Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Finish That Quilt!

Finishing a stack of UFOs can serve many purposes, the best being that a quilt can finally go out into the world to be used! It's also fun to say, "I've finished 14 quilts since the beginning of July!"
How can that happen? Of course, they were all sewn together tops when I started....and I mostly did Utility Quilting. A new term for that is "quilting with the feed dogs up".

This is for any quilt that is meant to be used. Yes, you could do gobs of fancy free-motion quilting. Do you have to? No. Just decide what you want from your quilt, and then get to it.
Here's how I did mine:

Start in a corner and go all the way!
This quilt is has 4" squares, so it is easy to just "eyeball" from corner to corner all the way across the quilt with no marking. Diagonal stitching also looks pretty, since it goes along the bias of the fabric, creating a soft texture as the thread sinks into the weave .
As you see above, it is easy to drift off to one side as you go. DON'T JERK THE QUILT SIDEWAYS TO CORRECT! That will be your instinctive reaction.

You'll have one hand on each side of the needle, so just rotate the quilt very slightly so the corner ends up back in front of the needle. That means you push one hand slightly forward and pull the other back a bit....just a little shift.

This line is beginning to drift off center. Time to shift!

You can quilt the borders right along with the rest of the top, if you'd like...and I do, because this is not for show, and the borders actually equal about 1/3 of all the quilting needed! Yikes, just when you think you're done, the border can take a looooong time. This way everything is done at the same time. You end up with a nice criss-cross pattern all around.

A quick little chalk mark to set the correct angle.
Use your 6" square ruler (or whatever is at hand) and a chalk marker (it practically disappears by end!). Line up the 45 degree line with the seam, corner of ruler to corner of first square.
All you really need is where to start out at the raw edge. You may think you can eyeball this, but let's just say the lazy part of me agrees it is worth the time taken to make the mark!

Keep stitching across the squares until you get to the next part of the border. Then mark it the same way!
Ruler offset to show the seamline and mark.

The biggest problem in machine quilting is managing the bulk of the quilt.
I start in one corner of the quilt and work each line going towards the right, so the bulk of the quilt moves away from inside the machine. Each line starts at the top, so just pull the quilt back into your lap. If you sort of accordian fold it back and forth, it will feed into the machine a little smoother.

When you get to the corner, mark whatever lines you need to complete the grid you are sewing. These squares are about 4", but their diagonal measure is more...just use your ruler to check how far apart the lines should be .
Then turn the entire quilt around and go back to where you started. The half already quilted will now be to your left (outside the machine) and the part that needs quilting is on the right. Have at it!

When you have finished all that, there will be one diagonal line in each square. Now start at another corner and repeat the whole process. You'll end up with an X in each square, plus the border all done!

Serpentine stitching everywhere!
As you can see, this is a Bug Quilt, which I am assuming will end up with a little boy. Or maybe a tomboy, or whatever gender terms are OK...anyway, somebody who likes insects! I decided to go back over all the seam lines to make this quilt as sturdy as possible.
The seams are fine. But if they stick up a lot, that is the place the quilt will begin to wear out.
And what's with that wavy stitching?
It's the Serpentine Stitch, a favorite of mine for quilting. I have made it longer and less wide by adjusting the setting on my machine. Take a look at yours, and if you have this programmed stitch, tweak it a bit to create a great quilting line that adds soft texture and is much more interesting than a straight line. 
Also, if a wavy line is not 100% straight down the quilt, it is harder to notice!
"Fancy" stitches are OK for quilting, but the simpler ones are better. The ones with lots of detail tend to get distorted, especially as you will be tempted to go fast. Use the speed control to keep going at a steady pace.

Hey...what's on the back of this thing?
Who wants a home dec fabric with 3" bugs?
Beside trying to keep myself busy with all this UFO work, I'm attempting to use up stash fabric. Some of my fabric can now be rated "vintage", it has been waiting so long.
The side fabric is a great ethno-print from Hoffman (vintage by now!). The "panel" is a home dec fabric with 3" bugs on it! Very realistic ones! That came from a remnant bin, but what I wonder is, Who bought that fabric in the first place?!!?!? OK, there is also a frog on there, but I don't think he's going to be able to eat all those bugs.

That's about it for easy utility machine quilting. It gets the job done and still looks fine.
I have a few others to show you, and then I'll also show how I do a binding, all by machine. It's the perfect finish for a quilt-meant-to-be-used!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A UFO No More

My horoscope this morning said to finish old business, so I went right up to my seems to be the home for UnFinshed Objects (UFOs).
Grabbing the first ziplock bad at hand, I was surprised to realize it might not even be a UFO! It was a collection of 6" blocks from my Design Your Own Quilt With Easy Blocks class, and not actually a project that had been started and set aside.
I started by slapping all the blocks up on my design wall to see what was there:
Looks like at least a 5 x 7 arrangement is possible
A 5 x 7 arrangement is pretty good, and I had one extra block plus some plain 6" squares and a few smaller ones. Could I make some more blocks?
Not unless I got desperate for design ideas! My aim was to use what was already created.
I see 4 blocks that are the same but different than the rest, so those can immediately become corners. And there are two 4-patches that are also same-but-different, so they are likely candidates for a center top and center bottom placement. Anything can change, but letting the blocks set up some balance is a good way to start.
It all depends on what part you decide to see!
This is the final arrangement. It put a medium blue square in each corner, and the center top block came down towards the bottom. I was looking at the big colored squares in the pieced blocks, and set them all going the same diagonal...but those little light ones are all over the place!
I guess I could have used that one leftover Snowball on the bottom row to balance the top one.
And until I saw the picture in this blog, I didn't notice that there are 2 kinds of Snowball blocks!
Does any of that really matter? Not a bit! Because the first thing you want to know when you are making a quilt is: What quilt is this?
It is not an heirloom quilt, nor is it for competition in a show.  It is a use-up-what's-available quilt, and intended for my guild's Community Service project. 

Next I needed a border to make the whole thing larger. 
Seems to be a polka dot theme going on...
I loved the dark blue, but it was only a fat quarter, and it also would have made this bit of cheer into a dark mess. But the yellow looked fine, and was exactly the right amount! If I were keeping score, I'd give myself some points for completely using up a piece of fabric!
Would the dark blue be enough for the binding? Stay tuned!

Getting the rows off the wall and sewn together in order can be tricky, though in this case, who would know if they got mixed up?
A pin points the way!
I take the blocks down one at a time, and put my in-the-way ironing board to good use as a place to pin the blocks together on the side they should be sewn. The entire row is pinned.
I put an extra pin on the end block (left or right, it doesn't matter as long as you are consistent!). That pin points in the direction I will press the seams when the row is done. With the seams alternating left and right, all the block corners will butt together when the rows are sewn  to make the top.

Tip Time: You know I love to use tape to help things straight at the machine. Recently it was suggested to tape that gap between the machine arm and whatever space is around it.
Bridging the gap!
Not everyone has this problem, but I am always getting my seams flipped over the wrong way so they end up twisted. This really helped! I added the 1/4" line. The part of the tape you can't see has the same line, plus another that marks where the needle lines up...handy for Sew & Flip triangles.

Let's get the border on this puppy...but, why are there so many seams in it?
I'm glad it's so hard to see that each side has 2 seams!
My innumeracy really came to the front here.
You know, I'm literate, because I can read , but I am innumerate because I can't deal with numbers!
The set being 5 x 7 suddenly got into my brain as the blocks were 5"...oops!
Not to mention I was done in by going against my OWN RULES (i.e. measure through the middles to find the border length!). I just merrily did a bunch of math (poorly) and cut the border fabric.
Oh, well...there was just enough to add on at the end!

Of course a fat quarter was NOT enough for the entire binding, so I just added on a couple strips of something sort of the same...if stars and hearts are the same polka dots!
Do you think anyone will notice?
I've tried to make the bindings as I finish the top. They may have to wait awhile before the top gets basted and quilted, but it's nice to have a little something extra done.
They get rolled up and pinned to the top before it goes on the (gasp) UFO Pile!
A nice even roll!
OK, so I created a new UFO. But it will (eventually) be a nice bright quilt for a child who needs something that will be their very own.
I  have some ideas for art quilts, but just can't seem to get them started yet. But often the best way to keep on going is to do what you know how to do, step by step, and the creative spirit will come again in time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Return to the Studio

After teaching a class on Saturday, and then a different one on Monday, there were a lot of things to put away.
In other words, my studio was trashed!
Oh, my!
I had to root through almost everything just to get the supplies ready for the classes. That is bad enough, but the other consequence is I find a lot of interesting things and start thinking about new projects.
Can you say "distraction"?  (I knew you could!)

The Saturday class was for The Art Center. I had been thinking about artists using fabric, but not wanting to sew. "Fabric Art Without Needle & Thread" included lots of information, products, and playtime. Most of the students are painters, so the part they liked best was painting on Wonder Under (fusible web) and then ironing it to fabric.
I think I'll re-title this class to go along with another I'm thinking of. They will make a nice pair: "Your Iron as an Art Tool" and "Your Sewing Machine as an Art Tool".
As usual, I was too busy teaching to take any pictures.

Monday's class was for my quilt guild, in response to the need to finish Community Service quilts. I call it "Utility Quilting", which basically means using the walking foot and getting the work done! Quilts made to give away and be used do not need a fancy heirloom quilting job, but they do need their layers to be well quilted so they will last as long as possible.
While you can just do long lines of stitching in one direction, most of the people in the class decided a grid works better. I would agree...both for support of the layers and for a nice texture.
One of the main problems with a class in machine quilting comes from the set up . It's impossible to get ideal chair or table height, though we talked about it so changes can be made at home. Another problem is getting table support on the left side, without making everyone bring a card table...and I solved that problem at long last! It uses more tables, so the class has to be smaller, but staggering them in pairs length-wise provided just what was wanted.
And the third problem is most classes practice on a small sample. If you want to really learn machine quilting, you have to start figuring out how you are going to handle all the bulk of the quilt as it goes through your machine.
Perfect over-the-shoulder technique!
Everyone in class had to bring a basted quilt that was no smaller than 36" square. They did a great job learning to "Fluff & Stuff" among other techniques.

What was the most important thing we learned in each class?
To let go of that idea about Ideal Perfection and just do something!
And is it an old saying, or can it be attributed to Richard Bach or someone..."You best teach what you most need to learn!"

BTW: I did get everything put back in place, and am now ready to mess up my studio again with some new projects!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Quick Gift: Microwave Bowl Cozy

Sewing a last minute gift is practically a tradition for most quilters. This year the Microwave Bowl Cozy (yes, it just a giant pot holder!) seems to be all over the web, so here are my directions for making it:

Microwave safe 100% cotton batting--TWO 15" squares (see fabric below)-- I used Wrap & Zap by the Warm Co. They are no longer making Warm Tater, but say that Warm & Soft is the same...I could not find that in the Big Box store. You want something without a scrim (which Warm & Natural has, even though it says 100% cotton). I have never heard a personal experience of batting catching fire in a microwave, and suspect it might happen only if you cook something too long! But I also did not want to run my own test!

100% Cotton fabric-- TWO 15" squares-- you can measure a bowl or plate and make a custom size, but I think this will fit anything pretty well. It could be larger or smaller, but cut the batting to same size, to make two pairs of fabric & batt. They can be different prints/ colors, etc.

MACHINE SET UP This is the stuff nobody thinks to tell you about before you get started!
Use a size 90/ 14 needle, because you will be going through a lot a layers before you're done (esp. if you have a chosen a BATIK for this or pieced the squares).
Match your bobbin to the top thread! Just do it now so you don't have to wish you had later.
You can sew the whole thing with a walking foot if your machine handles lots of layers better with one. If so, put it on now.
Use a slightly longer stitch not sew this with teeny tiny stitches.

1. Sew an X on each fabric/batt pair, corner to corner.
The two pairs, different sides up
You can see a little zig-zag at the bottom right! It's perfectly OK to piece your batting so you can use the whole package.

2. Make a dart in the center of each side: fold the square in half Wrong Side out, and mark 1" away from the fold, and 2.5" down along the fold. Draw a line to connect the dots (I used a Sharpie). Pin to hold. 
Draw a sewing line for the dart
You can mark two sides, then re-fold the square and mark the other two before sewing.
Each square/pair gets four darts. You can start sewing from either end, and it only has to be back stitched at the point on the fold.
Zig-zag batting join will never be seen!
3. Use your scissors to trim the excess dart fabric. The sewing and  trimming do not have to be precise. be sure you have 4 darts in each square/pair before the next step!
Nobody cares how wide the seam allowance is
4. Place the two square/pairs Right Sides together, one "inside' the other. Pin to match at the darts and corners. Take my word, you want the darts in BEFORE you sew it all together! Unless you'd like a cozy that matches my personal one, which was supposed to be a gift, but ended up with darts on the outside.
Don't worry, it looks better when it's done!
5. LEAVE AN OPENING about 3" when you SEW all the way around. You know why I put that in caps right up front! Sometimes I start by back stitching, then lift the pressure foot and pull the item though a few inches, then back stitch and sew the rest of the way around. The seam allowance can be 1/4", or less, or maybe different on each side!

6. Turn the cozy Right Side out...poke out the corners (nobody cares if they aren't fact, you may want to sew the next one with rounded corners!). Top stitch all around.
I like to close the opening as I top stitch, and usually trim the batting out of the seam allowance there first. You could hand stitch it closed, especially if you want to top stitch more than 1/4" in from the edge and avoid the extra batting layers.
Lots of layers do well with a walking foot. My Janome 7700 has a special one.
7. Most of the instructions end there, but I like a final step to hold the two layers together. In the center of the bottom, sew a little square or just tack in place. That X sewn can be pinned to line up, but it really doesn't matter.
This means you can throw it in the wash, which is a good thing for any item that is used in the kitchen!
One stitch in the center would be enough
Well, that's it! Quick and easy, as well as being very useful. Tell your giftee it just goes right in the microwave with the bowl or plate, ready to protect their hands when they remove the dish. And remind them it can be washed!
I even patched batik scraps for this
Sure, you can use patchwork for one or both sides (it's really 2-sided) or maybe a nice holiday fabric. If the shape seems a little odd, I'd just put a plate of cookies in it, fold in the corners and tie it up with a ribbon. 
Be sure to mention if the plate is microwave safe OR NOT! I got some metal ones from the dollar store, and they are NOT.

As with any simple item, you can get quite creative. But you can also make one of these cozies pretty darn fast!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scrappy Gift Tags

Holiday gift sewing can sure cause a blog to go can I show what I'm doing when you-know-whos will be reading?
So as slight diversion, here is a little tute on what I did today: Making gift tags! Fused, naturally...and of course with SCRAPS!
Often holiday theme fabrics are kept as a separate collection, but the scraps work just the same. There are always more-more-more, no matter how diligently you apply yourself to using them.

I used lots of scraps, or fabrics that had finally reached their perfect vintage***, to make gifts for the family members I will see at Thanksgiving. I dug into my Christmas collection and even made wrapping for those gifts! But I needed some tags to be sure they didn't get all mixed up.
An index card with fabric fused to the lined side seems to be just about right. To the ironing board!

First, lay down some paper-backed fusible web (I use WONDER UNDER) with the glue side up...that's the side that feels rough.
Place the fabric Right Side up on the fusible.
As a student of the Chicago School of Fusing, I have saved many large pieces of the release paper from using Wonder Under. Other fusibles do not have the same type of paper, so that's why I prefer WU.
That paper on top in the picture is one piece. By placing that on the fabric, I don't have to worry about making sure the fabric is larger than the fusible, or the fact that there are some areas not covered by fabric. The paper will protect my iron. I can move it around until all the fabric areas have been fused.

Hot steam!
Cut off the extra WU hanging over the edge, and trim the excess fabric at the side (Oh, no...looks like 2 new scraps to me! Was I brave enough the throw them away?)

This excess fabric is currently in the of this posting, anyway!
It is important in all fusing that the glue be right to the edge of the fabric (or other can fuse to almost anything that you can put a hot iron on!). I like to trim into the fabric a bit.
Trimming to be sure the glue goes all the way to the edge
The fusible needs to cool before removing the paper...especially important if you have fused a large piece of fabric and intend to save that valuable release paper.
But we do get impatient!
If it's still warm, use a pin to scratch through the paper, then crack it open and peel off. That is much better than picking at a corner!

I like a big fancy pin!
The Wrong Side of the fabric is smooth because the glue is now fused there. The paper is smooth because the glue is gone. If anywhere is rough, it needs more heat time.  Just put the paper back and press again.
Try not to over-heat...5--10 seconds is enough.

OK! Now put a large sheet of release paper on the ironing board (both sides are the same) and lay out the index cards, lined side up.
Place the fused side of the fabric on top. Check that it doesn't extend beyond the paper...if so, add some more paper. Or just be really careful ironing at the edge!

Index cards come in lots of colors, but I just had white.
Here are the cards fused to the 2 different fabrics:
A nice clean side to write on.
Then I cut the cards out and gave them a tag shaped end. You could do this with a rotary cutter and a fancy blade, too! Or cut them into ovals or anything else you like...they are your tags!
Free-hand cut the end or use a real tag as a template
I used a hole punch to put 2 holes in each one, as I decided to sew the tags onto the fabric gift wrap.
The 2 little ones were a tag I accidentally cut into...but nothing gets wasted!
Using gold embroidery thread, I went in one hole, through the fabric, and out the other. Then cut the thread very long, and used it to tie a bow. (I did write the names on first!).

There you go! Have at it and make some better/ fancier tags than these. I think it would be fun to fold some into little book shapes.

FYI: I buy WonderUnder on sale and get several yards. I keep it on a cardboard bolt center.
Another use for a string scrap!
I save the release paper sheets clipped together and hanging behind the ironing board so they are handy.
Two clips hanging on a pin in the design wall
If you can't get or don't prefer Wonder Under, I highly recommend PARCHMENT PAPER. Find it with the freezer paper at the grocery. It makes a great release paper, over and under anything you are fusing. You can roll it out as long as your ironing board!

***as motivation for using fabric (some I have had for over 30 years), the new answer to "What am I saving this for?" is TODAY! I declare that all my fabric has reached the time it was being saved for!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Singer Featherweight Model 221

A 1938 Singer Featherweight is one of the sewing machines I inherited from my mother. She got it at a yard sale for $25 because "It's a pretty small machine..." The guy was asking $50! They sell for $350 and more today. IS a small machine!

She really enjoyed taking this to classes and even sewing on it at home...among her many other machines. That collection included some treadles, hand-cranks, toy and electric models. I took the electric ones and the rest were sold to other collectors. They should be with people who appreciate and use it was my husband's nightmare that I would bring home all the machines!
(Mom had already given me a nice treadle...)

So after these almost 11 years, I decided I should take care of this baby. The local quilt shop was having a class about how to maintain your Featherweight, conducted by  The Old Sewing Machine Man, Johnny Johnson. He and wife Debbie are experts in old sewing machines, attachments and supplies. They travel to quilt shows and other events, sharing their love of everything pre-computer and providing lots of help to others. I always enjoy seeing them and admiring the machines they bring for sale.
Johnny started off with a history of the Singer Featherweight and how the original machine (made as the Standard SewHandy) was not well thought of by the sales they didn't show it to anyone! But at the World's Fair in 1933 it was on display and everyone who could sew wanted one. They weigh 11 lbs. Have you ever picked up a regular sewing machine? Back in the day, those things clocked in at about 35 lbs!
Having the original case is a nice touch:
I kept Mom's ID don't want your machine to be mistaken for the others!
The most important thing here is DO NOT let those catches snap open! The spring inside will eventually break, and they are expensive to replace. Everyone likes to let them snap open, but you should hold a hand over the latch so it doesn't fly up.
A supply tray sits on top of the also has the original book!

After that, step by step we went through the 42 places that need oil!
Modern machines are sealed up and even boast of not needing oil (some take a bit in the bobbin area). You only use a tiny drop, but some of the places to oil are almost invisible. Maybe Singer wanted you to take it to a repairman. However, these old machines are wonderful because you can do a lot of your own work on them.

The only thing I couldn't finish in class was putting in a new felt pad. It goes inside on the bottom, and acts to absorb all the oil (and grease...yes, there is that, too!) that can drip off. The felt on my machine was fused to the bottom plate, so I had to get the new part, then scrape off the felt when I got home. It had soaked up a lot of gunk since 1938.
You should be glad you can't really see what it looked like. That's the new felt on the right.
The serial number will tell what year the machine was made. Some were made until 1964, and some were made in Canada, Scotland and other places. A few versions were made in green or ivory color, but by far most are black. Some of the refurbished ones have been painted in fun colors, since the old finishes and decals may have been worn away.

I was happy to see several people I know also were taking the class! One had a newly maintained machine, but was learning for herself. Another had two machines with her...and another still at home! We had fun finding small differences in models from over the years. Most had the original foot control, which was used by Singer for most of their machines well into the 1960s:

The oldest ones have some metal parts, but the same design
I never have been able to figure out what the designer was going for with this. It is about 6" long, and the actual power comes from the button on the right. But I am positive (after so many years of teaching and seeing so many machines) that this is responsible for the many people who learned to sew barefooted, and continue to this day. 

Mom liked to give things names, like "SuzyBelle", but I cannot remember if she had one for this machine. Maybe if I sew on it for awhile I will think of one.
My quilt guild retreat is in November, and I think I'll take this along. Maybe I'll invite the other Featherweight owners to bring theirs, would be fun to see a bunch of these little guys purring along together!
They only make a straight stitch, but they do it oh-so-well! And that's all a quilter really needs.

Visit The Old Sewing Machine Man's website:

Learn more about Featherweights:
(scroll down for the chart that matches serial numbers with the year they were made).

Read the book:

Featherweight 221 - The Perfect Portable: And Its Stitches Across History ...

 By Nancy Johnson-Srebro (this includes a re-print of the original manual that came with the machines)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Making Scraps...and some progress!

I have a dream.
It is to get the commercial prints (i.e."stash" or 20th/ 21st Century Fabric Collection) off the shelves in my studio. Then I will put my batiks in there!
Have you tried some of the many "stash reduction" ideas around on the Internet? I do have to say, the idea of cutting it ALL UP and enjoying a wealth of pre-cut strips and such is a lovely idea!
However, some of these fabric s have been with me longer than my son. I know I have used bits, as the ends are cut up funny (from back in the day of templates! yes, I am really showing my age now!).
I have to trick myself into it. I have to make some "rules" or guidelines or something...but then my heart takes over and I just can't cut it all up. Do I still think I will need for "that perfect project"...the one that has not come along in over 30 years???
Yes. Yes, I actually do.
Well, now that is something to deal with! So my latest rule/guideline is if it's half yard-ish or smaller it must be all cut up. But it's OK to cut one 6.6" strip and one 5" strip first....just in case I need something wider than a strip! And I should do this as I am looking in the stash for anything else.
I needed an interior border for a scrap quilt, and found these pieces today:
I have had that dark stripey one for about 33 years!
The neutrals were what I was looking for, but I am proud to say I gave a stack of green a sort-through, and that pink just showed up! One stack at a time, I may get there...

The best way to follow through on a plan is to tell someone about it, so I shared my idea with Cherry-Cherry at lunch yesterday. She has the ability to show both support and doubt all at the same time.
It's because she knows me really well!
I did it!

This means I need yet another plastic box for those wide strips! But I really am enjoying the big box of 2.5" strips (see below), and I also like 1.5" strips, hence the little pile on the left of the pic above. All this is going to come in handy in a month when it is time to go on the guild's Retreat...I see hours of lovely, brainless sewing resulting in Log Cabins, Nine-Patches and who knows what else!

Oh...that box:

This was after making 58 scrap blocks!
I can't show the scrap quilts (3) I made with the blocks because they are for the Mystery Quilt class in February!
But the real mystery to me was that I got thinking:I  used up almost all the scraps in my scrap container...but I was sure I had more scraps!!! Where did they go?
And then I remembered. I gave a load of scraps & fabric to the guild's yard sale:
I actually gave all of this away!
Instead of feeling discouraged, I am just feeling amused, and will continue to enjoy the process.
There could be a lot of scrappy quilt tops to sell at QuiltFest next year and for  charity quilts. I know I will never be able to do the quilting on all of them!

Oh, by the way...(and this is really why there is NO END to all this) is a pic of my scrap container, which has some new contributions, plus my latest new scrap collection in the bag: stringy odd ends for a string quilt!
At least I have not been saving all those for 30 years!
A moment in time when you can actually see the studio floor!