Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Piano Playing

Melodie, my name, is musical, and that is the only musical thing about me. I can't sing on key, can't clap in time, or play an instrument. I tried drums, but I have no rhythm. I tried flute, and my instructor was so frustrated with me, he hit me with the flute. I tried piano and organ, and I can pick out Mary Had a Little Lamb, and the first few bars of "The Entertainer", with one hand, not both. Yes, I am pretty much a musical disaster.

When it comes to quilting, I can finally play the piano, that is, the piano key border. I love scrap quilts best, and I like them best with a scrappy border. I've put slab borders on scrappy quilts when I'm pressed for time, and I'm almost always disappointed. When I take the time to make a scrappy border, I am always happier with the result. Piano key borders are the easiest of the pieced borders to me. I looked around my sewing room today, and what did I see?

A piano key border to go on a Christmas quilt.

A Piano key border on a hanger with the quilt center.

  A piano key border rolled around an empty toilet paper tube, so it won't get wrinkled, waiting for me to assemble the quilt center from the finished blocks.

A piano key border I once had yards and yards of, enough to border FOUR quilts!

This is one of the four quilts that piano key border went on.

And here is another it went on. I already gave away the first it went on, and tomorrow I'll be putting it on the last of the four quilts.

I never measured how much piano key border I made, and after bordering four quilts with the massive length I had made, this is what is left. I think it might be just the right length to make a baby quilt backing a bit wider.

It is not uncommon for me to just make huge lengths of piano key border to use on scrappy quilts, and never measure how much I actually need. When I go to put the border on, I actually do figure out how long it needs to be, and unpick the seam at that length. If I'm a bit short, it's easy to cut a few strips and add to length. If I have too much, well, that's even easier. If I have a lot left, I can make a Chinese Coin type of quilt with the extra. A few feet left? I usually save that for when I need a quilt backing to be just a bit bigger. A little bit left? Well, that's usually the beginning of another piano key border!

I like a lot of the variations of piano key borders too, alternating long rectangles, with a shorter one with and an added square. Add a triangle to each one and get a picket fence, triangles on both ends and you can have a chevron border. There are so, so many ways to use scraps in a border, checkerboards, square in a square, almost any unit can make into a scrappy border on a scrap quilt. I never run out of scraps, so having lots of options is fantastic, and using even more scraps in the border puts those scraps to work, instead of taking up space in the sewing room. 

You want to know the real secret though? If borders are hard for you to get right without waves, pieced borders are actually easier to get right! Now, that is only true if your 1/4" seam is right, and consistently right, but honestly, I have fewer problems putting on pieced borders than slab borders.

One of the above quilts is a double four patch. If I use the same size strips for my piano key border, as I do for the blocks, I will need four "keys" to border each block. I make my inner border with the same size strip, to make for easy math. If my quilt is 9x11 blocks, I start with the side borders, so I'm dealing with the 11 blocks. 11 blocks x 4 "keys" per block= 44 keys + 2 more keys to cover the top and bottom inner border. My side borders need to be 46 keys long. I count down 46 keys from my length of keys, and unpick the seam there (or just piece a border 46 keys long. I pin each end of the border one the side it's going on. Now I need to find the middle. What is half of 46? 23, so I count down 23 keys, and that seam is the middle of my border. With 11 blocks down, the middle of the 6th block is the middle of my quilt center. The inner border is not so wide I can't eye lining up the middle of the border, with the middle of my quilt center. Pin the center. From there I just keep pinning the middle of each area of the border, until I feel comfortable it is lined up well. Unless the quilt is very large, I usually don't use more than 5-7 pins per side, it really is that easy. 

When I do the top and bottom borders, I do the same, but I either have to add cornerstones, or add however many keys I need to to cover the width of the side borders. In this quilt, the top and bottom borders were figured as 9 blocks x 4 keys= 36 keys + 2 keys to cover side inner borders=38 keys, plus each side piano key border was 3 keys wide, so add 6 more keys for a total of 44 keys. If I had wanted to use corner stones instead in the border, I would have only added the extra 2 keys to compensate for the inner border, then added a cornertone on each end.

If I want to add cornerstones to a border, a pieced border is the absolutely easiest way to do that. Slab borders with cornerstones are much more difficult to me.

I pin-basted Mamaw's quilt today, and a pay it forward quilt. I need to come up with two more backings to pin baste another two quilts next week, then I'll be on a quilting spree. I found I had four quilt centers just waiting for borders, and the outer borders were already pieced. They were literally just waiting for me to cut inner borders for them. Well, by the end of this week, those will all be quilt tops, and I'll quilt them as I get to them, but at least they won't be waiting for borders!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mamaw's Quilt

Mamaw was my husband's paternal grandmother. She was quite a lady, born and raised in the hills of Kentucky, hardly any education, but tough as can be and extremely hard working. She passed away in 1988, two weeks before our second child was born.

Someone in the family saved her last quilt project. They thought they'd finish it, and after a while realized they wouldn't, and eventually I ended up with it. It's been sitting in my quilting room for a couple years now, out of sight, and low on my priority list. I've decided this year is the year I'd like to finish those UFO's that were not mine, so out this project came. Finishing old projects reminds me how blessed we are to be modern quilters.

I never use fabric foundation squares, but I have a couple projects from older people who did use them, and this is one of those. The fabric square feels like a really thick cotton muslin, and check out the flat felled seam! No waste here! most of the edges of the squares are ripped, but some were cut with scissors.

Here are some of the strips included with the project. They are poly/cotton blends, and I'm pretty certain both of these fabrics were curtains, as there were hems attached. Again, these were ripped into strips, which was really a problem with the floral, since after ripping the fabric wouldn't lie flat. I don't know how Mamaw dealt with that, but I ended up using a rotary cutter to cut the ripped edge off.

Here are a couple of Mamaw's blocks before I trimmed them. If you look along the bottom edge, you can see how different the sizes were. I had everything from scant 10.5" blocks to 11.5" blocks. I found a few spots where she had traced something with an ink pen, and attempted to cut on the line. I'll stick to my rotary cutter and quilting rulers!

She had trimmed her blocks up with scissors, but scissors aren't as accurate as what we have available today. I lined the corners of this block up with a ruler, so you can see how much easier we've got it. Hold the ruler, and with one slice of a rotary cutter we've got a straight cut in seconds. I wonder what Mamaw would have thought of today's tools. Mamaw had made 17 blocks, and I made an additional 31, for a total of 48. I set them 6x8. I trimmed all the blocks to 10.5", so the top finishes at 60x80 inches. I'm thinking she used stuff around the house to determine her strip sizes, because they were really odd measurements. Her seam allowance was variable, but not a 1/4" seam to be found. I am not used to piecing blocks with a foundation fabric, and when I make string blocks, most of my strips are about an inch wide, not wide like these. Between my being a little lost, and her measurements being creative, the design doesn't meet up quite right, but I think the end result is probably close to her intention. I don't intend to add a border, just quilt it and bind it as is.

When I was given the project, I was also given fabric for the backing. If you guessed it is a poly/cotton too, you'd be right! My goal is to get the quilt finished before the family reunion in June. I'll be giving it back to the person who sent it to me, and what they do with it is up to them.

So, that's what I've been working on. I wouldn't have chosen poly/cottons to use, I wouldn't have constructed the quilt that way, but that's not really the point. This is Mamaw's quilt, and even if I'm finishing it, it will always be her quilt.

Completely off topic, we bought a new play set for the twins, and they are loving it!


Looks like fun, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pieced Backings

My last blog post, I mentioned pieced backings, and how I like making them as leaders/enders, so the backing is finished before the front. For me, if I plan to make a pieced backing, but don't make the backing as I make the top, I usually end up caving and using yardage or even going and buying a wide back. I was asked how I like to piece my backings. Well, here is one of my latest backings.

I have a large stash of novelty prints I am trying to use up, left over from my scrub top making days. Rather than use yardage for the backing of a current quilt, I chose a theme, and am using up several sea themed fabrics (which complements the quilt top). In this case I did lay out the squares in a pattern, but I often go completely random.

I was asked what size pieces I like to use. For me, 10.5 inch cut squares are perfect. I first tried that size after reading about it here. I know Bonnie is often doing much scrappier backings than this these days, but I still prefer the 10.5" square method. 

If I just need a bit of extra width or length for a backing using yardage, then I will add a row of orphan blocks to a backing. If I don't have appropriate yardage available, I try to choose a color or as above, a theme, and piece a backing from 10.5 inch squares. The thing about 10.5 inch squares, is that they finish at 10" so the math is simple. If I have a quilt top, say 65x82, and I want to make a backing using 10.5" squares, I just round to the nearest ten, and then drop the 0's. 65 rounds up to 70, drop the 0, and I need 7 squares across. 82 rounds up to 90, drop the 0, and I need 9 squares down. 7x9=63 so I need 63 squares for that backing. (Note-if you are 100 inches or over, only drop the last 0, or you are going to be wrong, so 100 inches would go to 10, not 1 ;-)

If my dimensions are really close to the next ten, say 89 inches, I would probably add a whole extra row, rather than sweat out centering it just perfectly.

So, the math is easy, but why else use 10.5" squares? Well, on most fabrics, if you have WOF, you can get four 10.5" squares with nothing left but the selvages, so you use it all. I like to cut borders length of grain when possible, so I often have long skinny pieces left, that are awkward to put back in stash. Or those times when you need 2.5 WOF for a backing you are using yardage on, and you end up with that weird long skinny piece left over? Those I cut up into 10.5" squares. Am I worried I will need that fabric for something else? NO, and here is why.

I have an Accuquilt Go! cutter, and here is a 10.5" square, sitting on top of a square die.

Can't see it? How about now? I can use almost any die I have with a 10'5" square, and if I trim off 1/2 " on two sides, I can use it for any layer cake pattern.

Need another reason? It's easy to find containers that hold 10'5" squares. 12" squares wouldn't fit in here, but these fit great. I only have one container of this size square, I've never needed another. This container holds enough squares to back about 4 queen sized quilts. If the container is getting full, it's time to piece another backing or two, which makes a considerable dent in the stack.

I also said I liked making the backings as leaders/enders. Anything much larger than this would become unwieldy pretty quickly, especially if I've got lots of small pieces all over my sewing cabinet from the front. I tend to piece the rows of the backing while I am working on blocks, but I sew the rows to each other when I am sewing the blocks of the front into rows. I basically am working a step ahead on the backing, and use other leader/enders in between times.

You may or may not like the look of pieced backings, but when I have given quilts as gifts, and they've had a pieced backing, I've only had positive responses. Most people are excited to have a "reversible" quilt, and can't believe you'd take the time to do that for them. You need never tell them you did it to clear out some fabric, or just to save some money. Just say you were glad to do it and move on.

I am making more and more pieced borders as well, and those I like to use as leader/enders while working on the quilt top as well.

I hope this helps someone. I've made it over five months without buying any fabric, and by piecing backings, it makes it easier to stretch that out considerably.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Little Sewing, A Lot of Coughing

I am starting to wonder if this cold will ever end! Such a bummer to still be feeling so lousy :-(

At any rate, I have been doing some sewing, mostly projects for my Pay It Forward challenge. In case you haven't heard of that, it's when you post on facebook, or any other social media, that the first five people to respond will receive something from you in the next year, but they then need to offer something to five more people each. So theoretically, I do something for five people, then those five people do something for five people each, so 25 people, then those 25 do something for five people, and so on. Depending on how this goes for me this year, I may offer it on my blog next year.

I don't want to post pics of my Pay It Forward challenge projects on my blog until they are given, but I have been working on something as leaders/enders that is going to be a fun project.

I saw this block in one of Quiltmaker 100 Blocks issues, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since. It's sort of a split 36 patch, but the neutral side isn't all squares.

Four blocks can play together like this...

...or this...

...or even this!

Since the block is split diagonally, any log cabin layout will work. In these photos, my diagonal squares look black, but they are actually navy blue. I cut all of one piece of solid navy into squares, and I have enough to make 100 blocks. I'm figuring I'll end up with two square quilts, one set 8x8, one set 6x6. These blocks finish at 12", so an 8x8 setting with a border is a queen/king sized quilt.

This week I assembled a quilt center, while assembling the backing (made of 10"squares) as leaders/enders. I cut the inner border for it today, and I have the outer border sewn but not pressed. I finished making the blocks for another quilt, and was working on a border for a different quilt as leaders/enders while doing that. I used the bonus units from those quilt blocks to make another project, and now I am starting work on a wedding quilt I need for November. All of the quilts I am working on, aside from the one I showed blocks from above, need to be completed and given away this year, so I may be skipping around a lot, but as long as these projects are moving closer to completion, it doesn't really matter.

Mostly I am working on so many things at once, because I feel so lousy, that I am sewing up as much as I can, rather than sewing a little, then pressing, then sewing some more on one project. I sit and sew until I absolutely have to press, then I do that with lots of breaks. Even the sewing I am doing with frequent breaks. I just don't have a whole lot of energy, but someday this cold will be over, and I'll be back to normal.

I did want to mention something that really helps me get pieced borders and backings done. If I work on the pieced border or backing as leaders/enders while working on the top, then I usually have the backing and borders done before the quilt center is finished. Sometimes when the quilt center is done, you just want to get it finished, so you skip the great pieced border you had planned, or decide to use yardage or buy a wide backing fabric. I am trying to use what I have, (I haven't bought any fabric in five months), so pieced borders and backings area great way to use up some smaller pieces. I have plenty of yardage, but not always what I am looking for, so doing pieced borders and backings helps me use up the smaller stuff, and be more creative as well. If you want to get into pieced borders and backings, and find yourself giving up and using yardage, when you had planned on piecing something, try doing the borders or backing as leaders/enders, and see if it helps you, like it does me.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Still Alive

I hadn't realized I didn't post after our trip! So much has been going on, including a crisis that I won't get into, my blog has been low on the priority list. I am no photographer, but here are a few pics from our trip to Show Low, AZ. None of these pics were taken in Show Low itself, except for the antique quilts.

These pics are taken in Salt River Canyon.

This pic was taken on highway 78 looking towards Mt Graham

We found several antique quilts while checking out some of the antique stores in Show Low. I only took photos of a couple.

  Isn't the green sashing huge in comparison to the blocks? I'm thinking most of today's quiltmakers would not go for that, but I kind of like the look.

This was my favorite quilt of the ones I saw on this trip. It wasn't the best made, nor the most complicated, but look at how scrappy it is! Usually in a square in a square block, the corners match, but not these, they didn't even use a light/dark pattern. It was really an anything goes quilt, and I love it.

I haven't had a whole lot of time to sew, not to mention I've been sick for three weeks now. I just took my last antibiotic, and I'm still sick, so really not very motivated.

Per usual, we've moved a holiday, so we haven't celebrated Easter yet. I did end up making a ham dinner today, but it was just the five of us that live here, and dinner was actually pretty simple. I'm not sure yet if we're celebrating Easter next Sunday or the week after that. Hopefully I'll be coughing less by then. I know several people who have had this crud for a month, so I'm not sure when I'll finally quit coughing. I was hoping the antibiotics would get rid of my ear infection, and I still have it too, so it was kind of a bust all the way around.

Maybe later this week I'll actually put up some photos of something I've been working on.