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January 2014

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Diamond progress

January 30, 2014

My obsession with my 6 pointed diamond quilt continues, and I’m making good progress.

After my last post, I skipped off and made lots of diamonds in the galvanised grey shot cotton and stitched them to the sides of the star strips:

I also added a hexagon to each of the 4 corners.  These shapes start to form the structure for straightening up the centre panel so I can add borders.

Then it was time to make up hexie / triangle blocks to fill in the ‘holes’:

I had a little change of mind about which fabric to use for the triangles, which was going to be the blue ‘Pebbled Path River’ that I talked about in my last post about the quilt.  I had this lovely orange shade print from the same fabric collection in my stash and was thinking of using it for the backing of the quilt before I found the other 2 fabrics from the collection.  I thought it would be perfect for these blocks since it tones so well with the shot cotton.  You can really see the weave of the shot cotton in this shot and that it is made up of blue and orange threads.

Yesterday, I started putting the hexie triangle blocks into place on the star strips and started to piece everything together.  I even pulled out some papers – yippee!  I should have the main panel all pieced together by the end of today, and then I will start working on the edges again.

Here’s how the panel looks with the hexie triangle blocks in place – it is a little bit kaleidoscopey to look at – I find my eyes wandering away from the stars and having to concentrate on seeing them again…

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The hand, the glove and the sewing machine

January 27, 2014

Not for the first time in the last year, my eye recently fell on my totally grubby and almost totally destroyed oven gloves.  They are so awful that I am almost embarrassed to put them in the trash in case someone sees them.  I have considered several ways I might be able to destroy them in private – mostly featuring matches and a small disposable bbq in the back garden…

As well as the disposal method challenge for the awful old gloves, I also needed to come up with some new replacement gloves.  I’d been here before.  At the end of summer last year, I’d found a really lovely pattern and tutorial for heart shaped quilted pot holders and decided that I’d make two of those to replace the grotty gloves.  I bought the special heat resistant wadding to make them with, battled with the computer to make the pattern pieces print out actual size, and happily skipped to my “studio” (for which, read small spare bedroom where I make stuff and store stuff) where I cut out all the pattern pieces from some heavier weight gingham fabric.  That experience; like many experiences involving my £99 John Lewis sewing machine and simply sewing in a straight line with any more than 2 layers of fabric; did not end well.

Having thrown the failed heart shaped pot holders into a dark corner of my “studio” (yes, I do always need to add the inverted commas to that word – it would be too ridiculous otherwise) and sulked for several months, I decided that the time had come to try again.  It would be beyond ridiculous to buy a pair of oven gloves when I was perfectly capable of making my own and had all the materials I needed to make them.  I decided on the gingham fabrics again (“they are not cursed, they are not, they are not…”) but this time chose a more traditional glove shape that I could adapt to my own tried and tested method of making up.

So, I printed out a basic template shape at the actual size I wanted (using the knowledge I previously so expensively obtained when making the heart shaped pot holders) and made myself a cardboard template that I could use as many times as I wanted (this making exercise was going to be a total victory that I would be repeating ad infinitum – obvs).  I cut out my outer fabric, my lining fabric, a piece of general cotton wadding, and a piece of insulated wadding, and started to put the outer and the waddings all together in a sandwich so I could quilt it.  Now, having had a less than positive experience with my lovely £99 John Lewis sewing machine and my quilted cushion covers last week, I didn’t even think about using it to quilt through all those super thick layers – I always planned to hand quilt.  It may seem very indulgent to hand quilt oven gloves but hey, that’s just how I roll.

I hand quilted my first glove over the weekend and today was ready to make a hanging tag and attach the lining fabric to the outer.  Now after very successfully engaging Mr £99 John Lewis sewing machine to help me make a couple of tube style hanging tags with absolutely no drama, I was feeling confident and thought: “hey, attaching the lining involves nothing more than straight stitching across no more than 11 inches, surely Mr £99 John Lewis sewing machine would be able and willing to help me out with that small task?”.  Wrong.  He went through the first 2 inches happily but then started gobbling, chewing and spitting like the idiot he is and my reaction wasn’t good – I refused to accept his response and I forced him to sew the whole of the seam while I laughed maniacally at his stopping, starting, moaning and groaning.

Needless to say, Mr £99 John Lewis sewing machine had the last laugh.  As I surveyed the totally random and meandering line of his broken stitching across those awful 11 inches and my enjoyment at torturing him began to fade, I took myself off to a quiet corner on the living room couch and got to work with my unpicker.

Of course, I hand sewed the seam attaching the lining fabric and the hanging tag and I hand sewed the whole of the making up seam around the quilted outer and the lining.  The glove is lovely and I swear that I will make its mate for my left hand very soon, just as soon as my hands have recovered from making this first one…

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January 25, 2014

I can’t really believe that I have created an original design for an English Paper Piece quilt top, but I haven’t been able to track down a design like it online…  Of course this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or hasn’t been done before – it just means I wish I knew if it was original!

Having put together a bunch of 6 pointed diamond stars, I started to think about how I would join them up.  I also needed to have a plan of how to take those blocks and make them into a quilt top (by this time, the idea for cushion covers as an outcome was out the window).  I’d love to be able to draw out what was in my head, either with paper and pen or electronically, but after spending 10 minutes with the paper and pen and producing a lot of very ungeometric looking squiggles, and then half an hour trying to get my head around a few electronic design tools with zero success, I regressed to my usual default position: make up some pieces and lay them out on the floor to see what the options are.

As to the design of the layout, I looked at lots of images of diamond pieced quilts online and read a number of articles written by the people who made them.  Before you even get to the joining up part, there are quite simply masses of ways to use diamond shapes, and masses more ways to use the star blocks you can make with them.  Some people make their stars (whether 6 or 8 point) in one fabric, or one colour, or one colour and 2 or 3 fabrics, or totally scrappy with whatever is to hand or, like me, using 6 different fabrics with the same colour palette.

When it comes to joining up 6 point stars, I figured out that there were 3 main options:

Use diamonds laid in other orientations to join each star block to another – a very popular approach and seen here in this pretty quilt by Rita of Red Pepper Quilts (image from Pinterest).  This approach creates large hexagon shapes made up of diamond pieces and really, hexagons are what I immediately see when I look at it.  I’m keen to give the diamond shapes centre stage, so not really what I want.

English paper pieced

The next alternative, and one I found quite a few examples of, was to use hexagons around the star blocks and join them together that way.  It can look really effective if you choose your fabrics carefully, and even better if you use your quilting stitches to break up the larger hexagons, as in this lovely pillow by ‘the workroom’ on Pinterest:

quilted pillow / cushion / Diamond Star English Paper Piecing

Applique is another popular choice for dealing with 6 or 8 pointed stars.  Here the star blocks are appliqued onto squared fabrics and then those square blocks are joined – that kind of feels a bit like cheating to me.  I know it is a total pain to square up panels made up from angled shapes like this before you can get a border round them, which this approach would avoid, but that’s kind of the point of English paper piecing odd shapes isn’t it?  A bit of masochism?  Here’s an example of this method using 8 pointed stars from MessyJessy:

Coincidentally, if you look at one of her earlier layouts for these blocks from Pinterest, you can see a 4th layout opportunity for 8 pointed stars – filling the ‘holes’ between the stars with squares of different sizes:

MessyJesse: Diamond Paper Piecing Progress

None of the three main options I found felt like exactly what I wanted.

So, still unresolved on the question of layout, I went off and used my Kaffe Fassett shot cotton to make lots of 2 inch hexagons so that I could lay out the stars and see how they could join up.  I wasn’t totally in to the idea of using just hexagons for the join up, and I’d already wondered if I could include some triangle shapes into the design to echo the tipi motif in some of the fabrics, so when I started moving things around and saw triangle shaped ‘holes’ appear in one particular configuration, I thought I’d cracked it.

I’m strip piecing the quilt top together now because it seems the most logical approach to my mind.  I guess the great thing about not been so educated about the ‘right’ way to patchwork, is that my mind finds it’s own way!  That can be liberating when you want to create something really original but, on the other hand, you can end up causing yourself an awful lot of unnecessary extra work because you didn’t know something that a knowledgeable quilter would…

Here are the bones of my piece – 4 strips of hexagon joined 6 pointed stars:

My next step will be to make small blocks of 2 hexies and 2 triangles to fit between the stars and at the top and bottom.  I’ll then add diamonds made from the shot cotton to both edges of each of the star blocks, which will start to square up the centre panel.

I’m really enjoying the process of designing and making this quilt, whether it is original or not!  I’ve also been unable to resist buying a couple more fabrics from the collection…  I’ll use this one for the triangles, the border and probably the binding too:

Sarah Watson, Indian Summer, Pebbled Path River

And, without doubt, my absolute favourite from the whole collection for the backing:

Sarah Watson, Indian Summer, Menagerie Timberwolf

Yum, yum, yum!!

My mind is now obsessing about how best to do the actual quilting stitches.  Hmmm…

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Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

January 22, 2014

Diamonds have sure been my best friend today – in fact I’ve been a teeny weeny bit obsessed with them…

I bought this cute little cloth stack from Celtic Fusion Fabrics last year – a selection from Sarah Watson’s Indian Summer line mixed with a couple of Kaffe Fassett shot cottons:

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with them – I just liked them and ordered the stack on impulse when I was placing an order for another project.  I sat on them for a while (no, not literally) and then thought I’d like to use them to make an English Paper Piece ‘thing’, but using diamonds rather than hexies for a change.  Well, I did cut up the fabrics into diamonds and I did make up the papers; I even tacked some fabrics to some papers and joined one 6 pointed star; but then I kind of went off the idea and put them aside.

Looking for a pick it up put it down sewing job this week, I went back to the diamonds and, well, I kind of got a little obsessed with them today…  Since Monday I’ve pieced together 9 six pointed stars and a whole pile of connecting hexagons from some of the chocolatey coloured shot cotton I had left over from making those quilted cushion backs.  How did that happen?  I don’t know what it is about EPP, but it grabs me everytime I get near it!  I’m not even sure yet what it is I’m making – maybe a baby cot quilt or maybe cushions?

Here’s how the 6 pointed stars look against the ‘galvanised grey’ shot cotton:

Am still playing with a few ideas about the ultimate layout – not too sure about it yet.  Am going to do a little pouring over Pinterest tomorrow for a little inspiration, but it may well also include some triangle shapes to echo the tipi theme in the Indian Summer collection, which would be cute. 🙂

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Adventures with my sewing machine

January 21, 2014

As things are a little quiet on the work front at the moment, I decided to complete a couple of works in progress last week.  My first was the little hexagon fronted sewing case and the next was the hand quilted cushion covers I started last year.

It is pretty hard to believe that it is 5 months since I put the quilted cushion fronts aside – eek!  I was certainly undecided at the time how I was going to make them up.  How could I make sure that the edges with the open silk wadding would be protected when I needed to wash them?  I thought about all kinds of standard cushion construction methods and rejected them all.  Just when I was beginning to think I would just have to zig zag stitch over all the edges of the quilted fronts and that was the best and only practical solution, feedly came to the rescue!

The idea of making the cushion covers up in a way that I could bind the edges like a quilt had occurred to me early on, but I hadn’t thought through how I’d do it.  I follow Maureen Cracknell’s blog and she wrote up a tutorial for quilted cushion covers (here) that were finished exactly that way and I thought hurrah – it can be done!

So I started by making the back pieces for the two cushions from my Kaffe Fassett shot cotton and double seaming up the open edges of all the four back pieces.   The shot cotton is really lovely although it is more like a lawn cotton weight.  My £99 John Lewis sewing machine worked up the seams in no time and I was soon pressing everything, basting the backs and fronts together and making the binding.  Here’s how the finished backs look in situ – amazing to think the colour is called ‘galvanised grey’ – it really is a mixture of blues and oranges and the overall look is more like milk chocolate:

Very soon, all I had left to do was to sew the binding to the fronts of the quilted cushion ‘sandwiches’ before  hand sewing down the back of the binding to cross the finish line.  Of course, my friends, that was where it started to go wrong…

My £99 John Lewis sewing machine said “No.  Not on your life.  I will not sew through all these layers of fabric regardless of what stitch tension or length you use.  Oh, okay, I will, but I will keep bunching up the fabric and pinching things out of shape – how d’ya like them apples?”.  Obviously, I liked them apples not at all, but it was what I had to work with if I wasn’t going to unpick all his stitches and re-sew it all by hand!

After a lot of swearing, I finally cobbled it all together and managed to correct the bits where it went wrong with some unpicking and hand sewing – at least far enough to get to the point where I could hand sew on the back of the binding and make it look half decent…  The finished covers are just fine really and look lovely on my sofa, but I think it’s fair to say that they won’t be showing up as a product in my shop anytime soon – Mr £99 John Lewis just isn’t up to it!

The finished cushions together:

A close up of the fox cushion:

And the deer:

Despite the struggles, I’m delighted to have got another work in progress completed and so pleased that I made something for myself with this lovely fabric collection 🙂

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Sewing cases

January 16, 2014

I seem to have a little ‘issue’ with sewing cases – I make quite a lot of them…

The main attraction is probably that I can make something quite quickly, use small amounts of fabric, and produce something useful – all at the same time!

The fabric is always the starting point for my sewing cases.  Sometimes I get some new fabric and want to see how it looks ‘made up’ into something and, other times, I fancy doing some patchwork and handquilting, but don’t want to start a big project.

This was the case (case: geddit?) when I started my last sewing case; I fancied trying out a different joining method when English Paper Piecing, so made this small piece of hexagon fabric from some very lightweight cotton I’d bought from an Etsy seller.

I bought this cotton to make lavender bags but I loved working with the pretty colours and patterns, so wanted to do something more with it too.  I’ve now made 3 sewing case fronts from it – gulp.

Ordinarily, when English paper piecing, I’d join pieces  by using whipstitch.  I do very small stitches and am careful to only catch a few threads at a time, but you can still see tiny stitches at the front when you look closely.  I’d previously read on Natalie of Sewing Room Secrets‘ blog that she used ladder stitch to join her pieces and I’d heard this elsewhere before – I’d even tried it, but didn’t like the look of it.  I use ladder stitch quite a lot when making other things (particularly decorative figures) so I’m quite comfortable with it, I just couldn’t see why it didn’t work.  Anyway, I decided to give it another try when joining these hexies and lo and behold, it worked brilliantly – I must just not have had my head on straight when I tried it before – often the way!

So this is the case I made with this piece of fabric:

The line of blue floral hexies stood out the most in the piece of patchwork I’d made, so I made sure that was on the front of the finished case.  I hand quilted the front piece with some soft cotton batting and followed the diagonal sides of the lines of hexies with my stitches – I’m always looking for a new arrangement of piecing and quilting when working with hexies.  For the inside pieces of the case I used Robert Kaufmann Essex Linen in flax and I lined the main piece with medium weight interfacing, to give the finished case more structure.  In retrospect, I think I might have done the same with the outer quilted part, especially as the finished dimensions of the case were a bit larger than usual.  I will do that next time – because of course, there will be a next time!

I added a lined scissor keeper to the inside cover of the case and stitched on a piece of bright pink ribbon to tie the scissors securely.  I matched the colour of the ribbon with the thread I used to stitch on the front cover button too – I’m nothing if not obsessed with details…

To compliment the delicate outer fabric colours, I added a cream coloured pure wool felt needle book to the centre and decorated the first page with a few crochet shells made from the same dark gold lurex thread I made the tie closure with.  Pure wool felt does feel very luxurious and soft.  I hand stitched the book in place using the same size hand quitling stitches to create a little binding on the inner and outer, which you can see on the inside here.  I always add some buttons and threaded needles inside the needle book too, to make the case more like a starter sewing kit.

I also like to add some colourful safety pins on another page:

There are also 3 pockets inside the back cover, which I hand stitched with some bias binding made from the outer fabric to enclose the raw edges.

As usual, I learned a little more from making this case that I’ll take onto my next sewing case: ladder stitch is perfect for joining EPP pieces, line the outer part of the case as well as the inner, use pure wool felt for the needle book for its luxury feel and, finally, I like making sewing cases! 🙂