Saturday, June 30, 2012

Starting Over

Well, there was much beating of brow and gnashing of teeth around here last night, followed by deep philosophical sighs.  After a day and a half of steady knitting, I got this far:

You will notice that it is off the needles.  I realized that it is now going to be way too short!!  What has happened is that my rows are coming out narrower than the suggested gauge.  So in fact, I didn't need to reduce the number of rows at all.  Fortunately I bought extra balls of this yarn.  I am just going to start over, because some of the yarn near the hem has already been re-knitted twice.

You know, I do usually make a swatch before I start a project, but that is because I have either substituted the yarn or made my own design.  In this case, because I am using the yarn called for by the pattern, I guess I didn't think I'd need it.

Third time lucky!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Debbie Bliss Eco Aran

Recently, it seems like all my Australian blogging friends have been knitting, which is natural for them because it's winter there, but it's put me in the mood for knitting too.  Since I became so allergic to wool, all my wool knitting projects are semi-permanently on hold.  But I do have some cotton lying around.  Webs had a sale on Debbie Bliss Eco Aran a year or so ago, and I snapped up enough for two projects from the Debbie Bliss Eco Fairtrade Collection book that came out in 2009.  I am starting with colour 616, the powder blue:

This is kind of a challenging yarn to work with.  It has several thin plies loosely wound together, so you have to knit carefully to make sure you catch them all in each stitch.  I also found two flaws just in the first ball, which is a pain because then you have to back it up and find a good place to hide the join.  But, I have concluded that it is worth it, because the knitted fabric feels fantastic.  It is very soft and plush, unlike a lot of cottons which can be stiff.

I'm making the Paisley Sweater from the back of the first Eco Fairtrade Collection book:

I don't have much to show yet, because I've had two false starts.  The first time was a tension problem, and I've reduced the size of my needles.  Even though I was knitting to the gauge, the garment was coming out bigger than the pattern suggested.  I met a woman at a quilting workshop who had made one of these projects, and she mentioned that she found she needed to knit this very tightly.  I don't like to put so much strain on my hands, so I have gone with smaller needles.

The second false start occured when I realized that the project was going to be too long.  The front measures 26" long, but when you realize that it isn't 26" from the top of the shoulder but rather from further down, the whole thing became longer than I wanted.  So I decided to shave off 18 rows, which required me to re-jig the placement of the cabled panels, and I had to start those over.

But now I think I'm headed in the right direction.  It is really great to be knitting again, it feels like visiting an old friend.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A New Way to Secure Thread Without a Knot

(Update 02/13 - Apparently this is called a loop knot.)

This is a technique that Alex Anderson demonstrated in an early episode of The Quilt Show.  I can never find the exact episode, but if someone knows please put the details in the comments.  Alex used the technique for redwork, but I have found that it adapts very well to cross stitch.

This technique works whenever you are stitching with two strands of floss in the needle.  I am stitching Celtic Spring 2 over 2, so it has been perfect for that.

Start by cutting the thread twice your normal length.  If you usually stitch with an 18" length, cut your floss to 36".  Pull off one strand, fold it in half so it is double, and thread the cut ends through the needle:

I have used a shorter thread for the demo.  Leave the loop at the end of the thread.

Start your first stitch by coming up from the back.  Don't pull the thread all the way through!  Make the first diagonal stitch of the cross and go through to the back without pulling the thread all the way through.  On the back the folded thread will form a loop:

Run the needle through the loop (you are still on the back of the work), and pull tight:

The loop will snug down flat against the working thread, and secure the whole thing with no knots and no loose ends.

Like everything, this method has pros and cons.

  • Reduces the number of loose ends on the back of the work
  • Quicker and easier than a waste knot when you are stitching in a new area
  • Slippery threads like gold braid won't work loose later
  • Only works for an even number of threads
  • Doesn't work when different threads are blended in the needle
  • The two lengths in the needle are running in opposite directions.  If your thread has a nap this may reduce the sheen of the finished piece.  It may even increase snarling in dense stitching or fabric.

For Celtic Spring this method has been fantastic.  In the borders especially you are frequently starting  new colours in isolation, and the waste knots are tedious.  Plus I have been finding that the gold braid tends to work itself loose, which is eliminated with this method.

I also like it in places where there are many colours in a small area, because it reduces the bulk on the back. I start with a shorter length when there are fewer stitches to make.

And it's great for redwork too!  Although for redwork you start with the loop on the top of the stitching, and it works better for stem or outline stitch rather than back stitch.  But it makes a very clean back!  I think I owe a post on that some day...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Celtic Spring Instructions

We had our first official heat wave (3 days or more over 32C) this week, so I haven't wanted to turn on the sewing machine and iron.  But it has been a great time to do some cross stitch.  Celtic Spring is progressing well:

There is a striking lack of instructions with the Celtic Spring pattern.  At the top of the key it mentions, in brackets no less, that the piece is stitched 2 over 2.  It's not clear whether the gold braid is also meant to be stitched double.  It's also not clear whether the backstitching is meant to be stitched with two strands.  In my experience, backstitching is almost always stitched with one strand.  But at the very end of the backstitching instructions it mysteriously says, again in brackets, that the gold braid backstitching should be done with one strand.  Does that mean everything else should be done double?

I decided it was open to interpretation.  I tried cross stitching the gold braid with a single strand, and it looked good to me.  I also did the backstitching under the hand and along the outer border with one strand, and that looked good to me too.

Recently, though, I have been using a new way of securing a new thread, which requires a double thickness. I'll show you that tomorrow.  I like it so much that I tried stitching the gold braid with a double strand too.  Stitching it double has pros and cons, but overall, I like it better.

When the gold braid is stitched with a single strand, it lies flush with the other stitching.  When it is stitched double it has a raised effect, which actually is pretty nice.  The amount of sparkle seems to be the same.

Changing my mind halfway through the piece is challenging, but I don't think it will be insurmountable.  The only place where the difference may show is in the side borders.  The right side border is too far gone to completely replace, but I may redo the left border.  The gold in the bodice can stay the way it is, and fortunately I hadn't done much gold in the skirt, so I have already changed that out.

I am also wondering if the backstitching around the face is meant to be stitched double.  I may try it both ways to see what looks best.

I am glad to have this decided now because it has been worrying me.  It will be easy going from here!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Easy, Accurate Paper Piecing Templates

The final piece in the design of my Hen Party quilt was to decide how to finish off the corners of the border.  I wanted the diamonds to flow continuously around the quilt.  Once I realized that I could make the corner diamonds bigger, it all fell into place:

The centre diamonds are the same 3" size as the Seminole-pieced diamonds, and the outer diamond is the full 6" width of the border.

I made my own foundation paper piecing templates for these blocks.  With 1/4" graph paper you don't even have to measure!  Just count out 4 squares to the inch.  I mark dots in all the corners, and then use a ruler to connect the dots.  Easy!

Then I put my original in the copier, set the quality to draft, and run off as many as I like.  The graph lines don't copy, just the darker pencil lines, so you get a very clean template.  Old copiers used to distort the image slightly, so check your copies to make sure they are still exactly to scale.  My Canon All-In-One prints them off perfectly.

I am also still using the Simple Foundations Translucent Vellum Paper, which is so convenient!  When I'm paper piecing triangles like this I start with oversized triangles rather than strips.  This saves fabric, and it also keeps everything on the grain.  The vellum paper makes it easy to be sure the triangles are in the right place before I sew them down.  Vellum is a little more expensive, but because so many of my paper piecing plans involve half square triangles like this, I will probably keep using it.

Hopefully it will not be much longer before I get this top finished.  I am sooo close!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seminole Piecing

As I mentioned yesterday, I elected to Seminole piece the border for my Hen Party quilt.  I did wonder, when I made the design, if I was biting off more than I could chew, but fortunately it has worked out very well!  The whole key is to slow down and be very deliberate in everything you do.

My border design called for 3" diamonds centred down a 6" strip.  The sides of the diamonds needed to be 2 1/8", so I cut the brown strips at 2 5/8".  In order for the cream edges to be wide enough, I cut the cream strips to 5 1/2".

I sewed the brown strip between two cream strips and ironed the seam allowances towards the centre.  This is an important step, because it makes it easy to match the corners later on.

Then I cross cut the long pieced strips into units that were also 2 5/8" wide.  Then I started to sew the units together in a stepped pattern.  Hopefully the photo makes it clear:

Each border has 17 diamonds.  When I turn the piece on it's side you can see where it's going:

To make sure the diamonds were centred in the final border, I lined up my ruler with the 3 1/4" line along the line where the diamond points meet.  I cut one side, and then turned it around and cut the other side the same way, so that I ended up with a 6 1/2" border strip:

To square off the ends, I added a 4 1/2" half square triangle:

This is bigger than needed, so when I'm ready to do the final assembly I'll trim the sides even and the end down to 1/4" from the point of the diamond.

It seems like a lot could go wrong with all the bias edges here, but the main thing was that all four sides would finish around the same length.  They did!  And I gave myself some wiggle room in the design, which I'll talk about when I get the whole top assembled.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Designing the Hen Party Border

It's taken me a while to organize my thoughts about this border.  I finally realized that it has to be divided into two posts.  So today I'm going to talk about how I came up with the design.

Susan Stewart's amazing quilt "Radiance" won the Bernina Award for Machine Workmanship at Paducah this year.  In this interview she describes how the whole quilt was inspired almost in a flash from one machine embroidery motif.  When I watched it I thought "that's what happened to me!" with my Hen Party quilt.  But now that I am writing it all down, I've realized that's not really true.  The idea for the centre of the quilt came in a flash, but the border took quite a bit of extra thought.

As I've said before, the original inspiration came from the quilt "Peach Cobbler" in Better Homes and Gardens' Sew Scrappy, vol 2, that was published in late 2011.  I took a photo of a corner of the original for you all:

Peach Cobbler

You can see that the designer carried the triangles out into the 2" strip border, and then finished it with 4" squares.  I am a big fan of carrying the block design out into the border, although I intended to complete the diamonds rather than leaving them unfinished.  But I couldn't get it to work with my fabrics, especially when I reduced the size of the blocks.  I thought about using florals in the border instead, but then the border lost all relation to the centre of the quilt.

One day I was looking through the instructions for Sue Garman's "Ruffled Roses," the TQS BOM from last year.  One of her borders caught my eye:

Some time after that I found myself doodling the same border around my Hen Party quilt.  I wasn't concious of the source then, but now I am pretty sure this is where it came from.

With the 1 1/2" corner triangles in my snowball blocks, the cream and brown diamonds that are created finish at 3" high.  I wanted the diamonds in the border to be the same size, and fortunately the math worked out well.  Squares with 2 1/8" sides will measure exactly 3" on the diagonal.  So I decided that Seminole piecing would work well for the borders.

I thought, actually, that Sue Garman also used Seminole piecing in her quilt, but now I see she used four patches:

This image was probably what set me on the track of Seminole piecing:

Isn't it interesting how we pull together inspiration from different sources to make something new? Well, I'm pretty sure several books have already been written on that subject, so I'll stop here.

In any case, the Seminole piecing worked great, and I'll show you that next time! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Some Good Sewing Advice

Here's something a little different to brighten your day!  A friend found it somewhere on Facebook:

It's funny, because I perfectly agreed with the first paragraph.  I think "Good results are difficult when indifference predominates," is exactly right.  Even the beginning of the second paragraph made sense - "When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing."

But after that I lost it!  I don't know how many times I've answered the door covered in bits of thread!  And I have no idea why you'd want to get French chalk all over your fabric.

This newspaper clipping is old and yellowed, but even when it was printed, however long ago, they clearly thought this advice was already funny.  I hope you did too!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Piecing the Snowball Blocks

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to scale down the snowball blocks for my Hen Party quilt to 6" finished.  When I looked around I found snowball blocks made with different sizes of corner triangles.  I like the block best when the corners are 1/4 of the size of the block, so I needed 1.5" corner triangles.

The block is easy to make.  I cut a great many 2" squares, which is 1.5" plus the seam allowances on both sides.  I drew a diagonal line from corner to corner, and pinned all four corners to the block at once:

Then I sewed right around the block, stitching on the lines, in one pass.  After all the blocks were sewn I went back and trimmed all the seam allowances down to 1/4 inch.

Some people will recommend that you don't trim the seam allowances here, but just iron up the corners so that there are 3 layers of fabric.  I tried it, and it does help to keep the block square.  However, I really wanted to be able to iron the seam allowances towards the dark fabric, so I opted to trim off the excess.  I was glad that I did it, too, because the blocks nested together beautifully when it came time to assemble them.

There is no doubt, though, that keeping these blocks square when you are ironing them is the biggest challenge. I was finally able to use the mini iron and Steady Betty pressing surface that I bought from Keepsake Quilting a few months ago:

I had my doubts about these when I first got them, but they turned out to be very helpful.  The Steady Betty pressing surface is covered with thin foam, which clings to the block.  It also drags a bit on the iron, which is a drawback, but not a huge one.  So it helps keep the blocks square when you iron them.

The mini iron is also great.  It gets very hot, so I was able to just let the heat do the work rather than using a lot of muscle.  Because it is so easy to handle, I didn't burn my fingers once!  And because the iron is very lightweight, I was able to press all those corners while seated, which is another bonus.

Tomorrow I'll show you the borders!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Project - Hen Party

Today is my mom's 75th birthday!  Part of the reason my blog posts have been scarce recently is because I've been secretly working on her birthday present.  It's a lap quilt, although once the borders are added it will be up to 70" square.  Here's the centre:

I wanted to get the whole top done before today, but I didn't quite make it.  The borders are done but not sewn on.  I hope to get it all assembled by the end of the week.  I make no promises on when it will be quilted...

I got the idea for the quilt from a pattern in the last issue of Sew Scrappy magazine, which I reviewed back in January.  I have modified it so much that I think you can call the design original now.

The quilt in the magazine used 8" snowball blocks, but when I looked at the scale of my fabrics I thought that 6" blocks would be better.  You can see that the larger chickens are framed perfectly.  There was a LOT of fussy cutting!  Even the smaller chickens were fussy cut so that no heads were cut off, although there is one block where I couldn't avoid it.  I will try to do less of that in future!

My original plan was to do the corner triangles in black and white.  I worried though, that such a strong contrast might distract from the chickens, so I opted instead for brown and cream.  The contrast is still strong, but they blend quite well with the other fabrics.  So I am happy with that choice.

I'll show you the construction over the next few days, and hopefully by the end the top will be finished too!

Related Post:

Sew Scrappy Review

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hexagon Hiccup

The centre panel of my little wall quilt is finished:

But it's not going to stay this way!

My original plan was to square up this centre panel by sewing straight borders over the wobbly edges, and then applique the borders.  However, there was a problem with that.

As I described earlier, I have been basting and stitching the hexagons in one step and with one length of thread.  This works great and I still love this method.  The catch, though, is that you cannot remove the basting without unravelling the whole thing.  Why would I want to remove the basting?  Because I want to open out the seam allowances to attach the borders.

I could just sew over the folded seam allowances, but I think that will add a lot of bulk, especially along the top and bottom, which will interfere with the applique.

I was explaining my problem to my parents and showed them the work, and they were amazed that I wanted to cover up the nice shapes of the hexagons at the top and bottom.  I realized they were right!  I have already modified the original pattern, so why not keep the hexagons whole and applique the centre panel on top of the borders?

So the half hexagons in the corners are definitely history, and I am also considering removing all the halves along the sides.  Plus, this will be great practice for my Botanic Roses quilt, because I have already decided to applique the centre to the borders on that quilt.

The funny thing is that as soon as I started to fill in all the half hexagons along the sides, something felt wrong.  Now I feel back on track.  But I don't think I would have understood the problem until I went a ways down the wrong path.  Live and learn!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Celtic Spring Progress

Yesterday I showed you where Celtic Spring stood a week ago before I took it out of the frame.  This is what I've managed to achieve with four or five days of steady stitching:

Taking it out of the frame has turned out to be very motivating!  It is SO much easier and more comfortable.  I am fairly strong despite my dodgy back, so I was able to hold the Q Snap frame for about three hours before my left wrist became tired.  Out of the frame I was able to sew for much longer.

It is also much easier to stitch accurately.  With the work in hand, it is easy to come up through the fabric in the right place because your left hand can help guide the needle. As I mentioned yesterday, I am still stab stitching the cross stitches, because my stitches just aren't as neat when I stitch entirely from the front of the work.

When I stitched the aida there was no difference between the stitches worked in hand or on the frame, but on the lightweight linen evenweave there IS a slight difference.  It is harder to get the two strands of floss to lie beside each other rather than overlapping.  If you look closely on the photo you can see the stitches on the skirt below the line are not quite as smooth.

But that is a price I am willing to pay, because everything else about it is better.  It also seems to put less stress on the gold metallic thread, so that actually looks better in the new part of the stitching.

The other challenge with this project is that there are a lot of beads throughout the entire work.  I couldn't imagine how I was going to bead the whole large piece in a frame. Now I don't have to worry about saving the beads to the end, I can alternate between beading and cross stitches to keep everything fresh.

Sometimes you will see someone's cross stitch that has been puckered or distorted because they worked it in hand.  I haven't noticed any problem with that.  The wrinkles in the photo are just from handling the linen.  It may be that because I am stab stitching rather than stitching entirely from the top it is easier to maintain the correct tension.  I am sure there are practiced stitchers who get beautiful results that way, but I am not there yet!  But I can say that I am retiring all my frames for the foreseeable future!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cross Stitch Without a Frame

I am so, so far behind with my blog posts!  I have been busy but disorganized.  Now, though, I am going to start catching up!

I have been going through a cross stitch phase again recently.  Celtic Spring kind of ground to a halt around late February when I filled up my 11" x 17" Q Snap frame and debated the best way to proceed from there.  Up until a week ago it looked like this:

In the past I would have done a large project like this on a scroll frame.  However, when I discovered Q Snap frames I swore I would never go back to scroll frames.  Scroll frames are so heavy, and I am constantly either banging my arm or catching the thread on the knobs.  With my dodgy back I have to lean back in my chair, so I can't use a seat or floor frame comfortably.  This project does fit into a 17" x 20" Q Snap frame, but the frame was so big I couldn't fit my arm around it!  So as an interim measure I put it into this 11" x 17" frame which was easier to manage.

Once I started using the metallic gold thread and I realized how important it was to maintain the crinkles in the thread, I started to worry about what would happen to the gold thread when I had to move the frame over the already stitched areas of the work.  I thought about doing a test patch, but I never got around to it.  While I was dithering about that I decided to work on something easier:

This may well be the first cross stitch pattern I ever bought.  I bought it back in the mid 1990s from June Grigg herself.  She and her husband had come all the way up from Atlanta to Toronto to have a booth at the Creative Sewing & Needlework Festival, which is now called the Creativ Festival.  I remember because they were both very nice.  It seems to me that the festival used to be more fun back then, with a wider range of vendors.  It was before Christmas, and I think it was held in the old Automotive Building at the Ex.  The whole place was strung with white fairy lights above the vendor stalls.  My friend and I went up to the mezzanine where you could look out over the lights and the entire festival - it was quite a sight!

These patterns have always been reasonably high on my cross stitch bucket list, but when I had another look at the leaflet last fall I worried that the large flat areas of colour might be too boring.  Then I realized that sometimes easy is a good thing, so I went ahead and bought the materials.  Another tv project!  I put it into a small Q Snap frame.

What I discovered, though, was that stitching the 18 count aida actually took more concentration than I wanted to give it.  For some reason, when I did my Kittens project on 18 count last fall I didn't notice the concentration needed to make the stitches, probably because I was already concentrating a lot on the counting.  The whole thing was feeling awkward, and I was remembering how much easier my redwork became when I took it out of the hoop, so I took the plunge.

The very dark brown and the green parts here are cross stitches, and the mahogany on the left and pale yellow and green on the right are half cross stitches.  I did the half crosses entirely from the top of the fabric, going down and up in one motion.  With the cross stitches I found it was better to still do stab stitches even with the fabric in hand.  When you look at the mahogany part especially you can see that the stitches are not too even.  However, it is so much faster that I will probably continue that way!  With the cross stitches you cannot see the difference at all between the stitches worked on the frame and the stitches worked in hand.

I have gone on for long enough now, so I'll show you how this worked on the linen evenweave of Celtic Spring tomorrow!

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