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!


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I did 6.5 inch pineapple blocks once I think I got to about 24 of them and called it quits and put them in a wall hanging - I had meant to do queen size LOL

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Karen! That’s why I’ve already decided to switch off between projects, so I don’t burn out on the pineapples before I finish. I really, REALLY want this to end up on my bed, and now that I spent $80 to print the foundations and plus what I spent on all of the fat quarter packs and jelly rolls of fabric that I bought specifically for this project, I’m pretty well committed to finishing it as a California King. Eventually... ;-)

Barbara Sindlinger said...

I've yet to make a pineapple quilt - on my bucket list. I like the fact that these blocks are so big-but sorry you had to spend so much for the copies. I've learned in paper piecing to use a wood roller (like they use for wallpapering) to press the seams until the end.

I love how you're playing with your EQ. I have EQ5 and don't play with it enough.

Carrie P. said...

Pineapple blocks are so neat. Love the fabrics you are using.
Oh, your bear paw quilt is going to be fabulous no matter what way you set it.

Barb R said...

Rebecca, I put my foundation paper together with paper backed fusible web. I save everything and it turns out there really IS a good use for those little strips of leftover fusible! The paper and web don't shrink at all.

Hope this tip can save somebody a trip to Kinkos.

Barb in Ottawa

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Barb! The challenge with these blocks was the size -- I had a lot of difficulty getting those four 8 1/2" x 11" pages perfectly aligned and then they would shift ever so slightly as I was taping them together. Since it took me 45 minutes to get just one block taped together and I have 36 blocks in the quilt, it would have taken me 27 HOURS to put the blocks together one at a time, regardless of whether I attached them with tape or with fusible web. And I just don't think I would be able to get them all identical. Also, I don't really use fusible web so I don't have a supply of scraps. But thanks for the tip -- I'll keep it in mind for other projects down the road.

Thanks for stopping by,

Anonymous said...

I just happened upon you and I love how natural you explain things. I’m starting 12.5” paper pieced pineapple blocks. Still cutting fabric stage. But I’ve been brain storming (scarey lol) about not being able to butt up the seams. Do you think every other block, I could iron seams in? I’m just trying to picture if that would even work. Thank you! Virginia

Rebecca Grace said...

Hello, Anonymous Friend! I am just now seeing your question. If you're foundation paper piecing your pineapple blocks like I did mine, you really need to work from the center out with all of the seams going away from the center patch of each block. I think that, if you tried to make a block with all seams pressed towards the center, you'd create way more frustration for yourself from bulk issues etc. I have three suggestions for matching up those seams from block to block that you're worried about: 1. First option is to just not worry about it! When you look at magnificent antique pineapple log cabin quilts in museum collections, you will see that their seams do not match up perfectly and it doesn't detract from their beauty at all. 2. If matching seams is important to you, then just take your time and do some basting or pinning with each seam. Something like Roxanne's Glue Baste It, or Bohin's fabric glue stick, will allow you to line up those seams perfectly and secure them with a little glue in the seam allowance (heat set to dry the glue with your iron before stitching) and then they won't shift on you when you stitch the seam at your sewing machine. Downside of glue basting is that you will need to fiddle with pulling the glued together seam allowances apart again after stitching if you want to press those seams open for whatever reason. You can also match the seams with lots of extra fine pins instead of glue like I did. With the first few blocks you join together, sew with a longer than normal basting stitch first until you can check that the seams match nicely and then restitch with a normal length. Remember that whichever method you use, it will seem unbelievably time consuming with the first blocks but then you will get faster and better at it the more you do. 3. I think you might love Option Three! Check out this blog post showing the pineapple log cabin quilt that I long arm quilted for my client Ramona: Ramona has thin sashing strips between her pineapple log cabin quilts, which looks gorgeous AND totally eliminates the need to match patchwork seams from one block to another! Whichever method you choose, I wish you all the best with your quilt project and I hope you will send me a picture when it's finished! Happy quilting! :-)