Saturday, August 29, 2020

Machine Piecing the Modern Baby Clam Shells Quilt, with Help from QNM

Hello, my lovelies!  My one and only weekly goal last week was to START -- just to start, not to finish, mind you! -- piecing my Modern Baby Clam Shells quilt.  I created the design in my EQ8 software in December of 2018, with a specific baby in mind whose due date was several weeks away...  Then it took me awhile to find the 9.5" acrylic clam shell templates I wanted to use (from an Australian Etsy seller who has since closed her shop).  Then I hemmed and hawed about the best way to cut out completely accurate 9.5" diameter circles (10" actually, since I needed a seam allowance).  After cutting out all the clam shells, circles, and partial clam shells, I then realized I didn't know how to sew them together!  I had my heart set on old school curved piecing, which I'd done for Lars's Drunkard's Path quilt eight years ago, but I wasn't sure how to go about piecing a clam shell quilt.  Do you start at the bottom and work your way up, or start at the top and work your way down?  Searching online, I either found instructions that confused me and explained only the part I already understood (how to sew a curved seam) and left out the part I didn't know (where to start and how to progress through the piecing of the quilt).  I also found patterns that subdivided the clam shells to simplify the piecing, or for using a prepared edge appliqué technique to avoid piecing altogether, neither of which interested me.  Ugh!  Annoying!  Set aside and ignored for a year and a half, until I made it my goal for THIS week:

So, as you can see, I've met that goal already because I did start the piecing!  Yay, me! 😉.  I'm using my Golidilocks machine for this -- my 5.5 mm Bernina 475QE, which is why I have my portable SewEzi table set up in my studio next to the big machine's cabinet.

So that's my quilt design rendering, created in EQ8 software.  It should finish at 40" x 40" unless I decide to enlarge it somehow.  There may or may not be embroidered butterflies before the top gets layered for piecing.

As you can see, I'm using a bazillion pins, because I want the smoothest, most accurate curve possible and I don't want to clip the seam allowances.  I prefer piecing with Patchwork Foot #37 on my little machine, and I bought a Bernina seam guide that I can snug right up against the side of my foot just like the seam guide that came with the #97D foot for my big 750QE machine.  Having that fence-like guide out in FRONT of the presser foot makes it so easy to to feed the curve smoothly with a deadly accurate 1/4" seam.  I'm also using my Patchwork Straight Stitch defaults (lower tension for my Aurifil 50/2 cotton thread and a shorter stitch length of 2.0).  On my 475QE it's stitch #1303, but the same exact stitch on my other Bernina is #1326 -- go figure!

Yay!  The first seam!!  As you can see, I started in the middle of my quilt.  Where should I add the next patch?  Let's put another clam shell onto the blue half circle!

Yay again!  Smooth round curves are making me happy!  This is awesome; why was I so afraid?!  Let's add a circle next!

But then I started second guessing how I was going about all of this and wondering if I was going to piece myself into some kind of a corner.  And I remembered an article I'd saved when I was going through a haul of ancient Quilters' Newsletter Magazines that a former member of the Charlotte Quilter's Guild gave me about a year ago.  (She wanted to donate them to a current member of the guild and I was the only person who raised my hand).  So I stopped piecing and (miraculously!) located the article, filed away in one of my ubiquitous 3-ring binders.

THIS!!  THIS is the information I'd been looking for, and I had to go all the way back to a March 1997 magazine to find it.  The instructions are for hand piecing, but all I really needed was that piecing diagram explaining that you start at the top, alternating between rows one and two, and then work your way down adding row by row beneath the first two.  That, the pressing direction for seam allowances, and the Fig. 6 photo showing that the seam allowances need to be kept open where two pointy clam shell sides meet up.  

Maybe I would have been fine if I'd kept working my way out from the middle of the quilt, but maybe there's a good reason for working top-down that would have caused frustration and swearing and, God forbid, seam ripping.  I'd rather not have to reinvent any wheels on this quilt that is already so far behind schedule, so I left off working on the middle rows and started working on the top and bottom rows instead, per the magazine instructions.

By the way, in the QNM illustrations they have cut out their clam shell using tag board templates to mark the seam lines and then adding 1/4" seam allowances beyond the drawn line.  That makes it easier for hand piecing, since you can check periodically as you're stitching to make sure your stitches are landing right on the seam line on the back of your work as well as on the front.  My acrylic clam shell template has small holes along the edges that I'm using with a Frixxion heat erase pen to mark alignment dots on my clam shells.  I know some people have had horrendous issues when they've used Frixxion pens to mark quilting designs on the front of quilts, with "ghost marks" left behind or the ink reappearing in certain situations, but I am just twirling the tip of the pen inside the hole to make tiny black dots on the WRONG side of my fabric.  They disappear pretty well when I iron them, and if they are not completely gone, well, they are on the wrong side of the fabric where no one can see them anyway!

So here you can see the completed bottom row of my quilt, all pieced and pressed!  I now know that a normal quilter would have used whole clam shells along the outside edge and trimmed after piecing, but it seems to be working just fine.  I think I planned for a 2" wide border in that same blue so the clam shells would float away from the binding. My top row is completely pieced now, too, in addition to that bit in the center that I'd already started before locating my instructions.  My plan now is to continue piecing down from the top and up from the bottom per the QNM instructions, joining the sections together at the center circles.

SO, having met my goal of STARTING the piecing this week, what are my quilting goals for the week to come?

This Week's Quilting Goals

  • FINISH piecing Modern Baby Clam Shell Quilt!  
  • Load next charity top on the long arm and decide how to quilt it
  • Write next post for my Long Arm Linky party and schedule publication for Tuesday morning!

I'm linking up today's post with the following linky parties:


·       UFO Busting at Tish in Wonderland


·       Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

·       Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework

·       Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts


·       Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  

·       Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt


·       To-Do Tuesday at Home Sewn By Us


la tulipe said...

What a perfect work! Impossible for me! I am not patient enough!:-(
Your tuto looks great!

CathieJ said...

I don't think I would have the patience to not only do all that research, but also the curved sewing. This is going to be a wonderful quilt.

Vicki in MN said...

Wishing you all the best with the rest of the quilt, I would have thrown in the towel!

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

I don't know why but I thought you had finished the clamshells!

The Colorful Fabriholic said...

Yay you for tackling such a challenging project! Your method is obviously working well - your curved seams look smooth and flat. I'm sure this quilt will be well loved by the recipient.

Angela said...

Oh! Good for you! Never in a million years would I attempt that.

Carla A Few Of My Favorite Things said...

Understanding hand piecing really improved my machine work and with large enough pieces is doable by machine. Hopefully you have the patience and just take it step by step and enjoy each piece being added!

SJSM said...

I love the look of curved piecing and also like the to do curves. The curves I usually do are princess seams so I only need to do two at a time and they are larger curves. Your smaller curves are looking great. That whole concave cover match seems like magic but that’s where the stretch of bias makes it all work. This will go quickly once you get the knack of the piecing order, especially with the large pieces and a smaller quilt. I’m looking forward to your process.

My goals this week is put the sewing room back in order after going through all my fabric in bins. I called out some and put all the items that belong together as like kinds; women’s, knits, interfacings, fleece, linings etc. next is altering two Mexican wedding shirts, a few masks for school kids and parents going back to work. Next I’ll tackle my patterns and fabric cabinet. That should keep me going for weeks!

Jayne said...

I love your determination! I have to say I made a clam shell quilt...once! And I will never make another one! I found it frustrating, irritating and awkward. They are gorgeous as yours will be too! I'm so glad there are others who make quilts with clam shells for all to see!

Karrin Hurd said...

Great work on the curved piecing! I have an apple core UFO I need to get back to one of these days!

LIttle Penguin Quilts said...

Your clamshells are looking just great, Rebecca! I admire your perseverance in figuring it all out! Pretty color combination, too, with the prints and the blue Grunge.

Sarah said...

Oh my goodness, how I admire your persistence. I don't think I could do it! It's going to be a beauty!

The Joyful Quilter said...

Lucky you, Rebecca!! I wouldn't have had a snowballs chance of finding those directions. Even if I actually HAD remembered saving them!!! :P

Faye said...

Fabulous colour choices. The curves look amazing. Curves always terrify me, but yours look wonderful. Good luck with the rest!

Cynthia Brunz Designs said...

Great job on those curves. That is one type of block I always struggle with. Thanks for linking up with Oh Scrap!

Kathleen said...

Love this! Tell me if you love that Bernina. I have a 440 that may be losing its way along with a Janome 3160 (older model). So, I am in the market.....I love my Bernina but I get tempted by some of the flashier models, so do tell.... said...

Well done! It is interesting how piecing the clam shells works the best. I'm glad you found the resource. I so miss QNM!

piecefulwendy said...

You had me at "set aside and ignored for a year" - hahahaha! So glad someone else does that! Thank you for walking us through your process. I'm swooning a bit over that floral clamshell under your needle in that photo! This is going to be a fun quilt! Way to go for meeting your goal for the week!

chrisknits said...

Love it!!! It will be so adorable.

Preeti said...

I love your attention to detail, every single detail. It is not like reading a blogpost. It is more like attending a workshop. This Clam Shell is going to be another beauty and I will be back here drooling all over my keyboard. Sending hugs and best wishes.

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

That is looking very beautiful!!! Now it's all about momentum!

Vivian said...

Cheating here, have already seen the later post of the finished top. Had to go back because I thought I remember reading about this one when you started it. I love to read all the process posts on a pretty project! And yes, this is why I STILL love my old issues of QNM and will pull out old issues periodically and thumb through them. Even today I find great project ideas and tips in issues decades old. It was truly the quilting bible in its day and I miss it so!

D.evans said...

im making a tablerunner like this wish me luck!

Rebecca Grace said...

D.evans -- Good luck! I would love to see a picture of your table runner project, either in progress or when it's finished!