Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Hexagon Project: Blocks 2–5

One of my goals for my blog this year is to work out a better system for sharing long-term projects. I don’t want to bore you with barely noticeable changes in a project that is progressing slowly. On the other hand, sharing only finished projects doesn’t show the work, time, and even setbacks that go into projects that span months or years; rather, it feeds into that misperception online that other people can do things more quickly or easily than we can. And that’s not a good feeling.

Four Overlapping EPP Hexagon Blocks

In May, I introduced that I was going to start what I’m calling The Hexagon Project. It’s my first attempt at English paper piecing, with a goal of using up scraps as I hand sew a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt. Earlier this month, I shared the EPP book I'm using as a reference and my first hand sewn hexagon block.

I’m going to post my progress on The Hexagon Project about every month or so. I think having that timeline in mind will keep me motivated, and give me enough time to have an update that’s worth sharing.

Four Blocks in Four Weeks

As I mentioned above, my last update was four weeks ago. In that time, I’ve sewn four additional hexagon blocks.

Block 2 for my EPP Hexagon Quilt Project

I’ve already chosen the color combinations for quite a few blocks. They’re grouped and ready in my sewing bag, which makes it easy for me to move on to the next block wherever I happen to be.

Block 3 for my EPP Hexagon Quilt Project

Each hexagon piece needs to be basted onto a template, then the hexies can be sewn together into a block. I have yet to time how long each block takes, but it feels like I’m able to finish one in a relatively short period of time.

Block 4 for my EPP Hexagon Quilt Project

Although EPP involves a lot of small pieces and some sharp objects, I’ve been able to sew on the go. I find it particularly easy to baste a few blocks during short periods of down time, such as while sitting in a waiting room.

Block 5 for my EPP Hexagon Quilt Project

I didn’t go so far as to fussy cut most of the hexagons, but I’m mindful of their positioning within each block. I prefer to sew the hexies together at home, where I can lay them out beforehand and leave them undisturbed until they’re sewn in place.

Back of Hand Sewn EPP Hexagon Block with Templates

You may have noticed the shadow of a circle showing through the hexies on the outer ring of each block. Those pieces still have their templates in place, and what you’re seeing is the hole punched in the center of each template. In order to keep the seams consistent throughout the project, the template is supposed to be removed only after each side of the hexie has been sewn in place.

Four EPP Hexagon Blocks in an Overlapping Row

The hexagon blocks measure about 8 5/8 inches (22 cm) across their widest points. My total is now at five completed blocks. I don’t have a final quilt size in mind; I simply want to sew the hexagons that I’ve already cut.

I’ll have another update on The Hexagon Project for you in about four weeks. We’ll see if I maintain the same pace of a block each week!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Modern Mystery Quilt Top

Have you ever taken a mystery quilt class? Before the class, you’re told how much fabric you’ll need, broken down into value categories such as light, medium, and dark. At the class, everyone works through the steps one at a time but only the instructor knows what the final design will be.

Angled View of Modern Quilt Top in Assorted Pastel Colors

Although I’ve participated in mystery classes that incidentally incorporate new techniques, the point isn’t to learn something new. I see mystery quilts as an opportunity to test my use of color and value.

Typically, a quilter knows where each color will be in a design and which colors will be its neighbors. Before any cutting or sewing, fabric choices can be adjusted to ensure that each color makes the statement that the quilter envisions.

With a mystery quilt, you don’t know which colors will end up where. Those two busy prints at opposite ends of the value scale might compete with each other in every block. Those medium and medium-dark batiks might look like the same fabric once they’re cut into small squares.

The Mystery Begins

Before we moved, I signed up for a modern mystery class. It called for an assortment of medium-value solids or near-solids and a contrasting background. I was able to pull all of the necessary fabric — almost seven yards (6.4 m) — from my stash and was excited to begin.

Unfortunately, I was unable to take the class. I bought a copy of the pattern to complete the quilt on my own, even though the design was no longer a mystery. I used the opportunity to adjust the size; the instructions result in a quilt that is 50 by 80 inches (127 x 203 cm), which is too long and skinny for my tastes.

Detail of Rectangle Blocks from Mystery Quilt in Pastel Colors

I started the rectangles, and had a plan for how many additional blocks I would need to make — then everything was packed for the move. When I pulled the blocks out a few weeks ago, the quantities I had sewn no longer made any sense. But there were more blocks than the pattern called for, so I moved ahead to the next step.

Detail of Circle Blocks from Mystery Quilt in Pastel Colors

I’ll admit, I seriously considered not sewing the semicircles. I like straight lines for my quilt piecing! Not only did I sew them, I made six additional semicircles in order to widen the quilt. I decided to use the suggested layout for the blocks and only had to make an additional five rectangles to widen those rows enough to match the rows of circles.

The quilt top is 60 by 78 inches (152 x 198 cm). It’s not large enough to be a bed quilt, but I like the proportions better than those in the pattern. The colors remind me of springtime.

View of Modern Quilt Top in Pastel Colors

I’m not going to name the pattern or the designer, out of respect for others who might take this class in the future. I will say that I found the instructions easy to follow on my own. Curved piecing is still not my favorite, but this quilt gave me plenty of practice.

I’d love to hear about your mystery quilt experiences in the comments!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Teddy Bear Kit

Just when I thought I had all of my sewing and stitching kits corralled together, I found another one in a random drawer. This one is a Make Your Own Teddy Bear kit by Alicia Merrett, circa 1995.

Box for Make Your Own Teddy Bear Kit

The kit, which is in a box that is about 4 x 4 x 2 inches (10 x 10 x 5 cm), contains almost all of the materials necessary to make a small teddy bear: an instruction book, faux fur, matching thread, polyester filling, buttons for joints, beads for eyes, contrasting thread for facial features, and ribbon for a bow. The instruction book is a full 50 pages, with everything from the cutting and sewing instructions to a brief history of the teddy bear and a birth certificate for the final creation.

Book and Materials in the Make Your Own Teddy Bear Kit

The instructions were clear and the teddy bear went together quickly and easily in my spare moments over the course of a couple of days. The biggest challenge was that the bear itself is small, so some of the pieces were fiddly.

Hand Sewing of a Teddy Bear in Progress with a Pincushion, Scissors and Thimble

The completed bear is about four inches (10 cm) tall while sitting, and 5 1/2 inches (14 cm) while standing. Although I opted for a classic ribbon bow around the bear’s neck, the instructions included patterns for a knit scarf and a sewn shirt or vest as options for dressing the bear. There are even directions for a little sleeping bag.

Hand Sewn Yellow Teddy Bear with Plaid Ribbon Bow from a Kit

As has happened with every other stuffed animal I’ve made, the shape of my bear is different from the kit’s photos. This may be due to edits between when the photo sample was made and the instructions were completed, but I prefer to think go it as a bit of the maker’s personality being imparted to the plushy.

And now, with this kit complete, all of my remaining kits are stored together. I think.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mended Denim Circles Quilt

For many years, I’ve been collecting worn out blue jeans for potential quilt projects. Somewhere along the line, I came across the idea for a Denim Circles Quilt, which I’ve also seen called a Raggy or Mock Cathedral Windows Quilt. Although I did not originally discover the design through Moda Fabrics, their tutorial explains it well.

I made my Denim Circles Quilt using a random assortment of light and dark denim and thought it would be charming to keep some of the original seams and pockets intact. I used corduroy for the fabric under the folds of each block, as well as for the binding. And, for some reason I cannot explain now, I also inserted batting inside each block. At approximately 70 inches (178 cm) square, to say I ended up with a heavy quilt is a gross understatement.

Denim Circles Quilt Before Mending

We’ve been able to use the quilt at every picnic and 4th of July fireworks show since 2003. The heaviness of the quilt has proven beneficial because nobody has ever gotten up with a wet bottom in even the soggiest of weather, and the quilt doesn't ripple in the slightest on windy days.

Reinforcing Corners

That’s not to say that the quilt is without flaws. Those charming seams and pockets added visual interest but also created areas that were almost impossible to sew through — and truly impossible where the metal rivets were left in place. The thickness in those areas also affected how the denim folded, in many cases altering the shapes of the blocks.

As the rows are sewn together, there is a minimal seam allowance in the corners where the blocks meet. The weight of the quilt, coupled with the exposed fabric edge, has put a lot of strain on the corners over the past 15 years.

Holes at the Corners of a Denim Circles Quilt

A few years ago, I reinforced the corners with some extra stitching. This year, I could see that the corners needed more attention.

My default size for cutting fabric scraps is 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) square, so I had plenty of pre-cut denim squares ready. I sewed a small block on point over each corner on the denim-and-corduroy side of the quilt.

Mended Denim Circles Quilt

I really like the look of the quilt after the repairs. The small squares look like intended design features. I think it would be worthwhile to add them to the denim-only side as well for additional strength, but it’s too hot right now to continue to wrestle that quilt into my machine; it could be a good project for the winter.

Denim Circles Quilt with Extra Squares of Denim Reinforcing Corners

I still have a lot of worn out blue jeans set aside for quilts. Between the challenge of working with such heavy fabric and the prevalence of stretch denim in clothing, I don’t plan to continue to add to that collection.

How do you feel about making with denim?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Hexagon Project: Block 1

A couple of months ago, I decided to embark on an English paper piecing project for the first time in order to work through some of my quilting scraps. I was halfway through cutting a pile of my smallest cotton fabric scraps with about 400 hexagons ready to go. That initial pile of scraps has now been cut. I have roughly 800 hexagons in a wide range of colors and prints.

Why test with a small project when you can dive into a large one? (She asks, facetiously.)

All Points Patchwork

My initial research had been done online. While I had picked up a lot of information, I thought there were some gaps in my learning. It was time for an in-depth book about EPP.

I picked up a copy of “All Points Patchwork” by Diane Gilleland, and found it to be an excellent resource (no affiliation). Gilleland explains the basics of EPP, then details how to work with various shapes and sizes. She offers suggestions for how to incorporate EPP into projects but does not includes any patterns for full projects — and that’s fine with me because I can think of ways to use the pieces if I know how to make them correctly in the first place.

With a more solid understanding of how to proceed, I started to play with the pattern possibilities for the hexagons. I tested a variety of block arrangements and kept coming back to a classic Grandmother’s Flower Garden pattern. Flowers, it is!

Now, on to the colors. I wanted the centers of the flowers to be similar. I like that visual cue to help the eye find the center of each flower. I also wanted the background to use hexagons that are of similar color. This will be a visual cue that separates the flowers.

Based on the hexagons that I’ve cut so far, I am going to use dark cool colors for the flower centers. I only have a few of each of those colors, so one hexagon per block should disperse them well.

And for the background? In the photo at the top of this post, do you see the solid pink in the left-hand column? That fabric is covered in glitter and was originally used in a Sleeping Beauty costume. By far, it is the color from which the most hexagons were cut — making it the most practical choice for the background since my main goal is to use up scraps. I’m not sold on it being the best choice from a color coordination standpoint, but I think it will work.

I’ve sewn my first flower block and am happy to report that I enjoyed the process. I definitely need good light to make those tiny stitches, so this probably won’t become my go-to project when I want to relax in the evenings.

You’ll notice that I haven’t sewn the background hexagons onto the block yet. Because the blocks are going to vary so widely, I want to lay them out before I commit to how they connect.

And I’m still considering that glittery pink.