Monday, March 31, 2014

Needleturn Applique: Fabrics Finalized (Mostly), First Stitching Attempts, and a Pointy Mystery

Applique Auditions
 Good Monday morning, everyone!  When I am hand stitching applique in public, it's common for people to say things like, "how long does that TAKE?" or "I would NEVER have the patience for that!"  If they only knew that it takes me at least as long to tweak the design and make all the fabric selections before I even pick up a needle!


Almost There...
Well, this is what my Learn Needleturn Applique project looks like at the moment.  I found a substitute for my original daffodil print dark brown fabric for the largest flower petals last week and the substitute fabric is so close to the original that I'm strongly considering using both fabrics in the quilt.  I went with a slightly lighter shade of brown Kona solid cotton for my stems and also for the larger of the two flower center circles (which you can't see right now because of the seam allowances I left on the rose buds).  I very carefully cut those rosebuds out of my Vervain drapery fabric, probably for nothing, because when I reread my Piece O'Cake directions for very small shapes, I see that I was supposed to leave at least 1" all the way around each shape and trim away the excess as I stitch it down.  [IMPORTANT: I would NOT recommend using most drapery fabrics in a quilting project, but this particular Vervain fabric is printed on a lightweight 100% cotton base with a very high thread count, similar to a batik that you would find in a quilt shop.  For my kitchen drapery panels, this fabric was lined with heavy sateen drapery lining and cotton flannel interlining to give it body.  Scalamandré and a few of the other high end fabric companies that sell through the design trade also have some gorgeous prints on fabrics suitable for quilting, but please don't try this with a drapery fabric from your local JoAnn's or Calico Corners.]  I'm not 100% decided on the rosebuds, though.  I love the idea of them, but I'm not sure I can execute them to look the way I'm envisioning.  For one thing, the rosebuds are not perfectly round, which means I won't be able to make them with my Perfect Circle templates and pre-stuff them with fused batting circles the way I did the berries on my Jingle project.  Also, the rosebuds were cut out of a fabric with an ivory background, and I'm planning to stitch them to a brown circle.  That means it's imperative that every single ivory thread around each rose bud is turned under and hidden, so if I try to stuff the rosebuds they will definitely shrink and distort.  Should I just stitch them flat?  Should I use my Perfect Circle templates with them anyway?  I may have to stitch a few test rosebuds onto scrap fabric and see how they come out.

 Then there are the stuffed berries that I added at the ends of my tulips.  I only made one sample stuffed berry to get an idea of how it would look, and I do think I like it.  I centered the tiny flower print on the berry so it sort of looks like the spot where the stem would have attached.  I'm pretty sure I like that, and I don't have to make all 12 berries for the block right now:

Test Berry, Fussy-Cut
 
Berry Fabric
If the rosebud idea doesn't pan out for the center of the large flower, I could always just put more of these little fussy-cut flower berries around the large flower centers as well. 

Of course, most of these fabric pieces that I traced and cut out for my "auditions" won't be used in the quilt at all.  I just cut snips of that coral and yellow polka dot fabric for the tulip centers for now, because those will be reverse appliqued from a much larger piece of fabric that will be trimmed away on the back side after stitching, and then I'm supposed to cut out the tulip afterwards, once I've already stitched the reverse applique window onto the brown fabric.  Those large stacked flower petals are going to be the same kind of situation -- I'll stitch the top piece to a square of the middle fabric, then cut out the petal shape from the middle fabric and stitch that to a square of the brown fabric, then cut the brown petal shape before I stitch the completed petal to my block background.  That way I can trim away the excess fabric from the back of each layer as I go, reducing a lot of the bulk I'll have to quilt through, but without having to trim away any of the backing fabric.

Does it sound like a waste of time and fabric to carefully cut out these shapes and then not use them?  It did to me, too, so I conducted a trial run of stitching one of the yellow petal layers to an already-cut-out coral fabric petal.  I figured that if it came out great, I'd use it in my first block, and if it DIDN'T come out great, I'd call it a Practice Petal.


First Attempt at Needle Turn Applique!
I finger-pressed just inside the chalk line of the yellow petal, and pinned it to my coral petal with Bohin applique pins placed about 1/4" inside the line, so I could swipe the seam allowance under with my needle without having to remove the pins.  Then the actual stitching was very similar to prepared applique methods, until I got to the point.

I think this petal came out pretty good for a first try, but the left side curve is not perfectly smooth.  I'm overdue for a manicure and my fingernails are long enough at the moment to annoy me when I'm hand stitching.  Also, in my zeal to achieve a nice, sharp point, I ended up making my point much more acute than what the actual pattern shape was supposed to be, as you can see when I lay the vinyl pattern overlay onto my appliqued petal unit:
My Point is Too Pointy!

How did THAT happen?!  It doesn't look BAD that my point is extra pointy, not when there is only one petal to look at.  However, I'm going to want all of my petals to be as identical as possible.  Also, I'm concerned about how this happened, because I was wearing reading glasses and working under a bright Ott light and was very carefully turning under the entire chalk line as I went around the petal.  How did my point end up extending past the chalk line, and where did the chalk line go?  Two possibilities -- either some of the chalk rubbed away as I was handling the piece, or -- more likely, I suspect -- I stretched the yellow petal along the bias edge as I was pinning and/or stitching it to the coral petal.

More thoughts about cutting out all of the shapes ahead of time: The Piece O'Cake book says that trying to applique tiny pieces of fabric off the block makes it unnecessarily difficult, and that's why they tell you to cut at least a 5" x 5" square of whatever the base applique piece is and then cut it down to the correct size and shape when you're ready to sew it down onto the next piece.  I was hoping I could get away with appliqueing my precut shapes together because these petals are pretty big to begin with.  However, I'm seeing other advantages to the Piece O'Cake method after my initial attempt.  I noticed that my coral petal edges wanted to fray a bit from handling during the stitching of the yellow petal.  Also, I noticed that the applique stitching of the smaller piece has a tendency to want to shrink the fabric you're appliqueing it to, so that waiting to trace and cut the larger piece until after the smaller piece is stitched down could enable greater accuracy.  Finally, I suspect that the coral petal's bias edges might have a tendency to want to stretch and misbehave if I cut it out ahead of time, versus stitching the yellow petal to a more stable, oversized rectangular piece of coral fabric and THEN cutting out the coral petal.  I was very conscious of these potential issues as I was stitching my practice petal, but really, for the rest of the quilt, why make things harder than they have to be?

So, I can use my leaves, my stems, my yellow petals, and the top circle at the center of my flower, but everything else needs to be recut after something else is stitched to it.

Question for those of you who have more applique experience than I do: Do you starch your applique fabrics?  My Piece O'Cake book recommended prewashing them, which I did, and indicated that a soft, prewashed fabric edge would be easier to turn under.  But now that I had that stretching/distortion at my point, I am wondering whether I could have stabilized the fabric with a light starching and still been able to turn the fabric edge under easily?

I'm linking up with the March NewFO Challenge on Cat Patches as well as Judy's Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times, and then I'm going to check out what everyone else is creating today.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Evolution of Applique Inspiration: Kim Diehl's Country Whig Rose Pattern

Country Whig Rose pattern by Kim Diehl from her Simple Blessings book, photo by Martingale
So, do those applique blocks look familiar to anyone?  Today I stumbled across Kim Diehl's original Country Whig Rose applique pattern, from her 2004 book Simple Blessings (which Martingale just rereleased in 2013, available here).  This is the pattern that inspired Joyce Stewart to make her Village Gardens quilt, the one I saw featured in the September 2006 Quilters Newsletter magazine:


Now that I've found Kim's original pattern, I can see how Joyce changed the pattern by adding a third layer to those large flower petals, changing the orientation of the leaves and berries on those little twig branches, and altering the proportions of the stacked circles that form the flower center.  She also chose to set her blocks on the diagonal and added those little bullseye appliques at the block intersections.  If you look carefully, you can see that Joyce's flower petals are more curved in the center rather than pointed like Kim's were, a detail that really appealed to me for the country French vibe of my inspiration fabric from Vervain.

Now in my version, inspired by Joyce's quilt, I've swapped the hearts out for vintage style tulips, added some berries, and am changing up the flower centers as well, adding berries or seeds or whatever in an outer ring:
My Version: No Hearts for Rebecca!
I'm thinking of setting my blocks straight like Kim's, but with alternate "blank" blocks for some special quilting.  What do you think?  Both Kim's and Joyce's quilts have a deliberate American country folksy appeal.  I'm going for more of an antique quilt style, like this gorgeous Whig Rose quilt that I found on Pinterest today:

Whig Rose variation by Lavinda Rudicil Rubottom, circa 1865

Kim's pattern was of course originally inspired by the many surviving 19th century Whig Rose applique quilts, of which Lavinda's quilt is just one variation. 

Of course, if I REALLY wanted my quilt to look like an antique, I would have used a solid white background fabric and a solid emerald green instead of insisting on combining as many print fabrics as I could possibly get away with.  Ah, well -- I seem to have an aversion to plain white fabric.  I'll have to work on that.  Anyway, I thought it was neat to see how this design evolved from Kim's original concept to inspire other quiltmakers, especially since I had only seen Joyce's quilt when I started designing my own version. 

Coincidentally, I discovered that another quilt blogger is currently using Kim Diehl's Country Whig Rose pattern in one of her current projects.  Click here to see how Karen of Quilts... etc. is using this applique pattern as an alternate block with red and black 9-Patch blocks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Design Wall Monday on Wednesday

Behold, Constructive Chaos!
So on March 10th I posted here and told you about a new applique project I'm cooking up.  Recall that this project originated as a small applique sample for practicing new (to me, anyway) needleturn applique methods.  I didn't like any of the cute projects in my book so I dug through back issues of Quilter's Newsletter magazine and found one applique pattern that I mostly liked except for the hearts, which I swapped out for the stylized tulips on a historical reproduction quilt from another issue.  That was nearly two weeks ago.

I photocopied and laminated my templates as per the Piece O'Cake book instructions, and that went fine except that next time I think I'll photocopy them onto a heavier weight paper to make them a smidge sturdier for tracing around.  I then traced my full-size pattern onto midweight upholstery vinyl with an ultra fine point Sharpie permanent marker, also as per the POC instructions.  But at that point, I decided that I really didn't like the bullseye effect of three stacked circles for the center of my big flower.  After playing around with it a bit more, I decided to make the largest and smallest circle, but not the middle one.  I'll put a ring of little berries or seeds or whatever around the center circle instead.  While I was at it, I added some more little berries at the ends of my tulips, because Bernie likes the little berries.  He has finally started painting my bedroom this week, so he deserves some berries!


Applique Pattern, Revised Yet Again

That's what my pattern looks like now.  I'm happy with it.  The block will finish at 16" x 16" so those stacked petals are pretty big.  I'll be stitching the stems first, then the large stacked petals, so I'll be starting out with gentle curves and not-too-severe inside and outside points.  Then I'll reverse applique the tulip centers before stitching down the tulips and leaves.  As for the circles, large and small, I'll probably still use my heat resistant Perfect Circles and More Perfect Circles templates and starch and press them, because I really like how nicely the circles turn out that way.  We'll see.

Fabric Auditions in Progress
Now what has really been bogging me down is the fabric selections.  I decided to piece my block background from print fabrics, and I'm using my kitchen drapery fabric (Monado in Havana colorway from Vervain) as a color and style inspiration.  I like the mood of it.  But I've been tracing templates and cutting little pieces out of all different fabrics, arranging them on my block background, scowling at the result, and then cutting new pieces out of different fabrics.  I thought that some solid fabrics might be better, so I ordered a few shades of Kona solids online... waited for them to arrive in the mail... cut them out... and rejected them!  Then when I finally settled on my favorite combination of fabrics for the large flower petals, I realized that the only chocolate brown in my stash that could work for the bottom petal was one that I bought several years ago in a fat quarter pack.  So I only had enough to do ONE block.  What's that, you say?  You thought I was just making a little sample block to learn a new technique?  No, now that I've invested so much time just with the pattern and the fabric selections, it will have to be more than one block, at least enough for a throw sized quilt that I can drape elegantly over the arm of the sofa in the family room.  My kids will throw it on the floor -- which is why it's called a throw.

New Fabric Left, Stash Fabric Right
This time I called in reinforcements, and Anders and I went to the Bernina quilt shop in Lowell, NC, Sew Much Fun.  We found the closest substitute possible for my brown print. 

But now I'm thinking I might want to do just one block using the original fabric, and use the new fabric for all the other blocks.  Sometimes in a vintage or antique quilt you'll notice that the quiltmaker ran out of a fabric and "made do" by substituting something similar.  Sometimes quiltmakers would deliberately set one block upside down, an intentional mistake symbolizing that no one is perfect.  Anyway, I cut four perfect petals and one little tulip out of my brown daffodil print fabric so far, and I'd rather not throw them in the scrap bin if I can make them work in my quilt.  So, we'll see.

I still have only the vaguest idea which fabrics I'm going to use for the circles and seed/berries in the center of my flower.  After I recut the rest of my leaves from the darker green print fabric, the flower centers will be the last item on the agenda. 

I'm linking up to Judy's Design Wall Monday post because the linky is still open, and I can.  I'm also linking up to Esther's Works In Progress Wednesday, since it IS Wednesday, after all. 



Monday, March 10, 2014

No Hearts for Rebecca: A New Applique Project!

Frankensteined Applique Pattern from Back Issues of QNM
Good Monday Morning!  I've been suffering from HSWS lately (Hand Stitching Withdrawal Syndrome) ever since I finished the applique blocks for my Jingle BOM project.  I learned a lot with that first applique project (no, it's not finished yet -- still needs some pieced borders, top assembled, and quilted) and by the end, I felt pretty comfortable with the starch and press prepared applique method.  However, it took eons to prepare all those little applique shapes that way, and several times I had to go out in the world with no applique project to work on because I didn't have the next pieces prepared and ready to stitch down. 

I've been reading several books on different hand applique methods (reviews to come later, possibly, if I get around to it).  My hope was that I could learn to do "old school" applique like they did in the 19th century, no irons or prep work required, just trace around the templates onto fabric and turn the raw fabric edges under with your needle as you go.  The best books I found on this needle turn applique method were the Piece O'Cake Designs sampler books by Becky Goldsmith and Linda Jenkins.  Their instructions are very clear and straightforward, and they even have some great video tutorials on their web site here.  The only problem is that the cutesy off-kilter style of the projects in the book don't resonate with me.  I don't hate them, I just don't love them enough to want to make them, you know what I mean?

So I turned to my Giant Binder of Magazine Clippings, compiled over the last decade or so, looking for a pattern with similar shapes but more formal symmetry.  I found this Village Gardens quilt, made by Joyce Stewart, that I had torn out of the September 2006 issue of Quilter's Newsletter magazine.  These are large, 16" blocks, with larger applique pieces than the ones in my Jingle project, so I think they should work for a beginner's foray into needle turn applique, don't you? 

The only problem was the cutesy little hearts.  I HATE cutesy little hearts.  So I went back to my binder full of clippings and found a pointy flower element in a different pattern for an historic reproduction quilt, very similar size and scale to the heart motif that I can't live with, and I swapped it out, creating my own little Frankensteined applique block pattern:
Swapping the Heart on the Right for the Flower on the Left
Remember that children's book, No Roses for Harry?  Well, No Hearts for Rebecca! 
 
So far, all I have done is create this full-size master pattern from my photocopied magazine pages, marked the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal centering lines, and pieced one block background together:
Pieced Applique Background, Ready to Go
I am proceeding with no plan except that I am going to make one block using the Piece O'Cake needle turn instructions and see if I can achieve the smooth curves and accuracy that I want that way.  Of course I bought WAY more fabric than I could ever use in just one block...
New Fabric Goodies, Prewashed and Ready to Play
I was experimenting with a new method when I shopped for this project.  I brought a scrap of my kitchen drapery fabric with me, which I really love, and then selected fabrics in shades pulled directly from the drapery fabric as well as brighter and muddier shades of those colors.  I ended up with a VERY different assortment than the bright, in-your-face fabrics that normally insist on coming home with me. 
 
Inspiration Print Fabric with Coordinates: Monado in Havana, Vervain

(And no, the fabrics are not made in the U.S.A.  I didn't notice that the ruler was in the picture until I posted it just now, and I'm too lazy to go back and crop it out).

So if this trial block goes well, and I make more of them, then whatever those blocks turn into should look great in my kitchen or in my adjoining keeping/family room, which has the same drapery fabric.  And if the block comes out terrible and I wad it up into a ball or torture it as a free-motion quilting sample, then I'll just have to use all that fabric for something else!


Hope Chest Prints, Laundry Basket Quilts Layer Cake for Moda
By the way, I bought one of those precut "layer cake" fabric packs (precut 10" x 10" squares all from the same fabric collection) for this project because there were a couple of prints in the layer cake pack that I really liked and my quilt shop didn't have yardage in stock from this collection yet.  I've never bought precut fabric before, and I prewashed the squares with my yardage and then ironed and attempted to straighten them.  How annoying to discover that several of the fabrics were cut severely off grain!  It's not a big deal for my purposes, since I'm planning to cut the squares up into Swiss cheese for applique shapes, but the whole point of precuts is supposed to be that you can sew them together right out of the package or cross-cut them into triangles, etc. without fabric waste.  But I found that when I prewashed my layer cake squares, even though they were all Moda fabrics from the same Hope Chest Prints collection, they shrank at different rates and shrank more in one direction than the other.  If I was using these fabrics for piecing, I'd lose even more fabric from the original 10" square because I would have to straighten the grain and true up the sides.  So I won't rule out layer cakes as a way to buy fabric for applique, but I won't be purchasing fabric this way for a pieced quilt project.

I showed you what I'm designing on my work table today instead of on my design wall, but I'm still going to link up with Design Wall Monday at Judy's blog.  I always love to see what all those other creative quilters are up to!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

In Which Bernie Masters the Art of Cornice Upholstery

Built-Ins and Window Cornice By Bernie
So, we made some progress on Lars's New and Improved Bedroom last weekend that I wanted to share with you.  I finished this quilt for his bed in September 2012, and then repainted his bedroom this darker shade of blue about a year later.  Excuse me -- I SELECTED the paint color, and my darling husband did the painting.  Bernie also made the built-ins and the window seat to my specifications, designed specifically to house Lars's LEGO collection.  Previously, his bedroom floor was a labyrinth of assembled LEGO sets and no one but Lars and Spiderman could get through the room without tripping over Hogwarts or knocking over the Millenium Falcon.  It's nice to see the carpet again!

I finished the boxed cushion for the window seat a couple weeks ago and I made the welt cord for the cornice and seamed scraps of fabric together for the cornice face at that time, but Bernie built the wood cornice frame and upholstered it for me.  The only sewing I loathe more than upholstery cushions is the non-sewing, back-breaking, heavy-lifting-pneumatic-stapler-cornice-flipping kind.  But I think the cornice was needed to make the room look "finished."

I have a vague, half-hearted impulse to make some throw pillows to cozy up the window seat, but it's hard to get motivated when I know Lars is just going to chew the pillow trim and destroy them.  I have to remember that when I decorate the kids' rooms, I'm only PARTLY doing it for their benefit -- it's mostly for MY benefit, because it's MY house and I want it to look nice.  Which is why the budget for Lars's bedroom was pretty much nonexistent, making use of some fabric scraps left over from a client's project several years back.  There are several very carefully matched seams in that cornice, what my drapery workroom would call "creating the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes" when the designer has not ordered enough fabric to complete the job.  Hah!

Happy Thursday, everyone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

JUBILATION!!! She's Sewing Again!

1927 Ticker Tape Parade for Charles Lindbergh's Transatlantic flight, photo from NPR
Well, I dropped my sickly 750  QE sewing machine off at my Bernina dealer yesterday morning, and told him that she was looping and could not get past the startup screen.  I asked him to go ahead and do the annual cleaning/maintenance and firmware update at the same time, and he indicated that it might be the end of the week before I got my machine back, which sounded more than reasonable to me.
 
Imagine my surprise today when the shop called to tell me that my machine was already finished and ready for pickup!  When I got to the store, my dealer explained that he ended up staying late last night to work on a number of machines and mine was one of them.  He also DID NOT CHARGE ME A DIME -- not even for the routine maintenance and cleaning, which I had been expecting to pay for, because it's the first one for this machine and he said the first "well-baby" visit is always on the house. 
 
I know that he won't always be able to service my machine and get it back to me within 24 hours, and not every service call will be free, but still -- how I feel about that big purchase, and how calmly I'm able to handle it when things go wrong with the machine, has so much to do with what a great dealer I have.  I don't have to panic because I know that whatever it is, he is going to take my problem seriously and resolve it fairly and as quickly as possible.  This dealer is conveniently located about 5 minutes from my home, in a busy upscale shopping center that I know for a fact charges hefty rents (so it costs my dealer more to do business there). 

There is another Bernina dealer located in the middle of nowhere, about 45 minutes away, and I know that her prices are lower than my just-around-the-corner dealer, but that initial purchase price isn't everything.  Some people on the Bernina 7 Series Yahoo users' group have reported that their dealers are charging them $100 or more just to do their firmware updates, which my dealer does at no charge.  Some dealers tell customers that their problems are all "user error," or that they are just too picky, or they are using the "wrong" thread, etc.  Some dealers honestly don't seem to know what they are doing and seem not just unwilling but UNABLE to diagnose and correct the issues that can crop up with high-tech machines.

I would like to remind those who are in the market for a new sewing machine that you should evaluate the dealer as thoroughly as the machine under consideration, whether you're looking at a Bernina or at another brand.  Sewing machine dealerships are independent businesses and they are not all the same.  Some just sell you a machine, while others throw in a tremendous amount of service, education, and knowledge as a value-add.  The difference between an outstanding, knowledgeable dealer with great customer service versus an inexperienced or indifferent dealer can make all the difference in the world in whether you love your new machine for years to come or end up feeling like a fool for getting suckered into buying it.
 
We all have a tendency to tell everyone when we have had unsatisfactory shopping experiences.  I think it's just as important to spread the word and let others know when you receive outstanding customer service.  So, for those of you in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, my wonderful dealer is Berry at Creative Sewing & Vacuum in the Stonecrest shopping center, Ballantyne area.  He also has locations in Shelby and in Hickory.  :-) 

Thanks, Berry, and happy stitching, everyone!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rebecca and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: In Which 'Nina is Indisposed

Cartoon Sourced from Pro Sewing Machine Doctor here
Yesterday started off with tripping over Lars's backpack while setting my alarm in the dark as we were heading out to church.  Then later in the day I sustained a blistering burn to my left thumb from my steam iron as I was attempting to straighten the grain of newly washed fabric for my stash, and then after that I twisted my ankle on an uneven sidewalk slab while walking my dogs with my husband.  But worst of all, my Bernina 750 sewbaby would not boot up when it was time for Anders to work on his quilt.  She was working beautifully a few days ago, when I finished up Lars's window seat cushion, but yesterday the startup screen just cycled on and off over and over again and the machine would not start.

Boo hiss!  I know from the message boards that, when others have had this issue, it has taken their techs about 10 minutes to solve it by reloading firmware in most cases, but of course yesterday was Sunday and the shop was closed.  I have had this machine for 13 months now, so I was planning to bring it in for an annual "well baby" cleaning and maintenance soon, anyway, but she picked a lousy day to get sick and refuse to cooperate!  I only had about an hour and a half carved out for one-on-one sewing time with Anders, and it will be two weeks before it's his turn to work in the sewing room again.  He's quilting straight lines on his quilt with the walking foot on the Bernina, and I don't have a walking foot for the Featherweights so we couldn't just use another machine.  If I had known ahead of time that Miss Nina would be indisposed, I could have planned and set up for a new project for Anders to work on.  Instead, he watched episodes of I Love Lucy and The Big Bang Theory on the television while I scalded myself with the iron.  NOT how I had planned my afternoon to go!

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