Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stemming it Up!

At the Lancaster AQS show a couple of weeks ago, I was completely sucked into one of the booths featuring brightly colored fabrics and kits. One particular project drew me in.

Between the workshops I was teaching, I had plenty of time to deliberate listening to the advice from two angels on my shoulders . . . you know how they are. . . Buy it! . . . Don't buy it . . . Buy it! . . .  As luck would have it, the 'buy it' angel won, and I brought the quilt kit home with me. A treat for those times when I really want to work on something just for me.

Well, the project in question has lots of applique and lots of 1/4" bias stems. The other day, I pulled out some of the fabric destined to become stems to make some to have ready when the block is at the 'stem stage.'

I thought you might like to see how I make them. . . so here goes.

Like so many other things in quilting, bias stems can be made many different ways. For wider stems, I simply like to use the back basting applique method I've discussed before. But for the 1/4" variety I like to make a tube first. I like to cut a corner of the stem yardage at a 45 degree angle to start. Then I cut 3/4" strips along the bias. Yep, they're really narrow!

I fold the fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. With the 1/4" foot on my machine, I place the fabric under the foot with the folded edge aligned with the edge of the foot, needle in needle-down position. And sew. I like to use a stiletto, or, as in this case, the pointy end of my Clover Hera Marker, to guide the fabric under the foot. I sew slowly and use both hands to keep the fabric from wobbling as it progresses.

This results is a tube. Notice the really tiny seam allowance. I could have started with a 1" strip, and sewn a bigger seam, but then I would have had to trim the seam allowance before the next step. This way I have less fabric waste. Those seams don't have to hold up over time, they just have to secure the tube long enough for me to applique the stem in place (you'll see what I mean in a few photos).

Next I head to the ironing board with my 1/4" press bars. I've had this particular brand in my sewing stash for years. Karen Kay Buckley has a similar product which I like, but the 1/4" bar is just a tiny bit too wide to fit in my 1/4" tube.

I insert the rounded end of the bar in my fabric tube, and shift the seam so it's on top, so I can see it . . .

. . . then press the seam to one side with the iron, with the stick still inside the tube.

Then I slide the stick out of the fabric tube, and press the stem once more.

The stem is now perfectly flat, and that tiny seam allowance is fully hidden on the underside of the tube.

Here's a closer look.

I keep some made-up stems handy in my sewing basket, ready for action when my block is ready. The bias cut allows the stem to make gentle curves easily. I use applique pins to secure the stem in place, then secure each folded edge to the block with a tiny, regular old applique stitch. I could also use a fabric glue pen instead of the pins, but I like the pins because I can use them as a visual connection to where I left off my stitching.

And there's a close-up of the sewn stem. . .

At some point, I'll share a little more about this project. For now, you just get to see the stems!

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Back in January, I decided to set some objectives for the year. The target: My unfinished objects. Rather than making long lists of quilts to complete, I decided on making a modest plan, keeping it focused, and making it fun. You can read more about my process here.

While there's still plenty of time left in the year to achieve my goal to complete 12 already-started projects during 2016, I'm finding the hardest part is staying focused on one thing at a time.

From the outset, with the first part of my year heavily loaded with pattern-writing commitments, I knew real progress wouldn't really happen on my targeted projects until later in the year. Even so, I do have some progress to report:

The Scrappy Star quilt is finished!

Big Stitch hand quilting is complete, and the binding even has an accent flange. The flange was cut and stored away years ago, and I'm surprised I was able to find it for this quilt! It's going to be given to a military family.

It even has a label.

I've chosen another project for hand quilting. It's underway.

I'm taking my time and doing an awful lot of quilting in each of the 4" and 2" blocks. It's all good!

I need to have an 'alternate' project at the sewing machine. I've had several fabric scraps with these little 3-1/2" squares. I've fussy cut the squares and I'm in progress of converting the squares into mug mats and place mats. Progress is slow but steady. I've set up a stack of in-progress place mats on a Steady Betty, and placed it on an open drawer in my sewing machine table--it's a like a little make-shift shelf, so I can reach over and grab a quick piece to put at the end of a string of chained pieced units. It works for me!

I haven't decided if I'm going to count each place mat and each mug mat individually or as a whole toward my goal numbers. . . hmm

How about you? Are you getting lots of projects done in 2016. . . and more importantly, are you enjoying the process??

Happy Stitching!
Happy Easter!
Happy Spring!
joan ford

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This is Where I Draw the Line

I've said this before: for as many techniques as there are to make half-square triangle (HST) units, my favorite method is placing two fabric squares right sides together, drawing a diagonal corner-to-corner line on the back of one, sewing a 1/4" seam on both sides of the line, cut apart, and press.

I prefer cutting my squares a bit over-sized, so I can trim them to a perfect square after pressing. If the squares have been cut the mathematically correct size (using dreaded 7/8" measurements), then no trimming should be necessary assuming all my steps were done accurately.

I like this method because I think it gives me the most control over the whole process. I even like drawing the lines! (If you don't understand this, review reason number 5 from last week's post about pre-washing!)

What could possibly go wrong?

Yep, I'm about to do a whole article on drawing the line on the fabric. What could be more basic? Can I use the lines to my advantage. . . or disadvantage? Let's explore.

The Skinny on the HST Line

So here I am, making HSTs, and I start out by drawing the line on the back of one of my squares. I place my ruler so it lines up perfectly with opposite corners. . .

Drawing Lines

 . . . then draw. Ready to sew. . .

Drawing Lines

. . . Not so fast. Take a closer look at the line. When you align the fabric square points with the edge of the ruler, the thickness of the pencil creates a line just a tiny bit to the right of the diagonal center of the square. (It'll be a little to the left if you write with your left hand.)

Drawing Lines

Pfft. No big deal, it's just a little bit off. . .

Drawing Lines

However, when you sew the seams, one side will yield a smaller HST, the other a larger HST. Still, no biggie, if you're trimming after sewing, there will still be something to trim for both units. . .

That's true, but many of the current popular patterns rely on smaller pieces and those mathematically correct 7/8" sizes: Dear Jane blocks, pieced tiny animals, aprons, and fruits, Splendid Sampler™ blocks, Row by Row Experience™ projects.

Houston, we have a problem.

Instead, when drawing the line to make HSTs, slide the ruler over just a hair to the left of the points (or right of the points for lefties), enough to accommodate the width of your pencil, pen, or whatever writing instrument you're using.

Drawing Lines

Like this . . .

Drawing Lines

Then draw the line . . .

Drawing Lines

Spot on!

Drawing Lines

Stitch-and-Flip Corners

Sometimes a line just a hair to one side of the exact diagonal can be an ADVANTAGE. Take those stitch-and-flip corners--for a snowball block, for example.

Drawing Lines

This time you WANT to align the ruler with the fabric square points, and draw the line just slightly to one side.

Drawing Lines

Some may say that I'm splitting hairs here, but by drawing the line just to the side of the square's diagonal, you are creating the scant seam line--in other words, you're making accommodation for the thickness of the fabric in the turn of the fold once the unit is pressed.

When you draw the line to one side of the diagonal, then align the square on the corner of the larger unit. Make sure the line is closest to the outer edge of the larger square.

Drawing Lines

Then sew on the line. This is so much better than trying to figure out where to sew a little to the waste side of a line drawn along exact corner-to-corner diagonal line. At least I think so. 

Drawing Lines

When you press the stitch-and-flip unit, if you've sewn on the line carefully, the corners should be pretty darn close to stacked up. This gives you much more confidence to clip the lower layers, one or both, to reduce bulk in the seams.

Drawing Lines

It's an itty-bitty variable, but with so many variables in piecing, why not have this one thing a bit more under control?

Drawing Lines

The last word on Drawing lines

I don't like to bash quilty tools, because everyone likes different things for different reasons. And you choose the tools that work best for how you sew.

That being said, there are a number of tools like this one. It's a gadget that helps you draw the sewing lines on both sides of the diagonal. Use the center line on the tool to align the corners on the fabric square, then draw on both sides of the tool to make the sewing lines. Eliminates guesswork where the seams should go.

And it makes sense, the tool (whatever brand, not just this one) is exactly 1/2" wide.

Drawing Lines

However, drawing the line on both sides is awkward (at least I think it is), and the resulting lines aren't 1/2" away from each other. They are just a little bit more than 1/2" away, thanks to the width of the marking tool. Does it matter? You decide.

Drawing Lines

A Recap

    1.    For HST's slide the ruler slightly to one side of the diagonal to draw the guide line
    2.    For stitch-and-flip units, align the ruler point-to-point to draw the sewing line

Happy Stitching!

joan ford

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wishy Washy

Do you pre-wash your fabric?

I hear this question all the time when I'm leading lectures and workshops.

And the answer is I do pre-wash my quilting fabrics. I know this is one of those controversial quilty questions and there are firm opinions on either side of this question.

Therefore, before I tell you how I wash my fabric, let me tell you why I pre-wash my fabric.

5 Really Good Reasons to Pre-Wash Your New Quilting Fabrics

  1. Pre-washing the fabric equates to pre-shrinking the fabric. This translates to less shrinkage once the quilt is assembled and washed.
  2. Removal of excess dyes. This may not seem like a very big deal, and nearly all of today's quilting fabrics are colorfast. But you can't tell by looking at a fabric if it's going to be the one that bleeds from one fabric to the next or from the front to the back of the quilt. I'd much rather know that a fabric is prone to bleed before I put in 1,000 hours of quilty assembly time.
  3. If the fabric is going to release excessive dye when it's pre-washed, chances are it'll continue to bleed once it's in your project. Identify it and banish if from your cherished to-be quilts.
  4. Chemicals and sizing are added to the fabric in the manufacturing process, pre-washing removes those chemicals, making the fabric more accepting of products I want to add to make my quilt, like fusible web, fusible interfacing, or freezer paper.
  5. It's one more opportunity to really appreciate my fabric before I store it away or cut into it for a project. I love the touch and feel of freshly washed fabric, so a part of me really likes to indulge myself!

Now that you know WHY I like to pre-wash my fabric, here's a quick-and-dirty (or would that be quick-and-clean?) run-through.

Instead of throwing my freshly-cut fabrics directly in the washing machine, I use my wash basin instead. This way, I can see any of the dye-releasing culprits, and I'll keep from having all kinds of raw-edge thread tangles and fraying.

When I was in North Carolina and Georgia last month I purchased some purple prints for a yellow and purple themed scrap quilt that needs a border. Rather than bring the quilt top along (that would have been smart!) I went by memory and chose a few prints that I liked, and brought them home to audition with the quilt. I always wash similar-value fabrics together to keep bleeders from invading non-bleeders.

(Have you ever thrown a red shirt in the wash along with your husband's tighty-whities? The red shirt can turn them into tighty-pinkies - that's why I put similar color intensities together)

Fill the basin with HOT water and a squish of dish soap (it dissolves quickly) And swish around.

Let the fabrics sit in the hot water for about 15 minutes, swishing occasionally. Notice that the water in the corner is a light-ish purple. This doesn't alarm me. A certain amount of dye-release is normal and expected. If the water turned the color of grape Kool-Aid, I'd be concerned and look for the culprit and evacuate it from the bath, and refresh the water before the dye adheres to the other fabrics.

Do you see how having the fabrics in a basin allows you to watch for the bad guys?

Drain the hot water, then fill the basin with the fabric with clear COLD water. This should stop any of the excess dye release. Also notice the suds. Make sure you add enough water to get excess soap out of the fabric. Do a second cold rinse if needed. (Impatient Joan usually only does one rinse)

Washer next (Aren't these exciting photos? yep, just like doing laundry, but so much better!)

With the soaking wet fabrics in the washer, set it to drain and spin, or a similar setting on your washer. We just want to spin out excess water before placing the fabrics in the dryer.

Spun-dry fabrics to the dryer next. Because this is part of the process where the fabrics are pre-shrunk, I like to set the heat pretty high, but not hot-hot. (I don't want crispy critters). Depending on how much fabric is spinning around, I only let it dry maybe 10-20 minutes.

Once removed from the dryer (best if the fabrics are removed just shy of completely dry) They only need a light pressing before being folded and stored or used. When I do laundry, I detest ironing. DETEST it. But I don't mind pressing my quilt fabric! I love the feel of the freshly washed cottons and the luscious, vibrant color!

Now I have to decide which one of these purple-y prints is going in the quilt . . .

One exception to my pre-wash rule, I don't pre-wash pre-cuts. I mean, let's not get too crazy here, right?

And a bonus tip for you. If you give a quilt as a gift, consider adding a dye-catching laundry sheet in a plastic bag with the quilt's washing instructions. I even put *cold water wash, gentle dry* on the quilt's label.

Happy Stitching!