Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quilt-Step Two

Disclaimer: I am in no way a quilting expert. I have learn solely from trial and error (emphasis on error) and reading on the internet. I have only made 4 quilt tops and have hand quilted 1 top and machine quilted 4 tops. I am not saying everything I do is the right way to do it, just sharing what I've picked up so far. You'll probably learn best by trial and error too ;-)

After deciding what quilt to make, it's time to get all the materials together and cut fabric. I usually start picking fabric by looking through what I have. In the case of the two quilts we're making, I literally went through my scrap bin and started cutting up anything that was big enough to give me the size pieces I needed. If I'm starting with newly purchased fabric though, it works best to first wash and then iron everything. Before you wash, it helps to sew a quick, regular stitch across cut ends to keep them from unraveling (the sides of the fabric, which feel a little different are called the selvage, those won't unravel).

Also remember that darker fabrics will probably run, so you don't want to mix them with lighter fabrics. I'm not sure of the proper procedure, but I always wash on the hottest setting. My reasoning is that I want something to shrink now instead of after I cut it. Once the fabric has been washed and dried, I cut off those ends I sewed and then iron the fabric. I used to hate ironing and avoided it all the time, but it's hard as heck to accurately cut wrinkled fabric. So taking the time to do the ironing saves me grief later on.

When it's time to cut the fabric, it's extremely helpful to have a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler and self-healing mat.

You can get these on sale if you watch the local JoAnn or Hancock Fabric ads and they are a must have if you're planning on doing any amount of sewing. I have Fiskars and Fons and Porter brand sets. I honestly like the cheaper, Fiskars set a little better. I'd suggest a self-healing mat that's at least 17"x24". I also have a 24"x36" mat and it's nice to have the bigger area to work on, but sometimes it's just easier to get out and find a space for the smaller mat. If you're looking for storage space, you can hang your mats up using those hangers with the clips on them to hold pants and skirts. Another consideration with mats is whether you want grid lines running all across the mat or not. My Fiskars mat has grid lines, my Fons and Porter mats don't. The Fons and Porter mats use the lack of grid lines as a selling point, but I actually like having them. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong, but it helps me out when I'm cutting. An acrylic ruler is pretty much an acrylic ruler, you need one. for the most part, bigger is better. Mine is 6"x24". Then you get down to rotary cutters. I have a Fons and Porter rotary cutter that I just haven't gotten used to yet, probably because I don't use it much. The nice thing about it though is that anytime you aren't cutting, the blade is protected. You have to push down for the blade to be exposed. This is nice with little kids around because if they reach up on the table, there's not an exposed blade. Unfortunately, because of this, I forget to flip the switch to actually lock the blade, so they only have to push on the side to get cut. The Fiskars rotary cutter has a little button that needs to be pushed to retract the blade, but it is always locked in whatever position you put it in. Once you get in the habit of pushing that button every single time you're done making a cut, I think it's a little safer around little kids. Both cutters are theoretically left or right handed. The Fons and Porter takes no effort to use with the opposite hand. The Fiskars, you can take the blade off and switch it to the other side, but then the retract button is against your hand all the time and you accidentally hit it (I think of these things because Josh and Sierra are both lefties). You can buy replacement blades and I think in 5 years, I've probably switched blades 3 or 4 times. They last quite a while, but as soon as they stop cutting cleanly, just switch them out. I didn't at first, and ruined my first cutter (the blade was "dragging" and eventually the metal cut into the post the blade goes on, so then it wouldn't work quite right and steadily got worse until I had to just get a new cutter).

With fabric washed and iron, and cutting supplies assembled, you want to start cutting. It takes practice. A few key tips: cut your selvages off, plus a little extra. When you look closely at these edges, you'll see they're more tightly woven than the rest of the fabric. Not always, but sometimes this can wreak havoc, break needles, etc... So even if it'll be hidden when you sew, cut the selvage off. To save time, I always stack my fabric when I can. If I'm going to be cutting 100 squares the same size, I fold the fabric over several times until I have about 8 layers. Here's where we get into my self-taught, trial and error methods, so I suspect it may be technically wrong (because when I sew clothes I pay attention to grain line and I don't at all with quilting)...fair warning ;-) I lay my fabric so the edges over lap grid lines on my self healing mat on two adjacent sides, then I line up my acrylic ruler (using the grid lines to be sure it's straight) to cut those two sides and to give me two straight sides and a squared off corner: (I just grabbed a piece of muslin to take pictures, I didn't iron it or fold it over)

From this point on, DO NOT MEASURE FROM GRID LINES ON THE MAT, measure from the edge of your fabric to be sure you get the right size. When at all possible, you move around the fabric, or move the mat, do not pick up the fabric and move it until you are done cutting. Use the lines on the acrylic ruler to cut the size pieces you need. To speed things up, you may want to cut many pieces at once. For the scrap happy quilt, I needed a lot of 1.5"x2.5" rectangles, so I would line up the 6" line on my ruler with the cut edge of the fabric and cut, then slide it over to the 4.5" line and cut, then the 3" line and cut, then the 1.5" line and cut:

Now I have four 1.5" wide strips (without moving the fabric). Now I walk to the other side (to cross-cut) and line up the 5" line on my ruler with the other cut edge and cut, then slide it to the 2.5" line and cut again. Now I have 8 rectangles cut, but since I folded my fabric to begin with, each of those is a stack of 8, so I really have 64 pieces cut in about 2 minutes (at the most):

Continue, continue, continue until all your pieces are cut. As I cut, I sort the pieces into labeled sandwich bags and then put all the bags for one quilt into a gallon ziploc so everything is together in one spot.

The other thing to do is make sure your machine is working. Your needle should be replaced with each new project you start. If you keep using the same needle, it gets dull and "punchy"...your machine will sound really loud and you can kind of tell the needle is punching through the fabric instead of neatly sliding through. Needles are cheap, buy 5 packs when they're on sale and change them liberally. If you aren't sure what kind to get, ask the nice sales lady to explain them to you, there are different kinds for different fabrics. I also like to prepare lots of bobbins ahead of time. I tend to piece quilts with just white (for lights) or black (for darks) thread. I always use Gutermann thread because when my mother-in-law gave me the sewing machine she told me to always use good thread because it's easier to work with and your project lasts longer. If you look at Gutermann or Sulky thread it does look smoother, where as the cheapie threads are bumpy looking. So, makes sense to me that good thread will cause me less frustration while sewing. I buy the giant 1000m spools of Gutermann thread whenever it's 50% off at JoAnn's. Before I start any project that's going to use a lot of the same thread, I sit down and fill about 5 bobbins (to start with) with that thread. This way, when my bobbin runs out (my machine has an awesome feature that beeps to warn me this is about to happen), I can just switch it out with a new one and keep right on sewing where I left off without stopping and restarting anything. Whenever I run out of bobbins, I make 3 or 4 new ones at a time unless I'm near the end of the project.

I also make sure the machine is clean. You probably have a way of looking under the presser foot, where the needle goes down in the machine and the feed dogs (those things that move your fabric along) are located...find out how to do that and be sure it's not packed with lint. Especially if you've been sewing fleece.

The insides of my poor machine before cleaning

All the lint I cleaned out

Happy machine

WHEW........that's a long post. It's not nearly as complicated as it sounds when you set out to put it all in words ;-)

Quilt Step One: Planning
Quilt Step Two: Cutting Fabric, Preparing Machine
Quilt Step Three: Piecing The Quilt
Quilt: Piecing, Continued
Quilt: More Piecing
Quilt: Scrap Happy Blocks Pieced
Quilt: Spindrift Pieced
Quilt Step Four: Sashing
Quilt Step Five: Border
Quilt: Choosing Batting
Quilt Step Six: The Quilt Sandwich

1 comment:

Veronica said...

I have no plans to quilt in the near future (can barely sew on a button), but I think it's so nice that you provided so much info for the beginning quilters out there!

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