Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Paper-piecing class: new skill + new project

I took an introductory paper piecing class last week from Kennette, my quilt-goddess-friend at Something to Crow About

I had only done one paper-pieced pattern before--the one of my own making from January's quilting retreat--and I felt like I didn't know what I was doing.  So the class was a way to boost the knowledge that I got from reading books.  We were using a free pattern found on the internet: Yvonne's daisies (click on "free blocks", then "small blocks - flowers")  The basic daisy consists of four identical blocks; the wallhanging/pillow design we are following uses four daisies (that's 16 individual blocks).  I got one individual block completed during the class, and was waiting to post until I had finished at least one complete daisy.

But I'm too impatient: I have some un-sewing to do after today, and it's been a week since my last post.  I have three-fourths of a daisy...

But...  Ugh... with this new skill, I've backed into starting a new project.  (Before I finished any previous project.  How do I keep doing this?)  In order to not just make an orphan daisy block, I didn't choose to use fabric or scraps from my stash.  I bought new fabric to complete a pillow top, in the color scheme of the guest bedroom.  New fabric.  New project.  Adding to the unfinished projects pile in the sewing room. 

Where will this project be in a month--further along, or taking up space?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What keeps you from completing more quilts?

I read, in a quilting magazine, readers' answers to the question, "What keeps you from completing more quilts?"  And, of course, I began to question myself.  I have said that my timeframe for a quilt is 3-years.  And that has proven reasonably accurate.

I am in mid-project on three quilts: a 1930's reproduction quilt made from blocks I won in last year's Quilt Retreat challenge; a Stack-n-Whack pattern I am making for my own bed; and hand-quilting my grandmother's bedspread. I fully intend to finish each of these projects... eventually.  I have only worked on one of them in the past month; I haven't touched the Stack-n-Whack since before my move in October.  What gets in the way of completion?

1.  Life: many of the women who wrote in to answer the magazine's query explained about their busy lives, their jobs, their families (often with small children), and other interests.  Yep, I have a more-than-40-hours-a-week job, children (ok, I admit they are grown, but they still need me), a master's thesis to write, dogs, and a house to maintain.  I'm a busy grrl.

2.  Other projects:  well, quilting isn't all I do with fabric.  I make home decor items, I have a soft spot for making bags, I mend (or restyle) clothing, and every so often I sew clothes from scratch.  I have dreams, plans and patterns for toys and other creative-y projects, too.  Quilts are just one of my many interests.

3.  New and shiny:  my favorite part of any fabric project is the planning stage.  I love picking out fabrics (the more the merrier) and dreaming of what this combination and that pairing will look like.  (One reason I balk at using kits, and every month I toss aside 75% of the fabric given to my in my BOTM project envelope.)  I like new patterns and new designs.  I dream up alterations for existing patterns/designs.  I am a designer/dreamer more than a do-er.  I get into trouble by being seduced with the new and shiny; I go out and buy the pattern, or the book, or the fabric; I cut things out and sew a seam here or there.  Thus, I have many, many UFOs.  This exciting mental energy gets in the way of completing the longer-term projects (which are no longer as new and shiny in my mind).

4.  The hard parts:  every quilter has the parts they love to do, and the parts they don't-so-much-love.  For me, after the rush of fabric selection, I most enjoy piecing small bits. 
I have been working the past two weeks on a scrappy piano-key border for my 1930's reproduction quilt.  I love that I can work for as few as 10 minutes at a time (and some days it is indeed 10-15 minutes) and make progress in tiny increments.  I have the hardest time when the quilt gets large and unwieldy.  Each individual step takes much longer, and can't easily be put away.  Thus, I haven't taken my five full-bed-length strips of Stack-n-Whack out of their moving box yet.  I can't imagine ever machine-quilting a large project.  And I have even paid someone else to tack down my binding (shocking!) because I don't enjoy that part, but I want to have a finished quilt, eventually.

5.  I'm slow:  really, I am.  I know this is partly from my ADD-tendency to get sidetracked numerous times in the accomplishment of any one task, from brushing my teeth to sending out a birthday card to completing a quilt down to the *done* stage of having the binding tacked down.  I also know that my perfectionism makes me slower than others (even in the amount of time it takes to slap together a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich).  I keep telling myself that life isn't a race, and most of the time my slowness doesn't make me feel bad about myself.  It just is.

6.  How many quilts does one need anyway?  I don't feel like I should have completed more quilts than I have.  I see the prolific quilters I know (most of whom are retired) making quilts for great-nephews, and colleagues at work, and for charity auctions, because they and all their immediate relatives already have one (or several) handmade quilts.  I tend to be very practical: I want to know what is the purpose or intended recipient for quilt projects before I start them.  So, when I buy patterns or books because I am excited about a particular design, I don't feel obligated to actually make the quilts: who is next on my list to receive a quilt, and what color or pattern actually appeals to that person?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Buck-a-block: February pattern

It's the six-month point for Buck-a-Block.  Can't believe that I'm halfway through a year of stitching individual blocks (where does the time go?)  Baby steps, baby steps will lead me to something beautiful.

This month's pattern is called Jackknife, from The Farmer's Wife.

I really like the blue fabric this month.  My initial thought was to use that fabric in a blue colorway version of this block.  But the center of this block is a 4" square of background fabric.  And I'm just not so excited to use my background (a Thimbleberries cloud print) like that.

So I audition fabrics in the red/black/pink alternate colorway.
I couldn't stand the red fabric this month.  But I have a leftover red from other months.  What would this block look like with a black background?  (Now that I see the picture, I'm thinking the pink rose would feature nicely as a background in the center block; always room to rethink my fabric choices.)

This more expected coloring would have pink background, black "star", and red accents.  I have used both of the pinks here in other BOTM blocks, but I don't think I have enough of the 1930's reproduction print to make it my single background choice.  (And, if I'm going to plan for a different fabric for the center of the block, why not make it in the blue colorway I initially rejected?)

Is it any surprise that choosing fabric is pretty much my favorite part of the whole process?  Now... which colors will I choose?  Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Table topper: start to finish

This weekend derail-ment is becoming a habit...  Last weekend had me outside when I had planned something completely different.  This weekend I am sick with a cold, not having energy to do much of anything.  But somehow I got a sewing project done-- start to finish.

For Christmas, Sweetie took a family heirloom and had it refinished.
1890's vintage china buffet
We finally got it back from the refinisher's on Saturday.  It is beautiful in a way I remember from my childhood.  But this newly fabulous piece of furniture needed something for its top to protect it.  Fabric to the rescue!  I skimmed through my fabric stash and came up with two candidates: a polished black cotton in a rather modern stripe, and an upholstery canvas that featured paprika letters on a parchment background.  The family consensus was that we liked the black stripe better, but preferred the heaviness of the upholstery fabric.  Why not make it reversible?  (Three heads are better than one sometimes.)

Side one: this picture doesn't do it justice
Bonus side: sturdy upholstery fabric from JoAnn's
This wasn't in my game plan.  Didn't have this project listed anywhere, and just shoved everything aside to get it cut out, sewn, and topstitched this weekend.  No wonder it takes me extra time to finish the long-term projects: stuff like this creeps into the mix.

Ah, but it's done.  And functional.  And I used up some of my stash to make it.  Yay!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Declutter report: blackberries?

Well, this past weekend was supposed to be about decluttering the four-plus Christmas bins.  I was going to finally take down the outdoor lights, and had the goal of paring down to TWO bins of holiday stuff.

But Sweetie wanted to get to the outdoor chores.  And the weather had me convinced that changing priorities was not the disaster my stick-to-the-decluttering-plan brain kept telling me it was.  Temperatures in the high 50's, sunny skies (in rainy Oregon? in the winter?)--why not go outside for hours and hours?

Weekend declutter results:  one pickup-truck-bed's-worth of vegetative matter.

I didn't take any "before" pictures because I didn't start this project thinking that I was going to be outdoors all weekend.  It sort of crept up on me: one thing led to another.  And another.  And another.

Really, it all started because the local mulch providers were temporarily out of mulch.  So Sweetie needed a different outdoor focus.  The tally:
  • pruned the butterfly bush (and the anonymous bush behind it that you couldn't even see before)
  • removed a dead bush from next to the butterfly bush
  • pruned the cherry tree
  • weeded flower beds in preparation for mulch (next weekend)
  • dug out five areas of blackberry infestation (really, for all you non-Pacific-Northwest dwellers: they are noxious, invasive plants)
  • limbed up the former Christmas tree in one corner and the Mugu Pine in the other corner, giving more access to light for the plants nearby, saving the fence from being further assaulted by tree growth, and discovering that the waterfall to the pond was really not going to be restored.  Ever.
  • moved the pile of rocks (which were there to help beautify the pond waterfall, when/if ever it got fixed) off the lawn and up around the pond area
  • pulled out a totally overgrown flower bed, discovering a hydrangea and several other lovely flowering plants that I have high hopes for this spring
Omg, it's so much prettier than it was before!  Really, the New Year's Resolution to "have less stuff" still applies to this: have fewer weeds and more beauty in my front yard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tutorial: half-square triangle version

At Quilt Camp, I was shown a new, slick way to make half-square triangles. The gals told me it was not their original idea, so I went onto the internet looking for a source. Found one on YouTube: Missouri Star Quilt Company's version.

I was asked (as the resident math teacher) to figure out how to tell what finished size would result from various original fabric squares.  The ladies had a pair of 5" starting blocks, which cut down to 4 half-sqaure triangle squares that were slightly larger than 3".  Meaning, when adjusted to 3", the resulting finished squares would be 2.5".  I blithely replied that I saw a pattern: would the finished half-square triangle blocks be one-half the size (more or less) of the uncut originals?

I was incorrect, but had to think about the math involved.  I woke up in the middle of the night (bleary-early Sunday morning, to be precise) knowing the process to determine the finished size when using any size squares to start with.  I have heard there are conversion tables available online, but you can do these basic calculations yourself.  Don't fear the math: you have the power!

The Process: what size will I get when I start with a xxx-inch square?
     ** Take the size of your original squares and subtract 1/2" (since you are sewing 1/4" around the outsides)
     ** Take this new number and divide by the square root of 2 (yes, the square root of 2!  see below for the math/nerdy reason for this number)
     ** This is the side length of each of your 4 new half-square triangle squares; subtract 1/2" for seams, and you will have the finished size.  Yay!
     ** EXAMPLE: starting with a 10" square, subtract 1/2" to give 9-1/2"; divide by square root of 2 and get 6.72"; subtract another 1/2" to finish out at 6.22".  (This is just a hair short of a 6-1/4" finished half-square.)

The backwards process: what size should I start with to get a xxx-inch finished block?
     ** Beginning with your desired finished size, add 1/2" for seam allowances
     ** Since we are working backwards, MULTIPLY this number by the square root of 2 (are you curious yet about why you use this number?  see below; I promise it won't hurt you to check out a little remedial geometry)
     ** Finally, ADD another 1/2" for seams.  Round up if you must (those square-root-2 calculations always end up with some wonky decimals), and this is the size of the original squares you should cut.
     ** EXAMPLE: wanting a 4" finished half-square block, add 1/2" to give 4-1/2"; multiply by square root of 2 and get 6.36"; add another 1/2" to yield 6.86".  (This means you should cut 6-7/8", because that is the next closest fractional amount to .86".)

Don't fear the math: a little geometry for you
The calculations for half-square triangles are based on right triangles; specifically, isosceles right triangles (you know--the ones you get when you cut a square on the diagonal: two sides the same length on either side of a right angle, and a longer hypotenuse)

The great thing about right triangles is the whole "a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared" relationship between the side lengths.  This allows us to calculate any missing side lengths by just knowing the other sides.
 But the relationship between side lengths (the Pythagorean Theorem) is simplified in an isosceles right triangle, since sides a and b are both the same length.

Consider an isosceles right triangle with legs of length 10".  The hypotenuse of such a triangle is approximately 14.1", which is equivalent to 10 times the square root of 2.

Or, how about an isosceles right triangle with hypotenuse of length 4" (this would be the diagonal of my half-square triangle).  The side lengths of this triangle are approximately 2.8" each, which is equivalent to 4 divided by the square root of 2.

And now, the part that makes mathematics more powerful than individual calculations: taking these concrete examples and generalizing them into the side-length relationships in any isosceles right triangle.  Noticing how the square root of 2 played a part in both of the above examples, we go back to side lengths of a and a hypotenuse of length c.

See!  This math stuff isn't quite so hard.  And when you understand a bit of math, you feel powerful.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tutorial: fleece "blankie" shoulder wrap

My UFO/stashbuster project for January was to use up some of my volumes of polar-type fleece (courtesy of a gluttonous JoAnn's trip), and pass along a good deed.  (I received a smile card from the drama folks at the high school, who put on the play Bang, Bang You're Dead and wanted to keep up the anti-bullying sentiment by spurring other acts of kindness.)

A small-ish blanket is slashed along one side, so it can be worn around the shoulders like a wrap.  I have one in my classroom, a classroom blankie, that is available for students who are cold.  One of the high school teachers has borrowed it on occasion when she has been particularly cold.  Aha!  An idea was born...

Materials needed:
  • 1 1/3 yards of polar-type fleece (58-60" wide)
  • coordinating thread
  • 3" of grosgrain or other woven, sturdy ribbon/trim (for a hang-up hook)

Cutting directions:

Cut off the selvage edges of the fleece (leaving it at least 55" wide), and straighten it up to 48" in length.
Fold the fabric in half and slice 24" (halfway) along the width.
 Use a round lid, bowl, or plate (I used a salad plate) to round off the corners; there are the four corners of the original rectangle, and the new corners along the front opening.

For reinforcement, I sew a narrow zig-zag stitch along the opening where the blanket will go around the neck.

I also have sewn a short section of cotton grosgrain-type ribbon along the back neck area, so the blankie can be hung on a hook in my classroom (this step is optional).

I have been waiting to add a picture of the recipients wearing their blankies, but a week has gone by and I haven't gotten to it.  Better to post now than keep waiting on my ability to get two teachers, two blanket-wraps and a camera together in the same room.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buck-a-block January

At quilt retreat, I completed this month's Buck-a-block.  I think it's my favorite so far!

I used triangle paper for the twelve half-square triangle blocks of background.  (Love that stuff...)  Even though I complained when I received the original fabrics about a lack of contrast, I really like my choice of low-contrast in the background.  It makes the central pinwheel and tulip-shapes stand out.

I like how completing a single block each month makes me feel like I am actually accomplishing something.  Done (for this month).