Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Little Technique makes for a Very Happy Quilter!-Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series.

Happy Quilters:
     Have points that match
     Have blocks that are square and are the correct size
     Have quilts that lay flat and are square
     Have big smiles and need lots more fabric

Sad Quilters:
     Spend a lot of time Un-Sewing
     Have puckers or folds in their blocks
     Have Quilts with wavy edges, or mountains in the center
     Dread sitting down at the sewing machine
     Say words that I don't think I can express honorably in this blog.......

Everything I say from this point on is strictly 'my opinion'.....which can mean a lot or very little depending on your current mindset.

I love quilting. It is in my blood and will never go away. BUT, I hate lackadaisical quilting. Don't get distressed or take that personally, yet, I will explain.

When I started to quilt, I was so excited and went to a local shop to take quilting classes.....when I got there, all my fabric was pre-cut, I got to choose from pre-chosen color ways, I was handed one section at a time and told, 'Sew this piece to this piece', and when I was done.....I had a quilt, with no idea how I got there. Several quilts into this new process, I got a little frustrated because I wanted to be involved in and understanding the process. So, I struck out on my own and bought a few books. Oh how wonderful it was to see a pattern and pick my own colors, to be involved in the process. Learning how to cut was interesting and had several failures before it got better. But, I was doing it on my own and I loved it. I was thrilled with my new mentor, I loved her books, they were so easy to understand and follow and that was very important.

NOTE #1: Always read or scan through a pattern BEFORE you purchase it to make sure it is easy to read and follow!

My first few quilts were wonderful, to me. I had picked my own colors and fabrics, some of it worked well and some were....interesting. Lol. BUT I was learning!

NOTE #2: Allow yourself to make 'Mistakes', it is how we learn. You never know until you try and most of the time we will be thrilled by the results. Most importantly, you will always be the only one who notices because nobody else will, they will think it is part of the design. (And if they do, throw out this line...."Yayyy, you found my 'quilting signature', I always throw in a deliberate mistake to see if anyone notices!")

Then I started to notice something. Sometimes a block worked, size wise, and sometimes it didn't. What was the difference. That is when I discovered I was a lackadaisical quilter and how important technique is. Things like seam allowances, pressing and cutting. Sounds like basics but it is something that most quilters never had the opportunity to learn or be mentored in because most of us are self taught.

Technique, it almost sounds like a bad word. It makes us think about 'How much time is this going to take?', 'I'm going to have to use pins?', 'Marking pencil, what's that?', 'Slow down!!! Are you kidding?'. Yes, all of those things are related to 'technique' sewing BUT, when the technique is right, there are less of those "Sad Quilters" and unmentionable verbal outbursts.....

When good technique is learned and then practiced consistently, it then becomes 'faster and easier' and the stressful part of sewing becomes a fading memory. I love when a quilt comes together smoothly and takes no extra pulling, ripping or steaming on my part.

The Right Tools!

Here is a run down of my personal Top 10 Tools.

NOTE #3: Tools are important to quilting, the Right Tools are indispensable! 

     #1-Rotary Cutter-Ahhhh, so many to choose from, colors, styles, sizes. I personally LOVE my Olfa Ergonomic rotary cutters. I use a 45mm and a 60mm just about every day. When cutting curves, smaller pieces, single layers, I use the 45mm. It is more versatile going around smaller templates, rough cutting for appliqué, etc. When I am cutting for strip piecing, and stacking layers (2-8), the 60mm is the way to go. I use less pressure and cut more with the larger blade. BUT without a sharp blade, you are making it hard on yourself. I am the worst for changing my blades. I want to get every last moment out of the expensive round razor. But as you use them, they get dull, as they dull, your cutting becomes less and less clean and starts to cause you to push harder and re-cut missed threads. When I change my blade, a huge smile lights up my face and I think to myself, 'Why did I wait so long?'. I have seen more fabric strips ruined because a blade did not cut through and a 'sawing' motion created a bad cut.
You also need to find the rotary cutter that is right for you. Try your friends out if it is different from yours. See if it fits your grip better. If you are left handed, be sure to get a cutter that is adjustable for left handed cutting. I LOVE and even INSIST on self retracting blades. As a mother, I watched my son pick up an un-retracted blade and have five little razor cuts on five little fingers. That made me change my tool. As a teacher I have been accidentally cut by a few students with a blade that they forget to manually retract. That made me make them change their tool. Well, I mean they wanted to change but I greatly encouraged. This tool can be dangerous and needs to be respected and as quilters, we tend to get very comfortable and very casual about how we handle them. My children and my husband learned very early in life and marriage that there are 2 things they never touch in my sewing room, my rotary cutter and my scissors. Bad things can happen to people who break those commandments....I mean guidelines in my home! many choices. My personal choice is Creative Grids. I think they have the best product out on the market. The ruler is designed with a Built-In grip on the back and some of the most accurate markings out there. It is very important when you are cutting for a quilt, that you use the same brand rulers to maintain consistency. Not all rulers are created equal. If you have different brands, do a test and lay them, first against your cutting board markings and then against each others markings. It is very normal to have differences of 1/16"-1/4" within 36". Now I know it does not sound like a lot, but when you are creating quilts with lots of seam lines, 1/16" can add up fast...1 seam =1/8", 2 seams=1/4", 4 seams=1/2" and that starts to make a big difference when adding different block layouts together.
It is also important to use rulers that work well with your vision. Creative Grids uses Black and White markings with a clear ruler. I have seen rulers that use yellow, green, blue and more. Some colors do not work well with some eyes, some do not work well with certain cutting boards. You have to do a little research to find what works best for you.
Rulers have a tendency to slip and move as we cut. Creative Grids has a built in grip that helps a lot in this area. If you are using another brand, I really like TrueGrips by TrueCut. They are a small, versatile rubber grip that you can place where you need and not have your vision blocked. They work very well, especially on smaller rulers and templates. I keep these on hand at all times.

Some Other Tool Basics-
     #3-Pins-I work with a lot of batiks so my personal favorite is Clover Patchwork Glasshead pins size #30. These pins go through fabric like butter. Yes, they are easily bent, so I don't sew over them or try to push them through super thick seam allowances, denim etc. They are great for piecing a quilt top.
     #4-Seam Ripper-I know, we really don't like them but we really, really need them. A dull seam ripper is like a dull rotary cutter blade, we never want to change but oh how good it feels when we do. My personal favorite is the Clover Seam Ripper, (white plastic).This is and inexpensive tool that is easily replaced and yet I have had mine last for years and years. The handle is comfortable and it slices through seam without the 'ripping' part. No pulling or tugging to accomplish what this sharp little tool does.
     #5-Scissors-Everyone needs several different scissor sizes in their repertoire. I Love my Gingher's. I have multiple sizes and multiple styles. A small 4" for right by my machine. I use them constantly. A large 8" for when I need to cut those fabric folds or layers. I have a 5" pair that I use for cutting my fusible appliqué. I also love that they have a designer series with beautiful colors, mine are in purples, because...they make me happy when I look at them.
     #6-Marking Pen/Pencil-I love the Sewline Mechanical Pencils. These are a wonderful tool that offers multiple colors, thin marking lines and replaceable ceramic lead. There are no 'lead' dust particles, erases with the included eraser or just a dab of water. I use the Black, Yellow and Pink pencils,it pretty much covers all fabric choices.
     #7-Quick Quarter I or II-This is an invaluable tool when there is any diagonal sewing happening. By laying this on the edge of the sew seam, you can accurately mark the 1/4" sew line. When sewing with angles, this can be especially important. It is very hard to maintain points and angles with the proper seam allowances if you do not take the time to mark your units.
     #8-Iron-This is so important....I cannot convey how important it is to press your units and blocks as you go. Finger pressing is is not as accurate at opening up your seams. Now of course it is so much easier to finger press and keep sewing but the results are much better if you actually press between steps. I will touch more on this subject later on in this series. I use (2) irons. I tend to press a lot of my seams open and for that I use and absolutely love the Clover Wedge Iron. It is light weight and opens seams like no other iron I have ever used. For the final press, I have an Oliso Pro Smart Iron. This has a heavier weight to give a nicely flattened seam. I also love the auto lift feature.
     #9-Starch-I do not use steam from my irons. Afters so many years, most all irons tend to create build up and all of the sudden you have stains on your projects that you can't get rid of. I use spray starch for all my projects. First and foremost I use Mary Ellen's Best Press. This is a light starch and comes in a variety of fragrances including no fragrance.Peaches and Cream is my favorite. This is for general piecing and blocking. For projects that require a little firmer starch I use Niagara Spray Starch Plus. This comes in a pump bottle.
     #10-Cell Phone-What????? OK, sounds a little strange but your cell phone can be one of your biggest assets in choosing colors and layout. By using the camera app on your phone you can, even in a quilt shop, layout fabrics choices and review them instantly for clarification. By taking a photo you can see colors that are too bright, too dark and just others that hide within the rest of the fabric selection. When laying out your blocks to sew together into the quilt top, you can see layout glitches, (block reversed, upside down, in wrong location) and in scrappy or multicolored quilt tops, see where specific colors are out of balance. Using your photo app can and will save you a lot of time un-sewing or questioning fabric selections.

I have given you my Top 10 Tools. There are so many on the market and everybody has there own take on which they prefer. I encourage to try different tools and find the one that suit your needs the best! As with everything, quality versus quantity. I can buy a whole lot of rotary cutter blades that are not as expensive as the Olfa BUT I end up using two to three times more and being more frustrated, so where are the savings. I prefer to set myself up to succeed, even if it takes me longer to get there. So love yourself and love your quilting even more, get the Right Tools.

Happy Quilting,
Stitches From Heaven