Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Virtues of Planning Ahead

My head hurts. Things did not go to plan totally yesterday, so I spent no time on the baby quilt, and endeavored to make up for it today. I was holding my breath, crossing my fingers, doing some math to see if I actually had enough of the pink fabric for all the joining and outside binding. Since I'm making this quilt smaller than the original pattern, I have no real guideline for how much I need of anything, and didn't bother to work it out ahead of time. I've been operating on faith that I had plenty of the pink.

Math is not my strong suit and to top it off, I couldn't find my calculator. Not that it would have mattered much anyway. After much scratching with pencil, I determined I barely had enough pink for the front and outside. That's when my head started hurting. Well, nothing for it but to start cutting strips, see how far they took me, and start thinking of alternatives for the back. Little did I realize that it was one of my multiple personalities - Shirley - who had snuck out to do my math for me. Shirley is the beginner quilter in me who cannot match seam intersections and is even worse at math than I am. She'd seen me measure the doubled over width of the fabric to see if I had a full 44 inches to work with and thought that it was the figure to work with. Dividing 22 into the total number of inches needed to determine how many strips to cut gave me a figure double what I actually needed. Of course, I didn't figure this out until I'd cut all the fabric into strips and started sub-cutting. The good news is that I DO have enough pink for all the binding. The bad news is that some of the strips had to be cut narrower, so I wasted about 3-1/2 inches of fabric and have a lot of 2 inch strips left over.

But before I did all that, I needed to square up my blocks. And to be sure I didn't lose track of which way each block should be turned, I needed to devise a way to indicate each block's orientation in the quilt. I settled on placing a single flowerhead pin horizontally with the head to the right in the center of each block. I don't often use flowerhead pins, only have them on hand because of a brief flirtation with the Magic Stack-n-Whack method which requires pinning layers of fabric together before cutting. A regular round head pin will cause the ruler to rock when you try to hold it flat to cut against. But it will sit nicely without shifting if you use a flowerhead pin.

I started with 11 inch blocks but the quilting had shrunk them down about 1/4 inch, so all blocks were squared up to 10-3/4 inches. I noticed that the distortion and shrinking varied from block to block, some barely making it to the square up size and others leaving plenty to shave off. I decided this variance was due to two factors: 1. That I used several different quilting patterns that effected the blocks differently, and 2. That the different weights of the fabrics cause different shrink rates. Some were quite light weight, almost like muslin, while others were more study like a good Kona cotton.

Now it was time to sit down and study the pattern again. I thought the blocks would be joined together in the same way that the cutouts in each block had been. Now I saw that it was a different method of applying the binding which required not only more passes with the sewing machine, but also an extra fold pressed into each strip. I feared my plan for completing this by Friday was falling apart because I hadn't planned ahead. Oh, well, if it took another day, Saturday is STILL the end of the week, isn't it? That's really all I wanted.

I deviated from the pattern at this point, cutting my strips on grain instead of on the bias as instructed. I've never particularly cared for bias binding on the outside of my quilts, and couldn't see the advantage of it on the straight joins of the blocks. Bias strips require more yardage and I didn't think I had any to spare. So I cut the two widths of binding on the straight of grain and pressed the raw edges to the middle. If I was doing a lot of this double fold binding, I could see investing in one of those little guiding tools. But once I did the first one, I found I could eyeball it fairly accurately and quickly. Now it was time to join the blocks into rows.

This is done like the cutouts except that there is no binding sewn to the raw edge first. Just butt the blocks together and run a zigzag stitch to hold them together. I'd used a 4 x 4 setting on the cutouts, but I found I needed to widen it to a 5 x 5 setting now to make sure I was catching enough on each side of the join. At first I used the paint tape to hold the blocks together, but eventually I just held them in place with my hands as I guided them through the machine.

This process went much quicker than I anticipated. So maybe I'm not as far off my schedule as I thought. The next step is to topstitch binding over the join on the front, then topstitch a narrower binding over the join in the back. Here you can see the blocks joined into rows, and the bottom row with its binding pinned in place. (For some reason, the colors are very off in this picture.) I can almost believe I can finish joining and applying binding by the end of tomorrow.

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