Saturday, September 27, 2014

Short and Sweet: Pineapple Log Cabin Blocks and Apple iPhone 6 Plus

I am still working on the same projects, and no, nothing particularly exciting has been accomplished.  I finished another of my 17 3/4" paper pieced pineapple log cabin blocks:
So that's four down, thirty-two more to go.  I had to go buy some more neutral fabric prints to get through with the fourth block, not because I didn't have any more of the fabrics I used for the first three blocks, but because I was bored of those fabrics already.  Looking around my studio, you can see that I have chopped up LOTS of different fabrics into strips already:

See?  My Featherweight is completely surrounded by the blue fabric strips.  I just hope most of them make it into the quilt and don't end up as waste (or scrap bin replenishment).  I'm finding that I need more light/neutral fabrics than I originally anticipated because the neutral fabric strips are used on all four sides whereas the blues and greens are only used on two corners for each fabric.  I got some good suggestions in the comments from my last post about how to store and organize my fabric strips while this project is in progress, but so far I haven't implemented them.

In other news, I ordered a new iContraption last week but I haven't received it yet:

I ordered the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, shown on the right, to replace my iPhone 5s, shown on the left.  (Yes, I have heard about the iPhone 6 Plus supposedly bending when people shove it in their back pocket and sit on it.  If I was buying the phone with the intent of sitting on it, that would be a big concern...)  Consumer Reports tested a variety of smartphones for this issue and found that it takes 90 pounds of pressure to bend an iPhone 6 Plus:

As far as I'm concerned, resistance to bending under extreme pressure is not something I'm looking for in an iPhone (although it might be a concern to those who like to carry their phones in their back pockets).  I bought it to live in my purse, to hopefully take the place of the big and bulky iPad 2 when I'm out and about, and I almost never sit on my purse or put it in giant Consumer Reports phone smashing machines.  I'm more than happy to accept a slightly less rugged device in exchange for lightening the weight it adds to my handbag.

I was previously paying for a cellular data plan on the old iPhone as well as on the iPad, but the only time I was actually using the data for the phone was when I had left the iPad at home because it was too heavy.  I didn't like the redundancy of carrying and paying for data plans on two devices that do essentially the same thing, one of them a bit too small and the other one a lot too big.  I think the larger screen on the 6 Plus will be just big enough that I will be able to use it for checking emails, reading the newspaper, online shopping while waiting at red lights, and using Pinterest.  And of course, a new iPhone needs a new case (which presumably will also help to inhibit the ever-so-slight possibility of bending), which has also been ordered but that will probably take longer to arrive than the phone:
Leather iPhone 6 Plus Case in Brown Stingray from Piel Frama

I love Piel Frama leather tech covers.  They are handcrafted in Spain with a 30-day lead time, but totally worth the wait because they feel good in your hand, offer excellent protection, and last forever (or at least until I'm ready to upgrade to a newer device).

Well, I promised to keep it short and sweet with this post, so that's it for today.  Back to my pineapple log cabin blocks!  I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Judy's blog.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pineapple Progress and Less Lumpy Leaves

Progress on Pineapples and Applique

I finished another pineapple log cabin block this week!  So now that's three down, thirty-three to go in order to make a California King sized quilt.  Paper piecing these blocks is fun and relaxing, and the only downside is that I have strips of fabric in blues, greens, and neutrals covering every available surface in my studio, which makes it hard to work on other projects.  I have not yet come up with a good way to move this project out of the way when I want to work on something else.  I could just toss the fabric strips into three bins according to color, but then they would get all rumpled and wrinkled and I'd have to iron each strip before sewing it to my block.  Hmmm...  I really wanted to be able to alternate between sewing pineapple log cabin blocks on the 'Nina 750 and piecing more 4" sawtooth stars on Bette (the 1935 Singer Featherweight), but right now I can't even get to the Featherweight for all of the fabric strips spread out around that machine. 
 I also found time in odd moments to add a few more leaves to my Whig Rose needle turned applique block.  Ta da:

3 Leaves Stitched, 3 More Pinned and Ready to Go
 Subsequent leaves (top two quadrants of the block) came out slightly less lumpy than the first attempt (lower left quadrant).  None of the little leaves are as perfectly shaped as I would like them to be, but this is a learning project.  Since it's getting better, I'm counting it as a win!

The first two weeks of having the boys in a new school went fairly smoothly.  Their workload is much more reasonable, and they are both enjoying having some time for normal childhood activities like bike riding and shooting baskets in the driveway after school.  Less homework doesn't mean less learning, though.  From what I've seen so far, much more emphasis is put on teaching the structure and process of writing at the new school, both in 6th and in 8th grade Honors Language Arts.  I like that they have an A/B schedule where they have math and language arts every single school day for 90 minutes, but that social studies and science alternate.  After all, math, reading, and writing are the foundation of all future learning in science and in the humanities.  Those skills need to be rock solid by the time they get to high school.  Anders is getting his violin practice done in the mornings before school, and both boys are joining academic clubs this year as well (Chess Club for both boys, LEGO Robotics League for Anders, and Science Olympiad for Lars).  I think Lars is planning to get involved with the school musical, too.  So we're off to a good start this school year.

Best of all, the school principal called me personally yesterday to ask how Lars and Anders were adjusting to the new school and whether there was anything she or her staff could do better.  Can you believe that?  I never got a call like that from anyone at their old school, the much smaller charter school that was supposed to be like one big happy family.  Not even when Lars was the only new transfer student in the entire 5th grade, skipping an entire year of math and having to catch up with kids who had been taking Chinese since kindergarten.  No one from the charter school ever bothered to call me unless there was a problem, or unless they wanted me to donate more money to the capital fundraising campaign.  I am hugely impressed with Community House Middle School!

Since today is Friday and I did finish another block this week, I'm linking up with Finish It Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts, and Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Design Wall Monday: Back to the Whig Rose Applique

Needle Turn Applique In Progress
I finally got back to my needle turn applique practice block over the weekend.  After several unsatisfactory attempts to needle turn the stacked flower center circles and stitch them off the block, I finally adjusted the circle diameters slightly so that I could use my Perfect Circle templates: I ran a gathering stitch around the outer edge of the circles and then used the starch and press method to preturn the edges. 

Smooth Circles, but Uneven Petal Gaps
Once I had lovely preturned circles ready to go, I used Roxanne's Glue Baste It to position the circles on my block for hand stitching. 

Now, I'm pleased with how nice and smooth the circles are, but it is obvious that something went awry when I stitched the stacked petals to my quilt block earlier.  See how there is more of a gap between petal and stem in some places than in others?  I couldn't tell that happened until I had the center circles in place, and by then it was too late to move the petals.  Either I turned under a little too much of the dark brown print on some of those petals, or I didn't get them positioned accurately enough.  This could be an issue with the chalk pencil I'm using to mark the turning line on my applique shapes, because the chalk does seem to smudge as I'm handling the applique for hand stitching and it is sometimes unclear just where edge of the line is.  Or the inaccuracy could be happening when I'm positioning the applique shapes and pinning them to the background fabric.  I must say, I'm not enjoying fiddling with the giant vinyl overlay and it seems to me that each time I lay that placement overlay back on the block, it's harder and harder to get the block to match up with the lines on the overlay.  With my earlier applique project, I preturned the edges of all of my shapes and then glue basted them in place with a light box instead of reaching under a sheet of vinyl, and I think that method might be more accurate for me.  Should I have lightly traced some of the major placement lines on my block background with a pencil? 

But this is a learning project, so on we go!  I will probably add something to the design to hide those oopses later.

Last night I finger pressed a few leaves and pinned them in place for stitching.  This block is my first attempt at needle turn applique and I knew that the tight outer curve on the small leaves would be more challenging than the softer curved edges on the large flower petals.  My first leaf came out kind of lumpy, as you can see in the photo:
Lumpy First Leaf
I suppose it isn't terrible for a first attempt.  My applique stitches are really tiny and close together, so it's not easy to take of an applique shape without risking a hole in the background fabric.  I can probably live with this leaf as long as the others come out better.  I think I had an issue with the chalk line smudging as I was working, and I also probably need to go slower around the curve and only turn enough of the fabric edge for one stitch at a time.  I'm going to try a few more leaves this way, but if they all come out looking like rocks I might have to preturn the edges of the rest of these leaves with templates.

Which wouldn't really be the end of the world.  One of the primary reasons I wanted to learn to turn the fabric edges under at the point of stitching the applique is that I thought it would make my projects more portable -- no more hours spent at the ironing board, fiddling with starch or sizing and pressing the raw fabric edges around my templates.  However, as you can see, I'm not exactly making speedy progress with this method, either.  With preturned shapes I was able to glue baste more shapes onto my block at a time and it was easier to make sure I always had something ready to hand stitch when I headed out the door.  With the method I'm using for this block, I can only really position one or two pieces at a time, and then I have to fiddle around with the vinyl overlay and the pins at home every time I need a new piece to stitch. 

Once I've figured out my leaves, I'll go back to the rosebuds that go in the center of the flower.  I do want them to have a little bit of dimension, so I'm going to try Jeanne Sullivan's Patch Back product using the instructions in her book Simply Successful Applique

Design Wall Today
Meanwhile, I think I'd like to start another pineapple log cabin block today, if I can manage to accomplish laundry and grocery shopping before the kids get home from school!  I'm linking up with Judy's blog for Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times, WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, and WIPs On Wednesday at Esther's blog.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Custom Embroidered Monogram for the Singer Featherweight Carrying Bag

Custom Monogram Embroidery for My Featherweight Bag
Before starting another paper pieced pineapple block or making more sawtooth star blocks for the bear paw quilt, I had one more bit of machine embroidered itch to scratch.  I am SO happy with the way this monogram came out on my Singer Featherweight carrying bag!

Both of my vintage Singer 221 Featherweight machines came with their original carrying cases, but I don't use them because: 1. They are made of wood, so they are heavy.  2. They are old and stinky.  3. They have no padding.  I spent a LOT of time looking for a cute, stylish soft carrying case for my Featherweights, and the best I could find was this plain black padded nylon bag from Allbrands for $45.  (It also comes in red, but it's not the perfect Singer red you want it to be -- it's more like McDonald's ketchup red).  So I got the black bag, and it fits a little Featherweight machine with its power cord, foot pedal, a little case of accessories, and maybe a little bit of fabric.  Functionally it was exactly what I wanted, but there was nothing exciting about it.

So today I spent a great deal of time playing in my embroidery software, looking through all of my monogram designs and experimenting with different combinations until I came up with this:

Monogram Design Image from Bernina Sofware
The gold medallion motif was custom digitized for me several years ago for an interior design client's project by Richards Jarden, the professional digitizer behind the gorgeous designs of Embroidery Arts.  (You can read about the original project we used this design for here).  Richards does such amazing work -- I highly recommend his retail designs as well as his custom digitizing services.  The medallion motif, based on an historical textile from the Hearst Castle, reminded me of the ornate gold decals on my early model Singer Featherweight machines.  I think I ended up selecting one of my True Type fonts to digitize within my Bernina v6 Designer Plus embroidery software for my initials.  The thread color is that iconic Singer red like the vintage Singer logo, the red felt spool pad, and the funky red and black houndstooth reproduction cloth cord that my husband used to rewire my 1935 Featherweight's original foot pedal:

Bette, my 1935 Singer Featherweight, with Red Reproduction Cloth Covered Cords
Of course, as great a machine as the Featherweight is for piecing quilts and for teaching kids to sew, she does NOT do machine embroidery.  That was a job for 'Nina, the Bernina 750 QE.

The hardest part about this project was getting this wood bottomed, bulky padded canvas bag secured and supported properly for stitching.  For me, the bag was inexpensive and ugly enough plain for it to be worth the risk of ruining it, but I would NOT recommend my methods for your favorite designer handbag!  I tried using that adhesive stabilizer stuff that everyone recommends but this bag was so heavy that it popped apart from the stabilizer while I was attaching the bag to the machine.  I had marked the center of where I wanted the design in chalk beforehand and I ended up just eyeballing that it was straight and holding the bag out of the way while my machine basted around the hoop perimeter, securing the bag to the hooped stabilizer.  I got really lucky -- I think it looks pretty darned good.
Holding the Bag Out of the Way During Stitching
See?  I stitched my design sideways, and I used large safety pins (diaper pin size) to pin up anything that might get caught while the embroidery module was moving.  Also, because my bag was so heavy, I held the weight of it up by the strap with my arm resting on top of the sewing machine throughout the entire 35 minutes of stitching.  (As you can also see, I'm wounded from crashing my bike into a post last weekend, but that's another story for another day).

Finished Embroidery
I really could not be more pleased with how my bag came out -- this is a great example of what a huge impact machine embroidery can make.  Note that I probably spent at least four hours working on the design (thinking about what I wanted, researching, playing around with different options that I ended up discarding), another hour or so fretting about how I was going to get that bag in the hoop and complaining about how come all of my ideas have to be so complicated, and then about 35 minutes of holding that bag up by its handle while my sewing machine stitched out the design.  So no, I am not going to monogram your purse/laptop bag/backpack/floormats in your car for you.  Don't even ask.

I did manage to get this done for Anders, though:
Personalized Bible Cover for Anders
Anders starts confirmation classes this year, and he will be presented with a new study bible at church tomorrow morning.  The kids carry their bibles back and forth in these zippered covers.  Again, this project was more of a pain than you would imagine -- I used one of the built in alphabet font stitches on the 'Nina 750, but the strap of this readymade bible cover doesn't have a lot of slack and it was dicey getting the feed dogs to work properly with the strap wrapped so snugly around the free arm of the machine.

I had a fleeting thought of monogramming the kids' backpacks as well, but I'm all embroidered out for awhile.  Tomorrow, I'm going back to quilting!

UPDATED 7/19/2016: I'm linking this post with Val's Featherweight-themed Archives Linky Party today!  Be sure to check out Val's post for links to even more Featherweight inspiration.

Val's Quilting Studio