Friday, July 25, 2014

The Emperor's Invisible Quilting: A Sewing Machine Cover for the Bernina 750 QE, Part One

Tedious, Unrewarding, Utterly Invisible Quilting In Progress
No, I have not been away on a glamorous vacation during the two and a half weeks since I last posted.  I have merely been busy cleaning, organizing, and shedding things (especially hoards of fabric remnants) that I don't really want, will never use, but that have been taking up valuable real estate in my office and studio.  Meanwhile, I concocted a scheme for what I thought would be a "quick and easy" project to sandwich between all the big, long haul projects I've got going on.  I started making a dust cover for Big 'Nina, my 750 QE.

Sewing machines don't like dust, so you're supposed to cover them up when they're napping, just like little birdies.  My Bernina 750 actually did come with a dust cover for this purpose, but first of all it's UGLY, and second of all, it doesn't fit the machine when I have it lowered into a custom cabinet with an accessory thread stand attached to the back -- and that's how my 'Nina ALWAYS takes her naps.
See? The Bernina Dust Cover is Too Tall for a Recessed Machine

New Cover Will Need a Cutout for my Thread Stand

If you do a google search, you can find LOTS of creative tutorials for making elaborate patchwork sewing machine covers that are embellished with decorative stitches, ribbons, buttons and beads.  My idea was supposed to be simpler -- no pockets, no frills, just a streamlined version of the ugly Bernina cover, about four inches shorter and with a cutout at the back.  I found the perfect fabric in my stash:

'Nina Tries On the Fabric, Kaffe Fassett's Millefior

The fabric looks good on 'Nina, and more importantly, it looks good in my studio:

Fabric In Situ
It even goes with my coffee cup!  But it's a quilting weight cotton, and I wanted to give it more bulk, body, and stiffness so it would hold its shape instead of draping limply over the sewing machine like an old sheet.  So I decided to quilt it, densely but unobtrusively, so as to give some stiffness without detracting from the fun, busy print.

Since I'm not working from a pattern, I took some measurements of my machine and did a mockup out of the cheapo muslin first. Once I checked the fit and marked the location and size of the cutout for the thread stand attachment, I ripped out the basting stitches holding the muslin cover together so I can use my mockup as pattern pieces.  My plan is to quilt the snot out of a square yard of my Millefiore fabric, and then cut it up and use it just as I would use a fabric that came quilted from the mill.  That way I don't have to worry about predicting exactly how much shrinkage happens during the quilting process.

I had some fusible polyester craft batting left over from a purse project my mom made several years ago.  Since I WANT stiffness for this project, that's what I used for the batting.  Plain old bargain bin white muslin for the backing, which no one will ever see, and a 40 weight cotton variegated machine quilting thread from YLI in the needle with 50/3 red cotton thread in the bobbin, size 90 Quilting needle.

As I said, the quilting is fairly dense because I'm deliberately trying to make my quilted fabric stiff enough to hold its shape nicely.  As usual, I vastly underestimated how long it would take, and how boring it would be, to execute this quilting plan.  Behold, the right side, after hours of stitching and at least THREE entire gargantuan 7 Series bobbins' worth of thread:

The Emperor's New Quilting, Which We Can't See Because We're All Fools

You can't see anything, can you?  Just a bumpy texture.  That's exactly how I wanted it to look and feel...  But you can tell how much time I've put into this when you look at the BACK side:
From the Back Side: What the Smart People See

Sharp-eyed smart people will notice that the back of this piece is very messy, with thread tails and knots where I stopped and started and some lint fuzzies caught in the bobbin stitches.  I made an executive decision to use my auto thread cutter and ignore the resulting thread tails and other issues on the back of the quilt because it's NOT a quilt, and this is going to be on the INSIDE of the sewing machine cover where no one will see it.  So this has turned into yet another example illustrating that I am incapable of coming up with ANY ideas that are either quick or simple.  As you can see, I'm practicing several different free motion quilting fills, and that's good for me whether it's invisible or not because quilting is all about developing muscle memory, like dancing.  Hopefully not TOO much like dancing, though, because I'm not much of a dancer...  I can't work on this for longer than an hour at a time because it's repetitive and it's boring to be putting in a lot of quilt stitches and then stand up from the machine and not be able to see any of the stitching, but there's still SO MUCH left to be quilted...

Thus the quilting continues.  I'll blog about my machine cover again when I've finished custom quilting the yardage.

Meanwhile, I have been attending the boys' summer drama camp performances, Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr. last week and Anders' Good Kings Come in Small Packages performance this evening.  Lars has been away at sleepaway camp with his confirmation class compadres all week long, so we're looking forward to having him home again tomorrow.  Also, Quilt Week is coming to Charlotte next week, and although I wasn't planning far enough ahead to preregister, I am planning to pop over there and try to get into an EQ7 workshop and perhaps a few lectures if space is still available.  Wish me luck!

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Pineapple Quilt Update

2 Down, 34 Blocks to Go
Happy Monday, everyone!  As you can see, I completed my second pineapple log cabin block today.  Finishing at 17 3/4" square, with 97 pieces per block, it's not exactly a "Quilt In A Day" project.  Someone asked me how long it took to piece one of these blocks, and I thought maybe 3 hours?  It may be more like 5 hours.  It's hard to know for sure because I usually only spend an hour or two at a time on it, and I have to keep getting up to retrieve dirty Kleenexes from my dogs' mouths, move laundry from the washer to the dryer, et cetera.  Suffice to say that, if I kept track of exactly how long it took me to make each quilt, no one would EVER be allowed to touch them!

Once I had the first pineapple block done and knew I was happy with my fabric choices (and I knew the paper piecing method was working out as well), I spent two or three days savagely slicing up perfectly good fabric into 1 1/2" strips.  Then I had to order a bit more yardage, because a couple of the Kaffe Fassett Collective prints from the jelly roll of precut strips were REALLY good for this project, and I knew I wanted more of them. 

The actual sewing of the second block went faster since the strips were ready to sew.  And now that's two blocks down, and 34 more blocks to go for a California King.

In other news, I took my 13-year-old son for his first pedicure this morning, with Grammy and Grampa (it was Grampa's first pedicure, too).  Lars REALLY liked the massage chair at the nail salon:

Lars: "We need one of these chairs at home, Mom!!"

I felt that Lars deserved some pampering after scrounging around in the wilderness for three days with his father, being chased by bears (sort of).  You can read about those adventures here if you're interested -- Lars loves comments.  :-)

I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times and to Esther's WOW: WIPs on Wednesday.  Have a great day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Goldilocks and the Eensy-Weensy Sawtooth Star

3" Sawtooth Star Sashing Post Block, Paper Pieced
1 1/2 hours of aggravation yields ONE 3" paper pieced star
Having finished my first pineapple log cabin block the other day, I decided to switch gears and go back to the bear paw quilt yesterday.  I had this great idea about setting the blocks with white sashing and 3" sawtooth star sashing posts, so I spent an hour and a half paper piecing a 3" sawtooth star.  I hated every minute of it.  First of all, I was experimenting with vellum for my foundation paper, and to my dismay, the vellum curled up immediately from the heat of my iron.  This made it really difficult to keep my itty bitty fabric pieces nice and flat.  The vellum didn't grip the fabric as nicely as regular foundation paper or copy paper, either -- the fabric was prone to slipping.  Also, the sawtooth star had to be paper pieced in four separate units, and I just felt like the foundation paper added too much bulk even though I trimmed my seam allowances to 1/8" and the 50/3 cotton thread and size 90 quilting needle were all just WAY TOO BIG for the scale of the block I was piecing.  And my thread shows in the seams, too.  Yuck.  So, if 3" sawtooth stars are what I want for my bear paw quilt, I think I'm going to piece them using traditional methods, following Sally Collins' construction techniques for piecing miniature blocks.

The thing is, once I got that star up on the design wall next to the 10 1/2" bear paw blocks, I just didn't love it like I thought I would.  I think the scale is off, and the sawtooth star is just too small.  Instead of enhancing the bear paw blocks, I feel like the tiny sawtooth star makes the bear paws look too oversized and clunky.  See what I mean?

10 1/2" Bear Paw Blocks with 3" Sawtooth Sashing Post Block

The half square triangle units (HSTs) in the bear paw blocks are 1 1/2" square, and the HSTs in the sawtooth star block are only half that size, finishing at 3/4" square.  That is just looking weird to me -- I feel like these blocks don't belong in the same quilt.  Also, I can't really see enough of the gorgeous hand marbled fabric when the sawtooth star is so small.

I happened to have a 6" sawtooth star orphan block leftover from an "oops" on my Jingle BOM quilt, so I tossed that up on the wall just to see how that size would look with the bear paw blocks.  In a 6" sawtooth star, the HST units are the same 1 1/2" as the ones in the bear paw blocks:
Auditioning for Scale, 6" versus 3" Sawtooth Stars

Ignoring the fabric, doesn't the size of the larger sawtooth block look a little better?  Actually, this Goldilocks thinks that the 3" sawtooth star is too small, the 6" sawtooth star is too big, and perhaps a 4" sawtooth block will be just the right size.  A 4" sawtooth star block would also have a ruler-friendly 1" grid.  That's what I'll try next.

Meanwhile, I think it's time to start another pineapple log cabin block!  Since it's Wednesday, I'm joining up with WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced and WOW WIPs on Wednesday at Esther's blog.  I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone else's Love Entwined quilts are coming along.  Happy stitching, everyone!