Saturday, 29 December 2007

Long time no sew

For Christmas this year I received a sewing machine and quilting foot. Although I haven't yet had a chance to play with said machine* I'm piecing together a top layer on my mum's machine so that I can play with the quilting foot as soon as I get home at the end of the holidays. A brand new cosy quilt should do something to lift the back to work blues.

So far I've pieced together twelve 15cm blocks, all variations on the same star. I found the block patterns at a wonderful site, Quilter's Cache, which has over 1300 quilt block patterns written by the very prolific (it would seem) Marcia Hohn.

Quilt blocks

There's a photo of all the blocks so far here. Flickr appears to be having a bit of an episode as far as this photo is concerned so I can't post it directly.

All the fabric came from Hobbycraft - which really does have some nice stuff. Whilst I was there I also treated myself to an Olfa rotary cutter (as the cheapo one I bought back at the festival of quilts show wasn't really cutting it, literally) and a square ruler which, whilst I love it to bits, has the drawback of being marked only in cm and half cm. This led me to, for the sake of easy calculations add a half cm of seam allowance rather than the traditional quarter inch. It's not a disaster but it would have been nicer, in retrospect, to have the extra 1 1/4 mm! Luckily I've got a cutting ruler marked with both back home so I'm not totally stuck with metric! Another thing which I have at home but not at my parent's place is a cutting board, however, I managed to improvise and discovered that a (unused) plastic chopping board for vegetables makes an excellent substitute.

* I chose it at the Trafford Centre John Lewis with my mum back in October and it travelled back down to the midlands/south-east England (the local news cannot make up its mind about what region we're in) in the boyfriend's car after my cousin's wedding in early December. Given that we had issues getting the machine from the John Lewis pickup point to the car, let alone onto two trains and a bus, with all my other luggage, I think this was a wise move.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Comfort stitching

I've been down with the lurgy all this week which has played havoc with my marathon training but given me plenty of time to work on the quilt with the result's finished!

The quilting was done using running stitch around each rectangle and the edges are bound with strips of the backing (snail) fabric.

I wasn't sure how machine stitching the bindings would work out without a walking foot for the machine so I hand stitched each strip in place with running stitch, then folded over the edge and stitched down the other side with mattress stitch.

Pinned edge

I wasn't feeling quite up to dealing with mitred corners so I just squared them and closed up the open ends with mattress stitch.

Quilt corner

I'm so pleased with the finished quilt and I really enjoyed the hand sewing. I don't quite have the technique down yet though. When I was at the Festival of Quilts I saw stitchers gathering several stitches on the needle at once and then pulling the needle through. I'm still working one stitch at a time - at least they're not too wonky though. Still my seams are pretty straight and the whole thing looks very neat. The best bit is that I've found out that my sister has chosen green for the nursery with cream/green/blue curtains (which my Mum is busy stitching) so it will even match.

Baby quilt

Baby quilt

Monday, 1 October 2007

Finished object - red and white flowered shirt

Shirt (front)

I'm really pleased with how this has turned out, especially given that it's my first attempt at a sewn garment and it was made rather on the fly.

Shirt (back)

The collar is a little shorter than it should be (I've not even tried to give it a top button) and I had to make it sleeveless after I ran out of time on the machine. The armholes are bound off with a thin strip of the fabric instead. Still I don't think I can ask for much more than a wearable garment from my first go.

Next up I want to make this shirt (or at least something similar) from Burda Style in an insane green flowery print.

Meanwhile I've finally washed the wadding for the quilt so I should be able to start the quilting this weekend once the bottom piece is also washed and dry. I'll be quilting by hand in the same green thread which I used for the piecing.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Cute as a button

Cupcake buttons

I picked these up in Hobbycraft last week. I haven't decided whether to use them as buttons or whether to make pin badges a la Kirsty. Either way, they're cute as can be. I've also got some (slightly less exciting) buttons for my shirt, they're sewn on and I'll post pictures of the finished item as soon as my official photographer returns. Self-portraits featuring shirts are a good deal more tricky than self-portraits featuring socks it turns out.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Burda style

Ellen, who is a much more experienced seamstress than I am and who said "You didn't make a muslin? That was brave" in much the same tone as I might say "You didn't knit a gauge swatch?", pointed me to this great site which not only offers free patterns but also sewing "how to's" - which means that for my next project I won't have to wuss out on the sleeves, yes my blouse has turned into a sleeveless one. I'll be taking some pictures of it as soon as I've found the right buttons.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Shirt making 101

After a little difficulty (I really must buy a fabric pencil!) I got my three main pattern pieces marked and cut out on the material. I wasn't really sure how you were meant to mark the places for darts (since I was making this up as I went along) so I cut them out of the pattern and marked round the inside of the cut paper - it seemed rational.

Pattern pieces

I stitched up the front darts but thought it would be cunning plan to pin the three pieces together and see what it looked like before sewing the two back darts which turned out to be a very good idea. Once, pinned on I stopped worrying that it was going to be far too big and started worrying instead that it would be on the small side. The back darts, therefore, will be left unsewn.

Pinned in place

Mum was a great help in all this as she was able to share the secrets of her dress-making past!

Also, very excitingly, the parents suggested that I might like a sewing machine for Christmas* (would I!) so I'll be researching that in the next few weeks. If anyone has any personal recommendations I'd be very interested to hear. The budget is between £100-£200 and I'd be using it for quilting and clothes making.

* this, of course, could just be a cunning ruse to stop me cluttering up their home with sewing stuff every time I come to visit!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Not a quilt

flower fabric

I found this in King's (our local fabric place) when I dropped in after work today to see if they had any thimbles*. They don't have a huge selection and this stood out as being a really pretty pattern and 100% cotton (yay).

I have plans for a blouse copied from my favourite polka dot shirt from New Look with possibly a couple of variations - depending on how things go.

I've drawn and cut out paper pattern pieces for the fronts and back and things seem to add up so far but I'm not going to do any more tonight as I'm fairly severely sleep deprived** and I know that disaster would ensue.

I'm headed up north tomorrow so hopefully I can get some machine sewing done over the weekend and I'll have a new shirt by next week!

There's been no further progress on the quilt since my last post on the subject. I haven't found a moment to pre-wash the back and wadding but hopefully I'll have a chance next weekend. I'm also waiting until I see what type of sewing machine we have in Bolton (I really don't remember) so I can suss out a walking foot and decide whether I want to machine or hand quilt the quilt. I think that hand qilting (done well) is prettier, but I have a feeling that my own running stitches will be quite wonky.

* they did but, as a former digitabulist, I'm quite picky and they didn't quite meet my high standards :)

** in fact it's due to waking up at three am this morning with my brain buzzing that I decided to make a blouse at all.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Putting it all together

After a lunchtime arrival in up north and a spot of lunch I set up the sewing machine and ironing board and started the work of piecing together the quilt top. I chose Pattern idea 1 and drew out a sketch, numbering each fabric pattern from 1-6.

the plan

I then created corresponding paper labels for the rectangles and laid them out on a table. This does make everything so much easier. It's much more straightforward when you can think to yourself, "now I stitch number 1 to number 2" etc. rather than "now I stitch the snails to the big flowers".

The first step was to stitch together pieces 1, 2, 3 and 4 (pressing each new seam to the side as I went) along their long sides to make the central retangle.

first section

I then tried to see what was the best way to proceed. After calling Mum in to give her expert opinion* we realised that the rest of the quilt pattern consisted of four strips of two rectangles sewn together at their short edge for the inner border and four strips of three rectangles for the outer border and that I then only had to sew straight seams to stitch the strips to the main piece.

first border

It was at this point that I realised I had made rather a blunder in my measuring and cutting out. My rectangles should have been 4.5" by 8.5" (rather than 4 by 9!). Everything was (had I only realised it) salvageable at this point if I had gone ahead but allowing a half inch (rather than a quarter) for seaming every short side. Oh well!

I did, fortunately, realise my error in time to allow a half inch seam when sewing together the four strips of three for the outer edge although it was only when attaching the last two strips to the top and bottom edges of the quilt that I worked out that it would have been better to allow only a quarter inch seam for those two strips so that they would have matched up with the central panel. Sigh!

completed quilt top

I'm still really pleased with the finished quilt top (even if it's not quite perfect). The seams are straight, the whole piece lies flat, I haven't made any blunders arranging the different prints. The whole thing went remarkably smoothly and I'm rather sorry I didn't bring up the rest of the pieces as I suspect I could probably get it finished this weekend. I'd forgotten (with the greatest respect to stitchers) what a swift craft sewing is (with a machine at least) when compared to knitting!

Fabric: Lulu G, H, J, K, L, M by Anna Griffin from The Quilt Room
Thread: Gutermann Col. 818
Dimensions: 24" x 32"

* She doesn't sew much now but in the past she's made everything from curtains to a ball gown!

Cutting out

Due to a sudden lack of hot water from the taps (darned immersion heater timer switch) I had decided to pre-wash and cut out the pieces for the quilt top at my parents house where I was headed at the weekend and which is where the sewing machine lives. The realisation that the cutting board wouldn't fit in my suitcase prompted a quick change of plan and I set to work on Thursday evening instead. I hand-washed the pieces in hand hot water and Stergene, spun them to damp and then put then in the dryer* for as long as my nerves would hold out which wasn't very long. I then ironed the pieces dry, which gave them a lovely crisp finish, and set to work with the rotary cutter.

I had intended to mark out the cutting lines on the fabric with my fancy new pen with disappearing ink. Sadly, when I took the lid off, the pen tip seemed to have disappeared altogether. Either it's a crappy product or it works in a way too complex for my tiny mind to comprehend (I tried various pushing, popping and twisting actions to try and get it to work). I suspect the former really.

Fortunately cutting out 1 x 2 rectangles is not the most difficult task in the world (at least it shouldn't be). I wanted my rectangles to measure 10cm by 20cm, which had to turn into 4" by 8" as that's what my board and ruler are measured in, plus a 1/4" seam allowance all round. 4" plus 1/4" = 4.5". 4.5" x 2 = 9". So I cut 24 4.5" by 9" rectangles**.

cut pieces

They look lovely and neat don't they?

The rotary cutter worked pretty well, though I think I'll have to invest in a sprauncier model if I go in for much more of this, and the non slip ruler was sufficiently non slippy to make me feel a bit better about spending £6 on it. The cutting board was an unqualified success though, the half-inch squares which are marked on it made the whole job much easier.

* I would never normally do this with fancy fabric, especially when it doesn't come with care instructions, but I was on a tight schedule.

** Can you spot the deliberate mistake here? This is why I dropped maths at GCSE!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

KTQ (knitter turned quilter)

I'm hiding out over here (away from my knitting blog) in order to make a secret project for my first niece who is due in November. My main craft is knitting but I have done sewing in the past and was really looking for an opportunity to do some again. I wanted whatever I did to be a practical project - I have too many finished cross-stitch projects which are just rolled up in bags because I never got around to framing them - and dress-making seemed a bit scary. I also have a long term aim of being able to make a king size quilt (of the sort that I could never afford to buy) for my bedroom. But first things first.

My First Project

It all started at the Festival of Quilts at the N.E.C. last Saturday. I went with the best of intentions. I would buy only some buttons and beads to jazz up a pair or socks or garnish a sweater.

Initially I did very well, indeed I made it to lunch without spending a bean. I resisted the lovely flowery fabrics and the great 3-D cross-stitched cards (I have a dark and murky cross-stitching past). Alas I finally fell over at the Quilt Room and when I got up again I'd somehow acquired a bundle of 6 fat quarters and a metre of snail and pea pod print fabric by Anna Griffin (who does some truly lovely stuff). To be fair I was in good company as Katie also got a metre of the snail fabric and everyone agreed it was just too cute to pass up.

Snail fabric

Fat quarters

It wasn't actually all the amazing quilts that inspired me to have a go myself, rather one or two simple quilts that made me think "I can probably do this". In particular I saw one quilt which would be perfect for a baby and I started to think about quilting, rather than knitting, a baby blanket for my first niece. I wanted to find fabrics which were cute and suitable for a girl but not overly so and the bundle I picked up at the Quilt Room is just perfect I think.

I'm planning to use the 6 fat quarters to create a top piece measuring about 80 x 100 cm using 24 rectangles (something nice and straightforward to start with). The backing will be the incredibly sweet snail and pea fabric. I may then add some appliqued detail on top of that but I don't need to start planning that until I see how the initial quilting goes.

Rather than cut out my pieces and then try to arrange them I decided (being a newbie quilter) to take digital photos of my fabric and then use Paint to cut and paste scale rectangles into patterns.

Pattern idea 1:

quilt idea 1

Pattern idea 2:

quilt idea 2

Pattern idea 3:

quilt idea 3

I'm so pleased I did this as I felt so nervous about cutting into my fabric. I know I'll feel a lot more confident if I have a clear plan for my quilt before I start.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Festival of Quilts

Last weekend Katie, Lara, Kim (Katie's sister) and I all piled into Lara's little car and headed off to the N.E.C. in Birmingham for the festival of Quilts. Of the four of us only Kim is a quilter (at least that was the state of affairs at the start of the day) but I'm always happy to look at beautiful fabrics and amazing colours.

There were so many stunning quilts at the show. This was my favourite:

Imaginasaurus quilt

I also really liked these (well I am a knitter!):

Knot stitch quilt

Cable sweater quilt

Lara and I got to have a go on a huge free stitching sewing machine - so cool.

Lara stitching

We only saw the "free form" quilts sectiobn on our way out. This one's for Felix!

Cake corset

We saw ome gorgeous quilts by Kaffe Fasset at the Rowan stand plus the man himself. We tried (and failed) not to act too fan girly (there was much giggling and surreptitious staring).

I lurve this one. Luckily Lara now has the book so maybe I can make it in a year or ten when I have the time, skill and money!

Kaffe fasset quilt

Lovely Rowan fabrics:

Rowan fabrics

I can see whole new opportunities for stashing arising!