Saturday, 28 February 2015

Sewing to the beat of someone else's drum and a plea to all knitters!

To date I've always made quilts and items to satisfy my own aesthetic - I picked the pattern, I picked the fabrics, I choose the quilting. Even when I made an item as a gift, I still design it from start to finished although bearing in mind the intended recipient.

But on Friday (hopefully!) someone will be bidding on and winning a quilt to be made by me but entirely chosen by the winner. Eek! The auction is to support a fantastic charity called "Let's Talk About William" which provides practical and welcome comfort and support to parents of still born babies.

Essentially it's a commission and I'll have no control over the fabric, the design or the end product. The complete lack of control was pretty scary until I had a reminder this week that that feeling is basically what a parent feels 100% of the time - you're marching (or sewing in my case!) to the beat of someone else's drum. And if I can raise some money for an awesome case whilst doing it, that's fine by me.

A final plea to all knitters - the charity is looking for some kind souls to knit identical pairs of blankets. One blanket will go with baby to their rest and the other will stay with Mum and Dad to provide comfort. If you'd like to help out, check out the charity's website.

Right I'm off the clear the decks of my WIPs before Friday rolls around.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Quilting gadgets and Recollection by Katarina Roccella

I'm a complete magpie when it comes to quilting tools and gadgets - if it's shiny, I want it. If it lights up, I want it. If I think it will save me 5 seconds of time, I want it.

Some purchases have been invaluable and some have been utter disasters.

In the "I couldn't live without" column:-

Sewslip quilting mat - so much cheaper than the Supreme Slider, this Teflon mat means I'm not fighting with my quilt quite as much as I would have been otherwise. I got mine from Quilt Direct.

Aurifil and Isacord for piecing and quilting respectively. Thousands of colours are available but I usually piece with 2024 from Aurifil (from Quilt Direct or Sew and Quilt)and quilt with white or block Isacord (from Barnyarns).

My small ironing pad and travel iron - they fit perfectly next to my sewing machine and mean that I don't have to keep going up and down stairs to press fabric. I can't for the life of my remember who I bought it from but I got it at the Festival of Quilts last year.

In the "Er, it seemed a good idea at the time" column:

Hand quilting hoop - I tried, I failed. I'm far too impatient and clumsy to hand quilt and am awe and inspired by those who do.

1/4" foot with fixed metal guide - I found it more difficult to sew with the guide as I couldn't see exactly where the edge of my fabric was. I now use a clear plastic 1/4" foot without a guide.

Cheap scissors - you definitely get what you pay for with scissor and I didn't pay much for these so...

Have you ever anything you regret? Or now wonder how you lived without?

Finally have you seen Katarina Roccella's new "Recollection" line for Art Gallery Fabrics? How gorgeous is this range?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The fabric stash that ate the world!

Ok, so this sounds like a B movie title but it's also a fairly accurate description of the fabric which seems to be taking over my sewing room.

I recently bought some extra storage (that extra suitcase from Missouri Star Quilt Co really held a lot of layer cakes and jelly rolls!) and it spurred me to try to sort out my stash. It soon became clear that I can basically survive without buying any more fabric for a year. Or more. Maybe a decade. Seriously, I could open a shop with just the amount of Kona snow yardage I own.

Being on a fabric diet very similar to being on a food diet - you know that you're doing it for your own good and that you'll feel better in the long run but....oh but I want to cheat so badly!

On my "I don't need it but I want it" list is Aloha Girl by Fig Tree Quilts

Black and White by Cotton and Steel (those hares!)

Clementine by Heather Bailey

and finally Feed Company by Sweetwater

Yeah, the diet's going to go great...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Sew On and On and On

Back to the Fat Quarter Shop Snapshots block of the month with February's block - Sew On and On. It's an incredibly cute replica of a sewing machine, complete with thread and buttons.

Again it's a fairly simple block to piece apart from the sheer volume of pieces; over 30 for one 12.5" by 16.5" block!

I (along with many others it seems) am looking forward to the puppy and bicycle blocks but they're all adorable.

Unlike most block of the month projects, this one doesn't seem to be teaching me any new techniques but still wins hands down in the cuteness stakes! Bring on March.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Siblings Together blocks

A slight sojourn from the Fat Quarter Shop Snapshots block of the month today with some slashed nine patches for the Siblings Together project.

If you aren't already aware, this is an awesome project which gives quilts to siblings separated by the social care system. 

The blocks are pretty simple to make - just make a nine patch and then cut it twice in the diagonal.  Swap some sections between blocks and voila - slashed nine patches! 

Mary Emmens of Handmade by Mary Emmens has requested that fabrics suitable for a teenage boy are used so I dug through my stash and got rid of anything with pink, rainbows and/or ponies! 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Electrifying the quilting process

I've now spent a few hours playing around with EQ7 and, whilst I've still got a long way to go, I've at least managed to design a few blocks and quilts.

I've also discovered that I'm rubbish at naming quilts. I ended up calling this one "On Target" for lack of any other inspiration. Any suggestions from people more creative than me are definitively welcome!

I've wanted to do a monochrome quilt for a while and the combination of curves and straight line seemed to fit in with the modern quilt movement which I seem to be leaning towards these days.

The splash of pink is completely out of my usual comfort zone but seemed to finish off the design.

Meanwhile, back to the drawing board...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Let them eat cake and...cake!

The final part of my Fat Quarter Shop Snapshots kit came this week so, already two months behind, I thought I best crack on with things. I try to keep up with quiltalongs as the months pass or I find myself in September with nine blocks to do in one month (see Leah Day's building blocks from last year, oops!).

January's Snapshot block was "Let Them Eat Cake" - an iced layer cake block so pretty it's almost edible.

It's fairly basic to out together - all straight seams and a few snowballed corners. The only bit which requires some thought is marking the diagonal lines on the back of the squares with text print so that, when sewn and flipped over, the text is still readable. I confess to having to check every time that I had it the right way around.

Working on such a pretty cake inspired me to make some of my own.

These chocolate and raspberry butter-cream beauties are from Sally's Baking Addiction. I dare you to go on the site and not want to make at least one recipe!

I'm off to stuff myself with sugary goodness whilst cutting the pieces for my next block. I think rotary cutting whilst on a sugar high should be classified as a contact sport.

Friday, 20 February 2015

I admit it - I'm a fabric whore

I'm not sure whether that's a politically correct term (probably not!) but I confess to being fairly free and generous with my favours when it comes to fabric.

I went to Missouri Star Quilt Co in November last year and had to buy an extra suitcase to bring all my fabric home. Sorry/not sorry.

I love anything Blend Fabrics have done including the fab Treelicious which I'm making into a Jack's Chain at the moment.

Anything by Kate Spain is ok by me but my favourite is Cuzco. I'm holding some charm packs and a scrap bag for the perfect project. Just look at those teals and violets!

Ditto anything by Alison Glass, whose collections are difficult to get in the UK, at least as a whole bundle. I'm desperate to get hold of a complete FQ bundle of Sunprints but may end up having to order it from the US again. 

Just in case you think I only like bright primary colours, lots of French General and Minick and Simpson also seem to have fallen into my stash...

I'm definitely a fan of simpler palates and don't really like 30s or retro prints. Equally I think Liberty's prints are great but not really my cup of Earl Gray. But I'm always ready to be converted to s new designer or manufacturer - a girls gotta be flexible in this game after all...

What's in a (blog) name?

There are as many reasons for naming a blog as there are blogs out there.

Some people blog in their own name, some use their pets names and some their geographic area (helpful if you're the only quilter in some beautiful but remote islands!). Some choose a play on words ("sew" and "so" seem a popular choice) and others seem to go for (to the outside world) completely random words.

"Sewing Softly"  might seem to fall into the latter category but there is method in my madness. There's a lot more madness than method but I digress...

As some of you might be aware I suffer from two types of severe, chronic migraine. Yes, two types - I'm an overachiever. Ever had a migraine? The worst headache you've ever had, nausea, upset stomach, aches and pains, spots in your vision, photophobia, tiredness? Horrible wasn't it? Trying having that every single day. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, christening, holidays, weekends and weekdays. Every. single. one.

Mine are triggered by fluorescent lights, backlit screens (tv, monitors, iPads, cinema screens), tiredness etc. The usual suspects really. I've lost count of the number of specialists and pills I've tired, all to no avail. I've tried changing my diet, lifestyle, taken random holistic things (do they ever have anything other than a placebo effect?), massages, everything. I never have any idea what films are out and I take forever to watch a tv series because I can only manage an episode of so a week.

However I can't stop all activity when they strike because they happen every day so instead I've had to find things I can do. Sewing is one activity that doesn't require a computer, is calorie free and which is productive. But I can't be too noisy when I sew or my head might explode. Hence, "sewing softly".

See, I told you nothing humans do is ever random. Crazy, yes. Random, no.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Double squee!

I had two definite "squee!" moments today.

The first was when I received my final part of the Fat Quarter Shop Snapshots quiltalong kit. If you're not already aware, Fat Quarter Shops quiltalong this year is to benefit St Jude's Children's Reasearch Hospital which is a specialist children's hospital in Texas.

The cake and sewing machine blocks are from January and  February respectively so I need to catch up this weekend

The second "squee!" moment came when by EQ7 package turned up. I've had a (very brief) play with it and it's clear that I need a lot longer to get to grips with it! Hopefully it'll save me some time and graph paper in the long run!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Siblings Together - a plea for blocks!

A quick plea today for anyone able to provide some blocks for quilts for the organisation Siblings Together, a charity which provides opportunities for contact for siblings separated by the foster and adoption care systems.

Mary Emmens at Handmade by Mary Emmens is collecting simple nine patch slash blocks to go into quilts which will be gifted to siblings at Siblings Together events.

Full details can be found in Mary's guest blog on Lily's Quilts including the prescribed colour scheme, sizes and pattern. 

It's a fab opportunity to crack open that stash, whip up a few simple blocks and give a child the comfort and security that they may be missing at such a vital time in their lives.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Two lies and a truth about free motion quilting

I'll be the first to admit to being a novice at FMQ; I've only been trying for a few years. If you're looking for a complete, professional guide to starting free motion quilting this isn't it!

There are many great resources out their for beginners. Some you have to pay for (the incredible Angela Walters's Craftsy classes jump to mind immediately or even a class at your local quilt shop) and some are free (everything you could ever want to know is available at Leah Day's website which regularly had new videos and projects). It's all out there.

There are a few things which have jumped out at me over the last few years of learning - two of them no-one ever tells you and one which I wish I'd realized sooner.

1. You can't FMQ on any old sewing machine. Some people will tell you that you can use any machine that can sew a straight stitch and, whilst that might technically be true, in my experience that isn't true for a beginner. My baby Brother machine couldn't drop its feed dogs; instead Brother provided a little plastic plate to cover them up. Unfortunately the first time the quilt sandwich pushed against the plate, it popped up, blocked the needle, which then snapped and pinged up in my face. Twice. After dicing with an eye injury I had to admit defeat and straight line quilt instead.

2. Some designs just aren't possible on a domestic machine. Those beautiful designs you've seen on award winning quilts were probably done on a long arm machine where the quilter can access the whole width of the quilt top in one sweep. Don't get me wrong - there are lots of awesome patterns that you can achieve on a domestic machine if you can only access 10" square or so of your quilt at any one time, some patterns are going to be out of reach.

3. Now for the truth. A friend of a friend was recently playing the piano with a grace, fluidity and accuracy I could only envy. After he had finished, I said to him "there's a magic button someone on the piano that lets you play like that, right?!". "Yes", he replied "but they only show you where it is after the 700th hour of practice."

FMQ requires practice, regularly. When I started out I wanted to be able to flawlessly quilt feathers, spirals, flowers and more. And I wanted it now. No waiting. I've now grudgingly accepted that I need to keep practicing to stay good and get even better. One day I'll find that magic button, I know it's there somewhere.

Back to basics

Today I finished off the Quilt As You Go sashing between the rows of the Leah Day Building Blocks quiltalong. All I need to do now is trim up the edges and bind it. It's so great to have to miss out the horrible basting bit!

The blocks in this quilt are a lot simpler than I normally tackle and I must confess that I didn't originally start this quilt because of the piecing. Instead I wanted to use it to practise my free motion quilting. And whilst I did get a lot of great quilting practise (my circles are now great so long as I can mark the quilt top!), the piecing was a good reminder about fundamental blocks and techniques. With huge four patches in high contrast fabrics, there's no room to hide if your points don't perfectly match up. It's a good reminder to me that, amidst all the fancy needle point applique and bias bars, it don't mean a thing if your 1/4" seam is off.

On a separate note, how cool is this back?! I need to add a monochrome quilt to my bucket list. You can't get more basic than b&w.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The impossibility of random

Most of today was spent joining the rows of Leah Day's Building Blocks Quiltalong. The project is a "quilt as you go" project so, having pieced and quilted 42 individual blocks I now had the task of joining the blocks together in rows and (tomorrow) the rows into a quilt.

Although Leah's pattern just called for two fabrics to be used for the whole quilt, I decided to use a variety of bright solids, one per style of block. Ironically Leah later produced a Spoonflower cheater cloth which was almost identical to my finished quilt - great minds think alike! 

Here's my quilt ready to be finished off with the sashing between the rows.

Despite changing my fabrics, I still closely followed Leah's pattern so, when it called for the blocks to be sewn together in a particular order, I still followed along. Because I had used different colours to Leah, that meant the some of the neighbouring blocks had high contrast, some low. 

I'm normally a very "matchy-matchy" quilter; my nightmare is a pattern that says "randomly sew one piece A to one piece B". But what if the fabrics match?! Or clash?! Or there isn't enough contrast?! I don't think I'm ever going to manage to sew a scrappy project because my quilts and fabrics have to be planned out to the n-th degree. This was a real problem in the Mister DJ quilt where I was meant to randomly sew strips together. I confess I didn't but it still came out great. 

Happily it's not just me that had a problem with choosing things at random. Apparently humans are pre-programmed to find patterns and create order and can't therefore make truly random choices. Even when we think we are making random choices, we're actually still broadly following a pattern.

The fact that Leah's quilt now has two neighbouring pink blocks and a few clashing colour combinations is actually great - for once I've actually been random! Although technically I suppose I'm still following Leah's pattern so I'm not really being random after all. Drat.

Friday, 13 February 2015

From quilts to candles

I have two true obsessions - quilting and candles. I do love to have a candle burning in the room (but not too close!) whilst I'm piecing or quilting. It's not often that these passions overlap but I've found a little niche - candle cozies.

For those of you who have ever bought a lovely smelling jar candle but not been able go get it to light or burn properly, you know how frustrating it is. Once melted, a candle will only melt the wax which was previously molten. Any extra unmelted wax around the edges will not melt the second or subsequent time without a lot of persuasion. This is known as tunneling.

Some people wrap socks around the candle to help the unmelted wax heat up; some lay tin foil over the top to keep the heat in and melt the edges. I came up with another idea - candle cozies. Based on Amy Gibson at Stitchery Dickory Dock tutorial for a coffee cozie, they are effectively mini quilts with heat resistant batting which wrap around the candle and keep the heat in.

Aren't they cute?! Look at that perfect wax pool. The wax has melted all the way across to that the candle gives the greatest throw of fragrance and it gives the best value for money.

The one in the photos was a prototype and is a bit rough and ready.  I soon got thr technique perfected.

I've made them with fabric featuring monkeys, beer, camouflage, oranges, flowers, owls and lemons. I think there might even still be some left on the Yankee Addicts website for those who love their candles as much as me!

UnHealthy sewing

When we moved into our current house someone (who will remain nameless!) decided that it would be a good idea to install the light shade above Naomi the Janome upside down. Rather than focusing the light downwards onto my work it reflected it back up to the ceiling. Even worse, the cone shape shade collected dust so that when I finally got around to swapping it the right way round in Saturday, I found that the inside was caked in dust. Yuck!

Seeing 2 years worth of dust made me think how much dust, threads and batting fibres I must have been breathing in. My sewing room is tiny and, with the radiator on, it gets so hot I could grow papayas in there. As a result I used to turn the radiator off and keep the window shut but no more! Seeing all the gunk I'll open the window let the fresh air in.

I wonder what else might be bad for me in that little room - I know that my cutting table is too low, as evidenced by my aching back if I cut fabric for a while. My chair doesn't raise to the right height and so I end up hunched over my machine, trying to see around the foot. Come to think of it - my little studio is a death trap!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Moda Building Blocks pattern by Simply Solids

Along with lots of other quilters I'm currently piecing together the Moda Building Blocks pattern. One of my favourite shops, Simply Solids are running the pattern as a block of the month club using Kona by Robert Kaufman solids. They've cleverly matched all the tones and hues of the original pattern to produce an almost identical finished quilt.

So far we've pieced the HUGE 36" blocks, a 30", 24" and 18" blocks and we're now working our way through the 12" blocks. Still to come are some 6" blocks with tiny pieces. Yay!

Here's some pics of the larger blocks...

And some of the smaller ones...

Apart from one flying goose unit where I lost point and will probably redo, I'm fairly happy with them so far even though some of the techniques were not my usual style. For instance - I'm a "stitch and flip" flying goose girl. I know it wastes some fabric but I liked not having to sew those bias seams. Ditto for half square triangles where I like to create them two at a time by sewing down the middle of squares and then cutting them apart.

There's none of that in his pattern where all the triangles are cut on the bias and then carefully pieced together. I've talked before about why I love BOM projects and this is a good example of why. I would have stuck to my tried and tested methods if this project hadn't forced me to try something different. And now I have a new skill to show for all my hard (yeah right!) work.

Let's see whether I'm so sanguine after sewing those 3/4" seams in the 6" blocks!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

First loves and first quilts

My first quilt was a Lemoyne Star, hand pieced with white satin and bronze crinkled polyester. Yes, crazy I know. The poor choice of block (for a beginner anyway) and fabric just shows how naive I was. I still haven't finished piecing it to this day and it sits, all alone, in a little box in the corner of my lounge. Poor thing, I must finish it at some point.

My second quilt was a brown and orange disappearing nine patch monstrosity (I nicked named it "Thing") which I machine pieced on my old Brother. I purposefully chose cheap and ugly fabric so that I would be disappointed if I ruined it. I tried to free motion quilt on the Brother but, despite what everyone tells you, it just wasn't possible on a machine which couldn't drop its feed dogs and had a very flimsy foot and ankle. After two broken needles and almost an eye injury, I ended up doing wobbly straight line quilting with a walking foot. But I didn't care about clashing fabric, mismatched seams or wonky lines - I was in love with quilting.

My third quilt was a simple window box design using a jelly roll and a charm pack of Town Square Quilts by Kathy Schmitz for Moda was straight forward sashing. The finished top was so beautiful that I didn't want to sully it with my feeble attempts at quilting so sent my little quilt top away to be quilted by someone else. And here it is in all its glory.

When I received the finished quilt I was delighted with the work but felt that I had somehow abandoned my little project. I'd bought, planned, cut and pieced it but had somehow let it down at the final hurdle. It didn't feel like my quilt anymore. The fact that the quilting was so perfect and finished the quilt so completely somehow made things worse. I was determined from that moment to find a way to quilt my own pieced tops. As a result, I bought Naomi, my Janome, and together we have pieced and quilted many quilts, play mats, candle cozies and more. 

So it wasn't my first quilt or even my first machine that got me hooked. But without that Lemoyne star and the very basic Brother, I wouldn't have Dresden plates, double wedding rings and Naomi.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

(Not) hand sewing the Craftsy BoM 2015

So from last years Craftsy BOM to this years. This awesome block of the month project is designed and narrated by the fabric designer, teacher and pattern designer extraordinaire Jinny Beyer. It was only after reading up about Jinny that I discovered she was the author and designer of several fabrics and patterns that I yearn for (I'm on a fabric diet at the moment after a rather expensive but great trip to Missouri Star last year). Here's Jinny and the quilt as it should look:-

One challenge that I faced about this years project is that Jinny has designed it so that's it's suitable for hand piecing. Ah. Hand sewing is a definite weakness of mine. I have (at least) two english paper piecing projects that have been on the go for years because I'm so slow at hand sewing. But, undeterred I had a go at the first block, very carefully marking my sew lines and point.

Complete disaster. My pieces didn't fit, my 1/4" was more like 5/8" and I was wasting good fabric. So I confess to Jinny and the world (well, the blogosphere anyway) - I've  cheated. I've machine sewed my blocks so far. And they're beautiful. Sorry not sorry.

The ash block from this month was particularly challenging as it had incredibly skinny triangles to match up. I confess I unpicked at least once. But they're still beautiful. Still not sorry.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Old blocks, new shoes

A couple of days ago I wrote about changing the pattern for the Craftsy 2014 block of the month. I had it all planned out and only had to sewing in some sashing to finish the new layout. I had it all planned out. It was going to look something like this...

But somewhere between starting the sashing and finishing sewing the final parts of the quilt together, I changed my mind again. I didn't feel that the quilt was balanced enough and would need a lot of border to bring it into balance. So at the last moment, I changed my mind again. Yes I know, that's at least the third time right?!

So, the final design looks like this. 

 Overall it feels more balanced and has the added bonus of no longer needed borders. Win-win!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The secret that quilters rarely speak of - easing

I was watching House (the tv show) recently and there was an episode where one of the doctors was planning to give a speech at a medical conference entitled "Euthanasia - we all do it. Now let's talk about it". It reminded me of the one technique that I (and I suspect many other quilters) use but which we never discuss. No, not killing people (if you do that you really shouldn't discuss it!) - easing.

When I first started quilting my pieces didn't always fit together perfectly. Maybe a piece had been miscut; maybe my 1/4" seam wasn't perfectly straight; or my fabric wasn't exactly lined up. More likely it was all three! Common sense said that I should just unpick and redo but when all my seams were only very slightly off, I couldn't bear the thought of having to start again from the beginning. In some cases I didn't have the fabric available to. So I learnt the age-old technique of "easing" the mismatched seams so that they fit. 

A word of warning for any beginners - easing is not a magic solution to fix everything. It has its own problems but occasionally these are less severe than having slightly mismatched seams. In that case, easing is your friend! So how do you ease two pieces together so that they fit? 

1. Do you have enough room? Easing only works if the seam that you are trying (and failing) to match up is long enough to ease in the amount of excess mismatched fabric. If your seams are only 1/16" or 1/8" off, you can usually ease that in over a fairly short seam. If they're 3/8" or more off and your seam is short, you need to redo the block. I have managed to ease in 1/2" over a 33" long seam before but the results weren't pretty. Here's a block I had recently where there was about 1/8" excess to ease I'm over a 6" seam. 

2. Match up your starting point. The one part of the seam that you aren't going to be able to ease is the start so ensure that you match up the starting points accurately.

3. Pin. Pin a lot. Each pin is going to give you an opportunity to spread out the excess fabric and avoid buckling and creasing so pin lots. When easing, I start with a pin at the beginning and end. I also cross pin the start and end, putting a pin in perpendicular to the seam I'm going to sew but below it to ensure that the edges which I'm not sewing don't get pulled out of alignment. It's easy to end up matching the first seam perfectly but pulling the pieces so far out of alignment that the rest of the block is skewed. These extra pins minimize the risk of that.

4. Pin more. Your two pieces aren't going to lay perfectly flat together because one has more fabric than the other. It will cause gapping to appear between the fabrics. In the picture below there is more white fabric than yellow, hence the white fabric bows away from the yellow. Hold the top corners of the two pieces of fabric and very gently pull the corners in opposite ditrections. This should stretch the fabrics along the grain line, bringing them closer together. Pin in the middle to make sure the fabrics stay together. Pin either side of this centre pin to ensure that the excess fabric is evening spread out along the seam.

5. Start sewing. Sewing slowly up to your second pin, pull gently down on the pin (whilst it's still in the fabric) to provide counter tension to the needle and foot. This will flatten out the fabric. Remove the second pin and the continue sewing up to the third pin, pulling gently down on this one too. Repeat until you reach the end of the seam.

6. Check the end. How much did you manage to ease in? Do you want to unpick and try again or do the edges now match? I managed to ease in about a 1/16" which I thought was acceptable. I could have pulled harder on the fabric and eased in more but such harsh easing brings problems...

7. Have you skewed the bias? I only ease on grain or cross grain seams, never on the bias. Bias is very stretchy but easing will completely distort a bias edge so that the fabric will not then fit with the rest of the block. You will effectively solve one problem but create three more.

8. Does the block lay flat? Easing causes waves or buckles in all seams but it's particularly noticeable in longer seams. Ever had wavy borders? That's unwanted easing caused by borders cut too short or too long to fit the quilt. One eased seam in a smallish block is unlikely to be noticeable but waves in longer or more prominent seams will show in your finished quilt. 

Sorry if I've upset any of the quilt police out there by mentioning the unmentionable; I can only promise it won't be the last time...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Blocks of the month (Or "Block of the months"?)

Yesterday I trimmed up my individual blocks for the Leah Day Building Blocks Quiltalong. I had become seriously behind schedule and so ended up quilting all my blocks in the two weeks over Christmas and New Years. By the beginning of January I was done but was thoroughly sick of that quilt! So I put it to one side and worked on other projects until yesterday.

Don't the blocks look better all nearly trimmed?! 

Although my bin did end up looking like an A level textile student's final project...

Leah made her quilt two tone using blue and grey solids. I decided to use white as one solid and then switch between solid colours for each different block. The blocks are backed in a mixture of black and white geometric prints to give some contrast.

Now all I have to do is bind the blocks into a quilt. But that's for another day.

I like block of the month projects because I am, at heart, a lazy quilter. I practice one technique until I'm fairly good at it and then stick to the tried and tested. Block of the month projects force me out of my comfort zone and make me try new techniques and styles. I'm far too conformist (and cheap!) to sign up for a project and then miss bits out. Those circles in Leah's project were fairly rough to start with but by the end they turned out fairly well!

I try to sign up for at least one BOM a year, usually the Craftsy one at least because it's free. This year I'm also doing the Moda Building Blocks run by Simply Solids, the Snapshots and Gravity projects, both by Fat Quarter Shop. So far I've kept up but it's only February.

What is the plural of "block of the month" anyway?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hey Mister DJ quilt and thread choices

The Mister DJ quilt for my brother's birthday is pieced and ready to be basted (yuck), quilted (yay!) and bound (meh). The pattern is Melissa Corry's from so all kudos to her. The fabric is Sphere by Zen Chic for Moda with some Kona solid in grass.

I wasn't sure what thread to use to quilt with until I spotted this fab variegated Isacord thread at Barnyarns. I didn't even know Isacord did variegated thread until I spotted this little beauty!

 I admit to being bi-threadual when it comes to patchwork - I used Aurifil 50 weight for piecing and binding but Isacord for quilting. I've tried quilting with cotton but gave up after the 50th or so thread break. Plus, I'm a student of Leah Day and if Isacord is good enough for her...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Resetting the Craftsy BOM 2014

Last year I signed up for the Craftsy block of the month and even went so far as to buy the kit.

I slaved away (ok, happily sewed) for 10 months and was at the point of finishing off the quilt when I had a horrible moment of realization - I hated the quilt design. The individual blocks were fine, some were even pretty but together the overall design was too bright and busy for me.

I stuck the blocks in a drawer for a while and had a think about what to do. Luckily I had some left over Kona Charcoal from another project and set about redesigning the quilt to make it more ascethetically pleasing. 

It's sort of ended up as a stained glass window design which was unexpected. But I definitely prefer it to the madcap craziness of the intended design.

I've still got some sashing to do but it's almost ready to go up for sale. The backing kit will be too small now but luckily I've got some left over fence rail blocks to go into the center of the back to widen it out.

What do you think?

I've already started the Craftsy BoM for this year and must confess that I've already broken the rules. I tried hand sewing the first block but my 1/4" seam ended up being more like a 1/2"! So I unpicked it and have done the other blocks on the machine. I know my comfort zone!

Avoid getting the elbow aka how to cut perfectly straight strips from yardage

One of the big issues that I struggled with for a while was cutting straight strips of fabric from yardage. I always struggled with the bulk of the fabric and would end up with 44" long Z shaped strips. What a waste of fabric.

Eventually (and many yards later) I've perfected a technique that works for me and I've set it out below (along with some very basic pictures).

1. Get your tools ready. You're going to need a ruler that's at least 12" long and at least 4" wide (the wider the better). Your also going to need a clean cutting mat (no pins or lint please - running over a pin with your rotary cutter is a bad idea as I've discovered) and a rotary cutter with a sharp blade. If you can't remember when you changed the blade last you probably need to. And yes, that's a Fons and Porter Klutz Glove in the picture which is now wear when cutting. My New Years present to myself was cutting off the end of my left thumb. Ouch.

2. Check your pattern and work out how much yardage you need to cut right now. Not total, but just for now. Trying to cut 1.5" strips from a piece of fabric 4 yards long is a nightmare - you'll have yards of bulky fabric to deal with and if your workspace is anything like mine, it'll probably end up hanging off the end of your cutting table. This weight will drag your fabric down, causing you to miscut. If possible, try to sub cut your yardage into more manageable pieces, for instance yard wide pieces. If you're just cutting 20 4" squares now, you don't need more than a fat quarter.

3. Tear your fabric into smaller pieces. This is terrifying the first time you do it but it's worth it to avoid dealing with all that bulk. Make a small snip in the selvedge along the cross grain line (ie cutting into the fabric perpendicular to the selvedge) and firmly grip the fabric either side of the tear.
With firm, steady pressure pull the two edges of the tear apart. What a fab noise! You'll probably have to reposition your hands at least once and repeat to tear a whole width of fabric.
Don't worry about ending up with wonky pieces - the tear will follow the grain line. Once you have finished tearing, trim off any loose threads and tidy up any puckered edges by smoothing them out.

4. Iron. I hate ironing. Seriously, I buy no-iron clothes for a reason. But when it comes to yardage, I always iron. If you buy your yardage from a bolt, the folds are randomly put in by the machine operator at the factory and there is no guarantee that he (or she) evenly fed the fabric onto the bolt. If your fabric was posted to you, the shop will have folded the fabric so it fits neatly into their packaging. To ensure you get a clean cut you're going to need to remove those misleading folds or the fabric will always want to lay in that position again. If you're going to starch your fabric, now is the time to do that too. I iron rather than press at this point as there is no bias to worry about and, let's be honest, pressing yards of fabric takes too long.

5. Fold your fabric once. For me, this is the most important part of this whole process to get right. I have a small cutting mat so I fold my yardage twice so that it fits on my mat. Firstly, pick the fabric up along one selvedge, holding a corner in each hand between your index and middle finger. Hold the fabric taut between your two hands.  
Then pick up the parallel corner (ie the other corner on the same side) and hold this corner between my thumb and index finger.  Again, hold the fabric taut.
You should be holding the fabric in front of you in a U shape with the bottom of the U handing down.

Line the two selvedge edges up using your fingers so that they are even and parallel. If you only have none or only one selvedge (because you have a half yard or fat quarter) line up the top and bottom of the fabric.  Does the fabric hang straight down from your hands or is there a twist, crease or bubble in it? 
If it hangs straights, great! Lay it down on your cutting mat exactly as you are holding it. If the fabric doesn't hang straight, the grain lines aren't parallel and it's not a happy bunny. If you cut your fabric like this, you would end up with wonky pieces.

To line up the grain lines, slide the front piece of fabric a little to to the right, ensuring that the selvedges (or top and bottom of the fabric) stay perfectly parallel.
You're not moving the front piece of fabric up or down, just over to the right. Does the bottom now hang straight? If not, try moving it over to the left. Keep wiggling the front fabric until it hangs evenly, always ensuring that the selvdges are still parallel. Once your fabric hangs straight, lay in carefully down on your cutting mat.

6. Fold your fabric again. This step is optional but if you've got a small cutting mat like me, you can't fit 22" of fabric onto your mat safely (I've tried, there was blood...). Being careful not to change the way the fabric lays, bring the bottom fold up so that it lays parallel to the selvdge but ends just under the selvdge. This will save you some fabric when you cut off the selvdges. The selvedges and the single fold should now be at the top of your mat, the double fold at the bottom closest to you.

7. Check you are still square. Gently run your finger down the double fold closest to you. If your fabric is square, the double fold should feel the same the whole way across the fabric and you shouldn't feel any gaps or edges in the fold. If you do, you need to repeat the above.

8. Even up the edge. I'm right handed and have never mastered the art of cutting left handed so I trim up the right hand side of my fabric first. I use my whole ruler to line up along the bottom of the fabric to my left to ensure everything is square.
Then I trim off the left hand edge and check the bit of fabric I've just cut off. Is it straight? Is it all in one piece? If not, I retrim.
Once this edge is trimmed and straight, I hold the edge carefully but firmly with both hands and flip the whole fabric over so that now te cut edge is on my left.

9. I now cut the strips I need from the left hand side of the fabric. Every 3 pieces or so, I check to ensure that the cut strips are straight and, if necessary, I retrim the edge to square it up again.
You should now have perfectly square and straight pieces!