Monday, January 31, 2011

Block-a-Palooza Block #3 is a winner!

Oh, man, I love how this turned out so much I want to make a whole quilt out of it.
Too bad I'm working from stash, as I don't have much left of the chartreuse solid, and only enough of the stripe for a couple, maybe three, more geese blocks for the 'palooza thing.

On the plus side, I recently got more of the Kaffe Fassett "persimmons" print in the center (2 whole yards, squeeeee! although a day will come when I'll wish I'd bought six) because I was down to about a fat eighth and the idea of running out of it entirely was unbearable.

I'm going to have to make at least one more of this block. No way am I done playing with it. Won't be able to sew them up right away, though, as I'm taking my machine in for servicing in about half an hour. Hope they can turn it around fast.

Thanks, Sasikirana Homemade, for this lovely block layout!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Repairs and a possible fix

Thanks for your comments on the Cosmo Bag!

Alas, a new needle has not solved the swishy sound my machine now makes with each stitch. Best guess is the metal shank thingie that moves the needle up and down is gently brushing against something else inside there out of sight. It's not interfering with performance (yet), but it's like an ill-fitting sneaker: you can go for a run but might come home with a blister. Further investigation will be left to the repair guy.

In the meantime, since it's now the weekend and the machine is still sewing okay, I probably won't be able to resist a few more seams before I take it in on Monday. And since the next 'palooza block will go live on Monday morning, I might even do that first thing. We'll see how any further weekend sewing goes.

Marie-Christine, something in your comment on shrinking curves led me to think about (next time) using some kind of light-weight, maybe wash-out, fusible strip to hold the edges of the clipped and turned-back curves in place. Having shrunk the pattern, I was working both with a narrower seam allowance (3/8" instead of 1/2") and a tighter curve, which I clipped generously. All those little clipped seam allowance bits did not stay pressed back, and wrestling with two facing layers of that and the curve was more work that it should have been. A strip of some kind of adhesive that would not interfere with sewing would have helped a lot.

Any ideas, readers? I haven't used that kind of product before, but I know they exist. It would have to be something narrow, that would follow a curve without puckering. I could even pick some up when I take my machine in on Monday.

Meanwhile, I'm previewing February's project, the "Reversible Everyday Shopper," and already thinking about how I'm going to change/resize that one.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Bag that Broke My Machine

My "Cosmo" Bag (January's kick-off to a year of Amy Butler accessories) is finally done, and I'm about done in.
Folks, making my own jeans -- which I did last year -- was easier than making this bag!

Amy, honey, I love your style, I love your fabrics, I love your books, but you are insane to rate this one "easy."

Maybe that's partly because I reduced the pattern at 78%, so the inside handle curve is smaller and less maneuverable. (Worth it, for a bag that will be more everyday useful to me; I don't need a gigundo one very often.) But maybe not. Amy's instructions sometimes seem to be written for ease of explanation more than than for ease of construction. I may not be the most expert or experienced seamstress on the block, but I'm not new at this. I have a reasonable skill set to draw on. Even so, the final steps of this bag kicked my butt.

And messed up my machine.

I was doing the final edge-stitching along the inside handle curve -- with just six more inches of stitching to do before all that remained was hand-sewing the button -- and as we climbed a mountainous pileup of interfaced seams at the corner of the band, something made an ominous popping sound.

I thought I'd broken the needle, but it's okay. I was able to finish stitching, and all's well visually: no horrific nest on the bobbin side. But now there's this kind of swishy sound with each stitch, which means something got knocked out of alignment.

First I'll try replacing the needle (I'd planned to switch to a new one after this project anyway), in hopes that the problem is a slightly bent needle. If that's not it, I'll be taking my stalwart friend in for servicing. At least I'll have a pretty bag to tote along as I drive to the BabyLock dealer. Here's the inside:

Finished dimensions of this one are...
Width at the base: 11"
Across the widest part: 15"
Depth at the base: 4"
Depth at the top: 3"
Height to top edge of center band (at the middle, above the button): 10.5"
Height with handles: 20"

Oh, and I added a piece of heavyweight box board to the bottom, for stability. I slipped it in between bag and lining before completing the final (gruelling) step of sewing the inside handle edges together.

For those just tuning in to this project, here are my comments on:
Binding the pocket edges
Doing the center band my way
Taking a few liberties with the lining

The true test of this bag will come when I use it. I think I will like it, but no way will I make it again until enough time has passed that I've forgotten how tedious fusing all the interfacing was -- or until little elves show up to do that sort of thing for me and to erase from memory the trickiest and most irksome bits.

If you're a beginning sewer and tempted by this bag, just put the book down and walk away. Start with something simpler like the Birdie Sling before tackling this one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Block-a-Palooza - Block #2

Good thing this wasn't block #1. I'd have clicked away at lightning speed rather than get involved in an 81-piece block!. Just cutting all those 2" squares was a chore. I briefly considered strip-piecing this, but my brain wasn't up to calculating what that would entail for one block, so I didn't. My seams are just a bit wonky, but I love it anyway.

I had to tackle this one in four sessions:

1) Choosing and cutting fabric, and sewing into 27 3-square strips

2) Pressing the strips and sewing them up into the small 9-patch units, and pressing all the new seams

3) Trimming the 9-patch units to 4.5"

4) Assembling the block and pressing again

I came this close to forgetting to trim the 9-patch units to 4.5"! Good thing I remembered, because if I'd messed that up I'd have thrown in the towel on the sew-along rather than rip this block apart or start over.

This one turned out better than I'd hoped. I really like how the darks and lights in this rendition hint at a plaid. Trimming the 9-patch units seemed like so much extra work, but in the end that subtle difference in the width/height of some rows/columns is what makes this block sing.

As you can see with the blocks side by side, I deliberately emphasized the larger 9-patch element by keeping the blue and green prints together. I placed them in the "+" position of the block 9-patch this time, to contrast with their "X" position in Block 1:

Of course I have no idea yet whether or not these blocks will end up as neighbors. They'll look nice wherever in the finished quilt they are.

This is just about the last of that pale blue Amy Butler print. I have one 12"x1.25" strip and three much smaller pieces left, enough to toss into the "small scraps" drawer for future use, but probably not enough for a future appearance in this project. I am sorry to see it go.

And I am loving the brown and magenta Kaffe Fassett dots. They play so well with the green leaf print. I do have more of both dots, so expect to see them again in another 'palooza block or two.

In spite of initial misgivings, I am now hooked on this project. That said, I hope the rest of the blocks are faster and easier to construct than this one was.

One is not enough

One mystery block was not enough, so with Blockapalooza Block #2 live today, I'm still in. But Oh, Fransson, that's a lot of little squares!

My plans to do each block in one go have fallen through. Block #1 from start to done was under :90, but :90 into this one and I'm only this far along:

That's 81 2" squares assembled into 27 3-square strips, which after pressing and more sewing will become 9 9-patch units and one big block. Easy piecing, but not quick when there are so many little pieces. I need to get some desk time in today before coming back to this.

Picking fabric one ate up some time, plus interruptions by the cats.* I stuck with my guidelines to replace the solid in each block and add or replace one fabric. I kept the green and blue prints, replaced the solid purple with a reddish brown, and replaced the purple stripe with the two dotted fabrics. I do plan to use more of the stripe, and have it in reserve for the next block that features "geese."

Yesterday I finally finished sewing all the OBW rows together. Not difficult, but the kind of thing best done in short spurts over a leisurely time period. I haven't trimmed the sides yet, and am still awaiting delivery of more fabric for a border. I put it back up on the design wall the other way up, for a different view while I contemplate border options. No pic of the whole thing yet (will take one when borders are done), as it looks just like the layout but a little tighter now the interior seams are all done. Here's a detail for you :

I don't have a clue yet how I'm going to quilt this. Any ideas?

I am trying very hard not to jump right in on another one of these. Several lengths of fabric in the stash are calling to me. One "One Block Wonder" is definitely not enough!

* yes, that's "cats": plural. One bundle of furry cuteness is not enough, so this past Saturday we headed over to Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary and brought this little darling home:

Her name is Namaste. The first night she was here she claimed this quilting test piece (used to test thread tension, stitching) as hers, so I trimmed the edges and bound it with pink bias tape. She insists we keep her basket on the kitchen table by this sunny window.

Cosmo isn't sure what to think of her, but is more curious than alarmed at the instrusion:

I think they'll get along just fine.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blockapalooza? A definite maybe.

This could be going nowhere:
My first response to the Blockapalooza thing was "nah, not interested." What, buy a coordinated set of FQs from one designer collection to make a sew-along block-of-the-week quilt? Soooooo not my style! 

For one thing, I'm not much interested in traditional blocks and settings, and have don't particularly like the result of throwing a set of different ones together and calling them a quilt. For another, although coordinated fabric sets are pretty, to my eye they just don't have that pow-factor that comes from mixing up unexpected colors and patterns. You know, the kind of affect you only get by wallowing around in a sizeable and well-aged stash. Add that mystery quilt projects hold little interest (I'd so much rather make up my own thing!), and that "Flying Geese" especially has consistently produced in me one big yawn, and you can see why my first instict was to pass this up. Not to mention that I only have about half a gazillion other projects (both of the sewing and typing variety) going on.

But.... "never say 'never'", right?

Why did I end up throwing this block together last night? Partly because I had a heap of FQs and scraps already on the cutting counter to choose from. And partly because if you throw the "follow along as we make this from Moda's new Sunkissed whatever" out the window (yes it's a pretty line; it's also a great example of the kind of stuff that makes me want to take a nap), this Blockapalooza thing is a great opportunity to move ahead on my 2011 sewing goal of using up a bunch of the scraps and FQs overflowing my stash.

Two blocks a week is a lot, but if I do each in one go, like this one (under 90 minutes, from grabbing some fabric to snapping a pic), I might be able to keep up. Still undecided if I will continue with this, but if so my plan is to:
1) Use a different solid in each block
2) Replace or add one new print for each block
3) Pick fabric for each block quickly, no perfectionism allowed
4) Maintain my usual loose interpretation of recommendations such as "close in tone" or "coordinating."

What I like best about Block #1? I finally used some of that purple stripe FQ that is almost old enough to qualify as "vintage." Overall, I rate it a "meh," but it might look better when a few more are done.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cosmo Bag - Lining Details

I took a few minutes away from desk stuff this morning to get the main lining pieces for the Cosmo Bag ready to assemble. As usual, I did a few things differently, and thought I'd share those details at the flat stage, while they are easy to photograph:


1) As you can see, I added a band detail to the center top of the lining (Amy's version has this piece only on the outside). This is purely decorative. I cut two "band" pieces (one for each side of the lining) from the lining trim fabric. They are not interfaced. I stay-stitched a generous 1/4" inside the bottom curve, then notched the seam allowance* and pressed to the back. The bands are placed on top of each lining piece, with upper raw edges even, then edge stitched along the bottom to hold in place. I also ran a line of stitching just inside the top edge to keep that from shifting when I put the entire bag together.

* If you're just tuning in, you should know that I am making a smaller version of this bag, having reduced all the pattern pieces at 78% on our copier. This reduces the seam allowance, too, so while Amy's instructions call for 1/2" seams, I'm using a 3/8" seam throughout. For a full-size bag, the stay-stitching should be at 3/8", not 1/4" from the edge.

2) I'm using the lining trim print for the interior side of handles (exterior fabrics can be seen here).

3) I cut the pocket for this side of the lining about an inch shorter than the other one. These are deep pockets, and I thought having one side a bit shallower might be useful. On the other side I added a line of stitching in the center to divide into two equal-sized pockets. On this side I moved that line to the side (it didn't show in the pic, so that's indicated by the bright yellow line), for one bigger and one smaller pocket.

On a full-size bag this larger pocket would probably be too big, and I'd most likely have dividing one side into two and the other side into three pockets.

4) I added a fake tag from a scrap of red fabric, purely for fun. I'd say I do this on everything I sew, but truth is I often forget. I'm glad I remembered this time, because it will make me happy each time I see it. Plus, sometimes it's useful to tell one side of a bag (or garment) from the other at a glance.

So that's where I'm at with this as of this morning. I might get to assembling the lining this afternoon, but that's not a sure thing. I'll show off the completed bag as soon as it's done.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cosmo Bag Progress - exterior done

It took a long time to get to completing next steps on my Cosmo Bag for the Amy Butler Style Stitches Sew-Along, although the exterior is now done:

It will look better when I get around to pressing the side seams, which I have not done yet.

First, there was a slight delay while I contemplated the instructions for Step 5 (attach the bands to the main exterior pieces) then walked away.

It's not that piecing two reverse curves together intimidates me. Stay-stitching, clipped or notched seam allowances, getting one concave and one convex curve to make friends: I can do all that. It's Amy's method that seemed all wrong to me. For one thing, why wait until after you've wrestled the two pieces together to notch the seam allowance, when doing that first makes fitting the curves together so much easier (yes, it does mean sewing a line of stay-stitching before the seam, but she has you do that on the handles, so why not here?). And then, "ease the band around the curve on the bag exterior" ... ?!? Um, no, the way to get two curves to play nice is to fit the concave one (the bag exterior) to the convex one (the band) and sew with the convex one on the bottom. Really. It just goes so much more easily that way. Especially when both pieces have a layer of interfacing fused to them, which doesn't exactly help with that "ease" into place requirement.

I considered giving Amy's way a go, just to be fair to the instructions, but I'm not that kind of a seamstress. I came back to it yesterday and did it my way. Which, after a brief moment's thought, involved staystitching along the edge of the band, notching and pressing the seam allowance to the back and then simply top-stitching that piece into place onto the bag exterior. Quick and easy, no wrestling required. Probably not as strong a bond, but that curve isn't going to be taking much of the weight of bag contents anyway, so I don't expect it to be a problem.

Handles and handle inner edge prep were no biggie, so that's all done too, as is assembling the sides to the main body pieces and attaching the bag bottom (although I didn't exactly follow the instructions there, either).

Pic at the top is where I'm at so far: exterior done, waiting for me to get to the lining assembly.

I did add one step that might interest others constructing this ginormous bag. I like the look of the outside pockets, but they are both narrow and very deep, which strikes me as a poor combination. (Keep in mind that I reduced this bag size, so those side pockets are very narrow for my hand. I don't see keeping anything other than maybe a pen in there, and would like to be able to get it out again.)

So, I shortened both the side pockets by aligning the lined pocket pieces over the bag side pieces. Amy has you baste these in place by sewing along the sides and bottom at this stage, which is the kind of extra step I just laugh at. Plus, if you do that, you won't be able to do this:

I flipped just the top layer of the pocket up (to the left, in the pic; you're seeing the white interfacing side folded back), leaving the lining in place, and stitched a line across about 3" up from the bottom. Flip the pocket exterior piece back into place before sewing up those side seams. Now the pocket isn't too deep, and that seam is hidden, rather than having a line of stitching show across the outside of the pocket.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cosmo Bag: bound pocket edges

I'm starting to assemble my Cosmo Bag for the Amy Butler Style Stitches Sew-Along. As mentioned previously, I'm using a solid fabric to line the pockets. But I like the detail of a contrast fabric at the top of the exterior pockets, so I used a separate strip to bind those edges. I didn't try to match the strip length to the pocket width, and will trim the excess later.
I cut the pocket exterior and lining pieces the same height (rather than the lining being a bit taller, as the pattern dictates), and a binding strip a scant 1.25" wide. Sew one side of the strip to the top of the pocket exterior, and the other side of the strip to the pocket lining (I used a 1/4" seam), then press the seams toward the center of the binding strip, like this: 

Flip the lining over so wrong sides are together, and line up the bottom and side edges. Press again, and the pockets are ready to go, like this:

If you'd like the finished contrast a little wider, use a wider binding strip and a wider seam: a 1-5/8" strip with 3/8" seams would probably do it, but I haven't tested that so you might want to do up a little sample before applying to your pockets.

The interior pockets are lined with the same blue solid. I decided to bind those top edges, too, in a different print:
More progress reports to come...

Friday, January 14, 2011


I have a known tendency to get sucked into the creative flow of a project to the abandonement of all other responsibilities. Folks, fiddling with the One Block Wonder layout took this to a whole new level of obsessive compulsion. I kept telling myself, "let it sit for a bit, come back to it later," but I kept seeing one more block position swap that could maybe move it one step closer to perfect. Or as close as it's going to get:
This is major layout revision #3, made from 78 pieced blocks, and 3 "solid" ones cut as whole hexagons from the original fabric. Can you find them (click pic for larger view)?

When I purchased this fabric (Amy Butler's "Bliss Bouquet" in emerald, from her Love collection), I only got 3 yards because I was feeling frugal and didn't want to buy a lot more yardage for borders and back until I knew I'd like the result. Now I know I like it a lot, so I ordered more fabric a couple days ago, which meant I could cut another row's worth of blocks from the little bit extra I'd been hoarding in case I needed it for a border. Not sure what size it will end up yet. I don't have a particular size in mind, and will let the quilt tell me how big it wants to be.

I'm ready to call this stage "done." There are other ways that work, but this is the best so far. And at this point I've played with the blocks so much their edges are starting to fray. It's time to stop messing with it and sew it up.

Well, actually, it's time for me to stay out of the sewing room for a day or two, and get some of the "real work" done that's been postponed for the past day and a half because of my inability to walk away from the design wall.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Block Wonder progress

Here's where I'm at with the Amy Butler "Bliss Bouquet" OBW quilt:

This is not an arrangement so much as a display of blocks in progress. These are all sewn to the half-hexagon stage (final hex seams are not done until the last step). It's too soon to be arranging them, because this is no more than 60% of the blocks, so as others are done things will change up here. Truly restrained quilters will wait until they have all their blocks done to this stage before playing around on the design wall, but I am not one of them. I couldn't stand having so many ready-to-go blocks piled up without putting them on the wall. This way I can see which ones play well with each other, and which ones don't get along.

So far, this block is my favorite:

Too bad it's looking like the most likely to get left out of the final arrangement. It's gorgeous, but too dark around the edges. Theoretically I could take out the seams and redo it in a different configurationbut I can't imagine bothering with that by the time I get all of them done.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cosmo Bag preview

I spent most of yesterday afternoon auditioning fabric for the Cosmo Bag (January's project for the Amy Butler Style Stitches Sew Along). Here's one of Amy's renditions, from the book:

I'm determined to "shop the stash" for as many of these bags as possible, and so far project #1 is already a challenge. The stash yielded three contenders for the exterior print, but finding good lining/trim pairings wasn't easy. In most cases the "best" combination wasn't as spectacular as I was aiming for, or I had a great fabric in insufficient quantity. I considered Kaffe's "Big Blooms" in red, which I have a nice large piece of:

... but decided to save it for the "Miss Maven Ruffled Handbag," coming up as November's project (by which time I am sure to have changed my mind). Instead, for the Cosmo, I'm using two recent purchases from Jane Sassaman's "Hothouse Garden" line for the main exterior and lining pieces, with some Kaffe "chevron stripe" in brown, and my fave green leaves for trims:

As you can see, I do not believe in pressing my fabric before cutting unless it's so horribly crumpled it won't lay flat enough to pin a pattern to. Perhaps some day I'll regret it, but so far this particular lazy habit hasn't tripped me up.

It took me hours to cut all the pieces last night, and almost as long to cut out all the interfacing this morning. This is most, but not all, of it. Still a couple lining pieces to go, but I needed a break.

I love Amy's style, but that woman must carry half her life around with her: her bags are huge. Much bigger than I have any use for. The Cosmo bag might be her largest yet. A full-size Cosmo would make a good beach tote, but I doubt I'd be willing to subject what will be a stunning bag, representing lots of time and effort and fabric investment, to bright sun, salt air/water, sand, and possibly spilled suntan lotion.

So I'm making a smaller one. I cut out all the pattern pieces and reduced them at 78% on our home copier. I measured the tote bag I get the most use from, and based on that probably should have aimed for reducing at 85%, but was not in a mood to figure out how to override the copier presets.

With smaller pieces, I was able to make efficient use of interfacing. The book calls for a whopping 6 yards, but I got all my pieces cut from 2-1/4 yards. I am not going to interface the pocket linings, btw. And I cut the pocket linings from a blue solid... why use the good stuff on the pieces that will be out of sight? I like the side pocket detail where the top of the lining is folded over to make a trim, so have cut separate trim strips for binding the top pocket edges (inside, too).

More details to come as I put the bag together. Most likely I won't tackle that until next weekend. First, I have to go plug in my iron and fuse, fuse, fuse a lot of fabric and interfacing. By the time that's done I won't want to look at this project for several days at least.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fabric Math

I've mentioned before that I have a lot of fabric scraps. Or what feels like a lot. I'm sure there are long-time quilters out there who would scoff at my paltry accumulation. But when you stop to think that the scraps, even the teeny ones, cost the same per yard as the big pieces, even a modest accumulation starts to wield some heft.

Last year I started sewing up some scrap blocks, which have eased the overcrowding in the smallest bits and the long strips drawers, but there's still a lot left. This year, in addition to bringing at least one scrap project to completion, I would like to use a bunch of the large scrap and fat quarter pieces. I've got two bursting drawers of those:

(I've left my feet in the frame for scale. You might not think we get winter in Hawaii, but it's been chilly enough for fuzzy slippers the past couple days: drizzly and damp with afternoon highs barely into the 70s.)

Yesterday I made the mistake of counting the FQs. There are 60 of them in that bottom drawer. That's 15 yards of fabric! And the "large scraps" drawer above it is the same size and just as full, so we'll call it an equivalent amount. That's 30 yards, just in those two drawers. At an average price of $6-/yard (based on 2009-2010 spending, although some is a lot older than that), that's $180 worth of fabric.

My goal for this year is to reduce this part of my stash by... I want to say half. Easily doable in a year, right?
I have in mind some scrap-busting projects like this, and this, or this.

Problem is, I've got a few other things in the works already (and by "few" I mean "too many"). I'd better stop blogging and go sew something...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Amy Butler Style Stitches Sew-Along

Like I need to start any more projects.

I already have the book, though, and love the Origami Bags (the only thing I've made from it so far). Without a sew-along there's little chance I'll do other than think about making more stuff from the book. So I'm in.

First, though, I need to stop by the fabric store and stock up on interfacing. Man, that Amy loves to pile on the interfacing. And fusible fleece. I'm out of that, too.

Biggest challenge: I want to make as many of these projects as possible from stash. Coordinating prints and linings included.

We're starting with the "Cosmo" bag (that's the one on the cover). Funny, 'cause Cosmo loves to crawl into any kind of open bag. If I'm smart, I'll choose a dark fabric for minimal cat-hair contrast.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Project of 2011

I can't help it. I had to play with my new fabric. And, after marathon quilting sessions to get the deck quilts done, I needed a couple of days away from the sewing chair.

So I pulled out my new 3-yard piece of Amy Butler "Bliss Bouquet" from her luscious Love collection, put a fresh new blade in the rotary cutter, found a box of flat-head flower pins, and sliced up a whole bunch of wedges to make a One Block Wonder (OBW) quilt, hexagon version, from this book.

Three yards isn't a lot for an OBW, but this print has only a 17.5" repeat (vs. the 24" typical of many large prints), so I was able to cut 4 3.5" strips across the width, which provides wedges for about 70 hexagon blocks, plus some left over for a narrow border... or for a few more blocks, should I discover I desperately need them.

Santa bought this fabric specifically with OBW in mind. I love the purple-green color combo, and there's a lot of motion in the leaf and floral shapes in the print. To my surprise, when I arranged my wedge sets into hexagons, a surprising number of them looked more static than "in motion:"

The book recommends arranging every block so the on-grain edge of each piece is on the outside of the hexagon. I'm sure that's good advice, but about a third of my blocks look best with a bias edge on the outside. I may regret it, but I'm going to sew them up this way:

As you can see, I am using the paper-plate method of block organization for this stage (thanks, Shelley!). This is intended as a "pick away at it in between other stuff project," so progress reports may not follow in rapid fashion. But you never know: once I start sewing these up I might have too much fun to stop.

"Venus de Hilo" is off to a great start for 2011: 5 posts in the past 3 days! That's gotta be a record, here. I hope to have lots of lovely stuff to show you this year, and will continue to post works in progress, not just finished stuff, but there's no chance I'll keep up that kind of pace. As of today I am back to my usual "post when I've got something to show or when I get around to it" schedule.

Happy, happy New Year everyone!
Hope yours will be especially awesome...