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!