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Sunday, December 18, 2011


So the new curtains are up. Two of the three panels have to be hemmed, and we have to do a trip to Ikea to pick up one (1) curtain hook and about eight little roller-thingies that go in the special track.

But I didn't run out of fabric, I didn't sew any panels upside-down, the pattern is straight horizontally and the patterns line up vertically.


I wish I had just a bit more fabric to make a deeper hem, but hey - at least they'll all be the same length!

I was trying to figure out where I learned about curtain tape - the one that makes the three gathers every so many inches. I can't remember actually doing them before, but I did know how the tape works. I'm thinking that perhaps I watched my Grandma or my Stepmom make them, because I there are no curtains like this in my memory banks.

This project took all my skill to match the patterns. If I hadn't learned to quilt I wouldn't have been able to line this stuff all up. It was a little scary only having three inches of fabric left over, but measuring and re-measuring helped keep panic at bay. It's a lot easier to make sure a pattern is straight over little five-inch squares than over 207 inches!

Now on to Christmas, and back to quilting in the new year. May yours be happy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Just call me Betsy

While we've been on strike (day job) a couple of interesting quilt opportunities have come my way.

The first was our guild's quilt show, which was well-attended and fun. This is the first year I wasn't racing in with my quilts at the last second, and I must say, it was a welcome change. I still had to take way too much time off from strike duty to finish in time, but at least I WAS in time for once!

Boyfriend and I have agreed that I should do more quilting between shows and less just before shows. Sound medical advice!

This year I stayed at the show both days. Till the last dog was hung, so to speak. I visited with members of the guild and visitors to the show. I ate way too many of the treats set out with the coffee and tea. I took the time to really look at the show itself.

Participation is fun. I felt relaxed for a change, not all strung out like when I would only drop by for my shift working this table or that one. So I've made a mental note, it's easier to be there for the entire show, beginning to end, than it is to run back and forth frantically trying to fit in a couple of hours here and there.

The other experience had to do with the strike. I kept musing how on earth I could create a quilt that would benefit the members of the union. I thought, what about a quilt with all 1700 of our names on it? Where would such a thing hang, and how would it benefit anyone? I thought of making a quilt that could be raffled off, proceeds going to the union. Of course, quilts are not made in a day, and nobody wanted the strike to go on that long...

I finally spoke up and asked around at strike HQ, and the captain asked me if I could make a flag. The only flags we owned were for the umbrella organization, PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada). There weren't any for our union. And 'bing!' I immediately set to work.

The project used every scrap (no pun intended) of knowledge I possessed, and not only with fabric. In my day job, I'm theoretically a graphic designer. I get to play with lovely high-end software like Illustrator and Photoshop on a daily basis. And to do this project required all my know-how.

The union logo is complex, full of curves, and unfortunately also full of areas that are less than 1/4 inch wide, even at maximum size for a flag that one person could conceivably carry.

This was problematic because I needed some way to align the pieces with each other once I had had cut out the pattern. So I devised an alignment grid which I superimposed on the logo, then subsequently painstakingly cut apart each of the grid's lines and grouped them with the pattern piece.

Here you see the pattern with the grid.

Then I moved all the pattern pieces around so I could print them out without having pieces split over separate sheets of paper. Which looked like this....

See all those teensy little lines? Yes, they very nearly DID drive me absolutely crazy!

(By the way, those of you with particularly sharp eyes will notice that there are pieces missing from the pattern, which I only noticed myself when I was trying to put it all together. Yes, I missed some.)

Once I'd accomplished the technical feat of getting the pattern printed complete with alignment grid, I began the process of adding the seam allowance, spray-basting the pattern to the fabric (polyester - it had to be lightweight and dry quickly), and adding stablilizer, in this case a tear-away paper, before finally cutting out the pieces. Yay!

That's when I realized some of the pieces didn't have 1/4 inch to tuck a seam allowance underneath. Oh. Okay, I guess it's raw-edge appliqué for those bits.

My raw-edge method is to use a 1mm stitch around the outer edges of the piece, and go around 2 or 3 times. Then I satin-stitch down afterwards, and hope for the best.

The raw-edge technique is also how I did the lettering, since none of the serifs had 1/4" for a seam allowance. (Serifs are the little ornamental bits of the letters, little feet that stick out from the edges.) Since we're dealing with a logo, it's sort of like a trademark, you have to make it look exactly like the printed version, no changing the letters to a simpler font without serifs.

Oh, and by the way, I couldn't make an exact match with said font while I was setting it up in Illustrator, so I had to trace the letters. This is pretty tedious, and in order to get smooth curves it took all my skill. The trick is to use as few points as possible along a curve, but that is a topic for a technical blog, not a quilting one!

Okay. I got the pieces cut, then removed pattern and seam allowance of the stabilizer in order to press the seam allowances of the fabric to the back. Then replace the pattern on the piece, because the pattern had all the little lines on it telling me where the piece went in relation to the other pieces.

Then hand-baste everything in place, because for sure I would need to see it all together and make adjustments so that the circles stayed circular, etc. We are talking about flimsy pieces of fabric here - no matter how much stabilizer you use, it's going to bend, curves will flatten out with handling, etc.

I had to reposition about five of the pieces before I was satisfied with the arrangement. Then I satin-stitched around everything.

It was while doing this satin stitching that I had my humorous thought. All through the week that I'd been working on this project I'd been saying things like "Just call me Betsy," after Betsy Ross, the lady who made the first American flag. I was muttering under my breath as I was slowly getting round the edges of the pattern, her famous line, "Shoot if you must this old, grey head, but spare your country's flag!" when my humorous thought hit me.

It was probably a lot more like this:

"Well, you're gonna have to shoot me, punk! Because the only way you're getting your filthy mitts on my flag is OVER MY DEAD BODY!"

I convulsed around my sewing room laughing out loud to myself for a while, then had to phone my friend L, who is an American and a quilter, and who would understand exactly how that was much more likely to have been the sentiment expressed by the old, grey head! Forget the noble-sounding line! Anyone who has put so much into a quilt would probably stand in the way of a musket ball to prevent damage to it!

We're a passionate lot!

Oh, and here's a pic from the picket line.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting Registered

Yesterday I took the quilt I made for my daughter to the Quebec Quilt Registry. My Daughter gave me a funny look and asked "why do you do that?" I was dumbfounded.

Years ago, no one even knew that a woman had lived unless she made and signed a quilt. In an age when women were not taught mathematics, they were creating these incredibly complex geometric patterns out of used clothing and scraps of fabric gleaned from various sources. Creating art.

I answered my Daughter that it was like getting a piece of art catalogued.

I know that I would love to be able to find out who made the one quilt I have left to me from my grandparents' house in the country. The house burned down years ago, and I just happened to have brought this lovely quilt home with me. Nobody in my family knows who made it, and it's not signed. I like it because it reminds me of the country house where I spent my summers when I was growing up. But if there had been a quilt registry, I might be able to find out who had made the quilt, and what the inspiration was.

I was informed that the Registry's information is kept in a database at Concordia University, and that there are actually students using some of the information for their theses!

The registration was an incredibly detailed experience. They measured how many stitches to the inch my hand-stitching was! Apparently I sew a respectable eight stitches to the inch! I didn't know that. They listed all the details I had forgotten about. Quarter-inch border stitching, row stitching... They measured the size of the blocks, listed each color.

I told the story of the quilt to at least three different groups of ladies. When my Daughter was born, I received a congratulatory card with a picture of this lovely giraffe nibbling at the leaves on a tree. I made a crayon enlargement of the card, framed it, and it hung on her wall as decoration for years. When she asked me to make her a quilt, I immediately thought of the giraffe. So I found a pattern called "Tree of Life" for the tree and machine appliquéd the giraffe on top. I hand-quilted the Tree - it, with the giraffe, became the central medallion of the quilt.

I had asked Daughter what colors she wanted, and she said pink and purple. So around the central medallion it is a dark pink, and row by row the colors get lighter till it's white, then purple begins to appear in light tones, and it finally ends in dark purple at the borders.

I call the quilt "Transitions" because of the color transitions in the quilt, and because both Daughter and I were going through major life changes while I was making the quilt.

But there is now a new meaning for the name Transitions for me. While the quilt was being photographed, one of the most famous of the ladies came and had a good long look at it. Adair Schattler is one of Canada's "Who's Who!" of quilters. She's won so many awards, I wouldn't know where to begin.

She pronounced my quilt "lovely."

I was on cloud nine! This would be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg telling you you're a good actor, or Margaret Atwood telling you you're a good writer! Adair Schattler told me my quilt was lovely, and therein lies my new interpretation of "Transitions:" I feel I have arrived as a quilter, transitioned from inept struggler to actual quilter now.

A kind word really does go a long way!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A weekend Spent Quilting

I have just completed a full weekend by myself, which I spent quilting. It was a make-or-break situation: I have to now decide whether to go ahead and try to finish this quilt top by November 10, or whether to let it drop till after then. November 11 and 12, you see, is my guild's show.

That leaves me 18 days. In that time, besides working, I need to do baking for the bake table and tea room, quilt a baby quilt, and make a sleeve for the king-size quilt that's finished.

The project I was working on has been hanging around (my neck) for some time now. Once upon a time, about 5 years ago, I taught the basics of quilting to three elementary school classes. One of the young boys in one of the classes experienced a trauma - his father passed away. He got his mother to ask me to make a quilt out of his father's clothes.


Not just one quilt, mind you, three. There's a little girl as well, and mommy.

Being relatively new to quilting at the time, I accepted the challenge.

That's because I had no idea how difficult it was going to be!

They were in no hurry - and just as well, because it's been five years and three moves since I started lugging around the bags and boxes of the deceased gentleman's clothing. In the meantime I've learned a fair bit more about quilting - enough to know I should have never agreed to do this project!

I have trouble making my seams line up in designer quilting cottons, where all the fabric is the same density and the same thickness.

This gentleman wore sweaters (thick ones) and tee-shirts. Jeans. He owned one pair of dress pants and one dress shirt. Everything else, absolutely everything, is stretch fabric.

Uh-oh. Time to shoot myself.

My friend D gave me two bottles of spray sizing to help with controlling the stretch. She advised me to sew a stretchy fabric next to a non-stretchy one. She also told me to cut ruthlessly, turning all those clothes into rectangles and throwing away everything else.

It was a formidable task. Not to mention depressing - every time I'd get started cutting away at the garments, I'd start thinking about the men in my life - father, husband, boyfriend, friends, cousins - and start to choke up thinking about how much I would miss them if they were gone.

So it took me a long time to get to the point of even starting to look for a pattern. At first, all I could think of was straight blocks - but it soon became apparent while I was cutting that I simply didn't have enough non-stretchy material to pair blocks up as per my friend's suggestion. At one quilt retreat, where all I brought to work on was the clothes to cut up, another pal, C, came over to look at it and said "Oh my, that is dreary!" She suggested I mix in some proper quilting fabrics with some color in them.

So that led to me thinking perhaps straight blocks with sashing all around them would work. But when I tried to picture it, it seemed still too plain, very un-quilt-like. Not artistic.

Off to the internet, then, where I finally found my pattern. It's by Janet Wickell and it's called "Turning Nines into Sevens." Well, that's what the pattern started out as - I altered it. What I liked about this pattern was the central "cross" - which I've made out of quilting cotton. This helps control the stretch. I quickly discovered I had to make the small square in the center of the cross out of quilting cotton as well, otherwise there was no way to get the seams to line up.

Instead of making small nine-patches, I cut strips the width of two squares and sewed them onto strips the width of a single square. I need eight of these for every block. I used two of the non-stretchy garment fabrics for the middle section of each nine-patch. This means that within each nine-patch I'm sewing the stretchy strip to the (relatively) non-stretch strip, then putting sashing in between each of the nine-patches.

Finally, I put sashing around all the sides: dark fabric on the top and left sides, and light fabric on the bottom and right sides. And then a second layer of sashing, in a contrasting color, with lights and darks opposite the first layer of sashing.

This is what the sashing is supposed to look like.

It takes between 40 minutes and an hour to complete one block. The thinner fabrics, like tee-shirt material, go together quickly. The thicker ones, like fabric from sweatshirts, take longer because I have to fight with them.

Every single seam I sew has to be trimmed, because even though I'm using a walking foot and have lowered the pressure, the seams distort at the beginnings and the ends. So a good deal of the time it takes to make a block is time spent trimming.

By now you're wondering how I can predict the size of the blocks, since I have to trim them constantly. Ah - it's that inner layer of sashing that saves me. I start out with strips 2 inches wide, but once they're attached to the block I trim to a standard size. This means my inner layer of sashing varies in width from block to block, even from side to side. But the finished size remains constant. After that, I add the second layer of sashing, usually without incident.

Well, I got eight blocks done this weekend. That may not sound like much, but in order to get those eight blocks I had to cut and sew hundreds of strips from the fabric, because I've got three quilts to plan for, not just the one I'm working on. I'd make three sets of strip sets, but only be able to use one. And I needed 35 blocks to make a decent-sized quilt.

Of course, it's not like when you go to a quilt store, pattern in hand, and say "I need twenty fat quarters to make this quilt." My strip sets vary in length, so I don't know how many pieces I'll get from each of them. And until I make a set, cut it, and try it in a block, I don't know how the fabric with react, how much it will stretch, or what problems it'll cause. Once I've used it in one block, I know how long it'll take me to do another from the same set, but that's about all I can predict.

I keep asking myself why I'm doing this project. I can't decide if it's karmic debt, an inability to say "no," or blatant stupidity. I'm pretty sure the young man who made the request has no idea how much work is involved, since I didn't even know myself till I got in the middle of it. His mom has no way of paying me - she's been on welfare since her husband died. And after I finally get the quilt top made, then I've got to figure out how the quilt the blessed thing!

The answer is, I don't have a clue why I'm doing it. But I do expect that, once I'm done, I'm so going to enjoy quilting with real, genuine quilting cottons - and I expect each and every seam to line up easily, by comparison with this behemoth!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Laying down tracks

I'm machine quilting a king-size quilt for my daughter, and no, I don't mean on a longarm, or even a shortarm, machine. I'm using a regular home sewing machine, and boy, is it slow going! I'm finally beginning to understand why quilters have UFOs! Since I started out quilting on a shortarm machine, I could never figure out why quilters enjoyed piecing so much more than the actual quilting.

Well, now I understand. I also understand what the fascination with wall hangings is: they're small, and they fit easily through a home machine.

Well, the quilt I'm doing is in 5-inch blocks, and my fancy quilting pattern is - straight lines, 1/4" inch on either side of the seamlines. This has the appearance, to my eyes, of train tracks. Hence the title. I've been laying down tracks on my quilt.

As I mentioned, it is slow work. Discouraging, in fact. I've developed a mantra or two to help me stay, if not enthusiastic, at least engaged in what I'm doing long enough to actually accomplish something.

"It's not an infinite set." In the mathematical sense of the word "set." The set of tracks I have to lay down - it only seems infinite!

"Quit sitting and staring at it!" I might add, in blank despair. I keep having to shake myself awake in the middle of this tedious process.

This is supposed to be a hobby - something I do for fun. But I'm failing to find the fun in this! This is just plain old hard work!