Saturday, February 25, 2012

Danish Stars for the Folk School

In just a week I'll be on my way to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, No.Carolina!
The class I'm teaching is a sampler quilt that I designed to tell the story of John and Olive Campbell and the founding of the school. There are eight traditional 12" blocks with a space in the center for your own part of the story.
Ever since I made the first one five years ago, I have been adding to the collection of blocks because there are so many that can refer to Folk School activities.
And I am always looking for a new and easy method to sew any block! Danish Stars is one.

SCALE is an important part of good design, so the fewer, simpler shapes in a block, the better it looks in a small size. Danish Stars is much better as a 6" block than a 12" one. This pattern has been included since the beginning, but as an applique block. Lately I saw a version that was pieced, and decided to add that, too.
A pieced 6" block has units that are 2" finished.
(listen carefully, and you can already hear Cherry-cherry laughing at me working with such tiny pieces)
I had some idea about avoiding bias edges by just laying on some shapes by eye and doing a sew & flip method...pretty much what Free Form Quilting is all about.
Not exactly as nice as hoped for!
OK, time to balance laziness with a bit of helpful work...if I cut the triangle, then maybe I can still just slap on a background and trim the thing to square. But it better be a good I actually went to my collection of rulers and got out this set:
The Tri Tool set from EZ Quilting by Wrights
Designed by Darlene Zimmerman and  Joy Hoffman
I've had these for years, and so far the only use they've had is to be loaned to C.C.
At least it didn't take a lot of studying to use them...all I wanted to do was cut the "big" triangle. The side wasn't necessary. Heaven forbid I not use some little pieces I'd already cut!
This picture is worth all the words to describe the process
No, you can't use the cut-off sides for making another unit. You could use them on something smaller, but I just can't go there.
I just matched up the edges and sewed.
Whenever you add a piece to each side of something to create a triangle shape (like  Flying Goose) you must finish one side before doing the and press it into place.
Plenty to trim to make this square soon!
Add the second piece and square up the entire unit to 2 1/2". It seems like a no-brainer.
Even more space to trim!
 Sorry about the glare
You can see the 2 1/2" line at the bottom of the triangle. The most important part is the dot at the top of the triangle. That dotted line means when I cut there will be 1/4" seam allowance over the top of the triangle. Since you can't see that when the unit is sewn into a quilt, it's easy to make the mistake of cutting right at the point.
You trim two sides, then turn the unit and trim the other two.
Blocks are sewn as rows first
It's looking better. The center unit is easy, but I'll have to describe that another time.
Better but not good yet!
Darn. It takes so much work to be lazy....
I guess I'll have to use the other part of the Tri Tool set after all!
The side piece has a nice pre-trimmed point for matching
I really don't like tiny pieces. And I was amazed to find I could turn this around and cut another piece from the original rectangle!
Of course, there are 2 layers of fabric there. The only thing worse that cutting tiny things is cutting them one at a time!

A NOTE TO MINIATURISTS: Thank you for making miniature quilts. I wouldn't try one in 1,000 years, but that only increases my awe and fascination at your skills!
Wonky to almost perfect
Alright, I give in...I have to use the rulers to get this straight.
Even though I love the wonky ones, people tend to look at what I'm doing and wonder if I'm a good teacher when things don't match up too well! So the rulers are going with me to Campbell...
...and if anyone in the class likes wonky, that's OK by me! 
In my classes, the only person you need to please is YOU.

I'll try to do some blogging from the Folk School, but there will still be lots to show & tell when I get back. 
One of the things I'll be using these blocks for is to show how to make pieced borders, and how to arrange a quilt top with blocks of different sizes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spray Basting Rules!

Armed with an industrial size can of 505 Spray, Cherry-cherry and I basted three quilts on Monday.
I'm sorry it was distracting to the other group in the large room, as they were practicing to present a program for the guild next week. Although they were quite focused on their task, they couldn't help asking how many quilts had we actually done!
BLOOMS lap size...basted at last!
I have taken this poor top to so many BLOOMS classes, it's amazing it hasn't fallen apart. As soon as I have it quilted it will be a much nicer sample! You can see what the smaller version is like on the Patterns for Sale up there under the header.

Supplies I like for basting

  • Quilt top, un-wrinkled batt and backing
  • A big room and a big table
  • Masking tape to hold the back smooth as you start
  • Giant can of 505 spray (temporary adhesive)
  • Scissors to trim excess length/ width
  • Safety pins to hold the edges rolled up when finished
  • A really good quilting buddy to help!

Basting Groundhog Day
First the the back is centered right side down on the table, then the batt, and the top goes on right side up. You can check to be sure each layer is big enough, and re-position as needed. 
This is a good time to trim off the extra batting or backing. I always seem to have a quilt that is too big for one size batt but a whole lot smaller than the next size. So I do a lot of whacking with the scissors...and save the pieces to use for pot holders, very small quilts, or even stitching together to make a larger size.

Next, as in the picture above, fold back the top and batt. That's the center of the backing you saw in yesterday's post. Sometimes I use a few pieces of masking tape to hold the backing smooth. If you are admiring how beautiful the fabric is, you need to should see the wrong side up!

I like to spray the fabric...others spray on the batt. If you keep the can close to the surface and spray in short bursts, this is a fairly safe process. If you don't wave it all around like a can of air freshener, the spray just goes right where it belongs! The table did not get sticky even after doing 3 quilts.
This brand doesn't have a real odor, and I try to keep the can at arm's length and not breath deeply. Those who are very sensitive to perfumes and other substances should probably avoid spray basting have to decide for yourself, and there are other basting methods.

After spraying, lift the batt up and smooth or pat it into place on the sprayed back. This is where a friend on the other side of the table is helpful to hold the batt up while you smooth, or vice versa. Think of it like wallpaper...smooth the center first then work out to each side. It takes longer to describe it than to do it!
Spray the batt and then smooth the top down onto the same section.
Move to the opposite side of the table and lift the top & batt out of the you lift, you can feel where the spray has taken hold, so stop there and fold the layers back out of the way.
Spray again...smooth the batt...repeat for the top, and now all the center of the quilt is done!

Carefully slide the quilt to one side. Lift the layers, spray and complete that side.
Then slide all the way to the opposite side and finish up.
"Florida's Brightest Jewel" in swamp colors...pattern coming soon!
For a giant quilt, or a small table, you may need to work in table-wide sections and even end-to-end, but do start in the center. The weight of the sides help pull the backing smooth. If you get wrinkles in the backing, you can peel it up and re-position. Wrinkles in the back will end up as quilted- in pleats!

Since I probably won't get to the quilting immediately, I do like to roll up the edges and pin them with safety pins. It keeps the batting from catching on things or sweeping up all the cat hair and dust bunnies from the floor! That's an "old school" method, but it still seems a good idea to me.

The basting spray will hold for a long time, and washes out when you are done quilting. I was surprised to find out it will also work on polyester batting and even fleece, which is fun to use as a combination back & batting on kids' quilts.

Well, the same people who were asking how many quilts we basted that day also had to ask how many UFOs I have. When I made a list at the beginning of last year, there were 35 that I could easily account for. Others are lurking somewhere, no doubt.
I'm going to guess that number holds steady, as I'm sure I have started at least one new project for each I have completed!
And now I am headed out to the laundry room to haul bring in about 14 yards of various backing fabrics to get ready for the next Baste-A-Thon!

Back Before Basting

I have never heard anyone say "I can hardly wait to make the back for my quilt!".
Some art quilters do make two-sided quilts, with a back most of us would be proud to have as a front. But for the most part, the backing is a huge amount of fabric to it's time just get to it!

If the quilt is wider than 40" you will be sewing at least one seam for the backing. There used to be much discussion about the correct placement of seams, with the classic preference for length-wise...not one down the center but a full width of fabric down the center, and a 22" half-width (like cut along along the bolt fold) on each side.
Today, with machine stitching, it doesn't matter as much, and I say put one seam down the center or across the middle side-ways, whatever uses the least amount of fabric. 
This time I bought a pretty fabric for the back!
For the back of my scrappy Groundhog Day quilt I got twice the length of the quilt (2 x 78" = 156"...divided by 36" for a yard = 4.3 yards, so I got 5 yards to be sure)(and continued blessings on whoever invented the calculator). Remember, you need a couple extra inches on each side.
If your quilt is wider than 80" you need to do more figuring...maybe 3 x the width. I like to draw a little diagram to figure out which way to run the seams to use the fewest yards of fabric.
Cherry-cherry says that the extra-wide backing fabrics (90" or 108" or more) can be a better purchase, even though the per yard price appears high. You will need to buy less yardage, and can avoid sewing a seam.  
NOTE: if you are planning to take your quilt to a longarm quilter, please ask first to find out what their requirements are. You may even want to purchase backing and/or batting from them.

Here's how I made the back this time:
A really wide seam allowance
It's a good idea to pre-wash, even though I hate ironing that many yards! Taking it out of the dryer before it's completely dry will make the ironing easier.
Fold the whole length of fabric in half across the center (not along the length).
Match up the selvedges, and sew with a big, fat seam allowance. I like about 1"or more. 
I started at the cut edges, but you could sew starting at the fold.
When you're done, press the seamline to set the stitches, and then trim off the selvedges together, leaving some fabric for the seam does not have to be even! Don't worry about the selvedge on the other side...that will be cut off when you trim after quilting or basting. 
My ironing board cover does have little irons printed on it!
Then you cut along the fold, and yes, you must remember to make a little snip in the seam allowance.
No measuring, just slide those scissors along the fold
I think it's easier to use scissors than a rotary cutter for all this, as precision is not required.
Press the seam allowance open. I bet nobody who's reading this blog would hand stitch a backing seam...but if you took leave of your senses and did, then you should press the seam to one side to keep the batting from sneaking out. It's good to know the reason why something is done, so you can decide whether to follow the old traditions or not.
I run my finger along in front of the iron to open the seam...don't let your attention wander if you do this!
As Gary Larsen of "The Far Side" might say: Trouble brewing?
Now what do you do with all that nicely pressed fabric until it can be used? I have to lay it out on my Pile O' Quilts upstairs railing:
Sometimes it's hard to get down the hallway
You can see I have a batt "airing out" (de-wrinking?) and ready to go.
The next stop is hauling all my basting equipment over to the church, where there are nice big tables and lots of space...unlike at my house!
And, of course, Cherry-cherry will meet me there to help.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stuck in the middle of Q

I'm stuck alright...stuck in the middle of in quilting!
It may feel like the fabric selection, cutting and piecing/applique takes forever, but that's just the first half. The actual quilting takes a long time.
OK, you take-it-to-the-longarmers out there! I hear you snickering! But you do have a good point, because one of the biggest roadblocks to a complete quilt is Backing & Basting.
It's not the batting. I have batting! I even have batting ready to go:
No better use for a stairway railing!
Look at that stack! And the batt has been "airing out" or relaxing (to loosen the folds from being packaged) for weeks now. 
In fact, since it has been out, I have finished 3 more tops and the blocks for another quilt. This could be a cause for concern, except I know a woodturner who has 100 bowl blanks in the shed. Let's face it, artists need plenty of materials at hand! It's the potential that's important, not so much the number of completed works.
(by the way, there is one finished quilt peeking out on the left of that picture,  "Quirky Bits").
I also have several huge cans of spray basting, and a willing friend to help (hey there, Cherry-Cherry!). So here's the problem:
A job of work, as they say
Nobody wants to iron 4 yards (or more) of fabric for the backing. Sigh.
But I will! soon as I finish this post...and think about sashing for the blocks on the design wall....and have  lunch....feed the cat inside....feed the cats outside..check my email....check Facebook...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day 2012

Groundhog Greetings to All!
And to all the groundhogs who are giving their weather predictions today, especially Gertie at the Wildlife Prairie State Park in Illinois. What an exciting day for these all-American mammals!
In Europe there was a similar tradition with hedgehogs, though I am not sure it is still celebrated...and certainly not with parades and speeches by the local mayor.

For those who still may not know the noble Groundhog, here is a picture:
This is Puxatawney Phil
Their coats are thick, soft fur and they have front paws almost like hands (sort of like a raccoon). To learn more about groundhogs, and even hear a selection of sounds they make, visit Hog Haven.

In 2008 I wrote a post about my pet groundhog Charlie. He was a great guy, and I still like to remember him snuggled in my lap, making a contented little woodchuck grunting sound.
I always wanted to make a Groundhog Quilt, but didn't really want to use the Sunshine & Shadows block for it.
Sunshine and Shadows block (also known as Roman Stripe)
A  Mystery Quilt class I taught had a great design, but a name I no longer wanted to it has become Groundhog Day, my latest pattern. The two colors represent Winter and Spring, and you can see lots of holes for the Groundhog to pop up from:
Groundhog Day c. Sunnie Malesky 2011
Before I publish a pattern it has to be tested several times. This one also includes a scrappy version, which I made in pinks and greens. I had the top spread out for some final patch counting, and it took Shayla O'Puss about two seconds to appear for a nap:
Shayla was so happy on this top she didn't make a face when I snapped the picture!

I hope all my Faithful Readers have a wonderful Groundhog Day. I am very honored to be included in Gertie's celebration this year with a little poem I wrote back in 2008:
May your Winter be short and your Springtime be long;
May the shadows that fall on your life soon be gone.
May the sun shine upon you, may your joys never end...
and remember the Groundhog is always your friend!