Sunday, September 22, 2013

More Quilting With Kiddos: Anders and the '51 Featherweight Sew Up Some Fence Rail Blocks

Success!  7" x 5" Pieced Units with 1 1/2" Center Strip
I shared back in August that I had started quilting lessons with my boys.  Anders went first, and then when it was Lars's turn, he had gotten engrossed with a counted cross stitch project and he has opted to complete that before beginning his first quilt.  No UFOs for Lars-of-Ours!

I was using Harriet Hargrave's Quilter's Academy series initially, starting with the beginning lessons in the Freshman Year book.  Anders, my 5th grader, enjoyed learning all the facts and nitty gritty details about thread ply, fabric grain, and rudimentary textile science in this book, but when I tried to do the first exercises with him I quickly determined that I did not feel comfortable with him rotary cutting or handling a steam iron.  After all, I still burn myself with that wicked iron on a weekly basis, and watching him try to control a slippery acrylic ruler while slicing with a razor-sharp rotary cutter made Mommy nauseous.  So I'm doing the cutting and pressing and he's focusing on learning to sew straight, even seams and keep his raw edges lined up properly so that his units finish the correct size.  For a child who is just learning to operate a sewing machine, that's plenty!  If he was trying to learn the sewing, pressing, and cutting all at once, it would be much more difficult for him to determine where he had gone wrong when his finished units didn't measure up.  With Mom cutting and pressing, he can concentrate on one variable at a time, just like they teach him in science class.  Don't you love how everything is connected to everything else?

So, as per the exercise in Hargrave's Freshman Year book, Anders was working with 2" wide strips of fabric cut into 7" lengths.  After seaming three strips together, he should have a finished unit measuring 7" x 5", and his center strip should be precisely 1 1/2" wide. 

Vintage Singer Adjustable Seam Guide on my 1951 Featherweight
Judy, my 1951 Singer Featherweight, is factory equipped with her original early style stitch plate sans markings.  I attached this vintage Singer seam guide accessory to the holes in the machine bed and used 1/4" graph paper to ensure I had the guide exactly 1/4" from the needle before screwing it down securely.  This type of seam guide is so much better than the 1/4" presser feet with attached guides, in my opinion, because I can move it a hair to the left or to the right if need be in order to sew seam allowances that result in perfectly sized finished units -- with certain combinations of needles, fabrics and thread, I need a scant 1/4" rather than a true 1/4".  In this case, because we're using lightweight cotton fabrics, a 70 Microtex needle and Aurifil 50/2 cotton thread, a true quarter inch was right on the money. 

Similar Seam Guide for Modern Berninas
Incidentally, I recently discovered that Bernina makes a patchwork seam guide for my 750 QE and other modern machines that looks identical to this one.  It's been added to my wish list!

All of Anders' fabric had been cut ahead of time, and as he seamed pieces together, I pressed and starched them.  When we measured the first unit he was very discouraged to find that the fabric edges had slipped apart while he was sewing, resulting in a fence rail unit with a center strip measuring 1 1/2" at one end and more like 1 5/8" at the other end.  I frog-stitched it for him and had him do it over.  The second try was practically perfect on that unit, and all of his remaining units finished the correct size on the very first try.  We worked for about an hour and a half before he started to lose interest and wanted to call it quits for today.

Anders' Finished Units, 5" Wide x 7" Long
You know, I was initially thinking that it was wasteful to sew 7" long strips together, only to cut them down to 5" square later, but now I'm glad I did it that way.  Anders is concentrating on keeping those fabric edges aligned at the right edge, but not all of his units have the strips perfectly even at the top and bottom.  Later this week, I'll trim these units down to be exactly 5" square with perfectly straight sides, and that will minimize his frustration when the time comes to sew the units together.  Kids need victories in the sewing room!

Anders' Sewing Setup
One more tip for sewing with children: You probably need to tweak your usual sewing setup in order to accommodate the ergonomic requirements of their much smaller bodies.  The first time I sat Anders down at the machine, this didn't occur to me.  Afterwards, looking at the pictures I'd taken, a realized that the bed of the sewing machine was up near his collar bone and the poor child was reaching up at a very uncomfortable angle to sew.  Now I'm raising the adjustable sewing chair to its highest setting so that his elbows are just an inch or two above the table.  This causes his feet to dangle in midair, so I instructed him to rest his left foot on the base of his chair, and I put the foot controller on top of an upside-down plastic thread bin so he could reach it comfortably with his right foot.  Also, since the 15 watt incandescent light bulb that belongs on the Featherweight reminds me of driving down a dark country lane in the fog with one headlight out, I have swapped that out for an LED bulb AND I'm supplementing with an Ott floor lamp to the left of the machine, to make it as easy as possible for Anders to see that his fabric edges are rubbing the edge of the seam guide, but not buckling or bending up against it.  Seeing what you're doing is half the battle!

Since school is in full-swing, we're on a bi-weekly schedule with our sewing sessions.  Usually one son is at my mom's house working on oil painting while the other one is in my studio with me, but Grammy isn't available for painting next weekend so I'm considering attempting to work with both boys at once -- Anders continuing to work on his fence rail blocks, and Lars with his counted cross stitch project.  Theoretically this should work just fine, as long as I have them each set up at opposite sides of the room...  I'll probably make my final decision about this on the way home from church next Sunday, based on the Brawling-to-Brotherly-Love Ratio going on in the back seat.  ;-)

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to starting the next block in my Jingle BOM quilt!  What are all of you sewing this week?

Have a wonderful week, everyone!


Jenny K. Lyon said...

I just love this and I am charmed by your son! He is so lucky to have you as his teacher and what a wonderful Mom to teach these skills to him! How many kids his age can sew a killer seam??

colleen said...

Hi I've enjoyed your appliqué journey. Some of my appliqué friends use a similar technique but with freezer paper rather than plastic templates. They cut several shapes at a time by stapling pieces of freezer paper together with the traced shape on top then cut on the line. They remove the freezer paper at the same step as you have been doing. And the same piece of freezer paper can be used over and over not as many times as the plastic but it is surprising how many uses they get. Also some use starch ( best press) others use glue stick and also press to dry the glue.
Me I took a needle turn class and I didn't complete the project..... The project wasn't interesting to me and the instructor and I didn't speak the same language although English was the only language each of us spoke. I had seen a computer thing from Ami Sims(she pronounces her first name the same way salami is pronounced , I may have misspelled her last name hear) and mentioned something about what ever it was that Ami had "talked" out out in computer land ..... every time I said Ami ( like salami) she said Amee. It was difficult but I just said the little bit about what ever it was and did not re correct her, this was during our lunch break so after that I didn't stay in the class room during our lunch break.
Who may try appliqué again as I really like the designs

JanetD said...

I'm so glad you posted this, I have been wondering if the lessons had to be postponed with school starting. Lars had done awesome. I have been considering the purchase of all 4 Hargrave books. Seems like every month (at least) another friend wants me to teach them how to quilt. Since we don't have a good shop close enough I feel compelled to help them. It would be nice to have it laid out so I had less thinking to do after working a 40+ hour week!