Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tips for a flatter straighter hanging quilt

Well, having seen my Dragon 1 hanging at Malvern I am not sure why anyone would ask me to write about this, but I am happy to share what I know and the suggestions I can offer. Personally I like to see a whole range of quilts in a show. Yes juried shows have their place, but I like working quilts, loved quilts, fast quilts and quilts of good intentions. They aren't always perfectly pieced, quilted and bound but they will still keep you warm, comfort you when you are ill and remind you of missing relatives. Quite often you can see that in the quilts when they are in a show and I enjoy that a lot. Also even the most humble quilt can inspire others, be it design wise or colour wise. That being said there are times when you really want to get your quilt as close as possible to perfect.

For pieced quilts perfection starts with the cutting and piecing. Planning the grain lines of the pieces within your quilt so they run in the same direction does help. Do I always do it? Nope, providing you are not cutting pieces on the bias if you can possibly avoid it. Try to work out how to get an accurate finished 1/4" seam (I guess that will be the subject for another post), and stick to it. One of the most common issues I see in quilt tops is variable seam widths. It may just mean you lose the points on things like stars, but at the extreme end of the problems the top will not like flat at all. I've seen seams that vary between not being sewn and over an inch, those I have to open up to get flat. If you are aiming for a show winning quilt this really won't work.

The next big pitfall is applying sashing and borders. If you've kept your seams consistent your blocks will all the the same, expected size. In the real world there will be small variations but you can compensate for this when you add sashings. If you cut your sashings to the correct length and fit them to the block the small variations in the blocks can be disguised. You do need to make sure that the ends of the sashing perfectly meets the corners of the block when you do this. I assemble all the blocks into rows before I add the horizontal sashings. I like to check the length of every row against the expected length before I even cut horizontal strips. Hopefully they will all be the same length and the length you were expecting. If they are all the same length as each other that's fine too. If you do find significant variations, it must be in the sashing seams, as the blocks were checked before we started, so start by checking your pressing. Is there a tuck next to any of the seams? If that isn't the issue look at the seams. You will be surprised how often you can spot one that is a tiny bit bigger or smaller than the rest just by looking at them Correcting those will get your rows the same length.

Once you have rows of the same (or very close) length you can cut your sashing that will go between the rows. Pin each into place making sure to match the ends and vertical sashings accurately. Press well once the quilt is together, it's not easy to do but it is very important to the finished quilt.  You can now start measuring for your borders.  The ideal is to measure the quilt in three places for each set of borders. Through the middle of the quilt and each edge that the first pair of borders will go in. You then add all 3 together and divide by 3 giving you the average. Personally I've found I can get away with measuring through the middle of the quilt. The edges are often a bit longer than they should be and if I make the border right for the middle of the quilt it will lie flat when I layer the quilt. For straight corners you can then cut the borders to this exact length. Please don't then add a bit just in case. I hear this so often and it makes the measuring pointless. The idea here is to keep things flat and that needs exact measurements. Just 1/4" on a small quilt can be a problem. If you are mitering the corners cut the border overlength by at least 2 widths of the border, and mark the exact length on it. Pin and sew this it exactly fit. When the first 2 opposite borders are on, press them in place and then measure up for the others two borders.

Hopefully you now have a flat quilt top. To keep it this way you want to keep the quilting balanced over the whole quilt. This isn't the same as keeping the quilting the same density all over. I like to have some texture in my quilting and I often leave some areas unquilted. If you are doing this the unquilted areas need to be spaced equally around the quilt. Equally if you want some very dense quilting bear in mind it will draw in the quilt. If you do this in just one place it is pretty certain you won't get the quilt flat again, but if you have a few carefully spaced dense areas, you should be able to get away with it.

However careful you are, I doubt the quilt will be perfectly square straight after quilting. The simplest option it to start out with oversize borders. When you have finished the quilting you can the trim the quilt to a perfectly regular shape (be it square or rectangular). This may or may not hang perfectly. If you really want to the quilt to hang absolutely flat you need to block the quilt. This is much the same process as blocking knitwear. You get the object damp and pin it into the shape it should be. My preferred method is to block the quilt before trimming it, and to pin it out while damp. Some people like to trim first then pin it to be square and then get it damp, but I feel I can manipulate it more when the quilt is wet. The problem comes in finding a large enough space to pin out a bed quilt especially in the UK. Our houses aren't generally built for the job, but there are a lot of large spaces you might be able to borrow or rent. Maybe you work in an office with a meeting room that isn't used over the weekend? maybe your local quilt shop would rent you their workshop, church halls and hotels may also be able to help you out. You will probably need your own surface to pin onto for any of these options. I've found the cheapest lightest option it polystyrene insulation board. I buy mine from Wicks and I think an 8'x2'x3" board is about 6 pounds. I now have 6 of these so I can pin out huge quilts but most of the time 2 or 3 is more than enough.While you are in a DIY shop you might want to have a look for either a two way laser level of a builders set square, either will help with squaring up the quilt when we get to that stage.

Once you have your space lay out your boards and place the damp quilt on them. If you can't get it wet before laying out (for example at the office) consider buying a water spray bottle which you can pressurise. They are sold for spraying weedkiller but they are great for spraying water and are easier on your hands that the normal plant mister. Start pinning at the centre of one side, putting in pins over about a third of the length of the side. Then do the same on the opposite side of the quilt pulling the quilt flat as you do so. Repeat on the other two sides. I then carry on working my way out from the centre of each side then the one opposite it. If you can get a friend to help you it is a lot easier. Another handy tip it is to push the pins in with the points angled slightly in towards the quilt, they will be less likely to be pulled out by the tension on the quilt as it dries.

Hopefully as you put the pins in you will see the quilt pulled flat and smooth. Once I have pins all the way around about 3" apart I then start checking how straight the sides are. This also gives me a chance to tighten up the pins as needed. This is easier to do with large square and straight rulers or the laser level with right angle lasers. If I can get two adjacent sides straight and at right angles to each other, I can then use them to give me something to line up the other sides. When I think I have it right I will usually go around and check again. If the quilt top cannot be trimmed up it is also worth measuring the diagonals of the quilt. They should both measure the same if you really have all the straight, the correct length and at 90 degrees to each other. If the quilt wasn't damp when you started now is the time to spray it with water and get is damp all over. You will probably see it tighten up and flatten more when you do this. I think it is a magical moment, but then I am a sad geek too :) Now the easy bit, walk away and let your quilt dry, it will take between 12 hours and 48 hours depending on the weather/heating/ventilation.

Unpin your quilt and either trim it, or if needed mark for trimming in the the same way as you pinned the quilt square for blocking. Once blocked and trimmed I try very hard to avoid folding the quilt. I roll the quilt onto a tube from the top down and right sides out. It will roll better before you bind it, so if there is a while before the show you might like to consider storing it without the binding and only adding that at the last moment. Try to roll the quilt tightly onto the roll and tie if firmly enough to be secure but not so tight as to crush the quilt. It's tricky to get this just right and I suspect I had it too loose when I rolled the dragon quilt to post. The best thing I have found for tying the quilt to the roll is selvedge or just a strip of fabric.

I hope that will help those of you who want flatter straighter quilts, and if you measure your borders and sashings you will make longarm quilter very much happier. Oversize borders are a complete nightmare for us when we have to try and make them look great. If you have questions, or think I've missed buts please do leave a comment and I will try and help if I can.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The coolest thing

This week I feel I finally made it as an artist. The turning point? One of my quilts has inspired a poem. Cool huh? If you would like to read Dragon 1, the poem you can find it here. It was written by Miles Deacon, who went to university with me. He is another scientist who has slightly changed direction. maybe he will claim poetry is an engineering skill too :) I can't tell you how chuffed I am with it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quilts UK - Malvern 2012

 Yesterday I spent most of the day driving, Malvern is a bit of a trek for us but it sure beats posting the quilt a second time and as it turned out I needed to go and collect a pot, but more on that in a minute.

Tet spotted this pair of quilts for me. They were the most exciting thing there as far as I was concerned. I'm not even talking about the show allowing multi part entries, though that is quite interesting to note. These were started in a workshop I taught, and here they are finished and in a show. That is pretty amazing. I don't often get to see student finished pieces at all so these are very special. I hope lots of visitors enjoyed them too. Those of you familiar with Ricky Tims work will know that these are his caveman quilting technique. It's a very fun way to make quilts with a lot of potential for other projects, but right now the cool part is it's Ricky's technique.

I only put in one quilt for this show because I wanted my other new quilts to go to the National Quilt Championships. Dragon 1 did me proud, winning first place in the large wall hanging category. For this I was awarded this trophy which seemed determined to cause trouble. Firstly it hid when it was due to be presented. Then we discovered it was in two pieces. Both pieces are quite awkward and we were sure we were going to drop it. Now we  get to the fun bit, Ricky Tims won this award in 1997. How cool is that? I would love to know which of his quilts it was and what prompted him to enter a UK quilt show.

That being said, there are more overseas entries a couple of the awards will be heading to Germany. It's good to see more quilters showing here. It is expensive to ship quilts around the world but it is really appreciated by those of us who can't afford to travel much ourselves. The other bit of very exciting news will just have to wait until tomorrow. I've got a mad busy week and I need to get to bed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summer school equipment

I promised one of my students I would share the kit I have assembled for making my version of the summer school project. I will share drawing materials at another time this is just what I use for the sewing part. I am particularly pleased with the box everything goes in. I had been carrying the fabrics in a plastic bag which was fine until I wanted to carry a big pair of scissors. They quickly started making holes in the bag so I had to find another option. This case has a large central section where I can store my fabrics, scissors and rotary cutter. The lid lets me keep my foundations flat in a separate section. On each side of the case are small boxes with dividers perfect for the small tools.

The tools I am using are fairly common, but I have gone for a smaller rotary cutter and an add an eigth ruler rather than their bigger brothers. The foundation I am doing this time is very intricate and I really don't have room for a bigger seam. When I bought the cutter I also bought spare blades. I will be cutting a lot of layers and I suspect the blades won't last long. This also gave me the perfect size piece of cardboard to fold my foundations. Partly because I have been working on thjis in the van I was finger pressing. When I had the choice I realise I was getting a better result than with an iron and it saves on the walking as well. The only downside was the sore finger, so a finger iron got added to the set. The plastic clover ones work great even if they don't look as nice as the wooden ones. Along with a sewing machine and a cutting mat this is pretty much it. For a weeks worth of supplies I think this is pretty neat.

Oh gosh I forgot the most important thing there, my new clover seam ripper. Lets face it, there will be ripping to do and it is do much nicer to do it with a sharp ripper. I love the clover ones because they have a big comfortable handle. As a tutor I really do get to do a lot of unpicking and this stops my hands hurting after a busy day.

More pink

Well, ok more not pink but you know what I mean. I was asked about the letters today. This quilt was designed on computer using a large nmber of different fonts. I then printed the design full size and traced it onto wash away stabiliser which is mounted on top of the quilt sandwich. There is no way I could quilt this many letters without marking. In fact I am willing to bet I would spell it wrong without the markings.

The black quilting is freehand and unmarked. It's mostly unplanned to be honest I really am playing on this quilt. I guess that it can go to other shows. I had been thinking of it as a one show almost throwawy quilt, so maybe it will visit a show near you. I will certainly check the size requirements of the World Quilt show before I trim and bind it.

Having been teaching today I didn't have much time to quilt. I did manage to get 2 hours in though which means I am now nearly halfway. As I've just finished dinner I might even get another couple of hours in before bed.

I'll post the pictures of my summer school kit tomorrow ladies.

Monday, May 14, 2012

More, "No effing p**k"

Here are a couple more pictures of the quilt in progress. As you can probably see the black background quilting is very varied. I'm generally just quilting whatever I feel like at the time. The backgound quilting just needs to hold everything outside of the text down flat, so really anything goes. The density is changing a bit as I fill in the different spaces so when it's finished I think there will be some motifs that stand out from the rest of the background quilting. Then as you get closer more designs will appear in the background of those motifs. Of course I won't know if it works until it's hung at the show.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sandown quilt

As promised a couple more pictures of the quilt on the frame. This is my entry for the charity category at the National Quilt Championships. I can't say the theme is my thing, "In the Pink" and I really don't like pink, but it's for charity and it's at a show I love. I came up with a idea that I have named "No effing p**k". There won't be any pink on the quilt at all. In fact it will mostly be black, but that isn't a surprise.

I don't expect this quilt to be sucessful at shows, but I do think it will make a great teaching tool. It will have a lot of threads and patterns on it. So it will come with me to classes. I am also hoping to use it as pattern samples for longarming customers, so it should pay for itself over time. Right now I am having a lot of fun. I am trying new things and hopefully learning from this quilt myself.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Speed 4 - Priory quilters

Yay, people came. Not as many as we had expected but still, students. I hope you will be impressed with what was achieved too. We had a bit of a slow start, what with getting into the hall and sorting out everyones equipment, however oce they got going they really got to work. Even the ones who were worried at the start have gone home with most or all of a quilt. I love these quilts, they are fun and very useful. When you don't have to invest time or stress you don't have to worry so much about the finished item. I hope these quilts will give years of great service.

You will notice a few small quilts. These are scaled down versions of the original, as worked out by the students themselves. Interestingly they take almost as long as the full size ones. I suppose that is because they have the same number of pieces, so although the sewing time per seam is reduced the thinking and pressing time isn't much. They do make very cute bably quilts and at least are enough to understand the technique. On the way home I realised the could be made as seasonal wall hangings. Two seasons per quilt as they are reversible.

Having got home I've done some more on the new quilt but you will have to wait for tomorrow for pictures of that.

Next quilt up

Any guesses what I've got obn the frame now? I think some of my students will be able to give it a pretty good go. I will tell you I need this done pretty soon. I am really looking forward to getting back to it, I'm having fun.

Right now though I need to prepare for todays class. I'm teaching Speed 4 to Priory quilters. I hope they come, it's the first nice day we've had and this looks like gardening territory.

On the subject of teaching, I am thinking of more long classes I can run as 3-5 day retreats. It seems this format is really popular right now. What would you like to work on in a retreat? Would you want to learn a lot of techniques, like a sampler or would you rather work on a project with one or two techniques? Do you want to go home with a finished item or would you enjoy carrying on your holiday when you get home?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Quilt done

The quilt I blogged about last week went home today. It took a late night and an early morning but I think it was well worth it. Getting the borders straight took a lot of pinning as the outer triangles are bias edges and the border is a loose weave. Any quilt where the blocks are on point will need a bit of extra care to keep straight and square, the loose weave fabrics are just an added bonus. Fortunately the piecing was good so it did come together.

I knew this quilt was going to be shown, and that also adds a level of stress when quilting. It does give me a chance to have my quilting seen, whcih is great, and I do like to make sure it's interesting. Had I just been quilting this as a pattern sample (which it is) I would probably use a quick all overpattern or maybe some repeated feathers in the blocks. However for a show quilt I have several patterns on the quilt. The designs needed rulers and a stencil to produce as well as masking tape to devide up the areas, so these would be custom quilting.

As well as making the quilt look good now I was thinking how the quilt will look in the future. The fabrics and wadding are not pre-washed so they will shrink when the quilt is washed. Jenny ans I both like the antique effect this gives but with the loose fabric I wanted to be sure it would shrink nicely. I also want the quilt design to be appropriate that antique look. That was a factor in choosing to do the cross hatching and ruler work. Of course it will be a while before I get to see how that pans out.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


Tuesday was my birthday, and I had fun. I went to the cinema, but not one with a tiny seat no leg room and some smelly person jabbing you with an elbow. No, we did some research and went to The Electric in Portabello Road. Big arm chairs separated by tables and each with a foot stool. That is the way to see a film. It wasn't even much more expensive than our local cramped one. The refreshments weren't up to much though so after the film I was really starving. I had planned of posting a picture of the sushi we had but we kept eating it too fast, whups. It was really pretty honest. I did remeber to photograph me desert, ice cream mochi. They now have several flavours and despite not being a fan of either chocolate or green tea ice cream, as mochi I love them.

The cake was made by Lorna the cake lady. She is in my Wednesday afternoon class and makes great cakes. The Ferret logo went down well, but the coffee cake is even more impressive. I will try and get a picture tomorrow as we haven't finished eating it yet.