That would be moi. Rosie mostly naps while I sew. And snores.
Do you remember this?
Lissa Alexander's gorgeous Tone it Down quilt from the February 2014 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting - on newsstands now.
Since I'm bringing up the rear blog-wise, that would make me the chubby and plump, right jolly old elf! It would also make Lissa A. "Rudolph" as she's leading the way... except she's also "driving the team"... hmmm...
While greater minds than mine try to figure that all out, let me get back to the quilt. This is what I started with:
An assortment of French General fabrics - mostly Rouenneries and Rouenneries Deux, with some Christmas collections thrown in.
It might surprise you to know that while I love the reds and pink-reds in these collections, it is the gray prints that have always been my favorite part of the French General collections. They're unusual, dramatic, subtle, elegant... and they are an amazing accent for the red and pink-red prints. So I wanted to highlight the gray - make that a focus of my quilt.
My second objective was to take a different approach than Lissa by reversing the "scrappy" parts of the block. Each block would use a single background and the chains - the mediums and darks - would be scrappy. An assortment of the darker red prints would be used for the "X" across the middle of the block and the lighter pink-red prints would be used for the "O". Except I would reverse that on a few blocks... just to be different. The gray prints would be used for the sashing - either in large pieces or pieced, I would make that decision when the time came.
This is one of my blocks - one of those with the pink-red prints for the "X" and the darker red prints for the "O"...
As you can see from the block above, there wasn't much difference in the two shades when the block was finished. At first, I was very disappointed by that and I considered making a change - starting over again - to use the gray in the block. But as I looked at my block - blocks... plural - I decided not to. I really liked them the way they were.
So I made more.
Even though each block uses a single background, I am using eight different background fabrics. And because I love the "make it do" aesthetic of old scrap-quilts, I am not using the same amount of each one. There are three blocks each of two background fabrics, and two fabrics are used only once. The remaining four fabrics are used twice.
I'm also getting a little bit ahead of myself.
Getting Started. Some of you already know that I like pressing with steam. Lots and lots of steam. While Color Catchers can take care of dye loss and colors bleeding, they can't really do much for fabric shrinking due to the application of moisture and heat. So I "prep" my fabrics before I start cutting.
Any starch will do, or any sizing. I prefer this Niagara Non-Aerosol because I like the scent. The whole objective is to get the fabric wet - or damp - and press it dry with heat. And steam, if desired. It's a bit time-consuming but the end result is worth it - for me! This is a personal preference - it works for me. Because of the crisp, flat smoothness of the starched and pressed fabric, I am more comfortable stacking and cutting four-to-six layers. If you'd like a "higher authority" for why this is a good thing... Lisa Bongean is a "starcher" too. And she makes lots of spectacular quilts with lots of itty bitty pieces.
Stripping. Because of the scrappy reds and pink-reds, and the single background in each block, I could only strip-piece a little bit of each block. Using short-ish strips - about 10" long, I strip-pieced the units for the four-patches in the corners. The upside is that, with the addition of a 1 1/2" background or medium/dark print square, those pieced-segments could also be used for the nine-patches. So while I couldn't do much strip-piecing, I did do a lot of chain-piecing.
I will tell you that while it might take a little more time to piece the parts - and blocks - this way, the blocks still went together fairly quickly. It's the kind of sewing where you can be listening to music, a movie or a book while you work. There are a few places where concentration is required - getting the squares aligned properly in the nine-patches - but most of the construction is easily done. As a friend said, this is the perfect sort of sewing for this time of year as you can do a little bit when you have time and it doesn't require your complete, focused attention.
When it comes to making the block parts/units, I think it helps to keep in mind that you need four of everything - or a multiple of four. That applies to the cutting, the pieced segments and the pieced units - except the center, you only need one of those. Four four-patches, four nine-patches, four side pieces... four large background rectangles, eight small background rectangles, etc.
In an effort to "keep it real"... I tend to keep "stacks" of pieces on my worktable. There are the stacks of plain background pieces for three blocks - each separated with all the pieces for a single block. The pieced units for the blocks are also stacked - not with any real plan in mind. I try to keep the individual print fabrics somewhat distributed among the three blocks but I'm not obsessive about it.
This means I'm ready to assemble three blocks.
Block Assembly. That's the easy part - once the pieces are done, there are five rows of five parts. I do recommend laying the parts out on the table next to you - it's easy to get a four-patch or nine-patch turned sideways. Yes, been there, done that... un-sewed that.
Pressing is easy for the rows - to the plain background rectangle. Pressing the seams joining the rows has three options - to one side. Open. Or clipped. The first two work perfectly well but I prefer clipping seams because it lets me press each part of the seam in the direction it wants to go - toward the background rectangle.
I clip right next to the seam allowance - a 1/4" away from the seam junction. If you're not a "clipper", there are only a few cautions to mention. First, use only the tips of the scissors. It's better to have to clip a second time to go a little deeper than to have to re-stitch a seam or worse, replace pieces, because you've clipped too far. Second, because of the first requirement, you need to use scissors that are sharp at the tip. Test your scissors on something else before you try clipping seams. Some really good scissors don't do a great job at clipping seams while some "cheapies" do a terrific job.
If you're wary of clipping seams, I understand. Really. I was very skeptical - it goes against everything "quilters" are taught. The "light-bulb" moment for me was when Jo Morton reminded me that garment-sewers clip seams all the time. Well, duh. I clipped seams on collars and sleeves, and not once did I ever have a seam or fabric come apart where it had been clipped. Given the more frequent washing and the wear-and-tear put on a collar or sleeve, I decided to start clipping seams. In the five years or so that I've been clipping seams on quilts... not once have I ever had a seam or fabric come apart where it's been clipped.
So there you have it... for now.
I'll give you a heads up though - I'm not going to wind up where I thought I was going. While my blocks have not changed, my plans for the sashing has.
But I'll tell you about that next year. For now, let it suffice to say that I've made a change or two to the original sashing.
Oh well. It isn't like Lissa and Jennifer didn't already know that I make a habit of doing that sort of thing.