Monday, November 4, 2013

Secrets of the Log Cabin Block

It's no secret that now I have a lot of scrappy strips!
Having a first project planned is a good way to easily switch from one huge activity (stripping my scraps) to another (actually sewing!). So as I was cutting the Pink fabrics, I decided to make a Pink & Brown Log Cabin quilt...and those strips went into a separate box, right from the beginning.
Better than a jelly-roll!
Log Cabin is the first pieced block I ever made...a good story for another time...and one I have often returned to. It's just strips, great scrappy or with planned colors, and can be arranged to create a wide variety designs: Barn Raising, Streaks of Lightning, Stars...even the sets have names! Any design you can make with Half-Square Triangle units can be done with Log Cabins.

The Truth About Log Cabin Blocks
It looks easy but it isn't!
If you've made this block, you know what I mean: All the strips are the same width...the seam allowance is 1/4"...why do they come out wrong?
The size is wonky, the strips are all mixed can such a simple block not work?

Why, Oh Why?
It's because this block goes "round & round" from one side to the next. That pulls it out of square.
This is the same reason you don't put your borders on from one side to the next (do you?). Sewing borders on two opposite sides, then measuring through the middle and sewing the other two, will keep your quilt straight.
But the Log Cabin has to go "round & round"! 

How to Make It Work
One fix is to cut all the strips to the length they will be in the block...that works well, especially if all the blocks are colored the same, all the strips are the same length to start, and you keep everything in order.
I'm working very scrappy here (besides being immensely lazy). So I like to sew the strip on and then cut off the extra.
Let that strip hang out!
You can just chop it off with your scissors BUT give it a bit of extra...DO NOT cut it off even with the block edge because it will never end up square! I know it looks like it will, but it just won't.
You can see the extra bit, so when you line up the next strip don't use that part to match the raw edges.

Go ahead and sew 2 Lights and 2 Darks to complete a round, which makes the block look like a square. Don't count the center square, just the sides you sew on.
I made a Trimming List of the raw-edge sizes for each round. These are 2" wide strips, so my list was:

First Round- 5'
Second Round- 8"
Third Round- 11"
The finished block is 10.5", an odd size, but they only need to match themselves.
You can make blocks any size you want, wider or narrower strips, several more rounds.....figure your Trimming List by adding the finished size of each piece (include the center) plus the 1/2" seam allowance which is already there on the outside edge.
Here's how to trim:
First trim two sides...
This is my second round, but it works the same for each round. Just do this by in the middle, most of the seams pretty much parallel to the ruler lines, the edges under the ruler (light sides here) at or slightly beyond the Trim List (raw edge) size lines. Trim the excess on the right and top.
(Lefties! I love ya'! This is actually something you can just reverse "right" to "left" and it will work).
...then rotate and trim the other two!
Rotate the block so the trimmed sides are under the ruler...line them up exactly with the Trim List size lines, and then cut. Sometimes I like to mark the final size corner with a bit of tape, but didn't here.
Trimming at each round will help correct for the "not perfect" seam allowance. 

More Secrets!
Just two...I know you're ready to quit reading and start sewing!

1) Be consistent! It doesn't matter so much how you sew this block as that you do the same way each time: Light OR dark goes on first; last strip sewn on goes TOWARD you or AWAY; block OR strip is on top when sewing. This will keep the strips going around in the same direction...clockwise or not, they all do need to go the same way. And this keeps the direction from changing in the middle of the block!
Not being consistent will create many artsy or odd blocks...that's another choice, for a different quilt.

2) Press the seam before trimming. Open or to the side is your choice, continuing to be consistent either TOWARD the center or AWAY. If you have scissor-cut the excess strip length, this is where trimming evens it up to be exactly square (if it isn't already hidden in a previous seam allowance).

3) Chain-piecing is wonderful for these blocks. You really MUST press before trimming each "log" with this method. If you keep adding blocks until the strip is filled, the blocks start out the same, but eventually, as new strips are added, you end up with blocks at many different stages (rounds and values). See #1 above!

Very scrappy blocks are pushing the value placements!
Color choice can be a whole big deal, but I'd like to mention just a couple thoughts.
Quilt mythology has it that the center square is red for the warm hearth, or yellow for a candle in the window to guide someone home. You can make it whatever color you like, but its value will increase the amount seen on one side or the other.
I tried to stick just with using values, so the Pinks are both light and dark, as are the Browns. When using 2 colors, some people like to keep them on separate sides.
If you look at antique quilts, what seems "Pink & Brown" is usually loaded with additional colors. I think a touch of blue keeps it from being boring. For a scrap quilt, choosing prints that look mostly the color you want will naturally bring in additional bits of color to please the eye.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! There are lots of other ways to build a Log Cabin, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. too. 
And, of course, if you just want to avoid the whole "round & round" issue, you can make the block called Courthouse Steps...adding the strips to opposite sides!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stash to Strips!

A new 14" ruler! It's great for cutting scraps.

It started with the innocent desire to donate some fabric to the guild's annual sale, and quickly escalated into a massive Stash Reduction Project!
I had a basket of yardage that had been in the closet for a year. Giving it away would be the perfect anti-Pack Rat move, if I could only not look at the contents. But you know I did!

Now, the best way to overcome that Pack Rat urge is to donate items, because you are not throwing them away. They are just going to someone else who will love them. At least, that's what I tell myself, and works briefly.

So when I saw some fabrics in the basket that I liked, I cut them into 2.5" strips to make a pre-cut package for the sale.
That's where I went wrong. I decided, since I was giving away the yardage, the orange cut strips would make another nice Halloween style Quirky Bits (since DeLuna had bought the first one I made last year). So then I needed to cut some more while I was at it! There are plastic drawers of fat quarters and similar scraps that I had not looked at in quite awhile, so I figured the orange drawer was ripe for stripping!

You might be surprized how much fabric can fit in a 11" x 13" drawer...or maybe not!
Before I knew it, I was stuck in an obsession that had to be taken all the way...through the oranges, the browns, the purples and the greens...through the reds and all the way to the big Blue box!
And then, there was a box just labelled "Fat Quarters" (no colors), meaning I had started stuffing them into that box because all the sorted containers were full!

And even more can fit in a bigger box!

Oh, the big Blue box? Yeah, that one was under-bed storage size.
Or, as so many of us will understand, more than large enough to hold a cat.
Nothing collects cats like an open box of fabric! Shayla says, "It's mine now!"
But she's wrong.
All these pieces had to be ironed and folded back on-grain. Then cut and tossed on a stack: 2.5" or 2" or 1.5". Being innumerate, I randomly chose those widths. Then I attempted to be ruthless...
and did OK. I only have one large box left now with pieces I just couldn't bear to cut up!

The 2.5" strip pile.
It took 10 days. but finally I stopped. I had to swear to Cherry-Cherry I would not even peek in another box.
Yes, there are other boxes. And there is all the "real stash" on the shelves. That doesn't include the batiks, either. I am one fabric addict for sure!

At least I have learned that organization (some amount...) increases the probability of using these things, so the strips had to go into boxes. I chose to make them Light and Dark, letting the poor Mediums fall where they may. Just one width to a box. 
A piece of foam core makes a nice divider between Lights & Darks.
I even ended up with a couple of empty boxes!
And decided on my first project to use the strips: A Pink & Brown Log Cabin from 2" strips. Anything I thought I would use for that went into its own container. It's so nice to sit down and just start sewing, now that the cutting is done.
Ready for some mental health sewing!
I confess...the original scrap strips just went into the boxes with all the others.
But I did generate a GIANT scrap bag** for the guild sale, plus the basket of yardage. I'm putting those in my van today, because the sooner they are gone, the better the chances they will stay gone!

**10 pounds of scraps, covering a 30 year collection...not all my scraps, just the ones I could let go of!
It fills one of those pop-up laundry bags.
Yes, C.C., I am one sick puppy for fabric!
And, no...I am not cutting everything into strips. The yardage is safe.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Potholder Time Again!

Patchwork Pie is back, and today it's all about POTHOLDERS!
They can be as artistic as mini-quilts, or just slapped together utility items. They are the perfect gift, of all...the most wonderful therapy in the world!
A pile of batted-up potholders!
I had a nice collection of batik scraps from a quilt I'd made for a class at the Campbell Folk School (it has been shown in their ads for the last year in every issue of Quilting Arts magazine...yes, these very scraps!). I also wanted to make a house-warming gift for some special friends out in Washington state, so a project was born!

This is a NO NUMBERS project, as in I didn't care if anything was the same size, and I certainly did not want to take the chance of doing any math!
Here's how I did it:

Rulers in this post are used only as straight edges...ignore those numbers!
1 )  After sewing some log cabin-ish blocks (with no regard to length, side, or direction of the "logs") I put each one on top of two layers of cotton batting and cut everything even all at once. In fact, you can just fold the batting (also scraps!). Measure by eye, not numbers!
 It does not have to be perfect or at right angles or anything at this point.

That's a fold along the bottom, another opportunity to just cut everything at on time.
2)  Batt not big enough? Just zig-zag some scraps together! Use a very wide stitch going off the batting layers, and lengthen the stitch. Or butt two pieces together and zigzag where the edges meet.
Two layers stacked

3)  These potholders are made to be used. And by "used," I mean "abused", as in grabbing them for any kitchen task. So I like terry cloth on the back! An old towel is terrific (also for inside instead of batting) but I didn't have one, so I had to visit The Big Box Store. But I had a 40% 0ff coupon, of course!
Lay the batted potholder on the terry cloth and just cut around it, free hand if you want!

Most of the potholders had more terry cloth around the edges at this stage.
4)  Time to quilt the layers together! If you care, match the bobbin to the backing. I had a nice blue King Tut thread for the top that looked OK with all the fabrics.
My favorite utility stitch: long wavy lines, with the machine set as you always do for regular stitching! You move the fabric back and forth for the wave.
You could do straight lines or anything your heart desires!
It doesn't need more than an X!
The extra backing means you don't have to worry about the layers matching!
5)   Trim from the, I don't care what size it is, just make it look good. The binding will be easier with square corners (use bias binding if your potholder is round!).

6)  Here's an all-by-machine binding using straight grain strips cut 1 1/2". OK, so that's a number. I like to cut strips I can use for other things if there are any leftovers, but actually, in this case, the strips could be anything that looks like it's 1 1/2"!
By eye, fold & press one long edge of each strip to the wrong side, about 1/4"-ish. No, I do not know how many strips, or how long or whatever...cut cut & press some. This will use up scraps and encourage experimenting with various colors as you run out of each one you thought was ideal!

7)  Lay the strip on the BACK, right sides together, with the folded edge up and raw edges matching.
Just sew the strip on, and cut it off at the end...or chain sew the next potholder on until you run out!
8)  Do two opposite sides. Then wrap the binding to the front and topstitch it down, very close to the fold. You need to finish two opposite sides before doing the other two sides.
Read the next step!
9)  When you bind the other two sides, start and stop each strip by wrapping the end around to the front. The stitching will catch that part as you sew along the edge. Stop before you get to the corner, trim about an inch more than needed, and wrap that extra to the front (see pic below!). Finish sewing the side. When you bring the binding around to the front, the wrapped ends will cover the corners.
Wrapped end is underneath
10)  Topstitch through all the layers to finish. It doesn't have to be perfect. It will still be pretty and fun in the kitchen...until it's used up and thrown away (but that's after it has been washed several times) (unless you get it too close to a burner and...well....).

11)  I ended up with 9 potholders!
And not one of them the same as another.
Won't this be a fun & useful gift?
Long-time readers of Patchwork Pie will see that my design wall is still covered with threads!
PS: Inquiring Minds will want to know: any side is about 6--8".
Yes, that would be "about potholder size"!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back on Blogger!

Not being the uber-cyber type, I just haven't done well with putting the blog on my I'm back on Blogger for the time being! And it's getting dangerously close to a whole year with no posts!
OK, enough of that personal stuff, and on to what really matters: quilting!

made for Laura Wasilowski's CRAFTSY class
I've been busy learning new things and can't wait to share them with you!

Please take a look at my Patterns page...I have added a few, including the long-awaited "Roxanne's Honeymoon". The latest is "Stars All Around", which is the 2013 raffle quilt for the All Star Quilters Guild in Jacksonville FL. These have been tested by the Beta Belles, who do a great job of making sure these patterns are user-friendly! They help me give you the best pattern possible.

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate! I'm writing this blog for YOU!