Sunday, February 28, 2016

Using EQ7 to Preview Fabric Selections: 1930s Farmer's Wife Block #3 "Alice"

Alice Block #3, Version 1
The 6" blocks in the 1930s Farmer's Wife sampler quilt are complex and time consuming to piece.  I don't want to spend a lot of time putting a block together only to step back and look at the finished block and hate it.  I know a lot of quilters will precut fabric pieces without seam allowances and lay them out like a mosaic to preview how their fabric choices will look together in a block, but that wastes fabric since you have to cut all new pieces with seam allowances for your block.  Another option is to print out several line drawings of the block and test out different colored schemes with colored pencils, but it's difficult to match your fabric values and prints accurately.  However, none of that is necessary if you use EQ7 quilt design software to preview your fabric combos.

Alice Block #3, Version 2
With Block #3 "Alice," I created a 1-block quilt in EQ7 and set the block size to 6" x 6".  It's important that your block size is correct because EQ7 will use that information to accurately scale your fabric print (so that you are accurately seeing how that print will look cut up into the actual size patches in your block).  I did a search in the block library for "Alice" and came up with a block that was very similar to the Alice block in the 1930s Farmer's Wife book.  I just had to edit the block in the block worktable, removing a couple of seam lines and adding a few additional seam lines at the corners of the block.You can even rotate your fabric within your block patches, as I did in my first version of the block, so that your stripes or chevrons or whatever radiate in a specific way, and there is a tool for fussy cutting as well that will let you center a specific print motif in your patch. 

Alice Block #3, Version 3
Once I had recreated the block in EQ7, I was able to swap out fabrics with a click of my mouse, trying out many combinations of prints, solids, contrast levels, etc. within just a few minutes.  I don't always use the exact same fabrics in EQ7 as what I'm contemplating in my stash, but I can usually find something close enough.  The idea is to brainstorm lots of different possibilities for what the block could be.  I don't use EQ to pick fabrics for every block, but it was really useful for this one because there were so many patches that it was difficult to envision mentally, and I didn't want to just recreate what someone else had done with the block.  I wasn't wild about the Alice block initially, but now that I've been playing with it, it's growing on me.

Alice Block #3, Version 4
I think I want a white background with this block, one print, and two strongly contrasting solids.  I am really liking the black at the moment, and I did use some solid black sparingly on my #2 Aimee block.  It will depend on the print that I end up choosing from my stash (in this last version, a really dark gray/blue solid pulled from the print would have been better than black.  Maybe. 

Meanwhile, I think it's time for another paper pieced pineapple block, don't you?  I've got a busy week coming up, with rehearsals for Mary Poppins (I'm playing the Bird Woman), volunteer tutoring, getting the kids to and from their activities, and lots more work to do on my new and improved web site for my interior design business.  Then there are the eternal unending tasks to contend with: vacuuming, laundry, grocery shopping...  And hopefully a little exercise.  Which is why I have six or seven quilts in progress, and nothing finished to show for myself so far this year!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

1930s Farmer's Wife Block #1 Addie

1930s Farmer's Wife Block #1, Addie
This is kind of confusing because Addie is Block #1 in the book, but I made the second block first so my first block is my second block.  Or something like that.  I should have taken my picture before I starched the snot out of my block because it looked better before I created those seam allowance ridges!  Maybe I should put a layer of batting under the blocks before I do the final starch and press next time to prevent that happening?  I know it will be fine after it's quilted and washed, but it's a bummer that it spoiled the photo. 

Anyway, I foundation paper pieced this block, using Sax plain newsprint this time.  It fed through my Epson printer without a hitch and was a lot easier to work with than the 29 pound vellum that I was using (due to ignorance) on the last block.

Lots of Sub Sections to the Addie Block
Thoughts on the process: I like the ease and accuracy of foundation paper piecing, and precutting my shapes with approximately 3/8" allowances on all sides does help me to align them more accurately for paper piecing.  The newsprint is nice and easy to work with.  However, I feel like I'm flying blind when it comes time to join block subsections together.  I know "they" say to leave the paper in place until the block is completed AND joined to your quilt sashing or to adjacent blocks, but I am being very careful to keep straight grain along the edges of my blocks and segments, just as I would if I were rotary cutting and piecing the block by the traditional method.  On my next block, I think I might like to try removing the paper from the completed sections before joining them together, so I can feel where the seam allowances nest and see that the fabric edges are perfectly aligned along the entire length of the seam.  Both of these blocks I've made so far are acceptable, but there are a couple of triangle points that could have been improved if I could have seen what I was sewing.  It's also difficult to pin those tricky intersections through seam allowances AND two sheets of newsprint; the pin and paper distort everything so it almost makes it worse.  I know some people baste those tricky joins by machine or by hand prior to stitching, so I could try that, too.

I should note that these blocks finish at 6", so the little green and pink/orange triangles are ITTY BITTY.  I am definitely seeing the accuracy advantage of FPP for this scale, especially as I look ahead to the next few blocks in the book that have many more pieces and some odd angles.

It has been an exhausting, emotionally draining week so I'm grateful that I snuck in enough odd moments of sewing time here and there to make a block this week.  Now what I really need is some exercise and a good night's sleep!  I'm linking up with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Foundation Paper Piecing 1930s Farmer's Wife Block #2, Aimee

1930s Farmer's Wife Block #2, Aimee
NO, I have not finished my pineapple log cabin blocks.  NO, I have not done a single thing with the needle turned applique blocks since the last time I posted about them a few months ago.  NO, I have not cut out my skirt, NO I have not set the blocks for that Jingle quilt from a year or two ago, and NO I have not put the borders on the math quilt yet.  NO, I have not worked on the Butterflies and Bear Paws quilt anymore, either.  Instead, I started ANOTHER NEW PROJECT!!  Yippee! 

If you're a quilter and you've been online lately, you know that there's been a 1930s Farmer's Wife quilt along in progress since last September, based on the patterns from Laurie Aaron Hird's The Farmer's Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt book.  I bought the book and read it months ago, but I'd been holding off on starting anything because I had so many other WIPs (Works In Progress).  But then I decided that I don't have to be a goal-oriented quilter.  I cut up fabric and sew it back together again because it makes me happy, not because I have some quota to fulfil.  I do want to finish my pineapple log cabin and all those other things, but I need some variety mixed in with the monotony of making 36 giant pineapple blocks.  My other projects are made up of multiples of the same blocks, too.  Maybe I'll make all of the blocks in this book, and maybe I won't.  Maybe I'll make some of the blocks from this book and combine them with other interesting blocks from other sources.  That's the beauty of a sampler quilt, after all.  Many of the blocks in this book will be challenging for me, and they will allow me to explore new techniques.  They all finish at 6", so I plan to just make blocks whenever I feel like it and chuck them into a basket.  Someday, when there are enough blocks, maybe I'll put them together. 

I Like to Decorate My Books with Coffee Rings
Although this is the second block in the book, it's the first one that I attempted, and I chose to paper piece it.  Even though this is a 6" block with 28 pieces and my paper pieced pineapple log cabin blocks are 17 1/4" with 97 pieces, the log cabin is a much easier block for a beginner to start out with.  The Aimee block was more difficult because:
1. The block pattern has to be pieced in multiple foundation sections that get joined together at the end.
2. The fabric pieces for this block were not all just strips; there were a variety of shapes to contend with and it's not always easy to figure out how to align the pieces before you sew them together.

This book came with a CD that included templates as well as foundation paper piecing patterns, but there are no instructions for making any of the blocks.  So I referred to instructions from other paper piecing books I owned, as well as tutorials on the blogs of paper piecing divas like Charise of Charise Creates and Very Kerry Berry.  Seriously, what did we ever do before the Internet?! 

I used vellum to print my foundations because that's what one of my books recommended, but I HATED the vellum.  Maybe there are different kinds of vellum, different weights or something, but when I precreased the seam lines and then stitched them, my vellum cracked apart along some of the stitch lines and separated immediately after the seams were sewn!  It was also very stiff and bulky, and I found it difficult to work with.  When joining foundation sections together, I had trouble feeling where the seam allowances were through the stiff vellum, which made it harder to nest the seams properly for perfect seam intersections.  Also, the stiff vellum pulled the top thread away from the fabric quite a bit as the stitches were formed, so that the seams seemed a bit looser than I'm comfortable with once I pulled the paper away.  So, I'm using something else next time.  If anyone out there has a favorite foundation paper that they use, please let me know in the comments!

Heavy Vellum Made it Difficult to Feel Whether Seam Allowances Were Aligned
My books suggest that you can totally disregard fabric grain when paper piecing, since the paper foundations stabilize all the bias edges, as long as you leave your papers in the project until the very end.  However, I have seen and admired very precise pattern placement (also known as "fussy cutting") in Charise's and Kerry's paper piecing, and there's no way that can be accomplished by just slapping an enormous rectangle onto your project willy-nilly and just hoping for the best.  I also didn't want to have to leave all the foundation papers in my blocks because some blocks will be paper pieced and others won't.  I want the blocks to all be soft and manageable when the time comes to join them to each other or to sashing.

See That Loose Seam?  Vellum Held the Stitch Away From the Fabric
So in addition to printing the foundation patterns onto vellum, I also printed the templates for this block onto heavy card stock.  I precut all of the pieces for my Aimee block using the templates with a heavy 1/4" seam allowance, more like 3/8" (but in hindsight, wished I'd oversized them just a bit more than that).  That way I could carefully orient each piece so that I would have straight grain all around the edges of my block.  I was also able to ensure that the striated lines on my inner kite shaped pieces were all oriented the way I wanted them to be by using the templates.  I am sure there must be an easier way to accomplish fussy cutting for paper piecing, so again, if you know of a resource, please share in the comments!

Anyway, my finished block measures 6 1/2", just as it should, and although it is not 100% perfect, I think it's good enough for the first try.  I really like the fabric combination and it was nice to pull out that striated blue from my scraps.

Next I'm planning to piece Block #1, Addie, using templates to cut out the pieces.  This is new for me because I've only ever rotary cut my patches before.  I've never made templates, traced around them, and then cut out the pieces with scissors before, and it's a skill I want to learn because so many vintage patterns just don't lend themselves to rotary cutting, if the shapes don't work out to ruler-friendly numbers.  I haven't decided yet whether I'll piece that block by machine on one of my vintage Featherweights, or whether I'll attempt to piece it by hand.  Stay tuned!

Design Wall for Monday, February 15th, 2016
There's my design wall, by the way.  Neglected Frankenwhiggish Rose needleturned applique project, neglected Math is Beautiful baby quilt project, and Block 21 of 36 for the California King sized pineapple log cabin.  If only there were a hundred sewing hours in every day...

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pineapple Log Cabin Block 21 of 36 & Fabulous Fit Dress Form Review, Part 2, & SOMETHING NEW...

King Sized Pineapple Log Cabin Progress: Block 21 of 36
So, back to the paper-pieced pineapple log cabin quilt that I was working on before I was sidetracked by the Christmas caroling costume!  I finished block 21, which means I only have 15 more blocks to go until I have enough for a California King sized bed quilt.  And I'm grateful to have a pretty quilt block to top off this post today, because otherwise I'd have to lead with this one:

Say Hello to Headless Helena!
Ta da!  Let's all extend a warm Southern welcome to my new dress form, Headless Helena.  As you may have read in my last post, I originally ordered a size 10 Studio Dress Form and customizable padding system from Fabulous Fit, but I discovered that although the size 10 dress form's measurements were slightly smaller than mine overall, I was not able to add all of the lumps and bumps that make up my own body shape to the size 10 dress form without making her much too big.  After consulting with Alice at Fabulous Fit, I exchanged the size 10 dress form for a size 6.

I suppose I should have taken a picture of what the size 6 dress form looked like when she arrived, before any padding was added, but I didn't think of it.  Just imagine a headless, limbless, but perky 16-year-old cheerleader, and that's pretty much what a size 6 dress form looks like right out of the box.  (Now is probably a good time to warn readers that this blog post will be talking a lot about Mom Boobs, so if that sort of thing offends you or does not interest you, feel free to stop reading).

Although I ordered my dress form from Fabulous Fit, I should mention that the Fabulous Fit system works with ANY dress form you may already own, provided that your dress form is small enough to match your skeletal frame.  That bears repeating -- with padding, you alter your dress form by adding lumps of flesh like boobs, belly, and badonk-a-donk buttocks...  You can increase her dimensions at any point with padding, but you cannot do anything to make the dress form SMALLER if even one part of her is too big.  My initial mistake in ordering a too-big dress form in the first place happened because I looked only at my full bust, waist, and hip measurements and ordered a dress form one size smaller than the smallest of those measurements.  However, the part of my body that is the smallest is the upper chest area between my bust and shoulders and the size 10 dress form was 2" BIGGER than me in the upper chest.  I also realized that the dress form needed to be MUCH smaller than I am at the bottom in order for me to create the necessary "curves" of my belly and behind and still end up at the correct overall dimensions.

Once I had a size 6 dress form instead of a 10, here's what I did to get a fairly accurate representation of my own size and shape.  I knew I was going to have to add significantly to the bust on my dress form, so I went out to Jo-Ann's and bought several different packages of shoulder pads and bust enhancer pads that I could use in conjunction with the contoured pads that came in the Fabulous Fit kit.  I also purchased about a yard of the thickest polyester quilt batting they had.  As per the Fabulous Fit directions, I started at the top of my dress form, pulling down the tight knit fabric cover over one section of the form at a time, slipping the appropriate contoured pads into position beneath the cover to correct the dimensions and shape where needed. 

Who Knew?!  I Have Trapezius Muscles!!
We did use the Fabulous Fit shoulder pads on the shoulders (to correct the shoulder width and slope), but discovered that we also needed to put some small, thin Dritz shoulder pads at the back of the neck, along with a layer of the poly quilt batting at the base of the neck, to create the shape of what appears to be trapezius muscles at the back of my shoulders.  (I know, right?  How did I get muscles THERE?!  Must be from hours hunched over my sewing machine, free-motion quilting...). 

Wacoal 851205
My upper chest measures 33 1/2" and the size 6 dress form measured 33 5/8" in the upper chest, so no additional padding was needed there.  But Helena's bust was 4" too small at 34" instead of 38", and she obviously has not breastfed any children and/or she is somehow exempt from the laws of gravity because her boobs were also up too high.  In order to afflict her with Mom Boobs like mine, the dress form's boobs had to be kind of hanging off just BELOW the original bust point on the dress form.  We were having a VERY hard time getting the correct assortment of pads into the right shape and into position, and then they would slide out of place and look like alien boobs as soon as we pulled the cover down over the pads.  Finally, I decided to sacrifice a brand-new bra (Wacoal Halo Lace, Style 851205) that fits me perfectly, and that made everything so much easier.  Duh, right?  I mean, my own boobs require the magic of underwires and lots of heavy-duty elastic to stay up there where they belong, and unlike Helena's padding, my boobs are actually attached to my body! Once we put the bra on the dress form, and with the straps and back hooks adjusted exactly to fit my body, it was so much easier to create the correct bust shape on the dress form -- and the bra held everything in place on the dress form, just like it does on my body.  I'm going to wear a bra just like this one under any clothing I make for myself, so the $48 bra was a worthwhile sacrifice to get a good fit through the bust and upper shoulders.

The Fabulous Fit kit comes with one set of breast pads, which are shaped like this:
Fabulous Fit Contoured Breast Pads
Alice at Fabulous Fit had sent me an extra pair of breast pads when I went down to the size 6 dress form, but I ended up only using one set of their breast pads because they didn't stack well and they created a weird double ridge at the side when I tried to use two of them.  I really liked the way the breast pads create a smooth, even curve on the outside of the dress form, but I needed to use an assortment of different pads under the Fabulous Fit breast pads in order to fill in the space below the dress form's higher bust line.  Each of Helena's boobs is "built" from one Fabulous Fit contoured breast pad, one Fabulous Fit additional contour pad (shaped like an eye), one Dritz Tear Drop Shape Enhancer pad, and one Dritz Push Up Bust Enhancer pad.  (The Dritz Covered Set-In Shoulder pads in the photo below were used to give Helena her trapezius muscles at the back of her neck).

Additional Pads Used
So, a combination of four different pads to create each boob on the dress form -- no way would they stay in place when I pulled down the cover if they weren't trapped in position by the brassiere!  An added benefit of putting one of my own favorite bras on Helena is that now, even if I'm sewing in my pajamas, I can tell on Helena whether a neckline needs to be raised or a boatneck needs to be adjusted to prevent my bra from peeking out when I wear the finished garment.  Although you can't see it well in the photos, it is very easy to feel the edges of the bra through the cloth cover on the dress form.

Helena With Matching Mom Boobs
My upper chest is the ONLY part of my body that is even remotely a size 6, so everywhere else on the dress form needed padding.  I used a layer of the thick poly quilt batting that extended from just below the bra band in the front all the way to the bottom of the dress form.  The batting extends around to the back of the dress form on the sides, but although we needed to have a layer of padding on Helena's back, we had to cut the batting away from the small of her back and her derriere.  The waistband of my store-bought jeans and pants always gaps at the back of my waist, and I wanted to recreate that hollow on the dress form so that my ME-made clothes will hopefully fit better in that area.  Finally, I had to use not one but TWO of these Fabulous Fit Stomach Pads to create the correct amount of abdominal childbirth wreckage on Helena:

Fabulous Fit Stomach Pad
Helena's Two-Pad Tummy
Technically, you only get one stomach pad in the fitting kit, but they are identical to the Side Back pads (used to erase or reposition the waistline) and my dress form didn't need padding there.  I should note that these contoured stomach pads were placed BELOW the layer of quilt padding on my dress form, too.  They don't stack well and I had to offset them slightly, which would have created a double bump effect if the pads weren't placed beneath the batting.  Another reason I was glad that my dress form started out so much smaller than me!

Fabulous Fit "Back Hip" Pads
Last but not least, Miss Headless Helena needed butt pads.  Dress forms are so ridiculous, really, with their pancake flat tummies and behinds.  Who looks like that who isn't wearing Spanx, anyway?  The Fabulous Fit butt pads are euphemistically named Back Hip pads, as in Baby's Got Back Hip, and I'm All About That Back Hip...  They do a pretty good job of creating a more realistic tush on a flat dress form.  I didn't go nuts with trying to recreate the exact size and shape of my behind on the dress form, we just positioned the butt cheeks in approximately the right position, did a final check on the measurements, and then pulled the cover down the rest of the way.  I ended up using straight pins (the kinds with the large, round heads) sparingly to secure the stomach and butt pads in place so they wouldn't move when the cover was pulled down.  Definitely recommend the pins!

Headless Helena, Rear View
Now the Fabulous Fit system comes with TWO tightly fitting knit fabric covers.  The first cover has side seams, and that's the one you are gradually pulling down over the dress form, slipping the pads underneath as you go.  The second cover has a tight-fitting turtleneck and princess seams, and that cover goes on top at the end to smooth everything out.  I definitely needed to use the second cover since I had polyester quilt batting puffing up at the back of my dress form's neck, but I discovered that since the princess seamed cover wasn't custom made to match my curves, it was pulling straight from shoulder to full bust and from full bust to waist, enlarging the upper chest and below bust areas.  Okay for loose fitting garments, I suppose, but the whole point of this adventure was to match the dress form as closely as possible to my shape so I could use it to sew some fitted dresses and blouses.  My final tweak was to use more of my round-headed straight pins to pull the cover in close to the dress form above and below the bust line, as well as in the small of her back.  Those were the places where the second cover wasn't fitting close to the dress form.  Now, could I have altered that cover to make it fit, or made a new, custom cover that fit the adjusted shape of Helena better?  Yes, but then it would have been difficult to get the cover on the dress form unless I put in a zipper...  and how much time do I really want to spend on this?  The pins do what I need them to do.  I'm also aware of the fact that, if I have any weight changes or changes in the distribution of my lumps and bumps over time, I'm going to have to take that cover off and make the necessary adjustments to my dress form all over again.

Headless Helena, Ready to Sew
And so, my final word on the Fabulous Fit dress form and fitting system: It's a keeper.  I suggest allowing PLENTY of time to customize your dress form and enlisting the assistance of kind, honest friends.  My husband was helping me initially, but when he lost patience with the process my mom stepped in to help me finish the job.  Yes, you start by taking a comprehensive set of body measurements, but a lot of this is subjective eyeballing, especially when you are trying to figure out whether padding needs to be added all in front, all in back, or all the way around the dress form.  I did not personally put most of the pads on Helena, instead, I stood next to Helena in my underwear while my helper positioned the pads on the dress form to match the lumps and bumps on me.  In addition to the Fabulous Fit pads, the Dritz shoulder and bust pads, and the straight pins, I recommend a bottle of good wine and a box of Kleenex as essential tools for completing this process successfully.  The wine helps you keep your sense of humor, and helps you to stay warm while you're standing there shivering in your underwear for hours.  And the Kleenex is because once a dress form is customized to show EVERY BUMP AND LUMP ON YOUR BODY, it can be a little bit depressing -- especially since the dress form starts out with a perfect figure right out of the box.  I can't bring myself to post the pictures I took of my dress form that were from unflattering angles...  ;-)

NEW fabric, Prewashed and Ready to Iron

And now, as a reward to myself for all of this self-inflicted suffering and angst, I bought a bunch of cheerful fabric for my 1930's Farmer's Wife quilt blocks (YES, I am starting a new project and NO, I haven't finished any of my other quilts yet, thank you very much).

I'm still loving my paper-pieced pineapple log cabin quilt, but those blocks get monotonous to piece one after another, 97 fabric strips per block, and I need to sprinkle in some variety.  With the Farmer's Wife sampler quilt, I plan to explore more paper piecing as well as using templates rather than rotary cutting.

Choosing Fabrics for First Farmer's Wife Quilt Blocks!
The first block in the book is Addie, and I'm going to use templates for that one and will probably select coordinating fabrics to go with either the pink or the green version of the Tula Pink damask pattern (not both).  The second block is on the right, Aimee, and I'm going to paper piece that one with the Allison Harris Cluck Cluck Sew floral print, the striated blue fabric, and the solid black. 

That's what I was up to on Superbowl Sunday! 

I'm linking up with Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts, Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times, Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt, and Design Board Monday at Bits 'n Bobs.