Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why Stitch in the Ditch?

Why stitch in the ditch (SID)?  Well, you don't HAVE to, so let's review the choices that impact the decision.

Have you ever noticed what a tied quilt looks like?  Big, fluffy bunches between ties.  Same thing happens when a sandwich is pinned with safety pins.  This is not bad or good.  It just is.  It looks like this photo of the ice from my hike last week:

The ice on Dream Lake.  The wind blows it as it freezes,
but we still hiked across the lake on the ice.
The question is:  Are your seams going to bubble up this way?  Do you like the piecing seams to behave this way?  They will if you are quilting designs into areas defined by the seams.  On the other hand, an all-over design will cross seams in an irregular way and keep them from bunching and creating unsightly ridges.

So...why bother?
Stabilization.  Basting will stabilize your quilt.  I hate basting, but I do pin.  I SID to stabilize the quilt before doing the fancy quilting.  The pins can all be removed and there is no worry about the quilt going wonky when you are concentrating on the decorative free motion quilting (FMQ).  Once the quilt is stabilized you can work anywhere you want without distortion.  I stitch with Superior MonoPoly thread (clear or smoky) for SID.  This can be a great way to learn to control your FMQ technique.  You can also use any thread of a color that disappears into your fabrics.  For straight lines and borders I use my duel feed foot, and it is awsome. It gobbles up excess fabric and smooths it all into the puff.

No bubbly seams, tucks or puckers.  I have 28 pieces in each block of my quilt and they will mostly be quilted with enclosed designs.  I do not want seam ridges so I am SID-ing in every single seam.  Time consuming, yes, but WOW does it ever make it look nice.  My quilt would look fine with only the SID, but since I like the fancy stuff I know I won't have to worry about the antics of recalcitrant seams or tucks or puckers.

Before:  Rumpledy, bumpledy before SID

After:  All seams stitched down.
Straight borders.  Borders look best when they are nice and straight.  Show judges will nail you for crooked borders every time.  SID will set the borders nice and straight from the get-go whether you quilt on them or not.

You want to show your quilt.  Take careful note of all of the above because the judges will be looking for straight seams and borders, smooth curves, no crumples and perfection in the hanging.  This is impacted by blocking after all is done, but you can't block out internal wiggles after they are set in stone....errr thread.  They will notice the track of your SID especially any stitches that stray from the ditch, so if you choose to do it, learn and practice to do it well.  There are many online tutorials so I am not going into the "how to."

Don't bother:
If your quilt will be a "dragger" to be loved and washed repeatedly.  It won't matter.  The exception would be if you choose to do all the quilting SID and don't want to mess with the fancy stuff.

If you are going to quilt an all-over design that tramples and ignores seams.  In this case the seams generally disappear into the quilting motifs.

If you don't show your quilts.

If you don't care....and that is OK.  It is your quilt.  Do what suits your style, your time, your passion.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to practice some stitching-in-the-ditch.
PS.  Last week's hike:
Hallet and Flattop peaks from Dream Lake.  Rocky Mountain NP.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Pinning the Sandwich

Last week I wrote about how I will mark the black border on my quilt.  Seredipitously (is that a word?) Jenny Lyons of Quilt Skipper wrote her blog last week on marking black fabric.  She did a lot of research on numerous markers and her discoveries are well worth reading.  Guess what:  her choice is the Sewline pencil...same as mine!  Always nice to be validated.

I have spent the last couple of weeks doing just about everything except sewing although I got my quilt sandwiched and pinned.  I have a long, narrow table (22" x 60") fitted up as an ironing surface, but when it comes to putting my sandwich together I take all the cushy covering stuff off and work right on the plywood so I don't pin the ironing cover into my quilt.  How do I pin a quilt on such a narrow surface?  It is not hard.

1.  I carefully mark the center of my table with two pins covered by masking tape so I can feel them through the fabric.  That way backing, batting and quilt top are all in the right place in the center.  

Pins secured to mark center and touch sensitive.
TIP:  Batting and backing should be at least 2 inches bigger than the quilt top on all sides.

2.  Use office clips to secure the backing to the table centering it over the pins.  Align the ends exactly parallel with the table ends and perpendicular with the long edges of the table.  I also have pencil marks on the plywood as guides.  Secure the backing fabric snug and smooth, but don't stretch it tight.  If necessary use painter's tape to secure places where you can't use clamps (the end of my table).

Office clamp in place.
3.  Add the batting.  Center it over the pins and make sure the edges are straight.  Pat it out gently to eliminate all the bumps.  DO NOT STRETCH.

4.  Follow the same procedure in placing the quilt top.  Be sure it is centered, straight and does not overlap the edges of backing and batting.  Smooth it.

5.  Now the fun begins!  Starting at the center place safety pins 2-4 inches apart, working out toward both sides, top and bottom.

6.  Now the tricky part.  When you have covered all you can with pins, fold the top and batting toward you as far as the pins allow.  Undo all the office clamps, front and back.  Now carefully slide the whole thing toward you the width of the table and once again clamp the backing to the back of the table.  Unfold the batting and pat it down.  Everything nice and smooth.  Gently lay the quilt top over the batting.  No need to clamp the forward part of the quilt because the pins add enough weight to maintain adequate tension on the backing.

7.  Pin your heart out and repeat if necessary.  When half of the quilt is pinned let it drop off the back of the table.  Smooth and clamp the backing to the front of the table, pat the batting and quilt top down and pin.

All pinned (clamps are for the photo only to keep it from slipping
now that the job is all done).  Light spots are sun from the window above.
When I am done I toss the pinned quilt upside down on my bed to make sure I have no puckers in the backing.  I have never had any.  The only downside is having to take the ironing cover and padding off and replacing it, but what a great opportunity to wash it if necessary.

8.  The final step is to fold the excess batting and backing over the quilt top edges, enclosing the batting within the backing fabric.  Pin it down.  This keeps the batting from leaking fibers all over the quilt. See the fibers on the black fabric above?  It can be a mess.  I use a lint roller constantly as I quilt.

An aside:  Clearly, I use pins.  I do not like the adhesives or fusible because I don't trust them.  I wrestle my quilt all over the place when I quilt on my domestic machine and dread the horror of anything that might not hold together. I also secure all the seams with stitching in the ditch with invisible thread.  All the pins, except the edge come out when that is done so the quilt isn't so heavy and the fancy quilting is much easier.

Sew some happy seams this week.  Remember, you don't have to crawl all over the floor to pin a quilt sandwich (unless you want to).

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dead Space

Some weeks it seems that nothing gets done.  We pulled out some boxes, unpacked them, photographed everything, put the photos into a pdf and sent it off to our daughters to find out who wanted what.  The house is a stack of boxes and packing paper. The floors need attention, but I made my high fiber, sourdough bread and the bathroom is clean. What more can a girl ask?

Sewing machine went to the shop, down the canyon almost an hour away.  Next day DH picked it up and nothing had been wrong with my repairman says.  The "broken" button is working OK now, so I just feel foolish, but that button didn't work when I took it in!!!!

Finished quilting the dog, but not completely happy.  Learning.

Measured my quilt top.  All measurements varied, but the average for both directions was exactly the same.  That's what happens when there are so many pieces.  I'll have to be careful to keep my quilting even.  It is ready to sandwich.  Yay!

I topped the week off with a hike.  Add that to the 1/2 mile dog walk and I clocked 4 miles that day.  Really stiff the next day, but it is getting better.  We had a bluebird day, some snow and ice on the trail, but a magnificent time outdoors with my sister.

Gem Lake iced over.  Lenticular clouds that I wanted to pet.
Partial view from the trail.  This is where I live!
Not much sewing, but there are some weeks like that, and my brain has been busy.  My ancestry takes me back into the nobility of England, Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.  My great grandfather from England had a coat of arms (COA) of which he was most proud.  I became interested in the art of heraldry from seeing a bookplate of his COA, and found that I could create one that incorporated many appropriate families from my ancestry.  There are strict rules as to which families you can display.  Anyhow, you can see my digital rendition on my other, lazy, blog with a brief explanation.  I think it would be fun to make a quilt of this.  Each block would be 6-7 inches square.  I will appliqué, paint, stencil and piece.  I don't know whether this is do-able or not, but I'll have fun dreaming, planning and trying it out.  It will probably be a lifetime piece.

Sew some happy seams this week.  Give yourself permission to get outdoors, play, dream and create.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Marking Plans

I was asked last week how I will mark my quilt so here goes.  I made some changes to my design, but only added some more detail.  Then I drew it all over again!  By drawing the design on paper you build muscle memory, but it is not quite the same as working on the machine.  In the recent issue of AQS magazine RaNae Merrill has an article on how to use a plastic guide to practice your quilting before you try it on the machine.  Next, using sandwiched samples you practice your design with the sewing machine before you let the needle puncture your quilt.

I made templates of the shapes that have to be perfect.  Shapes that I can't free motion without a guide.  I had a bunch of poster board that I don't  anticipate using in the next 50 years so I drew the template shapes on them, except for one.  I don't know, but suspect that template plastic is more expensive and certainly less available in my small town.

Templates for internal shapes in my design.
The one template that is made from plastic shows 1/4 inch guidelines that mirror the outer shape (the curved triangle-ish one above).  This will be used to mark the grid that will fill it.  I don't have the fancy rulers being used for ruler work, nor do I have the necessary foot.  I can do this just fine without them as long as I have a drawn line to follow.

1/4" guide for a grid.  I'll clean off the pencil smears before using it.
I find I can follow lines with the needle quite well, but I can draw them better by hand, so I mark anything that has to be fairly perfect.  I need to mark this design (scroll down to last week to see the unfinished drawing) on an 8 inch black border.
     *Blue wash-away pen won't show.
     *Purple air-dry pen won't show.
     *Pouncing chalk makes a mess and smears.
     *White pen does not work for me.  It always disappears too quickly.
     *Frixion pens leave chemicals that come out to play if the quilt gets cold (winter mail).
     *I hate messing with that thin tissue you can sew through and find it imprecise.

My choice is my Sew-Line ceramic/chalk marker.  I love it.  It works like a mechanical pencil and rubs off if necessary. It comes with an eraser on the top, which is great for small goofs. However, if I have a big goof I put on my machine quilting gloves and rub the error out with those.  I have never had it stay if I didn't want it to.

Sewline marker and refills.
TIP:  As I mark around a template the line is a little thicker than a pencil line so when I quilt I stitch at the inside edge of marked lines.

Of course there is a downside.  It will eventually rub off as you manipulate your quilt.  The solution?  I mark as I go.  By the time I need to mark my quilt it will all be stabilized with ditch stitching. The internal part of the quilt should be totally free motion with little or no need to mark anything except grids.   For the border I will mark 1/8 of the border at a time.  At this time that is the plan.

For the feathers I mark only the spine and then do the feather loops free hand.

The feather spine is the curvy line on the bottom.  Looks strange without the
feathers, but it will do the job.
TIP:  Practice your feathers.  Soon you too will be able to mark only the stem and freehand the feathers with your needle.  You can also draw a freehand guide line for the outer edges of the feathers to keep them contained.

I am eager to get going on this and I got my batting and backing fabric, but I think I will finish my collie dog first.  She is very close to done.

Sew some happy seams this weeks.  I wish you time to practice your quilting skills this week.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Quantum Mechanics and Me

I have been reading a fascinating article about nano sized microtubules made of protein that live within our nerve cells.  They are being studied as the possible residence of quantum mechanics particles, which may be the basis of consciousness.  I know...that's a bit deep, but I am thinking that this week my quantum mechanics have taken a vacation.  I have not been sewing.  I have erased my way through pages of tracing paper trying to achieve a viable quilting design.

My sewing room, ironing board and sewing machine are under siege, covered with pencil, eraser, poster board patterns, used and unused tracing paper, a silk liner glove that needs repair and DH's dirty clothes hamper.  A card table fills the only free space in the room.  It is a mess, but when I sit at that table drawing, erasing and ultimately creating designs I am lost in contentment.  In spite of the frustrations, I can still find peace as I temporarily let the world take care of itself while I take care of me.  Those infinitely small particles in my brain are coming back into line as I scribble my way to a design that I think will complement the quilt.

180º view of my mess.  With the design complete I will once again
create order before I begin to sew.
The ideas I have lived with for over a year have not worked out to my satisfaction.  The center of the quilt has many small sections that I will quilt individually because I like their interactive shapes.  The outer reaches of the quilt leave vast spaces for quilting.  I have tried ideas for drawing desert scenes.  I have tried integrating several geometric borders.  Nada.  Now I am back to feathers.  I love feathers and so far they are looking the best to my mind as something I both like and am able to do nicely.

Design, which shows completed ideas as well as some of the trial ideas.
Taking a photo of this I see that I don't like the way the grids cut across the corner.  I have since draped the feathers over the grid so the almost straight line is broken.  I have plenty of time to review and revise as I stitch in the ditch.  This tracing paper will be pinned to my design wall.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time for contemplation to keep those quantum particles under control.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Designing Quilting Motifs

I finished the top!!!  When I got it all together I just slumped.  We have been without sewage disposal for three weeks now.  The septic field has failed.  The pipes have dislocated. As I write we are scheduled to hook into the city system, but the plumbers were supposed to hook us up last Wednesday - no show.  Then Friday - still couldn't do it.  Now it should happen Monday.  We finally let them set us up for three nights in a local hotel.  In some ways it is hard to be creative, but I find that it takes my mind off the presently unsettling vagaries of life.

Update:  As I am getting ready to post this they have just delivered the big digging machine so they must be planning the job today.  YEA!

I have been having fun designing the quilting for the finished top.  It does not lend itself to gorgeous, united quilting motifs like Margaret Solomon Gunn creates.  I am a great admirer of hers, if you haven't figured that out yet.  My quilt is an interlocking mosaic of color with lots of different inner designs to look at.  The more you look, the more you find.....almost an "I Spy" quilt.  I pondered the process of designing while I stitched, and have previewed lots of ideas.  No space for fluffy feathers nor would they complement the design.  I have looked at Pinterest, Google Images, books, and magazines.  These ideas get jumbled and have to be sorted out to maintain some sort of continuity throughout the quilt, and I am doing that with pencil and eraser.  I will quilt this to death.  

The quilt will be about 60 x 60 inches and I couldn't think of any way to manage designing on a full sized piece of paper so I finally printed one quarter of the quilt (all quarters are the same).  I had to break that quarter down into four pieces to print, and then taped them together.  This gave me a 15 inch square mock-up to mess around with.  I covered it with tracing paper and went to work with pencil and eraser.

Tracing paper makes the photo fuzzy.  General ideas in pencil.
(Since I took this photo I have made a lot of changes but you can get the idea of the process.)
TIP:   I love tracing paper.  You can see through it easily.  It is nice to draw on.  Pencil is easily erased when necessary.  You can turn it over to get the reverse pattern.  You can fold it to trace the mirror image of a motif.  You can retrace your lines with pen to show through fabric on a light box for marking said fabric.

Clearly the mock-up above does not deal with the actual sizes I will be quilting.  I am using some of my paper-piecing patterns to work out correct sizes of individual elements.

Actual size designs.  These don't all go together in the same block, but I
was able to determine the size of of the grids and other details.
TIP:  You can use paper clips to hold tracing paper to the pattern paper, but staples are more secure and don't catch on other things or fall off.

The first quilting will be in the ditch.  I will stitch every seam in the ditch before adding decorative elements.  That will take a long time, and I will get very good at it and very tired of it by the time I am done, but it makes the quilt look so nice.  I will then be able to work anywhere I want to without worrying about quilt distortion.  Time to get out to buy batting and backing.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you hours of fun designing and creating.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

It Is The Little Things

It is often the little things that catch the eye and spoil the view or enhance interest.  That happened to my quilt this week. The main focus is a complicated design in an on-point square.  In the middle of each side is a triangle that suggests a hidden square behind the on-point square.  You have seen lots of quilts like that...right?  At the last minute I was looking at the graphic of my design on Illustrator and realized that two lines were "off."  See below in the magenta circle how the turquoise border and the turquoise, pointy piece inside the red border look mismatched.  Intellectually they should be fine as they are unrelated design elements, but my eye was offended.  According to my brain the lines should line up, but they were about 1/2 inch off.

Graphic showing the disconnect!
My first attempt at righting the wrong, was to take the turquoise border off the side triangle.  Then I
inserted a 1/2 inch orange border and put the turquoise outside of it.  Now it is at least the right size.

Narrow orange border inserted.
Next I reapplied the triangle so the turquoise border to lined up the way I wanted it.  Now, that is better, but I am still not happy.  The line is OK, but it looks like an animal took a bite out of a presumed connection.  Hmmmmm!

Turquoise lined up.
How about putting a tiny, turquoise triangle in there?

Cut piece of turquoise set on top for testing my idea.
That little piece of turquoise fills up the barren territory and makes it look like the border (upper turquoise) travels under the red border to become part of the main design.  I don't know if anyone will ever notice it, but it is the kind of quirky idea that tickles my fancy.

TIP:  Take time to look at your work critically as you move along.  Fixing something in the early stages is much easier that having to go back later.

After a couple of  hours I have now carefully ripped a few stitches and inserted four little pieces to my satisfaction.  For the final two sides I will first insert those little triangles before stitching it all together.  Glad I caught it when I did.

Sew some happy seams this week. I wish you no mismatches to contemplate.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Multiple Projects

I am one of those apparently unusual people who does not accumulate UFOs.  I generally like to finish one project before starting another, but am not fanatical about it.  This week I began to tear out the paper from paper piecing.  Thirty-six intricate blocks takes a fair amount of time.  I chose to do it in the evening while watching Amazon Prime movies.  Some of those movies are pretty bad, but they prevent the paper tearing from getting so boring.  It is not fun, like sewing.  I also had to run out to get more black fabric.

This left me with a hole in my days when I usually sew, so I started the portrait of our long deceased collie.  Scroll down a couple of weeks to see my tutorials on the process.  I have been going back and forth between projects, applying borders on the big quilt and finding fault with the dog.  I did the dog with stash fabrics and could have benefitted from a couple of fat quarters from the quilt shop.  Some areas needed a slight value change so I pulled out my acrylic paints.  Most of the bottles are now defunct.

Note to self:  Clean out that box and get rid of dead paint.

I had enough viable bottles to mix a nice, soft blue-gray to darken up some areas as needed.  I love the result.  It softens the harsh line where black and white fabric meet.  It adds some shadow where needed.  I like it so much that I am going to do some more to soften edges (more obvious when you can stand back to look at it).  Thread painting would do the job, but I don't want to quilt this so heavily.  It doesn't need it.  I have read that others have used acrylic paint so why not.  I applied it in a very thin coat, and I don't plan to wash this little quilt.

See the gray on the white next to black?  Not much
but enough.
I am eager to get to quilting it, but will do the background first.  I took a picture of Lady lying in front of a big fan on a hot day.  She looks like she is flying and her fur is being blown around.  I will quilt the flying fur on top of the finished background so it will show up nicely.

TIP:  Be flexible with both time and process.  Take your time testing something new.  I have Tsukineko Inks.  I have Inktense pencils.  I have PaintStix.  Using scrap fabrics I tried them all, but like the result with the acrylic paints the best.  It is subtle.

I will also put a tiny, white dot in her eye, a catchlight.  It will brighten the eye and make it look alive.  In this case only on her right eye.  The left eye is almost hidden and the catchlight would be in the wrong place and look funny.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you many successful projects separately or all together whatever is your style.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January Therapy

We arrived home from the midwest the first week in January and went into some serious funk.  December handled us badly on several fronts:  holiday frenzy, traveling, sewer crisis, four new tires, viruses and extreme temperatures below zero.  I couldn't sew when the house wouldn't get above 66º, but on warmer days I experienced what is meant by "quilting is therapy."  I closed myself up in my sewing room with an audiobook and the sewing machine, and just sewed.  The quilt is going well, but it was to a point where the end of the centerpiece motif was almost done.  The stitching was monotonous.  The bugs had been worked out.  The end was in sight and the sewing machine sang its lovely chorus.  This was what I needed to get my mind off the bigger worries and discomforts for a couple of hours each day.  It is amazing what a little sewing can do to rest your brain and restore your spirit.

It also helps to finally make progress on the quilt.  I have now pulled out most of the paper and am ready for the first border.  It is exciting to start a new phase of any quilt, but especially this one.  I reached this point once before and that is when I decided to start all over again from the beginning.  Soooooo glad that I did!  Putting the blocks all together was challenging as there were many points to match up.  However, with the precision of paper piecing most of them went together easily.

Below is a sneak peak of the main part of the quilt.  Borders, appliqué and quilting still ahead of me.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you some productive therapy sessions.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

More Fusing

I promised to continue sharing my fusing process for creating a dog in fabric so I will get right to it.  All the prep was explained last week (scroll down) so now we start the phase 2 step-wise tutorial.

Step 1:  Iron one of the freezer paper drawings to the ironing board.  I use a portable ironing surface,  18 x 24 inches, for this.  Cover the freezer paper with a silicone ironing sheet that you can see through and secure it with pins or clamps.  You will fuse all fabric pieces to the ironing sheet.

Portable ironing surface, freezer paper drawing, silicone pressing sheet.
Step 2:  Now you will use the other freezer paper drawing as your pattern.  Cut out one piece carefully.  You don't want to cut away wantonly and destroy the other pieces you have so carefully outlined.  I start from the outside and work from there.

Freezer paper drawing
Step 3:  Cut a piece of fusible just a little bigger than your little pattern piece.  I usually cut a rectangle because it is easier to manage than odd shapes.  Iron that fusible to the back of the fabric and cut it out.

Fusible fused to back of fabric.  Placement was determined
by the shading that I wanted.
TIP:  When cutting the fabric be sure to cut it close to the edge of the fusible.  You will be cutting the pattern piece with the right side up and won't be able to see where there is fusible on the back...or not.  If your pattern piece misses some of the fusible it won't fuse.  On the other hand, if you leave any fusible on the back of your fabric you may end up with an unanticipated mess next time you use that fabric.

TIP:  If you are using fusible encased between two pieces of paper you should pull one paper off so it will fuse to the fabric.  Leave the other paper in place for now.

Fused fabric carefully cut away from the rest of the fabric - 
wrong side with fusible up.
Step 4:  Turn the fabric right side up with fusible down, leaving the paper on the back.  Iron the freezer paper piece you cut earlier onto the fabric shiny side down and press it to the fabric.  Cut out the piece leaving a scant 1/16 inch around the outside of the pattern.  This way all the pieces will overlap just enough to hold the whole thing together as you progress.  The joy of this process is that you don't have to worry about the pattern being in reverse.  That drove me crazy when I was taught to do it that way.

Freezer paper pattern piece pressed to right side of fabric that
has fusible on the back.
Step 5:  You will be able to see through the silicone sheet to find where your newly cut piece belongs.  Peel off the paper from the back and the freezer paper pattern, set the fabric in place and iron it down.  Continue until you have created the critter.

TIP:  What if you decide you don't like a piece that you have already fused?  You can heat up that piece and carefully pull it off.  If there is any residue it will be covered by the new piece.  It you want to replace a piece that is already buried by the edges of other pieces, just cut your new piece and fuse it over the old one.  I save all my cut paper pattern pieces in a plastic bag.  Although a nuisance to find, you will have the original paper pattern piece to use again if needed, or retrace from the mylar version of the drawing.

The start of the dog still missing her nose!

Yes, there is some waste, but how many of you consistently avoid waste in quilting?  Unfortunately, it is inherent in the craft.  If I have any sizable pieces of fused fabric I save them for smaller pattern pieces, but there aren't very many nor are they very big.  My method avoids preparing large amounts of fabric ahead of time so less waste.

TIP:  You can find a use for much of your waste.  I save unfused scraps in a trash bag to donate for dog or cat beds.

I have completed the dog and am working on the background by cutting pieces and slipping them under the edge of the dog.  Another way would be to pick up the fused, finished dog from the silicone in one piece (it will hang together if carefully fused) and iron it onto a background.

This project will be put aside for awhile as I return to the major quilt on which I have been working.  My paper piecing paper has arrived.  It is convenient to have the dog on a portable surface that I can set aside until I am ready to return to it.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you a lot of sunshine from these winter skies.