Monday, September 30, 2013

100 Quilts for Kids

I've been making quilts for the Annapolis Quilts for Kids for almost a year now.  When I saw this post by Katie Blakesley over at Swim - Bike - Quilt I just had to get some pictures of this year's quilts in the mix.
We all know that I am in love with everything scrappy.  I had fun going through my fabrics to either cut some 6.5" squares or just see what I had in one of my many stacks of blocks.
I gave this one to a friend to put together.  I really like how she put her own little twist n the binding.
I have several stacks of "leftover" blocks.  Sure there is no such thing as leftover fabric.  When I cut down something and find that I have just enough, I'll cut that little leftover bit to either 6.5", 4.5" or into a 2.5" strip.  I have bins and bins of scraps, but these are stacked into neat little piles.
Oh, and the ever-popular 5" charm.  That stack is getting rather high.  I should do something about that. 

So, go check out Quilts for Kids and Annapolis Quilts for Kids.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Backing up isn't just for computers...

I've gotten a bunch of questions about making a quilt backing, so I figured it was time to share my way of doing it.  This doesn't mean this is the only way, or the right way or anything like that.  Part of this is my way because I've found it works for me and part of it is based on the limitations of my long arm frame and machine.  Please, do your research and find what works for you.  If you will be taking your quilt to someone to quilt make sure you know their requirements.  I"ll also share how load the long arm frame for quilting.
First, we start with the top and backing that a friend asked me to quilt.  I picked out two threads that I thought would be good for this quilt.  This time, I went with blending threads.
I was provided four yards of 44" wide flannel for the backing.  The quilt top was 57" by 97".  I immediately realized there was going to be a problem.  Now, I could outline all the math involved.  Let me just sum up by saying "this wasn't going to work!"

DISCLAIMER:  I know the maker of this quilt top personally.  She is a friend and trusts me with her quilts.  I couldn't get away with this kind of editing on just any quilt.  Do not try this at home.

I ended up ripping off the bottom row of her quilt, making the top 57" by 86", still too long to fit comfortably within the fabric I had.  I still needed it to make the backing long enough to accommodate the top.  I also had to dig up some coordinating fabric from my stash to make this add-in strip wide enough to work with the rest of the backing.  Okay, back to making a backing.

Cut the backing in half to create two 2-yard pieces.  Make a snip about 1" long so you can rip the selvage edges (there is a visual guide for finding your selvages on my deviantArt page, if you need help with that.) from one side of each backing piece.  You don't want to leave the selvages in your quilt back, they could distort the backing since the thread density is usually higher in the selvage.  Press your fabrics (yes, do it before you sew, it's easier than wrestling four yards of fabric on your ironing board to get the creases out) and sew the two backing pieces together using a 1/2" to 5/8" seam allowance.  Press this seam open.  The backing should be at least 6" larger on each side.  This means that if your quilt is 60" wide, the backing should be at least 72" wide.  I'll touch on this again later in the post and why it is important.  That long seam is across the width of the backing, not the length.  I will not create or use a backing that has a vertical seam. 
I put a pin in the center of the back and take it to the long arm frame.  I match up that center pin with the center of the leader and pin it all along this edge.  This is where leaving that selvage edge on there comes in handy.  Sure, we're just going to cut it off later, but for right now it will hold these pins better than a cut edge would.  Also, there is no need to make sure this edge is straight.  I trust that the selvage edge is straight enough for my purposes.

Then, I roll the backing onto the take-up bar until the other end will be easy to pin to the backing bar on the other side of the machine.  Here, you can see the back of the strip I had to insert between the two pieces of backing fabric.  The wide seam allowance is pressed open to prevent problems while quilting.
I pin all along the bottom edge just like I did with the top.
Now, I roll all of the backing onto the backing rail, the closest to the front of the machine.  This rail is also called the belly rail, because it should be about belly height.
Fold the quilt top in half and lay it on top of the batting.  I usually do this, since I buy batting by the roll.  This is Warm & Natural in the 90" wide.  Here, I'm using it lengthwise, which is perfect.  I cut this one a little narrow and I was a little nervous once I got it onto the long arm.  If the quilt is small (say 38" x 45" or so) you can get closer to 2" on all sides for the batting.  If the quilt is bigger, like this one, you really should leave 3" on either side.  I press that center crease out of the batting and set it aside.  Press the top one more time.  This is the last chance to get things straight.  Once it is quilted, there isn't much one can do about... well, anything.
I pin the leader along the bottom edge of the quilt top.
Then, roll the top onto the rail and get the batting underneath.  This is where the batting being wider is important.  If you're going to pin baste something, you can use much less.  With the long arm, you have to leave a little extra to allow for variations in cutting and loading the frame. 
I've put some notes in here so I can try to make this make sense.  Those clamps along the side maintain tension on the quilt backing while quilting.  If the bed of the machine hits them while you're stitching along, you can have skips and jumps in the stitching.  To avoid this, the quilt backing should be 6" - 8" wider than the top.  Over on the left, there is a small arrow and the words "two blocked."  This is just showing that the sewing machine cannot travel any more to the left on the frame.  So, the machine needs room to move and room to move without obstruction.  Can I quilt something with less extra fabric for the machine to move?  Yes.  Will it be quality?  Likely not near the edges.  This is why I ask for extra fabric along the edges.  Sure, if you're pin basting and free motion quilting on your domestic sewing machine you don't need this much extra, but that isn't what I'm doing.
I load up the bobbin and do some test stitching along the edge.  This way I can get the tension right before I head into the quilt.  Nothing is more frustrating that trying to rip out stitches on a quilt.  Okay, there are more frustrating things, but this one is on my list of things not to do.  I test the tension every time I replace the bobbin. 
Then, I'm off to the races with the quilting.  I love being able to just jump in and quilt.  This one displays several different designs in the quilting.  This way the surface of quilt has interest and I'm not bored.  A bored quilter is never a good thing.
Here is the finished back.  The strip isn't quite in the center of the back.
Couldn't fail to share a picture of the quilting.  All sorts of different designs in this one.
There it is, all quilted.  Now, I'll roll it up and hand it back to my friend.

That is how I create backings and why I make them the size I do, load the quilt into the long arm frame, and get ready to quilt.  Please, if something is unclear or if you have questions, leave me a comment.  I'll do my best to answer your question or update the information to make it more easily understandable.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

All Falling Together

Please, if you missed it, go check out my previous post about this quilt.  You wouldn't want to miss anything.

I decided that to keep everything balanced, I should have the sashing between the main playing field and the side pieces be the same width as the squares.  I'm glad I did this, because I think a narrower border would have kept you from seeing that the two were actually separated.  The border is a little wider than I usually add, too.  I cut this at 3.5" because I thought a narrower border wouldn't be enough.
I found that I had four yards of extra-wide, black flannel.  I decided my eyes needed a challenge, so I went with that.  Because trying to hand-finish black binding against black backing with black thread will make me a stronger quilter.  (That entire sentence is written in sarcasm font.)  I don't think I'll make that decision again, but it was appropriate for this quilt.  It also helped me make the difficult decision on what color thread to use.  I opted for the black.
I used a quilting design I learned in a free motion quilting class on Craftsy.  The instructor is Leah Day and she has loads of great stuff on her website.  The design is called Circuit Board and I thought this would be the best way to continue the shapes of the blocks in the quilting.
I think if I did this quilt again, I might take the opportunity to break up the quilting by using different designs in each of the pieces.  While I like my choice for this quilt, I did get a little bored as I went along.  I'm actually rather surprised I managed to keep my scale consistent throughout the quilt.
The finished size of this quilt is way bigger than I thought it would be, but with the size of the design, I think it had to be this big.  I suppose, if I'd made it with blocks smaller than a charm pack provides... but, what is the fun in that? 

All that remains is to create a label and this quilt will be done. 
Vital Statistics
Finished size:  64" wide by 81" long
Top and binding:  Kona Cotton by Robert Kaufman
Backing:  extra-wide, black flannel
Pieced and quilted by me!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Racking up a High Score

This will likely take more than one post, because one just can't get all the fun from just a short post about a quilt this awesome. 
Let me begin.  A few weeks ago, while looking at all the wonderful quilts that had been entered into the Pets on Quilts Show, I found my way to a Quilt Along hosted by Melissa at Happy Quilting.  I thought this was such a great idea that I hopped over to The Fat Quarter Shop to see what they had in the way of some charm packs that might do the trick.  I fell in love with a pack of 5" charms in a rainbow of colors.  I grabbed a stack of those (four charm packs to make sure I had four squares to make up each of my playing pieces) along with one charm pack of black and a few yards of black Kona cotton for the borders and binding, all from Robert Kaufman.
I sat down with my numbers and Electric Quilt to design the layout of my quilt.  Since I love puzzle games, I've spent more than a little time getting those funny shaped blocks into line.  I wanted it to be believable to someone that has played the game.  No full lines near the bottom or anywhere else.  If you have a line, it has to have a blank (black, in this instance) block in it.  Otherwise, it would have zapped itself right off your playing field.  I was restricted in the number of playing pieces I could make, so this was also a consideration.  With only enough colored blocks for 41 playing pieces, I had to make them fit into the proper field.  I ended up with a field that was 10 blocks wide by 17 blocks long.  I widened the quilt slightly by adding a similarly sized sashing and a row of playing pieces to the right of the main play area that was only two blocks wide.
I sat down with my stacks of blocks and got sorting.  The colors were slightly intimidating, sitting in their little piles.  I knew layout would be an issue, so I ended up creating it from the bottom up, just like if I'd been playing.  The image from EQ was there to keep me on track.
I created the side piece first.  I figured the black squares could be used to fill in the top as needed.  Things diverged from the plan as the colors came into play.  I didn't perfectly match my colors in my EQ file to my real colors.  I really just used it to keep myself honest on using the different shapes of Tetris blocks.  I also needed to work in more of the black squares towards the top since I ran out of the colored blocks earlier than I expected.  This worked out wonderfully, though, since I didn't have any partial blocks at the top.  Next step:  Adding the sashing and borders.

Game paused until my next post.