27 April 2011

Shorter and sweeter...

Bertie? Betty? Bessie? Nina? Nettie? Hmmm...
The draft for this post sat in limbo for a couple of weeks. It was growing more ungainly with every word. Maybe it's time to take the simple approach—less verbiage, more fact.

A month ago, on a Saturday, we made our way into the Bernina of OKC store. Judy demonstrated all the magical things the aurora 440QE (Quilter's Edition) could do. Oooh, aaah. Demo machine almost 30% off retail. There was also a pre-loved machine, 40% off. Left the store with a nice, crisp brochure and numbers to ponder. Went home and slept on it. Or at least tried to sleep. Finally prayed that I could get it, or if not, be at peace/gracious if I couldn't.

Struck a deal with Tom to find money out of our food budget dollars by agreeing to cook many more meals at home. First choice would be the pre-loved one if it came with same warranty. Otherwise, go for the demo.

Monday morning couldn't come fast enough. Although it took almost two hours to 'do the deal,' I came home with my prize. The pre-loved one had already sold later that Saturday. I got the demo right off the floor (though I think they had a couple more in the back). Judy, who helped me on Saturday, does not work on Mondays. Twyla, who is primarily a tech, wound up helping me. After making a couple calls to Judy, all was well and I was on the road with my little treasure. I discovered a few days later that another quilting friend of mine also had the same model. (Ironically, her hubby is friends with mine and already told him to expect some sewing machine sticker shock. Always nice when someone else smooths the road....)

Fast-forward a month, and here we are. I am already in love with many of its features. I've really enjoyed using my Bernina and I still need to name her. In a few days, I am scheduled to attend my free classes that came with the machine. It'll be fun to see what I haven't figured out/guessed about it yet.

I'm finishing my all-batik lap quilt. I gave a baby quilt IOU at a friend's baby shower. I am sure all of my seams are much straighter and more consistent in width. I even find myself upping my level of craftsmanship because I don't want this new tool (or toy?) to produce shoddy work.

At some point in the process, Gwen told me I'd never regret getting a Bernina. I'd never argue with that!

09 April 2011

Sewing of the green, Part 2

A few folks were interested in how I repurposed the pet food/bird seed bags into tote bags. Here's an illustrated step-by-step recap of the process:

1. I use "Dura Weave®" bags. Purina and Walmart/Sams's pet food uses this for their larger packaging.

2. From your empty bag, remove the bottom stitching or untape the folded edge. This will leave you a big 'tube' from which to work. Depending on how crumby or oily its contents, you may wash out the bag now or after you're finished.

3. Turn the bag tube inside out. This requires a bit of tugging, but keep at it. It was at this point that I used cleaning wipes to wipe down the inside of the bag to get rid of any food residue.

4. Flatten out the bag and 'square up' the open ends so they're perpendicular to the folded edge.

5. From the bottom (if you wish, mark the top and bottom of your bag to ensure proper orientation throughout the process) of the bag, cut one 'loop' 4" wide. This will make your handles. Don't worry if there are holes along the edge left by the pull string. They will be folded into the handle on assembly.

6. Determine how tall you'd like your bag. I generally cut another 3-4 inches off the 'top,' leaving the tube about 17-18 inches tall.

 7. Lay out your inside-out tube (hopefully the bag's original side folds will help it lay flat) and use a straight edge and a bone folder or other implement to score (making an indentation but not cutting the surface) a line 3" from the bottom; 2.50" from each side; and 1.25" from the top. Do this same scoring on the reverse side. These scores will give you the fold lines once your bag is turned right side out.

8. Mark placement for your handles 5.50" from each side fold. Do this on both sides. I usually just make a little 'snip' into the top edge. Your handles will later be sewn between these marks.

9. Sew a seam .50" from the bottom edge. I have used nylon filament thread for the project. It's see-through so I don't have to worry about matching colors. It's also a bit stronger than poly or cotton thread. You may also use a heavy duty conventional thread. I use a medium stitch length of 2.8mm or 9 stitches/inch.

10. Flatten corners into 45-degree triangles. Pin down the triangle so the pin aligns the seam and the side fold crease. Mark 2.50" from top of triangle across triangle. (I made a template for this because I was sewing many bags.) Stitch across marking. This determines the depth of your bag—in this instance, about 5".
11. Turn bag right side out. Poke your fingers or something like the handle of a wooden spoon into the corners to make corners. Again, more tugging and pulling.

12. Using your fingers or burnisher/bone folder, lay on a flat surface, sharpen the creases of the previously scored lines along the bottom and sides of bag. If you wish, you may also fold down the top 1.25" edge, but you will need to flatten this out to attach handles.

13. To make handles, from the 4" wide tube, cut or pull edge at seam to open out flat. Fold (or score and fold) in half lengthwise. Fold those edges in toward center. Using a bone folder or flat edge, crease the folds. Your handle will be approximately 1" wide.

14. Take folded handle strip and top stitch .25-.375" down center folded edge, then across, turn and down double-fold edge. I do this top stitching on whichever side I like better. This 'prettier' side is the one I'll attach on the front of the bag.

15. Cut the completed handle strip into two 17" long pieces.

16. Attach front handle. Lay end edge of handle at top of bag, aligning its outside edge with the snip made earlier. Stitch down (tack) about .25" from edge and continue until you can tack down other end of handle along the second snip. I sew it to where the double-fold edge is on the 'inside.' The photo better shows this. Repeat for back side.

17. Fold down top 1.25" edge to inside of bag. Starting on a 'side' panel, top stitch .25-.375" from folded edge all around the bag. Once you get back to where you started stitching, make a mark 1" from folded edge and stitch diagonally to that point then top stitch all around again.

18. Resharpen all your creases and you're done! If you wish, you can wash out your bag again with a little dishwashing detergent, like Dawn. Rinse and hang upside to dry.

19. And if you're very brave, you can use a COOL (nylon/silk) iron to better set the creases. If you're not sure about your iron's temperature, press through a dish towel.

Hope this is helpful. I've made a couple dozen lately but this is the first time I've really thought about it step-by-step. If you have any questions, just ask!

    07 April 2011

    Block of the Month Quilt...April...

    Maple Star Block
    Let's see—the opposite of procrastination must be obsession. That's my overdrive mode when that new packet of fabric and instructions hit my hungry little hands. I started this journey in March. This month there were only two basic block patterns—Maple Star and Milky Way.

    I had Milky Way in March's blocks, but this month's was a little different—the three Milky Way blocks overlap. I am still not quite sure if the object of the exercise was to blend or differentiate the pattern. The three colors are distinct enough but when butted next to each other, some distinction fades.

    In March, I showed you a photo of a completed quilt—objective in 8-10 months. (I'm still not sure if this is a 10- or 12-month program. I've seen conflicting information.) This time I wanted to give you a slight glimpse of March's finished panel, along with April's panel in the foreground.
    Basic Block Layout

    The manner in which the instructions are written and fabrics are supplied provides specific directions/fabric for the pattern blocks, but the backgrounds are completely free form. I do very little spontaneously, so it's not surprising that I started filling the backgrounds with carefully arranged, rotated, and repeated strips of four different combinations of six different fabrics each. When I needed to fill larger, smaller, shorter, or longer areas, I added or removed individual 2.5 x 2.5-inch squares to fit. The instructions provide basic graphic explanations, but I like expanding on them. I use Adobe Photoshop to plan out the whole project—in color, with grids, and cutting information. It helps me walk through the project and anticipate most possible concerns/challenges.

    Bali Pops batiks framed in orange and blue
    Since finishing on March's blocks/panel, I've been working on another quilt top. Several months ago I bought a Bali Pops pack of 40 brightly colored (Mangoes & Margaritas collection) batiks—2.5 x 42-inch strips. I considered different 'strip' patterns but eased myself into panels of finished two-inch squares. Shortly after purchasing the pack, I decided I must arrange all 40 strips into color spectrum order. Done. Then what? Okay—25 squares in each block; first block colors 1–25; second block; colors 6-30, then 1–5 at the end; third block, colors 11–35, then...etc. To not make it look so predictable, I serpentined the order of the colors and rotated the blocks to create a bit of visual chaos from just too much mathematical order. Don't believe me? I can show you the Excel spreadsheet I used to plan it. Yep, that's so totally...ME! I have only completed the top. I have more batiks in purple and yellow-gold to patch together for the back (in a much simpler pattern and fewer pieces). And it will get a vibrant lime green binding around the edge. Tom kind of adopted my first quilt and uses it for naps in the TV room. This one will be mine for pretty much the same purpose. So, do you think I'll be able to sleep under all that color?

    Strip away the color and you're left with value
    One thing I've been trying to explore is the importance color value. I've bought red and green filters to aid in this. Yeah, they work but I wanted something easier. This week I discovered I can use the digital camera on my phone (which has a black-and-white photo option) to not only take photos, but preview in grayscale. WOW! Compare the two photos of the same subject and you can see how different color values pop or recede. As I get more involved in designing my own quilts or choosing colors for others' patterns, I know this will be an excellent tool.

    Now that I've got all this piecing out of the way, need to move on to some other projects. Stay tuned! I'll be posting illustrated instructions for making the pet food bags soon!

    PS—Speaking of tools, I welcomed the arrival of a new sewing machine into my home last week! I've been perfectly content with my c.1975 Lady Kenmore free-arm machine for the past few decades. My mother had bought it new for herself in hopes of updating from a decades-old Singer Featherweight. She never really liked the new machine and never got the knack of threading it. My first sewing machine was also a Kenmore, but a bit farther down the line, features-wise. I think I got it in early high school. When she gave me hers (late 1980's?), mine retired and went off to a friend. So, welcome Bernina Aurora 440 QE. I'll have more about this a little later. I plan on naming her (another Gwen-inspired notion) but think the name 'Bernice' has already been taken.