Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Using Patterns to Expand Possibilities

Use patterns that you purchase to expand design opportunities. When designing "Simple Elegance Table Dressings", I did not include directions for table pads or runners since there are so many different types of table sizes and shapes. Using the basic pattern and directions, the placemats will fit round, square, or rectangular tables. You can easily design your own desired shape, width and length for a pad or runner using the techniques explained within the pattern. For the pad shown, I started with a basic square (a bit smaller than desired) and applied the borders in the manner as for the placemats. You will need to shape the corners of the square before sewing on the borders. Simply cut off the four corners (right angle triangles) all equally. Cut small at first to visualize the shape of the pad. You can always increase the cut. Just remember to cut the four corners equally. Use the same method to create a runner to accompany the placemats, or smaller serving dishes pads. See earlier posts below to discover how to use cuttings from your original placemats for pads, using up your cuttings.
Something more on possibilities...............shown at left is the Business Card Caddy from the pattern "Sophisticated Trio of Handbag Accessories". Many of us do not need or carry business cards. I use mine when I want to travel light and not carry a purse. I place my driver's license, bank card, and a couple of greenbacks inside. Fits nicely in a shirt pocket while jogging or attending busy events.

Shown at right, gifting ideas using stash fabrics and the eyeglass/sunglass pattern. To ensure your projects sew up as in the photos, I recommend Warm & Natural needled cotton batting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Something a Little Different

Hello All,
Decided to break away from the usual and try a little experimenting. I'm fascinated lately with fusible tapes--my fave is the Warm Company's Steam-A-Seam 2, which comes in 1/4" and 3/16" widths. I have used the tapes in past years for tasks involving sewing clothing, but now that I largely use sewing time to quilt, I find ever new uses for this time-saving notion. Two of my most recent patterns that you see in the sidebar, Leafing Lovely Tableware and Harvest Pumpkin Tableware both use the fusible tape instead of sewing together the sectioned components and not only just instead of sewing, but sewing a more difficult task--curved seam sewing. I use the tape to fuse edges (turn them under 1/4", tack the tape on, overlap edges and fuse) for a speedy and accurate joining of assymetrical edges. Using the 3/16" width in this sort of application ensures the tape is hidden within the seam allowance. You will also find that several cuss words will be eliminated from the sewing session using this technique--frustration free sewing! Super speedy, super accurate, you'll love this application of the tape.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Word About Working with Woven Cottons

A little background information can be useful when working with cotton woven fabrics. Fabric is woven by setting the warp threads securely, then weaving the weft threads in and out of the warp. I remember the distinction of those two terms in this way: warp threads run parallel to the selvage edge and could (theoretically) go on to infinity, hence, warp speed like Star Wars. The weft, or back and forth from selvage to selvage, filler threads, I liken to left (weft) and right. Anyway, that's how I roll. So what does this gibberish have to do with quilting, you are wondering.
It's the nature and mechanics of the weave that affect the behavior of the fabric as you work with it. Because of the process of setting the warp threads of the weave first, it is a more stable, taut set of threads. The process of adding the cross threads (weft) results in the up and over and down and over crossing of the warp threads (weaving action) that by it's very nature adds some slack in the weft. What this means is that when you are cutting fabric, the cuts that parallel the selvage will be quite stable. The cuts that are perpendicular (right angle to) the selvage will be a bit stretchy, or have "give" in the weave. You can use these properties to your advantage when cutting and sewing. For example, by cutting long strips for, say, Log Cabins, you may want to make the length cuts parallel to the selvage, and sew with these cuts on top when sewing. If you sew with cross-cut (weft cuts) on top, you can experience distortion of the pieces as the pressure of the sewing foot, steam pressing, and other motions add to changing the original cuts of the fabric pieces. Pooh, pooh, you say? Factor in small distortions, then multiply by several pieces in a quilt before you discount the importance of considering how you will cut and sew fabric pieces.
This knowledge of cutting can be used to work to your advantage even when some cuts (often necessary to conserve fabric) are cut parallel to weft. When the option is available and some cuts are on the warp, some on the weft, simply place the stable weave on top to keep the stretchy cross cut under control while stitching.
Use this knowledge when pressing. Steam can distort your components, especially if you use a pushing motion with the iron. Lift and move your iron if you must press while sewing, or better yet, reserve steam for final pressing. Now that you realize the right-to-left motion is not a stable weave direction, move your iron in the direction that is, when such might be an issue.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More Handy Gadgets

Two more handy-dandy items I repeatedly use are Dritz Fray Check to discourage thread whiskers (this for small projects like the Sophisticated Trio of Handbag Accessories--small projects where thread whiskers growing would be noticeable) and the Clover Mini Iron. The Mini Iron is also suited to the small spaces, such as turning under 1/4" hems where your full-size iron can more easily burn your fingers or block your vision. As I mentioned in a previous post, I use The Warm Company's Steam-A-Seam 2 quite frequently, and the mini iron is ideal for tacking strips into position.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Frequently Used Tools and Products

Ever wonder what sorts of products and tools different quilters use to produce the looks they want? Follows are a few of my old faithfuls--and a note why or how I use them.

The old stand-bys are obvious--good shears and scissors (don't forget a separate pair of paper scissors to keep the fabric shears sharp!). I also keep a rotary cutter that's devoted to paper use--it's a lot faster, of course, and neater to cut patterns with a blade and straightedge. Don't forget a small pair of snips or scissors for thread cutting--the tips have to be sharp to get a clean, close cut--no thread whiskers for me!

As for rulers, well, they collect faster than dust bunnies. Those that I use the most are 24" x 3 1/2", but any 24" is handy, especially when it's time to cut width of fabric strips. I also own a 24" x 6" and find that the extra width adds that much more stability when I'm trying to keep the fabric still for a cut. Throw in a smaller length ruler for the cuts following the WOF, smaller lengths, for which I keep on hand a 14" x 4". I find that trying to wrestle my 24" ruler here is just plain aggravating to be nimble. There are so many occasions that a square ruler comes in handy and for those jobs I keep a 15" square and a 9 1/2" model. If I had to choose only one, I'd keep the larger square for those jobs of squaring quilt corners and everything in-between. Two other rulers I would be missing like coffee without cream is a couple of metal rulers, 6" and 18". Ever use a small metal ruler to slide between layers of sewn piecing to flip one open to press? Insert between layers, back the ruler right to the seam line, and flip the fabric over with the metal edge. Press. That baby comes out oh, so crisp, straight and even in a world where distorted components will make your hair turn gray! Same with the larger ruler, plus has the advantage of the thin surface when I'm tracing lines, making patterns, etc. I can see better with a thin diameter ruler.

Speaking of rotary cutting and mats--well I'm speaking of it now--I made an important discovery recently while making a trade show quilt. I was rotary cutting 2" strips for the project, piecing, pressing, when I stopped to take a measurement. It was the sort of block and project where accuracy was important and I decided to stop and measure the finished 15" block, consisting of nine strips. Yep, it was off. I checked my directions for strip measurement, checked the strip measurement (flipped it on the gridded mat right quick), even checked the depth of my seam allowance. Everything checked out. Got out the calculator--check! Have you guessed yet where I went wrong? I used the gridded mat as the measurement for 2" strips, that is, I lined the fabric along one line on the mat and 2" away followed the line on the mat to cut. After much head scratching, I finally measured the lines on the gridded mat with an architect's ruler and found the fly in the ointment. The mat is a well known brand, but I'm guessing that after years of life, the plastic, which is not inert as, say, glass, apparently shrunk a bit--which I should have figured out more quickly since I am shrinking a bit too in my older life. Friends, check your mats occasionally and if off a bit, don't throw them out, just rely on your ruler to produce the measured increments. A last eye opener--I have also purchased quarter-inch graph paper in which measurements have been inaccurate. Who can you trust, huh? Where's the quilt police when you need them?

Redneck walking foot--this little gem everyone has, aka seam ripper. Yep, when you get to shoving the quilt layers under the presser foot and have no walking foot, take your seam ripper (or similar small tool) and flatten the layers of the fabrics just in front of the foot. This also works if you are sewing strips cut on the cross-grain (the straight grain that has a little "give" to it). The cross-cut grain, and of course bias cuts, will always have a tendency to stretch, wreaking havok with those tidy little pieces meeting like you had planned. As you are feeding fabrics into the machine, keep the flat side of the ripper near at hand to constantly flatten and assist feeding. You'll be amazed how this helps.

Knitting needle, of the blunt variety. I don't knit and I've never knitted because I don't have the patience. (Can you believe a quilter just said that?) I do own a knitting needle (it's a cool fuschia color) purchased at a discount store that is invaluable as a turning tool (no pencil poke-throughs for me!) and is great for working out sewn corners and seam lines.

Batting used to be purchased according to what was available in my area--quality, of course. That was, until I discovered Warm & Natural needled cotton batting. It is a product with a dimensional stability that I love for the projects I make. I love a tailored look because I am nuts about trying to get everything perfect, which I never do, of course. Anyway, this batting stays put while working with it and keeps it shape--so much so that I have made several projects, one a full size quilt, in which the batting is used as a template and saves a step during construction. Use the fleck side of batting (there is very little of it, not like in the old days) facing the quilt top. All the projects in the side bar of this blog use Warm & Natural needled cotton batting.

I discovered the other "gotta have on hand" product years ago when samples were being handed out at a quilt show in Florida. It's Steam-A-Seam 2 fusible bonding web. It's so handy for closing seam allowance openings and for hemming--my two most often performed tasks. I just finished some patterns for Blank quilting website, 2 of which are aprons, and I used the SAS2 as a template. Place the paper strip along the raw edge, paper side up, press 1-2 seconds with a dry iron just to make sure the position stays while working with it, then fold the fabric over using the paper liner as a template and crease the edge. That baby makes a nice clean edge and holds nice while you topstitch or whatever. I have also used the SAS2 to bond the binding to the quilt edge during finishing. If I sew the binding on the top side, fold it to the back and want to topstitch from the topside in the ditch, SAS2 makes you not hate binding. Apply strips to the underside of the back binding and fuse to the back, confining iron to the edges. Here's the ticket to smooth the binding into being a good girl and sitting still while you sew from the topside. I find so many uses for this product, it would just be boring listing them all--and take the fun out of it for you. One last mention--the fusible tape comes in 1/4" and 3/16". (The 3/16" fits within a quarter inch seam allowance--you'll know when you need each size). I keep both sizes on hand all the time, like a selection of thread, ya just gotta have it there when you need it.

Since my fingers are tired, I'm going to go with this story, and stick to it for now. Next time I'll share some knowledge of fabric behavior and control--basics of handling woven cotton textiles. Until then, check your cutting mats!