Sunday, March 30, 2008

Preparing to Quilt

I'm a couple of steps closer to starting to hand quilt the yellow and green linen quilt top. The hand quilting frame is now set up. That sounds simple enough, but it involved most of a day's worth of schlepping furniture---once we  got started, we just couldn't stop ... we went way beyond just getting the frame in place, rearranging stuff in five rooms! All to the good, however. 

A few days ago, I found some great YLI variegated thread for the quilting. I'm planning large stitches, and I think I'll use two strands of this, since it's only 40 wt. Even with the new camera, the colors aren't quite right, but they're much closer than the what the old camera showed. I'm still getting the hang of focus and depth of field, too. 

I have backing, but no batting yet. I had---finally, after much testing and mulling---decided to use Hobbs organic cotton without scrim, but now I can't seem to find it anywhere, not even anywhere online. Anyone know if it's being discontinued, or something else is going on? 

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Few More Details

The wool/silk quilt has generated several good questions, so I thought I'd post some details about its construction. 

The finished blocks are a bit less than seven inches, and the finished size of the individual logs is about 5/8 inch. I cut the strips 1-1/4 inches wide and used a generous 1/4-inch seam allowance. The finished blocks were all different sizes, of course, so I just used the smallest ones as the new standard size and ignored the overhang of the larger ones while sewing the seams. I purposely didn't trim the larger ones down before sewing, because it was too hard to get an even, accurate edge. 

Not only is the silk not fused, but the strips are not sewn to a foundation. I seriously considered a foundation, but I wanted the wools to lie flat, with their seam allowances under the silk logs, to lessen bulk and to give the silk some extra height. The wools helped to stabilize everything. I didn't plan it, but I think the lack of more structure, and the resulting variation, gives the quilt a sense of energy it wouldn't have otherwise. 

I tried to use any one tie in only two "diamonds." A few got used three times because I didn't have other ties of the right color. So, a quick calculation says I must have used about 45 ties! There are many fewer different wools, and I had a hard time coming up with enough different colors in thinner fabrics. 

If you have the urge to acquire a bin or two full of used ties, I just want to add a couple of cautionary notes. The biggest surprise of this quilt project (my first one involving ties) was how much time it takes to prepare the ties for cutting. Each one had to be deconstructed by opening it up (usually, this means picking out hand stitching along the length of the tie), pulling out the interfacing, and cutting out the lining. Then they had to be hand washed. I put only a few of similar colors into the water at a time, and checked for bleeding. Quite a few ties do not have colorfast dyes, especially the reds. Any that bled excessively were tossed. Also some ties reek when wet. Toss. At this point, I checked again for worn ties (toss) and those with excessive staining (toss). There's quite a bit of attrition. The wet ties were hung on plastic hangers and air dried. Then I ironed each one, taking care to put the fabric more or less on grain---these are all essentially long, narrow strips of bias fabric. 

I started out buying ties for about $1 each (some as much as $2) at thrift stores, but although at first that may seem like a bargain, it's really rather expensive, considering the rate of attrition, and that you usually have no more than a sixteenth of a yard of usable fabric from each surviving tie---and it's a skinny, not a fat, sixteenth. Now I restrict myself to whatever I find in the bins at the Dig and Save (50 cents a pound), and the very occasional "gotta have it" tie at thrift stores. 

Last but certainly not least, I want to give credit to Mary Ellen Hopkins and her book A Log Cabin Notebook. The quilt on the cover, and given in full on p. 4, is the inspiration for mine. This little book is old (1991) but still very worthwhile. She really delves into log cabin variations and design, and covers the ins and outs of sewing log cabins in general. I highly recommend it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Using the New Camera

What a difference! The new camera gives me real colors! Here are new pics of the courthouse steps wool suit/silk tie quilt:

The lightest colors are only a little washed out. (Oops. I forgot to edit out the feet of the step stool I was standing on.) Here's a closer look at one corner:

One of the things I like best about the fabric placement is that the wool and silk always alternate, which tones down the ties and gives all those muted, boring wools something useful to do.

And here is a close-up of one of my favorite ties---the Christmas tie with Santas and reindeer doing the can-can. You never know what you're going to find at thrift stores.

Next, I wondered if the new camera would render greens better ... and it does! Here are braided strips for the new rug I'm making, and the colors are pretty close to the real ones---missing just a touch of the yellow tones. This time, I'm using exactly the same color order in each strip, graded from dark to light.

I really like the subtle color variations.  Olive drab and greenish gray/tan are not my usual palette---and frankly, I wondered if I'd ever use these pants to make anything---but I'm really liking the look. 

This rug will be narrow and longish, to fit directly under the bench in the entry---a place to put street shoes and boots. We can't seem to keep outdoor shoes in the closet, so the next best thing is to keep them as close to the door as possible. 

I'm pretty excited about this new camera. Not only does it render colors better, but it has better resolution and an optical zoom. More photos coming soon!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

View from My Kitchen

These are views from my kitchen. We don't have a window, exactly, but off the dinette, we have a 3-season porch that's three stories up. We got more than 7 inches of snow yesterday. Knowing that I don't have to shovel even one flake of it makes it a whole lot easier to appreciate the view. It was the perfect year to move to a condo!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Favorite Quilt

I've been very busy with work lately, so sewing of any sort has been minimal for the past several days. Since I don't have anything blog-worthy to show among my current projects, I thought I'd post one of my favorite older quilts. You can also see a tiny bit of this quilt in my blog header.

This was my first try at using exclusively thrifted fabrics for a quilt top. It's made of men's wool suits and silk ties, with cotton batting and a plain white cotton backing (both purchased new). 

The silks are not fused, so some were pretty slithery. A few ties had to be tossed because they were too fragile. And of course I had to deal with huge differences in thickness, even though I stuck with the thinner wools. Seam allowances varied, blocks were slightly skewed, and my mantra throughout was "It's okay, it's okay." It HAD to be okay---there was really no other alternative. Going with the log cabin (courthouse steps) construction was a good choice---it really made the accuracy issue less important. 

The color placement has three separate aspects: light (the "smaller" diamonds) and dark ("larger" diamonds), blue/gray stripes alternating with tan/brown stripes, and what I hoped was a pleasing balance of individual brights. The machine quilting is simply in the ditch. 

You may notice that there's no binding visible on the front. I couldn't easily make a good-looking binding from the wools. I was tempted to do an envelope finish, but there was no way it would come out flat and neat. So, I did a facing of pieced wools, after the quilting was done. It's kind of bulky, and if I do this sort of thing again, I think I'll use backing fabric instead.

Well, I'm just about done with the second batch of the editing project I'm working on. When I finish, later this afternoon, I'm taking some time off! I'm very much looking forward to quality time with my fabrics. Like Kathie at Threadlines, I'm stocked up and all set to spend the weekend in my sewing room, ignoring the 8 or 10 (or possibly more) inches of snow currently piling up outside.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Project on a Whim

I should have been spending my time on other things, i.e., getting my paying work done. But this idea popped into my head yesterday afternoon, and I couldn't wait to try it out. We need a place to put outgoing mail---I had in mind a little holder on the wall by the door---but I didn't want to spend a lot, or have to drill holes, or traipse all over town looking for something suitable, or, maybe the worst, wait until I finally found it. 

I was out doing a couple of errands anyway, when the idea took shape. I picked up a couple of silvered plastic stick-on wall hooks. When I got home, I cut the cardboard backs off two small note pads, trimmed them down, and glued them together, for better stiffness. While that was drying, I experimented with holes to accommodate the hooks. 

I copied the final hole pattern to the cardboard, placing two of them a few inches apart, and had at them with a little box-knife. I checked the holes against the hooks and trimmed and checked and trimmed some more.
I knew which fabric I wanted to use to cover the cardboard. This eighth-yard cut has been traveling with me since 1990 (which means seven different homes). You just never know when a particular bit of fabric will be exactly what you need. I trimmed up a piece and glued the top and bottom edges of the back of the cardboard to the fabric. 
When that dried, I cut into the holes, brought the fabric to the wrong side, and glued the edges.
Then things were stable enough to fold in the rest of the outside edges and glue those. The last thing to be glued was the inside layer of fabric around the holes. This took some patience and a couple of toothpicks.

I stuck the hooks on the wall and added the fabric-covered cardboard. Done! 
The cardboard tilts out just enough to hold a few envelopes, and it's stable enough to keep the mail from falling.  This will not hold up to kids or pets, but it'll be fine for us.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Divided Attention

It's been fun, and I have solid ideas and bare beginnings for some really interesting new projects, but chaos is taking over. Too many different projects, old and new, plus work and generally keeping up with the rest of life, have gotten me slivers of everything, but precious little in the way of visible progress. 

I also have this, now:
That's the uncensored view of my cutting table area (along with the dismal view of lingering snow, bare trees, and no sun). Four separate projects are milling around there. 

It's time to prioritize and focus.  

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cute and Useful

A few months ago, my husband decided it was time to give up his Mr. Coffee-type coffeemaker and replace it with a french press. One thing he wasn't happy with was letting the brewing (and brewed) coffee sit on the counter losing heat. This carafe needed a cozy! 

You see the result above, made from several layers of cotton batting scraps, and fabrics from my stash in taupe, gray, and bright red (not the bluish colors my camera prefers to present). It was fun to cut without measuring and without thinking very much about color placement. Getting the batting layers to form an even circle and stay that way was a little tricky, while I sewed some quilting lines from top edge to bottom edge. And then, I had to ease/gather in the pieced covering (added after the quilting) when I put on the binding. Somewhat unorthodox construction, but it worked. Velcro holds the tab in place. 

By the way, the over-the-top blue flowered and plaid wallpaper will be gone as soon as I can work that into my schedule, to be replaced by off-white walls and bright red under the cabinets. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stash Assessment

Yikes! Do I have cotton twill, or what!

Contemplating another braided rug, I decided to go through all my fabric bins and shelves and find all the cotton twill I've cut up from khaki pants, and also any not-yet-cut-up pants. I knew I had some of both, but expected I might well need a trip to the Dig and Save before starting another project.

In short, I hit the mother load. Looks like I have 12 in-tact pants, plus more than 50 (!!) already cut up (some partially used), plus another 8 or so piles of unusual colors, like purple, bright red, yellow, and lime green (from miniskirts, kids' shorts, etc.). You'd think I'd remember cutting up so many pairs of pants, but ... well, I don't. It's certainly a nice surprise, though.
Those brights are calling to me. I remember my plans for those.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two Quilts and a Rug

Despite being out of town for a bit and working a lot, I've tried to do something quilt related every day, with pretty good success. Trying to keep a good work/life balance going. 

A lot of what I've been doing hasn't lent itself to photos or been especially blog-worthy, though. I can't imagine that anyone wants to hear details about me dithering over online purchases of batting, or my quest for the right fabric for new quilting frame leaders.

But I do have some results to share. My first braided rug is done! It's about 2 feet by 4 feet, consumed nine pairs of khaki pants (with very few scraps), and should be sturdy enough to survive years of shoes, melting slush, salt, mud, and washer and dryer sessions. 
For strength and speed, I chose to machine stitch the braided strips together. To avoid thickened ends, I just machine stitched several rows close to the cut ends, instead of binding them. We'll see how those cut ends hold up. I can always trim and finish them a different way later. My sewing machine complained a bit about having to pierce umpteen layers of tightly woven cotton twill (especially at those joins), and I broke one needle. 
I'm planning to make more of these, experimenting with color placement. Although I like the chenille rug a lot, these are less taxing to make and also more rugged (pardon the pun). 

Now, back to quilts. After some mulling, I decided to pare down the scrap star quilt top to a more manageable size. Now it will fit a queen-size bed, with modest overhang. I'm debating whether to try basting it on my hand quilting frame---something I've never done before. The advantages are saving space, much easier access, and an overall more pleasant and ergonomic basting experience. Hmm. 

The 14 blocks (two rows) I took off are now, somewhat rearranged, the basis for a second scrap quilt. I dug out the scrap box that has the leftovers from the original top and found two extra star blocks! Both have stars made of fabric that I like but decided was too dark for this project. But I'm going ahead and including one in this second top, to make a 3- by 5-block center. (The block at the lower left.)

I plan to string piece the multitude of scraps into a border, adding whatever else is in my stash of cut-up shirts to make a decent-sized top. 

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Quick Update

I've been out of town for a bit and, with one thing and another, haven't had time to post. And today, I discover that Blogger is having issues with  uploading photos, so I'll have to make do with just words for now. 

One of the nonphotogenic things I've been doing lately is gearing up for free-motion machine quilting. My past experiences with this have been poor to mediocre, so I've been trying to honestly assess my problems and figure out ways to get through or around them. 

1. Gloves with gripper dots. A few test runs have been very encouraging!
2. A "slider" mat for the needle area. No real trials yet, but I don't think it can hurt.
3. A table behind the machine to support the quilt better (added to a table to the left and the fact that the machine is set down into a table). 
4. My new sewing machine (an admittedly expensive fix!), which provides a 10-inch bed, auto thread cutting, low-bobbin indicator, and a slightly different (and I think better) feel to how the stitching starts (hoping this helps with those huge-first-stitch problems).
5. Sticking with circular designs. No points or straight lines! And nothing that depends on accuracy.

I'm trying to give myself every advantage! 

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Braiding Project

The days have been flying by! I'm working hard to get the first batch of copyediting on this new book turned in Monday, on schedule, so there's been precious little time for sewing. And what time I can squeeze in is not what one would call quality time---I'm pretty brain dead. It's a perfect time for some easy, repetitive tasks.

A few weeks ago I started cutting strips from khaki pants for a first attempt at a braided rug. Yes, another rug project. We are in serious need here! 

I will actually be plaiting, not braiding, which means that the worked strips will be very flat and wide. After some trial and error, I decided that using half-inch strips for plaiting would be manageable and look nice, and having each strip contain four layers of fabric would give enough body without being too heavy.

I start with pieces cut 1-7/8 inches wide, with the grain, and as long as possible. I put them through a Clover tapemaker (cutting a point on the end of the strip helps get the fabric into the tapemaker) and follow with the iron as I pull the tapemaker along. With the two raw edges nearly meeting and pressed flat, I fold the strip in half lengthwise and press again, so the raw edges are neatly encased, and the top and bottom surfaces are identical. I then open out the folds and piece lengths of strips together (a bias join, with the seam pressed open) to get a length a bit more than 6 feet. Then, I fold everything back up and sew near the edge. 

I figure I'll need nine individual strips like the one on the right, above, to make a roughly 3-inch-wide plait. Here are the first strips, grouped by color and loosely knotted together, ready to be woven into 4-foot-long plaits! At the bottom of the photo are more strips ready to be folded and stitched.
This little rug project is going to eat up a lot of pants! I get at least five 6-foot-4-inch lengths from one pair. But that means nine pairs of pants will produce five finished 4-foot plaits. That's a rug only 15 inches wide and 4 feet long. Well, I've certainly got lots of these pants, and if I run out, there's always the Dig and Save.