Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hot Air Balloon fundraiser quilt

Since this past February (i.e. 5 months ago), I have been working (off and on) a fund-raiser quilt for a parochial school that is actively supported by a branch of Mr. Pirate's family.  The school is located in Napa, CA, which is known for its premier wine grape vineyards and wineries.  It is also a popular area for hot air ballooning.

With this in mind, I designed a queen sized quilt for the fund-raiser with an appliqued hot air balloon floating over vineyards in a center oval, which in turn is surrounded by a border of pieced grape leaves and a final outer border of appliqued swags.  Applique grape clusters occupy the cornerstones of the grape leaf border.

I turned under the edges of all the applique motifs and machine appliqued them with monofilament thread.  The hot air balloon itself had an extra layer of batting underneath it for a faux trapunto effect.

At 108" long, it is the BIGGEST quilt I've loaded yet onto my Tin Lizzie!  I was somewhat concerned that I'd run out of room on the rail, but fortunately, it fit.  Whew!

This shows just one of the swirly feathers.
For the quilting, I outline quilted the swags and hot air balloon & its segments, free-motioned most of the rest of the designs, with some ruler work thrown in when I needed straight lines.  Clouds were quilted behind the hot air balloon, the vineyards were simulated with quilted lines, the corners around the center oval received symmetrical swirling feathers, the grape leaves got veins and tendrils, an abstract design was put inside the swags and the area outside the swags was quilted with a piano key design.

The backing is unbleached muslin.  I get it 108" wide so I have a seamless backing.  I love seamless backings!  It makes life easier for me. :-)

The batting is a 80% cotton/20% polyester blend.

The binding is double-fold bias ... that's the only kind of binding I put on my quilts.  It's the sturdiest, most durable binding since there are two crossed fibers where the binding folds over the edge of the quilt.  I make my bias binding using the continuous tube method and actually enjoy the process. :-)   (the link is also on the right-hand side of the blog)

I also machine embroidered a label for the back with a "damask" hot air balloon on one side and grape clusters on the other.  I always catch two sides of any label when I sew on the binding.  The remaining two sides are either turned under or bordered with leftover binding.  Having the label sewn into the binding helps to ensure that it can't be casually removed.

The fund-raiser event will be this coming Fall; I'm very pleased with myself for finishing this quilt so far in advance!  I had visions of frantically stitching the binding down en route to the event!  Now, I can sit back and move on to other projects. :-)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Self-mitering (baby) blanket

note: I really do try to create a visually attractively spaces blog entry.  But when Blogger publishes it, many of my nicely spaces pictures and accompanying photos get horribly mis-spaced.   It's very, very annoying to me but I don't see where I have any control over the final placement of words and pictures.  My apologies in advance.

This technique has been around for a LONG time; it's very clever, easy and the result looks so wonderful.  In my not-so-humble opinion, it's visually much nicer than butted borders.

Missouri Star Quilting Company recently put a video on YouTube on March 2012 demonstrating this technique.  Jenny swears up and down that you can get a blanket done in a mere 10 minutes, but I think she's being overly optimistic. :-)

I was intrigued, this being the first time I'd been aware of it.  I'm obviously behind the times. :-)   The first time through is never as easy or as fast as subsequent times.  I can assure you that I did NOT take 10 minutes to make the blanket. :-)

One problem with having a video tutorial, as great as it is having live-action demonstrations available, when it comes to making something, I like to have *physical* directions in front of me, something that I can jot down notes to myself.  As I was making the first blanket, I was also writing down the steps involved.  I did think that I would write them up into a tutorial for not only myself but others.  I should have realized that OTHER people might have already created printable directions for the self-mitering
receiving blankets, seeing as the concept has been around for a while!

When I was looking around to find the "earliest" reference I found at least two printable versions that are more than adequate.

The Mitered Corner Blanket  is a PDF dated March 2007 from the Utah State University Cooperative Extension and is anally-retentive (said in the most constructive way possible).  It has more information that you might want to be aware of than I ever realized. :-)   Some of their drawings could be a little larger (specifically the part about making the miter), but this PDF is excellent.

The Self Binding Receiving Blanket by Natalia Bonner of Piece N Quilt is a printable document on Google Docs.  It's more of a literal translation of the Missouri Star Quilting Company's YouTube video BUT she does have an excellent shortcut for a foolproof way to figuring out where that all-important miter sewing line should be.

I did two things that neither the video nor the tutorial (that I saw) mentioned that made the final top-stitching step easier.  Once you've sewn all 4 sides and done the miter corners but before turning it right side out ...

1. I *pressed* the miter seam allowance open.  This distributes the bulk evenly and allows a VERY flat corner.

2. I also pressed the seam allowances of the border/interior towards the border.
I have 4 steps to create a VERY flat mitered corner.

step a.

a. First, you absolutely, positively must MAKE SURE that the two seamlines (the interior/border seamline and the miter seamline) do NOT NOT NOT go past each other.  It's better to have a small gap where the intersection is than to have the stitchings go past each other.

step b

 b. Trim away the excess fabric in the corner.  It doesn't need to be exactly 1/4"; just eyeball it.  No one is going to get inside with a ruler to judge you.

I also diagonally trim the corner away in order to reduce the bulk in that area when the item is turned right side out.  Be careful not to trim too closely to the stitched line.

step c

 c. Press the miter seam allowance open.  If you do this, you won't have a lump on one side of the seam line when you turn the blanket right side out.

Also, I like to make sure that the miter seam allowance is tucked *all the way* next to the adjacent seamline.  This also helps with creating a very flat mitered corner area.

step d

 d. Now, press the rest of the seam allowances towards the borders.  The corner of the miter should lie very flat.

I found that if I didn't press the seam allowances "up", when I turned the blanket right side out, they would sometimes "flip" on me.  It was then quite annoying to try to get the seam allowances where they should be.

step e

 e.  When you finally turn the blanket right side out and give the borders a final pressing, you'll find that you have a VERY flat miter.

With the seamlines pressed towards the borders, it creates a very nice area for the top-stitching, which holds the seam allowances down and stabilizes the entire blanket.


THEN I turned the blanket right side out.  I think the video has you turn the blanket then press the seam allowance towards the border from the right side.  BUT, I found that if I did the extra step of pressing the seam allowance up before turning, the seam allowance didn't fight me.

And then about that final, decorative top-stitching .... you do it to hold the seam allowances in place through all the laundering the blanket is going to get.   Missouri Star Quilting Company (and others) advocate a simple top-stitching, about 1/8" away from the seam allowance.  I did this but didn't like it so much because the area where you turned the quilt (obviously) is not stitched down.  If you do just a top-stitch, that gap area is actually a small "flap" since it's not stitched down in a seam like the rest of the seam.  Yes, it's a *very* small thing, but it annoyed me.  (I wasn't going to go back and hand stitch the gap area down.)
Instead, I chose to use a blanket stitch/buttonhole decorative stitch.  

My sewing machine is a Janome 6500.  I love it.  It has all sorts of fancy, decorative stitches that I rarely use. :-)  But I do use 3 of them for the decorative top-stitching for these blankets.  First, I use Mode 2, stitch 34.  This is a closely spaced blanket stitch.  I use this in the area where I turned the quilt so that the unstitched seamline area is firmly held in place.  This gap area is also where I put my little 'tags' .. they are just for pretty ... and the close blanket stitch secures the tag nicely.

Once the gap area is stitched, I switch to stitch 36 (still in Mode 2).  This is a wider-spaced blanket stitch.  The straight stitching is like a stitch in the ditch and the little perpendicular stitches go into the border area to hold the seam allowance down.

The jury is still out as to whether I'm going to continue to use the third decorative stitch.  This is Mode 2, stitch 64 and looks like a straight line with small cross-bars.  I used it specifically on the miter seamline so that the cross-bars would hold the miter seam allowances down.  I'm not entirely sure if laundering would cause the miter seam allowances to bunch up, but if they do, I'm hoping that this stitch will tend to hold them in place.

The decorative stitches take a little longer to stitch out, but they look nice.

I've seen where some people use a zig-zag stitch, but I just don't care for that look.
knit interior with flannel backing/border
I've also mixed up flannel and woven cotton .. depending on what I had.

I made one with Minkee interior & flannel backing/border;

one with flannel interior & woven backing/border;

one with cotton knit interior & flannel backing border.

Minkee interior with woven backing/border
So, don't feel constrained to make the blankets with *just* cotton or *just* flannel; mixtures are OK, too.  Everything was washed before I used it, so there won't be any surprise shrinkage later on.

quilting: circles  (you can see them better on the backing)
I am concerned that, upon many subsequent launderings, the center of the blanket is going to become mis-aligned or get "bubbly".
quilting: double diagonal lines

 I didn't want to spend a lot of time quilting the interior but did want to somehow attach the interior front and back.  So, I wanted some limited quilting ... but as I got into it, some not-so-minimal quilting!   Doing more quilting did take more time, which is exactly what I didn't want to do!

I've seen some of these blankets quilted with two long diagonals, from corner to corner .. that would certainly work, but I don't care for the look.  The quilting that I did is probably more than is necessary.   :-)

quilting: spiral

 They really are a lot of fun to make.

AND THEN .... just so you don't think you are limited to making only baby blankets with this technique, in 2009, Moda came up with a project that used this method to create high-end napkins for your table.

Now, granted, the main emphasis of this project was making Dresden Plate chargers for your plates but included in the project were instructions to make the napkins also!  You use 2 Fat Quarters (one is cut down to 12"x12") to make one napkin.  But the technique is EXACTLY the same as for these blankets.

Do look at the *lovely* decorative stitch they used to hold the seam allowances down!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Current Forever Project: needleturn applique - Grapes

I always like to have a handwork project to work on when I am away from home.  I work on this project on road trips, appointments, anytime I'm unable to work on my home sewing machine or longarm quilting.  I always call this project my "Forever Project" (in honor of the first Forever Project that took about 10 years to finish, if I'm remembering correctly!).  Whether or not the current project will actually TAKE "forever" is irrelevent; my family knows what the Forever Project tote looks like and that it belongs in the car with me. :-)

My current Forever Project is a needleturn applique pattern by Nancy Lee Chong of Pacific Rim Quilting Company.  I first learned how to do needleturn using her technique with another of her patterns, Peace.  Prior to that, I absolutely, positively AVOIDED needleturn because all the methods I had used up to that point had been too annoying for me to use.

But, once I learned her basted needleturn technique, I actually look forward to any project I can use it on.  :-)   Recently I was fortunate to take an applique class with her as an instructor and was practically over the moon with delirious happiness!  The class was awesome and one important lesson I learned was how to get pointy points and sharp corners.  Without her hands-on teaching, I don't think I ever would have figured it out properly.  Nancy Lee Chong is an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher; if you have a chance to take a class from her, do not hesitate to do so.

Back to my current Forever Project!   Mr. Pirate's (extended) family has vineyards that grow grapes, which are then sold to wineries to make wine.  (side note: wine grapes are lousy, lousy, lousy eating grapes. Yuck. Pa-tooie!)  When I saw Grapes as one of Nancy Lee Chong's 2 Fabric Applique patterns, I decided I would make it, in honor of our family's heritage.

I had a mottled, gold-marbled fabric from some other project that is perfect as the background.  I found a suitable dark purple fabric for the grapes.  One afternoon was spent tracing the finished seamlines onto the grape fabric.  Another evening was spent basting on that seamline with heavy-duty thread.  Once all the basting was done, my Forever Project was ready to be put into the tote and could be worked on.

It's still very much a Work In Progress ... I'm not antsy to complete it.  When it gets done, it gets done.  I have other projects at home to work on with my sewing machine. I don't miss working on it when I *am* at home.  For me, it's very much an on-the-road project.