Monday, April 8, 2013

As Ye Sew, So Shall Ye RIP! Jingle Quilt BOM, Pieced Block No. 2

Jingle BOM Pieced Block #2, Finally!
Sometimes, I think I'm really good at something, and then I discover that I'm really NOT.  Does this ever happen to you?  Well, it happened to me this weekend.  Erin Russek of One Piece At A Time is doing a Christmas themed Block of the Month (BOM) quilt this year called Jingle, and I'm determined to make this quilt.  Erin designs and sews the most beautiful appliqued quilt patterns, and her extensive needle-turn applique instructions on her blog tutorial have encouraged me to let 2013 be the year I finally learn to do hand applique.  I've admired others' applique work forever, but it's kind of scary to think about going Old School without my fancy schmancy Bernina technology to make me look better than I am. 

Erin Russek's Jingle Quilt BOM, patterns and instructions available here

Erin's pattern for the central poinsettia applique medallion for this quilt is available for $10.00 here.  The remaining blocks, 8 applique and 8 pieced, will be posted one at a time as free downloads on Erin's blog, One Piece At A Time, between now and November, and so far she has posted two applique blocks and two pieced blocks.  I'm a little behind already, but if I focus on just one block at a time, I should have a beautiful new quilt just in time for holiday decorating.  It's kind of fun not knowing what the whole quilt will look like until the end, too.  I love flowers, birds, Christmas, and red and green color schemes, so I know I'll really enjoy this project.

So far I have purchased the center medallion pattern and downloaded the four block patterns that have been released so far, and I finally picked out all of my fabrics and collected all of the supplies I'll need for the applique work, so it's time for me to catch up!  Naturally I am too chicken to start out with the huge 27" square center medallion for my first-ever applique, and even the smaller cardinal and floral applique blocks look kind of intimidating.  But the pieced blocks?  I've done plenty of pieced blocks before.  I'm good at pieced blocks.  Piece of cake, right?  WRONG!

Pieced Block #2
I chose Pieced Block #2 to start with, because the 3" center square is perfect for fussy-cutting my red poinsettia print fabric.  After auditioning scraps of fabric for about an hour (seriously!) I finally settled on the ones I wanted to use for this block, carefully cut out my squares, half square triangles, and quarter square triangles, and started piecing this block together on my Bernina 750 QE sewing machine with my #37D Dual Feed Quarter Inch Patchwork foot, dual feed engaged.  I started from the center square, first adding the gold triangles and then the green print triangles after that.  It was a disaster -- since the long side of the triangles (hypotenuse) was longer than the side of the square piece they were sewn to, I had trouble lining the pieces up correctly and the sides of the resulting square did not match up accurately -- easy to tell, because the sides of the square did not meet up at all.  So I ripped those stitches out and sewed the seams again, and the second time, my yellow square with a red square inside was actually a square.  So I sewed the green triangles on next, had more jagged sides, and had to rip those seams out and redo them.  I was so careful to get perfect little points on each and every triangle and I was delighted with how my block was coming along...  Until I MEASURED it. 

First Try, After Ripping and Restitching Twice, Still a Failure!
This block is supposed to finish at 9" square.  That means that the portion of the block that I'd sewn so far should measure exactly 6 1/2" square (6" plus a 1/4" seam allowance on all four sides).  As you can see in this photo, a combination of factors had combined to cause my block to finish too small and not even square.  And that's when I realized that I have never attempted to piece a block with this many pieces before.  I've done a strip-pieced Roman Square quilt, a double 9-patch quilt (also using the strip technique for the 9-patch units), a maple leaf pieced quilt with squares and HST (half square triangle) units, and the Drunkard's Path quilt that I finished most recently introduced the challenge of a curved seam but there were still only two pieces to each block.  The more pieces in a quilt block, the more seams, and the more seams, the more imperative it is that each and every one of those seams is EXACTLY 1/4" or else the pieces won't fit together properly and the blocks won't end up the correct size.  So all this time I thought I had mastered that perfect 1/4" seam, and apparently I just couldn't tell I was off because the blocks I was piecing were so easy that I was "close enough."

Well, when I get stumped, I go to my books to find solutions from people who actually DO know what they are doing.  This time, the expert advice I turned to came from Sally Collins' book, The Art of Machine Piecing, available from Amazon here.  Collins specializes in piecing on a very small scale, reducing traditional quilt blocks down to just 3" blocks, which requires fanatically accurate piecing skills.

The biggest light bulb for me was Collins' recommendation that you determine the grid for each block and from there, calculate the size of each and every unit of that block including the seam allowance.  Collins measures her block units after sewing every single seam, so that if something is off she discovers the problem immediately and knows that it had to be the last seam she stitched.  Why didn't I think of that?  The block I was attempting was a 3x3 grid, and my pieces were all supposed to finish 3", 6", or 1 1/2" (plus 1/2" seam allowances). 

Chalk Lines for Positioning Triangles
So the next day, I cut all new pieces of fabric, this time using my Kaye England Cut for the Cure specialty rulers so that I could cut everything from 2" strips instead of doing the traditional but convoluted "add 7/8" and cut the square diagonally" method of cutting that I'd done the first go-'round.  I was REALLY careful to cut my pieces to exactly the right size -- after all, if each piece was too small by even a 32nd of an inch, by the time you multiply that by all 41 pieces in this block it would add up to a significant error no matter how perfect my quarter inch seam was.  Then, for the triangles that needed to be sewn to the straight sides of the red square, I decided to mark the center with a chalk X to help me position the triangle points more precisely.  That made a HUGE difference!

Perfect this time!  No "Squaring Up" Trimming!
I was REALLY careful with the seam allowances today, too, watching the right side of the presser foot to make sure the fabric edge was aligned exactly with the edge of the foot, without even a thread of fabric sticking out to the right. 

Measuring Each Unit As It's Sewn: A Perfect 1 1/2" HST Unit
I know a lot of quilters say you shouldn't press during block construction or that you shouldn't press with steam because of the potential for distortion, but I suspected that I might be losing some of my block by not pressing my seams flat enough before sewing the next piece on top of them, so I pressed my little units as flat as little pancakes.  I found a Husqvarna Viking padded ironing surface with a 1/2" grid in my sewing room that I've had forever and never used (it came in some kind of Quilting or Home Dec kit, I think).  This made it really easy to check my units for size and squareness at the same time, and allowed me to use some steam with my iron without worry of distortion.  Why did I never use this before?  It's fabulous!

#57 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot with Guide
I experimented with different presser feet today, too.  I decided that the #37 D Dual Feed Patchwork Foot might be nice for piecing long strips together without shifting or bowing, but that I wanted more support for my fabric at the back of the presser foot because some of my tiny triangles were getting "eaten" and pulled down into the stitch plate when I was using the dual feed.  I switched to my #57 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot with Seam Guide, which was nice because it has a barrier at the right side of the foot that prevents you from sewing your seam allowance too wide.  However, once I was sewing different pieced units together, I discovered that you can't sew over pins with the #57 foot because the pins cannot pass under that guide plate, and I NEED to pin whenever seams need to meet up precisely.  At that point I switched to my #37 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot, the plain one without dual feed or a seam guide, and that worked best for me for assembling the block units.  I always use a straight stitch plate on my 9 mm machine when I'm piecing, and for this block I followed Collins' recommendation to piece with a Schmetz 70/11 Microtex needle.  I used Aurifil Mako 50 weight 2-ply cotton thread. 

And finally, after three days, I have finished the block AND it measures 9 1/2" x 9 1/2" just as it should.  Yay!

Finished!  Perfect Triangle Points!  Perfectly Square, AND 9 1/2" x 9 1/2"!
Hopefully the next blocks will go together easier, now that I've worked out my kinks.  There are so many different methods for cutting and piecing these units; if one method doesn't work for you, just try another one.

Before I can move on to the next block of my Jingle quilt, I'm going to have to get back to that lederhosen costume I promised to make for the school play.  In fact, I need to head to school right now to pick up my kids from rehearsal and hopefully get Augustus Gloop to try on the muslin shorts I whipped up over the weekend.  They are enormous, but the plan is to have him try them on inside out, pin the side seams and mark the muslin, and then use that for my pattern when I cut into the microsuede.  I'm reconsidering the embroidery, though -- this is a costume that will be worn for 3 performances, so it doesn't make sense to slave over them and make myself crazier than I already am!


Lane said...

Yowza! That's a lot of little piecing. I've used the trick of finding the centers and matching them up like you did in try two. That's always helped. That quarter inch seam thing is very tricky and I finally bought a tool to help me set mine for the machines that don't have a specialty foot with a fence or guide. Be well and enjoy. I'm loving how your fabrics look together. Lane

Anonymous said...

Buy a Judy Martin Point Trimmer, much easier than chalk.



Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Lane. And Dar -- I never heard of the JMTP before! I just googled it and found it on her web site, but I'm not sure I understand how to use it. How do you know whether you need an "A Trim," a "B Trim," or a "C Trim?"

Anonymous said...

I have an instruction sheet somewhere with color illustrations on how to match up a set of patches and choose the correct trim. I'll search for where I found it. But I just use the C point for everything, it works as sort of a generic choice no matter the configuration. On Judy's website, under "Community" and then "FAQS," she has a tip for making a paper template for trimming points on isosceles triangles, if you ever needed that. :-)

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Dar! I ordered the trimmer tool online. Hopefully it comes with instructions. When I googled Judy Martin Point Trimmer I found that Harriet Hargrave recommends it in her Quilter's Academy book series, too, so maybe there are tips for using it in those books as well?

Ivory Spring said...

Your block is absolutely perfect! Love the fabrics too.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, the Point Trimmer does come with instructions, and when you actually have the tool in hand and are working with specific patches, it should all make perfect sense. The basic thing you need to keep in mind when using it for trimming right triangles that will be attached to squares is this: If the square will be attached to the short side of the triangle, use the A trim; if the square will be attached to the long side of the triangle, use the B trim, and when in doubt, just use the C trim. In the 6th photo down, where you are attaching the gold triangle to the center square, you would use the B trim.

I hope this helps.

Judy Martin Books