Monday, January 19, 2009

From the Depths of the Drawers

The drawers and shelves of my sewing room are populated with countless treasures, all purchased at sewing shows, many of them in their original packages. At the time of purchase, each of these items offered unlimited potential for making my sewing so much easier. Yet, somehow these little orphaned tools sit untouched and alone in the bottom of my drawers.
Imagine my surprise when this week, while immersed in the creation of my latest project, I pulled out one of these heretofore unopened treasures.

The Project:
Because I am an extreme multi-tasker, it is never a surprise when I start new projects even when I have, well, too many works in progress. This week I began a new quilt. My goal is to have something to enter in juried quilt shows. Despite the fact that I’ve only made five qu
ilts, I’m positive I can produce something that will be accepted. As a founding member of the ‘Too Stupid to Be Afraid’ club, I often take on goals beyond my current skill level and this quilt is an example par excellence. I am using my Round To It embroidery designs. These designs use the embroidery machine to produce New York Beauty arches embellished with perfectly positioned machine embroidery. The ‘paper piecing’ is actually done on a tearaway stabilizer on the embroidery machine.

After all the pieces are attached, the machine embroiders around the triangles in the arches. It might be possible to duplicate the end result in another way but not without high levels of frustration.

I already have a quilt made with these designs and I’m quite happy with it. Unfortunately it doesn’t pass the ‘made in the last two years’ test. I even considered fudging the age on a quilt show entry form (who would it hurt to show a quilt that is 3 years old instead of 2?) but for this quilt there’s documented proof that its beyond the two year age limit as it's been in a magazine editor’s hands for longer than that.

For the new Round To it quilt I’ve chosen a rainbow of hand dyed fabrics to for the spikes and a mottled cream for the background. I am very happy with the color/texture/embroidery combination. The first step was embroidering/piecing the arches for the first four squares.
The Learning Experience
In my directions for the embroidery designs I suggest that you piece the quarter/circle arch to a center piece and an outer edge to complete a square that is one fourth of a New York Beauty quilt square.

In the past I had found this technique to be quite challenging. However, a few weeks ago, the owner of a new LQS (local quilt store), Shared Stitches, led my sewing guild group in a session on piecing curved edges. Sharon used the method she had learned from the author of a book on the Winding Ways quilt, Nancy MacDonald. Sharon’s directions were excellent. Everyone in the class produced beautiful, smooth, perfectly curved seams.I am certainly no expert; I’m actually kind of new to this curved piecing thing. But, having attended Sharon’s session, I can now produce acceptable curved seams. My take on the technique is that if your pieces are cut accurately, seaming is easy.

The key seems to be having identical sewing lines on both the concave and convex pieces, and the piece cut exactly one quarter inch from the sewing line. (Is it any surprise I'm more of a garment sewer?)

If the pieces are cut accurately, and you match the ends and the centers of the pieces, your seams will be perfect. If you want detailed instructions you can get the book, Winding Ways Quilts, A Practically Pinless Approach by Nancy Macdonald.

With the confidence built from this lesson on piecing curved seams I approached attaching my paper/embroidery machine pieced arches to their background square.First, I decided to sew the 4 arched pieces together to make a circle and to piece the entire circle into the background fabric. I carefully trimmed the seams on both the inside and outside of the pieced circle to ¼” outside the stitching line. Next I cut a square from the outside/background fabric. I cut a circle in the middle of that square that had the radius of the outside of the pieced circle minus ¼.

The New Gadget
That’s when I decided to break out my secret weapon. Buried in my drawer of not yet embraced gadgets was a foot designed for piecing curved seams; the Curve Master Presser Foot. This presser foot is designed to enable anyone to produce perfect curved seams. As I felt competent in the curved seam process even without this foot, I was sure that I would now become a superstar of curved piecing. After all, two years ago at a sewing show in Novi, Michigan, I had stood with mouth open, watching perfect curve after perfect curve being sewn by the company demonstrator.
Of course I had to buy! In retrospect the company demonstrator was sewing the curves using the method I had just learned, the ‘practically pinless pieced curves’ described in the Winding Ways book.
So I approached the drawer of unused sewing gadgets and began the great search. There it was, next to the fabric circle cutter, under the beads presser foot, behind the template for the uneven quilt squares, my Curve Master Presser Foot. I cracked the plastic case on a new gadget, a presser foot designed to sew curved pieces together. It was a good day.

Before sewing the circle to the background square I marked the top, bottom and each side of the pieced circle and the circle cut out of the background piece. I pinned the circle to the background piece, matching the marks. Using the special presser foot I sewed the two together.
Comments on the Special ‘Curves’ Presser Foot
The piecing went very smoothly. I can see how the curved foot makes the piecing a little bit easier than using a regular quarter inch foot. I think I’ll enjoy having this presser foot, but only because I have a lot of curved piecing to do with this new quilt. And, its probable that I would get just as proficient sewing curves with a regular quarter inch presser foot. My grade for my new gadget is B+; good but not great.

Back to the Quilt
I’m still plugging away at the quilt. I’ve totally completed the first four squares and even as I type the embroidery machine is stitching out the first of the pieces for number five. I was not able to use a sewing machine to piece in the centers of each circle. The hole was just too small. If I had constructed the square one quarter at a time I probably wouldn’t have had a problem. My solution was to hand appliqué a center circle into the middle of each quilt square.

I’ll try to log more as I get further in the decision making process.

As for the Multi-Tasking

I am working on a large number of concurrent projects. I'm a third of the way through creating a an embroidery oriented Block of the Month product. My goal for that is to introduce new embroidery/quilting techniques in many of the months' blocks.

And watch for my newest design set, another of the projects in process. (You do know that I design embroidery designs, don't you?)

I'm frantically preparing for my next big show - Sew Expo in Puyallup Washington at the end of February. I'm excited about the classes I'm teaching there. I have great new ideas to introduce.

Stay tuned.