Monday, June 30, 2014

Design Wall Monday: Pineapple Paper Piecing and EQ7 Magic

First Paper Pieced Pineapple Block Completed, 17 3/4"
Happy Monday!  I continued to work on my first pineapple block in odd moments over the weekend, and finished up the first of 36 blocks this morning.  I love how it came out!  The paper piecing was super easy and fun, and what took the longest was selecting and cutting the fabric for each strip.  You can read more about that process here in case you missed that post. 

Now, for the magic: After finishing this first block, I wanted to get a sneak peak of what the finished quilt might look like.  This quilt will be fake scrappy, as most of my quilts are (meaning that I mimic the look of a thrifty, dig-through-the-scrap-bin quilt by purchasing lots of NEW fabric and cutting it up into little pieces for my projects), but I'll be using the same coral red fabric for the centers and corners of my blocks, and similar combinations of neutrals, greens, and blues.  So I photographed my block from above, cropped out the seam allowances, and used my nifty new EQ7 quilt design software to resize the block photo and duplicate it into a quilt design.  This is what my finished quilt will look like:

Sneaky Peaky: My FUTURE Finished Pineapple Log Cabin Quilt, 104" x 104"
How cool is that?  This is almost exactly what I had envisioned for this project, so I can proceed as planned.  But if I didn't like the sneak peak, I would be able to make changes to my fabric choices after just one "practice" block, rather than having to make four or more blocks in real life and then realizing I didn't like the overall effect after hanging them on the design wall. 

So I'd say the quilting software was a really good purchase.  I've only watched a couple of the tutorial videos and played around with it a bit through trial-and-error so far, so I've only scratched the surface of its capabilities, but I can tell already that I'll probably be using EQ7 in some capacity for all of my future projects. 

I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times, as well as the NewFO linky party at Cat Patches.  I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been working on as well.  Happy stitching!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Pursuit of Paper Pieced Pineapple Perfection

Pineapple Block In Progress: 33 Pieces Sewn, 64 Pieces (and 35 more blocks) to go!

I forced myself to finish those wretched throw pillows last week.  I'll show them to you in a few days, but right now I don't feel like looking at them! 

I rewarded myself for all of that grunt sewing with some pineapple play time.  In case you missed my earlier post about this project, I'm making the 17 3/4" paper pieced pineapple blocks using a free pattern that I downloaded here from Fons & Porter.  Now that I've worked out a few kinks, the first pineapple block is coming together very smoothly.  Fons & Porter labeled this a "challenging" project, but I think it's ideal for a beginner paper piecer like me -- the only "challenging" part was figuring out how to work the large format printer at the FedEx print shop... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

FedEx To the Rescue!
Since most of our printers can only handle 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of paper, the Fons & Porter pattern prints out in six sections and the instructions tell you to "join them together."  But they don't tell you HOW to join them together!  At first, I printed out the foundation pattern sections on special paper piecing foundation paper and carefully taped them together with Scotch Magic Tape, aligning the registration marks as accurately as possible.  This was a pain in the butt.  Then, when I started paper piecing my pineapple block, I only managed to get five fabric pieces sewn down before I realized that the Scotch Magic Tape was shrinking from the heat of my iron, distorting my foundation patter so that it was wavy instead of flat.  I didn't want to reduce the temperature setting of my iron because I needed every seam allowance to lie flat like a pancake and I know I'm not supposed to use steam or starch with foundation paper patterns.  So I printed off another block in sections, carefully taped them all together, and headed out to my local FedEx print shop.

Default Printer Settings that Don't Work
The large format printer at the FedEx shop prints onto rolls of paper that are trimmed internally to fit the size of whatever you're printing.  The girl at the FedEx shop was helpful and friendly, but she only knew the basics of how to work the large format printer and it took me about an hour of trial and error before I figured out that, in order to get copies of the entire foundation pattern with nothing cut off and a little extra white space around the outside line, I needed to feed my original into the machine perfectly centered and I needed to change the Width setting on the printer from "Auto" to "24.0" Bond.  Even after a 10% off coupon it cost about $80 to print 38 of these giant foundation patterns (36 for my California King sized quilt, plus two extras in case of oopses), and the printer paper is a little heavier than the specialty foundation piecing papers sold in quilt shops, but I think the tradeoff will be more than worth it.  No more fussing with tape and hoping my alignment is identical from block to block, and I have all of my pineapple foundations printed and neatly trimmed, ready to go. 
Making a Start: Size 90/14 Needle, Open Toe Presser Foot, and 50/3 Cotton Thread

Back in my studio, I set up my Bernina 750 QE for paper piecing.  I'm using my 20D presser foot with Dual Feed engaged, my straight stitch plate, centered needle position, and piecing straight stitch #1326.  I'm using regular weight 50/3 Mettler cotton thread instead of Aurifil to make my seams a little stronger, since I'll be stressing them by ripping all of the paper away eventually.  I started off using the 90/14 Jeans needle (pictured above) that was in my machine from my last project, but when that got dull I switched to a 90/14 Schmetz Quilting needle and saw improvement in my stitch quality right away, so that's what I'd recommend.  Other than shortening the stitch length to 1.5 and reducing the top tension to 3.25, those were the only adjustments I had to make -- and I was pleased to see that, when I saved the altered stitch in my machine's Personal Program menu, the tension adjustments were saved as well as the altered stitch length.  Since the pineapple block is sewn outward from the center, I'm bringing my bobbin thread up at the beginning of each seam just like I would if I was quilting, and then I use my machine's automatic thread trimmer (the scissors button on the front of the machine) to automatically trim my threads at the end of each seam. 

I have very little paper piecing experience, and if I can do this, anyone can.  I made one paper pieced star block from Carol Doake's book, and that's the full extent of my paper piecing experience.  So, if making a paper pieced pineapple block was truly too challenging for a beginner, I would be having a terrible time right now.  In fact, the pineapple block is really easy to paper piece because it's all done with strips that are all cut to the same width.  There are no fussy little triangles that you might accidentally sew down with their points going in the wrong direction, and you don't have to stop and think about how much to overcut each piece and how to position it before you can sew it in place.  The only reason this is slow going for me in the beginning is because I want a very scrappy look for this quilt and I have got LOTS of fabric strewn all over my studio -- I spend at least 15 minutes deciding which fabric I want to use next, and then I have to press the fabric and cut off a 1 1/2" strip. 

Check Fabric Alignment Just Prior to Stitching
The sewing itself is so easy that it's mindless.  I don't even have to pin anything, I just sit down at the machine, place the strip where it needs to go, flip the foundation pattern carefully and slide it under the needle, peek underneath to make sure my raw fabric edges are still more or less aligned (see photo at left), and then sew down the dotted line.  With paper piecing, there is no measuring after every seam or worrying about whether your seam allowance is accurate.  As long as you sew right on the lines, every little point comes out perfectly every single time. 

So if any of you have ever wanted to make a pineapple quilt of your own, I encourage you to give it a try.  There are a lot of smaller paper pieced pineapple block patterns available if you don't want to deal with printing blocks as big as mine.  Alex Anderson has one in her book, Paper Piecing with Alex Anderson, that can be printed on regular sized paper. 

I love how my pineapple block looks so far.  As I mentioned earlier, this quilt is destined for my master bedroom and it's going to need 36 of these 17 1/2" pineapple blocks in order to comfortably fit a California King bed, factoring in the inevitable shrinkage that happens during quilting and the initial laundering.  That's why it's nice to have several projects -- UnFinished Objects (UFOs) or Works In Progress (WIPs) to rotate between, so I can switch to a different project when I get tired of paper piecing strips.

Speaking of WIPs, remember the Bear Paw blocks I was working on?  I may have changed my mind about setting my 10 1/2" bear paw blocks on point with plain white alternate blocks as I had originally intended.  I did this mockup in EQ7 quilt design software (birthday gift from my sons!) and it looks kind of boring:

Option 1

Of course, I'm still learning how to use the design software and I have not yet figured out how to adjust the scale of an imported fabric image -- that's why my LouLou Thi Clippings fabric looks like an old-fashioned granny floral (no offense to you hip and stylish grannies out there).  My bear paw blocks look much better in real life:

I bought some hand dyed marbled fabrics from Marjorie Lee Bevis that I really love with the LouLou Thi print.  They remind me of an artist's palette, with all the oil paints swirled and blended to paint the focal print.  I know I'm going to make some 3" sawtooth star blocks out of the marbled fabrics for this quilt, and initially I was thinking of using the stars for a border.  But then I played some more in EQ and came up with this:

Option 2

Again, I'm still learning EQ and haven't yet figured out how to get my sawtooth border sized the way I want it, or how to get rid of the gap at the corners of my ribbon border.  But I kind of like the look of straight set bear paw blocks with 3" sashing and 3" sawtooth star sashing posts.  So I'm going to make up sixteen sawtooth stars so I can play with them on my design wall and figure out which version I like best. 

This post has ended up MUCH longer than what I had planned to write, so I'm going to sign off now and step away from the computer.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's Paper Piece Some Giant Pineapples!

18" Paper Pieced Pineapple Blocks!  Pattern FREE from Fons & Porter, available here
 Okay, so this is not technically on my design wall yet, but it's definitely on my mind.  I want to make a California king sized pineapple quilt.  I'm envisioning this in bright, cheerful colors, with lots of soft blues and greens to coordinate with the drapery panels that I've been promising procrastinating to make for my master bedroom.  (More on that later).  I spent some time perusing my quilting books, magazine clippings, and on Pinterest (you can see the antique pineapple quilts that are inspiring me here on my Pinterest Pineapple Quilt board) and decided that my favorite pineapple quilts were the antique ones with lots of very skinny fabric strips sewn into very large blocks.  I also determined that it will drive me nuts if my seams don't match up very well when the blocks come together, so I'll be paper piecing this. 

Gorgeous Pineapple Quilt from Flickr via Pinterest, Maker Not Identified

Modern Pineapple? Think Again -- Mennonite, circa 1880-1900, Maker Unknown
Now that I've gotten everyone excited about pineapple log cabin quilts, you'll be happy to know that I found a free foundation piecing pattern download from Fons & Porter here, which prints out in six sections that you connect to create one very BIG foundation piecing pattern.  All thoughts of doing this project on one of my vintage Singer Featherweight cuties evaporated as soon as I had taped the pattern pieces together, because this giant block seems to have been created with Big 'Nina 750 in mind.  Look how nicely that block fits under my behemoth of a Bernina!

18" Paper Piecing Pattern Fits Great Under the B 750 QE
Fontenay Vase in Porcelain, F. Schumacher
I am only at liberty to start yet another new quilt because I managed to disentangle myself from having to make the drapery panels that I promised to sew for my master bedroom.  I ordered the fabric six months ago, and then I stuck the bolt of fabric in a corner behind a door and thought of a million other things to do instead of making drapery panels.  In all fairness, it HAS been a very busy spring what with everything going on with the kids, the fundraiser quilt for Anders' fifth grade class, et cetera, but really, I just did not feel like wrestling with yards and yards of drapery fabric (grunt sewing) when I could be blissfully playing with bits and pieces of quilting fabric instead (happy sewing). So I finally dropped that lovely Schumacher linen print fabric (shown at left) off at my drapery workroom last week at my darling husband's insistence.  He said, "Do you even REMEMBER the last time you made drapery panels, or have you blocked it out -- like childbirth?"  ;-) 

Bernie reminded me that my current studio is not set up for working with long, multiple width drapery panels, and he said he'd rather pay my drapery workroom to make them than be forced to live with me while I'M making them.  I had nothing to say to that because I know it's true.  I loathe making drapery panels! 
So I'll make a couple of throw pillows out of this lovely F. Schumacher Betwixt woven geometric fabric instead, and then I'll starting a new quilt (or three).
Betwixt in Peacock/Seaglass, F. Schumacher

Meanwhile, back on my ACTUAL design wall, the nine bear paw blocks are done and they are staring at me reproachfully:

Bear Paw Blocks Finished, but Now What?
I love the blocks, and I know they are going on point like this, but I am kicking around a few different sashing and border options in the back of my head before I commit to a setting.  I just can't bring myself to sew them together just with plain white alternate blocks like I had originally intended.  Stay tuned...

I'm going to go ahead and link up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times, because it's still Monday (barely!).  I can't wait to see what everyone else is up to this week!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Anders' First Quilt Finish

Anders' First Quilt is FINISHED!
It's been crazy around here for the last few months, and I realized that I neglected to post a photo of my son Anders with his finished first quilt.  He pieced the blocks on Judy, his 1951 Singer Featherweight, and then straight line quilted it on my 'Nina 750 QE with the walking foot and monofilament invisible nylon thread.  The quilt has Minky backing (Anders had seen me use Minky for baby quilt backing and he INSISTED on Minky for his quilt) and I bound it for him with prepackaged satin binding.  As you can tell from the photo, he's pretty pleased with himself.

Anders started this project back in August of last year, working on it for an hour or so every other weekend in between school work, violin practice, video games, LEGO construction, and the many other pursuits that occupy the free time of boys.  He was sometimes discouraged by how long it was taking, but he stuck with it and now has a finished quilt to show for his efforts.  I'm very proud of him!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Do You Mean, My Kid Can't See?!

Glasses for Lars!
So I got this email last Friday from the school, telling me that Lars passed a routine hearing test but FAILED his vision screening because he can't see ANYTHING at a distance out of his right eye -- he can't even read the giant E on the very top of the eye chart.  They asked him whether he was able to read the notes on the board in the classroom, and he replied that he could read the teachers' handwriting on the white board, but when they put up typed PowerPoint presentations all the typed information was blurry.  He never mentioned it because he thought it was normal.

All of Lars's hearing and vision screenings when he was little were always normal, so it's quite a shocker to discover a significant visual impairment at the end of 7th grade.  Obviously this has affected his depth perception as well, which might explain why Lars has never been able to catch a ball no matter how patiently my husband has tried to coach him.  Poor kiddo!

Bernie whisked Lars off to the eye doctor first thing Monday morning, and the eye doctor confirmed that Lars needs to be wearing glasses full time and also said that, since Lars's left eye has been compensating for so long, he may even need some kind of vision therapy to "retrain" the left eye.  I helped Lars pick out his frames Monday afternoon and even though they told me it would take 1-2 weeks for the glasses to come in, we were delighted when the eye doctor alerted us that the glasses were ready to be picked up yesterday after school.

And what does Lars think of all this?  He says "WOW!!  There are SQUARES on roofs!"  Apparently he could never make out individual shingles before.  I can't believe it took so long for us to realize he had a vision problem, but better late than never!