Lesson relearned & North Star block

After a few days with very little pain I decided to retreat to my sewing room. The first day I worked on the North Star block for 45 minute, it went well and there was no increased pain. Yesterday I went in to finish the block and lost track of time, an hour and half later I had the final seam stitched and papers removed. I opened it up and the  throbbing shock hit me. Remember the music in the  shower scene in Psycho? That’s the throbbing shock I felt.    Over the last couple of years I have made every mistake there is when paper piecing and chalked them all up to lessons learned the hard way. These are the lessons that stay with you and you never make the same mistake twice, yea right.

The most important lesson is, DO NOT remove the papers until the end or before checking your work,  I know this and never do it prior to checking my work.  I cant say never again.  Perhaps it was my comfort with pp,  the excitement of completing the block so I could share it with you all or maybe it was the sheer excitement of actually being back and removing the cobwebs and dust from my machine. Whatever the reason I know better yet I removed all center papers before checking, leaving only the outside papers on each template.  The huge mistake I made though, after the final seam was stitched I removed every paper left before opening the block to inspect my work. Some of my issues could have been avoided had I just checked.  My block was lopsided, I had sewn one of my pie shaped pieces on the wrong side and ended up with 2 corner blocks sewn together. No big deal right? Actually it was. Seams had to be ripped and re-sewn. Most paper pieced quilt blocks involve piecing tiny pieces that without papers would be almost impossible to accurately sew with traditional piecing. This block isn’t like the free God’s eye block I offer that can be easily completed by traditional piecing.

Once seams were ripped and pieced back together I began pressing and my center star did not line up. So I ripped that last seam again, realigned and stitched again. It was better but not right. At this point I am afraid to rip again because I don’t feel I will have a strong seam line if I do.  How many times can you rip and re-sew the same sections together without weakening your seam? I’m disgusted with myself and decided to go ahead and press the block and hang it on the wall as a stark reminder of what not to do. While pressing I noticed a few other places that my pieces did not line up properly. Again, the papers had already been removed but even if they hadn’t  too much would have needed taken apart to fix the problem. A problem that could have been eliminated had I simply checked each template before moving on, this is where my comfort of pp played a role in my demise on this block. My scrap practice block did not present any of these issues and why? Because I check my work, if all is good I move on. Sometimes you have to remove the paper bulk to confirm it’s as it should be. Take the spikes coming off the star extending to the outside blocks as an example. The spikes are long and narrow, with the added seams and paper its hard to judge if you lined things up properly without removing some of the bulk (papers).  I still cannot believe I did not check all of these. Shame on me. paperpiecing: quilting: flying geese

I can say I haven’t had a disaster like this since I first started paper piecing. A few of the spikes that look off are not actually off but instead from the variation in the fabric color and not a smooth press. Its also hanging from one of my quilt frames by a piece of fabric I tied to the bar to hang it. I haven’t figured out how to keep my camera from digitally stamping the date on photos, sorry I’m not real techy.

The moral to this story is… Whether you are new at or wanting to learn pp or even an experienced pp, NEVER EVER EVER REMOVE THE PAPER TEMPLATES UNTIL YOU HAVE CONFIRMED YOUR WORK IS ACCURATE!!!

Cabin Fever and Peanut Brittle

Cabin fever has set in early this year. The piriformis muscle pressing on my sciatic nerve that’s been causing all of my pain from my butt to the arch in my foot is finally giving me some relief, recovery is slow. Rest assured I have sketched several new quilt ideas and hope to finish assembling my North Star block . It looks so pitiful and neglected laying on my piecing table. Enzo, my quilting companion is thankful for my down time. He is the ultimate velcro dog and hasn’t missed any opportunity to cuddle.

During the virtual cookie exchange I had mentioned Peanut Brittle and told a few commenters I would post the recipe.

Please note: Thank you  Artsy Fartsy Mama for the recipe card used for the caramel and peanut brittle recipes. Peanut brittle recipe

On paper piecing

This morning I sent an email to bloggers who follow me asking if they paper piece. I’m trying to get my pattern For the love of geese circulated on the web and who better to ask than bloggers. One of the replies suggested she is interested in learning paper piecing and asked for insights. What  a great idea for a blog post but I’m not sure if this is what she was looking for. Below are my heavily used tools. I did get a fresh glue stick for the photo 🙂 . I’ll also include a few useful to me tips.

The tools

These are the items I use everyday for paper piecing.

Add a quarter rulers, 6″ & 12″. Clear 18″ ruler

The add a quarter ruler is a must. You can get by with just a 6″ but for larger pieces you will need to slide it along the folded paper. Sometimes the 1/4″ lip will also slide over the edge of your turned paper and you will not get an exact 1/4″ allowance. You could also use a clear ruler like I have in the right of the photo for trimming the 1/4″ seam allowance. The clear ruler is a Friskars, 3″ x 18″ . I purchased this specifically for trimming my completed templates. Anything larger than this is too large and clumsy  for my small hands. Also, when you save all outside trimming until last, the larger heavier rulers tend to rub a blister on my fingers.

Tape, rotary cutter (well used) and seam ripper

Tape, rotary cutter and seam ripper. Some days you will not use the tape or seam ripper. But if you don’t have them on hand you will surely need them. Yes, I know my seam ripper is old and well used. I’m not going for pretty but functional and it still functions well. On occasion I have had to tape templates back together because I have cut into them with my rotary cutter, it happens.

No one is perfect and at some point you will stitch the wrong color fabric onto the template and have to rip it out, or maybe your patch doesn’t fully cover the area.  After ripping , I really recommend that you tape over this area because your paper is perforated from the needle and will tear off very easily.

Elmers washable school glue stick, disappearing purple. The purple really does disappear and it washes cleanly. This is used for tacking down your first patch on the template. Without it, the patch will slip on the paper.  Sometimes the corner fabrics will not lay flat against the paper which can be an issue when stitching the templates together or trimming the excess paper and fabric from the outside of  completed templates.

Elmers washable school glue 4oz liquid. Use sparingly and stay at least 1/2″ away from corners or areas where there is a heavy seam and within your seam allowance. Your quilter will use all types of niceties otherwise.  Again this washes cleanly from fabric. So what do I use this for? A LOT!

If I am piecing traditionally I will use this glue to tack my rows together before sewing. It keeps the layers of fabric  from shifting under the needle.  Basically any place that I would have used pins in the past, I use the glue. The main reason, I learned a long time ago the dangers of using pins when quilting. It doesn’t matter how cautious you are, there is a chance one or more will get left in the quilt. Waterbeds aren’t as common today as they once were but babies are and we wouldn’t want either pinned to a quilt.  Adults dislike being awakened  because they have rolled over on a pin left behind.  I still use pins,  3 pins to be exact. They sit beside me on my piecing table at all times and I use them until the heads pop off. For my purpose it doesn’t really matter if they are a little bent. Why 3? I dont need more than 3 at a time. These are used to line up my templates and hold them in place while I dot my glue on and set it with the iron.   Back to the glue.

It is very important though that you stay away from heavy seams or what will become heavy seams like the corners. The reason, stack 4 pieces of fabric, add a piece of batting to that, add a piece of your backing to that, place 4 small dots of clue on the corners of 4 of these pieces and try stitching through it (with dried glue of course).  One of three things will happen: 1. your needle breaks 2. your machines glides around it but not through it 3. it stops your machine in its tracks. Just think if you had 4 blocks that were all half square triangles, stitched together. IMG_1847Not following? See the photo to the left. Place a dot of glue in the center corner of the 2 lower blocks. Place the upper blocks on the lower blocks and heat set the glue with your iron (if you used just a small amount of glue it will dry very quickly). Now take to your machine and sew the 2 halves together, open and press. Next line up  the 2 halves , apply a small dot of glue on the outside corners and in the center . Heat set with your iron, take to your machine and stitch the halves together. If you did this, I am sure you noticed a difference when your machine hit that glue/seam in the center but it still stitched as normal. Open and press, now add your batting and backing and try running that under you needle to quilt this completed block. Your results will be one of the 3 noted above when you reach that center full of seams and 2+ dots of glue. This is why you stay away from the corners or heavy seams and within that 1/4″ seam allowance. I have used Elmers washable school glue in this manner for many years and have never had any issues when following the instruction above.

You can use it to tack your applique’s down so they remain stationary while hand or machine stitching. You can use it to hold patches down on blue jeans while you patch them because your husband ripped a brand new pair while at work. When you are sewing your binding onto the quilt and you want the end and beginning of the binding to join together nicely. Remove the quilt about 6″ before the joint, iron in hand, tack it together. Just make sure the glue is dry before running under your needle.

Tips that do not require tools. Remove excess bulk. You have all of your templates stitched, you have trimmed the excess fabric and paper from the templates and are now ready to put it all together.  The lower left photo is showing trimmed templates ready to be stitched. (Once edited, cropped and sized it went blurry, sorry) The arrows point to the stitch line. Once I’ve sewn these 2 pieces together I fold the paper flap in and carefully rip just that flap off on both sides below my stitched line. The rest I leave in tact. Another important fact that some pattern designers leave out about that stitch line. Remember the clear 3″ x 18″ Friskars ruler, locate the 1/4″ line on it. Now lay that line on your stitch line, trim any paper or fabric extending past the ruler. If you dont have anything extending past the ruler with the 1/4″ lined layed on the stitch line, then you dont have a 1/4 seam allowance on your finished template. Both free and purchased patterns I’ve noticed that the trim line is not always 1/4″ away from your stitch line. So use the trim line as a guide for trimming the templates from the sheets, I clip outside the trim line to be safe. To avoid any issues when putting it all together, use your stitch line to create your 1/4″ seam allowance on the finished templates. Please, if this does not make sense let me know and I will edit this post and try to be more clear. If you have additional questions, let me know and I will add to this post. IMG_1851

Do you fmq on your table model machine? Here is another great tip (I haven’t tried yet but I will) using Elmers Washable School Glue. Quilting Gail

Sewing machine headaches

Sewing machines. My first machine was a Singer, I’m not sure of the model but I can tell you it was very heavy. My mother in law purchased it for me for Christmas one year. It was a used machine that she bought from her machine repairman. At the time I thought it was a little tacky  but I was happy none the less. Her reasoning for buying used, all the machines manufactured today are plastic and the machine would last me for years. Sure it would, I didn’t even know how to use a sewing machine.

Fast forward a couple years to when I was pregnant and on bed rest. If you are an active person accustomed to working 40 plus hours a week and suddenly you are told to stay off of your feet I don’t need to explain how quickly the boredom sets in. I can’t really say how many days or weeks I had laid there trying to come up with something to do other than watching television. Almost every activity I could come up with required me to be on my feet, I couldn’t even do dishes, darn the luck.  I decided the rainy day had come and I was going to learn how to use that machine. So when my husband came home from work he pulled it out of the closest and set it up on my coffee table and taught me how to use a sewing machine.  For 10 years I’d been storing a quilt top I had hand pieced  and decided this would be my first real project on my machine, I wish I still had that top. It was such a disaster, it wasn’t even fit for a dog bed. I went on to use that machine for 6 years. Knowing what I know now about machines I wish I hadn’t given my son a screwdriver and turned him loose. He pulled parts off and gave me the part numbers, told me if I had the part he would fix it for me. He had removed every part possible and put it back together so many times that he could have done it blind folded. I did learn just how many working pieces there were in a sewing machine.

My second machine was also a Singer and I paid $150 for it. Keep in mind I still knew nothing about machines and thought I really had something with this new machine.  I made several applique quilts and quilted coats with this machine before I retired it 10 years later for a 1970’s model Singer. Remember the old blonde furniture? The mother in law of a co worker was selling her Singer Slant O Matic for $35 in a blond cabinet. She didn’t know much about the machine herself but I took a chance anyway. I purchased the machine sight unseen (I am back to the heavy last you forever machine). When I brought it home and opened it up it was clear the machine hadn’t been used much if at all. No one could clean a machine this well. In my first test strip with this machine I knew exactly what my mother in law was talking about. This Slant O Matic would pull 2 layers of denim, 2 layers of cotton batting, a single layer of pleather, and 2 layers of cotton fabric under the needle without hesitation or bogging down.  It was like comparing a weed-eater (the new model Singer) to a small block Chevy motor (Slant O Matic). I was in love. With that machine I made hand bags, applique quilts, patched Levis, made many quilt tops, you name it. There was nothing I would hesitate to put under that needle. When it became less reliable, mainly just needing a good service I retired it. For the last 5 years I had spent 3-4 hours weekday evenings, and all day on Saturday and Sundays at that machine. Lets say a well deserved retirement.

My next purchase was a Juki TL2010. Again, I am in love with this machine. It is only a straight stitch machine but holds it own again the Slant O Matic.

My next purchase was a Sunshine 16 long arm machine. After dropping $100 bills + at the quilter I decided I would be ahead if I just quilted my own tops. On a limited budget the Sunshine was the best fit for me. I had read negative reviews on the machine but I am always up for a challenge and knew that I would not be one of those people with negative results. With this machine you had to stay on top of your tension.  It is nothing like the Gammill I have today. Again, comparing a weed-eater to a small block Chevy.  The Sunshine taught me so much about adjusting machine tension and maintenance. Today I can time a machine, adjust a needle bar, adjust tension “with confidence”, change a shuttle/hook assembly, and I am sure there is more to this list that I just cant think of right now. Which leads me to why I started this post to begin with.

Yesterday I began having an issue with my Juki.  This machine has been the most reliable machine I have owned, so far. Its not finicky with thread and takes what I give it with a smile. So imagine my shock when it would not pick up bobbin thread. I was stitching along as I had been for the past 6 hours then all of a sudden it wasn’t stitching. It hadn’t been that long before when I changed the bobbin, cleaned the dust and lint and oiled the machine.  So I went through all the steps I had mastered with the Sunshine. Check the bobbin, rethread, change the needle, gave it a good cleaning, rethread with a new spool, check/change the needle and it still would not pick up my bobbin thread. I shut everything off and cooked dinner. The thought of sending the machine back to the place of purchase (in California) and being without my machine for God knows how long, or traveling into St Louis  to a repair shop and still being without my machine for at least a week was devastating.  At one point I even wondered where I could take a sewing machine repair course and how could I become an authorized service center for Juki.  There is no one in my area who repairs machines and I could pick up a few machines for some extra fabric cash. Hey we all have a habit to support. Because the machine is still under warranty I didn’t want to take a screwdriver to it and jeopardize my warranty so I had to do it by the book. It was clear the machine had jumped out of time.

After dinner I sat back down at the machine. I did a thorough cleaning and vacuumed it out,  checked my needle again, rethreaded the machine. rechecked my bobbin case for lint, still no thread pickup. I have read hundreds of websites regarding machine adjustment and cleaning. One of the things they all share, do not use canned or compressed air in your bobbin area because it blows lint and dust into tiny crevices. Before you judge. it worked. Apparently there was lint or thread  unreachable by brush that was preventing the bobbin thread from being picked up.  Glad I didn’t take it to a repair shop, I would have felt very foolish.

Avoiding UFO quilts

Paper piecing, quilt, quilting,
Wind Rose quilt

2,555  of 3,179 pieces of fabric to go. When I think of it in  pieces of fabric the completed quilt feels like Christmas morning that’s never going to come when I was 10. One of my customers told me it would take me a year to complete, I laughed and told him I would have it done in a month or less. Had I not started all over to change the color on the medallion I would be much further along. But I am glad I decided to swap out the color on the scallops for blue.  Since I opened my big mouth and said I would have it completed in a month or less I created a time line that I have to meet to save face. Wish me luck.

All of the templates for the medallion are completed so after some cleanup this evening I’ll start on the outside blocks.  They will piece fairly quick because they aren’t as complex as the medallion, with the exception of an anchor block.  Cheers to the person who created paper piecing. Can you imagine trying to applique or hand piece the blocks in the photo above? If discouragement didn’t get to you first, frustration would set in very quickly and it would be yet another ufo in a box. Other than un-quilted tops, I only have 1 ufo quilt. To be honest, I will never finish it, its destined to be a cushion cover for Enzo. Even dogs like nice things.

How to avoid ufo’s. Don’t start another project until you have finished what you are working on. That’s the best advice but we all know its not always possible since babies and wedding happen. But what about those quilts we start then somewhere along the way we lose interest, get frustrated or discouraged because its more difficult than we thought? Most of us will choose to start on the easiest aspect of the quilt and save the hardest for last. Starting with the easiest we  create an avoidance,  begin to dread the hardest section, and in the back of our mind we know as we progress we are getting closer to the end. Sometimes we give up before we are half way there because we’ve created this negative idea in our mind that  the most difficult section is a beast.  We have convinced ourselves before we reach that part there are going to be major issues piecing it or maybe convince ourselves we lack the skills needed to complete it.  By nature we avoid negative things. The best way to prevent this scenario…start with the hardest first. When you get a pattern look it over well and just because the designer says start here and complete in this order, doesn’t mean you have to do exactly that. There are no pattern police waiting to break down your door. By beginning with the most difficult, you are starting with strong motivation. You know there is light instead of darkness at the end of the tunnel. And then when your reach those easy blocks, they are like a well deserved reward.

Another thing I have learned, some patterns just ” don’t make sense “. I have purchased patterns that the instructions were more complex than the design and I wondered if anyone short of a PhD could actually follow them.  That is when I grab a highlighter pen and sit down in a quiet room. I begin reading the directions and highlight what I cannot change or pattern specific useful information such as, you must stitch templates A and B together before stitching template D to template A. Or, piece these sections with your light fabric and those sections with dark fabric. So…if you purchase a pattern and open the directions and get that voice in your head saying you cant do this, STOP! Look at each template, do they look easy or do they look like a headache waiting to happen?  Grab a highlighter and with no distractions start reading. If you’ve paper pieced before YOU CAN DO THIS. If you still are not sure and are worried you will destroy your paper templates, pack up the templates and head off to your local office store or print shop. Copy the templates and try piecing with your scrap stash first.  If all goes well you still have your original templates to begin again, if it doesn’t you still have the full pattern. What’s the alternative, will you place the pattern on a shelf with other patterns to save for another day that will never come?

We are our own worse critic

strip pieced quilt

We are our own worst critics. So often I begin a project with fabrics that look well together when laying alongside one another and only after the quilt is finished do I wonder “what was I thinking”? Honestly, this happens with every quilt with the exception of 2. You cant go wrong with a 2 color quilt.. The other, the whole time I was piecing it my nose was curled and I questioned myself. It was only after the top was completed that I truly appreciated the colors and placement.
If fabric choices arent tough enough, what about piecing? Perhaps the lines dont exactly meet, we have all had this happen. One of my sisters will tell me, “if you didnt point it out I wouldnt have noticed or no one will notice but you”. That is reasuring as long as it takes my husband to walk into the room. He has an eye for noticing those little mistakes that “no one will notice”, lol. He has noticed things that I as the assembler did not see.
We have all at one point fudged a seam. We have either neatly puckered or stretched a seamline to make the points meet. Ideally we dont want to do that but the thought of ripping out all those stitches is so depressing. More often than not the problem isnt with the piece you are stitching, it may be several seams ago or several blocks ago and when you start ripping seams you may undo more than half of what you have completed before you find the issue. Two words, paper piecing. With traditional piecing there is very liitle room for error. With paper piecing, as long as you position your fabrics correctly, stitch on the line and match your points when joining blocks you will spend your time stitching instead of ripping. With paper piecing you can see where you went wrong before it’s too late.
Remember Elmers washable school glue? Turns out it is good for more than coating your fingers to watch it dry and peel off so you can admire your fingerprints. If you place a tiny dot of glue inside the 1/4″ seam allowance then dry with an iron you will discover you have fewer shifting pieces. The number of dots to place really depends on the length of the seam you are stitching. For a patch that is 3″ long you could get by with 2 dots. Stay at least 1/2″ away from corners and within the 1/4″ seam allowance. The size of the dot…well grab a sharpie fine tip permanent marker and lightly place a dot on a piece of paper. Thats about the amount of glue, A little bit larger than a period on this page. If you are paper piecing and the paper gets stuck to the fabric, keep a damp rag nearby. Touch just the glued area with your rag and the paper will be released.
Things to always keep in mind if using the glue.
1. Always stay at least 1/2″ away from corners. The glue does add some extra bulk and you will want to avoid seams that will go from 2 layers of fabric to 4 or more layers. Your longarmer will not like you or you will not like yourself when you hit one of these already thick seams made bulkier by glue. 2 layers of fabrc with a tiny dot of glue will not bog down or stop the quilting machine.
2. Always apply the glue within the seam allowance and a very small dot. You will know if you applied too much glue when you are turing your pieces. The glue will spread out and too much will run into your stitch line. A damp rag will release the glue or if its not a lot you can gently pull the fabrick apart.
3. Make sure the glue is dry before running thru your machine. If it is not dry and you have not kept it within your seam allowance it will get on and dry on the needle. If the glue is dry it will not gum up your needle.

Pattern above quilt by :http://www.getasquiltingstudio.com/  Very clear and easy to follow pattern.