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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Project Quilting 5.2: Let's Face It

Let's face it.  There are a few facts about Project Quilting that you should know.

1.  It is my goal this season to make larger more useful quilts.  That pretty much means no tiny art quilts.

2.  One week interrupted by real life during build season for the robotics team is NOT much time.

3. I struggle to be precise under the best of conditions.

4.  These are not the best of conditions.

5.  The upcycle challenge where TWO elements of your project must be something never intended for a quilt is a really bad week to be making a larger more useful quilt.

6.  Billboards are big  Even if you have been shaving bits off for years, they still cover much of your living room when unfolded.

7.  Blue jeans are heavy.  Very heavy.  Particularly when you choose to use up all of the fiddly bits with seams and pockets and rivets and the like.

8. Delicate little machines, used to sewing on refined quilty fabrics are NOT happy when asked to sew across the jointure of two flat felled denim seams.

9.  The closer you get to the end of a project the harder it is to thread the needle... and the more often you need to do so.

10. By the end of the project I figured out how to it.  

This week's quilt doesn't have a good title.  It could be Family Reunion  or Let's Face It or Keep Your Pants Dry or just plain old Picnic Blanket.  Many stories went through my head while constructing it.

The quilt measures 45 x 60 inches.  It is made of old blue jeans, old shirts, badges from the booboo bucket, a billboard, a bit of very old rescued gros grain ribbon and one hand forged iron s-hook.

The billboard is one of the modern sorts.  A tarp like thing that wraps around the billboard structure.  It was the perfect thing for backing a picnic blanket.  It forms the backing and binding.  The blue jean bits were stitched in essentially a raw edge applique fashion to a piece of cotton sheeting that serves as the batting.  It technically isn't recycled or upcycled but since it is entirely concealed within the quilt and is the only batting like element, I figure it counts.

I used up bobbins of many colors and ends of spools of thread.  Things that have been hanging around in small amounts for way too long.

The ribbon and s-hook make up the closure/handle that keeps the blanket nicely rolled up in your trunk awaiting the  next picnic.  The hook will also be useful for hanging the quilt to dry as it can't really be washed, only hosed off and it certainly can't be dried.  The hook is made by Far Creek Forge.

Obligatory art shot!

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I'm not one for following patterns.  I tend to make it up as I go along.  That can be fun and liberating.  But it can also be very frustrating.  I am currently fiddling with all the bits on a project that should be simple and straightforward.  Just slap it on and stitch it up.  But... Sometimes, the edges don't quite meet or the colors are too close or the angle is wrong...  Then I have to stop and fuss and figure. 

Today I had the opportunity to make a block for some one who just might need some cheering up.  I indulged in a  wee bit of Andover's Downtown Abbey.  (I mean it isn't breaking the no fabric rule if it is a gift?  Right???)  I was a bit disappointed to see that the fabric was a wee bit wonky.  I couldn't cut a the text (also Andover) straight all the way across.  The small print was a bit wonky too.  Not too much but enough so that it bugged me.  While my block is  a little wrinkled and a little bit out, you can see the distortion in the lower right corner.  I really did try very hard to make the cut square.  Ok, I didn't pull and tug and refold and resmooth.  But I did try. 

It probably wouldn't matter in a less geometric block but it seems to accent my natural tendency to be wonky even when I am trying VERY hard to be precise. 

The block pattern is Garden Path  and it is available in a lovely tutorial by Connie at Freemotion by the River (my upstream neighbor... what's a state or two among quilty friends?) 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sewing Machine Review BL9

What brand and model do you have?

BabyLock BL9

How long have you had it?

I've had the machine for 3.5 years.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?

 It is in the $200 range.  I purchased it new on sale for $99.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?

I use this machine for piecing quilts, making small sewing projects and sewing through multiple layers of fabric.  This is the one I usually use to make my chickens. 

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?

 I sew almost daily.  This machine sees a lot of use.  It is the machine I use when my Ellegante is tied up doing embroidery.  It is also the machine that I use for sewing days.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?

I like the machine.  This one doesn't have a name.  It isn't fussy enough to need one.  

What features does your machine have that work well for you?

This is a basic entry level sewing machine with few stitches and no bells or whistles.  It sews a nice straight stitch and is very reliable.   The light weight makes it easy to take to sewing events.  The small footprint sits well on my table. 

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?

I would like the machine better if I could use it for Free Motion Quilting.  It is too lightweight to do that.  While it sews smoothly it makes a fairly clunky noise.  That seems obnoxious to me at sew-ins but no one has really complained about it.  

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?

I would recommend this machine to others.  It is a solid entry level machine.  The fact that it comes with the Babylock service and support makes it a step above similarly priced machines from big box stores.  It handles all the basic sewing tasks nicely.  I've had other name brand student/entry machines that seemed to be more solid but didn't hold up at all. 

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?

 It depends on what you are looking for.  I needed a second, light weight machine to use at different locations.  When looking at entry level machines, make sure that it has the stitches you need.  If you are going to sew on knits, you want a good knit stitch.  If you are just piecing quilts then a basic stitch is fine.

Check the reviews and service records for the machine.  See if your dealer will service your machine.  (One entry level I had from a name brand broke.  The service bill was going to be $150 to send it to the factory and they would not guarantee that it would be repaired.  The machine only cost a bit more than that to start with.  I was sadly disappointed in a brand that I had grew up loving.)

Do you have a dream machine?

 I would love to upgrade to the Ellisimo Gold.

Bonus: Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!

For this one... I got nothin'.  It does what I want and goes back on the shelf when I'm done.  

BabyLock Ellegante 2 Review



Sewing Machine Reviews

What brand and model do you have?

I have a BabyLock Ellegante 2.   

How long have you had it?

 I have owned my machine for 3.5 years.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?

New it was in the $4,000 range.  Now they are available for around $2,000.   I bought mine for about $3,000 as a floor model with a new warranty.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?

 I mostly sew quilts and do machine embroidery.  I also make pillows, stuffies and bags when the mood strikes.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?

 I sew almost daily.  The guy who cleans and repairs my machine frequently comments that I have a LOT of stitches on it.  I didn't buy it to look pretty or be a doorstop.  I bought it to sew.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?

I LOVE my machine.  Her name is Ellie.  (Original, I know.)  

What features does your machine have that work well for you?

I love the embroidery functions
  • A color screen big enough to see the design and know what you are stitching
  • Ability to combine designs and add lettering on screen
  • Ability to do some basic edits on screen
  • The ability to jump colors or numbers of stitches by 10's or 100's rather than one at a time
  • The design is saved where you are if/when the power is cut off
  •  Automatic cutting/trimming
  • Large hoop size.  I ALWAYS use the 5x7 hoop.  I like having the 8x10 hoop.  I wouldn't be as advanced in my embroidery if I only had the 4x4 hoop
 Great sewing functions.
  • Simplest buttonholes I've ever made
  • Sews on buttons
  • Easy adjustments for stitches
  • Lots of stitches
  • Great feed system
General functions
  • Automatic threader
  • Bobbin winder works independent of machine functions
  • Automatic cutter
  • Drop in bobbin
  • Bright Lights

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?

She's developed a few hitches in her giddayup after three years of hard use.  But I have had great luck with the local Babylock repair man. I expect that I will be able to sort out the latest batch of minor annoyances (dull cutter blade-- probably my fault) in short order.

It is a bit of a show pony and doesn't like to stitch through really heavy materials... like multiple layers of denim on an upcycled bag.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?

I would recommend the machine to others.  It isn't the top of the line but it has enough of the features to make it a pleasure to use.  I have often commented that I was glad I bought this one versus the lesser models but seldom wished for the next model up.  

On a side note about buying an embroidery machine, I was originally of the notion that I would buy a small embroidery machine to see if I liked it and would use it.  I ended up with this one because of a great deal.  Subsequently, I have purchased a second embroidery machine (Babylock Ellure).  It isn't the entry level.  It is a workhorse machine.  I love what it can do but ONLY because I already know what machine embroidery can do.  I am absolutely convinced that I would not be into embroidery and wouldn't have embroidered badges be the major item in my etsy shop if I'd started with the lesser machine.  It would have been too frustrating.  In fact, I know several people who have 4 inch machines who seldom use them or who sold them because of the frustration factors.

 I would say that if you are thinking of getting into embroidery, you hang out at the local shop and try to embroidery an entire design on each machine you are considering.  See if they will rent or loan one to you.  Attend make and take events or whatever method they have that lets you get your hands on the machine. 

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?

For embroidery, see the list of features I described above.  You need a screen you can work with.  You need to have the ability to connect to your computer or have a USB input of designs.  DO NOT BUY a machine that requires a card reader or purchased cards unless you get an awesome, amazing, deep discount deal on a fantabulous never been used machine.  Then only buy it if the card reader/printer equipment and software are part of the deal.

For general sewing you need to know what kind of sewing you do.  If you are going to be sewing denim and leather you probably want a heavy duty commercial machine with fewer functions.  If you are going to be doing heirloom sewing, you want a fancy machine with sporty feet and lots of stitches.  For Free Motion Quilting, you probably need to move up a step or two from the basics (Doesn't work on my entry level BL9).

ASK lots of questions.  Try things out. 

Do you have a dream machine?

I am drooling over the BabyLock Ellisimo Gold with the tablet for drawing designs to be stitched directly on the machine.  But it will wait for another day.  

Bonus: Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!

My machine is pretty much a state of the art 2010 model.  Spud 1 was greatly intrigued.  He sews.  He wanted to play too.  He is also a tinkerer.  I didn't want my new investment to become raw materials for one of his projects so I banned him from touching it.  In the same room is my state of the art 1910 treadle machine in a fancy case.  Spud 1 decided to demonstrate that 'his' machine was just as good.  He opened it up, oiled it.  Tightened the belts.  Figured out how to fill the bobbin and thread it.  Got it sewing and then started playing with all the different feet.  He ended up making BEAUTIFUL ruffles.  I mean absolutely gorgeous perfect ruffles.  Far better than anything I can produce on my machine with the feet that I have.  Collectively we have started making what we call Century Aprons because they are sewn on two machines built a century a part.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When is a chicken not a chicken?

When a client wants it to be a turkey.  Draft A isn't all that, but I think it will get there.  At least I have hope for it. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Snail's Trail. Project Quilting Season 5 Challenge 1

The first challenge for Project Quilting Season 5 was "String Along with Me".  We were to make a quilt in one week using only strings no bigger than 2.5 inches.

My initial plan for this season was to make bigger quilts.  Last year I made a lot of small wall hangings and art quilts.  I worked on precision.  This year I wanted to make things that would be more useful.  That meant larger sizes.  I also want to work on my FMQ this season.   Given the challenges I've had this week, I think I was a bit too ambitious. 

 Things were looking pretty grim around here for most of the week.  Still do for that matter.  There are strings in that bag that go back almost 20 years.  This project has pieces from many of the quilts I've made in that time.  I always saved the strings knowing that someday I would use them.  Every time I cleaned the stash, I was tempted to pitch them.  But...  Here they are and now look at them. 

I started out without much of a plan, ripping notebook paper in half and paper piecing onto it.  I was going to make something big enough for a couch quilt.  I didn't quite get that big.  By Saturday afternoon, I had to stop and piece together what I had finished.

This is the pieced Flimsy before making the sandwich.

I had some help with making the sandwich.  Spud one took care of that process for me.  (No way could I stand over the quilt like that even if I didn't have  bad knee!)

And here is the finished quilt.  

 It took a while to find the FMQ groove on this one.  Once I got it going smoothly about the best description of the pattern is a snail hauling a double-wide.  (I wanted to call it Snailer Park Trash but that seemed a bit extreme!) 

You can just see the meander stitch I used to machine bind it at the very bottom of the picture.  That was a first for me.  Not sure it would work for every project but worked well for this one.

 This is a glimpse of the backing.  It is a large print purchased at IKEA a few years ago.  I try to buy some of their fabric whenever I get to the store.  The fabrics are 60 inches wide, perfect for most  of the quilts I manage to make, and less piecing for a large one.  Plus they have some great graphics.  I wasn't sure what I would do with this fabric, but I think it matches the crazy of this quilt perfectly.  
The details:  Snail's Trail.  46 x 48 inches.  Made entirely of strings and some white quilter's cotton.  synthetic batting and cotton backing from IKEA.  FMQ and machine bound. 

Now if some one would just clean up the paper scraps... It is a good thing that we have a week until the next challenge is published.  It is going to take me that long to clean up the mess!

Project Quilting the brain child of Kim Lapachek who gets her mother-in-law to dream up 6 challenges.  Participants are asked to make a quilt that addresses the challenge in one week.  WaggonsWest is proud to be an official sponsor of Season 5. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cardboard Classic Cocoa

No pictures today.  I am a bit under the weather with all sorts of stuff.  I would really rather be hosting a Cardboard Classic. 

That is where we invite all the kids we know to build a sled out of cardboard and meet us at the sledding hill (or back yard depending on where the snow is).  We sled and play until the cardboard falls apart.  Then we all have cocoa. 

I always start with whole milk and heat it up.  I add in plenty of cocoa mix.  Even if all that I have is the kind you add to water, I start with milk.  I also add sweetened cocoa powder.  Right now we are working our way through a can of Starbucks.  I will replace it with Ghiardelli or whatever happens to be on sale.  I want the cocoa to be creamy and rich and dark chocolate color.  None of the thin watery stuff for us. 

After all, we've just spent the afternoon outside. Climbing up.  Sliding down.  Climbing up.  It is a perfect treat. 

You can have awards for the sleds if you like.  Encourage the kids to bring their adult.  It makes it much more fun. 

It is a snow day.  Go out and live it! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Blame Kim

It is hard to believe that mere hours before this floor was host to a pretty swanky party.  Guests all dressed up, table clothed, fancy food and flowers.  And now look at the mess!  It is entirely Kim Lapacek's fault.  Project Quilting Season has arrived and the first challenge is strings. 

Yes, I am very happy to be motivated to whittle down my string bag.  But No, I am not so happy that the whittling is taking over my floor. An from the looks of things, I definitely need a much more interesting pile of scraps.