Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My next quilt: Stars and Suns

My sister Cindy came to town, and I asked her how one goes about machine quilting for a show-quality quilt, which I want the Perfect Square quilt to be.  After she showed me, I told her that I have been thinking about making a simpler quilt, since I'm still very intimidated by the thought of the Perfect Square.  She agreed that that would probably be a good idea.

We will soon be visiting my second daughter, Elizabeth, spending three weeks at her house in Arizona to help her care for her soon-to-be-newborn son Matthew and her two older sons, Joshua and David.  Liz's husband Eric is in the National Guard, and his annual two-week training is scheduled for right when Matthew is expected to arrive.  I remembered a fabric I like, which features stars and swirling gas clouds on a deep blue background.  I knew it was a popular fabric, and that the pattern was available in various colors.  I came up with a design that features squares of this fabric, with one bright color in the shape of two diamonds, one on top of the other, with two darker colors for accents.  The pieces will be as simple as can be: nothing but squares.  The border will be right triangles, with the hypotenuse on the squares, and other triangles of the same size filling in.  That's a horrible description, but the idea is simple.  Then, there will be bright yellow circles in applique with batting inside to raise them, and the quilting will be circles in gold thread centered on the appliqued circles.  The circles will be random sizes, probably ranging from three inches to eight inches, and in random locations.  There will probably around eight of them.

I had planned on using eight-inch squares, and the border would be about 4 inches wide.  But then I looked up quilt sizes.  I found that if I went to 6-inch squares, I'd have the size of a baby quilt, and if I went to 9-inch squares I'd have the size of a twin quilt.  David is now three, and Joshua is around five.  David has been seeing Joshua's "grandfather blanket" most of his life.  I will be working on this quilt in Arizona.  If David sees me working on a quilt for Matthew, he would probably be jealous.  So, I'll make this a twin quilt for David.  Of course, that means that after this, I'll have to make a quilt for Matthew.  By the time that one's finished, Matthew will be old enough to appreciate it.

I went to Joanne Fabric and bought the pattern I wanted in red, deep blue and black.  The two diamonds will be done in red.  The squares have been cut out.  Here they are, laid out in the final arrangement:

Here is a closeup of the fabric:

And here (in an unfortunately dark snapshot) is the fabric for the appliqued circles: 

Thursday, December 19, 2013


My last session in the sewing room was quite frustrating.  I tried to sew the same seam five times.  Pieces were in the wrong order or were sewn to the wrong edge of the fabric (not hard if the fabric is around 6 inches square and one side is 1/8 of an inch longer than the other), or the seam wasn't straight, or whatever.

Tonight was much different!  First, I sewed that seam correctly.  A while ago, I realized that I could make life easier if I planned my piecing to minimize the number of Y seams I needed.  So, I sewed a second set of three patches together.  That brought the only frustration of the evening, as the result was a 16th of an inch or so too short.  I figured that my problem was the difference between a 1/4-inch seam and a scant 1/4-inch seam.  So, I cut out a fresh set of those pieces and put them together, making sure that the edges of the fabric were just barely not touching the guide on the #57 foot.  This time, the piece was just a shade too long, so I trimmed it down.  Then I added a fourth piece to the top, just a plain straight seam.  Finally, I was ready to try my first challenging assembly.  The seam I needed ran fr

om the top down about three inches, and then left 1/2 inch, and then down the rest of the way (maybe two inches).  I sewed the two vertical pieces first, being careful to leave the required seam allowance at the ends, and then I folded the fabric to the last little half-inch seam and sewed that.  And it worked!  Everything is aligned, the sizes are right, the edges are square, and there's no puckering in the corners.  The only problem I saw was a little bit of puckering along one long seam.  I'm not sure what causes that.  Maybe I wasn't letting the fabric move freely enough for that seam.  

So, now I have the top half of one medium-sized square finished!

I'm planning to make this a complete mini-quilt.  I'll quilt it and bind it.  The only problem is that it's not sized for binding, so the binding will take away from the squareness of the outer squares.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I found that when I am using the #57 foot, the one with the little vertical quarter-inch guide, when I let go of the fabric as the last bit disappears under the foot, it was tending to get gathered to the left, and I lost as much as an eighth of an inch of seam width.  That was bugging the heck out of me, because of course if a seam is 1/4 inch wide at one end and 1/8th of an inch wide at the other, the edges are not going to be square when the patch is opened.  I posted questions to a few quilting E-groups, and got various replies, ranging from "don't use that foot, use a wider one" to "Bernina has had that problem for years and never done anything about it".  The most common response was to use a tool called a Stiletto that can go under the foot with the fabric and guide it for that last little bit.

I went to my dealer tonight and asked what they thought.  They said to just use a thin, pointed piece of wood or something, like a shish-kebab skewer.  I think I am going to use that most useful of all sewing tools, the seam-ripper.  If I need to.  I'm not sure I do.  A couple days ago, I bought two yards of fabric expressly to practice with.  I cut out a few 2 1/2-inch squares and sewed them together, and didn't have any problem.

The women at the quilt store were suitably impressed with the deal Cindy got for me.  They said they still had a few 640s in stock, and they were trying to get rid of them for $4,000.  

My next challenge is sewing over seams.  If I plan carefully, I can greatly reduce the number of Y seams I need.  In their place, I will sew two blocks together, and then sew a long side of the patch to a larger block, so the new seam is perpendicular to the old seam.  If the seam allowance has been pressed toward me, so that the fold goes under the foot before the edge of the fabric, then I don't have a problem.  The pieces line up nicely.  But if the allowance is pressed away from me, the top block seems to get pushed forward, and the fabric bunches up toward the last pin.  Or, if the pin has already been removed, the top piece ends up being pushed out of alignment.  I haven't found a reliable solution for that yet.  The last time I tried, I stopped the new seam just before I got to the edge of the fabric of the old seam, took the pieces out of the machine, and checked alignment.  It was good.  Then, I put the pieces back in, started sewing where I left off, and the results were aligned perfectly.  So maybe that's a solution.  In earlier attempts, just stopping with the needle down, raising the foot, making sure the seam is flat, and continuing the seam did not work very well.

Oh, one other thing.  When I took the machine out of the case, plugged the cords in, and turned it on, it made a very scary grinding sound.  It wasn't like gears that weren't meshing, but it sounded as though something had gotten knocked way out of alignment.  I turned the machine off, took out the thread in case it was getting somewhere it shouldn't be, and turned it back on.  Same thing.  I looked more closely to see if I could see anything at all that was wrong.  I saw that the guide that holds the bobbin thread in place as a bobbin is being wound had accidentally been pushed, turning on the bobbin winding motor.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The New Sewing Machine

I had a sewing machine pretty much fall into my lap!

Cindy, my quilting sister, has a quilting friend who is moving up in the world, and offered her previous machine for sale.  It's a Bernina Artiste 640.  She was asking $500 for it.  The package includes several standard feet, a walking foot, a Bernina Stitch Regulator foot, and an extra-large table for working with quilts.  I might expect to see a package like this on E-Bay for nearly $2,000.

After a bit of discussion, I decided to buy it.

We decided to drive to Pennsylvania to pick it up, and to see Cindy's newly remodeled kitchen.  Mom wanted to see it too, so we invited her.

In the meantime, Cindy was familiarizing herself with the machine, and found that the stitch length adjustment knob was broken.  The knob is connected to the machine by a thin plastic shaft, and it can easily be broken if the knob is pushed sideways somehow.  So she drove to her Bernina dealer, an hour's drive each way.  The dealer replaced the knob, then opened the machine, cleaned everything out, and made sure it was working perfectly.  It took two hours.  Cindy asked him how much she owed him.  He said, "Nothing".  She insisted on paying something, so he charged her $12.50, the price of the knob.

Lynn was concerned about possibly ugly snow when driving, but weather forecasts looked OK.  We'd expect some snow, but it shouldn't be bad.  Wrong.  We stopped at a gas station maybe an hour away from her house.  It wasn't snowing when we went in.  When we came out, it was near whiteout.  We proceeded anyway.  The only way I could tell where I was supposed to be going was by following the taillights of the truck in front.  We got to the Phillipsburg exit and called Cindy to ask if we should get off I-80 there or stay on.  She said to get off.  About that time, the snow tapered down to a reasonable amount, and the rest of the drive had no problem.  We found out the next morning that there had been a multi-vehicle accident on I-80, about where and when we would have been if we had stayed on I-80.

We had a very pleasant stay with Cindy.  She introduced me to the machine's main functions.  At one point, she tried to show me how to use a buttonhole stitch to do applique.  We set the machine for 4-mm stitch length.  It gave us 0 stitch length.  Other decorative stitches actually stitched backward.  She couldn't figure it out.  Finally, since Bernina calls the machine a sewing computer, she decided to do what you do when computers act up:  turn it off and back on again.  That cleared up the problem.

I asked Cindy about Y seams.  Those are seams where three seams have to meet at a point.  She said that you just locate exactly where the seams will begin and end, and make sure that's where they do begin and end.  If you do that carefully, it works.

When we got home Sunday, Lynn worked to straighten up the office so I could have a place to sew.  Tonight (Monday), I finished moving things around and got out the machine and tried to do a Y seam.  It worked!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Stars and Squares Quilt is DONE!

The Stars and Squares quilt is done!  Finished!  Quilted!  Only one last thing remains: adding the pouches for a hanging bar.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Top is Done!

The top of the Stars and Squares quilt is done!

The borders were more difficult than I had expected.  I had finished a set of borders a few months ago, but when I went to attach them to the main part of the top, I found that each square of the border was 2 7/8 inches wide instead of 3 inches.  The cumulative error was too much to work with.  I had to remake the borders.

When I sewed the first new border to the main section, I found the edges did not line up.  Some of the blocks were not exactly 9 inches wide.  Fortunately, they were all smaller than that.  So, I had to identify where the narrow blocks were, undo a seam in the border, slice off a bit of one square, and sew the border back together.  Actually, it wasn't really that much of a pain.

Now all I have to is quilt it and bind it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Most of the Top is Done!

Except for the borders, the top is done!

I may need to sew some yellow cloth behind the yellow pieces, since they are somewhat translucent.  Or maybe just having the white batting behind them will be enough.  For this picture, the top was draped over a dark brown couch.

Assembling the large 3-triangle blocks was unexpectedly difficult.  I had planned to just cut the pieces out with a quarter-inch seam allowance and sew them together, but on the rare times when I actually sewed the correct pieces together, they refused to come out correctly.  Either the top and bottom edges were not parallel, or the piece was the wrong size, or (more commonly) both.  I hadn't paper-pieced them because the pattern would have been 9 1/2 inches wide, and I didn't have a printer that wide.  So, after struggling with one block for three hours, I posted a message on a couple of quilting groups on Yahoo titled "Pulling My Hair Out".  Several responses suggested paper piecing.  I remembered that we have a nice big printer at work that handles 11 x 17-inch paper.  I made patterns, and pieced them with no further problem.

The only remaining problem happened when trying to assemble the middle and bottom strips.  The inner corners did not meet.  It turned out the center block on the bottom (blue and red triangles) was 9 3/8 inches wide instead of 9 1/2 inches.  I was able to stretch it out by ironing, and got the seams to match.