience that this is a possibility.  I have several members of my family who learn differently, but are tagged with a misnomer as having "learning disabilities."  These individuals are not "disabled," but highly intelligent people who find some academic pursuits an uphill challenge.  They are incredibly creative and talented, and they tend to be unperturbed at being surrounded by chaos.

Does this mean that others of us, like me, are not creative?  I live in a box, I am a good fit in academia, and my creativity freezes when disorder creeps into my space.  I look at lots of art and quilts and it dawned on me that I have trouble creating the free-flowing designs that I love.  They never turn out to my satisfaction.  I successfully devise equally creative designs, but they tend to follow the lines and blocks of order and symmetry.  Does that mean I am any less creative?  I don't think so.

Why did I go off on that tangent?  I don't draw well, but I was never given sketch books as a child and none of my family did any freehand drawing so I got a late start.  I was given coloring books, which I loved.  I was so happy sitting down with my box of 24 crayons and would have drooled over a box of 64.  I loved coloring in the lines with plain color and later with shading.

Coloring in the lines is what this spiral quilt is ready for and I still love doing it.  It is like my coloring books and can be translated into fabric to be sewn into a lovely quilt.  Below is a colored version of the pentagon-triangle wedge (See Sprial Quilt Part II).

Versions A and B use exactly the same triangle and pentagon, but in version B I flipped the pentagon horizontally.  Turn your imagination loose and try lots of combinations and colors, then rotate the wedge(s) and see what you have.  Here are two ideas:

Once I have my spiral to a place where I like it, I head for my fabric stash and audition fabrics that I have that are close to what I want.  I always say I am going to use my stash, but you know how it goes.  You always need something you don't have so you have to go shopping!  I print (you can draw) a paper wedge, cut fabrics to fit and glue them on with a glue stick.  Then I take a photo, bring it into the computer and rotate it (you can use your mirror and/or imagination).  After flipping, switching, moving, and adjusting fabrics I settled on the design below:

"Reverie" fabric audition glued on paper, photographed, and rotated in the computer.
Because the fabrics are glued down roughly, the details are a bit wonky up close, but I was able to see a good approximation of the finished design.  I planned a black background so added the black triangles onto each wedge.  They are a single triangle of fabric added to each top side of the pentagon so there are no Y-seams.

TIP:  Turn your imagination loose during this process.  You can use all kinds of fabrics:  prints, batiks, solids, and more.  They can all work beautifully.

Next week I will show you my way of organizing this complex design so that it is easy to assemble.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Spiral Quilt - Part II

Before I go on I need to clarify one point.  My spiral quilts are not made in "blocks."  They are made in wedges for a kaleidoscope effect.  The quilts I have made with this technique have one very large, intricate circle or mandala as the centerpiece of the quilt.  For the quilt that I am designing in this and a few following posts the completed circle is 21 inches in diameter.

Did you fill in the pentagon and triangle yet?  I hope you did, as it will help you understand the design.  Below are my diagrams.  I colored the one on the right so you can see the pentagon and the triangle.  Spirals are sewn by paper piecing the main shapes:   the pentagon is stitched as one unit and the triangle is stitched as another unit.  Then they are sewn together to create one wedge-shaped unit.  As you can see on the left, the two shapes intermingle and become one.  The seam between the pentagon and triangle gets lost in the maze.  The fabrics you choose will determine what parts of the design are emphasized.

Pentagon and Triangle united.
  You then copy and rotate the combined shape at point X into a circle, or use your mirrors if you are not working on a computer, or make copies that can be cut out and placed in position.  In this case, there will be 12 - 30º wedges in the circle with side A on the left and side B on the right all the way around.  Isn't that sooooo cool?

Another option is to flip a copy of the wedge so that it mirrors the original with side A aligned with side A of the flipped piece.

You will notice that side B will also align with side B of the next wedge.  Now you rotate this 60º wedge as one unit.  See the difference in the two completed circles?

I love doing these.  Once you are to this point you can start coloring the design.  I usually color one wedge and then rotate it in Illustrator.  If I don't like it, I go back to the wedge, make changes and try again.  If you are working on paper you can use mirrors or copies to get an idea of how the coloring will turn out.  Gradations of color work beautifully in these designs.

TIP:  This is playtime.  Have fun with it.  As long as your basic shapes can be sewn together it will work.  Believe it or not, this is "quilting" too...all part of the process.

I had so much fun playing that I have too many designs.  I'll never have time in this life to get them all made into quilts!!