Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quilting the Spiral

Most of the spirals I have seen are circular, also called mandalas.  Most of them are placed on a rectangular background.  This results in a lot of negative space in the corners that is crying to be included.  Left alone, the mandala can look lost and cause viewers to lose interest.  There are a ton of ways to decorate the corners, but in this case my feature fabric had such lovely flowers and leaves that I created mini-bouquets in each corner and tied them together with a 1/2 inch border.

I learned the hard way how to quilt a spiral.  A friend suggested that I use wool batting because it "quilts like butter."  So I put the fluffy wool batting into my quilt sandwich and began my quilting.  I soon realized that my quilting designs on the spiral turned it into a flat and fluff mishmash gridded with seam lines.  It looked awful!  In despair I very carefully took out all my quilting and started over.  I couldn't figure out what else to do so I quilted in the ditch of every seam, and it looked wonderful.  I now do that on every spiral quilt, and have discovered that I can do some overlay quilting if I want to, but don't have to.

Quilting plays a critical part in filling up the negative space.  When I made this quilt I was just beginning to venture into Free Motion Quilting (FMQ) and had only done simple stuff.  I was just easing out of the broken needles-shredded thread stage.  I had not educated myself regarding the importance of the right needle, the available threads or the critical need for them to work together.

TIP:  Take time to learn about threads and needles. BTW I am a staunch fan of Superior Threads.  They have excellent quality thread and many opportunities for education.  Subscribe to their newsletter, which always has a funny joke or story, in addition to valuable information, and of course, deals.

You saw this quilt in my post two weeks ago, but here it is again so you can look more critically at the finishing.

I was eager to try my hand at feathers, so I gathered my books, pencil, eraser and tracing paper to create a design.  I never thought to look on the Internet for ideas on making my feathers artistic and interesting.  Below, you can see the feather design up close and personal.  That is all there is to it.  I look back and wish I could do something more interesting, but I was already stepping up to a new level.  I did it, my FMQ improved, and I felt really good about it at the time.  It filled the empty spaces.

Reverie Feathers
I was terrified of those feathers.  I knew I couldn't backtrack accurately so I designed the feathers in a way that avoided as much of that skill as possible.  My stitches are not perfectly even, which takes a lot of practice on a domestic sewing machine with no stitch regulator.  I had trouble stopping and starting again without making a jog to the side.  I had fused the appliqué flowers in the corners, but didn't know if I could quilt through the fusible because it was a little stiff.  I bit the bullet and did it anyway.   These challenges improved my FMQ immensely just because I was trying new things.

TIP:  Look at other blogs, show quilts, and Pinterest on ideas for quilting designs.  Go ahead, fly out of your comfort zone.  It is amazing what you can learn to do, but you have to start somewhere.  You will quickly forget your fear.

I am not much of an embellisher, but I went ahead and hand stitched gold Razzle Dazzle thread around the center motif, the spiral itself and the binding.

My quilt went on to win "Best Machine Workmanship" in the 2011 Hoffman Challenge, and has been shown across the country and in Ireland.  It has also been shown in some special exhibits.  I am soooo glad I braved the unknown and stepped into new territory.  Pick up a copy of the Dec/Jan issue of Quilters Newsletter Magazine.  My essay about this quilt is in the column "300 Words."

BTW I am entering this quilt in the Bloggers' Quilt Festival  in the Original Design category
this week.  Voting will be November 1.  You can also click the button on the right sidebar.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marking the Quilt

I promised to talk about the quilting of my spiral quilt this week, but I think it is important to address marking techniques before I go into the actual sewing process.  As a newbie I was deeply puzzled about how to mark my quilts, but slowly I learned many different methods with varying degrees of success. I will share with you my opinions about the tools that I have used over the years.

1. Chalk
Chalk for marking is available in pencil form and powder form.  The pencil form has pieces of chalk that fit in a mechanical type pencil.  The chalk comes in several different colors, and refills can be purchased.  The powder form is used in a dispenser with a cog roller at the bottom.  You can purchase refills in white and blue.

Pros:  Tried and true method for marking fabric.  Easily removed.  Chalk sticks can be sharpened, but the point doesn't last long.  Both come in colors that will show on light and dark fabric.
Cons:  Chalk sticks break easily.  Chalk brushes off easily so you can mark only a small area at a time.

2.  Pouncing Chalk
To do this you must first punch holes in a paper pattern.  This can be done by running the paper through the sewing machine using an unthreaded needle to outline.  By stapling several layers together you can make more than one punched pattern at a time.  However, usually you can use the same piece several times.  Once the holes are punched, lay the pattern on the quilt bumpy side up and gently glide the pouncer across the template (don't whack it from above).  Lift the template and the chalk outlines your design.  The chalk comes in both white and blue.

Pros:  Once the holes are punched this is easy and accurate.  Either white or blue shows up well on most fabrics.
Cons:  The chalk rubs off easily so you can prepare only a small area at a time.  It doesn't work well for a very complex design.

Pouncing chalk and Golden Threads tissue
3.  Golden Threads Tissue
This tissue is a sturdy, yellow tissue paper that is great for punching holes for use with pouncing chalk.  You can also draw or machine stitch (unthreaded) the design on the paper, pin it to the quilt, and sew through paper and quilt.

Pros:  The design is clear and easy to follow.
Cons:  This paper is too thin to run through a printer.  If you sew through it on the quilt you must pick out the paper when you are done, and some tiny pieces invariably get stuck in the stitches.  I have a good pair of tweezers on hand for this problem.

4.  Blue Water-soluble Marker
This marker has become a standard in the industry.  It leaves a blue mark on the fabric which disappears with water.  DO NOT IRON.  There is also a Blue Line Eraser currently available (I have not tried this).

Pros:  Works beautifully and is one of my most used tools.  It stays until I am done with my quilting.  Washes out with water.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark fabrics.  Can dry out, but you can keep it in the freezer between uses and it works like new (I have not tried this).  Cannot iron over it.  I have also heard that the ink sometimes disappears spontaneously (hasn't happened to me!).  As I say, I have encountered no issues with this marker on my quilts (100% cotton), but some people have had problems.

Blue Water-Soluble marker
5.  White Marker
There are two white markers on the market.  One is water soluble (I have not tried this) and the other disappears with heat, i.e. the iron.

Pros:  Shows up on dark colors.
Cons:  My experience is with the heat-removable variety.  I found that it didn't show up immediately, which I don't like.  When it finally appeared, it was hard to see.  I marked a big quilt and by the time I got 1/4 of the way through my quilting all the white marks had disappeared and had to be re-marked.

(No photo - I no longer use this)

6.  Purple or Magenta Disappearing Ink Marker
This marker is visible for 2-3 days and disappears when exposed to air or water.

Pros:  Handy for marking when needed for only a short time.  Can be removed with water if desired.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark colors.

Purple and Magenta Disappearing Ink markers
7.  Ceramic Pencil
I love my ceramic pencil.  Mine is made by Sew-Line, but there are other brands.  The ceramic "lead" is like chalk, but is sturdier, thinner and doesn't brush off as easily as chalk.  However, it can be erased with the eraser on the pencil or by rubbing with a piece of fabric.  Refills of the ceramic filler can be purchased in several colors.

Pros:  Easy as a pencil to use.  Gives a fine line.
Cons:  Keeps getting buried under fabric because I use it so much!

Sew-Line Cermaic pencil
8.  Colored Pencil
Colored marking pencils come in several colors and have for years.

Pros:  Marks a relatively fine line.  Doesn't smear.  Lasts long enough to do the quilting.
Cons:  Yellow may be difficult to remove.  Constantly need sharpening and the points break easily.

(No photo - I don't use these either)

9.  Frixion Pen
These pens come in different colors and can be purchased at office supply stores as well as quilt stores.  A hot iron removes all visible marks.

Pros:  Easy to find for purchase.  Gives a clear fine line.  Several colors.  Will iron off.
Cons:  Although the color of the ink is removed by the iron, a residue is left on the fabric, which shows up if the fabric is frozen.  Sometimes it shows without freezing.  I do not use these.

Frixion Pen
10.  Freezer Paper Template
I recently stumbled onto this one.  Trace a design on freezer paper and cut it out.  Iron it onto your sandwiched quilt and trace around it with the blue water-soluble marker or ceramic pencil.  Remove the freezer paper and repeat where needed.  Works great.

Pros:  It is easy to trace a design on freezer paper.  It stays put after ironing while you trace around it onto a quilt sandwich.  The template can be reused numerous times.  It is cheap.
Cons:  It takes time to cut out the template.  You have to be careful not to iron over any of the blue marker if that is the marker you used.

Freezer Paper
11.  Hera Marker
The Hera Marker is a plastic tool with a sharpish "blade" on one end.  It is not sharp enough to cut anything.  You can draw a line by pressing the blade end on the fabric.  It leaves an indentation that lasts long enough to sew a short distance.  You can draw a curve or a line on which to perch some motifs so they will line up properly.  Also useful for "finger" pressing.

Pros:  Handy and quick to use.
Cons:  Indentation is short lived.

Hera Marker
12.  Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy
This is a fabulous water soluble product.  You can draw on it or run it through the printer, peel off the paper backing, and it sticks to the quilt with a light adhesive.  You quilt right through it and the quilt sandwich.  You can also use it as a soluble stabilizer.

Pros:  Stays put while you quilt, but pulls away easily if you need to reposition it before sewing.  I used it for a complex design that I wanted to be as symmetrical as possible, and it worked beautifully.  It completely dissolves in water with a little soaking and a little hand agitation.  I have used it on 100% cotton and it does not appear to have left any residue.
Cons:  It is more expensive than other options (about $15 for 12 sheets 8.5 x 11 inches).

Below is a piece of recent quilting I have done.  The animals were cut from freezer paper and I traced around them with a ceramic pencil.  I also used the ceramic pencil to place the red diamonds as they had to be positioned relative to the quilt's center.  I tried pouncing chalk for the feathers, but the chalk dots looked like a starry sky and I couldn't tell where to quilt.  Eventually I drew the border design on tracing paper, scanned it into my computer, printed it on the Sticky Fabri-Solvy, stuck it to the quilt and began quilting. Fabulously easy!  The fillers and the lines of pebbles were done freehand.  All quilting was FMQ on my Viking domestic machine.  The feathers were painted with Shiva Paintsticks after the quilt was all finished.

A portion of my quilt "Bigtop"
The caveat to all this is that you should test any marking tool on the fabric that you will be using.  There is no single way to mark a quilt.  Your choice of tools depends on the quilt, the quilting design for that quilt, and whether you are able to draw freehand with the needle...or not.  I like to draw out my major designs, but do all my fillers freely.  I usually use more than one technique before I am finished with a quilt.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to try new techniques.  Some work, some don't.  Some work for me, but not for you.  Experiment!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Sew it Together

You have finished all the paper piecing and are admiring the completed shapes on your design wall.  Now you get to sew those shapes together, which is exactly like sewing the pieces of any quilt together. First, you sew the shapes (pentagon and triangle here) of the wedge together until you have all your wedges complete, then sew the wedges together.  With only two shapes this is a relatively simple matter.

You will have points to watch along the seam lines.  Be sure they look the way you want them to before you go on.  Some of my points refused to behave at the seam line so I cut out little flowers from one of the fabrics and appliquéd them over the offending areas (see right side of photo).  This was a better solution than redoing seams until the fabric died.

TIP:  Covering up faults is not cheating.  It is called artistic innovation.

Another problem area may be the very center where all the wedges come together.  This design has a lot of seams jammed up tight at the center point and it was impossible to put them together nicely.  My solution was to make a 4 inch kaleidoscope of six small wedges from my feature fabric, and appliqué it over the bulky center.  From the back I cut away the bulk.

TIP:  One way to avoid problems in the center is to use a single fabric at the point of the wedge and choose a hexagon or octagon for your design (6 or 8 wedges).  That chosen fabric could be fussy-cut to yield an interesting design.  This solution would have to be included as part of the original design.

I have not tried it yet on a spiral quilt, but on my next one I am going to glue baste the seams together instead of pinning.  See Christy Fincher's tutorial on this process.  I tried it on a recalcitrant border on my current work in progress and it was fabulous.  When you think about it, no matter how careful you are with pins, they distort the fabric.  I have spent way too much time redoing seam junctions, and with spirals there are often more than two seams coming together.  RaNae Merrill likes to keep the paper in until the seams are sewn.  I prefer working with the fabric without paper so I tear off at least the seam allowance.  You'll have to find what works best for you.

TIP:  Take your time, work slowly and carefully, and it will be beautiful.

Pressing is a major issue as the bulky seams have a mind of their own.  I just let them play their own game as long as the piece looks nice on the front.  The only time I try to control them is when I have three or more seams at a junction.  Then I like to have all the seams flat in the same direction so I end up with a nice little rosette at the center.  That often means that a seam will have to twist somewhere along its length.  To tell you the truth, I have never noticed those twists when the quilt is done and they don't interfere with the quilting.  They are less bulky than the seam junctions.

Finishing requires placing the circular design onto a background, and I leave it to you to figure out how your special design will be displayed.  I put mine onto a square or rectangular background by sewing large pieces of fabric onto the edges of the spiral however they will work and be easiest to sew.  You can face the mandala, cut away excess fabric after it is turned, and appliqué it to a background.  If you do this, you will have a circular border around the finished spiral.  The heavy seams of the spiral will not turn under neatly so they have to be sewn in a way that allows them to lay flat.

This is the finished quilt that I have been describing.  In my next post I will talk about quilting this type of quilt.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Sewing

The planning and shopping are all done.  The new fabric is pre-washed (I always do that).  The pattern is drawn or printed and ready to be your guide.  If you have never done any paper piecing I suggest you try it out on a simple block to acquaint yourself with the basic concept.  There are lots of tutorials on the Web.  I also recommend my go-to sources:  RaNae Merrill's books, "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts" and "Magnificent Spiral Mandala Quilts."  That said, I will give you my version of paper piecing spiral shapes.

TIP:  You only have to know one thing:  You can learn anything!

Here is the paper pattern.  In my mother's art stuff I found some old tracing paper which is soft and translucent and that is what I am using for this tutorial.  Usually I use Sulky Paper Solvey, which is also translucent but I don't have any on hand.  It helps to be able to see through the paper, but copy paper will work in a pinch.  The finished product will be the reverse of the printed side of the pattern sheet.

Printed side of the paper pattern

Step 1.  We start every round with the star triangle.  This is not necessary, but it keeps me from getting mixed up.  This serves as a reminder that this first triangle is unique and will require special treatment.  With the printed side of the paper pattern facing you fold it toward you accurately on the red line (above), which the starred triangle and center share.  This is where it helps to see the line showing through to the other side.  The red lines outline the first triangle.   The folded paper covers the center piece, but don't forget it is there.

Step 2.  Prepare a piece of fabric for the center at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Prepare a second piece of fabric for the triange at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Line the fabrics up together along a straight edge, right sides together, center fabric on top (wrong side of center fabric will be facing you).  The ghost shapes show how each piece will fit on its piece of fabric.  The fabric showing at the top will be seam allowance.

TIP:  It is clear that there is plenty of fabric for the white center.  The red is behind and you will have to visualize whether you have enough fabric for the triangle.  A pin stuck through a side or corner of the paper triangle can help to make sure there is enough to cover.  Obviously I have lots of red to cover the triangle, but I am using scraps rather than cutting rectangles for each piece.  You must  have enough fabric to cover each piece and its seam allowance or you will end up with frayed edges on the front.  You will trim the excess as you go along.  Generosity is good.

Step 3.  Lay your folded pattern on top of the two fabrics leaving 1/4" seam allowance above the paper fold, then unfold the paper carefully holding the two fabrics in place.  You may need to pin them in place or secure with painter's tape as you cannot see the fabric when sewing.

TIP:  Before sewing adjust the stitch length of the machine to a shorter stitch.  My "normal" is 2.5 and I drop it to 1.5.  This holds securely with the added benefit of making the paper easier to remove later.

Step 4 (first round only - star triangle):  Lay paper and fabric down on the sewing machine, paper side up.  Now you are ready to sew exactly on the line between the center and the triangle starting at the wide end of the triangle.  Yes, you sew through the paper and both fabrics.  On ONLY the FIRST triangle of each round you sew a partial seam as shown below, stopping about 1/4" before the junction with the triangle abutting the point of the triangle you are sewing.  No need to backstitch.

Step 5:  Turn the paper over to the fabric side and fold the triangle fabric away from the center fabric so the right side shows and press the seam you just sewed.

TIP:  I find that using the iron eventually scorches the paper and makes it brittle and cranky.  I prefer to press with this handy, Hera Marker by Clover, which is available where quilting supplies are sold.  You could also use a small wallpaper roller or a spoon.

TIP:  It is critical that the fabric be pressed completely back from the seam if you want those crisp, perfect points that are the earmark of good paper piecing.

After pressing, fold the tail of the starred fabric (1st triangle of this round) back to the "stop" line and pin or tape the tail out of the way.  See the photo in Step 7.

Step 6:   With the printed side of the pattern toward you fold the paper on the line of the next triangle (#2) to the left, formed by it and the center.  Trim all visible fabric to 1/4" above the fold.  With the right side of the fabric for #2 triangle facing you, line up its raw edge with and under the trimmed fabric (right sides together) above the paper fold.  Make sure the fabric will cover the triangle and its seam allowance.  Open the paper and sew on the line from the wide end of the triangle all the way to the point.  Turn and press.

Step 7:  Moving in a counterclockwise direction (looking at it from the printed side of the pattern) continue to add fabrics to the other triangles in the round.  Trim, stitch and press each time.

TIP:  Be careful not to cut or stitch the folded-back portion of the star triangle fabric.

The photo below shows the star fabric plus two more pieces added.  Note the way the star fabric is turned back and secured out of the way with a pin.

TIP:  Don't worry about extra fabric.  It all gets trimmed as you go along.

Step 6:  When all the triangles of the first round are sewn and pressed, we are back to the unfinished first triangle, the special star.  Remove the pin and, using Elmer's School Glue (no other) run a small line close to the raw edge of the turned-under seam allowance.  Lay the glued fabric down on the fabric of the last triangle (light blue in this case) and heat set.  This is the only time I use the iron.

FYI:  Elmer's School Glue is starch based.  It will not hurt the fabric or your children even if they mistake it for snack food.  It will hold the seam securely as the fabric is manipulated and sewn, but will wash out.

Step 7:  Now we do the super sneaky trick.  Move your fingers to the junction of the star fabric and that of the second triangle you sewed (dark blue in this case).  Grab hold of both fabrics and gently tear the whole unit from the paper until you come to stitched junction.  Now the star fabric will lay flat and you can see the partial seam.  If it tends to wrinkle a bit, restrain its exuberance by flattening it with a pin to avoid stitching wrinkles in.

Step 8:  Turn the whole thing over to the printed side of the paper pattern and stitch from the end of the partial seam out to the point of the triangle.

Step 9:  Turn over, press and admire your first round of paper piecing.  Use a small piece of tape to repair the torn bit of the paper pattern.

Step 10:  Sew the succeeding rounds in the same manner using steps 1 to 9, moving ever closer to the outer edge.  Instead of sewing triangles to the center you will sew the triangles of round B to a previously stitched triangle of round A, moving further out with each round.

TIP:  When/if you do a mirror version of this shape you will be working clockwise instead of counterclockwise, but always from the wide end of the triangle.

On my demo piece I stitched a final two pieces of black to each side of the pentagon top.  I pieced them through the paper as before, but they are not part of a "round."  This is an unnecessary element that is dictated by the design.  Below is the finished block from the printed side of the pattern.  Trim away any excess by cutting along the outside line of the seam allowance.

Turning the finished shape over reveals the finished, paper pieced block.  Note how the points nest perfectly into the junctions of the triangles (red circles).  Now you can press it with the iron.

TIP:  You must watch the points every time you press.  If you notice a nasty misfit later, you will not be able to go back and fix it.  The only thing you can do is start over.  I've done that too!  If your pressing is sloppy the points will be too.

TIP:  Christy Fincher has a great tutorial on paperless paper piecing.  I have tried it and loved it, but it doesn't work on the spirals that I have tried.  The seams get too bunched up and close together to sew properly.

Next post I will talk about sewing the shapes together and quilting the finished product...and I will show you my first, finished spiral quilt.