Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rebecca Was Afraid of Borders. Now, She's Afraid of Basting

Borders Attached, And I'm Still Alive!
It's absolutely ridiculous, but it took me almost two weeks to get the borders on this baby quilt because I psyched myself out about my imperfect piecing and the dangers of borders coming out ripply or wavy or whatever if I didn't measure correctly or if my math was off or if didn't pin the borders properly or if I fit the borders to the quilt top rather than fitting the quilt top to the borders -- wait, or are you supposed to do it the other way around?  Can you imagine if this had been a complicated pieced border instead of plain old strips of solid fabric?  I'd have been in agony for at least a month.  Anyway, I sewed the last border strip on last night and IT IS JUST FINE and now I feel foolish for wasting so much time and energy worrying about them.  After all, I do have a seam ripper, right?  Didn't even need to use it.  This quilt would be finished already if I wasn't such a dork.

Next subject of stress and indecision is which of the three Minky cuddle fleece backing fabrics to use with this quilt.  Since it's for a baby gift, I think the black and white giraffe print is adorable, but this is a polyester fleece fabric after all, and I'm worried that there is too much white in the background that is going to turn dingy and gray almost immediately:

Giraffe Minky Cuddle Fleece, Backing Choice #1

See how cute they are now?  But the quilt top is predominantly black, a baby quilt gets washed a bazillion times, and the white polyester fleece is bound to get horribly dingy and gray very fast.  They won't be able to wash the quilt even in color safe bleach without fading the quilt top colors.  So I'm leaning toward the zebra print instead, which has far less white in it:
Zebra Minky Cuddle Fleece, Backing Choice #2
I do have my satin binding picked out already -- a royal blue that I found online here in a 25-yard roll. 
Satin Binding By the Yard
I've only used Wright's prepackaged 2" satin binding in the past, but since each package is only 4.75 yards I always had to do two joining seams with that stuff.

So, now it's time to layer and baste this bad boy so I can get it quilted -- or, I should say, now it's time to PROCRASTINATE layering and basting.  I hate layering and basting, and I need to clear off a suitable surface in my studio or bring in another table to do it properly.  Meanwhile, I'm headed off to my LQS in hopes that I can rectify the fabric shortage issues with my FrankenWhiggish Rose project.  I did not realize how much more fabric waste there is with applique than with pieced blocks!  I have been continuing to play with the design for that quilt in EQ7, by the way, and my current favorite looks something like this:
New and Improved FrankenWhiggish, 86" x 86"
If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that every time I tweak the design it gets more complicated, and the quilt gets bigger.  At 86" x 86", it's kind of big for a throw quilt to live on my sofa, don't you think?  Anyway, if I don't get myself out the door and on the road, I won't make it to the fabric store at all today.

I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  Happy Stitching and Happy Monday!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Slow Stitching Design Monday: FrankenWhiggish Rose and Amish Baby Updates

I haven't linked up with Slow Stitching Sunday in awhile because I felt like I was spinning my wheels and had no progress to report.  However, somehow I managed to get all 36 yellow petals stitched to the 36 coral petals, so yesterday I starched and pressed my brown fabric, traced off 36 petals, and pinned the first four units together so they are ready to stitch on the go.

I noticed a big improvement from the first yellow petal to the last, and I think that repeating the same applique shape over and over this way is going to be better in the long run  for acquiring and improving skills than if I were to complete one block at a time in its entirety.  The yellow petals gave me a lot of practice with slight outer curves and outside points, and now with the coral petals (the fabric is not so hyper bright in real life!) I'll have the slight outer curve and outside points again, along with a tighter outer curve and inside points to work on.  Also, once I get the rhythm of it down, I don't have to think about what I'm doing very much; it just becomes about developing and reinforcing the muscle memory -- very relaxing. 

I did stitch the first block in its entirety, though, to make sure I liked the fabric and shape combinations I put together.  The reason I call this the FrankenWhiggish Rose is that I hobbled several different applique patterns together Frankenstein style in order to create an applique project that incorporated all of the basic shapes and challenges I would need to learn before I could tackle more advanced needle turn applique projects: Inside and outside curves, inside and outside points/corners, skinny bias stems, circles, reverse applique, stuffed berries, and broderie perse for the ring of little rosebuds around the center of the block:

Completed Test Block for FrankenWhiggish Rose

This is for my FrankenWhiggish Rose quilt, which may or may not end up looking anything like this design:
My Current Plan for FrankenWhiggish Rose, Subject to Change

After completing the test block, I imported a photo of the finished block so I could use it to design the quilt in EQ7 software.  Unfortunately, after cutting out all of the dark brown petals, I see that I do not have enough of that fabric left to do 36 reverse appliqued tulips, plus the skinny sashing lattice and the border blocks.  Yikes!  Fortunately I have the manufacturer and pattern information from the selvedge, but I wasn't able to locate it online.  Hopefully the LQS where I purchased the fabric a few months ago will have more left on the bolt.  I do NOT want to change this design!

Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight
Meanwhile, the Amish Baby 54-40 or Fight quilt is getting its borders sewn on today.  UPS should be delivering the black batting I ordered sometime today.  I also need to make a decision about which Minky Cuddle backing I'm going to use:
Minky Cuddle Zebra Print

Minky Cuddle Dalmatian Print

Minky Cuddle Zebra Print

I've decided that this is a "infant brain stimulating quilt," so I'll be using a high contrast black and white plush fabric for the backing.  I'm leaning towards the cute little zebras, as long as the black batting doesn't threaten to show through the white Minky background.  If show through is going to be an issue, I'll go with the Dalmatian or zebra fabric instead.  Although another consideration with the white plush backing fabric is how dirty and grungy it will get over time.  The baby's mom isn't going to be able to wash a predominantly black quilt with even a color safe bleach product, and I have used pale pink Minky backing for a baby quilt in the past and was dismayed by how it took on a decidedly icky gray cast over time (that would be the Zombie quilt for Princess Petunia).  Hmmm...

Well, I have a sick kid home with me today, spewing flu virus all over the house.  I think I will wrap him up in blankets in the studio and we can watch some classic cartoons while I work on quilt borders.  Hopefully I can take care of Lars and help him feel better without catching the flu myself, because I don't have time to be sick this week!  I'm linking up with Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts and Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  I'm also linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday.

Happy Monday and Happy Stitching!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight is Sashed and Ready For Borders

Sashed and Ready for Borders...  Maybe
As you can see, I managed to get the blocks sashed and assembled for my Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight quilt top this week.  I love the design, and I'm mostly happy with the accuracy of my piecing: 

...However, I made the mistake of cutting all of my sashing strips to EXACTLY 12.5", which is what every block SHOULD have measured upon completion, and then easing the sashing to fit those blocks that finished slightly skimpier.  My blocks were all within 1/8" to 1/16" of the 12.5" ideal, but that little bit of easing coupled with the finagling I did to get all of my teal points so sharp and perfect, created just the slightest ripple along the outer edge of my sashing.  So now I have to clear off my big work table, take the quilt top down off the design wall, and do some measurements to determine whether I need to take any of the sashing apart and restitch it, or if I can correct for the ripple and steam iron everything flat again after I add the borders.  I do know enough to measure the length and width through the CENTER of the quilt top for the borders.  Maybe I can just straighten the outer edges, square the corners, add the borders and it will be fine? 

Next decision: Batting, backing fabric, and binding.  I've heard of black quilt batting made especially for black or dark colored quilts like this one, but never used them before.  Supposedly they help the dark colors maintain their saturated appearance over the life of the quilt, without white batting fibers working their way through the quilt top.  Looking online, I found two possibilities: Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 Cotton Polyester batting, which is supposed to be just like their regular 80/20 Premium batting except that it is black, or Quilter's Dream Midnight Dreams Black 100% Polyester "Select Loft" batting.  Midnight Dreams is supposed to be just like the Select Loft Quilter's Dream poly batting. 

Now, in the past, I've used Minky cuddle fleece for backing fabric and prepackaged wide sating binding on my baby quilts, and the parents and babies-toddlers-preschoolers have literally loved those quilts to death.  Clearly it's a winning combination.  For past quilts, I've just used a thin 100% cotton batting since the Minky fleece adds an additional layer of bulk and warmth, and I want the finished quilt to be drapable and very snuggly.  But I don't see anywhere that I can buy a thin 100% cotton batting in black, and I'm not as opposed to some poly content since Minky cuddle fleece is also a polyester fabric, as is the satin binding.  I did prewash and preshrink all of the fabrics in this quilt top to avoid the problem of a finished quilt where the top fabrics shrink and the batting and backing fabrics do not.  However, I want to use the thinnest, least bulky black batting that I can find.  If any of you have any direct experience with Hobbs 80/20 versus Quilter's Dream Poly Select Loft, please let me know in the comments which you would recommend for this project and why.  I don't think my LQS stocks black battings, so I may just have to order some of each online and experiment with samples in person.

I'm linking up with Finish It Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts and Whoop Whoop Friday at Confessions of a Fabric Addict.  Happy Stitching!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight Blocks Finished!

All Nine Blocks Finished for Amish Baby Quilt!

12" 54-40 Or Fight Block
Happy Monday!  It feels good to have something new on the design wall since the last post!  I completed all nine of my 54-40 Or Fight blocks (named for James Polk's 1844 campaign slogan) for the black baby quilt last week.  Those blocks finish at 12" square and need to be sashed with black strips and those blue sashing posts next.  Ta da!  I think they look great, definitely not too gloomy for a baby.  This should be fun to quilt, too.  I haven't decided about batting and backing yet.  Everyone (including moms and babies) seems to love when I use Minky backing and satin binding on baby quilts, but the Minky sheds all over the place and the satin binding is a pain.  We'll see.  This is the first quilt that I've designed in my EQ7 software, and it was fun to tweak all the colors on the computer until it looked just right and then hunt down matching fabrics in the quilt shop.
Quilt Design Generated in EQ7
Just a few notes to jot down here, to remind myself of what worked best for next time:
  • The variety of sampler quilts is fun, but more frustrating than a quilt where one or two blocks are repeated.  Making the same units over and over gave me a chance to experiment and figure out which methods yield the best results.  These blocks came together pretty fast and got easier and easier as I went along.  I feel like I learn more by making multiples of the same block than I do when I make each block completely different.
  • I used piecing straight stitch #1326 on my Bernina 750 QE with stitch length 2.0 and the upper tension dropped down to 3.25, using 50/2 Aurifil Mako cotton thread and a size 60/8 Microtex needle.  I always use my straight stitch throat plate for piecing, and as you can see in the photo below, dual feed is engaged.  (I started piecing with a larger size 70 needle and the default 4.0 tension, and the thread kept breaking CONSTANTLY).  This was my first piecing project using the new 97D patchwork foot and I loved it!  Very straight, smooth fabric feeding using this foot, even on the bias triangle points, despite the 9 mm machine. 
  • HUGE note to self: Any time I'm piecing triangle units like these bias triangle/half rectangle units, start stitching both seams from the point where the diagonal seams intersect AND match the fabric at that point!  I botched 7 or 8 of these before I figured that one out.
    Sew these units from the Peak to the Base!
  • At first, I tried to pin the point of that black/green triangle unit when I seamed it to the adjacent unit, but I discovered that I can feel the ridge of the underlying 4-patch unit with my fingernail.  It ended up working much better to just hold that triangle point in place with my fingernail or stiletto tool as I maneuvered it under the presser foot, because the pin through the point obscured my view of the stitches so I couldn't see exactly where the needle was hitting in relation to the point.
    Fingernail holds the triangle point to the seam ridge beneath
  • Starching the fabric prior to cutting really helped to stabilize the bias triangle edges and reduce stretching on those bias seams, even when I needed to unpick and redo them.
  • On a whim, I decided to cut extras of all the patches for this quilt, and I'm glad I did.  Sometimes I'm tempted to ignore a seam that didn't match up perfectly because ripping it out is too much of a pain, but when you have an extra couple of units you can pick out the best ones to put in the quilt and the rejects can go in a pile of orphan blocks to be seamed together later for FMQ practice.
No new paper pieced pineapple log cabin blocks on the wall since last post -- still at 12 blocks completed and 24 blocks to go.  I'll probably do another pineapple block or two once the baby quilt top is finished, but before I quilt it on the machine.  I'm still working on the FrankenWhiggish Rose needle turned applique project, and I'm itching to start my first Dear Jane blocks, but I think it would be nice to finish the baby quilt first, don't you?
That's enough typing for today.  I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  Happy Stitching!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Black Baby Quilt, Because Infant Brain Development and Selfish Quiltmaker

Fabrics and Threads for Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight Quilt
So I'm going with the black baby quilt, because that's what I feel like making, and I don't have sufficient discipline or selflessness to spend hours and hours making a quilt in fabrics that I do not personally find exciting.  I guess I'm just a selfish quilter.  "Know thyself," right?  I bought fabric for both of the designs I came up with, but I'm going to make the 54-40 Or Fight quilt first because the Storm At Sea wasn't giving me ruler-friendly numbers for all of the patches in the size I wanted to make.  The mantra for this Amish Baby quilt is going to be "Keep It Simple, Sweetie."  The 54-40 Or Fight blocks will finish at 12" and with sashing and borders the quilt should end up at 53" x 53," just right for tucking into a stroller or car seat, and later, for dragging around the house.  
My 54-40 Or Fight Amish Baby Quilt Design

I got some interesting feedback in the comments about black for baby quilts, but my husband pointed out that my high contrast designs with black, white, and bold primary colors reminded him of those "visually stimulating" infant mobiles and toys that are supposed to be better suited to an infant's underdeveloped visual capabilities than traditional pastels:

"Baby View," an "educational" Android app for infants
 I did a quick internet search to see whether this black and white baby thing was still a current recommendation (since my husband is remembering this stuff from when Lars and Anders were babies) and apparently this high contrast stuff for babies is still all over the place and now they even have mesmerizing "educational" apps for iPad, Android etc. such as Baby View, shown above, featuring this graphic, black/white/bold aesthetic.  I have to share this quote from parenting guru Dr. Sears' web site:

"The best way you as a parent can stimulate baby’s vision is using black and white stripes or light and dark contrasting colors. So what about those nice soft pastels that used to be so popular in baby toys and nurseries? While these may look pretty to you, they do nothing visually for your baby. Research has proven that black and white contrasts register powerfully on baby’s retina and send the strongest visual signals to baby’s brain. Stronger signals mean more brain growth and faster visual development. Surround a baby with soft pastel colors, and you might as well be blindfolding him. Surround your baby with black and white or light and dark pictures, and watch your baby’s eyes light up."

I put quotation marks around "educational," by the way, because I don't really buy into the idea that you can make your baby smarter by bombarding them with black and white graphic patterns.  In 10 or 15 years, I fully expect the experts to come out with new research that totally contradicts all the advice parents are getting today.  These things must go in cycles so we can continue to blame the previous generation's bad parenting for the current generation's bad habits.  Whatever -- I feel like making my black baby quilt design, so I'm going to co-opt Dr. Sears' infant brain pseudoscience in order to justify my personal aesthetic choices.  Thanks, Bernie!

Let the Piecing Begin!

So, as you can see, I've prewashed/preshrunk my fabrics, cut all of my patches, and I've started to piece the 4-patch units.  Having set aside the paper pieced pineapple log cabin project, this is my first opportunity to piece with the new # 97D Patchwork foot on my Bernina 750QE.  This is a brand new patchwork foot designed especially for 9 mm sewing machines, and I'm in love with it! 

New # 97D Patchwork Foot from Bernina
Traditional 1/4" patchwork presser feet are not wide enough to completely cover the feed dogs on a sewing machine that sews up to 9 mm stitch width, which makes it more difficult to stitch perfectly straight and accurate quarter inch seams on these machines.  That's one reason why so many quilters prefer to piece on 5.5 mm or straight stitch only machines.  The new #97D foot is wider on the left side to improve fabric feeding, and comes with a seam guide that screws firmly into the bed of the machine as shown in my photo at left.  There is a little notch in the presser foot that makes it very easy to quickly install the seam guide in exactly the right position.  The "D" indicates that this foot has a cutout in the back to accommodate the Dual Feed on Bernina 7 Series and 8 Series machines (owners of machines without dual feed should purchase the regular #97 foot without the cutout at the back of the foot).  I am amazed by the difference in my piecing with the new #97D foot versus the older style #37D patchwork foot that came with my 750QE. 
Straight, Consistent Chain Piecing with New Patchwork Foot #97D

See how nice and straight those seams are coming out of the back of my sewing machine?  Usually I struggle with keeping the seam allowance accurate at the beginning and end of a seam, when the fabric wants to shift sideways.  I feel like I have a lot more control with the new presser foot, so much so that my seam ripper has remained in the drawer.  Who doesn't love that?  What's more, my pieced units are finishing accurate to size with the new foot:
Completed 4 Patch Unit Finishes Exactly 4 1/2"

I highly recommend this foot for anyone who is struggling with patchwork accuracy on a 9 mm Bernina machine.  One of the things I most enjoy about my Bernina sewing machine is the high quality of the Bernina specialty feet which make it so much easier to achieve professional results.  Now, if only Bernina would come out with a special foot for doing FMQ ruler work on my machine...

Ah, well -- the kids are home from their first day back at school after the winter vacation.  I'd best head downstairs to see how they are getting on with their homework.

I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  Happy Stitching!