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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Machine-Quilter's Guide to Hand-Piecing

So... I was commissioned to do a baby quilt, and baby is expected by the end of February, so a couple of weeks ago I started making the pattern and cutting the fabric.

And piecing. Stars.

Not just any stars, mind you: hand-drawn, asymmetrical stars!

This is noteworthy for two reasons: One, I've never pieced stars before, and two, they're asymmetrical.

The most complex figures I'd ever pieced before this were triangles. And, let me tell you, I had PLENTY of problems with them! Needless to say, the stars did, in fact, produce their share of headaches, details to follow in a moment.

The fact that they're asymmetrical gave Hubby a mild heart attack, because he was doing his usual peering-at-me-from-around-the-corner, trying hard not to tell me what i was doing wrong... Unsuccessfully, I might add. He really can't help himself...

These stars aren't just mildly asymmetrical - they're WILDLY asymmetrical! Well, poor Hubby was thinking to himself, "Can't she SEE that they're the wrong shape?" and quaking in his boots, fearful of confronting me when he had plainly been told to BUTT OUT... So we had a good laugh afterwards, once he realized it was deliberate, and I realized just how stupid he really thinks I am...

Back to the piecing problems of the stars, then.

I'd seen how to do them on an episode of Fons 'n Porter, for once, paying attention. And good thing, too, since I accidentally erased the program and had to wing it! Even though they don't line up in traditional straight lines, it is possible to sew sections together which produce straight lines to connect the sections with. It took me a few tries, but I did figure out which sections would join properly.

All that was left was the actual sewing. Okay, quarter-inch foot on the machine, spider at the ready, careful now, go slow...

Okay, that didn't work...

On I progressed to pinning, which made matters worse. By the time I'd finished the first star, I'd undone it about seventeen times. I sat and stared at the sewing machine in blank despair, heaved a heavy sigh and tried the second star. I put in a call to my Quilting Pal, who did have a supply of freezer paper. I tried that, it stabilized the shapes beautifully, but it isn't meant to be sewn into the seams! And since the seams cross frequently, it defeats the purpose of stabilizing them if you're busy ripping out the stabilizer before sewing the next seam...

Out, freezer paper. In, Golden Threads Tracing Paper. Hmm. The seams are still inaccurate, for all that extra work.

More staring at the sewing machine.

Now an event happened which gave me the insight I was looking for. There was a quilting bee day for my guild - we put together six quilts for the community in one day. But during this day I had opportunity to watch other, more experienced quilters sew their quarter-inch seamlines - and got the surprise of my life.

My friend's machine had FOUR FEED DOGS touching the quarter-inch seam. Four!

I mentally pictured my machine. I had two feed dogs, and when sewing a quarter-inch seam, only the left-hand one touches the material! The right-hand one is outside the seam line!

Very quickly, two-and-two went together. In an earlier blog I mentioned that I have to hold my fabric an astonishing 13 degrees off-center in order to get a straight seam, and now I realize that on some other people's machines, the feed dogs stay in contact with the material at all times, even for a quarter-inch seam!

Woot woot, as they say!

So, FYI, the rest of my stars were hand-pieced, and everything lined up beautifully. I'm going back to my machine to figure out if I can change the fabric placement by moving the needle so both feed dogs can contact the fabric. But in the meantime?

In the meantime, all my fiddly-bits will be hand-sewn!

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