Quilting String Quilt #2

I can’t believe it, but I’m actually excited to be doing the quilting on this wall hanging. Even super excited! I started yesterday afternoon, and it’s going very well. In fact, I can’t wait to get back to it after my work is done for today!

A couple of things worked in my favor and allowed me to have a good quilting experience this time around. First, I came up with a quilting plan that I like and that works. There are a lot of stops and starts, which in this case means a lot of matching up of sewing lines, but so far it has gone pretty well. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of the pressure to make those lines match exactly is off since the whole quilt is a bit wonky by nature.

A second factor in my pleasant quilting experience is the Chaco Liner by Clover. It actually works as well as I’ve heard. The little gear that dispenses the chalk makes a very satisfying noise when you use it. And the lines it makes are clear. I’ve noticed that the lines do wipe away very easily, so I have been marking just the areas I’ll be sewing in the next few minutes. I tried marking more than that, and the lines were gone by the time I got to them. Although, I admit I was doing a lot of rearranging and maneuvering between marking sessions, so that could have been a factor.

Here’s hoping today goes as well as yesterday, so I can start building a bit of confidence in my quilting abilities!

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String Quilt #2

And the string quilt #2 wall-hanging top is complete! As I mentioned, my first string quilt used scraps from previous projects. For this one, I wanted to use some of my favorite current fabrics, focusing on the orange and green ones that make up the bulk of my stash. I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out. Not all of the seams line up perfectly and a few stars are missing their points, but one of the things I love about string quilts is the imperfections are part of the charm. So I just added a few more imperfections of my own.

I’ve decided not to add borders to this string quilt either. To me, there’s so much going on that adding a border seems like just one more thing. Of course, one theory would be that a border could keep the chaos of the strings contained a bit. But I think I’m going to let a turquoise binding serve that task.

So next up is the quilting: the part that usually holds me up for several months…well, more likely several years. Because it is a nice, manageable wall-hanging size, my plan is to quilt it myself using all straight lines. The straight lines will be outside the ditch (because stitching in the ditch isn’t as easy as it sounds), adding to the geometric lines already going on.

Part of my quilting issues come from not having a really good, reliable marking tool. So my ears perked up recently when the women at the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild were talking about the Chaco Liner marking pen from Clover. Several of them have had great success with it, so I purchased one from Lavender Street in Montgomery (a shop dangerously close to my home), and I’m going to give it a try.

To learn how this quilt came to be, you can refer back to this blog post. And to read about some of the quirks of working on this quilt, you can take a look back at this post.

My First String Quilt

I got to work on my green and orange string quilt for several hours this weekend (during a few of those, I was also enjoying my own personal Rob Reiner film festival: This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride). The quilt is coming along nicely, but before I post that finished top (hopefully later this week), I wanted to share with you my first string quilt.

Like the green and orange quilt I’m working on, this quilt pattern came from the book String Quilt Revival by Virginia Baker and Barbara Sanders. This pattern is called Diamonds are Forever, and their version is featured on the cover of the book.

I loved the dramatic look of the black stars in the authors’ quilt, but after pulling the very few pieces of black fabric I had in my stash, I realized I’m really not a black fabric gal. So I chose two different blues to be my stars (at some point I ran out of the darker blue and ended up having to dye a new piece to match—as I’ve said before, each project is its own adventure).

The string fabrics I used are truly my scraps. After the quilt top was finished, I was surprised by how many browns and reds were used. But then I remembered the cowboy quilt I made for my nephew, the Spider-Man quilt I made for my husband, and the many redwork quilts I made along the way. Of course, there are still a lot of “my” colors in it, too (greens, orange, pinks, plus yellow and purple thrown in for fun).

I love that this quilt will be a reminder of many fabrics that I loved and used. Just looking at the picture above, I can spot several where the last bits were used in this quilt.

And that’s fitting as it is the origin of string quilts. The first string quilts were often made from the last remaining bits of usable fabric from worn-out clothing. These pieces were often small, which made them perfect for string quilts. In those past quilts, newspaper was used as a stabilizer—the thing onto which all these tiny pieces of fabric were sewn so they didn’t shift around or stretch.

Instead of newspaper, Virginia and Barbara, the authors of String Quilt Revival, recommend using a non-woven, lightweight stabilizer called No-Show Mesh Stabilizer. It has no bias or grain, so it doesn’t stretch—which ends up being very important when you’re lining up so many small pieces—and it’s light enough that you can leave it in the quilt, instead of tearing it out.

So while that product sounded perfect, I, of course, first tried my readily available fusible interfacing. Don’t use fusible interfacing. Believe me. The blocks were a stretchy, sticky mess that I ended up throwing away. Listen to the authors on this one and use the non-woven stabilizer.

I know of two places that carry this particular stabilizer: the authors themselves and Nancy’s Notions. I first purchased a small roll from Nancy’s Notions, but once it became clear I was going to get hooked on string quilts, I purchased a larger roll from the authors. The stabilizer really is the key to having fun making these quilts. Once you purchase the roll, it will go a long way, and you’ll get at least a couple of fabulous string quilts out of it!

Next stop: The completed top of my green and orange string quilt!

String Quilt Observations

This weekend I had a chance to dig back into my latest string quilt. I love going back to a project and getting all excited about it again. I’ve decided to make this piece a wall hanging, 4 stars across by 4 stars down. I have a bit more done than I’m showing here, so I have about 31 triangles left to make.

As I was working on those last 31 triangles, two things struck me about making string quilts.

1. They take a lot of thread. In the past, I sewed so infrequently that it seemed like the thread on spools was infinite. The spools just never seemed to run out. Until I got to making string quilts. I’m sure the spool I was using wasn’t full, but I did run out last night. If nothing else, it feels like a sign of a productive day!

2. They’re a bit messy. When making my last string quilt, my husband and I started noticing little threads all over the house. Upstairs outside the craft room, downstairs in the kitchen, in the TV room, on our clothes. Pretty much all over. When you’re cutting that many strips, then trimming that many strips, you’re bound to get some loose threads. A sharp blade on the rotary cutter will help (and I need to go get a few new blades this week). But this time I’m also trying to control the spread of threads by vacuuming after each sewing session. I’m not a huge fan of vacuuming, but I decided I’d rather frequently vacuum the small space in the craft room rather than vacuum the entire house. Not that I’d really ever vacuum the entire house.

I’m learning that every project has its own quirks (here’s my blog post about the quirks of sewing with knits). Have you noticed that too? I’d love to hear the quirks of projects you’re working on. Just leave a comment below!

Baby Wrap

This week, I’ve been working on a baby gift for a friend’s daughter. The baby is three months old now, so, yes, it was about time we got around to giving her something. My husband and I have a few places we usually hit for baby gifts, but I suggested we look through my sewing books first. Wouldn’t it be nicer to give a super late handmade gift rather than a super late store-bought one?

Together we paged through Amy Butler’s Little Stitches for Little Ones, the only baby sewing book in my library. There were a few contenders, but we decided on the Snuggie Wrap Blanket, a square blanket with a hood and ties that allows you to wrap your baby up like a burrito.

Next stop was the fabric store. That’s where the bumps in the process started. The pattern called for both cotton fabric, for the outside, and fleece, for the inside. I misremembered that, so I was looking for flannel at the store, instead of the fleece. And then, instead of flannel, we ended up buying a knit. To be fair, the woman at the store pointed out before she cut it that it was knit, but you know… knit, flannel, fleece…I’ll make it work.

It turns out all the tricky things you hear about knit fabrics are true. They are stretchy. And slippery. And just a good bit scarier than cotton. But by pairing it with the cotton, I was able to have enough stability to make it work. And really it turned out much closer to square than I would have thought possible when I was cutting the knit.

Once the blanket part was together, the last step was to sew two buttonholes to thread the tie through. The pattern suggested buttonholes long enough to allow the baby to grow longer and still be able to tie the tie comfortably around its waist.

The trouble started when I could barely get the blanket (with its fusible fleece interior) under the buttonhole presser foot. Then once I started the automatic buttonhole, I realized the fabric wasn’t moving. It was either too thick or heavy to move by itself. So I started guiding the fabric myself, which seemed to work until the needle broke. Then I noticed the stitches that were made before I started moving the fabric created a hole in the knit. Panic.

This is where husbands are really nice to have around. When mine came home, I told him there had been a mishap and decisions were going to have to be made. Then I showed him the horrible scar. “That’s it?! No one is even going to notice that.” Hmm, well, that’s an interesting take on the problem.

So we decided to skip the buttonholes, and just stitch the tie to the back, placing one of the stitches over the old buttonhole stitches. The baby can’t grow now, but that’s not really our concern.

I wanted to try it out, so Christmas Kermit got pressed into service due to the lack of babies at our house. You really do wrap the baby like a burrito. First, tuck in the end, and then wrap over one side.

Then wrap over the second side and tie the blanket loosely in place.

Snuggly! Kermie likes it.

Finding the Next Project

Three weeks ago, I was working hard to finish the last of three projects I wanted to take with me on our beach vacation.

Two weeks ago, I was enjoying our beach vacation.

Last week, I kept thinking, “Oh, my. What next?”

When I’m ready to start on a new project, but have nothing specific in mind, I usually start with my books. I plop down on the floor in front of my bookshelf, and I start pulling out my sewing and quilting books. I love my physical craft books, and the act of flipping through the pages, making piles of possibilities, is very much a part of my creating process. This time around, the books that were left off the shelf at the end were Denyse Schmidt Quilts (an old favorite that I use more for inspiration than for actual projects), Fresh Quilting by Malka Dubrawsky (a newer book from which I’ve made a small scarf project for my sister), and String Quilt Revival by Virginia Baker and Barbara Sanders (a book close to my heart, as I acquired it for the publishing company I worked for, working closely with the two wonderful authors who happen to be sisters).

Next, I scooted across the floor to sit in front of my fabric stash. The print fabrics are roughly organized by color, so I went through the stacks, mixing and matching from the piles a few noteworthy combinations but nothing significant enough for a quilt. Then I pulled out my stack of solids. I keep them separate because I think of them differently than I do my prints. Unlike many modern quilts, my quilts usually start with prints, and solids are a bit of an afterthought. But this time I was struck by my collection of green solids.

(As those of you who try to photograph or print greens know, they’re tricky to re-create. This photo mutes the darker shades a bit.)

The combination of greens made me laugh—I liked the variety in addition to the fact that many were so close in tone. These greens got me thinking back to the book String Quilt Revival. I had made a quilt from that book already, and I was surprised by how dark it turned out (more on that in another post). What if I tried a string quilt mixing these greens with only green and orange prints?

I decided to make up a few blocks using the Sack Beauty pattern in the book. In that quilt the authors used a white solid for the “star” portion and strips of feed sacks for the octagons that form once the triangle blocks are put together.

To start, I used the template from the book to cut out six shapes of three different green solids to form the stars. Next I cut some orange and green prints into strips (or strings) in a variety of widths ranging from 1 inch wide to 1.75 inches wide.

And finally, I put together my six test blocks (which in this case are triangles).

Oooh. I’m intrigued! I love the colorful octagons that are forming. I’m not sure yet how I’ll handle the green centers: If I’ll mix all the shade into multi-toned stars or try to keep likes together. But I’m excited to make more and see what happens!