Monday, October 21, 2013

hexie update: hexagon unit construction

Recently, I attended Pacific International Quilt Festival (PIQF).  One of the vendor booths was hawking a tool to help with construction of hand-pieced hexagons.  I stopped to watch.  The tool was a glue pen.  To use it, you draw a line of glue on the template and press the fabric seam allowance down so the glue holds it whilst you baste through the template and fabric.   I used to use the method (only I was using washable glue stick, instead of a pen), which I have blogged about here.   (You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of that blog entry, as I also talked about other proejcts first.)   I no longer use this technique because (for me) it creates unnecessary extra steps.

BUT ... there was one other pearl of wisdom that the vendor imparted .... she cuts her fabric as a SQUARE.

Say what?!??!   She's not cutting her fabric hexagon-shaped?!??!  What outlandish shortcut is this?!??!

Indeed, her fabric was NOT cut as a hexagon to match the template.  Yes, there was excess fabric on the back of the hexagon once the fabric was folded over.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized .... so what?  That small amount of excess "seam allowance" fabric wasn't going to amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things when it comes to quilting.   AND it has the extra added attraction of reducing the amount of preparation steps I would need to do.  I'm all for streamlining and ease of construction!

So ... what am I talking about?   Let's see ....  (aside: I had already cut my hexie fabric into 4-1/2" strips to accommodate the acrylic template I use to cut the hexagon shapes.  This means that could not cut the fabric into *squares* because a 4-1/2" *square* wasn't big enough for a proper amount of seam allowance to fold over.  Instead, I have to cut the fabric for my templates into 4-1/2" x 5-1/2" rectangles.  The fact that I am using rectangles instead of squares makes no difference whatsoever in the construction process.)

First, look at the front of the hexies, side by side.  I realize that pictures won't let you feel the thickness of each one, but I assure you that *to me* there is negligible difference between the two.

 Once they are whip-stitched together, you can't tell there is any difference between the shape of the fabric that was originally used.

Looking at the BACK of the same units ....  oh, now THERE'S a difference you can obviously see. 

The hexie flower unit on the left was made with fabric rectangles.  The back of these hexies has more fabric covering the template than the hexie flower unit on the right, which was constructed with hexagon-shaped fabric.

Yes, the flower unit on the right looks a whole lot more tidy but once the quilt is quilted, not even the Quilt Police would be able to tell which flower unit had hexagon-shaped fabric and which ones had the rectangle-shaped fabric.

I use an acrylic template (by Darlene Zimmerman, available through EZ Quilting) to cut my paper templates and my fabric.  This is a nifty template for cutting because it allows me to choose between 5 different sizes.  To efficiently use it, you first cut your fabric (or paper, for templates) into strips, the size of which is printed on the acrylic template.

My paper templates are 3-1/2", so I cut paper strips at 3-1/2", then subcut all my paper templates.  The fabric to wrap around the paper templates uses the 4-1/2" size hexagon.  I cut fabric strips at 4-1/2" x WOF, then subcut the actual hexagon shapes using the 4-1/2" markings.

This requires me to make 4 cuts per hexagon, once the strip (of paper or fabric) is ready.  This really isn't annoying; you just  zip-zip-zip-zip around the acrylic template and you have lovely hexagons.

BUT ... that *is* 4 cuts of fabric.  After the first 2 cuts, you need to flip the template around so you can cut the other two sides.  That breaks your rhythm and takes time.  And aren't we all about saving time?  :-)

If I use a square/rectangle piece of fabric, I'm saving myself 3 cuts of fabric!  How?  Well, I still need to cut my fabric into 4-1/2" x WOF strips.  No getting around that.  But the subcuts???  Just ONE slice at 5-1/2" gives me a rectangle that is suitable for wrapping the paper hexagon template.  That's a reduction of 3 fabric slices AND I don't need to turn the template (which I'm not using) over.   This allows me to cut my fabric more quickly so I can get to the hexagon construction phase.

Here's a comparison of the hexagon construction with both shapes of fabric:

First, the "traditional" method, using hexagon-shaped fabric.  Place the paper template on top of the fabric.  I put a pin in the center to hold the two pieces together.  The seam allowances are folded over the paper edge, one by one, and I simply *hold* the fabric down whilst I take a back-stitch in each corner.  This holds the two layers of folded seam allowances down.  I do *not* go through the paper template.  I drag the thread over to the next corner and repeat the back-stitch until I am finished.  These basting stitches *stay* in the hexie.  (i.e. I do not have the extra, added step of needing to remove the basting stitches when the hexie unit is done.)

The back looks very neat and tidy, doesn't it?  :-)

When I'm using the rectangle-shaped fabric, it looks like this.  I follow the *exact* procedure as with the hexagon-shaped fabric but there is obviously excess fabric in the corners, which makes the back of the hexie unit look messy.

But, goodness gracious ... WHO is going to look at the BACK of your hexie units once the quilt is done?  Heck, no one is even going to be *able* to look at the back unless they take your quilt apart! 

For both methods, once the fabric has been basted around the paper template, I do give each hexi a pressing to flatten the fabric down and create a very crisp edge for me to whip-stitch.  Once each hexi has been pressed, each one is VERY flat.  Honestly, it's exceedingly difficult to tell the difference between the two just by feeling them.

Now, I will say that if you are going to hand quilt these hexies, you might be able to tell when you've hit the areas with the extra corner fabric.  But, I don't hand quilt.  My longarm machine will go through anything, so the extra corner fabric doesn't even figure into the quilting process.   I've done a number of hexies withe the rectangular fabric and I'm pleased enough to continue using the rectangular-shaped fabric vs the extra time & effort it takes to cut the hexagon-shaped fabric.  

The only drawback?  You need to get OVER the fact that the BACK of the hexies don't look tidy.  :-)

Here's my progress so far .... this is my "design wall"  (i.e. a king-sized black flat sheet) that I've pinned the completed hexi units onto. 

The hexie units on the left side have been sewn together into columns.  Then I realized that was a tactical mistake ... I really do need to have ALL of my hexie units available to be able to place them in a pleasing manner and also to avoid having too many of the same color scheme next to each other.  (Oh, the horror of it all, should that ever happen!) 

So, if you look to the right, you'll see the individual hexie units pinned but not sewn together  AND you'll see flower units without their background hexies stitched on .... I haven't gotten around to that right now, as I've been concentrating on stitching the flower units together.

What do I call a "hexie unit"?  .... well that is a flower unit sewn together with its background hexies.  At that point, I can place that entire unit wherever I want it to be. 

All of the hexie units interlock with each other.  This makes it very, very easy to move the units around and see what the overall color scheme looks like.

Onwards!  :-)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"All That Glitters" wall-hanging

I recently attended Pacific International Quilt Festival (PIQF) in Santa Clara, CA with a very good quilting buddy.  It's always nice to go to shows with a kindred spirit because you can talk shop without needing to do the background info.

One booth we stopped at had a Christmas tree wall-hanging, "All That Glitters"  designed by  Christine Baker & Nellie Holmes, featuring a gorgeous panel print and companion fabrics.  The thing that caught my eye ... along with everyone else's! .. was the twinkling lights that had been inserted in the wall-hanging!  It was just so doggone cute!

As it happens, my youngest daughter loves Christmas.  She has an apartment but I bet that she's not going to spring the money for a Christmas tree.  I thought that she might like this wall-hanging in lieu of a real tree and it might suffice until she gets a home of her own to settle in, where she *can* invest some emotional energy and funds to decorate for Christmas "properly".

The booth had the wall-hanging available as a kit ... panel print, companion prints and the lights!  Even though it was early in the day, I sprung for the kit.  You just never know how fast something will sell out at a show.

Yesterday (Saturday, 10/19), I spent time to piece the top together.  It's rated at a beginner's level and I must agree.  It is very, very simple to construct.

I have a couple of nitpicks to discuss.  The star blocks are Sawtooth Star blocks.  Sometimes the points are made with Flying Geese; sometimes they are made with triangle-in-a-square blocks.  This pattern chose the triangle-in-a-square block. 

One nitpick was how they pieced the triangle-in-a-square unit.  They have you make a half-rectangle to VERY specific measurements then join the two half-rectangles to make the triangle-in-a-square.  This results in a seam down the center of the block.  This seam creates unnecessary bulk at the center top of the block.   If you are slightly off in the seam allowance or in the pressing of the seam allowances, your final half-rectangle unit won't be quite the right measurement, which means your triangle-in-a-block unit won't be quite right either.

Having said that, *most* of my triangle-in-a-square units were within a reasonable margin of error.  Beginning sewers might not have as much good luck.  When constructing units such as these, I like to make them slightly over-large and trim them to size.  In this manner, I can be absolutely assured that the final block will be precisely the correct measurements.

 Furthermore, I wouldn't have used the half-rectangle approach.  I have Eleanor Burn's "triangle in a square" ruler, which makes constructing this block a cinch.  Personally, I *adore* this ruler set for making this block.  It is absolutely, positively fool-proof.  However, even if you *didn't* have Eleanor's ruler, you could still make this block by cutting two side triangles and a center triangle (one such tutorial is here, but there are many others out there).  But, you'd need to be aware that this construction technique is an alternative.

The other nitpick I had was that the panel print was skewed.  The panel print consists of the Christmas tree bordered top & bottom by snowflakes.  You need to cut the snowflake borders off (and reattach later after the sashing is inserted).  The resultant piece is just the Christmas tree.  Well, when I aligned the top & bottom raw edges so that the fabric was hanging flat, there was about 1" overhang on each side.   If  I had just straightened out the whole panel print, I would have seriously cut through the end snowflakes.  As it was, I was required to cut quite a bit from the Christmas tree to create a true rectangular panel.  This made the final Christmas tree panel narrower than the instructions called for .... which meant that the end snowflakes of the top & bottom borders were going to be sliced off.  :-(

But other than that, the construction was absolutely straightforward and very easy.  I started slightly before our dinner was ready and even though I was interrupted several times during the course of the evening, I was able to finish the piecing of the top that night.  Here's the timeline:

6:00pm.   Cut the top & bottom snowflake borders from the Christmas tree panel print.  True-up the Christmas tree panel rectangle.

6:15pm Make the half-rectangles.

Make a whole bunch of them.  Put them aside for the moment.

6:21pm  Cut and sew on the red fabric sashing and inner border.

6:30pm  Chain stitch the two halves of half-rectangles together to create the triangle-in-a-square unit.  Make a whole bunch of them.  Make more.

[break of 2 hours ... helping Mr. Pirate can some tomato sauce and eat dinner]

8:55pm Construct star block component 1, consisting of one triangle-in-a-square and two plain fabric squares.   Make a whole bunch of them.

9:34pm Construct star block component 2, consisting of two triangle-in-a-squares and one plain fabric square.  Make a whole bunch of them.

10:05pm  Combine star block component 1 and 2.  This resulted in 10 star blocks.

Construct the borders (top, bottom, sides), consisting of alternating the Sawtooth Star blocks and plain fabric squares (from the companion prints).

11:39pm  Final, finished version of the top is completed, ready to be quilted.

Note that the duration was 6 hours BUT at least 2 hours of that was interrupted by non-sewing stuff.  This is a top that can EASILY be made in one day.

At this point, the top can be quilted.  Once quilted, you square it up and bind it.

Then, you decide where you want the little LED lights are to be placed.  Make a buttonhole (machine or by hand) at those spots so that the LED light can be inserted from the back.    Yes, you could just poke a hole through the quilt with an awl, treat the raw edges with Fray Check or Fray Block and then put the LED lights through the hole .. but really.  REALLY ... don't do that shortcut at this point!  Take the extra time to make the buttonholes!

The LED lights have a small battery pack that powers them.  You'll need to make a pocket on the back of the quilt to hold this battery pack so it is out of sight.

But sure to put a hanging sleeve on the quilt!   I like to sew the top of the hanging sleeve onto the quilt when I sew on the binding.  That way, I know that the hanging sleeve is going to be securely attached to the quilt.

Don't forget the LABEL!!