July 25, 2014 § 12 Comments
When it comes to quilt making, accurate cutting can be just as important as accurate sewing. Especially when there are a million tiny little pieces! The first thing you will want to do even before cutting is to press & straighten your fabric. This just sets the foundation for better overall success.
(photo courtesy of Clothworks)
I’m sure you all know that when you cut fabric right off the bolt it is almost always a little crooked, right? Some fabrics are better or worse than others. Quilting fabric comes rolled on long tubes as the manufacturers receive it from the printing & dying facility.
Then it needs to be rolled onto a flat bolt. When the fabric is placed on the machine that folds & rolls it onto the bolt, it can really get messed up if it isn’t set up properly. Believe me, from working in a quilt shop, we hate those bad bolts as much as you do. They aren’t easy to cut and you end up with a funny shaped piece of fabric as well. Cassie at Elegantitus shows some good photos of fabric rolls to bolts in her post over here.
So, getting back to cutting basics.
First, straighten your fabric. Fold the fabric in half with selvages together. Hold the fold with your fingers on one side and hold the selvages in your other hand.
In this photo you can see that the cut edges from the bolt are lined up but the selvages are not parallel.
Shift the selvage side up or down until the selvages are parallel to each other. Here you can see that the selvages are parallel but the cut edge is not. This is how your fabric will look. It may not be this dramatic of a difference. Or it may be more. If you skip this step, this is why that “wow” or “bow” at the fold line of your cut strip occurs.
Carefully lay your fabric onto your cutting mat and line up the selvage with the grid on your mat. Trim away the uneven cut edge from the bolt.
Now, there are many ways to cut from there. Most people turn their mat around and start cutting, measuring from the left side of the fabric to the right. These people often say to NOT use the mat to measure, but use the ruler to measure from the cut edge of the fabric, from left to right. Your ruler may not match the mat.
Quilting teachers tell you to leave your fabric where it is, lay a ruler along the cut edge to measure from the right towards the left. Then lay your large ruler snug up next to that ruler, slide the first ruler away, and cut your fabric. They also say to NOT use the mat but to only use rulers to measure.
What I do is a modification of the last one. I measure from the right towards the left. But I use my ruler and line it up with the measurements of the mat. The extra ruler seems like an unnecessary step to me. I always look to make sure that at least two or more lines on the top & bottom of the ruler match the lines on the mat. This seems fairly accurate to me.
And for me, I have found that I cut more accurately using this method over the other two methods. I recommend that you try each one and see which gives you the best results.
Sometimes, if you have to make a large number of cuts, it is easy to start being 1/16th to 1/8th inch off no matter which method you are using to cut. Just line up the selvage with the mat again, trim off the little bit of uneven edge as in the beginning. Then beginning cutting again. Nobody likes to end up with that curve at the fold of the fabric.
If you have a fat quarter, just line up the selvage to the mat, trim the edge to make it straight and start cutting using your favorite method.
Now, go forth and cut.
By the way, this is going to be the binding on my low volume quilt. I had to find something to cut up for you.
July 21, 2014 § 20 Comments
This may be blasphemous to say in the quilting world… and I’m certain I am in the crazy minority… but I am not a big fan of the Wonder Clips. They are all the rage right now.
Let me explain myself and you can judge me if you like. See how the red half of the Wonder Clip curves? Well, it doesn’t keep my binding flat unless I put the clip on upside down. I guess upside down is okay. But it kind of bugs me. So I haven’t been using them.
These are the older binding clips that look like hair barrets from the 70’s. That’s what I use. See how it keeps my binding nice and flat? Mmmm Hmmm. I know. Go ahead and judge me. I can take it.
But I did discover that the Wonder Clips aren’t completely useless. They are perfect for holding my sock knitting needles while traveling. Ha!
See how that curve so perfectly accommodates the needles and a little bit of the sock? Yup! It works quite nicely.
However, I will give the Wonder Clips an extra point in their favor. They definitely have a strong grip. So maybe they can be used for things other than sewing binding. Now I just need to find something to sew where I might need a strong grip to hold the parts together while I’m stitching. Maybe something with the laminated fabric I have stashed away in my closet?
You can now go back to your regularly scheduled day. Thanks for listening.
July 11, 2014 § 19 Comments
Quarter-inch seams. Why are they so important in quilting? While consistent seam width is important for simple quilts. It’s the good ol’ 1/4-inch standard that will guarantee better success when making complicated blocks.
Your machine may have one of these types of 1/4-inch presser feet above.
1. The foot that came with my Brother PQ-1500s.
2. The foot that was sold to me for my Featherweight when I took a maintenance class.
3. The foot I purchased off the Internet and comes with some brands of machines.
4. The method that my Janome uses to achieve a 1/4″ seam is a pre-programmed needle position. No special feet involved.
No. 1 is by far my favorite presser foot with No. 3 as a close second. No. 2 is my least favorite and I would rather go without a 1/4-inch foot altogether than try to work with it. And I could live with No. 4 if I had no other choice, but I would certainly prefer a special 1/4-inch foot far & above a pre-programmed needle position.
So let me explain why I have the opinions I do. You are free to form your own opinions and are under no obligation to change them just because I happen to prefer something else. Use what works for you.
I like presser foot No. 1 because it shows me where a 1/4″ seam is but doesn’t force me to follow it if I don’t want to. And the second bump on the right side is the guide for a 3/8″ seam, which is what I generally use when sewing binding, sort of. Or maybe making bags or some home deco type of item. It’s my go-to all-purpose foot. I like that extra little bit of width in the back to keep the fabric stable, yet it doesn’t intrude on achieving a 1/4″ seam when necessary.
Foot No. 2 is my least favorite because I’m not quite sure where a 1/4-inch really is. It has a hard edge guide on the right side that forces the fabric to go no further. What if I wanted to sew a 1/4-inch top stitching line? I can’t do it because the metal bar is in the way.
And do you see that little gap between the foot and the bar? It seems to ever so slightly slant out further in the front than in the back. So is the 1/4-inch in the back or the front? It makes me feel like I am constantly pulling the fabric one way or another when I’m sewing. And where is a scant 1/4-inch? That bar is in the way and I can’t see what I’m doing.
As you can tell, this presser foot really gets on my nerves.
And that is sort of why I am not overly fond of the pre-programmed needle position in No. 4 either. It’s much too fussy and I’m still not quite sure what is a full 1/4-inch and what is a scant 1/4-inch. I’m a visual person and I like to “see” what is going on. I don’t like computers telling me what they think I want. In quilting anyway. But I could learn to get used to it if I had to. It’s better than nothing.
So, now I’ve thrown another concept out there. What’s the difference between a full 1/4-inch and a scant 1/4-inch? A full 1/4-inch only includes the seam allowance from the thread to the cut edge without including the thread. A scant 1/4-inch is anything less than that. How scant does it need to be, you ask? Well. That depends on the thread you are using and the thickness of your fabric. It’s something that you need to learn for your own personal machine and your thread & fabric choices.
The above photo shows my scant 1/4-inch seam that includes the thread. It is what I need with this thread, and this fabric on this machine.
The objective is all about making the math add up. In theory, the above image is five 2 1/2-inch finished size squares sewn together plus a 1/4-inch seam allowance on each side. So the width needs to equal 5 x 2.5 + .5 for a total of 13 inches. When you sew it all together is your block at this point measuring 13 inches? What if you had twice as many seams and lost only 1 millimeter for each seam? Eight millimeters adds up to nearly a centimeter which is approximately 3/8-inch. So your block would be short by that measurement and it would be difficult to match up to whatever the next block might be. Certainly you can fudge. But then you may be sewing blocks together with only an 1/8-inch seam or less in places.
Additionally, if you have thick thread, every little millimeter of variance adds up. Thick fabric when pressed to one side is impossible to make completely flat without loosing a couple of millimeters or more. That little fold of fabric can take out a couple of millimeters, easily. Add on a few more seams and suddenly your block is not the size you thought it was going to be.
One trick to making flatter seams if there are a lot of tiny little seams is to press them open. Then only one fold of fabric is being taken in with the seam allowance rather than two. I don’t know if you can see the difference in the photo above. The left is the flattest seam and the right is the bulkiest seam. The middle is the average seam pressed towards one side and of medium thickness.
I prefer Aurifil 50-weight thread. It feels just a hair thinner than most thread and therefore adds just a smidge less to the seam allowance. The topic of thread could be a whole separate discussion.
In continuation of talking about 1/4-inch presser feet are the feed dogs underneath the feet that help you achieve the seam that you desire. These are the feed dogs on the above machines.
1. Brother PQ-1500s
3. My grandmothers Singer 15-91
4. Janome Horizon 7700
This is one of the reasons I prefer older, vintage machines for piecing quilts. Numbers 2 & 3 are vintage Singer machines. Do you see how close the feed dogs are? And that there is one that is extremely close to the needle hole? This helps to keep the fabric straight and flat while sewing small seams.
My Brother happens to follow in the footsteps of these vintage machines and one of the reasons why I love it so much for making quilts.
The Janome’s feed dogs are wider and farther from the needle hole. Which is not as favorable for sewing together small pieces of fabric with small seams. It’s great for sewing clothing and decorative stitches where you may have a lot of fabric being fed through. But it’s not so great for tiny little pieces with tiny little seams. To me, it feels like the fabric isn’t as stable under the presser foot as it could be. It feels like it has a little more room to slide around and shift during the process of sewing.
Well, I hope you found this interesting or useful. I could continue with more about leaders & enders, single hole plates vs. zig zag plates and thread. But this post is getting too long already. So those may need to be separate topics another day.
Meanwhile, sew on!
July 1, 2014 § 11 Comments
Recently a friend came over and helped me sort through all of my quilts. I have made a lot of quilts!
So I thought I would run a Summer Series on tips that could improve your piecing.
Let me just say that even though I know these things… sometimes I am lazy and I don’t do them. In the quilting world, rules are made to be broken. And there are many, many methods to accomplish the same thing. Try all of the methods and then choose the one that works for you. Okay? Good!
TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PIECING
These are the topics I plan on covering. Newbie or seasoned quilter, it’s always good to have more knowledge under your belt. Then, you can proceed with that knowledge to reach your quilting goals.
- Quarter-inch seams – scant vs. full, thread, & more
- Accurate cutting – squaring up fabric, rulers, & measuring
- Pressing vs. ironing – dry irons, finger pressing & pressing direction of seams
- Matching intersecting points & point trimmers
- Maintaining your machine in good working order
BTW, those photos above are my test run at making a feathered star… in preparation to making the Star of Chamblie quilt. It was a good exercise. I’ll blog about that experience sometime this summer as well. I think this block will make a great a pillow!
September 21, 2011 § 11 Comments
Using scraps is like feeling the wind in your hair while riding your bicycle down a really big hill. Above is a bag of scraps I recently bought from Pink Chalk Fabrics. (Like I need more scraps. Ahem)
There were a few questions about my Scrappy Zig Zag quilt, so I will attempt to answer them here for everyone.
USING WOOL BATTING
I used Quilter’s Dream wool batting. I love Quilter’s Dream batting. All of the fibers they offer are really good quality and they hold up nicely with wear and washing. Some wool brands need to be quilted closer than others, so keep that in mind when purchasing. I’ve used Hobb’s wool batting before as well, and it seemed to shrink a wee bit more than the Quilter’s Dream.
This is how I wash all of my quilts regardless of fiber. I use coolish water – not completely cold, but not a hot “warm” either. Gentle cycle. And soap without any added phosphates or ingredients that make the colors fade. I use one that is environmentally friendly. When the washing is done I spin out as much of the water as possible. Then throw it in the dryer just until it is about half dry and not so damp. Then I toss it over the spare bed and let it dry the rest of the way. It usually takes about a day or so until it is completely dry. Keep in mind we live in a damp climate.
I quilted it with straight line quilting on my Janome Horizon. I think this machine has to be the best that I’ve ever used for straight line quilting. It has a built-in even feed system that was so incredibly easy to use. I didn’t have to work nearly as hard to keep the fabrics from pulling and distorting. Plus, it has a really wide throat as far as home sewing machines go. It has 11″ of work space!
I started by quilting the horizontal lines from the middle towards the outside edge. Then I went back and quilted the zig zags. I did have a little trouble keeping everything flat right along the edge because the wool batting is a little more poofy than cotton.
I use garden gloves on my hands for grippy-ness and to gently keep the area that I’m quilting nice and smooth. I put my hands on each side of the needle and spread out my fingers.
My sewing room is such a mess right now that I set this up on the dining room table. Lots of space is necessary for quilting a big quilt. And sometimes I set up a small table to the left of my chair to hold some of the weight of the quilt so it doesn’t pull off the dining table and weight down my stitching. The rest sits in my lap so there is no pulling on the quilt.
Big quilts are definitely a challenge to quilt and I debated about renting the mid-arm machine at my local quilt shop. But I was envisioning more utilitarian style quilting on this quilt. I wanted the fabric and the zig zag to be the focus and not the quilting. I was also waffling about which direction I should quilt it. In the end, I decided on horizontal straight lines and then followed the zig zag pattern. I love how it looks on the back! And it’s really unobtrusive on the front.
March 14, 2011 § 13 Comments
A while ago at work someone asked me what I thought of the Clover Seam Ripper. My answer was that I have heard it is good and that everyone I knew that owned it, loved it. A little bit later the same person asked me again. And this time I said that I thought it was a good seam ripper but that I had never used it because I don’t use a seam ripper. After I saw the look on her face, I knew that I had given the wrong answer. The expression on her face was saying, “Well, aren’t you special. You never use a seam ripper. You must be perfect.” Which is NOT what I meant at all. I literally meant that I never use a seam ripper to rip out my sewing. Sometimes the words just come out all wrong. Lest you also think I might be perfect, these are my ripping tools of choice.
I recently had to rip out a few of my tile blocks because it took me awhile to figure out how to cut the partial filler blocks with my ruler rather than using the book’s template.
What I used almost exclusively for years was my small Gingher embroidery scissors. Then my mom became a longarm quilter and she introduced me to the Porcupine Quill. That is now my favorite ripping tool of choice. And more recently I picked up a Hera Marker/Quilter’s Awl and the pointy end of it works well too. What I really dislike about seam rippers are the tiny little bits of thread that are left everywhere. So I pick out the stitches by sticking the pointy end under every 2 or 3 stitches and pulling the thread out in one long piece. I know other people who rip with their rotary cutter. That just scares me! What do you use to rip?
On another note, I put together a series of photos in movie format to show how I laid out all of the blocks of the Hexagon Tile Quilt. I can’t seem to post it here, but it’s over on my Flickr stream if you care to take a look. It is also a perfect example why a larger design wall is better. I had to start pinning blocks to the drywall.
And if you are wondering what this horrid thing below is… My niece was in town last night with her college choir doing a Spring Break Tour. We just had to drive her by the Fremont Troll after dinner. Seattle sure has a few must-see weird places of interest. Her and her travel buddy were hoping to have a few minutes to see the gum wall this morning before their bus left for Oregon.
August 10, 2010 § 16 Comments
While I’m working away on my Doll Quilt and Wild Geese Quilt, I thought we might spend some time talking about some of our favorite quilting tools. There is a discussion going on over in the Doll Quilt Swap Flickr group that sparked this idea.
So… let’s start with sewing machines. I currently own five sewing machines. It kind of freaks me out to say that. It probably freaks out my husband more to hear that… but three of them are vintage, of which two still need to be cleaned up and tuned up before I can actually sew on them.
left to right & top to bottom
- Janome Horizon – I just bought this machine a couple of months ago and haven’t had much sewing time on it yet, so I can’t say what kind of relationship we will have. It is meant to replace the Viking that I wasn’t in love with. It’s nice to have a machine that does zig-zag and buttonholes when I get the occasional urge to sew clothing. Even though it is controlled by a computer, what attracted me to this machine is that not EveryThing is controlled by the computer. And it makes really nice buttonholes. For some reason, to me, that is the ultimate indicator for a potentially good machine, nice buttonholes.
- Brother PQ1500s – classified as a “light industrial” sewing machine. Still a home sewing machine but sews 3 times faster and only does straight stitch. I love, love, Love this machine! We have a very good relationship.
- Singer 15-91 – it was my grandmother’s sewing machine. It needs to be cleaned and tuned up, supposedly a real work horse on denim. I haven’t sewn on it yet.
- Singer Featherweight – purchased from Dave McCallum who travels around locally teaching people how to care for their Featherweights. It’s lightweight and perfect for carrying to classes. Sometimes I set up this machine to piece while I am quilting on my brother.
- Singer 319W – given to me and needs to be cleaned and tuned up. One of the very first zig zag machines that Singer made. It’s only caveat is that it takes a special needle size not found in stores (but can be ordered on the Internet). I haven’t sewn on it yet.
I was talking to a customer at work some time ago about sewing machines and our relationships with our sewing machines. She had named her machine Doris. (I think, if I remember correctly) I haven’t named any of mine, but I’m thinking that maybe I should. Would that make me the equivalent of the “Crazy Cat Lady” in the sewing machine world?
So what is it that makes this relationship with our sewing machines “click?” I can’t say for certain, but for me… I think the bottom line is that the machine really does what I want it to do. And it takes a little bit of time and effort. I previously owned a Husqvarna/Viking that I never did get on very well with. And prior to that another Viking that I loved dearly. All of my sewing machines have different features that they do really well or that I love about them.
So, let’s start with the sewing machine I use the most. My Brother PQ1500s. When I was first in the market for a sewing machine to replace the one I had been using since high school, I looked everywhere and at just about every brand. I thought I knew what I wanted, purchased a machine and brought it home. It turns out that it wasn’t really what I wanted and it was Frustrating! Fortunately, I was able to return the machine and I took up knitting for awhile. I’m sure you are laughing right now and think that I am joking. But I’m not. Truly. I quit sewing because I was so frustrated and started knitting.
Then I heard someone talking about a Juki light industrial machine that was new on the market. It sounded fantastic. I knew that Juki made good industrial machines and thought that I might have better luck with that route. Turns out that this machine was so popular that there were never any in stock and so I could never test drive one at a dealer. Along the way I discovered that Brother had started producing a similar machine and test drove it at a local quilt show. I bought it, brought it home and have been in love ever since. I’m sure the Juki is just as fabulous. I’ve just never had a chance to sew on one. BTW, they are much easier to find now.
This is what I like about my Brother:
~It only sews straight stitch and does it very well.
~It’s not controlled by a computer so I get to tell it what I want it to do. It does have one very small computer chip which, I think, controls the bobbin winder and needle-down position. I can choose the tension, pressure on the presser foot, stitch length and feed dog height with dials, not digital numbers or tick marks on a computer screen, which never seem to have small enough increments of change.
~It doesn’t have a needle-up position. It’s either needle-down or off. I love the needle-down position for machine quilting. But for piecing and regular sewing I like the needle to stop sewing when I take my foot off of the foot feed. It doesn’t take another second, or two, or three to complete a stitch. This is really important to me when I am trying to position a stitch at just the right spot in a corner, or slowly sewing over zipper and trying to avoid the metal end.
~The feed dogs are closer together. The distance between the feed dogs is only 5mm, similar to the Featherweight and the Singer 15-91. The distance between the feed dogs needs to be wider when zig-zag and satin stitches are part of the machine’s capabilities. But can be a hindrance when sewing small pieces of fabric together with small seam allowances.
~The throat plate has a small, single-stitch hole so that the fabric never gets pulled down into the feed dogs. Most machines have single-stitch/hole plates that can be purchased
~It has a sturdy, large, extension table that has actual legs rather than hanging off of the throat part of the sewing machine. And the underside of the extension table secretly stores the knee lift. I love secret compartments!
~It sews really, really fast! Up to 1500 stitches per minute. I can’t sew quite that fast because my banquet tables starts to shake. But a regular home sewing machine typically sews about 500 stitches per minute.
I hope I haven’t bored you… I’d love to hear about your sewing machines and your relationship with them. If you feel inclined to post about it on your blog, please come back here and provide a link in the comments so we can all read about them. And what do you think about giving your sewing machine a name? Crazy? Normal? Tell me more.