Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ugly Fabric (and Photoshop)

The more I work on Bricks and Stepping Stones, the more I love this pattern. I've been using some wild and crazy prints for the bricks. Among them were wild horses racing on a green background, cowboy paraphernalia on blue, and gray manatees swimming in a turquoise sea among schools of golden fish.

The very last brick was cut from this ugly paisley, a fabric that is near and dear to my heart. It's been in my stash since the '90s when I was an active member of the Genie Online Quilter's Guild. I bought it for the annual Ugly Fabric Swap, an event which I looked forward to all year long. Sign-ups began on April 1st (April Fool's Day). Each of us pledged ourselves to send a 10 inch, pre-washed square of the ugliest fabric we could find to all the other swap members. The deadline was April 15th (Income Tax Day).

Then we would wait by our mailboxes in fearful anticipation. What monstrosities, what abominations of the textile industry had our sister quilters found? As the envelopes began to arrive, each bearing a fabric more appalling than the last, every quilter would describe her reactions online, casting her vote for the Most Appalling Fabric (often with uncontrollable giggles).

Yet truly is it said, "De gustibus non disputatum est." ("There is no accounting for taste.") Almost every fabric, no matter how clashing its color -- how hideous its print, had at least one fan whose piteous cry, "I like that fabric!" proved that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Then the real challenge began: to make a really great quilt out of that year's collection of Uglies. (The secret is cutting the fabrics into small enough pieces!) Some of the quilts were stunning, and I remember at least one whose photo ended up in a major quilt magazine.

I always took part in the swap, but only once managed to finish a quilt. Most of my Ugly collections are still intact. And I'm thinking that Bricks and Stepping Stones would be the perfect pattern to display these, um, unique fabrics.

But getting back to the paisley shown at the beginning of this blog: I wanted to post a picture of it, but my digital camera is so old and creaky that it's a real pain to shoot and upload photos. So I decided to try taking its picture using the Photo Booth application on my Mac. Unfortunately, the fabric's color wasn't accurate because of the way that light shines through it.

"I can fix that!" Fillius announced. "I'll Photo Shop it on my computer."

"Oh, no," I said. "That sounds like too much work. I'll drag out the camera."

"It's really easy," he assured me. And it was. In just moments he had perfectly adjusted the color.

"Super! Email it to me." I pasted it into my blog, and while I was still typing up the text I heard Fillius calling from the other room."

"Hey, Mom! Want a picture of your fabric lying flat?"

"Kewel! But can you make it into an elephant?"

Before I finished writing my post I had his answer:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How I Spent President's Day

I usually feel very grumpy about Monday holidays. I object on principle to moving holidays to the nearest Monday just so people can have a three weekend. It seems a tawdry manipulation of the calendar. Monday is also one of my regular work days, so nearly every holiday I miss out on a day's pay. I only work three days a week, so that's one third of my weekly paycheck.

But this year I didn't mind staying home on President's Day because I've had a dreadful cold the last few days and felt too sick to go to work anyway. So of course I sat in front of my sewing machine and completed four more Chunky Churn Dash blocks. These are really cute, finishing at six inches. They will be set with hour glass blocks as shown on Bonnie Hunter's website. I'm not sure yet how large a quilt I'll make out of these.

Here's a close up of the block on the upper left. I was able to fussy cut a fabric scrap with a rubber stamped image of myself peering out of the screen of our first Macintosh computer. I drew the picture and had the rubber stamp made ages ago when I was a member of an online quilting guild on Podigy. We were exchanging small stamped squares, one of the many swaps that made the group such fun to belong to.

Working on Chunky Churn Dash was a nice break from Bricks and Stepping Stones. Earlier this week I finished about half of the units needed for that quilt. I need to cut some more black and white strips for that one, as well as 35 more bricks. It really does go together quickly! I wonder if I can really complete it in time for Fillius's birthday. I'm sure I can get the top done. But can I quilt and bind it?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tension Update

Well, after a thorough cleaning and a good deal of experimenting with the thread tension knob, I'm getting a better (though not yet perfect) stitch and almost no curving of my strips.

I was checking Harriet Hargrave's book, Heirloom Machine Quilting (4th edition), to remind myself whether knots on the bottom meant I needed to tighten or loosen my thread tension. It turns out that the little thread dots on the bottom mean either that the top tension is too loose or that the bobbin tension is too tight. So how are you supposed to know which to adjust?

Fortunately, on page 37, she includes a sewing machine mechanic's tip for testing tension when sewing regular seams. If you don't have her book, I found similar information in this online article about adjusting sewing machine tension. So I am happily sewing again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Tension Is a Source Of Tension

I've been having so much fun this week working simultaneously on three different quilts. But suddenly I'm having a tension problem with my machine. At least, I think it's a tension problem. For all of these quilts I am sewing strips together, and I've noticed that after I've ironed them open, one edge curves a bit. And I can't accurately subcut the two patch units if both sides of the joined strips aren't parallel.

The reason I think that it may be a tension problem is that I've also noticed tiny bumps or loops on the underside of my stitching. (I don't think it's an ironing problem because I'm always very careful to use a dry iron and to press up and down rather than from side to side.

I guess I need to pull out my sewing machine manual to figure out what sort of adjustment I need to make. It's so unusual for my Bernina to have any sort of tension problem that I can't remember whether bumps on the bottom indicate a problem with the thread tension or the bobbin tension.

(And yes, I changed the needle.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quilter's Newsletter And Me

(This post is reprinted from my other blog, Catholic Bibliophagist which is about books, reading, and my library, a collection which takes up most of the available wall space in my house. It was originally posted in 2007 when I had just moved into my current home.)

Quilting is my other passion, and it's reflected in my library. Yesterday I was unpacking my collection of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. I have issues going back to 1970. Though I've been fascinated by quilts ever since I was very young, I was not a subscriber in those days. In fact, I had never even heard of QNM.

I discovered the magazine in the early 1990s. At that time, in response to an unhappy family event, I took one of my earlier abortive attempts at quiltmaking out of my cedar chest and sewed it together. At about the same time I discovered an online quilting community, the Online Quilters, through Prodigy, an early Internet Service Provider. It was a heady experience not unlike my previous discovery of fantasy and science fiction fandom. Despite the strictures of an online environment, we Online Quilters used Prodigy's bulletin boards (and the US Postal Service) to swap quilt blocks and fabric squares; to place group orders for specialized tools; to give lessons and hold workshops; and to participate in co-operative projects such as group quilts and round robins.

Outsiders wondered how we could become such close friends of people we'd never met face to face. Actually, we did occasionally meet at quilt shows. We wore blue fabric stars (based on Prodigy's logo) to identify ourselves and held "show & tell" (a traditional quilt guild activity) in the parking lots outside the shows.

(Later, due to conflicts with Prodigy's restrictions on content and its erratic deletion of bulletin board messages, most of us migrated to GEnie where we merrily continued our online quilt life.)

A lot of my basic knowledge of quilting came originally from the Online Quilters, including the merits of Quilter's Newsletter.

The first issue of QNM was published in September, 1969. At that time there were few quilting books available, no quilt stores, and none of the specialized tools quilters now take for granted. One hundred per cent cotton was difficult to find having been replaced with polyester-cotton blends. It was the age of bonded double knits. (Shudder!) Bonnie Leman began publishing QNM just ahead of the explosion of renewed interest in quilting which began in the early '70s and has continued unabated to the present day.

I acquired most of my back issues in the mid '90s when my local quilt guilt decided to sell off its collection at the annual Trash 'n Treasures meeting.

And what a treasure it was! I managed to snag over ten year's worth. Paging through the early issues was a time-traveling journey back to a day when hand piecing was still dominant and templates did not include seam allowances. Rotary cutters had yet to be invented and it was still rather daring to assert that machine quilting could be a legitimate option. Wall hangings, (i.e. small quilts that are hung up for decoration) were looked down upon by a certain faction of quiltdom who felt that a quilt wasn't really a quilt unless it covered a bed.

Paging through my collection, I've watched the rise and fall of various techniques and styles of quiltmaking. (I recall at least two articles on how to make quilts from scraps of bonded polyester knit!) I've read early articles by people who are now big names in the field. Through the pages of QNM I've watched the quilting community grow from scattered, isolated people swapping copies of patterns published in the 1930s by newspapers like the Kansas City Star, to a large, diverse group of individuals ranging from those who consider themselves to be mere crafters to those who see themselves as serious artists. And they are supported by an enormous industry selling fabrics and tools that were undreamed of in 1969.

And occasionally the world of the Online Quilters and the world of QNM intersected. In the April '91 issue, p. 37, is a picture of Diane Rode Schneck's quilt, "Ugly Tie Contest." She made it with fabrics from our annual Ugly Fabric Swap. I can see the fabric I contributed, right there! The peach colored one with the little black locomotives.

Thanks to the Internet (and a current subscription), I now have a fairly complete collection of Quilters Newsletter. But I'm still missing quite a few issues between 1969 and 1972. If anyone out there has some that need a loving home, let me know.