Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Which, When, where and what?

Sorry.  I'm having to stretch to think of (somewhat) clever titles.  The last post I discussed how I decide which fabrics to purchase for my stash.  This time I'm going to talk about which fabrics to use in specific quilts and how to arrange them prior to sewing.  From the general to the specific (my teacher friends would be so proud).

EQ draft
First lets look at how the quilt IDEA impacts the novelty fabric selection.  (at this point you need to imagine a light bulb). I like to draw out the quilt idea in Electric Quilt (electronic quilt drafting software).  This gives me an indication of how many rows and columns I need of a particular size block to get the over all size of the quilt.  I can preview different settings and background colors.  It also lets me see approximately how much background fabric I'm going to need.  Very helpful to know the pattern will need a full yard before I start cutting up that 3/4ths yard piece of background.  I will print out a copy of the overall quilt design and make notes about the block size, patch sizes, yardage requirements as well as where I got the idea for the quilt.  If the block is a little tricky, I will also print the actual block.  I use this printed copy and the notes as a reference during construction.  I also save it for my scrap book - very helpful if I want to make the quilt again later.

ABC flags and marked pressing board
Now that I know how many blocks I'm going to need, I will start pulling fabric.  If the novelty fabric cut size is my standard 4.5", I'll pull from the pre-cut box first (mentioned in the last post), then supplement with the flat folds.  I have marked my large pressing board with A - Z to help me be sure to pull each letter.   I'll toss a fabric on each letter until they are all covered with at least 1 fabric.  Here is a picture of my pressing board along with some flannel tags I also use to help identify the ABC's.  Sometimes a fabric may contain more than 1 letter and I want to mark as many as I can to begin with as I will likely discard some fabrics later in the process.  In addition to one picture to represent each letter of the alphabet, I want to have a mix of subjects.  I don't want all food, or all games, or all animals.  Variety is definitely more fun.  And if I know some of the parent's hobbies and history, I'll add relevant fabrics for the family.  Sometimes I'll just throw in a fabric because I haven't used it in a while and I've missed it - yes I get sentimental about some of these fabrics.

As I'm pulling fabrics I'll step back periodically to see if I'm getting a good mix of colors and scale.  Unless I'm doing a quilt pattern that specifically relies on the background colors in the novelty fabrics, I want to have some bright, some dark, and some light fabrics.  Again, variety.   This is where I'll start rejecting some of the fabrics I've pulled.   For example if I've got too many reds and I've already got several R fabrics, I'll toss out the Raspberrys.   But if there are too many dogs, I'll toss the red dogs instead.  I started to say "put away", but then thought I'd be honest.  I don't put away until after I'm done cutting and there is a huge pile.

I also keep in mind the background fabric I've chosen to use.  If it's all white, then I want to make sure there is enough contrast with the novelty fabric for the pattern design to be seen.  Otherwise the pictures just float and you can't get the sense of the piecing pattern.  In this heart quilt for example I was careful to not use a novelty fabric that was too light, otherwise the heart shape would have been lost against the white background.    I did bend my "rules" a little to include the Cooking Utensils even though it was on a white background because the mom and dad love to cook.  Content trumps design consideration. 

Pink Sashed Hearts
 Once I've pulled from my stash all the novelty fabrics I want to use, I'll start cutting out the blocks.  I try to get the main picture approximately centered within the block but sometimes it's a compromise with good use of the fabric.  I want to save adjacent pictures in the fabric for future quilts if I can.  If the picture is off center a bit in the block, I don't worry too much as long as you can tell what the picture is and isn't obviously off balance.   Unless the fabric is an all over, small scattered print, there is a lot of fussy cutting.  And lots of scraps (to be used later as piano key borders mostly).   Frequently I'll mark the pattern on my ruler to help me align the picture in the piece I'm cutting.  In the heart quilt above, marking the ruler with the diagonal lines was very helpful.  Here's that picture again showing the marks, though not for this particular quilt.  This was for a snowball block and I wanted to be sure that my picture wouldn't get chopped off in the corners once they were sewn.
As I cut the novelty fabrics, I put them on my design wall.  I keep an eye on the wall to make sure I still like the balance of color and contrast.  Keep in mind at this point nothing is sewn, I'm still selecting novelty fabrics, cutting from lots of different pieces of fabric.  This is where you can see novelty quilts can take longer than a regular quilt.  Sort of scrappy on steroids.  Putting away the pile of fabrics can get fun (where's that sarcasm font) especially with fussy cut holes all through them.  Once I have all the fabrics on the design wall, I step back and take off my glasses (I'm near sighted so this makes things blurry).  Does anything stand out?  Is it balanced or is all the dark on one side?  Are all the yellows together?  What about the reds?  Frequently I'll take a picture too, just to get a different perspective.  Then I'll re-arrange the fabrics until I'm satisfied.   And yes eventually I have to force myself to walk away.  But it's easier to re-arrange at this point versus ripping out seams later because I didn't notice I all 5 red fabrics down in one corner.
I've also made I spy quilts where the colors followed a pattern.  These were a fun change from my normal "balanced" color arrangement.  Here are a couple of examples:

Leaning Orange Stars
Framed Rectangles
Now that I've arranged all those fabrics on my design wall, I definitely don't want to go through this exercise again once I start sewing.  Some quilters use stacking systems to keep their blocks arranged while sewing, but that never worked for me.  I get confused too easily and then have to rip out blocks.  Plus I often make pre-cut kits of fabric so I may not actually sew these blocks for weeks or months, and when I do finally sew, there may not be a design wall available.  After some experimenting with paper tags, I designed some little flannel flags that will stick to the fabrics on the design wall, labeled with rows and columns.  Before I take the fabric blocks down, I use small applique pins to securely attach the tags to the fabrics.  The small applique pins keep the flag attached even the blocks are dropped, but since they are short they don't catch on other things and get pulled out easily.   I leave the flannel flags on the blocks all the way through the construction process.  They have been a huge time and frustration saver.
Dee's Original Flannel Flags

 After all of this pulling fabrics, fussy cutting and arranging on the design wall, finally I'm ready to sew.  Now the fun really starts.  Ah, well, maybe I'll put away that pile of novelty fabrics thrown to the side first.


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