Monday, June 27, 2011

Back on the Wagon - More Civil War Blocks

I have been so tempted to join in the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along, but there is no way I can start another project right now without going loopy.  I also realized that I already had a project like the FWQA, my totally neglected Civil War Blocks.  

Barbara Brackman posts a block of the week, complete with a historical Civil War story every Saturday at  I don't think I had made any since March!  So I went back through the old posts and jotted down instructions for the star/pinwheel inspired blocks.  (Here is my plan for the blocks.)  I got four (!!!!!) made on Saturday and cut out 2 more today.  I love sewing!  Here are the completed blocks:

The Barbara Frietchie Star - named after a heroic if not historically real woman.  I liked how this one turned out -nice colors and contrast.  It reminds me of the curtains in The Sound of Music.  :)

Illinois Road - This block was suppose to be made with a stripe, but since I didn't have a stripe, I free pieced the strips with small scraps.  It's not bad, but not my favorite.  It isn't quite as wonky looking in real life.

Calico Puzzle - I was sure as I was cutting and sewing that this would be my favorite block ever.  It had the awesome fussy cut flower and my favorite strawberry fabric, but something just isn't right...  What is it?  Should I have used pink for the triangles?  But that might have made the yellow print look odd....  So hard to know without making and remaking the blocks.  I'm not saying it is a disaster, it still looks good, just not as good as I had imagined.

White House Block - A lot like Illinois Road, but with a pinwheel in the middle.

There you go.  I am back on the Civil War QA wagon!  Hopefully, you will be seeing more of these blocks soon.  And if I hurry and finish the quilt maybe I can join in the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along.  :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

We Can Do It! Sampler, Block 1 - Log Cabin

Here we are at last!!!  Week 1 of the We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler.  This week we will make a log cabin block.  If you are already familiar with the log cabin block and feel confident in your skills, you might want to mix things up a bit and make a courthouse steps block using this tutorial.  But for the rest of us, a log cabin is a must-make type of block.

It is one of the easiest and most versatile blocks around.  It is formed by sewing strips of fabric around a central square of fabric.  If half of the log cabin block is made out of light colored fabric and the other half out of dark fabric, multiple blocks can be arranged to form a variety of patterns.  The possibilities are endless.  (scroll down for instructions)

Edited (5/15):  The Skill Builder Sampler will is available for purchase in book form!  It has been renamed "You Can Quilt!  Building Skills for Beginners" but covers the same skills with the easy, medium and challenging blocks and is a million times better than the original quilt along.  It is perfect for the beginning quilter or the experienced quilter who wants to branch out and learn new skills.  Find more information and order a signed copy in my Etsy shop or order on Amazon.  

 The goal with this block is to practice accurate cutting and sewing accurate 1/4 inch seams.

Since this will be a stand alone block, you can either make it light/dark or mix a variety of different valued prints on both sides.  I personally like to have a center square that stands out, but that is personal preference. Take out your fabric and start playing with it.  You can repeat fabrics or have each piece be unique.  If you use the same fabric on all four sides it will make a square within a square pattern.  

Here is my layout.  I apologize for the picture quality.  My basement sewing room is not the best for pictures.  Does anyone know if there is a type of light bulb that will help picture quality?  Anyway...

I actually had to "try out" a bunch of fabrics before I came up with this layout.  Play around with it and don't be afraid to cut extra pieces of fabric.  I promise you will be able to use all the extra  2.5 inch strips that you cut later in the sampler.

To start off, if you aren't using fat quarters (18x22 inch pieces of fabric) cut your fabric in half so the piece you are working with is only 22 inches wide.  Fold up the other half of the fabric and save it to use later on in the sampler.  Why cut your yardage in half?  It makes it easier to work with and none of the blocks we will be making will need a strip of fabric 44 inches long.  You can cut all of your fabric in half now if you want or just the pieces you will be using.

Cut 2.5 by 22 inch strips of all the fabrics you will be using.    

Let me break that down for you.  To cut your strips, first square up the edge of the fabric.  Squaring up means to trim the uneven side of the fabric so it is straight.  
 To do this, fold your fabric in half so it is now 11 inches wide.  Line the fold up with an inch mark on your ruler.  If it is not lined up evenly along the whole fold your strip will not be straight.
 Starting at the bottom cut along the edge of the ruler with the rotary cutter.  Remove excess fabric.  If the fabric is not cut in places, cut again.  You might need to use more  pressure, or your blade may be dull.  Sharpen or replace your blade as necessary.
Next, move the ruler so the trimmed edge is lined up at the 2.5 inch mark and the bottom fold is on an inch mark.  Make sure the fabric is lined up at the far side of the 2.5 inch mark not the inside of the line.  You want that extra thousandth of an inch - it will help make sure your blocks don't end up too small.
 Cut with the rotary cutter and voila! you have a 2.5 inch strip.  Repeat for all of the fabrics you will be using.
Next, referring to my professional diagram, cut your strips to the necessary length.
Pieces 1 and 2 are 2.5 x 2.5 inches
Pieces 3 and 4 are 2.5 x 4.5 inches
Pieces 5 and 6 are 2.5 x 6.5 inches
Pieces 7 and 8 are 2.5 x 8.5 inches
Pieces 9 and 10 are 2.5 x 10.5 inches
and Piece 11 is 2.5 x 12.5 inches

For example to cut a 2.5 x 4.5 inch piece you would:
  1. square up the end of the strip
  2. line up the top of the strip along an inch mark 
  3. line up the short edge with the 4.5 inch mark 
  4. and cut
Once you have your pieces cut it is time to get sewing!

To make sure we are sewing accurate 1/4 inch seam grab a scrap piece of fabric and sew 1/4 away from the edge.
 Most of the time 1/4 inch is just shy of the edge of a regular sewing foot.
 Let's see how we did.  Line up the edge of the fabric along the 1/4 inch mark of the ruler.  Your seam should be on or just inside the edge of the ruler.  Having a seam that is just short of being 1/4 inch is called a scant 1/4 inch seam and is desirable.  If you are over the edge of the ruler your seam is too wide and will make the block come out smaller than 12.5 inches.  Trust me at the end of the sampler you will be much happier if all your blocks are the same size, so let's get that 1/4 inch seam right on.
To mark your 1/4 inch line, take a ruler and put the needle down on the 1/4 inch mark.  Place a sticky note or piece of tape along the edge of the ruler.  This is your 1/4 inch mark.  Make sure when sewing you stay right on the edge of it, not on it.  Try sewing a 1/4 inch seam again.  Better?   Then let's get going!

Sew Pieces 1 and 2 together
Put the two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew.  With pieces this small it should not be necessary to pin, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, go for it.
Press the seam towards Piece 2.  I don't press the seams open (I'll go more into pressing theory later - this post is getting too long!)
To press, open up the fabric and iron flat.  Give the fabric a gentle push with the side or tip of the iron to make sure the seam is pressed completely open.  If the fabric is not completely open the block will be too small.
Take a second here and measure the two pieces of fabric you have sewn together.  They should now measure 2.5 x 4.5.  If they don't check your seam allowance (distance from the edge of the fabric to the stitching) and pressing.  Next sew on Piece 3.  The block should now measure 4.5 x 4.5.
Sew on Piece 4 and press.
Then Piece 5 and press.  Then Piece 6 and press (remember to press the seam allowance towards the newest piece).

Continue on and add Pieces 7, 8 and 9.  After you have added Piece 9 measure the block.  It should now be 10.5 inches square.  If it is less than 10 1/4 inches square, cut Pieces 10 and 11 wider than 2.5 inches so your block will finish at 12.5 inches square.  Also go back and look at the seam allowances and pressing.  Figure out what went wrong.  You might just have to sew your seams a bit more "scantly".

Finish up the block by sewing on Pieces 10 and 11.
Because we are focusing on 1/4 inch seams this week, take a second and do a final measure of the length and width of the block.  I am a consistent 1/8th inch short.  Not too bad.
Oh, take all of those 2.5 inch leftover strips and put them in a bag.  I plan on keeping a bag for each width of fabric so I can find the right size of scrap easily for later blocks.

Whooo!  We Did It!

BWS tips button

Let me know if you have any questions.  I would love to see your pictures in the groups flickr pool!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fabric Prep and Some Light Reading

A few people asked if there was anything they needed to do to get their fabric ready for the quilt along.   The million dollar question...

To wash, or not to wash, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The possible shrinkage of outrageous fabric,
Or to take arms against a sea of bleeding dyes,
And by washing end them? 

I crack myself up.  :)  But really do you need to wash your fabric?

Some say yes because of shrinkage (1-2%), to remove chemicals and to protect against bleeding

Some say no because, if none of your fabrics are washed they will shrink evenly, the chemicals can help protect fabrics left on the shelf for long periods of time and make the fabric easier to work with and good quality fabrics rarely if ever bleed, so why bother washing?

I personally land on the "no washing" side.  I have never experienced bleeding or shrinking so I really don't worry about it.  I like to jump into a project and washing and the subsequent ironing (I hate to iron) just slow me down.   However, I would be sure to wash hand dyed fabrics and red fabric from a non-designer fabric source.  At the bottom of this post are links to some basic quilting posts and some of them deal with the washing debate if you want more information.

I would make sure your fabric is relatively wrinkle free.  There will always be some creases from being folded, but you might want to take some time to iron your fabric if it has been sitting in a ball in the bottom of your scrap bin.  :)

Also, take a look at your sewing machine.  Lift up the metal plate under the needle and clean out all that lint.  Give your machine a good oil and if you haven't changed your needle in a while put on a fresh one.  It is amazing how much better your machine will run if it is lint free, has been oiled and has a new needle.

The first block of the sampler will be posted Friday morning (eeee!) and I will go over how to make the blocks baby step by baby step.  If you want to do some background reading, here is a list of great posts on basic quilt making skills.

Quilt Class 101 - Fabric
Quilt Class 101 - Cutting
Quilt Class 101 - Guest Post, To Wash or Not to Wash?
Stitched in Color - Fabric Care (pro washing)
Stitched in Color - Rotary Cutting
Skill Builder Series - Fabric (grain, washing vs no wash and ironing vs pressing)
Skill Builder Series - 1/4 Inch Seams (how to cut and sew accurately)
Skill Builder Series - Seam Ripping (I'm sure we won't need this, but just in case...)
Do You Have a Happy Machine? (basic sewing machine care)

You might notice that different quilters have different ideas of how to care for fabric, cut and sew.  That is to be expected and is ok.  At the end of the day if your quilt is warm and isn't falling apart at the seams you have done a good job.  :)

I'll see you on Friday with our first block!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Basic Tools for the Sampler

Sorry this took me so long to get up.  I have been out of town (well, I still am...) and I didn't get it posted before I left.  So...
Other than fabric, what will you need for the We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler?

Rotary Cutter
Needed Tools:
  1. A sewing machine.  I guess you could sew everything by hand, but I will be using a sewing machine.  Your sewing machine does not need to be special or fancy, it just needs to be able to do a straight stitch and zig-zag.
  2. An iron and something to iron on.
  3. Thread - choose a color that blends well with your fabric.
  4. A rotary cutter and mat are essential for easy accurate cutting.
  5. Acrylic ruler.  A 6 x 24 inch ruler was the only ruler I had for many a year and is a great 1st ruler.
  6. Hand needles and pins.
  7. 1/4 yard of fusible interfacing (We will be using it in the first week of December, but don't worry about that right now, we'll talk about exactly what you will need in a few months)
  8. A small compass (like the ones used in geometry classe)

Not necessary, but nice:
1/4 Inch Foot with Gaurd
Rotary Blade Sharpener
12.5 x 12.5 Ruler

  1.  A rotary blade sharpener.  You can use this to sharpen your blades when they get dull.  Mine has saved me a lot of money in replacement blades for my rotary cutter.
  2. Some additional rulers.  My favorite sized ruler is 6.5 by 12.5.  It is great for working with fat quarters and smaller blocks.  A 12.5 inch square ruler for trimming the finished blocks would also be very helpful.
  3. A 1/4 inch foot with guard.  It is AMAZING!!  I just got one a few months ago and don't know how I quilted for years without one.
If you click on the picture of any of the tools it will take you to a site where you can purchase it.  I don't know if it is the best place to purchase it, but it did have a nice picture.  :)

    Here is another great post about quilting tools from the Skill Builder Series by Sandi.  Read more hereHere is another great post on basic starter supplies at Stitched in Color.

    Do you have any questions?  Did I forget anything?  Are you ready for next week?!?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Giveaway Winner and Questions Answered

    WOW!  I have been blown away by the response to the We Can Do It!  Skill Builder Sampler.  You guys ROCK.  I really meant to respond to every comment, but life and kids are preventing that.  Just know that I appreciate all of your comments and all of your blog posts spreading the word about the sampler.  I am getting quite a bit of traffic from all sorts of sources and it is thanks to all of you!


    Edited (5/15):  The Skill Builder Sampler will is available for purchase in book form!  It has been renamed "You Can Quilt!  Building Skills for Beginners" but covers the same skills with the easy, medium and challenging blocks and is a million times better than the original quilt along.  It is perfect for the beginning quilter or the experienced quilter who wants to branch out and learn new skills.  Find more information and order a signed copy in my Etsy shop or order on Amazon.  Because of the release of the book some posts have been removed.

    I thought I would address some of the more common questions:
    1. Yes, in the next two weeks before our first block, I will post more on fabric prep and cutting.
    2. I will also post a list of additional items you will need (cutting mat, rotary cutter etc.)
    3. Yes, I will explain quilting terms in detail as we go along.
    4. I will show you how to join the blocks together, quilt and bind at the end of the quilt along - I won't leave you hanging with a bunch of blocks.  :)
    5. How to join?  Just show up here every Friday and see what block we are making and during the week make your own block.  I started a group on flickr so we could share pictures of our finished blocks.  It is:  I would love to see what you make!  Please stop on by.
    6. I don't know if I can/want to make every block.  Not a problem.  Make what blocks you can - life happens, and you might already feel comfortable making certain blocks.  Don't Not make a block because you are scared or don't like the style.  You can do it!  Worse case scenario, it is horrible and you leave it out of the quilt.  But you have got to try.  You might find out that you love making that type of block.  This sampler is all about skill building and trying new things.
    7. As an incentive to finish your blocks, at the end of each month we will have a giveaway.  You will get one entry for each block you have completed that month and the winner will be selected at random.  I am all about incentives and prizes.  :)  I am hoping to have a HUGE sponsored giveaway at the end for everyone who has competed all of the blocks.
    8. How can I be sure to get the Skill Builder posts?  You can click on the sidebar to become a follower and my posts will show up in you google reader.  Or you can have all of my posts emailed to you.  Just enter your email address in the Follow by Email box on the top of the sidebar.  Also, if you look right under the title banner there are a series of links  [Home  Tutorials   Crazy Quilt Along   Skill Builder Sampler]  If you click on Skill Builder Sampler it will take you to a page with links to all of the Skill Builder posts.
    9. What kind of blocks will we be making?  Here are 20 of the 36 we will make.  They aren't in any real order.  Shown are the curves, improvisational/wonky blocks, half square triangles, quarter square triangles, flying geese and the first paper pieced block.  Hopefully, this will give you an idea of where we are going and what fabrics you might want to use.  If you haven't seen it yet, here is the post on fabric recommendations.

    Are there any questions that I missed?  Let me know.

    Now to the giveaway winners!

    Comment 154 and comment 120 were selected with the Random Number Generator  (I still haven't figured out how to copy the little screen for proof, so you will just have to trust me on this one.)  The winners are....

    Melinda said...

    Blogged about it!

    In an earlier comment, Melinda said, "Love it! The Japanese print; I have a friend who is Japanese whose wife is due in November. This would be PERFECT!" so she will be receiving the Japanese prints.

    Jennifer O. said...

    And last but not least... for the very last month or as a bonus month catherail windows would be a great skill builder.

    I will be joining in! Maybe not all of it but I will join in on it.
    As for the fabric choice. It is a toss up for me. I love them both!
    Thanks a bunch!

    Jennifer will be receiving the Denyse Schmidt fabrics.

    I have emailed them both to let them know.
    Thanks again for playing and helping to spread the word!