Curves Ahead: Freeform curves

It’s about time to kick off this sewing curves series and we’re going to start with (what I think is) the easiest of curves: freeform.  You’re in complete control of how curvy your pieces are, how wide they are and how simple (or complicated!) the whole piece is.

Let’s start with what you’re going to need:

  • rotary cutter
  • cutting mat
  • 3-5 different fabrics that coordinate (fat quarters or scraps)
  • sewing machine/coordinating or neutral thread
  • pins, optional
  • snips
  • iron/ironing board/fabric spray

Start by giving your fabrics a bit of a press with a touch of spray starch/Best Press for some added stability. It isn’t vital and lots of people do without it, but I use it so that my fabrics don’t stretch or fray as much as they might otherwise.

Now lay two of your fabrics on the cutting mat, overlapping by at least two inches.


With a nice, fresh, sharp blade in your rotary cutter, cut a smooth curve from side to side, through both fabrics.


Remove the extra bits from both fabrics and move to match up the curves. Now mark a little line at a couple of places along the curve, including the top and bottom of the curve. These will serve as your guides to make sure it comes together right.


Flip one fabric onto the other, right sides together. This is where some people pin. You have to pin very close together and work the fabric so it will ease into each other as the curves form.  I think it’s obnoxious and unnecessary, but I’ve been known to do things differently than others anyway.

  
If you want to try it my way, you can still get a pretty darn accurate match by using your hands to guide the fabric. Hold the top fabric up so that they only touch as they go under the foot. You will use both hands to feed it through. Keep an eye on your markings and put a little tension on on whichever layer is convex at the time.

Press seam allowance away from curve.Ta-dah!  Your first curved piece.  Now let’s try it again with a couple wonky curves in it.  You’ll do the exact same thing but with an additional wave in it. You can press the seam allowances all in one direction and with a little steam for a beautiful finish.  

Keep going with your gentle curves, varying the width and depth as you go.

The more you practice with little bits, the better you’ll get, so don’t be afraid to put those scraps and what-was-I-thinking fabric choices to use.  Add in a little wonky quilting and you’re good to go!

Dear Jane: My Favorite EPP Tools and Tips

I’m still plugging along, albeit very slowly, on my Dear Jane and already I’m a whole month behind. I’m trying not to panic, but I may have set up a little morning stitching time if I ever plan to keep up. Sheesh.

Work life has been busy lately with Road to California and this past week’s trip to Sewposium in Orlando. If I were thinking more clearly, I would have brought a couple of the Dear Jane blocks on the plane with me. Five-plus hours each direction is plenty of time to get some sewing done, but instead I read the entirety of A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Then I got bronchitis and still didn’t sew anything.

But I digress. Let’s talk English Paper Piecing (EPP).

This sewing/quilt-making technique has been around for  at least a couple hundred years, which seems both crazy and wonderful. I love the long history of textile arts, somehow connecting a thread between generations and continents, preserving a craft, an art for the future as well.  Luckily for us, these days, we have the high quality tools and this lovely thing called the Internet to make it a bit easier than the ladies had it back in the 1800s.

If you’re just getting started with EPP, or struggling a bit with it, let me tell you what I use and do to make it a fun and not-so-laborious venture.

•   Kai 4″ Scissors  

Small and sharp, these 4 1/2″ serrated scissors come with a cover that keeps them safe and easy to stash in the zipper pouch. Perfect for trimming pieces and clipping threads.

•   Clover Wonder Mini Clips  

I use a Wonder Clip on on the opposite end of the seam I’m stitching to keep the washi tape in place.

•   Washi Tape

Since I sew my pieces flat and washi tape keeps the seam aligned and even without trying to use pins.

•   Bottom Line thread  

Honestly, this is my favorite EPP thread by far. There are a few lightweight threads designed specifically for the task, but the Superior Threads version is super strong and never snaps. You can get it on pre-wound bobbins or spools.

•   John James needles

I like this brand, but as proven by the needle testing we did for Sew,Mama,Sew, it really is personal preference. I like a slightly longer needle without a sharp butt (I’m prone to stabbing it into my finger).

As I mentioned, I prefer to sew my pieces together when they are flat. I can get a tighter stitch that is not seen from the front. I used to simply try to clip it together, but they would slide apart. I started using blue tape because it doesn’t stick to the fabric. I switched to washi tape for the cuteness factor only.

Here’s a pictorial rundown of how I sew my pieces:

First, I pin the pattern piece to whichever fabric it needs to be made with. I’ve coded these as BG=background and G= grey.

I cut the fabric pieces as I go, trimming there to a heavy 1/4″ seam allowance. They are rarely even and often not-quite-straight, but in the end it doesn’t matter at all.

Using an obvious-color thread, I stitch right through the Dear Jane paper template. For my hexagons, apple cores, etc. I do not stitch through the paper, but because this project will live for a long time in a box and there are a lot of triangles and squares, I want to make there that papers don’t shift as I sew and then store them.

I get each square going by sewing just two pieces at a time. As I get pairs together, I’ll start putting the pairs together. No matter the order of assembly, all the seams start this way.

From the right side, I tape the pieces together, making sure the edges are even and correctly aligned.  Then I clip the end that I’ll sew last o that it all stays in place as I make my way across the seam. One of the issues I have when I don’t do this is that the pieces shift ever so slightly and the end won’t match.

I start by knotting the thread and securing it away from the corner/edge. Then I stab the needle through the very corner of each piece.

Working my way across the edge, I take tiny stitches, then tug them tight. It might look a little crazy-making, but once you get a rhythm going they piece together pretty quickly.  In the end, the stitches look fine from the back and are invisible from the right side.

  

I toss these back into my little zip pouch and keep putting them together, two pieces at a time until the block is finished. Now that life is a little more on-track, I’m hoping to get a few of these done this week. I’ve already got the templates for Rows B and C waiting for me, so I have to try to catch up a bit!

Are you doing the Dear Jane, too? How are your blocks coming along? Check out everyone else’s blocks on Instagram with a quick search of @dearjanegoesepp.

Just keep stitching!

Three Ways to Make that Fancy Fox’s Nose

We started with the Fancy Fox this week for the Fancy Forest Quilt Along because it’s the easiest of the blocks, but there’s one part that seems to bug a lot of participants–that nose! It either get chopped off or ends up narrower at the bottom than it should be.

The way that Elizabeth has you do it in the pattern is by marking the center of the block, corner to corner, then stitching down that line.

fox nose, pattern version

You then trim and press. image

But I could only get this to work out right infrequently and at times it ended up way, way too narrow and I’d start over.

So I thought I’d try trimming the seam first, lining up the 1/4″ line on my ruler with the corner to corner where I’d stitch.

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That didn’t work much better.

I wondered if it was because of that background square. It had two issues: it’s on the bias and on top. This gives it all sorts of opportunities to get squirrely, so I decided I should sew it from the other side.

First I cut the background 1/4″ bigger than originally used in the pattern.

I used a ruler to mark the 1/4″ seam allowance, then marked the middle by folding in half and adding a little mark. This is where I wanted the nose to come to a point. Both seams need to intersect that mark.
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Using the 45-degree lines on my ruler, I lined up the ruler until the edge intersected the mark I’d made, then I drew the stitching line.

Marking the nose

 

I pinned the background to the right side of the fox face and pinned it to keep it from shifting under there while I stitched it on.image
Trim, press and repeat. Press from the front (use a little spray starch for good measure). image

Then I trimmed it up with my handy 6 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ ruler. 

Yay for a perfect little fox face!

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Thoughts on: Making the Bartow

Bartow-2As part of the 30th anniversary of Kona Cotton, 30 different designers were asked by Robert Kaufman Fabrics to design something to show off the beauty of Kona colors. I was particularly enamored with Carolyn Friedlander’s quilt: Bartow, so when my young friend Maya asked for that one, I was pretty excited to get the chance.

I still have a nice stash of Kona Cotton (one of the perks of working for RK in 2014), so Maya and I dug through the them. She chose the Elizabeth Hartman Patchwork City: Autumn bundle, which includes a whole lot of purples, blues and green. Then I chose an additional 20 from a 10-Square of the Dusty Palette Konas.

Then I start cutting hundred and hundreds of strips.

Then I sewed hundreds of strips together. A bunch after work, then the rest at home.

I pressed them to the color side and organized them with the infinitely handy Wonder Clips.

I organized strips and then sewed them together into rows. Then started putting those rows together.

Which went just fine until the fifth row, when it didn’t quite fit… 

What the what?!

So, come to find out, the 1/4-inch stitch on the machine at the Fabric Depot sewing studio doesn’t give me the same 1/4-inch stitch as my machine as home. I didn’t realize it, but sewing all of those strips together and losing just a smidge on each seam caused my strips to be almost THREE INCHES too short.

Three inches. That’s what happens when one machine is stitching a quarter-inch seam just 1/16th of an inch larger than the other.

So for now, I’m picking out some of the seams to re-sew them and hope I can make this work without re-doing it all.

Lesson learned: Check your quarter-inch seam when switching between machines. I should have listened to you, Mandi.

How to: Add Weight and Emery to Your Pincushion

Four Patch Pincushions So I have a little pincushion addiction. I love making these little guys and after making a few dozen of them, I’ve figured out a few tricks to make them even more useful. The most important part is adding some weight. I also add covered buttons for a special pop. For my own and those I sell locally, I make emery balls.

The weight is really a necessity to make the pincushion usable. If you’ve ever had one that was filled only with polyester batting, you know how light it is. Great for shipping, but sucks for keeping your pincushion on the table. Instead it seems to just float away.

I use a few things to weigh down my pincushions. Generally I use the ground walnut shells. You can buy them in bulk at pet stores, but for personal projects, it’s just as easy to pick up a small bag at your local quilt shop. They come in plain and lavender scented, if that’s your kind of thing.  You can also use short-grain rice or lentils if you are in drier climates. Even here in the PNW I’ve never had an issue with rice, but I’ve hear that others have.

But how do you get the weight in there? I’ve seen a few where they just mix it in with the stuffing, but I prefer to keep it strictly at the bottom, so I add a layer to the bottom of mine. Continue reading “How to: Add Weight and Emery to Your Pincushion”

Handmade Holidays Time!

hh2015I’m excited to be the one to kick off the Handmade Holidays over at Sew,Mama,Sew! If you’re new to the series, you’re gonna love this. Every year Handmade Holidays runs through November, each day offering up tutorials gathered by a variety of designers, authors, and bloggers.

My focus was Gifts for Crafty People and I included tutorials for a pincushion, apron, clock, lanyard, crochet hook case and my own needle book. Plus there are a couple of my favorite recipes (mmm!) and some printables. Continue reading “Handmade Holidays Time!”

How to: Flat Fell Seams

I’ve been working on mastering the Negroni shirt pattern and the flat fell seams were one aspect that I just wasn’t happy with on the first version I made. I also put the cuff buttonholes in the wrong place, so overall it wasn’t exactly my best work.

So of course for the next version I chose the softest, floppiest linen possible: Antwerp Linen in Chambray. It’s gorgeous, but made of 100% linen so there’s not much body to it and an incredibly soft hand. These are great qualities in clothing, but not so much for the construction part. If you choose to go this route, I suggest you invest in some good starch, Best Press, Flatter or something similar.

Because of my choice in fabric, I had to do a little extra with my seams, but first let me show you how to do a basic flat fell seam. These are perfect for the side seams of dress shirts and jeans, but are a good alternative with fabrics that like to fray.

First you will stitch a regular 5/8″ seam. I use my walking foot throughout because it works great and I don’t want to change feet unless I have to. If you prefer, you can use a regular foot for this part. Stitch, then press to set your seam.

Continue reading “How to: Flat Fell Seams”

How to: Make a Needle Book

Crinkle Dreams Needle Books
photo credit: Robert Hart for Fabric Depot

For the Sew Mama Sew needle testing blog post I made up a few little needle books. They’ll be giving ten of them away, filled with the eight different needles we used in the testing. Go comment over there for a chance to win one for yourself.

In case you don’t win and want to make one up for yourself, I thought I’d let you know how I made them.  They are pretty quick and a  great way to use up some scraps.

You’ll need:

  • 4” x 7” piece of outer fabric (I used the Tula Pink Elizabeth collection)
  • 4” x 7” piece of inner fabric (I used RK’s Essex Yarn Dyed Linen in Chambray)
  • 4” x 7” piece of batting
  • 3” x 6” piece of wool felt
  • hair elastic cut in half or 2” piece of elastic braid
  • 3/4” button
  • coordinating thread

Mark center of one short end of outer fabric. This will be the back of the needle book.

Baste elastic at center point, creating a loop.

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Layer batting, then outer and inner fabrics (RST) and pin at corners.

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Sew around edges with a 1/4” seam, leaving a 1 1/2” to 2” gap on one long side.

Trim batting close to stitching line around entire rectangle.

Trim corners.

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Turn inside out, using a point turner and press.

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Using a ladder stitch, sew the hole used for turning closed.

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Press again and top stitch, if desired.

Mark proper button placement by pulling elastic band around to front.

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Sew button in place.

Fold felt in half and press to mark stitching line.

Fold needle book together with outer fabric touching itself. Mark center with pins.

Place felt on unfolded needle book, matching stitching line with pins. Pin in place.

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Stitch along fold line, from top to bottom and back-stitching at each end.

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Trim threads, put some needles in the felt, fold in half and button to keep it closed.

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I decided to add a little tape measure ribbon, muslin for holding buttons and/or safety pins, and a pocket to the back for my own, but you can make it as simple or complicated as you’d like.

needlebook measuring tape

needlebook pocket

Don’t forget to read the post and enter to win, if you’d like one already made and with a trial array of needles!

How To: Make A Coffee Cozy

Maybe you love the paper sleeves you get on your cup of joe (or cocoa or chai or whatever your beverage of choice is), but maybe you’re looking for a bit of pizzazz to throw on that boring ol’ cup. Something with some personality.

I’ve made up some little kits to make your own, including fabric, batting, elastic band and covered button. But if you wanna just make one for yourself, here’s how I do it… Continue reading “How To: Make A Coffee Cozy”