Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 1 -- cutting the binding

I promised a friend that I would send her a link to my tutorial on mitered bindings -- except after much searching, realized that I apparently never published such a post.  So here's one for Joanne, and anybody else who has the urge...

Before you start sewing on a binding, you need to establish your specifications: how wide to cut your binding strip, and how far from the edge to stitch it on.  Traditionally, bindings are about a quarter-inch wide, but you may want a wider one to make a more assertive edge.  If you want a wider binding, just substitute "one-half inch" wherever you read "one-quarter inch" in these directions.

The old-fashioned quilt police will tell you that the only proper way to make a binding is to cut it on the bias and use it double, so two layers of fabric will protect the edge of the quilt.  I don't do either of those two things.  It's true that when quilts are in daily use, washed regularly, and especially if they're pulled up against a whiskery chin every night, the edges will get abraded and thinned over time.  So two layers of fabric are a good idea, as is a bias cut, so the abrasion doesn't take out an entire thread along the edge and pop the binding open.  But if you're planning on using your quilt lightly, or hanging it on the wall, there's no need for the extra fabric and trouble.  I cut my bindings on the cross grain of the fabric -- perpendicular to the selvage -- for a bit of extra give.

Before you cut your bindings, do a sample.  You can make the sample on your actual quilt (use long stitches, so you can rip them out easily), or if you have a scrap of quilted fabric around -- maybe some that you trimmed off the quilt when you squared it up -- you can use that.

Your binding needs to be cut four times the width of your finished binding, plus a bit for ease -- for a quarter-inch binding you'll want it at least 1 1/4 inches wide.  But for the sample, cut a strip 1 1/2 inches wide, about four inches long.  Place the binding strip on top of your quilt, right sides together.  Align the edge of the binding strip with the edge of the quilt, then sew it on with a quarter-inch seam allowance.

Take the quilt out of the sewing machine and fold the binding into position, wrapping it over the edge and to the back of the quilt.  Fold the binding so the raw edge is turned inside, extending all the way down to the fold.  Pull the binding nice and taut over the edge.  Pin it down in place.  Check the front to make sure the binding is taut there too, with no bubbles or pooching out.

The folded edge of the binding should cover your stitching line, but just a hair.  If it's too wide, and the binding extends an eighth-inch or more past the stitching line, you'll want to cut your strips a bit narrower than 1 1/2 inches.  But if it's not wide enough, and the folded edge doesn't cover the stitching, you'll want to cut the strips a bit wider.  Cut a new sample strip, sew it on and check it.  Then write down the width you want so you don't have to do test samples on your next quilt.

Why do I suggest you make a sample rather than just tell you how wide to cut?  Because your "quarter-inch seam" may not be the same as my "quarter-inch seam."  And that's perfectly OK.  For instance, my  bindings are always a bit wider than a quarter inch, because I like to use the edge of my walking foot as a gauge.  And of course, you might want a wider binding because you like the look.  So figure out your preferred seam spacing, and then work from there to figure out how wide to cut your binding strip.

It's easier for me to gauge my seam width by the little rectangle cut out of the top of my walking foot than to use the grid marks on the presser foot plate (because they're hidden).  So my bindings end up closer to 3/8 inch than 1/4 inch.

The important thing is to cut bindings that work for you.  You want the folded-over edges of the binding to reach down to the edge of the quilt so you have four layers of binding everywhere, you want the binding to be pulled taut around the edge.  That way your bindings will be smooth, firm and fully-packed, good enough for the quilt police.

Now cut the binding strips on the cross-grain (from selvage to selvage).  You'll probably need several strips to reach around the quilt.  You can sew the strips together into one long piece either with straight or with diagonal seams.

To join on the diagonal:

Cut through two strips at once so you have the same angle.  Align the cut edges, but shift them so the seamline begins where the cut edges cross.

Press the seams and the entire binding strip.  I like to press the seams open rather than to one side, because that means a flatter binding, but it doesn't really matter.  Trim the points so they don't extend beyond the edges of the strip.

Friday: how to sew the binding on.

Monday, February 20, 2017

When all else fails, make placemats

In the late 70s I was an active member of the League of Women Voters, and one of the things I did for the organization was to make a little wall quilt for our office.  I used some nifty red-on-white patriotic print fabric that was produced during the Bicentennial, plus assorted RWB solids and prints.  It hung in the office for many years, until a big remodel/redecoration.  I found the quilt stashed in a closet afterwards, and brought it home with me, where it has been stashed in MY closet ever since.

Recently, in a flurry of cleanup frustration, I came upon the quilt and noted that it was big enough to make four placemats.

I've always joked that no quilt experiment is too weird, because you can always turn it into placemats.  Indeed, I've done that with many projects, including one that was supposed to be a show quilt but just wouldn't get quilted right.  I kept quilting (you know, all those bulgy places will quilt out....) (but they didn't quilt out...) and finally gave up at about 98 percent finished.  That one made a whole lot of placemats!

But my little red, white and blue quilt certainly had no future as a quilt.  Notice particularly the pale gray panel above the bottom LWV -- that was once a rich navy blue.  And the faded panel to the left of the middle LWV also used to be navy.  I thought the reds had held up pretty well until I cut the quilt apart and noticed that the solid red was about four shades darker inside.  I think there have been improvements in dye technology since the 70s, but isn't it funny that some of the fabrics faded like crazy and others stayed pristine?

Here are the placemats.  I will use them on patriotic occasions.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My favorite things 8

I've always loved old-fashioned offices and office equipment, harking back to my earliest days of paid employment when I would work typing my father's book manuscripts and then as a secretary for low-budget organizations that were headquartered at my college.  In all these places I had manual typewriters and a motley collection of tools dating back to World War 2.  And I loved all that stuff.

My mother had a little wood file cabinet with six drawers, enough to store an inch-tall pile of paper in each one so you could keep different kinds of letterhead, plain paper, colored paper, invoices, whatever you needed for your well-stocked office.  The drawers had holes in the bottom so you could poke your finger up and raise the pile of paper high enough to pluck off one sheet without denting the edge.

She had liberated it from some office where she had worked, and it held paper in our home office.  But in later years she converted it to a jewelry case.  I coveted it.

One day, hanging out in a flea market, I was thrilled to find the identical file cabinet for sale, and took it home to be my jewelry case.  And then, after Mom died, I grabbed her cabinet too.  So I now have one in my bedroom full of jewelry and one by the back door with stuff you need as you are running out of the house -- a comb, a Chapstick, sunglasses.  And a few of the bottom drawers still have some of Mom's jewelry.

I've scored other pre-owned file cabinets over the years, but my second favorite is this little one, just tall enough to file your bank statements and electric bills.  It still has a label from its previous owner on the bottom drawer, which says "savings."  I wonder what went in that drawer, and what the top drawer was called.

I feel great sympathy for whoever was in charge of all those cabinets -- probably a woman, who was forever being called on to produce the proper piece of paper at a moment's notice, correctly typed, correctly retrieved.  She had to wash her hands frequently to keep the carbon paper and typewriter-ribbon smudges off her work; she got paper cuts too often.

Not like that in today's offices -- at least not the carbon paper or typewriter ribbons, and maybe not even the pieces of paper -- but I still feel sympathy for the workers.  Been there, done that.  Sometimes not much fun, but always great pride in a job well done, even if the boss doesn't appreciate it or understand how much work it took to make it happen.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More divestiture

Many, many years ago I made a baby quilt which for some reason I decided to hand-quilt.  Don't know why; I was never that much of a fan of hand-quilting, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.   It was actually an experiment in quilting without a frame or hoop, the first time I had tried it.  (And by the way, if I ever have to do hand-quilting again I will do it hooplessly.)

I quilted maybe two thirds of it and got tired.  The quilt has been lurking about since -- OMG -- 1990; I know this because of the neatly embroidered motif in the corner.

Every couple of years since then I have come across this quilt and said to myself, I probably should finish this some day.   Yesterday I came across it and said go away.

So I bundled it up and gave it to my friend Ann for her guild's charity quilts.  I suspect somebody in that guild will be happy to finish the quilting.  And my stitches were nice and small, so if that somebody is a quilt snob she shouldn't be too ashamed to collaborate.  Maybe she'll neatly embroider her initials in the other corner.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Out and about!!

On Monday I went for a long walk with some friends, one of whom had a GPS device that said we'd gone 2.8 miles.

Why is this the subject for a blog post?  Because it's the longest I've walked in more than a year and a half -- and I did it without pain, either during the walk or afterward.  For somebody who has always loved long walks, this has been a very long time, during which I worried whether I would ever regain my ability to wander around all day.  It also affected my photography-related art practice, since you can't take interesting pictures if you don't go anywhere.

I bring this up in the blog because coincidentally, yesterday I read about a new study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that says if you have back pain, medical treatment may not be helpful at all.  Don't bother with an MRI, don't take heavy duty painkillers, for heaven's sake don't do surgery, just wait it out, with a bit of exercise if you can, and see what happens.  And I want to testify that they're right, at least for me.

This has been the second time in the last 15 years that I have gone through long bouts of back pain.  The first time I dutifully went to the doctor, got an MRI, learned that some of my discs and vertebrae were rough around the edges, and was sent to physical therapy.  I did three sessions, during which at least half the time was spent discussing when to schedule my next visit around the requirements of insurance reimbursement (no, not to make it cheaper for me, but to make it more lucrative for the clinic).  I quit PT and lounged around for months, walking when I could, until things got better.

Years passed.  The back pain returned. When I visited the doctor for another reason, I told her that I was having trouble walking; she said swim or do water aerobics instead.  I did that all winter.  Still had trouble walking and lounged around for a year, walking when I could.  I kept a diary of how long I walked and the different varieties of pain, trying to figure out what brought it on, whether it was good to walk or good to stop.  Never could figure out a strategy.  But around Thanksgiving it seemed that I could walk farther without pain.  I felt great.

Then I took a bad fall and broke a bone in my toe.  Six weeks of orthopedic shoe and very little walking.  Then, back in real shoes, I could do a mile, then a mile and a quarter.  And Monday, 2.8 miles!

Everybody has various mantras for life, and one of my favorites has always been "outlive the bastards".  This makes twice I've outlived the pain and emerged on the other side.  I know some day this approach is going to fail, but right now, I'm celebrating.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Divestiture again

Time to clean up the studio.

Were there ever more depressing, discouraging words?  Strikes a klong of dark, cold dread up and down your spine, doesn't it?

Not that I really want to clean the studio, but I need to have an electrician come in and fix up my ceiling lights, all of which were installed at the same time and all of which are dying at the same time.  And to get to the most important fixture, he will have to stand on my work table, which means the top of the table will have to be visible, which means a midden of boxes and stuff will have to be removed.  So while I'm removing stuff from the work table, I might as well simultaneously be cleaning and organizing and finding stuff that can be given or thrown away.

Still dark, cold dread, right?

My first thought was to get rid of my calicos.  Years ago I pulled out all those sweet 70s tiny prints that I will never use and put them in the closet.  I've given them to new quilters who wanted something to learn on without having to go to the fabric store.  I've sent them to internet friends who wanted to finish quilts begun decades ago in similar fabrics.  A brainstorm: one of my fiber art pals is in a traditional guild that makes a lot of charity quilts, so I asked her if they might want my calicos.

When she said yes, I started packing them up.  It felt good.

And then I had another thought -- why not also give them some of my "better" quilt fabrics?  So I started packing boxes full.

I was pleasantly surprised at how little pain I felt in parting with these fabrics -- thousands of dollars worth of beautiful cottons that had called out to me in the past and had given me lots of pleasure over the years just knowing they were there in my drawers ready for a moment in the sun.  But I realized that I would never use them, and if I knew they would be going to a good home, where people would use them and love them, I'm OK with that.

I gave my friend a trunkload of fabrics a few weeks ago, and am accumulating another pile to hand off at our textile group meeting later this week.

Of course, empty drawers aren't worth anything until you fill them with something else that had been occupying other space, such as on top of my work table.  So now I'm trying to consolidate the fabrics I still have into the partly empty drawers, and organize them more usefully for my current quilting life.  Still lots of work ahead, but seeing those boxes go out the door has been liberating.