Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Lesson in Values

I am working on two versions of Spring Breeze by Dorothy Young Designs. The pattern is great, but I am disappointed in my fabric choices for the first one.

The lights I used were of different enough values that the pattern is lost. Actually, in all three values there is too much of a range to really make the design pop. You'll see the difference when I get the second one on the design wall, as I used the same mediums and darks, but used one fabric for all the lights.

This will be a Christmas gift and the recipient loves scrappy, so I know it'll be loved. And now I know that those nickel charm sets you can buy are not a good choice to start with in a pattern needing light, medium and darks.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Green Bags Tutorial

While making cloth shopping bags, it occurred to me that to be really "green", I should use my scraps. This was inspired by my quilty friend, Linda, who challenged everybody to use their scraps. I started sorting and trimming, making 5, 4 & 3" squares, 2 1/2" strips and putting anything that didn't fit into a pile.

I quickly realized I could fill a year sorting and get nothing used! Going against my nature, I forced myself to grab and sew.

I started with some ugly fabric I bought at a rummage sale for $1 a yard. You can also use old sheets or large scraps, as this will be the lining. I used my Trader Joe's shopping bag as a guide.

Cut two rectangles 16" x 12", two 16"x 6", one 12" x 6" and two 2" x 16".

Cut interfacing to match, and iron the interfacing to the back of everything. I left the interfacing in the seam allowances for extra sturdiness. Set the 2" x 16" pieces aside, as you won't be covering them with fabric.

Reach in the scrap bin and pull out a scrap, laying it face up on the interfacing side of a large rectangle. Place another scrap face down on top of the first, sew with 1/4" seam allowance, and trim the second scrap.

Press open. Continue adding pieces until the interfacing is covered. If necessary, sew small pieces together to make a long enough strip before attaching to your block.

Turn the block lining side up and trim. Save any large pieces and toss them back in your scraps.

You can place your first scrap on an angle or use odd shaped starters to add interest.

Continue adding and trimming until you have covered your front and back, two sides and bottom pieces.

Matching short ends, sew a side piece to either end of the bottom. If your machine doesn't automatically, back-tack at the start and finish of your seams for stability. Don't press seams yet.

Pin the seams to the corners of your front piece and sew using 1/4" seam allowance. Attach back piece the same way.

Turn right side out and fold along each seam and press. Along top edge, turn a 1/4" hem to inside and press. Turn a 1/2" hem, press and topstitch around top edge.

Topstitch 3/8" from edge along side and bottom seams, encasing the seam allowance in a French seam. This will allow your bag to stand on it's own to be filled, which should make your bagger happy!

On the two handle pieces, turn 1/4" along the long edges toward interfacing side and press. Fold again matching pressed edges and topstitch 1/8" along both long sides.

Find center of top edge of the front and back piece and mark 1-1/2" on either side. Line up your handles along these marks with raw edges at the top of bag and pin. There should be 3" between handle ends. Sew in place.

Fold handles toward top, leaving 1/2" turned under, covering the raw edge. Sew close to folded edge and again close to top.

That's it! In theory, your thread and interfacing are the only "new" items you've used. You could try batting scraps in place of interfacing, or skip the interfacing, for a completely "green" bag. I wanted the extra sturdiness of the interfacing, though.

I made several of these using flannel-backed vinyl remnants I found dirt cheap at Joann's. No lining, and assembled in the same way except I didn't turn under seam allowance in the handles, just left the raw edges along one seam.

Since so many stores will be banning plastic bags (a good thing!), I encourage you all to make yourself some shopping bags. Use orphan blocks, scraps, or the too thin fabric you ordered by mail. Have a sew-in with friends and share your scraps. Buy a few old sheets at the thrift store. These would be great at bazaars and fundraisers, wouldn't they?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Happy Scraps

I love scrap quilts, when someone else makes them.

On the other hand, I have two Christmas scrap quilts that I made and love, and have two more in the works with the Spring Breeze Pattern by Dorothy Young Designs.

I just seem to have this mental block that makes me feel they are less of a quilt. I am working on this!

I recently finished a very happy quilt with some orphan blocks and scraps that went a long way toward improving my feeling about them. I had some blocks made for projects where the blocks hadn't turned out as planned, but they were great blocks. I also had some half-square triangles made from corners cut off those blocks.

Using my design wall I began placing blocks in an area smaller than a twin batting. Then I measured space in between the blocks and filled as needed. I chose clear colors as they seem more cheerful, and as the spaces filled, I grew to love it more and more.

The quilt was to be a gift, so it was very important for me to love it. I can be very apologetic about a gift if I am not happy with it. (I am working on this, too!) When I had finished quilting and binding, my love for it blossomed.

Most importantly, the recipient love it, and has often been seen sitting beneath it, stroking the fabrics. Isn't that what we want for our quilts, to have them petted and loved?

It looks happy, don't you think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feathering My Nest

It started with a piece of fabric. While shopping with quilting friends in Missouri, I found this amazing rooster toile by Alexander Henry. I fell in love, and loved it enough to add it to the single tote of "keep" fabric when I moved back to California.

A year or two later, an online quilt group held a block round robin where we started with 9 fabric charms to send around to four friends, each of whom added a border as directed. I had only one request of my group, to steer away from red. Although I had purchased a red toile, I am not found of true reds, although the bluer shades are okay.

I was delighted with how my robin blocks turned out! I knew I wanted to pick up the deeper reds in the toile, so choosing sashing fabric was easy, especially when I found a feathery-looking leaf print. There was enough of the toile left for an 8" border, for a final quilt size of 86"x86".

The decision to quilt it with a feather design was a natural choice. The problem was I have not learned to do proper feathers. My aim in life right now is to do everything mindfully, living consciously in the moment. To apply that to quilting, I want to enjoy the process and experience the improvement as I grow as a quilter.

That was a big step to take in a project that people may see in person. Do I make this my practice piece? Do I rip out my mistakes and keep trying until I get it right?

After spending a good chunk of my day at Road to California, the largest Southern California quilt show, I loaded my New Joy quilt frame with the project and threaded my Juki TL98Q. I took out my manual of the moment, The Art of Feather Quilting by Judy Allen. I practiced drawing feathers until I felt I had the rhythm.

Going to my quilt frame, I pulled up my chair and began. Horribly. I did not have the rhythm, I had a mess. In frustration I just did some free-motion loops and curlicues down the rest of the row, turned off the machine and watched TV for the night.

The next morning, I found an online video demonstrating feather quilting and saw my mistake. I remembered learning once before to make each loop from the bottom, not from the top. I went back to the quilt and made a decision. I was going to learn to do feathers by practicing, and this would be a practice quilt.

I did row after undulating row of feathers, paying attention to the process, not the result. I thought about what the quilt needed just ahead of where I was stitching. Where was the spine curving? How much space is there between the spine and the previous row or the edge of my quilting "window", right in this spot? Are there any imperfections in the quilt top that need to be worked in?

The finished project is not perfect, but my only goal was to show improvement between the first and last rows. That is does.

After machine sewing on the first edge of the binding, I sat on my bed to hand stitch the other side. Spreading my new quilt over my lap I had a sudden splash of delight wash over me. I had a new quilt, just for me! A rooster quilt, with a fabric I loved, backed with a field of chickens that no one will see but I will know are there. A quilt made with friends, who will forever be with me when I curl up under the weight of their fabrics.

Years from now when I look at the imperfections in this project I can smile, knowing they do not show my inability to make proper feathers. They show I am capable of letting go of the need for perfection and allowing myself to grow.