Thursday, August 29, 2013

Finished: "Birds for Gramma" Embroidered Silk Wall Quilt

Birds for Gramma, 14 1/4" x 19 3/4"

In the midst of my Back-to-School Moping, I managed to finish this little wall quilt as a (belated) gift for my Gramma's 91st birthday.  This is the first machine embroidery project I did with the Jumbo Hoop on my Bernina 750 QE machine.  I enlarged and recolored the Anita Goodesign embroidery design (from their Fantasy Birds Collection Special Edition design pack, available here) for a ME Blog Hop back in March, and then I machine quilted the feathers and pebbles a few months later with the BSR foot on my 750 QE as a FMQ challenge exercise in June.  I loved how it turned out, but wasn't sure what to do with it until I was trying to figure out what to send my grandmother for her 91st birthday and my Aunt Debbie suggested "something sentimental."  My gramma was recently moved from her apartment to another care facility where she can get the additional assistance she now requires, but she has a much smaller room and has had to give up a lot of her possessions with this move.  I had Lars and Anders each select one of their best paintings from the art portfolios that came home from school in June to send to Gramma so they could be hung on her walls to decorate and brighten up her new living space.  And I trimmed the edges of this diminutive birdie quilt, added a hanging sleeve, and bound it with a 1/2" finished width red silk dupioni binding to give the effect of a frame.

I really like the dimension and texture I got with this piece, which I quilted very densely around the embroidery design using Hobbs Tuscany Silk batting and YLI #100 silk thread.  The silk base fabric is a lightweight silk shantung drapery remnant from Kravet that came with those gold glitter flecks on it.

I've never put a hanging sleeve on a quilt before and, as with most things I get nervous about and avoid attempting, it turned out not to be a big deal, after all.  I hope Gramma enjoys this.  I'm sure she will love the pictures the boys made!

One more thing: as much as we quilters tend to agonize over and feel guilty about our "works-in-progress" or "unfinished objects," it was really nice to have something almost finished on hand that I could pull out and complete for this gift.  The reason I hadn't finished it in the first place was that I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with it, but as soon as I knew it was for my Gramma's nursing home wall, I knew exactly what needed to be done.  With that in mind, I may be INTENTIONALLY stockpiling an assortment of UFO projects from now on!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Singin' the Back-to-School Blues

Femme aux Bras Croisés by Pablo Picasso, 1901
So, the kids started back to school on Monday.  Fifth grade for Anders and seventh grade for Lars.  Wasn't it just a year or two ago that Lars was posing for his First Day of Kindergarten photo in front of a big yellow school bus? 

Everywhere I look, I see commercials, comedians, and popular wisdom telling me that the kids are supposed to be reluctant to go back to school, and the moms are supposed to be celebrating.  Lars and Anders were excited, though, and this momma is sad to see them go.

The summer went so nicely, especially these last few weeks of August without day camps or traveling.  I enjoyed having them in the house.  It was nice not having to battle over homework enforcement or morning traffic on a daily basis.  We stayed up later, read extra chapters of our books, and watched episodes of Chuck on DVD.  The weather in Charlotte was atypical this summer, with so much rain and so little sunshine that it felt like an extended spring, and now the summer has ended before it really began in the first place. 

Now it's a new school year with new teachers, new challenges, new schedules and classes and expectations to get used to.  Already Anders has told me that I've "ruined his life." I mentioned his plans to take up the trumpet in band class this year (in addition to his ongoing private violin and piano lessons) to his violin teacher and she strongly advised against adding a third instrument.  I spoke with the piano teacher and the band teacher, and three out of three music teachers agreed that three instruments is too many, especially for a beginner, especially on top of all of his other homework...  So we switched him to Strings class instead of Band.  Anders retorted, "Mom, they wouldn't have known I had three instruments if YOU hadn't TOLD them!"  Ah, well.  So now, when he's an adult, he can tell his therapist all about how his mean mother deprived him of Band class in the 5th grade, crushing his dreams and denying him his destiny in the brass section.  I can live with that.

Don't feel too badly for me -- I'm sure we'll all adjust to the new school year just fine, once we get used to all the changes.  I met most of the teachers at the Open House night when we dropped off school supplies, and I think it's great that both boys will have different teachers for each of their core subjects this year -- Math, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies.  Anders will have the same Chinese teacher as Lars this year, and she's wonderful.  I only volunteered to be the Room Parent of one class this year, and I'll volunteer in the school library once a week as well.  I may be teaching Sunday School to fifth grade boys at church this year, too, so we'll all have plenty to keep us busy.  It will be Halloween in a heartbeat.

Is it too early to start decorating for Christmas?  ;-)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Fabric for my Jingle BOM Project: Poinsettia and Holly by Martha Negley for Westminster

Poinsettia & Holly in Holly Green by Martha Negley for Westminster, available HERE from Pink Chalk Fabrics
I changed my mind about the fabric for the large setting triangles and border on my Jingle Block-of-the-Month quilt.  All of the pieced and appliqued blocks for this quilt will be set on point with red setting triangles in this red poinsettia fabric:

Winter Magic Scarlet Poinsettia, Hoffman Fabrics, available HERE from Quiltable Fabrics
and the large center applique medallion is supposed to also be set on point with green setting triangles that match a green outer border, like so:

Jingle BOM as of today, Design and Image by Erin Russek of One Piece At a Time HERE
(The image above is from Erin Russek's blog, One Piece At a Time, and shows all of the blocks that have been released so far.  The white squares will be replaced with additional pieced and appliqued blocks.  All patterns and instructions can be found on Erin's blog HERE).  Back in April when I started this project, I selected the red poinsettia fabric and this green swirl fabric for the setting triangles and borders:

Winter Wonderland Scrolls in Green, Windham, available HERE from Pappy's Quilting
I had thought this scroll pattern would be fun to quilt, but now that I've got about half of the blocks done, I am not loving this shade of anymore.  It's too muted, not at all like the vibrant emerald greens I've been using in the blocks, and there will be an awful lot of this fabric in the finished quilt.  So it goes into the stash, put away for another project on another day.

I found this Martha Negley Poinsettia & Holly, Holly Green fabric at Pink Chalk Fabrics and I think it's going to be much better -- I hope!  I love the red berries, since there are so many little red applique berries in the blocks, and similar to how my red poinsettia fabric reads as a solid from a distance, I think this holly fabric reads as a solid green with random red polka dots from a distance, so hopefully these fabrics won't compete with my pieced and appliqued blocks.  I'll be able to tell for sure once I receive the yardage and I can lay everything out on the table.  In the meantime, I did a little mock-up in my interior design software to try to get an idea of how the quilt will come together:

VERY Rough Idea of How My Jingle Quilt Might Look
That's a VERY rough mock-up, because nothing is to scale, and the green holly print fabric is WAY out of scale.  I also purchased enough yardage of the Natural colorway in this print so I can use it for the backing and/or swap out the large green setting triangles if I feel like there's too much green once all the blocks are completed.

I really like this fabric in both colors, so if I end up not using either one of them in this quilt I won't mind stashing them away for something else. 

Meanwhile, I'm way behind on the blocks for this project.  I have two appliqued blocks, the large center applique medallion, and one more pieced block before I'm caught up.  I've been trying to get better organized with this project, so I'm working on prepping all of the applique shapes on my kitchen counter and sorting them into little ziplock bags that I can grab and take with me on the go.  I didn't get much sewing of any kind done this week because Anders' had his sleepover birthday party last night (didn't get much SLEEPING done, either!) and we've been getting ready for school with supply lists, trying on clothes that don't fit anymore, etc. 

I never know how to END these posts, you know?  So how about this:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Too Cool for School Carpool "Tag" Pillow Completed!

The Fancy Mommy's New Carpool "Tag," a 10" x 20" Pillow
I finished something today -- the Too Cool for School Carpool Tag.  It's not really a tag, though; it's a pillow that I'm going to wedge between my dashboard and windshield in the carpool pickup line at school this year so the teacher with the walkie-talkie can let the teacher inside the building know which kids should be sent out to my car.  This started out as an experiment in machine embroidered applique using my new Bernina 750 QE back in January.  Then I cast it aside until I decided to use it for a free-motion quilting practice exercise seven months later, in July.  I didn't like the way the quilting looked from the back side (in hindsight, I should have used a lighter weight bobbin thread with the Superior Threads King Tut in the needle) and I wanted to come up with a way to finish the carpool tag so that I would not have hold it up to the windshield, which is how I came to turn this into a 10" x 20" throw pillow.  I just tested it out, and it fits perfectly between the windshield and dash, stays in place without me holding it, and the lettering is very visible from outside the car.  Perfecto!

Samuel & Sons Dolce Marabout in Candy Apple
I used a leftover piece of red microfiber chenille for the pillow back and a remnant of Samuel & Sons Dolce wool Marabout lip cord trim because I had them laying around -- literally -- and they worked.  Unfortunately, I went ahead and cut my pillow front and back with a standard 1/2" drapery workroom seam allowance before I measured the 5/8" lip on my fancy trim.  Groan...  Way to complicate a simple project, Rebecca! 

Annoying 5/8" Trim Lip
Just about every other decorator trim on the planet has a 1/2" lip so you can just line up the edge of the twill lip with the cut edge of the pillow top, sew close to the cord, and have your pillow finish the correct size.  Note to self: Measure FIRST!  THEN cut!

I decided to hand baste this trim to the edges of my pillow front so I could offset it by approximately an eighth of an inch.  Was this really necessary?  Would we have noticed and missed that 1/4" difference in the finished size of this pillow?  Probably not, but it never even occurred to me to just make the pillow slightly smaller.  I had already ordered a custom down/feather insert for this (feel free to roll your eyes at me), and my supplier already oversizes their inserts by about an inch to ensure that the pillow covers don't sag.  I had also already cut away my corners to prevent the "dog eared" look, so that removed even more space from the pillow cover...  Whatever.

Cutting Away Excess Fabric at the Corners to Prevent "Dog Ears"
Here's what the trim looked like hand-basted to the pillow front:

Offset Trim Hand-Basted to the Pillow Front
From the back side, you can see that the twill lip of the trim cord extends just a bit beyond the seam allowance of the pillow front.  You can also see that I was too lazy to test and adjust my serger tension when I serged the edges of my pillow top.  Ahem.  It looks pretty on the outside, where it counts.

Horrendous Tension Abounds; Trim Basted Offset from Edge
After that, I constructed the pillow as usual.  Oh, but I did test out a different invisible zipper.  In the past, when I wanted to make a throw pillow, I'd just choose whichever invisible zipper at Jo Ann's was the closest color match to my pillow fabric or trim, but a couple of times I had problems with the zippers breaking on those (perhaps due to an insufficiently burly zipper, perhaps due to my sons' pillow fighting battles in the living room).  Anyway, this time I ordered heavy duty #6 bridal gown invisible zippers online from The Zipper Lady (she sells them at retail individually; you do not need a wholesale account) to see if that would work better with my bulky quilted pillow fabric and in-the-zipper-seam trim.  The invisible zippers sold at Jo Ann's are usually #2, intended for lightweight garment fabrics like silk, rayon, etc.  See the difference? 

#6 Bridal Zipper on the Left, Regular Invisible Zipper on the Right
The only bummer is that bridal zippers only come in shades of white, cream, and black.  Well, that and the fact that the Bernina #35 Invisible Zipper foot worked better with the smaller coils of the ordinary invisible zipper. 

Inserting #6 Invisible Bridal Zipper with #45 Invisible Zipper Foot, Coils Too Big for Groove
Next time I'll probably go old school and put the invisible zipper in with my #4D Dual Feed Zipper foot instead.

All's well that ends well, right?  At least SOMETHING is finished!

Ta Da!

Monday, August 12, 2013

When Anders Met Judy: First Sewing Lesson on the 1951 Featherweight

When Anders Met Judy: Getting to Know the 1951 Singer Featherweight

Anders' first sewing lesson was a success yesterday!  We reviewed what he read about fabric grain, and he tugged his fabric along the crosswise, lengthwise, and bias grain to confirm that the bias grain really DOES have the most stretch and the lengthwise grain really IS the most stable.  Then we pressed, straightened, and lightly starched his fabric  so it's all ready for cutting into strips on another day.  Anders learned the steps and the reasons behind what we were doing, but Mom ended up controlling the iron to avoid steam burns. 

Lockstitch slow
Lockstitch Animation by Nikolay S via Wikimedia Commons

We had plenty of time left after that, so we talked about the difference between a hand sewn running stitch and a sewing machine lockstitch, and I did a demo of each version on a little scrap quilt sandwich for him.  I used a second, contrasting thread for the "bobbin," hooked it around the needle thread on the underside, then brought the hand needle right up through the same hole for the next stitch.  I used two different colors of thread so I could show him the difference between a balanced stitch (locked inside the batting), needle tension too tight (pulled top black thread until pink thread dots showed on top) or needle tension too loose (pulled the pink "bobbin" thread until black thread dots showed on the underside).  I also showed him this fantiastic Wikimedia animation of how a sewing machine forms a lockstitch with a rotary hook.  After watching this animation and discussing what it showed, he got to look "under the hood" of my 1951 Singer Featherweight, where he found and identified the parts of the rotary hook shown in the video animation. 

Next, I demonstrated how to thread the machine a couple of times, identifying and naming the parts as I went along, and then had Anders thread it on his own a couple of times, repeating back the names of the parts.  He wanted to know what the stitch lever did, so I showed him how the machine would sew backwards if we flipped the lever up, and that we could increase or decrease the length of the stitches by moving the screw on the lever.  Then I took away all the thread, switched to an old needle, and got out the lined composition paper.  Anders spent some time practice "sewing" along the blue lines with the machine unthreaded, trying to make the needle hit the blue line every time it went down.

(I wish I could take credit for this idea, but this is actually how the saleslady at the Husqvarna Viking store in Charlotte had me practice "driving" my very first sewing machine in a straight line back in 1999).

First Efforts

Not bad for his first try!  As you can see in the photo above, Anders had a tendency to press down so hard on the paper "fabric" at times that the feed dogs couldn't pull it through the machine properly -- that's what caused those clusters of very closely spaced needle holes, most noticeable in the bottom row of stitching.  He also often forgot to take his foot off the "gas" to stop the machine before repositioning his hands, which would cause a slight wobble like you see in the top and bottom rows of stitching.  Overall, though, he improved with practice.  After I explained about letting the feed dogs move the paper through, he wanted to SEE the feed dogs, so he had to run the machine a bit without any paper or fabric, forwards and backwards, so he could watch the circular motion of the feed dogs with each stitch until he was satisfied that he understood how they worked.

Oops -- I Should Have Adjusted My Chair for Him!

You know, I didn't notice it at the time, but now that I'm looking at the pictures it's obvious that Anders' chair was MUCH too low for him, causing him to reach up to the sewing surface of the machine.  I didn't adjust the chair height after I sat in it to use my serger at this station a few days ago.  Next time Anders is sewing, I'll raise the chair and I'll bet he'll be able to sew a lot straighter when he doesn't have to hunch up his shoulders and stick his elbows out to the sides like a praying mantis!

Lars's Counted Cross Stitch Project

Lars won't get his lessons on straightening fabric grain and basic sewing machine operation until next weekend, when it will be Anders' turn to go to Grammy's house for oil painting.  Meanwhile, he begged me to help him get started with a counted cross stitch project that he bought at Michael's at the beginning of the summer (using some of the money he was awarded by the school for his science fair project). 

I thought he was wasting his money when he bought this kit.  I had taken him with me to Michael's to get some embroidery supplies for my Jingle BOM and he got very excited about a large, expensive cross stitch kit to make a highly detailed wolf embroidery.  I said no and explained that a kit like that would be too difficult and the instructions would assume he already knew a lot about how to do cross stitch, and he had to do a smaller beginner project before I would let him buy the wolf kit.  He thought all of the true beginner kits, especially the ones labeled "kid friendly," were "lame," so we settled on this small "Laundry Today or Naked Tomorrow" kit even though I told him the directions in the kid friendly kits would be easier to follow.  When Lars opened the kit at home and saw that there were no colors marked on the fabric and the directions didn't make sense, he nearly agreed with me.  But I helped him get his fabric hooped straight and taped the edges with masking tape so they wouldn't unravel on him, and I loaned him one of my embroidery books that had color photos and much clearer explanations of how to do a cross stitch, demonstrated by stitching the first row for him, and he spent about an hour working on that this Saturday afternoon.  When he ran off to play video games, I checked over what he'd completed and saw that he kept going with yellow Xs right over where he should have left a blank spot for a green, so I picked out a row and a half, left the space for the green, and then redid his row of stitching so he wouldn't feel too discouraged when he came back to it. 

Stitching Chart Enlarged and Colored In

To make the stitching chart easier for him to follow going forward, I enlarged it to 160% on the photocopier, and then I colored in the squares with colored pencil so it would be more obvious when he needed to leave space for another color.  When I finished, I was struck by how much the cross stitch chart resembles a LEGO instruction diagram.  Hmmm.  Lars is already talking about how he can take pixelated computer images of Power Rangers or Dragonvale characters to create his own cross stitch designs after he finishes this one.  Funny how everything always ends up connected to everything else.

So, both boys are taking well to their needlework so far.  At the very least, they will come away from my sewing lessons knowing how to iron their own shirts and sew on their own buttons!  Lest you think they inherited all of their sewing aptitude from me, I should disclose that both of their great-grandfathers on Bernie's side were schneidermeisters (master tailors) in East Germany before World War II.  As their Opa likes to say, we are who we are (at least in part) because of our genes.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Harriet Hargrave Is Teaching My Boys Quilting!, Or Mayhem at Mary Jo's Cloth Store with Lars and Anders

Boys' Fabric Picks of the Day

My son Lars, who is now twelve years old, has intermittently asked to make a quilt many times over the last five years.  The first time he asked, the memory of him pouring glue down the needle hole of my sewing machine's throat plate was a bit too fresh in my mind, and he was unilaterally banned from the sewing room entirely.  (I am eternally grateful to the tech who painstakingly removed every speck of glue from the bobbin case and hook race of that sewing machine -- and grateful that the glue was of the Elmer's School variety that peels off when dry, rather than super glue or Gorilla Glue).  But both of my sons are artistically inclined, and they have seen me having great fun playing with fabric and thread over the years, so they kept asking.  They want to play, too!

At first, I looked into some of the Beginning Quilter or Kids Sew type classes offered by my local quilt stores, but the class descriptions were a big turn-off.  In the classes designed to introduce kids to basic sewing, the projects always seem to be skirts, aprons, and little purselike tote bags.  Then there's a footnote about how, if any boys want to take the class, they can make something called a "Do Rag."  I didn't even know what a Do Rag was, so I turned to my trusty search engine and found a slew of delightful images like this one:

Do Rag, or Du-Rag, image from NikeTalk What IS a Du-Rag
Hmmm...  So girls in this sewing class will learn to read a pattern, operate a sewing machine, and construct a skirt, and boys will learn to tie a piece of cloth around their heads and glare at everyone?  I can see how valuable this would be to those who aspire to piracy, gang life, or a career in rap music.  Every mother's dream for her little boy, right?

Then there were the beginning quilting classes, but they didn't seem like a good fit for Lars and Anders, either.  First of all, Lars and Anders have LOTS OF ENERGY.  They bounce in their seats, get up and run around the table to smack one another, and are prone to fits of uncontrollable giggling.  I don't feel like they would be very welcome in an introductory quilting class of mostly retired ladies who have been sewing for years and are new to quilting only, not entirely new to sewing.  My sons have never threaded a sewing machine or used an iron, for instance, and most beginning quilting classes at least require students to be familiar with how to operate their sewing machines.

Typical Beginner Quilting Class, photo courtesy Bernina Chattanooga

I am pretty sure that my boisterous boys would be highly disruptive in a class like that, and it would be a negative experience for everyone involved!

Occasionally I will see a shop offering a beginning quilting class geared specifically toward kids, but again, reading through the class description, I was underimpressed.  Why do so many adults think that everything needs to be dumbed down so much for children?  Cutting up novelty prints into huge squares, or worse, starting a with a bundle of 10" "layer cake" squares to avoid teaching kids to cut accurately, and allowing the kids to sew them together crooked, with wobbly, mismatched seam allowances just to complete an entire quilt project in an afternoon sounds like a terrible idea to me.  I think adults too often underestimate what kids are capable of learning.  At school, my kids are studying subjects like Chinese, algebra, music theory, and chemistry.  Anders, my rising 5th grader, has memorized the first 18 digits of Pi and half of Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy -- just for fun.  Both boys even learned some basic embroidery stitches in art class at school (love that art teacher!).  There's no reason these kids can't learn about textiles, sewing, and quilting at the same level it would be presented if this was a class offered by their school.

Quilter's Academy Vol. 1, available from Amazon here
Recently I discovered Harriet Hargrave's Quilter's Academy series of books.  Perfecto!  Harriet is a highly respected, trailblazing machine quilter and author who has been teaching and inspiring new quilters since the 1980s.  I have her other books, and didn't know whether any of the information in this Freshman Year volume would be new to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only did I find lots of new-to-me information to highlight in this book, but it's also an absolutely ideal textbook for teaching the fundamentals of quilting to bright students of any age -- this is the Gifted and Talented workbook of quilting!

When my mother and I took a class with Harriet a few months ago at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium, she talked to the class about a disturbing trend away from beginner classes that teach fundamentals in favor of project-based, "quilt in a day" type classes.  This approach gives new quilters the satisfaction of making a quilt right away, but can leave them ignorant of the basics of precision cutting, accurate piecing, color and design theory, and drafting.  After several classes, the student may have made several entire quilts, but is unable to apply what they have learned to other projects and completely unable to design an original quilt.  Even worse, by rushing through the process to finish by the end of class, many new quilters develop bad habits that result in small inaccuracies.  If your seam allowance is off by 1/16" to 1/8" in a simple quilt with few pieces, it's not a big deal -- but when that "minor" inaccuracy is multiplied by all of the pieces in a more advanced block, it results in units that don't fit together at all.  For this reason, many younger quilters especially, who typically have no prior sewing experience, find themselves stuck at the beginner level and believe that intermediate and advanced quilts are just "too hard."

What I love about the Quilter's Academy format is the way that in-depth academic information and advice for selecting equipment and setting up your workspace is interspersed with the hands-on exercises and projects, and that each "class" in the book builds on the knowledge and experience gained in previous "classes."  It's exactly the way a good science textbook would be laid out, so students can read the chapter and understand what they are doing before they get out their little goggles and do the lab exercise.  I also love that, even in this very first "Freshman" book in the series, Harriet teaches the basics of understanding base block grids and beginning drafting and design.  The math involved really isn't difficult, and I seize any opportunity to reinforce what they're learning at school by making everyday connections.  (In other words, YES -- you really DO need to know that stuff!)

I purchased a paperback workbook for myself and also downloaded the digital version from Amazon so the boys could read this on their kindles.  I had them read the first 26 pages on their own, through Lesson Four of Class 130, and then gave them a multiple choice quiz on the material to make sure they were paying attention.  Then Lars had to go back and reread to find the CORRECT answers, because he INcorrectly assumed that Mom's quiz would be so easy that he could just skim...  Hah! 
Once I was satisfied that they both understood fabric grain, thread weight, fiber content, and ply, the pros and cons of prewashing their fabric, and the basics of rotary cutting and pressing with starch, we headed off to Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia, North Carolina for our first field trip! 

Quilting Fabrics at Mary Jo's Cloth Store, photo courtesy Mary Jo's Cloth Design Blog
I was tempted to take them to one of my favorite boutique quilt shops instead, but I'm glad I didn't because they were LOUD and EXUBERANT and by the time we checked out, EVERYONE in that 32,000 square foot store knew them by name, and was relieved that we were leaving! 
Sampler Quilt from Academy of Quilting Vol. 1
The boys were each told to select three fabrics for the sampler quilt exercise they would be starting in Class 130, Lesson Five.  Harriet suggested a dark solid, a lighter print, and a white background, as in the sample quilt at left.  I told them to find a print first and then find coordinates, but they kept getting hung up on HUGE scale novelty print fabrics with gigantic pirate skulls, Star Wars panel prints, etc., and they had a hard time understanding that they needed smaller scale prints because they were going to cut their fabric up into small pieces to make their blocks.  But they finally did find appropriate fabrics (not stereotypical "boy" fabric, either), and then at the cutting table Anders explained to everyone (loudly) why the saleslady should tear the fabric on the crosswise grain instead of cutting it off the bolt with a scissors.  Harriet would have been proud!

Lars's Color Theory: Everything Goes with Orange!
Once we got home, I told them to reread the section about the pros and cons of prewashing their fabric and make their own decision.  They came back to me and told me that they were NOT going to prewash because stiffer, unwashed fabric will be easier to work with as beginners. 

Anders Had Starbucks Cake Pops On his Brain...
Because I'm not COMPLETELY insane, I'm going to do the hands-on exercises involving hot irons, rotary cutters and sewing machines ONE AT A TIME.  We're going to break this up into small, manageable sessions so no one gets frustrated and overwhelmed -- especially not mom! 

First they will do the exercise in the book where they learn how to straighten their fabrics, which will be their first experience using an iron. 

Another day, they will take the length of fabric they straightened and do the exercise from the book where they learn how to cut straight strips of fabric with a rotary cutter and acrylic ruler.  Again, neither of them has used a rotary cutter or done any kind of fabric cutting before, and we might waste a bit of fabric before they get the knack of how to hold the ruler in place so it doesn't slip when they are cutting.  Hopefully this can be learned without sacrificing any digits, but we do have an Urgent Care facility within 5 minutes of our home, so we should be good either way.

After that, I think I'll need to create my own Meet-the-Sewing-Machine exercise, because neither one of them knows anything about how to thread a sewing machine or how it works.  They will be learning to sew with Judy, my 1951 Singer Featherweight, because it's the perfect size, it sews beautifully for piecing, won't give them any trouble, and doesn't have a gazillion distracting buttons across the front.  Once they are good with how to thread and operate the sewing machine, THEN we can move on to the next exercise in the Quilter's Academy book, learning to sew with an accurate seam allowance so that their pieced units finish the correct size.  Again, since they haven't used a sewing machine at all before, I'll start them off with "disposable" fabric instead of their good stuff.

So that's four hands-on lessons before they actually start working on their sampler quilts.  Again, I'm really glad that I found this book, because without it I wouldn't have realized that a complete beginner would need to spend so much time on the basics before starting their first project, but I feel confident that this is the best way to ensure that they both have a good time AND that they gain the skills they will need to be successful.  Once they both have the basics down, I MIGHT let them work on their projects at the same time (which is why I needed that second Featherweight!).  I'll play that by ear.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jingle BOM: Applique Block 4 is Finished

Jingle Applique Block 4
Done!  This is Applique Block Four of Erin Russek's Jingle BOM.  After those tiny pomegranate leaves, everything else should be a piece of cake!  Of course I'm not caught up with this block-of-the-month project yet.  I still need to catch up with Applique Block 5, the center medallion applique, and Pieced Block 5.  I've made all the templates for AB5 and for the medallion, chosen all of the fabrics, and I'm working on prepping the shapes for both of those simultaneously.  I haven't even thought about PB5 yet; it was just released the other day and my obnoxious firewall won't let me download the instructions!

Meanwhile, I've been: 
  • Shopping for school supplies and wondering where the summer went. 
  • Enjoying a visit with my sister, her husband, and my niece and nephew, who are from New Jersey (they don't like you, either).  ;-)
  • Planning Anders' 10th birthday celebration. 
  • Plotting to surprise the boys by taking them to the new 3-D Percy Jackson movie when they think they are going to the dentist!  They've both been working on a new story assignment for their blogs, and hopefully those will be posted by midweek. 
  • And now, at 5 PM on Sunday, I am switching gears from no-tech hand applique sewing to high-tech machine embroidery sewing! 

Enjoy these last few hours of your weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Of Itty-Bitty Applique Leaves

Ta-Da: Tiny Pomegranate Leaves!
 Jubilation!  I figured out how to successfully turn the edges of the tiny leaves on my pomegranates, and it wasn't as bad as I had made it out to be in my mind.  I used the same starch and press method I've been using throughout this Jingle BOM project, but I switched to a mini iron and a tinier turning allowance.  In case anyone else out there is struggling with this, here's what worked for me.

In the above photo, you can see how small this leaf is supposed to be, and how small I'm making my turn under allowance.  (You can also see that I chose very ugly nailpolish for my last manicure.  Mardi Gras, anyone?)  My template is out of that heat resistant plastic stuff, and the penny is just there as a size reference.  The only thing that makes the tiny leaves more difficult than the larger leaves is that you can barely hold onto them while you're starching the edges into position and the template wants to scoot around on the tiny scrap of fabric.  I should mention that I made sure each leaf was cut with bias edges along those concave curved edges.  So, first I fold those pointy ends to the center of the leaf, apply starch solution with a damp stencil brush, and press with a mini iron until dry, one end at a time.  (I found that the mini iron was much easier to work with for such tiny pieces).

Both Pointy Ends Starched and Pressed Towards the Center
Once the ends were pressed in, the template was held in position in the center of the fabric a bit better and did less sliding around.  Next, one end at a time, I wetted the edges on either side of those points with starch, used the tips of my fingernails to miter in a sharp, pointy corner, and then dried that into place with the mini iron.

Both Pointy Corners Mitered and Starched
Now that template wasn't going anywhere without my permission!  With the template "locked" into position at both ends, it was pretty easy to coax those convex curves into position.  Again, I used a damp brush to apply the starch (if you are too heavy handed, the corners get re-wet and start coming apart) and then I used the tips of my ugly purple sparkle nails to drag the fabric into position over the edge of the template, once side at a time, and pounced on it with the mini iron to dry it in that position.

First Curve Finished...
All Edges Turned!
Now you can see why that tiny turning allowance is so important.  When my turn under allowance was bigger, the fabric edges would be "glued" together with starch solution and not only did this create a big bump on the back of the leaf, but it would also make it very difficult to remove the plastic template.  In the above photo I have a couple of pleats where my curves aren't perfectly smooth, so I wetted them slightly with my damp starch brush and smoothed them out by just running the edge of the leaf against the bottom of the hot iron.  Once I was satisfied with the leaf, I allowed it to cool completely, gingerly opened it up to pull out the template, and then I eased the edges back into place and gave it a final press from the back side with my mini iron.

Isn't it adorable?  I suppose it's putsy, but it works.  When you get to the end and you have this tiny little leaf smiling up at you (yes, it's smiling) it's all worth it.

Block In Progress, With Mini Leaves.  Bliss!
I got five of the eight leaves needed for this block prepped between loads of laundry yesterday afternoon, and found time to stitch the first two mini leaves into position last night.  I'm really pleased with how they turned out, and I'm glad I stuck with it until I was happy with my results.  This block should be finished within the next day or two, and then I'll be moving right along to the next one!