Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year - a few lessons learned

As I sit in my quiet house (quiet because my family sleeps later than me) I believe New Year's Morning is a good time for my second post.  I've been thinking a bit about how I want to approach this.  Do I go consecutively from first quilt to newest?  Do I jump back and forth, one old then one new?  Or should I just play it by ear?  This morning on the first day of 2015 I'm thinking "no pressure".  My dear friend Shelley (hellowww Pirate!) warned me to choose my own style.  So here goes - free form.

New Year's Day is traditionally a day of reflection.  So today I want to reflect a little more on that first I Spy quilt and those days 14 years ago.  It's a new year, I get to reminisce. When I made that quilt my son was 5 years old and amazingly cute.  Really.  He liked to hug and kiss his momma and let me read to him.  Now he's a young man.  Still handsome but I do miss that sweet little boy that would sit on my lap and look at the pictures on his quilt with me.   Sigh.  Back to Quilts... (thanks for letting me indulge a little)
When I think back to that first quilt, I shake my head a bit.  The problem with being self taught is you remake all the mistakes over again.  I didn't know the questions to ask to save myself a lot of frustration.  Frustration like trying to fussy cut novelty fabrics with a large 24" x 5" ruler.  Frustration like trying to sew and iron polyester fabric.  Frustration with sewing Y-seams over and over and over and... 
What I have learned since then?  First, let's talk about Rulers.  It really is worth buying a small square ruler the size you want to cut most often, especially if you are going to be fussy cutting.  I decided after a few more quilts that 4.5" finished doesn't really doesn't play nice with other blocks so I standardized on 4" finished (4.5" cut).  Three blocks make 12", two blocks make 8", add a 2" square and you have 6", etc.  The math is so much easier.  (Note, just because I'm a CPA doesn't mean I like to do math in my head - where is that 10-key...).  I now have a 4.5" square ruler that is my best friend.  I also have a 6.5", 8.5", and 12.5" ruler if the 4.5" doesn't work for the pattern I want to make.  I often mark the cut size and the seam lines on the ruler top with a sharpie marker along with an X on the diagonals to show the center.  That way I don't get confused on exactly what I need to cut, especially if it's an odd size.  It also helps me preview the fabric so I get the picture placed properly in the block and not chopped off in the seam allowance. When the project is done, some isopropyl alcohol takes the marks off.  Here is a ruler marked for a recent snowball block.  Love this hint!   I don't like having to stop and rethink, so the marks help my "quilting for dummies" method.  Figure it out once then move on.
Polyester fabric?  Solid polyester fabric?  Not to be a quilting snob, but cotton really is much more fun to work with.  It irons so nicely.  And it smells better when ironed - I hate that poly smell.  And tone on tone fabrics are also more forgiving.  Those are the fabrics with little subtle patterns that you can see when you look up close, but if you just glanced or saw them from a distance they look solid.  Having lots of those in your stash makes stash diving much more fun.  I'm constantly on the look out for either black or white fabrics with dots or spots small enough that they read as a solid.  They go so well with the busy busy multi-colored novelty fabrics.  I don't insist on quilt shop fabric, but over the years I have gotten pickier about the fabric I use.  If it is thin or ravels, it just isn't fun to sew with.  The blocks don't go together well and that adds up to frustration.  I'm going to spend a lot of time with this fabric, handling it, sewing it, ripping it, ironing it, etc.  I want to enjoy that process.  A warning:  Frequently the manufacturers spray stiffener on the poor quality stuff so you don't realize until it's washed how thin it is.  Look closely before you buy, hold it up to the light, look at the threads per inch, can you see your hand easily (or the ceiling) through it.  That said, sometimes I just have to have it anyway, those giraffes (or otters, or xylophones) are just too good to pass up.  But at that point it is an informed choice and not a later sad surprise.
And Y-seams.  Hmmmm.  When you sew clothing, every now and then you have to sew up to a spot, stop and backstitch.  Pant zippers come to mind.  Sometimes when doing home dec. you may even have a true Y-seam on a pillow.  One, maybe two Y-seams.  Ok, no biggie.  But that quilt had 135 blocks.  Was I an expert by the time I did all those Y-seams?  Were they easy by the time I was done?  Did they improve as I went along?  No, No, and No.  Somewhere around block 20 I realized my mistake.  But of  course I had already cut up all my fabric (another beginner mistake - always make a test block first before you cut all your fabric).  I still have some of those yellow and blue pieces floating around my sewing room.  Some time later I saw the same attic window pattern but using half square triangles in the bottom corner to get that diagonal.  Smack head!  No more Y-seams!  As long as you pick a good tone on tone fabric, the seam doesn't show.  You don't even need to do a true half square triangle.  You can just add a triangle to the end of one of the strips, then you only have 1 seam showing. 

You have to look pretty close to see that seam on the black fabric.  I put the seam on the black because I knew it would be virtually invisible since the spots are random.  On the white fabric with the regular dots it would have shown though still not obvious.  Thinking about those kinds of decisions before you cut makes a big difference.  Making a sample block and seeing how it goes together is smart too.  (Nope, I don't always take my own advise but it's still good advise).
Putting on teacher voice:  So now what have we learned today?  Good tools (rulers), good fabric (no poly and TOT), easy construction methods (no Y-seams), and good planning (test drive before you cut out everything).  Guess I have learned a few things after 14 years and LOTS of quilts.  Thanks again friends at the forum, you truly have taught me a lot.
And gee, I now have 4 more ideas for future posts.


  1. Ok...............what did I learn from your post. I love your idea of taking a sharpie and marking an X on your ruler.........or marking anything you choose. Head smacking moment..........I will definitely use that idea. Thanks!


  2. thanks for reading Ami. I'm glad you were able to pick up a tip that you didn't already know. I've learned so much from you over the years, it's only fair. See you in Feb.

  3. Ohhh..I love the idea of marking the ruler..and the triangle trick instead of a Y seam... Very cool...