Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Perfect Quilt

I am slowly reading Quilters Newsletter Magazine, one of my standby subscriptions for many years.  This is the last issue after 47 years of publication, and I am chewing on every word and savoring every picture.  I will miss this magazine so I am including a couple of quotes from this Oct-Nov 2016 issue that are pertinent to my topic.

Thomas Knauer p 40:  
"There is no such thing as a perfect quilt. In my mind the great beauty of quilts is the fact that no matter how we try to achieve perfection the materials will always resist us. Fabric stretches, thread breaks. The geometric perfection of a plan will always confront the material reality of physics."

This is such a true statement!  It is also true that imperfections are often the underpinnings of creativity.  If you read my blog regularly you may think that I spend all my time messing up.  Well, I do my fair share, but you will note that I titled my blog "Quilting Solutions."  If there were never any problems, what would I write about?

Aside from the vagaries of materials and tools, where do problems come from?
  • Ignorance.  This does not mean you are dumb or stupid.  It just means you are still learning how to sew, or how to sew quilts.  There are certain techniques that must be learned and understood in order to create a good looking quilt that will stand up to ordinary use.  Take classes, join a guild, read books, talk to more experienced quilters.
  • Lack of skill.  You haven't had the practice yet to internalize the techniques of sewing and quilting quilts. Practice, practice, practice.  Make lots of quilts.  Do lots of quilting.
  • Carelessness.  We all have our moments.   We tend to get careless when we try to work extra fast (deadline to meet?), when we get tired, when our neck hurts, when our mind wanders, when the kids are screaming.  You need to get up every so often to stretch, walk around and get a drink of water.  I have even been known to do laundry and clean house!  Nothing helps me sew better than having a clean, tidy environment - however I draw the line at fanaticism.  I raised six daughters and would have tipped over the edge if I had been a super fussy housekeeper (moderation is good).
  • Sewing Machine problems.  Sewing machines are just that:  machines.  They get dirty, parts wear out, and adjustments slip.  Learn how to keep your machine clean and lint free.  Find a reputable repair person and take it in for regular check-ups and thorough, internal cleaning and adjusting according to his recommendation.  Always treat it kindly and it will repay the favor.
  • Pattern Difficulties.  Poorly written directions.  Design flaw.  If you are working with a purchased pattern you can try to contact the designer.  She (or he) may appreciate your input.  If you design your own patterns you'll just have to ponder the flaw, talk to others, check your bookshelf and Pinterest, and ultimately you will find a creative solution.
I run into problems because I design my own quilts, make the patterns and sit down to sew.  Things don't always work as I had planned, and often I did not notice that some part of the design would not follow my directions.  I combat my lack of foresight by making testers to try out ideas.  This usually turns up a problem or two that I can solve before I start working on the quilt in earnest.   The surest way to solve problems is to make the quilt completely, solve the problems and make a second one incorporating all solutions.  Ugggh - not for me.  Usually once is enough and I am ready to move on to my next idea.

I am now planning the quilting for my spiral quilt, and have spent a lot of time drawing designs.  I have one motif that flows across two borders of contrasting shades of blue.  I was not sure how this would play out so I made a tester for....uh.....testing.  I made it big enough to incorporate the design from 1/8 of the quilt.  At the same time I previewed possible ideas for thread type and color.  I do not bother fixing minor goofs in stitching nor do I bother tying off thread on these transient endeavors.  The point of a tester is to get a general idea of what it will look like eventually.

Each motif is filled with a different shade of blue stippling.
My choice is on the left.  Ultimately they will all have the same thread. (Click to see large)
After looking at this I decided that I did not like the way the seam line cut through parts of the motif. Back to the drawing board.  I maintained the same idea, but revised it so that the seam doesn't cut anything in half.  The final design can be seen as a totality or as two separate ideas that work together.  Depends on how your brain works.  I have also used my chosen thread.

Glad I tested.  I like this now.
TIP:  Testers take time, but I have never done one that I felt was a waste of that time.  I always discover something that would look better with an adjustment.  I am sooooooo glad that I tested this design and didn't have to unstitch all the quilting or look at it the rest of my life and wish that I had.

Next problem.  I was planning to quilt the spirals with stitch-in-the-ditch only.  However, the quilting on these outer borders is very dense so I think I need to come up with some more quilting on the spirals for balance.  I started working on that as I lay in bed this morning trying to avoid throwing off the covers and facing the cold air of morning.  I call that process free motion thinking.

I leave you with another quote from the above mentioned magazine.  Pam Rocco (p 48) states,
" 'You must plan to be spontaneous.'  David Hockney, a very sensible British painter said that.  I proved it to myself by making a quilt that glows.....  That it glows is an accident, but I did plan, which is how the accident happened."            Wrap your mind around that one!!

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you only happy accidents.


Monday, September 19, 2016

When Points are Really Points.

Last week I dealt with fabric "spaghetti" caused by a design flaw (my bad), where I had too many points coming together in the same place.  It was a mess, but was solved relatively easily.  Spiral quilts have many points and it takes some experience to be able to think ahead about the difficulty, or lack thereof, in sewing them together perfectly.   This week I will show you some lesser pitfalls of quilty points that come together in seams.  When paper piecing it is relatively easy to get sharp points, but it is not so easy to maintain control when they come to a point in a seam.

Don't bother with lots of tiny points coming close into the center (see here) unless you want fabric spaghetti.  Likewise it doesn't work well to have tight points coming together at a corner where you plan to attach a mitered border corner.  In the situation below I could see trouble coming as soon as I sewed the seam.

Tiny point at the corner.
I could tell that this was going to be a nightmare if I wanted to achieve perfection.  I am sure it can be done, but I chose not to hassle it.  So here's what I did:

Corner redo.
I took some border fabric and created an arrow effect in each corner.  I will quilt along the original seam lines to give the effect of a ghost point and to carry through the idea.  No problem getting that perfect.  It also looks nice on the quilt as a whole.

Wide angle points should also be sharp, and they are easier to manage.  There are two of these in the above photo.  The light blue corner (top of photo) and the dark blue of the added piece where it meets at the seam.  You glue the raw edges of the seam allowance together, but add extra glue on the seam allowance of the point fabric all the way to the seam line.  Make sure the folds of the two pieces come together perfectly AT THE SEAM LINE.  Press.  Carefully check the right side.  Sew and it should be perfect.  If it isn't you can easily un-stitch, pull the glued edges apart and try again.  If that doesn't do it, try sewing the seam in the other direction.  You could also baste across the meeting of the points.

TIP:  Again:  Use only Elmer's School Glue.  It is completely washable and will not harm the fabric.

The tiny, points at a seam line are a lot harder.  From a distance they may be fine, but look closely to make sure.  They much prefer to nest than line up.

TIP:  If you are designing a quilt try to avoid having to match teeny, tiny points in a seam.  Think ahead about how you will stitch every single seam and whether you are willing to accept the consequences (ripping and re-doing) if it doesn't go together the way it did in your dreams.

Unacceptable mis-match.
I restitched this twice by the above method, but was still unable to achieve perfection.  So, on to another solution.  I unstitched about 3/4 inch across the point.  From the back I took a tiny stitch or two at the point of the light-colored fabric to make sure the folded edges came together perfectly where I wanted them.  Then from the right side I used tiny ladder stitches to close the opening.  By doing it from the front I could manipulate needle and fabric to make sure all was in line.  It is well secured, and quilting will later reinforce the hand stitching.

Perfect point.  (Sorry, color variation and poor focus spoils the effect, but it is perfect!)
TIP:  Try, try again, but be careful not to destroy your fabric.  Sometimes hand stitching works best.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you perfect points always.



Monday, September 12, 2016

When Spaghetti is the Main Course

Quilts and spaghetti don't really go well together.
  • Spaghetti stains.  Need I say, "Don't eat it in the sewing room?"
  • Spaghetti inherently requires noodles, which are full of carbs and cause fat retention.  Try the sauce on veggies or quinoa instead.
  • When you are eager to get to sewing you may forget to put it in the crock pot at noon to cook, resulting in no dinner to fill your tummy after burning lots of sewing calories.
The other kind of spaghetti has no calories, does not stain and "cooks" as you sew, although it may cause temporary, frustrated hair pulling.  This is the center of my quilt with 8 seams coming together with a seam down the center of each piece = 16 seams!  Is that a mess, or what?  I couldn't even attempt stitching because, with the paper from paper piecing in there too, I couldn't get the presser foot to go over it.  I love my baby spiral better every minute and can't wait to cut this mess out and attach the spinning center.  I have to pull out the paper backing first and that is tedious, but is a great bit of television handwork.

Spaghetti at center point.
Additionally there is the problem of skinny points in my spiral quilt.  It begins with the design.
Pattern with fabric sewn to other side (seam allowance untrimmed).
These big triangles will be sewn together down the center.
See the arrows (click to enlarge)?  They show the troublesome, long, elegant strips of fabric.  Now imagine all these skinny pieces of fabric with 1/4 inch seam allowance between all of them.  Then sew the two main shapes together and you have another seam with another 1/4 inch seam allowance.   The result is major spaghetti.  The points at the very bottom are the center of my quilt and this is only one quarter of the center.  It is a major mess that I did not visualize in the design process.  A real learning experience.  Burned spaghetti!!!  Not only that, but the mess of tiny points is so thick it is impossible to work with.  What to do?  As usual I let it percolate and worked on some less problematic point challenges, which I will address next week.  

TIP:  Got a problem?  Don't despair.  My favorite, and oft-stated recommendation is to sit on it, sleep on it, think about it, and you will eventually come up with a solution.  I do this often!

I was not giving up on this quilt!  I went to my computer to play with ideas, and decided to try covering the center with a four-point star offset from the one already there, then appliqué my spiral into the center of it before appliquéing the whole thing to the quilt.   Ultimately, I will cut away as much of the over-seamed area underneath as possible.

This was not exactly simple, but do-able.  Without the center sewed together the quilt was a bit unstable so that had to be tackled first.  I cut away about 1/2 inch of the spaghetti so I could see what I was doing.  I unglued the center seam allowances (see above) and ironed them open.  That helped the center to lay a little flatter.  Then I pinned six straight strips of fabric across the center to temporarily stabilize it so I could measure the center of the quilt east to west and north to south.  It came out the same!!!  Now it was time to make the star.

TIP:  It is imperative to stay on top of the quilt measurements or you will have difficulty when it comes time to apply the border(s).  It was especially important here because there was real risk of the center going wonky.

Four pieces for a star.
I used one of the above points to cut two pieces of freezer paper ironed shiny sides together as a guide for pressing back seam allowances.  Then I cut the fabric, starched and ironed the seam allowance around the sharp pointed sides of the pattern.  I stitched the four pieces together to hold the center solid.  Next I hand appliquéd the spiral to the center of the star.  I laid the quilt back on the table, measured again, removed the pinned, stabilizing strips, and glued the star in place.

Appliquéing was the easy part.  I did the hand sewing with Kimono silk thread.  I had never used silk for appliqué and I LOVE it.  It is strong, thin and melts into the fabric invisibly.  Hurray!  Very happy.

Here is a graphic of what the center was supposed to look like:

Illustrator version.  Four point star


Here is a photo of the  new center with the appliqué completed:

Red marker is appliqué.  Green marker is the star that is part of the pieced quilt top.
Eight point star.
(click to enlarge)
See how the appliqué points line up over the teensy points?  The worst of the spaghetti is underneath and will be cut away.  Not only did this solution fix the problem, but I really like the way it looks!

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you successful solutions to your problems.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hoffman Challenge Response

I  wrote about the Hoffman Challenge and how disappointed I was that the whole show was not at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival in August.  See my post here.  I am posting a response that was written by Michelle Flores, the curator for the Challenge, on their Facebook page:

I very sincerely apologize for the poor communication process in concluding the 2016 contest.  It was not our intention to leave you hanging with questions about your artwork and the "next steps" of prizes and trunk shows. We've been running behind schedule and are working to catch up with all over the next couple of weeks. Winners were announced on the Hoffman Fabrics' website on the Challenge Facebook page, but I did a poor job of informing you about the unveiling of category winners. Click here to see the winning artwork.

{Regarding} ROCKY MOUNTAIN QUILT FESTIVAL: I deeply regret the lack of notice on the Hoffman website / Facebook pages that this show in August would NOT be showing the entire 2016 collection. This year, there was a 40-piece trunk on exhibit. I failed to recognize there would be wide interest from many Challengers who regularly attend the show. I feel much remorse over disappointing those who attended.

This was Ms Flores' first year as curator and coordinator for the challenge, and I thought it was a gracious move to write this post.  I am hoping she and the people from Hoffman Fabrics will see fit to show the whole collection at Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival again in the future.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Binding Redo Continued

Two weeks ago I told you I was removing the binding on my Phoenix quilt before it left for the next show. I reviewed Sharon Schamber's great video on straight-grain binding, removed the offending binding and began again.  I went at it very carefully, following all her directions to the letter.

She shows how she does the mitered corners and it is really easy, but I stitched slightly "off" on one and had to go back and redo it.  Easily fixed so not too bad.

TIP:  Check each corner as soon as you finish it.  It is easier to fix it right away than to wait until the binding is finished.  You can get a tiny pleat if you are not careful.

The other place where I had a bit of trouble was getting the binding to cover the stitching on the back.  In some places I had to really tug to get it where I wanted it.  One place I redid the seam for about six inches.  Note to Self:  Next time sew the seam a skosh closer to the raw edge.  However, my binding is FULL!  Judges like that.

Every step of the way is glued with Elmer's School Glue.  This keeps things in line without any distortion.  The only downside for me was that I got glue all over the place.  Even with a tiny tip it escaped and showed mostly on the binding back, but some on the front too.  However, I soldiered on and finished it all.

Sharon uses the ladder stitch to sew the binding down on the back.  I had never done this so I investigated.  Wow! That is really worth learning.  It is easy and looks so much better than a hem stitch.  I can't show a photo as I was working black on black with black thread.  It was hard to see well enough to sew, but magnifying glasses helped.  It worked so well that I took no photo.  The stitches didn't show!!

TIP:  Learn the ladder stitch.  It is easy!

Finale:  Here is how I got rid of the glue spots.  My quilt had already been blocked so the edges were nice and straight and the corners square.  I needed to wet down the binding to dissolve the visible glue, but didn't want the quilt to get distorted.  I pulled out my blocking board (one inch styrofoarm insulation) and pinned the quilt face down to it in the same manner as for the original blocking.  I measured the sides, placed pins at critical points, measured again, and placed pins 1/2 inch apart all around at the edge where the binding is sewed to the quilt.  Since the quilt was dry and straight, there was no pushing and pulling to get it in line.  I just wanted to secure the shape.  Then I grabbed the spray bottle of water and soaked the binding exuberantly -- only the binding -- and let it dry overnight.  In the morning the glue spots were completely gone on both the front and back.  Magic!  Bonus:  the quilt is still straight.

TIP:  Think it through, and if you think you have a solution, try it.  If this hadn't worked I would have soaked the quilt and reblocked it.  BTW  I am very glad I didn't have to do that!!

Result?  I think my binding is neater and more professional.  The quilt is off to a show now.  We'll see what the judges think.

Once again no sewing-related photo.  No sewing this week either, other than the binding as I have had guests for two weeks and a nasty virus as well.  We had a great drive into Rocky Mountain National Park, and I saw my first moose close enough for a photo... but not too close.  They are a fairly recent addition to our wonderful selection of wildlife, but they are huge and unpredictable especially at this time of year.  Here is my photo of the big bull:

Bull Moose
 Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you success with your next binding.