Sunday, March 17, 2013

International quilting day

There was a rumour of rain this weekend. It's been so dry in Auckland this year and we are desperate for rain. A wet weekend is a quilting weekend, so I was hopeful about getting some things done.

This week I've spent some time on my Cotton Robin round robin second border. So far so good. But, it's hard to judge when working on a project for someone else - is less more or is more needed? That's about all I can say about that one.

Last night I picked up my butterfly hearts quilt again. After sewing the hearts on with a running stitch of embroidery floss, I decided that it was too delicate to hold up to wear & tear. I tried a machine zigzag around 2 of them, but the results aren't great. This could be my technique or maybe it's just not the right approach.

So, what now? Carry on? Take them off and try something else? Needle turn? Buttonhole? This one has been on hold for a while and I really want it done.

(...later the same day...)

I did a few more hearts with the zigzag and this is the way I will proceed. Sometimes, I have to compromise to get the job done and this is one of those times.

Today I went to a small quilt show put on by one of the local groups. I've been a few times over the years and admit that my taste is changing and this group is probably not producing work that I appreciate these days. So, I asked myself - how can I look at each piece and still appreciate elements of it without necessarily liking the whole thing? So, I broke each one down by colour, fabric, pattern, and quilting. I enjoyed this approach and it made the trip to the show worthwhile - working through each element systematically allowed me to filter out the elements that did not appeal and focus on those that did.

I've also been working on the Monday Modern curved cushion challenge. I did some FMQ on the background using some biscuit-coloured variegated thread I picked up at the show. I should have done the circles first, because there's some puffiness I'll need to deal with now. I just didn't know if the circles needed anything, so I left them. I've now decided that they do need something but don't know what yet.

More sewing on the cards tonight - Melbourne Formula 1 is on TV, so I'm steering clear!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Playing with applique techniques

I'm working on a project which is top secret. I have a picture in my mind but was not sure about how to accomplish my vision. But, I wanted to stretch myself and thought it was time to try something new. Not that anything I'm doing is new, but it's new to me.

My first challenge was to figure out how to make a skinny bendy strip. These are often used as vines or stems in floral applique. The obvious thing was that I needed to use a bias strip - but there are different techniques out there - many requiring tools I do not have. So after a few very sad attempts and not being happy with the width of my curvy line, I did the only thing one can do in such a situation: I called my mother.

Those of you that know me will agree that I am not fond of hand sewing. But, my mother is a great hand-sewer and does a lot of applique work. She suggested this technique to me that does not require tools, pressing edges under, or sewing tiny skinny tubes of bias.

I started with a bias strip 3/4" wide - it's about a skinny as I can manage.

You lay the bias strip right side down with one raw edge along your design line (I drew mine lightly with chalk) and sew it down using a running stitch - keep your stitches a scant 1/4" from the edge. I pinned mine a lot after my first attempt ended up puckered and sad. These are tiny applique pins and they work well for this.

As you stitch, some of the curves will require you to coax the strip around - take your time. I found that it is most important to keep your background fabric flat - the bias will flatten out later.

After you finish the running stitches, gently iron the background fabric up under the bias strip (from the wider side of the strip, or from the top of the photo above) and against the running stitches. This will gently push the bias strip over the stitching line. Don't iron a deep crease into the bias strip, you are really just nudging it into the right direction.

Fold under the raw edge with your finger (this is like needle-turning, but I didn't really use my needle). Work your way slowly along the strip, sewing the turned under edge using your usual almost-invisible applique stitch. Watch out that you don't turn under too much and expose the raw edge underneath.

Every 3-4" I stopped and did some ironing. I used lots of steam and barely touched the fabric. This helped the bias to stretch/unstretch and make the curves smoother. I only did this along the way because I was nervous that it would not lay flat. I think after a while, it would be unnecessary.

The finished trial piece is okay, and I know that it will give me the effect I want. But I really wish I could get tighter curves. It certainly works best with gentle smooth curves and maybe there's a secret that I don't know yet.

Another technique I tried (aren't I adventurous?) was broderie perse. I used a fusible paper-backed webbing to stick it to the background after carefully cutting it out. At first I tried a blanket stitch using normal sewing thread and it didn't look great. When I switched to 2 strands of embroidery floss, the results were much better. I need to practice getting the stitches closer together because it is a raw edge. But, I'm happy enough with the results.

I have yet to do any work on the 'real' project and have been playing with some scraps. So, I still need to decide if I will use either or both of these methods and if so, choose some matching fabrics for it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

WIP update + something new

Suddenly, I've managed to make some progress on a few projects - but I also seem to be starting and finishing some new things while WIPs languish in the corner. I am committed to getting all of the lingerers out of the way so that I can focus on some new and exciting projects. Some of those lingerers are not even started - just a pile of fabrics and an idea.

It's funny how emotionally burdened I am with UFO/WIPs. Small projects that I start and finish quickly are like an adrenaline rush but I get a lot less long-term satisfaction from them. So, it's time to make some lists - here's the WIPs in order of age.

Butterfly hearts: I've hand-stiteched about 1/2 the hearts onto this quilt, discovered they are heading the 'wrong' way, and have also decided that they need to be machine stitched on. Although I've avoided this project for a while, I've been thinking about it again. Hopefully, I'll dive back in.

Blue snowflakes: More than 1/2 of the applique blocks are done but hand work is so not my thing. What I need is to break a leg or sprain an ankle and be bedridden for a week so I can do nothing but needle-turn applique. Short of that, it will be a while.

Green & white HSTs: I did a few more blocks over the Christmas holidays - I think I have 18 of the 36 done.

Blue & brown circles: I have not even started this one; however, the cushion challenge (see below) uses these fabrics, so maybe it's time to get started.

Poodle handbag: After making these for Christmas presents, I have made one (not pictured) for DD and just need to get the strap finished. Don't know why this is taking so long.

Green & black hexis: My bee blocks from the Monday Modern group. I received a few more this past Monday and am ready to get them pieced together. The solid green fabric I ordered from the US was too green and I've now checked some real fabric and should get a better green solid in the next month or so. Until then, this one is on hold.

MM cushion challenge: A new project (as of yesterday). Our Monday Modern challenge - a cushion with curves, must use FMQ. Since some of my lovely Osbourne & Little silk/hemp sofa cushions are wearing out (not a good fabric choice, apparently), I thought I'd make a few to replace them. The blue & brown circle quilt I have 'planned' is for the sofa, so these will be made of the same or coordinating fabrics.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced WIP.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Plaid quilt #2 flimsy

I set a goal to get the front of my second plaid quilt done this weekend. Not only was I motivated by finishing the first one, but on Friday I found out that I had won the blocks from February's Block Lotto. This motivated me further to honor the lovely quilters who sent me blocks last year before they send me more this month.

I had started to work on this ages ago, but became distracted along the way. My goal was to do something quite different with the remaining 24 blocks and I think I've achieved this without introducing other fabrics or overpowering the original block design. I admit I like this better than my first one.

A challenge with both quilt designs was dealing with blocks made by different people - some were precise and others not-so-precise. I'm okay with this, but it meant that trying to line up the center strips was impossible. So, I opted for an on-point layout with the blocks sashed in a variety of 1" strips and then staggered the blocks so that the centers didn't have to match up perfectly. Certainly this is always the case when different people make the blocks. I know that I have a habit of cutting slightly big and sewing a scant 1/4" seam - this means my pieces are often a tad big. This is fine if I've made all of the blocks, but not so in this case. (I've been working on this problem, by the way.)

The finished size is 56" square - a healthy throw but not really bed sized. I already have a plaid/floral fabric for the backing that I picked up in the clearance bin and plan some kind of all-over quilting design. Very happy to have achieved my goal and looking forward to the deluge of blocks to arrive in the mail over the next few weeks.