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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gang aft agley

As in, the best-laid plans of mice and men. "Go oft astray," if you're not Scottish and want to know what the phrase says.

The best plans for a quilt often go astray as well, which is the subject of today's blog.

I'm making a king-size quilt for my Daughter. Against impossible odds, I managed to piece together a quilt made almost in it's entirety out of quarter-square triangles, despite never having successfully got the points to line up prior to this attempt.

They all fit as near-perfectly as any quilter could hope.

I discovered, however, to my dismay, that it's actually easier to get rows of 5-inch blocks to line up straight than it is to get three 103-inch strips to line up properly when I began to piece the back. Now I know why my friend D makes such complex backings for her quilts!

I very carefully oriented my one-way pattern so that it was in the middle of the back and would look correct from the point of view of someone lying under the quilt. It's got lots of little hearts in it, and they all point in one direction you see. This was the center strip, the sides being of a different fabric. I had intended the back to be all the one fabric, but made an error in my calculations, so I was obliged to find a complimentary fabric (the one with the hearts) since I could no longer obtain my original choice.

That was the first "gang aft agley" on this particular quilt.

Then I discovered, when I had all three strips sewn together, that the top edges were not even with each other. Big oops! In the end, I had to piece together several 5-inch widths of my one-way fabric to make a strip to go across the top.

Second "agley."

My friend D, bless her heart, came and helped me sandwich the beast. It was a labor-intensive process, since I did not have access to a king-sized table on which to perform the deed! I can describe the process, just don't ever ask me to do it by myself!

One finds and marks the center points on all 4 sides of the table. We used masking tape and a pen. Then we lay masking tape from point to point to get the cross in the middle of the table, and that found us the very center of the table. We then used a quantity of masking tape to hold a great big hatpin point-side UP at the center point.

D, being less afraid of the iron than I am, proceeded to iron a crease down the centers of the top, back, and batting. If I had attempted this, I'd still be doing it. She showed me how to hold the folded edges together and let the fabric find it's own center and fall freely, and that THAT'S the part you iron. She then marked each center with pins, forming a cross.

Then we proceeded to carefully put the center of the backing on the hatpin sticking up from the table. D, having done this before, was adept at this. We gently coaxed the backing to lie flat, making sure the creases lined up with the center points on the edges of the table.

Then we lay the batting down in the same manner, and pinned the two layers together, not just where the creases met at the table's edges, but also further away, aligning the creases.

Finally we handled the top in the same fashion, and so ended up with all three layers pinned and straight. I used my basting gun to then secure it, and one scant hour and a half after starting, we were done.

I'm still in shock. That part, at least, went without a hitch. Except for the two crossed pins I found embedded in the batting while quilting the center a couple of days ago. Since I wasn't about to take out the basting, I cut the back to get them free and darned it up again. So that would be the third "agley."

I finally began quilting this week, and got all the leaves of my "Tree of Life" pattern in the center done, and outlined the lovely giraffe that's nibbling on the leaves. This morning I went hunting for my bicycle clips so I could hold the quilt all nicely rolled up while I continued to work on the center. I was admiring it on my bed, the edges rolled up to the central medallion, the hand quilting in the leaves, when I saw the latest "agley."

To my horror, I saw the backing fabric, the one with the one-way hearts, going across the central medallion, not up and down. (For those of you who play bridge, that fabric was supposed to be going north-south, and it was in fact going east-west.

This means that a person lying under the quilt will not see the hearts lined up going down to their feet, but facing one way and going across their middle.

And the 5-inch strip at the "top" is now along one side.

For me, the project is way too far along to pull apart. I don't think I could face trying to sandwich it a second time. My poor Daughter will just have to live with an odd-looking backing fabric going the wrong way across the quilt.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

On the Fly


In the beginning of 2005, I started quilting.

I joined a guild. I read books. I started a business.

And quilted.

I quickly discovered how difficult it is to line up all the little seamlines that are formed when piecing a quilt top.

Especially triangles. Triangles are a bitch.

So now it's about 5.5 years later, with many, many mistakes under my belt, that I have now mastered the art of the f**g triangle, getting my squares that are formed from 4 triangles to go together nicely, evenly, with seamlines neatly lined up,...

... and effortlessly.

You see, there's a TRICK to it.

Now I've seen entire tv shows devoted to the art of triangles and getting the seamlines lined up.

I've read books describing how to plan ahead and press the seamlines in opposite directions.

I've attended no fewer than three hour-long workshops devoted entirely to the art of getting the stupid seamlines on your triangles to line up when you sew them.

Imagine my astonishment this morning then, when I figured out the trick. THE trick. The one that actually works. The one that, when you take all these squares you've put together with triangles and try to sew the edges together, makes all the seamlines lie flat, with all the points meeting properly.

And why am I not surprised nobody has thought to tell this particular little secret?

Okay - picture this. You start with a square bigger than you need. Four squares, actually. I want my squares to finish at 5 inches. I cut the squares at a whopping SEVEN inches.

(No that's not the trick.)

You mark the diagonal, you sew two squares right-sides together, sewing on either side of the line, in a 1/4-inch seamline. Then you cut the squares apart and do the same for the other two squares.

This gives you four half-square triangles sewn into 2 squares.

Seasoned quilters are yawning at this point. Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't know.

You press the seams on each square to the darker side. Nothing new here. You flip the two squares right sides together and mark the other diagonal and sew two seams, 1/4 of an inch to each side of the line. You cut them apart on the line, you press 'em open, bingo, you have two squares, each made up of 4 triangles. And then you trim them to the size you want.

Everybody who has ever attended a triangle workshop now has their eyes rolling to the back of their heads. *S N O R E .

Here comes the fun part, the part they don't tell you about. Now you have to sew these two squares together, matching those diagonal seamlines. You have two seams to traverse, four thicknesses of material in each one. If you're very, very lucky, one of these sets of seams will have been pressed in opposite directions, meaning the two halves of the fabric are lying opposite to each other, and you can sew a very flat seam indeed.

Never, ever have I heard of a trick to get both sets with their seamlines pressed in opposite directions.

Well, you heard it first here, folks.

Guess what - even if none of the seams have been pressed in opposite directions, you can still do it.

You do it there, at the machine. You physically push either the top or the bottom seam to one side.

You fudge it.

You say "f**k it - I'm sick of all this geometry - I'm just gonna sew you together and pretend I had pressed you in opposite directions. Take that!"

And you open up the side you've just sewn, and both points line up perfectly.

Want me to run you through that again?

No, you don't have to know which seamlines will be up and which seamlines will be down 60 steps in advance of putting them together. You take your two squares, and if the seams have been pressed in opposite directions, well and good, go ahead and sew.

But if they haven't been pressed in opposite directions, you pick one, you finger-press it into place, and you sew it down.

"But," you'll complain, "won't that leave the seamline of one side sewn facing one way at one end and facing the other way at the other end?"

Yes. It will.

And so what? You press it with a crick in it and get on with your quilt. We've all seen plenty of turned seams on the backs of quilts. There a small bump? Quilt it down.

By the time you've added batting and backing, it won't matter one whit which way any seam was facing.

Because your points all line up.

So there you have it. You fake it. You fudge it. You grab one end or the other and make it lie flat.
You don't tell a soul, you don't write a book, and you certainly never let on to other quilters what you did to get all those little points to line up.

Believe me, this is a professional tip!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Darning It

Not exactly about quilting this time, but about another nearly-disappeared art: darning.

Holes, snags, seams coming apart, fraying - these are all things that happen in everyday wear and tear on our garments. Sometimes the "wear and tear" is "wash and tear" - putting, say, a flimsy open-weave cotton blouse in the wash, along with jeans or some other zippered garment. In the wash, and during the spin cycle, rubbing happens, quite vigorous at times; and one's open-weave cotton blouse suddenly has developed a spot where the weave is more open than usual. Missing, in fact, several of it's cross-threads.

Darning is the fine art of replacing these cross-threads, and strengthening the area while you're at it.

Since I couldn't sleep all the way through the night tonight, I decided to get up and get darning my open-weave cotton blouse.

You're supposed to darn an area larger than the tear or hole, and you're supposed to start from one end and go to the other, but, being me, I didn't do that. I started in the middle.

See, this is basically a verticle slit in the fabric. The warp threads are all there, but no weft threads are left intact in this 1/2-inch long torn area. And, looking at it, I decided to start from the middle of the tear and stabilize it crosswise before going back to the verticles. So, I started from the middle and went to one end, then started at the top and went down to the middle.

And for now I'm quitting there. This is a very open-weave fabric. I've given a few gentle tugs in each direction, and it sure looks and feels just as stable as the rest of the fabric. So I'm experimenting with only stabilizing the cross-threads.

Another difficulty I have with darning is the notion that you're supposed to weave in and out of every single thread. So like, if you have a tear in your 300-count sheets, that means in one inch of darning you'll weave your thread in and out 300 times?! Not this darned stitcher! I have a life to live.

No, I go in and out a clump at a time. And I've learned to do this work on the back of the piece. See, the darning doesn't actually become part of the fabric, it kinda sits on one side of it - the side you work on. It shows plenty from that side. It's when you turn it over you see - or rather, don't see - your darning &/or the former hole.

Maybe if you really go in and out every single thread, it would meld more with the fabric, become this wonderful thing called "invisible weaving". But for me, close is good enough.

But I noticed something else this morning while darning my blouse. My hands kept tingling and going to sleep. I kept having to stop what I was doing to stretch out my arms till they stopped tingling. Frustrating - as this process is already time-consuming. Especially frustrating when I think of all the hand-quilting I have to do in the near future. "What's gonna happen to me," I wondered, "if I can't quilt because my hands keep losing circulation?"

And that's when I realized I am now in the age-group - demographic - market - for a propped-up magnifier.

That's right - one of those large magnifying glasses you wear on a string around your neck with little legs that prop it up perpendicular to your chest, so you can use both hands to sew at a decent distance from your face, and your arms don't have to be scrunched as tight as they can to bring the work 4 inches from your eyes.

The propped-up magnifier has always been something I thought of as belonging to a different class of sewers than me. Specifically, much older sewers.

But now, apparently, I are one.

Having been raised by my grandparents, I used to think that I'd make a great old lady, since I learned how to be one long before I learned how to be young. But now that I've got being young down pat, my body is giving up before it's time, stranding me in a world of limited mobility where there haven't been many improvements since, basically, the middle ages. Hah! No pun intended!

Maybe that will change soon, as the baby-boomers suddenly get to tingling, too. Maybe a host of technological aides will suddenly appear to help us along with our preferred pastimes. Maybe they'll invent an i-sew.

But till then, unfortunately, I will be the fat old broad with the huge magnifier on her chest, darning blouses and socks, and quilting as fast as my tingling fingers will let me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Those Frenchies

French Knots, that is!

I've always been fascinated by fancy stitches. A few years ago I wandered - quite by accident - into a real live embroidery museum/store/classroom. I picked up a beautifully-colored, laminated card with about 100 embroidery stitches detailed on it. I began practising as soon as I got home. I can't remember what stitches I did succeed at right away, but I can tell you the one stitch that eluded me - the French Knot.

I was soon to find I'm not alone in being unable to master this "petit rien." Almost everyone I asked for help from rolled their eyes and said "I know - it's AWFUL! I've been trying for years and never got it yet!"

A few souls actually knew how to do them. One of my quilting Pals knew how, and she showed he how once when we were both at a quilting retreat together. I must have sewn half a dozen of them. It was thrilling, seeing those beautiful, tight little dots appear one after the other. Of course, I needed more practise, but now I knew I had licked this thing, and I'd be able to practise at home.

Mais non. That didn't happen. One single day after coming home, I found myself unable to do a French Knot. I couldn't remember how my Pal had told me to do it. The diagrams all looked alike, and none of them produced a knot. Mostly they produced tangled threads or perfect plain stitches, and after another hour or two of struggling, they produced fury in me, and I packed it up.

Every so often when I was doing some fancy quilting I'd try again to do the French Knot. I'd drag out my card of embroidery stitches, or one of the many books I own on stitching, and have a go at it for an hour or so before giving up. The French Knot had, for me, a certain "je ne sais quoi" that simply refused to cooperate with my inept attempts to (groan) tie it down.

This evening, however, I succeeded in sewing French Knots. Two rows of about 20 each - I took no chances this time that I'd forget. And when I get home from work tomorrow I'm going to do two more rows. They were uneven at first. I did five winds of the thread, instead of just three, around the needle, because they did seem small… But eventually I got the hang of it, went back to the requisite three windings and voilĂ ! There were at least 25 perfect French Knots, the right size, lying the correct way against the quilt, looking as lovely as I had ever imagined. Formidable!

Got to hand it to those Frenchies - they can sure do some lovely things with thread. If you want to know what did the trick, here it is, written out, but it'll sound like gobbledegook, because there really is no way to communicate this skill in written or drawn form. It is a skill that must be physically seen to be learned.

So, you have your thread coming through to the front of the piece. What the diagrams don't show you, and what my quilting Pal told me, was that now you take a very tiny stitch - just two threads wide - and don't even go through to the back of the work if you're doing a quilt. Don't pull the needle all the way through - pull it till the eye of the needle is about to go through the work. So, you have all the thread on the top of the work (from the first stitch) and your needle stuck through two threads, almost pulled all the way through but not quite.

Now you slide your thumbnail along the bottom of the needle till you are holding the eye of the needle firmly with your thumbnail. With you other hand, you take the thread - the main one - and wrap it three times around the front part of the needle. Still holding the eye in place with your thumb, carefully slide the three loops down the needle till they reach the eye.

Now gently grab the loops with the thumbnail that was holding the eye and carefully slide them down till your thumb rests firmly against the eye and the work. Using the other hand, pull the needle completely through and continue pulling all the thread through till it stops. At that point you can lift your thumb and see the lovely loops all lying against the work. All you do now is put the point of the needle really close to the knot and take a stitch to 1/4 inch away.

That is how you sew a French Knot.

Bonne chance.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So Many Quilts…So Little Time

I came to a realization around the ending of 2009, namely, that I don't have enough time left to finish all the quilts I want to make.

I've been working up to closing my "business" - boy, saying it was the biggest mistake I'd ever made to open a business is the understatement of a lifetime. I have to get the ball rolling down it's last hill by the end of this month. And while I was doing all my thinking about how I'm going to close it, I realized that the quilts I currently have started will take me about six years to complete.

That was an eye-opener. I'm 52 years old. I figure I've got about 20 years of useful quilting time left to me, after which I'll simply be lucky to get anything done, quilting or otherwise.

I was supposed to make a quilt for my brother and his wife - two years ago, for their 40th birthdays. I finally bought some of the fabric and picked a design. Yay.

At long last, I've settled on a design for a quilt for my Daughter. In fact, when I get up from this computer, I'm going to start CUTTING! And I only got around to that because my Boyfriend had me over to his place for my entire four-day weekend - see, here at his place, I have no other obligations. That's why I can work on one project at a time when I'm here!

I don't want to make the mistake I fear my sweet Auntie made, and the one my darling Dad is making.

See, Auntie love to make miniatures. Not miniature chocolates, but miniature scenes. Dollhouses are one example of a miniature scene. But other miniatures include scenes inside a (cleaned-out) egg, half boxes with scenes in them. They're usually rooms, often with a theme, Christmas, for example.

I learned many helpful hints from Auntie about crafts. For example, you use the sticks they put in "Pogos" to lay a miniature hardwood floor. Popsicle sticks are too fat for their length, it doesn't give the same illusion as the thinner ones in Pogos.

But Auntie was in a terrible car accident, and it basically knocked the stuffing out of her. She "recovered" according to the doctors, but she never had the energy to really get back into her crafting again.

But that didn't stop her from collecting stuff for her crafts! (Yes, I fear Auntie had the Hoarding Gene.) When my cousin described the whole family attempting to clear out her home, apparently they discovered huge boxes full of cleaned eggs. I'm talking in the thousands! My cousin said to her mother, "What? You're never going to eat another egg?" when Auntie protested the throwing-out of all those eggs she had so carefully saved.

And my Dad, well this year he'll turn 80. And he still hasn't figured out that he's retired. He's still busy starting one (failing) business after another.

Well, that's not how I intend to go out. I've got a 20-year goal: finish every quilt I can.

So I'm no longer taking on other people's quilts - no time!

Gotta go!