Sunday, October 16, 2011

First Block Sewn for Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt

First Block of Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt (and yes, I know these are not dragons)
Ta-da!  This is the first block of Lars's new Drunkard's Path quilt.  This is my first-ever block with a curved seam, and although I was nervous about it I am pleased to report that the finished block is 7 1/2" square on the first try, just as it should be.  Yay! 

Elsa's 7" Drunkard's Path Templates
WhileI was at the beach this summer I found these oversized Drunkard's Path acrylic templates at a quilt shop in Murrells Inlet, SC and knew right away that they would be perfect for this project.  The finished size of the blocks is 7" x 7", and I'm guessing that starting out with bigger curves is easier than starting out with smaller blocks, since smaller blocks would have tighter curves.  You'll see in a minute what the big deal is with curved patchwork.  The other reason I liked this big Drunkard's Path block is that my son picked out a couple of large-scale dragon fabrics for his quilt, and I needed to do something with big enough patches of fabric that we would still be able to tell they were dragons after we cut up the fabric.  Finally, I have been promising to make this quilt for Lars for THREE YEARS.  Large blocks consisting of only two pieces of fabric and one seam per block should sew up pretty quickly, so there is actually hope of Lars getting to sleep under his dragon quilt before he heads off to college in eight or nine years.  So yes, I know it's inappropriate for Lars's dragons to be drunken, but every quilter knows exactly what block design I'm using when I say Drunkard's Path, no matter what Crazy Curves nonsense the template maker calls them.  By the way, you can get these templates on Amazon here, and if you want to make the quilt shown in the photo on the package you have to buy both the 7" and the 3 1/2" sizes.  So far I just bought the 7" because there is a very strong possibility that I already own templates for the smaller size.  Just like there is a very strong possibility that there is actually carpeting in my sewing studio, buried deep beneath the mountain ranges of fabric.  Shhh...

The Drunkard's Path block pattern can form several different overall quilt designs depending on how you lay out the individual blocks before sewing them together into the quilt block.  My quilt probably won't be much like the photo on the template package.  Maybe I'll add some circle appliques, or maybe I'll arrange my blocks completely differently. 
Drunkard's Path variation by Kate Sharaf of Needle and Spatula
I just stumbled upon Kate Sharaf's blog a moment ago and was delighted to see that she just did a post showing different layout possibilities with these blocks, so instead of hunting for images to show you, I'm just going to send you on over to Drunkard's Path Block Design Ideas at Needle and Spatula.  Go ahead - click away and check out the lovely possibilities.  I'll be waiting right here when you're finished.

So, I probably won't be doing any kind of layout that ends up looking like big happy flowers for Lars, but some of the others could be interesting.  Maybe I'll even let Lars help lay out the finished blocks, if he's interested.

I know someone is going to ask about size.  This quilt is going on a twin bed with a ridiculously thick mattress, but there is storage built into the platform of the bed and I don't want the quilt to hang down too far.  I decided I want the finished quilt to be about 70" wide by 105" long, or 10 blocks by 15 blocks, and I actually measured the bed to come up with this.  I was generous with my measurements because quilts shrink a little when they are quilted, even if the fabrics are prewashed and/or preshrunk (mine are). 

In my studio, every quilt starts with a mess!  I've strewn all of the fabrics from my stash that I might possibly want to use for this quilt all over my cutting table.  Here's what that looks like:

I ordered some more fabric from eQuilter that hasn't come in yet.  A good fabric stash is like the biggest, bestest box of crayons.  There's no way I'm going to use ALL of them in the same quilt, but I like having lots of options to choose from.  Lars's bedroom has sort of a chambray blue wall color, and he has vivid, shocking ORANGE wallpaper in his bathroom.  You can see Lars's bedroom here.  So I want his quilt to be predominantly blues and oranges to tie these two spaces together, with some purples and other colors mixed in to keep it interesting.  Lars is excited about the dragons, but my goal is for the dragons to be something he can appreciate up close, not something we see from the hallway before entering his room.
"tatsu" dragon fabric from Alexander Henry Fabrics

This is the fabric that inspired the whole dragon thing.  I love the colors: that bold orange against cool purples and blues, and because they are sort of Asian dragons instead of childish cartoon dragons, I don't think Lars will outgrow this fabric.  Another plus is that, once I cut this up, the large scale dragons are going to be less obvious on the finished quilt.

Here you can see that I've started cutting fabric (and the other, smaller scale dragon fabric at bottom left).  I'm using a 45 mm rotary cutter for the straight edges, and a 28 mm rotary cutter on the curves.  This is another first for me, cutting curves instead of straight lines with my rotary cutters -- it feels really weird but I'm starting to get the hang of it.  I'm "fussy cutting" my dragon fabrics as well as some scraps of a lizard print fabric that I used in Anders' last quilt.  "Fussy cutting" means I'm cutting through one layer of fabric at a time so I can center exactly the part of the pattern that I want beneath my clear acrylic templates.  For the other fabrics I'm going to cut through four layers at once to save time.

Before we start sewing, a word about machine setup.  Before I start a new quilt, I clean every speck of lint out of my sewbaby and give her a drop of oil.  I put in a new size 70 Schmetz quilting needle and switch to my 1/4" patchwork footsie, which is Footsie 37 on a Bernina.  This foot gives me a perfect scant 1/4" seam allowance just by lining the cut edge of my fabric up with the edge of the presser foot.  I also switch to my straight stitch throat plate, because its smaller needle hole gives better support for straight stitching and greatly reduces the annoying problem of your sewing machine trying to eat the little patchwork pieces you're working with.  I use 50 weight 100% cotton thread, usually Mettler or Gutermann, and a stitch length of 2.0.  I engage the needle stop down function on my machine, and yes, damnit -- I sew over pins (slowly!) despite the dire warnings from the owner's manual telling me not to.

Now you can see why curved seams are scary!  You have to match up a concave curve to a convex curve, and ease it in so that hopefully you get a nice, smooth curve without nasty pleats when you press the seam open.  I consulted several different books in my personal library, and each one gave different advice about sewing this type of block.  One book said Drunkard's Path blocks should be hand sewn.  Another suggested clipping the curves, but I didn't want to weaken the seam if I didn't have to, since this quilt is going to see a lot of wear and washing.  I went with the advice in The Quilter's Ultimate Visual Guide: From A to Z -- Hundreds of Tips and Techniques for Successful Quiltmaking

Okay, here we go -- let's start sewing!  Because I know I'm more likely to have a severe oops on the first try, I deliberately did NOT select one of Lars's favorite dragon pieces for the first block.  Instead, I'm using a leftover fabric from a previous quilt for Anders.  I remembered that Lars was very wistful about these lizards at the time, and I like working fabrics from past quilts into current projects whenever I can. 

I'm sewing very slowly, and despite all of my pins, these opposite curved edges still try to creep away from one another. 

See how easy it is to line the cut edge of the fabric up with the edge of Foot 37 to maintain a perfect seam allowance?  By the way, I'm using a medium brownish-beige thread for all of my piecing on this quilt.  It would be way too inconvenient to have to stop and change thread color constantly, so I've chosen a neutral thread color that will disappear into my bold, bright fabrics.

This is the finished block.  I pressed the seam allowance toward the lizard fabric, since it's the darker of the two in this case.  Not bad, for all my fear and hesitation, huh?  My block measures exactly 7 1/2" square, just as it should, and I got a nice, smooth curve and a flat finished block on the first try.  I had my seam ripper handy, but I didn't even need it (this time).  Wahoo!  I only have about 149 more blocks to go...

By the way, I deliberately did NOT cut out all the pieces for 150 blocks before I started sewing.  I want to be able to lay things out and adjust my fabric choices mid-stream.  I cut out about 15 of each shape so far, just enough to get me started.  Once my additional fabrics come in from eQuilter, I can make semi-final decisions about which fabrics are in, which ones are out, and sort them by value to ensure I get the balance I want for my mix.  Stay tuned! 

1 comment:

Ivory Spring said...


Funny, I just made 12 of those curved blocks too..... except I cheated. I just appliqued the curved quarters to the block. ;)

Yours look good! It looked like you did some fuzzy cutting. And it certainly looks like FUN is happening in your sewing room!