Thursday, May 29, 2014

Learning Experiences

I have been out of the loop and off the grid for a while, but I am back! Did some pre-summer vacationing, visited with our children, and did some traveling.  A bit of battery recharging.  Highly recommend it to everyone!
It takes some thought to get back in the groove.  Things that you forget if you are not doing them everyday. So that is my subject of the day - What are the most valuable lessons that you have learned?  Were they your biggest mistakes?
Barbie and her quilt

Having begun my first quilt many years ago, I have learned a few things since that time.  Those early quilts weren't pretty  and quite a number remain unfinished in a box somewhere.  Frustration and inexperience having got the best of me, I put them aside and moved on to something new.  Do you have a few of these UFO's? a box of them?  a closet of them?

There were few, if any, classes on quilting available when I began quilting.  Just a few tips from well meaning friends and guidance from Grandma.  My mother was never a quilter.  She sewed, as many of her generation, only out of necessity. Having myself married a Marine, we were never stationed close to home where we could pop in for a quick bit of advice.  And there was no YouTube to search for a helpful technique video!  So I was pretty much on my own.

My quarter-inch seams were adequate. I thought!  It was a mystery as to why seams were not perfect.  I avoided points!!  Later I began to understand the importance of accurate cutting, accurate sewing, accurate pressing,  resulting in accurate piecing!

And every good quilt does need some thought and preparation.  Whether it is your own creation or you are working from a pattern.  Carefully plan your cutting and sewing.  Read through the pattern completely - start to end.  Even pattern designers make mistakes!  So no matter how tempting to start right in - grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy chair, and read / plan every step.  Assemble every tool and fabric you will need, wind some bobbins and change your cutting blades.

There is nothing more I hate than cutting a piece at the wrong size, but I have done that more times than I would like to admit!  Check out my scrap basket!  Can you relate?

And then comes assembly.  Again, if you aren't paying close attention - you could be setting yourself up for lots more work!  Like sewing an additional row of piecing that did not belong on a block.  AAAAGH! Every block in the quilt is wrong.  Additionally, it was a waste of fabric.  I set that whole quilt aside and it is on my TODO list to un-sew.  Un-sewing is my least favorite thing to do, but it must be done to move forward!  (TODO is another quilting term meaning at some indefinite time in the near or far future - could be never. )

Placing a quilt on the frame to begin quilting is always an exciting step.  But again, pay attention!  After stopping to replace an empty bobbin, I failed to check that I had inserted the bobbin correctly or even check the tension.  It has to be done every time you change the bobbin.  Yes, there is a correct way to insert  a bobbin.  Your sewing machine does not like to sew when the bobbin is backwards!  Much later - much too much later, I discovered the tangled mess that the bobbin had left on the backside of the quilt.  And of course, it was not loose enough to just give a tug on the thread and it would all easily pull out.  Leaning across a quilting frame for an hour is not a fun afternoon activity.  FROGGING is another quilting term I have learned.  It is called FROGGING because you have to RIP IT out.

Many times, I have been asked, "How do you know so much?"  Well, it could be because I have had that problem before!  My motto is -"There are no mistakes - only learning experiences!"

When you look at it from this perspective, keep in mind that is ok to have a "learning experience."  Just keep them to a minimum by preparation and planning and with careful and thoughtful execution.

And what is your favorite "learning experience?"

Happy Quilting!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring time brings changes

Boxes, boxes, boxes!  Being a military wife, I should be used to it - but you never remember in what box you packed what!  Guess being older doesn't help!  I can still make 10 pounds of stuff fit in a 5 pound bag! Yeh!
If you've missed me, I'm sorry.  Will be back at it shortly.  I know, start a Blog, and then drop off the radar...  Have been busy moving my quilting studio from my old store location to my home.  And doing a little Spring cleaning...actually Spring purging... along the way.
So, stay tuned, I will return soon!  Smell those Spring flowers?  All kinds of inspiration is coming...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Practically Perfect In Every Way

Is the quarter inch seam really important?

Mary Poppins was self-proclaimed as "practically perfect in every way."  Well, let's face it, we aren't quite that perfect.  With practice (and a few tricks up our sleeves), we can make a valiant attempt!  I think when someone pointed out to me that a slight miscalculation can be multiplied over a number of seams, it brought home the importance.  A seam that is off by one eighth of an inch over just one block with eight seams can be off one whole inch. 

One of the first things you'll need to master as a new quilter is the Perfect Personal Quarter Inch Seam.  Mastering that seam will be the very foundation of your quilting successes. In the Beginning Quilting classes it's the first thing.  And it must be found on your sewing machine, not mine.  Finding a good quarter inch can be different on every machine. 

Well, then how can I find my PPQI?  There are different techniques and you may even have your own.  Here are a few suggestions:

Lets go to your machine.  If you are able to move the needle - left or center - move the needle to the center.  Machines that have guide marks on the needle plate are usually measured from the center position.
Grab a ruler.  Lower the needle by turning the hand wheel towards you -always towards you, never backwards.  Place the ruler up next to the right of the needle.  Note where the quarter inch lies.  Is it the edge of the sewing foot?  Does your machine have the quarter inch marked on the needle plate?  Now you know where the edge of your fabric should lie.

Grab a stack of sticky notes.  Place a small stack of notes to the right of your quarter inch mark on the machine bed.  Use them as a "bumper" to guide fabric as you sew.

Grab some painter's tape - the blue stuff.  DO NOT use masking tape.  You cannot reposition it.  Masking tape leaves a sticky residue or just can't be moved.  This can be used as a guide, too.

Those are the two easiest.  Use one of these methods to guide your fabric as you sew.  Placement of the fabric before it goes through the machine is very important.  After it reaches the needle and is sewn. it is too late for changes. 

Maybe you have a quarter inch foot.  Quilters think that because they have the QI foot,  all should be fine.  Let's see.

Let's sew a seam and measure.

Is it a PPQI?  Do we need to adjust?  Do not force fabric up against the blade, or allow the fabric to stray too far from the edge.  Both can give unfavorable results. 

Other aids are helpful with guiding fabric and helping to assure that you are achieving the best  results.  This guide is awesome and you'll see more of it in later posts.  It has multiple uses and is from New Leaf Stitches and Kari Carr.

The PPQI should be actually a thread's width shy of a quarter inch.  Why? And this is where the thread you are sewing with matters.  When the fabric is opened, seams are pressed to one side or opened,  the fold of the fabric,  ever so slightly, adds to the seam allowance.  The heavier the thread, the fatter the fold (and the seam).  Threads are identified by weights - the higher the number, the thinner the thread.  Quilting thread can be 40 - 60 wt.  So back to our subject....  This is why you might see instructions for a "scant quarter inch."  Your PPQI  just might not be a quarter inch after all.

One final test comes by pressing the seam open and measuring the results.  Have you successfully reduced the stitched fabrics by one half inch?  For example, two squares measuring 2 inches should measure 3 and 1/2 inches after sewing.  No more, no less.

Now that we have the technical details of the quarter inch resolved, we are ready to move on to the next quilting fundamental - pressing seams.

Stay tuned!

What is your favorite method to achieve your PPQI?  I hope you'll share.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Never Ending Piles of Laundry

Last week we talked about washing, or not washing our quilt fabric.  There was a lot of discussion and personal input.  Some said they only do wall hangings which can be heavily embellished, so there was never any thought to laundering.  Others are "recycling" found fabrics.  We all agreed those needed washing before adding to our stash.  Thanks to everyone who chimed in with their thoughts on the subject.

But all this "laundry talk" got me reminiscing about laundry day(s) when I was growing up.  It was a big production even with only 3 kids.  My husband comes from a family of 7 kids - I couldn't even imagine!  Of course, he was a "city" kid and his family was probably "automated" before my "country farm" family.  But it was still before disposable diapers and other modern amenities.

We, my mom and I, started by sorting all the laundry.  Yeah, that part hasn't changed.  Laundry was washed in a wringer washer and three laundry tubs.  This wasn't the actual wringer, but very similar.  The three tubs were arranged around the washer and were for rinsing and fabric softener after the wash cycle.  We didn't start with fresh water every time.  Laundry was like children - we all got the same bath water!

I was fascinated by the wringer.  Mom fed the laundry into the wringer with a stick.  Stirring the hot steamy water and picking out the garments one at a time to feed through the wringer. After convincing her that I was equally adept at the process, she gave in and allowed me to "feed the beast."  My attention span was short and it wasn't long before "the beast" attempted to suck me in with the laundry!  Luckily Mom was close and came to my rescue by releasing the rollers thus freeing the laundry and her youngest.  Needless to say, I was done with that machine and thought hanging laundry outside on the line was much safer!

We filled the backyard with laundry lines.  There were two permanent ones and several temporary lines that ran between trees.  They were "solar" dryers before solar was cool! Laundry was hung and taken down when dry only to be replaced by a freshly laundered load of sheets, tablecloths, linens, towels and the usual laundry.  When I was talking with my Mom recently about this blog, she reminded me about the wire frames she used to put inside my Dad's pants while they dried to assist in placing a crease.
A small pan of starch was mixed on the stove.  Not sure why we heated it, maybe to make it last longer.  It was for the things that needed a good crisp finish.

After the laundry dried, we folded as we took it down or piled it in baskets to be ironed.  I never understood the process of making it damp after we had just hung it to dry.  But sprinkling with water from and old pop bottle was the next step.
 And when I went to my mom's to take this picture, there it was right below the kitchen sink where it always had been.  (My husband was amazed!  I wasn't.)  Laundry to be ironed was dampened, wrapped in a large sheet of plastic and put next to the iron for the next morning.  It was time to feed the chickens, gather the eggs, and make dinner.

The next morning's chore was ironing.  
We had a special "beast" for that, too.  I thought everyone had one - an Ironrite Ironer Mangle.  Even Grandma, my Mother's mom, had one.  Ours sat in the dining room and was disguised as a very nice piece of furniture - covered by a wooden cabinet.  

Grandma's was white, but had it's own chair, and sat in the basement on the farm.  When Grandma and Grandpa retired from farming and moved to town it went to the garage.  She used it occasionally.  But by then, we were all into Permanent Press. 

 The Ironrite was wonderful for all those sheets, table cloths, etc.  It had a cloth covered roller that pressed the fabrics against a very hot iron plate.  You operated the roller with knee controls.  When I started quilting, pre-washing all my fabrics, and was ironing yards of fabrics, I often thought of that machine.

Loads, stacks, piles, and neatly folded and put away.  Then we did it all week.

Friday, February 14, 2014

To Wash or Not to Wash...

To Wash or Not To Wash...

This is my maiden voyage into the blogging hemisphere so be gentle with me here.  My quilting dreams have morphed from the brick and mortar store, to an internet store, to a presence on social media on the internet. 
So I thought Id talk about how I got to "here" and recent conversations on some quilting boards and in a class I was teaching earlier this month prompted me into my first Blogging subject - laundry.  Now there is dirty laundry, airing the laundry, do the laundry, clean laundry that my children return to the floor only to be washed again - you know the type.   No, this conversation began with, "Do I wash my fabric before I start quilting?"

The answer was a definite "Maybe" or "Sometimes."

If you are working with fabric that has been hand dyed, or may have dyes that are going to bleed on to other fabrics, the answer is "Yes, you should pre-wash."  Synthrapol is used in the dyeing process and can be useful for rinsing out excess dyes remaining in hand dyed fabrics.  Retayne is another product
that helps set colors in fabrics so that there is no further "sharing."  The idea is to remove any excess dyes that remain in fabrics - particularly reds, purples, browns, and blues.  If it's midnight, your LQS is closed, and you need to start tomorrow, you can always fall back on HOT water and white vinegar to set the colors.  And no, you can't put them in the same load.  You must wash colors separately.
So now you've washed your fabrics...

And that crisp finish is gone.  How do you get that back into the fabrics?  There are a few solutions.  First, there  is good ol' fashioned starch.  Remember that from laundry days past?  Well, you have to be my age or older.  For the younger crowd, you'll fine this product right in the laundry isle of your local grocery store.

 To give your clothes a crisp edge, simply mix equal parts of water and Sta-Flo® starch into a standard household spray bottle. For a light starch feel, add two parts of water to one part starch.

So, now, one word of caution, well, several.... If you are going to finish this quilt and not get distracted as we quilters do and move it to the UFO pile.  Don't use starch.  Silverfish, and yes, we all have them, will find your fabric!  Bad news!!  And if you do finish the quilt, it will need to be washed to remove the starch.

In recent online board conversations, several "recipes" for making your own "starch products" were shared.  I'll let you do your own internet searches.  I can't recommend or say I have tried any of them.  One included vodka as an ingredient.  Now if I were going to use vodka in my sewing room I certainly wouldn't be spraying it on my fabrics!

A better idea is to use something like Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch Alternative.  It does not leave little white flakes like starch and it comes in many delicious scents or unscented.  And best of concerns over bugs in your fabrics or quilts.

One additional thought on washed fabrics - If you are one of those quilters who wash every fabric as soon as you add it to your stash - how do you know for sure you washed it?  I run my fabrics' cut edge through the serger to prevent that hideous ball of unraveling that cottons are prone to form.  Don't have a serger?  Pinked edges or a zig zag on the sewing machine works just as well.  When I see that edge I know that a fabric has been washed.

But since I don't like to do laundry, and can't wait to cut into that pile of fabric I just brought home from the LQS, I seldom wash my fabrics.  

Your thoughts?

But all this talk of laundry has led me to the subject of my next blog - how much work the laundry used to be.  What a production it was!!  So stay tuned.  Until next week!