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Saturday, May 8, 2010

On the Fly


In the beginning of 2005, I started quilting.

I joined a guild. I read books. I started a business.

And quilted.

I quickly discovered how difficult it is to line up all the little seamlines that are formed when piecing a quilt top.

Especially triangles. Triangles are a bitch.

So now it's about 5.5 years later, with many, many mistakes under my belt, that I have now mastered the art of the f**g triangle, getting my squares that are formed from 4 triangles to go together nicely, evenly, with seamlines neatly lined up,...

... and effortlessly.

You see, there's a TRICK to it.

Now I've seen entire tv shows devoted to the art of triangles and getting the seamlines lined up.

I've read books describing how to plan ahead and press the seamlines in opposite directions.

I've attended no fewer than three hour-long workshops devoted entirely to the art of getting the stupid seamlines on your triangles to line up when you sew them.

Imagine my astonishment this morning then, when I figured out the trick. THE trick. The one that actually works. The one that, when you take all these squares you've put together with triangles and try to sew the edges together, makes all the seamlines lie flat, with all the points meeting properly.

And why am I not surprised nobody has thought to tell this particular little secret?

Okay - picture this. You start with a square bigger than you need. Four squares, actually. I want my squares to finish at 5 inches. I cut the squares at a whopping SEVEN inches.

(No that's not the trick.)

You mark the diagonal, you sew two squares right-sides together, sewing on either side of the line, in a 1/4-inch seamline. Then you cut the squares apart and do the same for the other two squares.

This gives you four half-square triangles sewn into 2 squares.

Seasoned quilters are yawning at this point. Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't know.

You press the seams on each square to the darker side. Nothing new here. You flip the two squares right sides together and mark the other diagonal and sew two seams, 1/4 of an inch to each side of the line. You cut them apart on the line, you press 'em open, bingo, you have two squares, each made up of 4 triangles. And then you trim them to the size you want.

Everybody who has ever attended a triangle workshop now has their eyes rolling to the back of their heads. *S N O R E .

Here comes the fun part, the part they don't tell you about. Now you have to sew these two squares together, matching those diagonal seamlines. You have two seams to traverse, four thicknesses of material in each one. If you're very, very lucky, one of these sets of seams will have been pressed in opposite directions, meaning the two halves of the fabric are lying opposite to each other, and you can sew a very flat seam indeed.

Never, ever have I heard of a trick to get both sets with their seamlines pressed in opposite directions.

Well, you heard it first here, folks.

Guess what - even if none of the seams have been pressed in opposite directions, you can still do it.

You do it there, at the machine. You physically push either the top or the bottom seam to one side.

You fudge it.

You say "f**k it - I'm sick of all this geometry - I'm just gonna sew you together and pretend I had pressed you in opposite directions. Take that!"

And you open up the side you've just sewn, and both points line up perfectly.

Want me to run you through that again?

No, you don't have to know which seamlines will be up and which seamlines will be down 60 steps in advance of putting them together. You take your two squares, and if the seams have been pressed in opposite directions, well and good, go ahead and sew.

But if they haven't been pressed in opposite directions, you pick one, you finger-press it into place, and you sew it down.

"But," you'll complain, "won't that leave the seamline of one side sewn facing one way at one end and facing the other way at the other end?"

Yes. It will.

And so what? You press it with a crick in it and get on with your quilt. We've all seen plenty of turned seams on the backs of quilts. There a small bump? Quilt it down.

By the time you've added batting and backing, it won't matter one whit which way any seam was facing.

Because your points all line up.

So there you have it. You fake it. You fudge it. You grab one end or the other and make it lie flat.
You don't tell a soul, you don't write a book, and you certainly never let on to other quilters what you did to get all those little points to line up.

Believe me, this is a professional tip!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Darning It

Not exactly about quilting this time, but about another nearly-disappeared art: darning.

Holes, snags, seams coming apart, fraying - these are all things that happen in everyday wear and tear on our garments. Sometimes the "wear and tear" is "wash and tear" - putting, say, a flimsy open-weave cotton blouse in the wash, along with jeans or some other zippered garment. In the wash, and during the spin cycle, rubbing happens, quite vigorous at times; and one's open-weave cotton blouse suddenly has developed a spot where the weave is more open than usual. Missing, in fact, several of it's cross-threads.

Darning is the fine art of replacing these cross-threads, and strengthening the area while you're at it.

Since I couldn't sleep all the way through the night tonight, I decided to get up and get darning my open-weave cotton blouse.

You're supposed to darn an area larger than the tear or hole, and you're supposed to start from one end and go to the other, but, being me, I didn't do that. I started in the middle.

See, this is basically a verticle slit in the fabric. The warp threads are all there, but no weft threads are left intact in this 1/2-inch long torn area. And, looking at it, I decided to start from the middle of the tear and stabilize it crosswise before going back to the verticles. So, I started from the middle and went to one end, then started at the top and went down to the middle.

And for now I'm quitting there. This is a very open-weave fabric. I've given a few gentle tugs in each direction, and it sure looks and feels just as stable as the rest of the fabric. So I'm experimenting with only stabilizing the cross-threads.

Another difficulty I have with darning is the notion that you're supposed to weave in and out of every single thread. So like, if you have a tear in your 300-count sheets, that means in one inch of darning you'll weave your thread in and out 300 times?! Not this darned stitcher! I have a life to live.

No, I go in and out a clump at a time. And I've learned to do this work on the back of the piece. See, the darning doesn't actually become part of the fabric, it kinda sits on one side of it - the side you work on. It shows plenty from that side. It's when you turn it over you see - or rather, don't see - your darning &/or the former hole.

Maybe if you really go in and out every single thread, it would meld more with the fabric, become this wonderful thing called "invisible weaving". But for me, close is good enough.

But I noticed something else this morning while darning my blouse. My hands kept tingling and going to sleep. I kept having to stop what I was doing to stretch out my arms till they stopped tingling. Frustrating - as this process is already time-consuming. Especially frustrating when I think of all the hand-quilting I have to do in the near future. "What's gonna happen to me," I wondered, "if I can't quilt because my hands keep losing circulation?"

And that's when I realized I am now in the age-group - demographic - market - for a propped-up magnifier.

That's right - one of those large magnifying glasses you wear on a string around your neck with little legs that prop it up perpendicular to your chest, so you can use both hands to sew at a decent distance from your face, and your arms don't have to be scrunched as tight as they can to bring the work 4 inches from your eyes.

The propped-up magnifier has always been something I thought of as belonging to a different class of sewers than me. Specifically, much older sewers.

But now, apparently, I are one.

Having been raised by my grandparents, I used to think that I'd make a great old lady, since I learned how to be one long before I learned how to be young. But now that I've got being young down pat, my body is giving up before it's time, stranding me in a world of limited mobility where there haven't been many improvements since, basically, the middle ages. Hah! No pun intended!

Maybe that will change soon, as the baby-boomers suddenly get to tingling, too. Maybe a host of technological aides will suddenly appear to help us along with our preferred pastimes. Maybe they'll invent an i-sew.

But till then, unfortunately, I will be the fat old broad with the huge magnifier on her chest, darning blouses and socks, and quilting as fast as my tingling fingers will let me.